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THE CURATION AND DISPLAY OF INTERACTIVE NEW MEDIA ART: MAKING A MANUAL

Authors:
  • UNARTE / New Media Caucus

Abstract and Figures

While interactive new media art continues to be an interest to artists, its integration within institutional contexts remains inconsistent at best. A literature and artist and curator perspective survey showed that the field has a lack of understanding of both the theoretical nature of interactive new media art and its specific needs at the installation level. Furthermore, the speed at which the technologies supporting this art form change means that literature becomes outdated within a short window of time. From these insights, it became clear that a more responsive and easier to maintain resource was necessary. This dissertation describes the research and methodological approaches implemented in the creation of the manual. The research questions aimed to determine what was needed from the manual from a curator's and a designer's perspective; how could it offer recommendations that not only met the needs of curators, artists, and the public, but also ensure that such efforts were accessible and useable as well. As part of this process, interviews and case studies of FACT in the United Kingdom and Laboratorio Arte Alameda in Mexico were used to collect a variety of perspectives across curatorial cultures and budgets. The results of this research became an online manual covering the curatorial, display, and memory making aspects of exhibition design. The manual is a creative commons online resource in order to promote its dissemination through institutions. The manual accepts input from readers to continue its improvement past publication. The art world can benefit from this research in a variety of ways, the most obvious being from directly using the manual as intended, but it can also contribute to the better understanding of interaction, time, reproducibility, and virtual site-specificity in the broader context of art history particularly related to new media art. Rene Alberto Garcia Cepeda 2020 Curation and Display 2
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THE CURATION AND DISPLAY OF INTERACTIVE NEW MEDIA ART: MAKING
A MANUAL
RENE ALBERTO GARCIA CEPEDA
A thesis submitted in partial
fulfilment of the requirements of the University of Sunderland
for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy
June 2020
Rene Alberto Garcia Cepeda 2020 Curation and Display
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Abstract
While interactive new media art continues to be an interest to artists, its integration
within institutional contexts remains inconsistent at best. A literature and artist and
curator perspective survey showed that the field has a lack of understanding of both
the theoretical nature of interactive new media art and its specific needs at the
installation level. Furthermore, the speed at which the technologies supporting this
art form change means that literature becomes outdated within a short window of
time. From these insights, it became clear that a more responsive and easier to
maintain resource was necessary. This dissertation describes the research and
methodological approaches implemented in the creation of the manual.
The research questions aimed to determine what was needed from the manual from
a curator’s and a designer’s perspective; how could it offer recommendations that not
only met the needs of curators, artists, and the public, but also ensure that such
efforts were accessible and useable as well. As part of this process, interviews and
case studies of FACT in the United Kingdom and Laboratorio Arte Alameda in Mexico
were used to collect a variety of perspectives across curatorial cultures and budgets.
The results of this research became an online manual covering the curatorial, display,
and memory making aspects of exhibition design. The manual is a creative commons
online resource in order to promote its dissemination through institutions. The manual
accepts input from readers to continue its improvement past publication.
The art world can benefit from this research in a variety of ways, the most obvious
being from directly using the manual as intended, but it can also contribute to the
better understanding of interaction, time, reproducibility, and virtual site-specificity in
the broader context of art history particularly related to new media art.
Rene Alberto Garcia Cepeda 2020 Curation and Display
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Acknowledgements
Thank you to Beryl Graham and Alexandra Moschovi for guiding and supporting me
through my research. Without you, this work would not have been possible.
Special thanks to Helen Starr, Jon Ippolito, Pippin Barr, and Pau Waelder for all
your insights and input into my project, and for accepting me as one of your own.
Your collaborations have made this work a much better one.
Thank you to everyone at Laboratorio Arte Alameda, Centro Multimedia, and FACT
for opening your doors to me and sharing all your knowledge with me.
Finally, I want to thank my mother, Martha Cepeda, for all the support and sacrifices
she went through to see me here.
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Table of Contents
ABSTRACT ................................................................................................................. 1
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS ........................................................................................... 2
TABLE OF CONTENTS .............................................................................................. 3
TABLE OF FIGURES .................................................................................................. 7
1. CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION ................................................................... 9
1.1 QUESTIONS AND AIMS ........................................................................................ 9
1.2 WHY A MANUAL ............................................................................................... 10
1.3 PERSONAL BACKGROUND ................................................................................. 10
1.4 METHODOLOGY ................................................................................................ 11
1.4.1 Introduction .............................................................................................. 11
1.4.2 Practice-based research ......................................................................... 12
1.4.3 Contextual Review .................................................................................. 15
1.4.4 Selection Criteria for Case Studies Methodology................................... 15
1.5 DEFINITIONS .................................................................................................... 16
1.6 SCOPE............................................................................................................. 17
1.7 STRUCTURE OF THE THESIS ............................................................................. 19
2 CHAPTER TWO: CONTEXTUAL REVIEW ....................................................... 20
2.1 INTRODUCTION ................................................................................................. 20
2.2 CURATORIAL CONTEXT ..................................................................................... 21
2.2.1 Introduction .............................................................................................. 21
2.2.2 Neomateriality.......................................................................................... 22
2.2.3 Collection and Categorization ................................................................. 23
2.2.4 Time, Space, and Other Curatorial Concerns ........................................ 23
2.2.5 Practical Curation .................................................................................... 26
2.3 EXHIBITION DESIGN .......................................................................................... 27
2.3.1 Introduction .............................................................................................. 27
2.3.2 Exhibition Design Literature .................................................................... 28
2.3.3 Cross-departmental collaboration ........................................................... 30
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2.3.4 Health and safety .................................................................................... 30
2.3.5 The Aesthetics of Interaction in Digital Art ............................................. 31
2.3.6 Online and Offline .................................................................................... 32
2.3.7 Case Studies ........................................................................................... 33
2.4 EXHIBITION MEMORY MAKING ........................................................................... 34
2.4.1 Introduction .............................................................................................. 34
2.4.2 Variable Media Questionnaire................................................................. 34
2.4.3 The Indeterminate Archive ...................................................................... 35
2.4.4 Conserving Digital Art for Deep Time ..................................................... 36
2.4.5 Laboratorio Arte Alameda ....................................................................... 37
2.5 SUMMARY ........................................................................................................ 38
3 CHAPTER THREE: CASE STUDIES................................................................. 39
3.1 INTRODUCTION ................................................................................................. 39
3.2 LABORATORIO ARTE ALAMEDA ......................................................................... 40
3.2.1 Introduction .............................................................................................. 40
3.2.2 Context .................................................................................................... 41
3.2.3 Curatorial Concerns ................................................................................ 41
3.2.4 Exhibition Design ..................................................................................... 44
3.2.5 Memory Making ....................................................................................... 47
3.2.6 Summary ................................................................................................. 49
3.3 FACT .............................................................................................................. 50
3.3.1 Introduction .............................................................................................. 50
3.3.2 Context .................................................................................................... 50
3.3.3 Methodology ............................................................................................ 50
3.3.4 The Exhibition Space .............................................................................. 51
3.3.5 Curation and planning ............................................................................. 57
3.3.6 Exhibition Design ..................................................................................... 58
