NEW.WRITING: A tale of two lists

BY: Linda Carroli

It’s often difficult to maintain a coherent discussion in online environments, especially where those discussions relate to net art or new media practice. This isn’t to say that the level of discussion is incomprehensible; merely that this is quite a fractious and open field. And, of course, there’s definitely something to be said for the ‘free for all’, cacophonic relays that take place in many lists. These forums have the potential to reshape art writing including hierarchies of criticism and practice as well as extend the artistic practice into the writing space.

Having lurked on many discussion lists, there are quite structured and moderated lists which I’ve come to rely on for exposure to innovative thinking and practice in net art; most notably those are -empyre- (Australia) and the New Media Curating list (UK). This conclusion isn’t the result of a comprehensive survey of lists nor does it result from the application of any stringent criteria. If ethos counts for anything then these two lists seem to maintain a level of discussion in terms of volume and scope that is of consistent value and interest to me as a researcher and writer.

Both projects were instigated as critical rather than chat spaces, -empyre- in 2002 and the New Media Curating list in 2001. Both are overtly moderated and themed, often with guest ‘speakers’ although this is more commonly the practice on empyre. Both have an eye on the global while bringing to their discussions the particular inflections of locality or region. By focusing on themed discussions, the lists provide intensive engagements with topics, projects and people – subscribers switch on or off depending on the theme. This means that rather than hearing from the same old voices, as can be a tendency in some lists, there’s an attempt at bringing in new voices, perhaps jolting some out of their perennial lurking and engaging a more collaborative and non-hierarchical approach.

Everything in moderation? In the context of these particular spaces, moderation and facilitation works and works exceedingly well and -empyre- also applies strict guidelines to posts. -empyre- was initiated by Melinda Rackham who together with other moderators Jim Andrews, Christina McPhee, Michael Arnold Mages and Felix Sattler chooses topics and moderates for thematic integrity. -empyre- is a voluntary undertaking with little by way of institutional support. I recall Rackham once saying

that it was a struggle to keep the list going – not for lack of interest but for lack of resources. This may well be symptomatic of the saturation of the media sphere by publications and forums where, instead of logging in to existing networks, new endeavors are pursued and customized for particular interests. Even so, what places -empyre- in good stead is its grounding in the net art community in Australia and its consistency in terms of delivering focused and intensive discussions with guests from around the world, on a sweep of themes such as web-casting, networked performance and gaming.

Under the careful moderation of Beryl Graham and Sarah Cook, the New Media Curating list is part of a much larger project, CRUMB (Curatorial Resource for Upstart Media Bliss), at the University of Sunderland, which is dedicated to exploring issues in curatorial practice in new media. While probably generating less traffic than -empyre-, CRUMB’s discussions are equally compelling from the perspective of contemporary curatorial practice. Recent themes have included research and locative media.

Obviously, it’s impossible to ‘review’ an online discussion list and much depends on what we need to get out of discussions or what we put into those discussions. With their archives remaining accessible online, the lists are valuable testaments of the debates, practices, technologies and ideas which have in|formed and continue to in|form net art practice. Their ‘in the moment’ urgency provides a lived-ness about what’s being said and written about, expressing directly and intensely the concerns of all manner of practitioners from the fields which might loosely comprise net art. In these most simple of mediated interactive spaces, discussion lists do serve an extremely useful purpose, reminding us of our connections to each other through our practices and interests. We rely on them for information, we rely on them for criticism and we rely on them to get to know each other.

Contributions/Questions: editor@netartreview.net