Thursday, August 7, 2014

[Yasmin_discussions] Fwd: Fwd: Dragan critique on Yasmin?

Dragan, Yasminers,

I'd like to join Jon in replying to your insightful critique, but
focus here on the "Open Museum" part (with apologies to anyone who has
not yet read the book - I'll try to keep my replies as general as

One of the cases I make in the book is that, in order to figure out
how to change our institutions to serve us better, we must acknowledge
historic forces that are still at work, but are now taken as base
assumptions and so become invisible. These forces are not all
malevolent either; some are positive forces which can be fanned into
flame. To wit, museums are indeed at their core utopian; the public
museum, specifically, is part of the Modernist utopian vision of the
"betterment" of all people through culture and knowledge. Yes, I'm
aware of how that dream plays out in reality and museums are as
elitist as they are enlightening, but what functions serve which end
is what we must sort.

Museums can and have evolved in response to changes in society. For
instance, in the 19th century they became, by default, public
institutions and in the 20th century their primary curatorial function
rightfully ceded some ground to their new emphasis on education (and
the rise of the museum educator, programs, etc.) In the 21st century I
have not seen the dream of an Open museum move further away; consider
that public access to collections data used to be all but
non-existant, but with the advent of the web, nearly every museum with
a collection is working on providing networked access to that data.
This is not a new form for previous access; this is a new kind of
openness. Similarly, public programs that were previously trapped in
the ephemera of moment and geography are now often accessible through
online video on a qualitatively different scale.

I agree that museums still must do better at re-thinking their role in
a networked age, though I'm not actually arguing that they get ahead
of the game (art museums, for instance, should follow where artists
lead), but I do argue that they (we) should not lag quite so far
behind. For instance, every museum innovation I propose in the Open
Museums chapter is not new to society, only new to museums, and that's
why there are so many precedents to cite (creative commons, etc.) and
extant tools for museums to adopt (ccMixter software.)

I also agree with, and am familiar with the problem you cite with one
idea in particular - that instead of selling one copy of a digital
artwork as a "unique" instance for a high price, that they might sell
multiple copies for lower price. My dubious claim to fame is that I
was perhaps the first net.artist to sell a work of digital art on eBay
but I sold only one copy - for $52. But the losing bidder was the
Walker Art Center....What If?? Then again, a web post recently sold
for $90k (
so perhaps I was too far ahead of the game :) But, seriously, your
point about new media artists being led to traditional (sellable)
mediums is well taken and something I address in a chapter for a
forthcoming book that Christiane Paul is editing for Blackwell (OK,
OK, that was a bit of a punt.)

My point with all this, and the chapter in question, is that museums
still can and should be part of the solution in preserving new media
art; that new forms of openness are necessary for them to do that;
that the suggestions in the chapter would put them a little closer to
the game than they are now; and that it's not off-mission for them to
implement these - in fact it's back to their core mission and values,
just updating their methods for the 21st century. On a practical
level, museums are already in this game, trying to preserve this art,
so let them do it well. And, collectively, they command huge resources
that we would all do well to tap in our collective efforts. Lastly,
what's the alternative? I don't ask that rhetorically. I think that we
should conduct the thought-experiments and real world tests that don't
involve museums and we should simultaneously work to change museums to
be better partners.

So, I'm left with some questions for you, Dragan, and for everyone
here. Museums need to re-think their role in order to be helpful here.
How? What new directions would help? Dragan, you said that digital art
needs to be (re)valued before museums even enter the picture. Can you
talk further about how this might happen? Lastly, Dragan, you now work
at Rhizome which is attached to the New Museum. Do you plan to
leverage that relationship in any way toward these efforts? Everyone,
how can museums be more helpful here?

Lastly, perhaps it's self-serving, but this discussion on Yasmin has
been truly enjoyable and is one of the few things that can tear me
away from watching "Vicious" nightly!

Richard Rinehart
Samek Art Gallery
Downtown Art Gallery
Museum Collection & Study Room
Bucknell University
Lewisburg, PA, 17837
(570) 577-3213

On Aug 6, 2014, at 11:08 AM, roger malina wrote:


a comment from Dragan Espenschied with response
at end from rick

roger malina

On Jul 31, 2014, at 12:37 AM, Dragan Espenschied wrote:

Dear Rick and dear Jon,

reading your book has been a very pleasant experience. There are many
interesting lines of thought in there, and it shows that you took care
to refine terms and create meaningful potentials from all the ideas
you have been writing about for such a long time already. To a degree
that I am applying some things in the Artbase's new design to see how
that will go.

There are just two chapters where I have a hard time connecting.