3.3.7 Visitor services and Operations .............................................................. 59
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3.3.8 Summary ................................................................................................. 59
4 CHAPTER FOUR: ANALYSIS ........................................................................... 61
4.1 INTRODUCTION ................................................................................................. 61
4.2 CURATION ....................................................................................................... 61
4.2.1 Introduction .............................................................................................. 61
4.2.2 Manual structure ...................................................................................... 61
4.2.3 Findings ................................................................................................... 63
4.3 EXHIBITION DESIGN .......................................................................................... 74
4.3.1 Introduction .............................................................................................. 74
4.3.2 Manual structure ...................................................................................... 75
4.3.3 Findings ................................................................................................... 77
4.4 MEMORY MAKING............................................................................................. 85
4.4.2 Manual structure ...................................................................................... 85
4.4.3 Findings ................................................................................................... 87
5 CHAPTER FIVE: CONCLUSION ....................................................................... 92
5.1 RESEARCH AIMS .............................................................................................. 92
5.2 REFLECTION ON QUESTIONS ............................................................................ 92
5.2.1 Question 1: What are the challenges curators and institutions encounter
when working with interactive new media art? ................................................... 93
5.2.2 Question 2: How can interactive new media art exhibitions be designed
and curated to ensure an exhibition is accessible, usable, and fulfils a curatorial
purpose while preserving the artistic integrity of artworks? ............................... 94
5.2.3 Question 3: How can these concerns be addressed through a best
practice manual? ................................................................................................. 97
5.3 REFLECTION ON METHOD ................................................................................. 99
5.4 CONTRIBUTIONS TO KNOWLEDGE ..................................................................... 99
5.4.1 Expanded Taxonomies of Space: Virtual Site Specificity .................... 100
5.4.2 Time in interactive new media art ......................................................... 101
5.4.3 Reproducibility ....................................................................................... 102
5.4.4 Memory Making and Labelling .............................................................. 103
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5.5 AREAS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH AND FINAL CONCLUSION ................................ 104
REFERENCES ........................................................................................................ 106
APPENDICES .......................................................................................................... 126
APPENDIX 1: ARTIST INTERVIEWS ............................................................................ 126
Cecilia Suhr........................................................................................................ 126
Gilberto Prado .................................................................................................... 128
Pippin Barr ......................................................................................................... 131
APPENDIX 2: CURATOR INTERVIEWS ........................................................................ 134
Jorge La Ferla .................................................................................................... 134
Helen Starr ......................................................................................................... 136
Christiane Paul .................................................................................................. 138
Pau Waelder ...................................................................................................... 140
Anonymous ........................................................................................................ 143
APPENDIX 3: FACT INTERVIEWS .............................................................................. 145
Jon Couch .......................................................................................................... 145
Charlotte Horn ................................................................................................... 147
Mark Wright........................................................................................................ 149
Lucia Arias ......................................................................................................... 151
Joan Burnett....................................................................................................... 152
Mark Murphy ...................................................................................................... 155
APPENDIX 4: THE MANUAL ....................................................................................... 156
APPENDIX 5: PUBLICATIONS ..................................................................................... 157
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Table of Figures
Figure 1: Rossin, Rachel, 2016, Just A Nose, VR experience and projection.
Photo by Franz Wamhof. ............................................................................... 25
Figure 2: Example of Ippolito’s versioned wall label. Screenshot by Jon Ippolito. 27
Figure 3: Breakdown of new media behaviours and examples of what they contain.
Diagram by Jon Ippolito (Ippolito 2004) ........................................................... 35
Figure 4: Here we can see the Laboratorio Arte Alameda Archive. Within each of
the cardboard boxes on the top shelf resides the entire memory of an
exhibition. In this way, while the event is long gone, it is still possible to learn
from previous exhibitions. Photo: Rene G. Cepeda ........................................ 37
Figure 5: Prado, Gilbertto, 2000/2014, Desertesejo, Mexico City. The label
introduces some aspects of the versioned labels suggested by Jon Ippolito, in
this case variable dates and development teams (2008) Photo by Rene G.
Cepeda ............................................................................................................. 44
Figure 6: Prado, Gilbertto, 2000/2014, Desertesejo, Interactive virtual installation.
Initial screen the participant is presented with upon beginning the experience.
Screen capture by Gilbertto Prado. ................................................................. 45
Figure 7: Xbox controller (there are four more triggers on the top of the controller).
Photo by Microsoft. ........................................................................................... 46
Figure 8: The high ceilings at FACT allow for a large variety of works and screen
sizes to be brought into the space. The floor tiles can be removed and replaced
with tiles that give access to power and wired internet all throughout the space.
Photo by Rene G. Cepeda ............................................................................... 52
Figure 9: The scaffolding at FACT allows for lights, power, and internet to run
through the space with no limitations, opening up design possibilities. Speakers
are also built into the space. Photo by Rene G. Cepeda ................................ 52
Figure 10: The control room at FACT features a sound mixer, a video console, and
a computer running Hyperdeck to control the media displayed through the
projectors. Photo by Rene G. Cepeda ............................................................. 53
Figure 11: Unlike with the Raspberry Pi, every input in this case has to be carefully
labelled to make troubleshooting issues with any media server and its control
interface easier. Photo by Rene G. Cepeda .................................................... 54
Figure 12: The small size of the Raspberry pie (top middle) allows it to be placed
right next to the display device, which reduces design complexities since there
is no need for dedicated enclosures. It also makes troubleshooting easier, as it
is clear which media (oración incompleta). Photo by Rene G. Cepeda ......... 54
Figure 13: This small amplifier takes the sound output from the Raspberry Pi and
splits it into 4 channels, each channel can connect to independent headphones
and allow more than one user to hear what is going on screen. Photo by Rene
G. Cepeda ........................................................................................................ 55
Figure 14 Details of the niche containing the VR experience at FACT. On initial
contact, this would appear to a visitor as a technical thing related to running the
space and not an artwork. Photo by Rene G. Cepeda ................................... 56
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Figure 15: Picture of the social space layout. The VR experience is located in the
back right area, hidden from the entrance on its right by a small wall. Photo by
John Couch....................................................................................................... 56
Figure 16 SK Games, 2014, Bush Bash. Video Game. Here we can see the notice
telling visitors the reasons for the deactivation. Photo by Rene G. Cepeda. . 66
Figure 17: Molleindustria, 2013, To Build a Better Mousetrap, installation shot, Time
and Motion: Redefining Working Life, FACT. .................................................. 67
Figure 18: Owlchemy, 2016, Job Simulator, installation shot, FACT. The player
wears the VR headset and a small computer screen can be seen at a 90-
degree angle from the gallery entrance. This monitor is only intended to be
used to troubleshoot the VR experience. Photo by Rene G. Cepeda ............ 68
Figure 19: Prado, Gilbertto, 2012, Encontros, Robot. Photo by Rene G. Cepeda. 71
Figure 20: Diagram by Rene G. Cepeda. Gantt chart used to illustrate the relative
time span each step in the design of an interactive new media art exhibition
should take. This visual method can be then adapted to suit an exhibitions time
scale. ................................................................................................................. 73
Figure 21: Dawood, Shezad, 2017, Leviathan, VR experience. Signage directs
visitors to walk back to the lobby to request access to the artwork. The artwork
itself is at the gallery furthest away from the lobby. Photo by Rene G. Cepeda
.......................................................................................................................... 79
Figure 22: Poppy, 2017, Help Poppy Build the Computer. Interactive Livestream.
