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WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT NOW?

Or "tweeds - Short bursts of inconsequential information"

 

I try to be brief but I warn you: my text is going to exceed 140 characters.

 

The question sent to me from Witt de With 'What are you talking about now' reminds me of Twitter the most trendiest and rapidly growing social web site there currently is. It attracts millions of users a month and is based on the single question "What are you doing?" Twitter's popularity is expected to reach the value of a billion dollars in 2009 (or be worth nothing by next year) though nobody knows yet how to generate actual money from it.

Familiar?

 

Witt de With invited me as an artist to be part of a multi-structured talk marathon/talkathon entitled Rotterdam Dialogues: Critics, Curators, Artists. The whole event could have been labeled a "talk show" - had it not been organized by an art institution. Lectures, panel discussions, and interviews where organized around separate questions with separate participants at separate times.  "The artists" found themselves answering to the general question: "What does it mean to work as an artist today?" to lay bare the "foundational layers" of art making, though art works were only rarely seen on projections during the conference. We – the artists – were encouraged to be "ourselves" and project ourselves in front of quite a large audience through our physical presence and our speech or silence.

 

Usually artist talks are in relationship to exhibitions and even Catherine David's  "100 days / 100 talks" was in relationship to Documenta X (1997).  But the Witt de With talks over several days impressed not only with the large number of invited artists  – we were flown in from around the world – but as well as by the fact that the talks where not in relationship to an exhibition but rather in place of an exhibition. I had the feeling of taking part in a large scale international exhibition even though no art works were requested. The publicity, the number of artists involved and the scope of these presentations were so professional and well publicized that it felt like being in a major biennial without any frustrations over shipment, placement of works and other logistical or curatorial nightmares.

 

Interesting enough, social network sites – MySpace, Facebook, and now Twitter – that consists of nothing more than electronic postings, posing and chatting have become multi-billion dollar enterprises with such enormous economic and social significance that they even helped to hand the US presidency to a man who otherwise would have never had a chance to win. It comes therefore as no surprise that the art world also goes openly social and twitters over its stakes. Witt de With's outlines asks about the "politics, fashions, � market forces, histories and other social forces to private or personal urgencies" of artists who "negotiate several stakes." Rotterdam made of us artists negotiating stakeholders posing prominently on the better side of the audience/participant divide.

 

The reason why I like to analyze this event in this comparative way is that it was not an isolated event. 0nly two weeks later I was host of a similar platform entitled "Our literal speed (OLS)" organized by several art historians. OLS is a three stage event timed over three years where a bunch of mostly famous intellectuals and a handful of artists were flown last year to Karlsruhe, this year to Chicago and next year to the Getty Art Center in Los Angeles. For OLS, the point is that a talkathon "in the vicinity of art and history" claims to be a performance/event rivaling with an art exhibition and performance art. On the OLS web site they promoted the first event in Karlsruhe as "a 'media pop opera,' or a 'pedagogical concept album' – a kind of artistic/academic gesamtkunstwerk ... encounter(ing) fluid/jagged transitions among presentations, discussions, performances, and lectures. This temporary discursive laboratory offered a space for imagining non-formulaic, experientially vibrant, and theoretically precise responses to the modes of distribution, consumption and circulation that currently dominate our neo-Wagnerian institutional atmosphere. In the end, the conference/event aimed to present a microcosmic rendering of the contemporary art world."

 

Different to Rotterdam, most of the OLS participants were academics longing for a new somehow artistic 'belonging' and not artists happy to be part of a big exhibition/event without showing. Some if not most of the presentations tried to experiment with the presentation format and got quite inventive with it, if not too creative for my taste. The most amazing thing in those two OLS events so far was the fact that it is incredibly self-sufficient and compact resembling a traveling circus. The mostly US based academics (with some Europeans) who were familiar with each other arrived not only with their highly sophisticated discourses but also with their own public including their "own" critics which reviewed both events each time in Artforum. At the stock exchange this overlapping could stir regulatory troubles; in the world of networking it's social capitalism and on Facebook and Twitter, its automated, promoted by electronic linkage and wizards, friendsters and tweeters. In the art world its conditio sine qua non.

