The Festivalization of Culture: The Production of Events
As a young punk-rocker in the 1990s, most of the emphasis the scene I was in was placed on going to shows. At least one a weekend, but then often on a weeknight. Bands made money playing them and selling records. Community was built through regular interaction. If you knew one band playing it would be worth it, even if the others sucked. There was joy in discovery: maybe a touring band from another country or part of the vast one we lived in would surprise me and open up a new world of influences, history and context.
As I grew older there was a shift. More people started to get into the “independent music” business as business-people. These entrepreneurs, sometimes with street cred from the scene and other times as outsiders looking in on a new market, began to find ways to grow their economies of scale through large events. It had been done throughout the past and other music genres from Christian Rock to Jazz were well-tested examples of the big business of produced music-based events.Attending a punk rock music festival was a completely different experience than going to an intimate venue. The experience was subject to the same logistics-driven planning that any large sporting event had already mastered: vendors, portable toilets, VIP rooms, public subsidies, and crews on golf-carts. The same music was being played and more people were able to enjoy it, but the points of emphasis had been shifted.
Everywhere I turn there is a new music festival. As selling records has become a tighter numbers game, it has become more necessary to produce events that draw in large audiences with cross-over potential. Experiences ranging from the “curated” festivals like All Tomorrows Parties and Pitchfork, to Lallapalooza and Bonaroo, or the more industry-oriented CMJ and South By Southwest now dot the country and the globe and set the calendar for music fans and professionals alike.
Becoming involved in other subcultures, scenes and communities has not spared me from this festivalization trend. The same has shift has occurred in new-media arts, tactical media activism, and professional conferences within academia. Everyone has bigger and more ambitious event production aspirations. As a young well-organized person with a large social network, it was natural for me to shift my energies in this direction. Most of the skills I learned in organizing concerts, protests, workshops and exhibitions at a small scale could be scaled up and professionalized. I became an event planner in the form of festival curator and conference coordinator.
With the trend moving towards produced events, there is risk in losing our perspective on the processes that constitute communities of shared interest or concern. There is risk that new generations, however sophisticated their communications habits, may never organize themselves towards aesthetic or political ends. There is risk that the division of labor will remain the same, with the addition of a newly empowered coordinator class running in between spectacular labor rallies produced for the camera, music festivals, flashmobs and academic conferences armed with twitter enabled phones and a spreadsheet while we will all just sit back and watch.
Posted by Daniel Tucker
Reflections on New Media Fests
An excerpt from the conclusion to "Virtual world is possible : from tactical media to digital multitudes" by Geert Lovink and Florian Schneider. Published in Journal de l’Archipel des Revues (November, 2003):
"Art no longer initiates. One can be happy if it responds to contemporary conflicts at all and the new media arts sector is no exception. New media arts must be reconciled with its condition as a special effect of the hard and software developed years ago. Critical new media practices have been slow to respond to both the rise and fall of dot-commania. In the speculative heydays of new media culture (the early-mid 90s, before the rise of the World Wide Web), theorists and artists jumped eagerly on not yet existing and inaccessible technologies such as virtual reality.
Cyberspace generated a rich collection of mythologies ; issues of embodiment and identity were fiercely debated. Only five years later, while Internet stocks were going through the roof, little was left of the initial excitement in intellectual and artistic circles. Experimental techno culture missed out on the funny money. Recently there has been a steady stagnation of new media cultures, both in terms of concepts and funding. With millions of new users flocking onto the Net, the arts can no longer keep up and withdraw into their own little world of festivals, mailing lists and workshops.
Whereas new media arts institutions, begging for goodwill, still portray artists as working at the forefront of technological developments, the reality is a different one. Multidisciplinary goodwill is at an all time low. At best, the artist’s new media products are « demo design » as described by Lunenfeld. Often it does not even reach that level. New media arts, as defined by its few institutions rarely reach audiences outside of its own electronic arts subculture.
The heroic fight for the establishment of a self-referential « new media arts system » through a frantic differentiation of works, concepts and traditions, might be called a dead-end street. The acceptance of new media by leading museums and collectors will simply not happen.
Why wait a few decades anyway ? Why exhibit net art in white cubes ? The majority of the new media organizations such as ZKM, the Ars Electronica Centre, ISEA, ICC or ACMI are hopeless in their techno innocence, being neither critical nor radically utopian in their approach. Hence, the new media arts sector, despite its steady growth, is getting increasingly isolated, incapable of addressing the issues of today’s globalised world, dominated by (the war against) terror.