Screenshot........................................................................................................ 80
Figure 23: The V&A theatre space. ......................................................................... 82
Figure 24: The screen allows visitors to know at a glance how far along the film is
as well as information on each video. .............................................................. 82
Figure 25: Jodi.org. 1998, Untitled Game Ctrl-Space, intervened video game.
Screenshot of Untitled Game Ctrl-Space. ....................................................... 84
Figure 26: Each of the boxes in the top shelf contains the collected memory of an
exhibition that took place at the Laboratorio Arte Alameda. Image: Rene G.
Cepeda ............................................................................................................. 90
Figure 27: Example of an exhibition memory box at the Laboratorio Arte Alameda.
The box contains all promotional materials, curatorial texts, and interviews
made with the artists. Floor plans and other technical details are included as
well. Image: Rene G. Cepeda. ......................................................................... 91
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1. Chapter One: Introduction
Interactive new media art has become more prevalent in the current art scene, and
therefore exhibitions of new media are more prevalent than ever. Unfortunately, this
exhibitory boom has not been matched by comprehensive literature on how to
curate and display this complex artform. With that in mind, my goal was to
determine how institutions were being challenged and what steps should be taken
to aid in minimizing the challenges that interaction presented to the curation and
display of new media art and offer a solution.
1.1 Questions and Aims
What are the challenges curators and institutions encounter when working
with interactive new media art?
How can interactive new media art exhibitions be designed and curated to
ensure an exhibition is accessible, usable, and fulfils a curatorial purpose
while preserving the artistic integrity of artworks?
How can these concerns be addressed through a best practice manual?
My dissertation project aimed to create a comprehensive manual that could cover
the needs of curators, exhibition designers, and other interested museum
professionals who wish to curate and display interactive new media art. I made the
conscious choice of limiting the scope of the manual to interactive forms of new
media as this specific aspect has been traditionally ignored or engaged with in a
problematic manner, from works being displayed in inaccessible or user-unfriendly
ways to up to complete deactivation where the work is rendered inert and its
meaning is lost.
The resulting manual seeks to reduce the expertise gap between curators
specialized in interactive new media art and those who have limited to no
experience in the field. Furthermore, it seeks to reduce the departmental gap that
exists between curatorial teams and the rest of the institution. This was necessary
since new media art by its very nature is interdisciplinary and, particularly with non-
expert individuals, the gaps in knowledge cannot be covered by one team alone.
Finally, the manual attempts to help preserve the memory of these exhibitions and,
while not focused on preservation or collection, still presents a series of guidelines
to assist in preserving the work and the intentions of the artists regarding the work.
I would also like to explain the title of the project, as it may be confusing to
some. My use of the term curation is meant to allude to the specific areas of
curation of research and exhibition planning. Meanwhile, display refers to the
exhibition design discipline; I do not use the term “exhibition design” in the title
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because it may be interpreted as if the manual is meant to be read and engaged
with exclusively by exhibition designers. In short, the project aims to help join
both disciplines in the process of creating exhibitions from beginning to end
within institutional contexts, such as art galleries, museums, art labs, and art
fairs, amongst others.
1.2 Why a Manual
As interactive new media art rises in popularity, more and more institutions that had
never engaged with the art form will find themselves in a situation where they will
have to include interactive new media art in their exhibitions. This situation will put
non-expert (in interactive new media) curators and exhibition designers in a difficult
position; and while courses, blog posts, and interviews with curators do exist, a
centralised repository of up-to-date information does not exist. For this reason, it
was proposed that a manual that joined the practices of curation and exhibition
design would be welcomed by the community as a steppingstone to better
exhibitions of interactive new media art.
Unlike other art forms where the technical aspects of exhibition design, such as
display technologies, hardware brands, and other technological concerns, do not
usually change the inherent meaning of a work or risk permanently altering it,
changes to the aforementioned aspects of a work of new media art can have
dramatic consequences to its meaning and conservation. Thus, it was deemed
important to integrate both disciplines into the manual, so their relationship
becomes apparent to both curators and designers. Finally, memory making was
also included to emphasise the importance of this practice, as it contributes to the
future preservation and display of new media art.
1.3 Personal Background
While the profile of a researcher is often not relevant to the success of a PhD, given
that this project strongly hinges on reflective personal practice, in this case I shall
elaborate. Initially, I was a computer science bachelor before deciding it was not a
good fit for me and changed my degree to information design. Later, I completed
two master’s degrees, one in museum studies and one in art history and curating.
All these disciplines together have given me a varied and intertwined skillset
perfectly suited to writing this manual.
Furthermore, my professional experience in commercial design, collections
management, and museum work has given me practical skills that also proved
useful in developing this project. My experience in commercial design derives from
my time working at a design firm and as a lecturer, both of which allowed me to
familiarise myself with the needs of users of my designs as well as with proven
display methodologies that led to successful designs in shops and trade shows. As
for my collections management experience and museum work, both derive from my
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work placements at The Museum of East Anglian Life, where I was asked to
document a variety of objects from the mundane to artworks, machines, and
heritage objects, and the Norwich Castle Museum, where I assisted in various
exhibitions where artworks included unorthodox materials, such as living creatures,
organic matter, electronics, and replaceable parts, amongst others.
All the aforementioned experience enabled me to notice certain deficiencies in new
media art exhibitions I visited, such as a lack of usability and accessibility concepts,
even beyond what the artworks requirements may impose on the design.
Furthermore, some curatorial decisions, such as labelling and information panels,
demonstrated a lack of overall understanding of the artform and the technologies
underpinning the artworks.
Complimenting this body of knowledge, for the last five years I have been teaching
exhibition design to designers, architects, artists, and art historians. This last aspect
of my personal practice allowed me to witness first-hand the complete
disconnection between these disciplines and their approaches to technology.
Having identified these apparent gaps in knowledge, I decided to determine
why these situations were happening and how I could contribute to address
them, leading directly to the initial research for this dissertation and its
accompanying manual.
1.4 Methodology
1.4.1 Introduction
Literature on the curation of interactive new media art is scarce and scattered, which
complicates the curatorial process for curators that are not immersed in new media
art. Specifically, while academic literature dealing with academic and philosophical
issues around new media art is vast and varied, literature engaging with the practical
consequences of these academic findings is particularly scarce and often found as
small sub-chapters within case studies. In the case of exhibition design, much has
been written on interactive design, albeit not from an art world perspective.