 

Even though, I'm not an active member of Facebook, Flickr or the sorts, I receive daily invitations to join because somebody wants to befriend me – independent of whether I know them or not. The main reason why I was invited to this well sponsored, high profile OLS event had to do with the fact that I photograph "seminars and lectures" as my art work. In the aftermath of my Venice Biennial presentation of 2006, the art historians were very well aware of my S/L images of academics, lecturers and their audiences and wanted me to photograph them. Since the early 1990s institutional critique has turned into "institutional narcissism" which went "literally" into overdrive with OLS:  "These emerging, hybrid forms (of lectures) demand a synthesis of collective activity (OUR), a self-reflexive examination of art history and its constitutive technologies (LITERAL), and an intense concern for the pace and texture of our movement through institutional mediation (SPEED)" The curators in Rotterdam, much less manierist in verbal presentation, didn�t have my S/L photographs in mind when I was invited. As usual I photographed the event.

 

Earlier this year, my photographic series brought me to a filibuster-like 24 hours non-stop talkathon organized by master of ceremony Hans Ulrich Obrist, entitled, "24 hour Program on the Concept of Time." No building could have better symbolized the talk and title better than the spiral of Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim in New York. In Rotterdam artists were separated from curators and critics during 3 interval events through out the year; in Karlsruhe and Chicago artists were far outnumbered by art critics/historians but were all present simultaneously; at the Guggenheim the balance and speaking order between writers and artists were mixed and the subject was not self-reflective (self-conscious) but given: Speed. Obrist, a man known for his personal versatility and impressive speed, did not only invite people from the art world but also theoreticians of the world of music, architecture, science, sociology and beyond. There the challenge was to sit in for 24 hours which might reflect the demands of the host city and institution, where space is in big demand and a potential audience is less patient and available over longer periods of time than elsewhere. So why not jam it. In the world of networking and non-stop electronic hand holding it is hyper-texting, blogging, tweeting, streaming, befriending, SMS-, IM- , MMS-ing and so on.

 

On Twitter, an error message for overloading appears in form of a "Fail Whale" graphic showing little red birds holding a sinking fat whale going under. In all these brainy conferences I have been this year, people just leave if it becomes redundant. Some people also chose to not even show up in the first place. Needless to say, celebrities (of the field) help fill rooms anywhere, anytime and were not missing in all these events. On line, celebrity spotting is major electronic real estate and numerous web sites are dedicated to just that. We all want to be in touch with each other and a little bit more so with those we think who are successful. A gathering of many well-to-do artists attracting a large audience without presenting any art works or performances borders on the phenomena of celebrity spotting. From what I could tell, all invited artists felt fabulous – at least I did. I left all these events with the feeling I did something, I belonged for an instant to something even though I couldn�t say what. Even the curators of Witt de With seem to reflect somehow this phenomena of "inflated greatness" since they distanced themselves from the original floated idea of publishing all transcripts of all talks. Now, the organizers must have realized the typical redundancy and prevailing insignificance of non-scripted talks and seem to have opted for this "tweeteresque" follow up question for all participants: "What are you talking about now". The small red birds seem to be failing, the fat whales are sinking ! And so be it !!

 

And what am I really doing/talking in 140 characters:

 

<twitter>

GOCRAZY with BABYEDGAR; preparing DADALENIN 4 MAK, Vienna; BASIC CHINESE study; I WANNA BE CHINESE, Brussels; trying 2 fix financial troubles, being on line, &love

 

<twitter>

"HAPPY FRIENDSHIP DAY" – luv u guys !

 

<twitter>

What's happening right now? Nothing but rain – but don't tell me what you have 4 dinner!

<twitter>

I really loved these events. I wish 4 more!

U can't find me on facebook, myspace or twitter. Stay in touch with me via ganahl.info or pleaseteachmechinese @ yahoo.com

 

 

 

Rainer Ganahl

New York, August 2, 2009

 

 

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