The first is about the Open Museum. To me this sounds like a kind of
outdated utopia, one that has moved further away into the future
instead of coming closer. I believe this is an indicator that there is
something wrong with the idea or an important step in between has been

Your base agitation in the book is that museums kind of get in front
of the game. Their traditional role is being behind the game and
seeing that as an asset. Even the VA's new rapid response collection
policy is behind the game, because when faced with the challenge of
conserving performance/activity, they will still collect a stand-in
object, a symbol or indexical symbol. I think museums cannot simply be
asked to copy what is 'happening' at large, but they have to rethink
their roles in a new environment.

When I have seen 'museum' and 'open' be combined, it brought out the
worst in both in some cases. Meaning that for example the creator of a
purely digital artwork would not sell two editions for $25'000 each,
or 500 editions for $500 each, but 25'000 editions for $0 each. :) Or
museums using 'open' art as a driver for funny and exciting events,
but through their power and process in fact offering the involved
artists the next step only as move into traditional art forms -- and
artists gladly taking up on this offer. (There is so much of this
around it is scary.)

Anyway, I believe that not only artists and museums or galleries or
archives have to change their ways of doing things, but the value of
digital art has to be recognized by another force before.

The second chapter that doesn't work for me is about biology. I feel
this was simply not ripe for the book, you're oscillating between
biology as a metaphor or biology as actual digital memory ... and the
examples kind of make no sense to me. So, for instance, if this girl
that wants to know if a plant is poison ivy has all the knowledge of
humankind stored in her hair ... why would the smartphone she needs to
read this info not come with some random hair built-in and already
indexed? Every hair would be as good as any other. Or the idea to have
algorithms create versions of environments to enable digital artifacts
to perform, or have algorithms applied to the artifact itself so it
might be able to perform in a contemporary (or rather arbitrary)
environment ... this won't work. The metaphor of guided evolution
applied to algorithms requires rules that need to be described for
weeding out useless mutations, and rules for mutation. While simple,
constrained goals, like keeping a certain identifier 'alive' via
copying, or moving in a simulated 3d world, or winning at tictactoe
can be formulated as a test for the algorithms -- in the form of an
algorithm -- this cannot be formulated for an effect on the human
consciousness. Hence, all the mutations would need to be checked by
humans for 'fitness', which again means absolutely no stellar
evolutionary speed gain or self-replicating system. Then, software
works on so many levels of abstraction, and these genetic algorithms
are usually locked to one layer or scenario. To make meaningful
mutations that span several abstraction layers, the systems have to be
deeply conceptualized and the mutations be restrained. Otherwise some
evolutionary program might try for 50 years to guess the right ABI
call of its host system for displaying a letter on the screen. And
once a system is so deeply known as to formulate these rules, it is
much simpler to just create what is required than to wait for it to
come up by itself. So, I dunno, this chapter just feels far out. :)

But maybe I am totally not getting something here?

The problem is real and tangible though.

In the bwFLA Emulation as a Service research project, we constantly
try to make artifacts perform with the least possible knowledge on the
side of the user, and also the archivist. There is a minimal set of
knowledge required about a system, and the artifact. Maybe the
challenge is to make this knowledge cargo-cultable, so that some
actions can be performed with minimal understanding, but at the sime
time these actions could provide the maximum required context.

To stay inside the oral history metaphor, not the digital artifacts
themselves should be encoded in a dance, but how to use them should.

Alright, had to tell somebody! :)
I've been holding off the Yasmin list for this.

In the end, I want to emphasize again how valuable your work is and
how accessible it is written. Thanks!!

With only the best greetings,

-- >NEW!<

From: Jon Ippolito <>
Date: Wed, Aug 6, 2014 at 8:06 AM

I want to thank you, for buying the book in the first place :) but
also reading it so thoughtfully AND taking the time to give the
authors your candid feedback (that almost never happens!) and your
discretion at sending your critique to us first before the world. Much

I'm not speaking for Jon here, but I'm totally cool with you sending
your critique to Yasmin, et al. Why write a semi-academic book if not
to invite debate? In fact, I believe one of our final chapter
recommendations is for academics and historians and everyone to debate
all of these issues and thus refine them into practice. Anyway, if you
choose to post; I'll follow up, naturally, with a defense of my
pie-eyed open-museum utopianism :)

Seriously, though, you open up a lot of good questions, not just for
the book as an artifact, but for how we approach the larger problems.
Thanks and onward!

Richard Rinehart
Samek Art Museum
Bucknell University
Lewisburg, PA, 17837
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HOW TO UNSUBSCRIBE: on the info page, scroll all the way down and enter your e-mail address in the last field. Enter password if asked. Click on the unsubscribe button on the page that will appear ("options page").
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