Furthermore, new media art is an extremely fluid medium where previously held
beliefs about the limitations of a particular technology can be made false by future
progress. As such, curatorial knowledge has been mostly kept within those
professionals that have encountered the art form and whatever academic output
they may have produced. Certainly, books on how to grapple with new media exist,
such as Beryl Graham and Sarah Cook’s Rethinking Curating: Art After New Media
(2010) and Kwastek’s Aesthetics of Interaction in Digital Art (2013), amongst others.
However, even these sources are more than five years old, which means that some
of their approaches may no longer apply to newer technologies, such as interactive
live-streaming or the current trends in virtual reality (VR). This does not imply that
new knowledge has not been generated since then, as the last few years have seen
a surge of interest on how to curate interactive new media art. However, even within
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the artform, interaction is often ignored or avoided, a situation that further
complicates the curatorial process, particularly when interaction is involved. This
methodology therefore aims to answer the research questions previously delineated
and provide a clear way to create the manual for the curation and display of
interactive new media art that accompanies this dissertation.
This project involves several methodological layers. The first layer is where I
combine literature research to find the current status of curation and display for
interactive new media art through interviews, oral histories, observations to explore
the methodologies of practicing curators and designers, and finally my own
experience in both curation and display in order to find commonalities and inter-
subjectivities. The second layer involves the methodologies of all the primary and
secondary sources, including curators, designers, project managers, and others,
and whose methods must then be distilled into common concepts. Finally, there are
the multiple methods and methodologies that the manual itself proposes for
engaging with the curation and display of interactive new media art.
In summary, the methodology is three-pronged: first, it seeks to determine whether
there is interest in a manual, then it seeks prior efforts in creating such a manual as
well as any developments in the fields of curation and exhibition design focused on
both interaction and new media art. This was achieved through a thorough
contextual review that explored online and print sources, including books, journal
articles, institutional websites, and personal blogs of various notable experts. Next,
a modified version of the reflective practice methodology of Gray and Malins was
used to find the intersection of various individual curatorial practices in an effort to
find inter-subjective knowledge that may apply to a wider variety of cases.
To achieve this, the methods used included interviews, oral stories, and direct
observations of various exhibitions in the United Kingdom, United States, and Mexico.
Finally, case studies were used to explore the real-world applications of what was found
in the contextual review, including the self-reflective practice of others as well as my own.
1.4.2 Practice-based research
As will be demonstrated in the contextual review, practical solutions to issues of
curation and display are often subsumed to case studies, which means that any
advice is extremely case specific. For this reason and as this dissertation is in itself
a combination of curatorial, design, and museological work, it is necessary to
establish an adapted methodology.
Although practice-based research has established precedents, it could be
argued that personal experience lacks academic rigour. Andrew Richardson, in
his 2010 thesis, challenges this with the idea that experts in a particular field
have built specific, albeit subjective, bodies of knowledge that can be studied
and explored in order to generate, if not objective data, at least data that has
been proven to work within its specific context, and that this data is credible
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through its validation by the professional’s own trajectory and the experiences of
other experts (Richardson, 2010). Gray and Malins’ work informs practice-based
research in the fields of Art and Design by providing approaches that account for
subjectivity in the field as well as the variety of methods used by various
creatives, and they also develop Schon’s ‘reflective practitioner’ approach, which
was used by Richardson, and which I adapt.
Like Richardson, this work attempts to contextualise the current practices of
curation and display through the lenses of interaction and new media art, and in this
way frame the development of the manual. While practice-based methodologies
often focus on the author’s own practice exclusively and often look at a particular
exhibition or project, the approach taken in this dissertation is different: In essence,
this is a reflection on a variety of my prior experiences on exhibition design,
curation, and even lecturing on both subjects, and then combining the lessons
learnt with the experiences of other practitioners who, through interviews and oral
histories, also reflect on their own practice.
Unlike Richardson’s work, where he utilises the contextual review to direct his
personal practice into the creation of a project supported by the framework set by
his review, this work instead uses the existing literature as a way to guide the
interviews, case studies, and self-reflective practice in order to find the knowledge
that is not being documented or shared. Another difference with Richardson’s work
concerns the types of practices observed. While Richardson focuses on his own
personal practice and reflecting on the code he writes, I will be mostly targeting the
practice of others and how specific aspects can be implemented in a more general
way. Alongside this, I used my personal professional and academic experience both
to guide my lines of inquiry and to implement my own solutions to some of the
problems identified in this research.
This is necessary, given that, in professional practice, designers, managers, and
even curators frequently solve problems in an intuitive way, often based around
personal experience. This is, at times, perceived as a form of ‘trade secret’, making
the sharing of knowledge difficult and resulting in the separation of academic and
professional practice (Gray and Malins, 2004, p.22).
As was previously mentioned, professionals both in curation and exhibition design
tend to rely on personal experience and experimentation when creating exhibitions,
and while they seem to operate independently, some practices appear over and over
in unrelated exhibitions of new media. Therefore, we can hypothesise that an
objective truth lies underneath, connecting these disparate practices. Considering
that the literature gives no explanation for many of these practices, the best way to
determine the validity of such choices is by examining the practice of multiple experts
and determining the reasons for making them. While it is obvious that this may be
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misinformation perpetuating itself, it is possible to cross-reference these practices
with the findings made in the contextual review and accept or reject said axioms.
The methods employed to explore this hidden knowledge could not be limited to
what is present in the literature because, as has been previously mentioned, the
actual processes are not always documented or even considered valid enough to
share with the greater community. Thus, two different interviews were created, one
for curators and for artists (see Appendix). These two interviews were designed as
a way to determine attitudes by both curators and artists towards certain
approaches to interactive new media art that this manual was meant to cover,
including duplication of artworks, labelling practices, initial approaches to curating
the art form, and truncating experiences to fit institutional timescales, as well as the
general interest in a manual itself. Initially, interviews were carried out in the
Surveymonkey platform due to the perceived flexibility offered by their services.
Unfortunately, these features only applied to the paid versions and thus, after two
interviews, it was decided to switch platforms. Following my research, it was
decided that Google Forms was the best free alternative to Surveymonkey.
Consequently, all further interviews were carried out in this platform.
As curators are often reticent to mention names and reflect on certain practices
that may be frowned upon by others in the trade, oral histories outside the
formally scheduled interviews were also incorporated. While these personal
recollections cannot be used directly as proof or as facts, they have been used
to direct bibliographic research inquiries that could be used to support what was
gleaned informally or been verified through observation of exhibitions and by
consulting existing texts. Email communications were also used to contact
certain individuals such as Christiane Paul, Jon Ippolito, and Pippin Barr,
amongst others in order to verify specific issues and recommendations featured
in the manual. This was done by emailing these experts excerpts of the manual
that were relevant to their areas of expertise and, in the case of Jon Ippolito, a
complete draft was provided per his request.