Let’s face it, technology is no longer « new, » the markets are down and out and no one wants know about it anymore. Its little wonder the contemporary (visual) arts world is continuing its decade-old boycott of (interactive) new media works in galleries, biennales and shows like Documenta XI. A critical reassessment of the role of arts and culture within today’s network society seems necessary. Let’s go beyond the « tactical » intentions of the players involved. The artist-engineer, tinkering on alternative human-machine interfaces, social software or digital aesthetics has effectively been operating in a self-imposed vacuum. Science and business have successfully ignored the creative community. Worse still, artists have been actively sidelined in the name of « usability », pushed by a backlash movement against web design led by the IT-guru Jakob Nielsen. The revolt against usability is about to hap-pen.
Lawrence Lessig argues that Internet innovation is in danger. The younger generation is turning its back on new media arts questions and if involved at all, operate as anti-corporate activists. After the dot-com crash the Internet has rapidly lost its imaginative attraction. File swapping and cell phones can only temporarily fill up the vacuum ; the once so glamorous gadgets are becoming part of everyday life. This long-term tendency, now accelerating, seriously undermines future claims of new media.
Another issue concerns generations. With video and expensive interactive installations being the domain of the ’68 baby boomers, the generation of ’89 has embraced the free Internet. But the Net turned out to be a trap for them.Whereas assets, positions and power remain in the hands of the ageing baby boomers, the gamble on the rise of new media did not pay off. After venture capital has melted away, there is still no sustainable revenue system in place for the Internet. The slow working educational bureaucracies have not yet grasped the new media malaise. Universities are still in the process of establishing new media departments. But that will come to a halt at some point. The fifty-something tenured chairs and vice-chancellors must feel good about their persistent sabotage. What’s so new about new media anyway ? Technology was hype after all, promoted by the criminals of Enron and WorldCom. It is sufficient for students to do a bit of email and web surfing, safeguarded within a filtered, controlled intranet.
In the face of this rising techno-cynicism we urgently need to analyse the ideology of the greedy 90s and its techno-libertarianism. If we don’t disassociate new media quickly from the previous decade, the isolation of the new media sector will sooner or later result in its death. Let’s transform the new media buzz into something more interesting altogether - before others do it for us".
The New Global Contemporary Art Matrix
An Excerpt from Gregory G. Sholette’s How to Best Serve The New Global Contemporary Art Matrix (2000)
“The need to index the value of this circulating, global aesthetic capital produces several strange effects. One of these is an inversion of speed and mass in which the faster international art travels from venue to venue, the more space, labor and materials are required and the more theoretical writing generated. Some of these installation works for example are comprised of thousands of feet of crumpled aluminum foil; vats filled with sliced animal parts, full size replications of fire trucks and even entire sections of buildings. Increased shipping and insurance costs as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars in start-up money further amplify the sense of weight exuded by these projects for many of these projects. Indeed, some of these installations do reflect concerns about the political and social world beyond the art market. Some even attempt to disrupt the global matrix itself by producing work that defies categories or is made of overtly worthless materials. Yet the global aesthetic matrix establishes the actual pattern of circulation as well as the level of disruption it can tolerate at any given juncture. If anything this circulating endowment is becoming ever more defined and routine as a familiar stock of artists and their installations reappear in places such as Kassel, Berlin, Johannesburg, Sao Palo, Pittsburgh, Melborne, and Venice.
The melancholy that curators obligingly express towards a seemingly inevitable market domination––curiously by making reference to such things as Walter Benjamin's reflection on the Angel of History––is echoed by art works that attempt a political engagement with the market, but end-up once again re-inscribing the ubiquity of global capital.
As long as the preferred approach to self-critical engagement by the international artist or curator remains one in which it is the rules of art itself that are challenged and exposed, the chances of any actual destabilization in the global aesthetic matrix are nil. The more this "critical" practice tries to evade traditional definitions of aesthetics while remaining within the circulatory path of the global art market, the more it serves as grease for the very thing called contemporary art. Which is not to suggest that work ignored by the contemporary art matrix is inherently resistant. On the contrary. Without a great deal of artistic "dark matter"––that enormous production of work that remains largely invisible yet exerts a specific counter force to the market ––the entire industry called the art would instantaneously collapse.”