Personal practice is also subject to the context within which it develops, which
includes budgets, cultural attitudes towards art and the wider culture, and the
artworks the curatorial and design teams engage with, as well as individual
preferences. For example, the curatorial practices of Latin America (Argentina, Brazil,
Mexico) and the United Kingdom and the United States of America are very different.
By comparing such diverse regions, it was possible to find points of incidence that
could be considered universal enough to work in a variety of contexts, an important
feature for a manual that intends to be of use to a wide range of professionals. This
was achieved through both the interviews, which attempted to capture a wide range
of opinions and teachings of practitioners from different countries as well as the case
studies which will be discussed under their own heading.
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These interviews and reflections attempted to draw the “unwritten” trade crafts and
personal opinions of the participants, resulting in the creation of the inter-
subjectivities between different experts and myself, as required by the reflective
practice methodologies of Gray and Malins (2004).
1.4.3 Contextual Review
Given that the disciplines of exhibition design and new media art operate on the
periphery of the artworld, it has proven difficult to find concrete recommendations
for developing methods for the curation and display of new media art; even more so
for interactive manifestations of said media. As mentioned in Richardson (2010,
p.22), most knowledge in design disciplines is acquired through empiric means, a
conclusion that matches my own personal experience as a designer, where
instruction is based around personal experimentation alongside a broad theoretical
background focused on laying down the bases for effective design via axioms. In
addition, while there exists a body of research surrounding design, it is aimed
mostly at marketing and usability. Even sources such as Exhibition Design by Phillip
Hughes (2015) rely mostly on the authors personal design experience rather than
an established body of exhibition design research. This in no way diminishes the
value of such sources; however, it reinforces what Gray and Malins state regarding
how a vast amount of knowledge is being held by creatives and being rarely shared.
For this reason, the contextual review on exhibition design practice serves more as
a source of knowledge to be confronted with the subjective experience of experts
and the institutions surveyed for this project, as well as my personal practice in the
field, in order to find inter-subjective data that may reveal the underlying shared
knowledge that is often left unsaid and undocumented in the discipline.
While curatorial knowledge regarding interactive new media art is scarce, interest in
how to curate the artform has risen in the last five years. This interest focuses more
in the philosophical and ethical quandaries presented by such an unstable, mutable
medium, and seems to mostly ignore the practical consequences that arise from
these very questions. This is not to say there is no material in existence, but just as
with the exhibition design, this knowledge is contained within certain individuals and
institutions as a form of oral tradition. Experimentation and improvisation still seem
to be the most common recommendation, with literature often mentioning the
necessity to address such concerns on a case-by-case basis (Dragona, 2010;
Graham and Cook, 2010; Kwastek, 2013; Paul, 2015b) instead of presenting
solutions to problems one may encounter during the curatorial process.
1.4.4 Selection Criteria for Case Studies Methodology
For this project, it was necessary to study interactive new media art curation and
display in practice, since the best way to judge the effectiveness of a method is to
determine its performance and effectiveness in real-world conditions. Case studies
thus became the method of choice as it allowed me greater access to the institution, its
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exhibitions and, more importantly, to its staff in a more intimate way than what literature
and long-distance communications would have allowed. These case studies were
designed following Kathleen Eisenhardt’s “no theory first” ideal for case study design
(Ridder, 2017). Ridder’s journal article presents a survey of various case study
methodologies and the research areas where said methods are best applied. While
Ridder presents other options for case study design, such as gaps and holes, social
construction of reality, and anomalies, none were as suitable for this study.
‘No theory first’ is a methodology where the researcher is freed from an underlying
theory directing the lines of inquiry; instead, the researcher formulates a research
problem and potential important variables (Ridder, 2017). This frees the
researcher to be more explorative in their approach and allows for potential
insights into the issues being researched (Ridder, 2017). For this project, it
allowed me to choose specific cases without constraining my data collection while
at the same time offered new lines of inquiry that could be applied to the
subsequent case studies as well as to more traditional research avenues. Further
discussion on the specific case studies and their selection can be found within
chapter 3 of this text.
1.5 Definitions
As new media art is a complex subject and requires its own terminology, a series of
definitions are thus required.
Accessibility: The ideal that a design should be usable without adaptations or
special modifications by individuals with different abilities (Lidwell, Holden and
Butler, 2003, p.16).
Audience: A group of individuals spectating a performance of some kind.
Curation: In the context of this work, it refers to the selection, organization, and
presentation of artworks. In this case, it will not involve the preservation and
archival aspects of the discipline.
Display: The presentation of artworks in an exhibition (exhibition design); used for brevity.
Institution: As new media art is often shown in different contexts, the term museum is
inadequate for artworks that are often displayed in art labs, art shows, commercial
galleries, foundations, and other spaces. For this reason, institution is used as a catch-
all term that attempts to encompass as many locations as possible.
Interactive: interaction and interactive are contentious terms that have varied
definitions depending on the context where they are utilised. In exhibition design,
interaction implies the creation of pedagogical tools and is a method of
democratisation of the museum (Hughes, 2015, p.17). In the artworld, it refers to
the artworks themselves that can be engaged with in one way or another (not
necessarily by touching) by the participant. For this project, interaction draws from
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the artworld tradition while implementing the ideals of accessibility and usability
from exhibition design. Furthermore, interaction in this case refers to interaction that
goes beyond the activation of the artwork or the mere presence of a spectator.
New Media Art: as defined by new media academic Christiane Paul: [New media
art is commonly understood as digital-born, computable art that is created, stored,
and distributed via digital technologies and employs their features as its very own
medium] (Paul, 2015b). While Paul’s definition is one of the most commonly
accepted definitions, it seems to exclude robotics and art that features a significant
physical aspect to itself. For this project, I would add the corollary: This work may
manifest itself through physical artefacts, although these may or may not be specific
to the artwork.
Participant: an individual that engages directly with a work and controls it to
activate its interactive aspects. A participant is also a performer within the context of
specific artworks.
Player: A term specific to video games, similar to participant but with an added
ludic component.
Usability: I will use Eric Reiss’ definition of usability: There are two sides to the
usability coin: ease of use on one side and elegance and clarity on the other. Ease
of use deals with physical properties (“It does what I want it to do.”); elegance and
clarity deals with the psychological properties (“It does what I expect it to do.”)
(Reiss, 2012, pp.1928).
Vicarious Participation: A form of interaction where an individual (viewer) engages
through others (participants) with an artwork. This participation can be led by the
viewer by requesting the participant to perform certain actions or be passive,
allowing the participant to lead. A concept created by Katja Kwastek for her book
Aesthetics of Interaction in Digital Art (Kwastek, 2013, pp.9697).
Viewer: An individual that participates passively in the performance of an artwork.
Visitor: An individual present in an exhibition space; visitors can or cannot
become participants.
Wiki: a knowledge base website on which users collaboratively modify and
structure content directly from the web browser (Wikipedia, 2019).
1.6 Scope
This project aims to create a manual for non-specialist art curators and exhibition
designers who wish to engage with interactive new media art. This study covers
literature between 1956 and the first formal examples of new media art up to 2020.
Within this time frame, the actual research occurred between 2017 and 2020. As for
the geographical and cultural scope of the research, I engaged with literature,
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academics, and institutions in the English-speaking world with a heavy focus in the
United Kingdom (England and Scotland for the most part) and Mexico City.
While the manual does cover some recommendations on virtual spaces, its main
concern is with physical spaces, namely traditional exhibition venues, such as
museums, art labs, and art galleries.
It is true that there are some such manuals, for example the MITES Manual (Gillman,
2002), the Digital Media Handbook (Dewdney and Ride, 2006) and the Manual of
Museum Exhibitions (Lord and Piacente, 2014), to cite a few; however, none of them
is equipped to deal with the contemporary art scene and, as they all are published
physical objects, cannot easily be updated. Gillman’s manual, which is the oldest of
them all, is the closest template for a working manual, as was intended for this
project. However, it remains focused on the technical aspects of the works and the
discussion on curatorial and theoretical issues presented by interactive new media art
it offers is very limited. Furthermore, it is mostly focused on video and sound works,
and the information on computer systems is vastly outdated while interaction is not
mentioned at all. The Digital Media Handbook approaches the subject as a whole,
making no distinction between communications, marketing, and art. While such
approach presents some interesting inroads into the medium itself and which have
proven useful as a primer for the curatorial discussions within this research, as a
manual, its scope is too broad to be of use to the target audience of the proposed
manual. The Manual of Museum Exhibitions is just as broad, dealing with museums
and making the recommendations not ideal for art museums or for interactive new
media. In fact, interaction in this manual is approached from the point of view of a
museum’s education department perspective, where such displays are pedagogical
instead of artworks that are interactive by themselves.
As is evident, there is a need for a much narrower work, one aimed specifically at
interactive new media works and that responds to the specific characteristics of the
medium. By reducing the scope of the manual in this way, it is possible to cover
both the curatorial and design aspects of interactive new media art curation and
display. Curation can then be focused on the characteristics that distinguish new
media from other art forms as well as its relationship with time and space and the
necessity for closer working relationships with departments within the institution that
are often considered ancillary to curation. Design will focus on the specific
challenges posed by the various media where interaction is a core aspect of the
work. In this way, I avoid repeating information found in other sources such as The
MITES Manual or Exhibition Design.
Accessibility and relevancy are also issues addressed by this project, as the manual
is an always online creative commons living document. This allows me to keep the
document relevant for an indefinite amount of time simply by updating
methodologies and recommendations and integrating further research
developments. The open source aspect of the manual also allows institutions to
print and share elements of the manual or develop their own in-house manuals
derived from this material without fear of legal repercussions. Of course, there are
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limitations to an open source that protect the copyright of this work and prevent it
from being commercialised without authorisation.
1.7 Structure of the Thesis
This thesis consists of three sections, the first section is dedicated to the
Contextual Review where I analyse current literature in the three areas the
manual is concerned with. Under curation, I go through new media literature in
order to gauge what had been done before as well as to gather the necessary
literature to engage with a variety of new media art. Under exhibition design, I go
through prior manuals to determine their structure and find prior examples aimed
at new media. I also go through more practical sources for the manual’s practical
sections. The last subsection deals with memory making and literature on how to
preserve new media art.
The next section, Case Studies, is a description of the two case studies I performed
for the manual. The first one describes my time at the Laboratorio Arte Alameda in
Mexico City, where I visited the hanging of their exhibition as well as their top of the
line archive where I documented their exhibition design and preservation methods.
The second case study deals with my visit to FACT, which I used to verify my
findings as well as to further refine my work by studying and documenting their
curatorial methodologies.
The final chapter deals with the analysis of all the data gathered through my
research. Here, I reflect on my research and personal discoveries, confronting
errors in my methods and erroneous assumptions, and reflect on the times when
my hypotheses met or exceeded my expectations. I also describe the discoveries
that were implemented within the manual as well as their effect on the field of
curation or exhibition design.
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2 Chapter Two: Contextual Review
2.1 Introduction
In this literature review, I will attempt to present a survey of the current situation in
which interactive new media art finds itself within the context of academia. I do not
wish to imply that work is not being done in the field of interactive new media curation
or display. However, I do wish to highlight the lack of published material that deals
with both curation and display and how what exists seems to be constrained to a few
lines of inquiry. This contextual review consists of a combination of published works,
curator’s websites, journal entries, interviews, case studies, and doctoral theses, all of
which have in one form or another attempted to grapple with the questions of curation
and display of interactive new media art.
First, I will address the current academic situation within the curatorial context,
followed by an analysis of the literature available from the exhibition design context,
and finalising with case studies and exhibition memory making. Following this
literature review, I am confident it will become obvious that the research I propose is
not only timely, but it is also necessary and beneficial to the disciplines of art
history, curation, and exhibition design.
In surveying the existing literature, several situations become apparent; on the
one hand, academic literature on the subject of curation of interactive new media
art is progressively gaining traction. On the other hand, this knowledge remains on
the periphery of academia and is engaged with by a very limited pool of
academics. Furthermore, practical considerations on the matter of curation are
often not engaged with as ontological and semantic discussions remain the
primary onus of the authors engaged. Finally, these approaches remain
ensconced within the realm of museum studies / museology, while the discipline of
exhibition design remains unquestionably under-represented if not entirely
ignored, at least from an art historical context.
As has been noted by Domenico Quaranta (2012), Christiane Paul (2015b), and
Michael Connor (2016), new media art, with its interactive variant even more so,
has remained in the periphery of the artworld. It is my hypothesis that this
ghettoisation of interactive new media art is derived from the difficulty of classifying
and displaying such works within the institutional context (Paul, 2015b). This
perception is shared by academics such as Beryl Graham (2002), Victoria Bradbury
(2013), and Aneta Krzemien (2014), amongst others.
Interactive new media art has existed for 50 years and has established a solid
lineage in art history, continuing the artistic ideals of both Dada and Fluxus
(Paul, 2015b), with the first examples appearing in 1965 (Gere, 2008).
Therefore, it is important to ensure the form is properly represented both in
academia and the institutional context.
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The structure of this contextual review will consist of three distinct sections, each
dedicated to a distinct characteristic of interactive new media art necessary in its
curation and display. The first section, curatorial context, addresses the current
state of literature dealing with curation of new media art and its interactive
component. As such, the texts analysed here grapple with the ethereal and ever-
changing nature of new media art, its definition, and the theoretical concepts that
underpin it. Under Exhibition Design, I will present the literature available and its
scope. Both texts specific to interactive new media art and more general texts on
exhibition design are included in this section and serve to underscore the
importance of cross-disciplinary research and practice that make interactive new
media art so challenging to work with. Finally, under Memory Making, I will attempt
to engage with how institutions are dealing with creating memories and preserving
the history of interactive new media art exhibitions.
2.2 Curatorial Context
2.2.1 Introduction
While exploring the current curatorial context, it becomes possible to identify
several trends in how interactive new media art is engaged with. The first and most
evident trend is the prevalence of a small group of academics being cited. This
group of new media experts often features Christiane Paul, Steve Dietz, Beryl
Graham, Sarah Cook, and Jon Ippolito. Other sources were also sought, including
other authors not cited as often, journal articles, and blogs of prominent curators, as
well as doctoral theses.
Also of importance, it is necessary to highlight how assumptions made in the past are
no longer true; for example, the perceived notion that web art is a private affair best
done in one’s home computer (Aggersberg, 2017; Graham, 2002, p.34) is no longer
valid, since mobile technology has changed the way web content is consumed as
well as its ubiquity in the public sphere, yet resistance remains within institutions to
remove this barrier (Aggersberg, 2017; Ghidini, 2015). Examples like these, of new
technologies invalidating assumptions made in the past, abound in the literature and
serve the purpose of highlighting the need to update this pool of knowledge.
Finally, as evidence of the rising interest in curating this type of content, courses on
curation and display of new media art have begun to be offered in a variety of
platforms both online and offline. To cite two examples, the Node Centre offers an
online course by curator Pau Waelder, while the University of Salford offers a single
module on Digital Curation and Contemporary Art: Curating in Contemporary
Contexts worth 30 credits. Nevertheless, both of these courses concern themselves
with the entirety of new media art as opposed to this manual that has a much
narrower objective.
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2.2.2 Neomateriality
Christiane Paul, academic and curator specialised in new media art, has written
several books on the subject, of these, Digital Art (Paul, 2015b) is a comprehensive
survey of new media art, its history, and its challenges. Paul problematises in a
clear and useful way the paradigm change new media art presents to traditional art
history. This transformation, according to Paul, includes the shift in experience and
interpretation that occurs when a piece of new media artshe mentions internet art
but could also apply to any new media experience where there is a large time
investment requirement or modesty may be involvedis removed from the private
space of the internet user to the public space of the art gallery. The paradigm shift
in turn puts in question the suitability of internet-dependent new media art within the
institutional context. However, Paul remains optimistic and argues that the inclusion
of new media art in traditional spaces will assist in its preservation as well as
expand its audience (Paul, 2015b). Today, most large museums offer free internet
access to visitors, which in a way solves the challenges presented by Paul. Not only
that, but many of the questions regarding access and privacy have been negated by
the ubiquity of internet access and the range of devices the average museum goer
has access to. These small outdated facts do nothing however to reduce the
importance of this book in providing an overarching view of the field and its many
subtleties. Paul’s recommendations of installation, upkeep, and its frailty remain as
important and poignant as when they were initially made.
At the 2015 International Symposium on Electronic Art, Christiane Paul introduced
an important concept for understanding and eventually working with new media art:
Neomateriality (Paul, 2015a). With this concept, Paul attempts to reframe new
media art as having materiality and distance it from perceptions of the immaterial /
intangible / abstract. Thus, she argues that we must recognise the materiality of
digital networked technologies and their effects on material reality, including
humans and the environment (Paul, 2015a). Here, Paul limits the concept of
Neomateriality to the relationship between digital technologies and the real world,
i.e. how the digital interpretation of the real world becomes its own materiality and
vice versa (Paul, 2015a). However, as I will address in chapter five, the concept can
be expanded to encompass the ways data can apply force in the real world.
Another theory of Paul that became central to the manual is that of the unstable
nature of new media. In her book, Digital Art, Paul says:
Digital art is often referred to as ephemeral and unstable, a label that is only
partially accurate. Any time-based art piece, such as a performance, is
essentially ephemeral and often continues to exist after the event only in its
documentation. Process-oriented digital artworks certainly are ephemeral, but
digital technology also allows for enhanced possibilities of recording the
process of a time-based digital artwork. …What makes digital art unstable are
the rapid developments in hardware and software, from changes in operating
systems to increasing screen resolution and upgrades of web browsers.
(Paul, 2015b)
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While this form of instability is certainly a concern for curation, I believe Paul may
have dismissed other ways in which new media is unstable. Collaborators may join
or leave a project, altering attributions; versions and variations of a work may be
created or the work itself may change due to an evolving process in which the
public, the artist, or even the artwork itself may be involved. All these situations, and
even future ones that may not be foreseeable, make new media unstable and
require special considerations.
2.2.3 Collection and Categorization
Steve Dietz’ writings on new media art cover a range of subjects, including the
difficulties arising from the lack of a common language and categorisation of new
media art. Amongst his notable writings, most of which can be found with some
difficulty on his website yproductions.com, we find Collecting New Media Art: Just
like Anything Else, Only Different (2005), where Dietz sets a process-based
definition that clearly differentiates between work that utilises new media
technologies and computation as a defining quality from works that are mere
technological reproductions that simply emulate other media without any
computational process that changes the work significantly from what could be
achieved in an analogue manner.
He is also instrumental in facilitating the classification of new media art through
his three categories: interactivity, computability, and connectivity. Interactivity
refers to works that are responsive to input by the participant, which in turn
changes the content of the work (Dietz, 2000). Computability is the generation
of works through programmed instructions and the ability to modify them
programmatically (Cook, 2004). Finally, connectivity is the ability of certain
forms of new media art to be accessed remotely or to connect with other
technologies, opening thus new creative avenues (Cook, 2004). These three
concepts set the groundwork for further taxonomic efforts by both Sarah Cook
and Graham (Cook, 2004; Graham and Cook, 2010).
For this work, the three categories become a scaffolding upon which the
manual is constructed; by separating new media in these behaviours, it was
possible to highlight the most important characteristics of each
technology/media and how to engage them.
2.2.4 Time, Space, and Other Curatorial Concerns
With the book Rethinking Curating (2010), Beryl Graham and Sarah Cook delved
more in depth into the particulars of new media art and its implications in curating
exhibitions around this subject. To this day, this book remains one of the most
quoted sources in the literature. Nevertheless, its engagement with practical
concerns is limited and only given a subheading within Chapter 7. It is this potential
line of inquiry that inspired this project, as Graham and Cook argue that when it
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comes to new media art, display and curation cannot be separate entities and that a
pool of cross-disciplinary knowledge is key to the curation of new media art (2010,
p.161). This cross-departmental cooperation is a key concept in curatorial work
when working with new media, since no curator, even the geek curators
championed by Olia Lialina (2009), could dominate every aspect of every form of
new media art. As Graham and Cook mention in their book, technology has been
embedded into museums for a long time, often as supplementary assistants to
interpretation and education, and it is often seen as the domain of these
departments, causing peculiar conflicts of interest (Graham and Cook, 2010, p.162).
In other cases, this very familiarity can be seen as a boon to curators, as they may
lean on said departments to enhance their own curatorial practice and research by
engaging directly with experts in such areas. This methodology is in fact
championed by meSch (Material EncounterS with digital Cultural Heritage), a
consortium of twelve partners from six European countries with the goal of
designing, developing, and deploying tools for the creation of tangible interactive
experiences that connect the physical dimension of museums and exhibitions with
relevant digital cross-media information in novel ways (meSch, 2018). These
efforts, however, are lacking in the art world (meSch operates on cultural heritage).
Together, these two sources highlight the necessity of both interdisciplinary
research for this very project and a methodology for curators of new media art, and
become the backbone of my research into cross-departmental collaboration and
how to achieve it.
Graham and Cook’s ideas on time and space are also an important component of
this dissertation (Cook, 2004; Graham, 1997; Graham and Cook, 2010). Unlike
more traditional static works, such as sculpture and painting, interactive new media
art requires time to become activated. Not only does the participant/spectator have
to perform a series of actions to begin the interaction with the work, but often in a
manner similar to video art, the work requires a period of time to be fully
experienced. This span of time may be predetermined by the artist or it may
effectively be unlimited and require the spectator/participant to terminate it, if that is
possible at all. This puts a lot of stress on curators and exhibition designers, as
museums and galleries expect an average viewing time per video work of 137
seconds (Serrell, 2010). With works sometimes clocking in at five hours or more,
due to their original viewing context, it becomes a challenge to design an exhibition
that accommodates the demands of both artwork and visitor.
Graham and Cook argue that space also presents challenges to museum
professionals due to the philosophical and practical implications inherent in new
media art. Interactive new media art is often perceived by academics as
immaterial (Cook, 2004; Graham and Cook, 2010, p.64; Paul, 2015b) due to the
assumption that the core of the new media art experience often occurs at the
software level. This assumption is not entirely correct, while indeed most of the
work happens at the level of code, there still exists a need for physical artefacts,
be it monitors to display the information gathered, control interfaces to interact
with the works, or sensors to track the participant’s actions and reactions, as well
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as the network infrastructures required, servers, and other behind the scenes
infrastructure to allow the work to function (Graham and Cook, 2010). An example
is shown in Figure 1, where the participant is isolated by the Oculus Rift and a
projection is used to communicate to external observers what is being
experienced by the participant. If as curators we desire to increase the reach of a
particular work, novel approaches must be found. All these elements require a
physical space to exist in, providing thus a “body” to the artwork. Finally,
regardless of how immaterial or invisible the hardware may be, there still exists a
need for a space for visitors to experience the work.
Figure 1: Rossin, Rachel, 2016, Just A Nose, VR experience and projection. Photo by Franz Wamhof.
However, the authors argue that the physicality of new media art is not bound only
to physical space, since virtual worlds embody their own type of physicality. This
space still requires the user to exist within a space by hearing, seeing, and exerting
forces on the virtual world. The immersion potential of a work hinges on this fact
(Graham and Cook, 2010, pp.8184) and turns the works into spaces within
physical spaces. These concepts were further enhanced with the idea of a new
form of site specificity: virtual-site-specific artworks. These are artworks that are
dependent on non-physical spaces such as remote servers or even virtual worlds,
such as Second Life and Minecraft, or even video games such as World of
Warcraft. Should these third-party spaces cease to exist, the artwork itself can
become deactivated or, in the worst case, disappear entirely.
Apart from this source, Graham’s other literature, case studies, and CRUMB
(Curatorial Resource for Upstart Media Bliss) are a solid starting point. CRUMB is a
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repository of knowledge started by Beryl Graham and Sarah Cook to provide a
space for research, networking, and professional development for curators of new
media art (Graham and Cook, 2000). For fifteen years, CRUMB proved to be an
invaluable resource, even realising research projects and exhibitions. Unfortunately,
since 2015, the site has not been updated and is beginning to decay, files are
missing, sections of the website are difficult to navigate, and information is
incomplete, as projects were not updated or were abandoned. Nevertheless, the
content that is available feeds directly into the project through the wealth of
interviews, case studies, and bibliographic sources within it.
2.2.5 Practical Curation
Jon Ippolito, who is both artist and curator, has also become an influential figure in
academia, since his practical experience in, both fields has given him insight into
new media art in ways other curators do not have. Ippolito has argued not for the
simple induction of new media art into the existing canon but, instead, for a
different, more dynamic new form of curatorial approach (Graham and Cook, 2010;
Ippolito, 2008). In addition to the conceptual curatorial concepts and ways of
thinking about new media that Ippolito brings to the table, his more practical work,
such as Death By Wall Label (2008), set the ground work for the creation of
practical guidelines for effective information systems.
By introducing software engineering, information technology, and an artist’s point of
view into curation, Ippolito presents a more dynamic and responsive information
system that addresses the concerns arising from new media’s collaborative, fluid
nature. This recognition of the fluidity of new media, while expressed in other
literature, is studied more in depth by Ippolito than by other academics and is of
utmost importance for this study’s move into the oft ignored field of interactive new
media art. His labelling attempts, as seen in Figure 2, to embrace multiple
authorship, versioning, and other concerns related to art as software, from the
article Death by Wall Label (2008). In this text, Ippolito attempts to create a label
that effectively recognises all stakeholders in the creation of an artwork, including
designers, coders, writers, and other individuals traditionally not credited in art
making. It also recognizes the fact that an artwork may exist in various versions or
variations, which often are created to suit an exhibition contest or as experimental
deviations from the “original” artwork. Other concerns addressed in Death by Wall
Label include variable names, dimensions, dates, and even collections. These
labels, as can be seen in Figure 2, often become very large and complex. In the
analysis chapter of this dissertation (4.1.3.7), I elaborate on how I address this
situation. In order to compare and contrast Ippolito’s work, I used the Gallery Text at
the V&A (2013) design guide as a baseline of how labels are often designed. From
experience, I can tell that the standard changes very little from institution to
institution.
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Figure 2: Example of Ippolito’s versioned wall label. Screenshot by Jon Ippolito.
Blais and Ippolito’s Art as Antibody is of particular curatorial interest, as new media
art tends to be directly in opposition with institutions and the control they exert on
society and individuals (2006). Given that artists often seek to disrupt the
museum/gallery model by creating works that circumvent it in its entirety, either
through its distribution methods or by incorporating elements that will immediately
disqualify it from being shown in a traditional space (from nudity and violence to the
use of copyrighted material to illicit actions, such as hacking third party websites), it
becomes apparent that institutions must find a way to present these works without
falling into censorship. While Blais and Ippolito offer no practical answers, raising
the point has allowed me to identify a potential challenge that needs addressing.
2.3 Exhibition Design
2.3.1 Introduction
Finding information on the practical matters of interactive new media art has proven
difficult, with only three works of note dealing with the practical matters of
installation. Some examples of reports on the curation and installation of exhibitions
include Curating New Media Art: SFMoMA and 010101 (Graham, 2002) and
Serious Games (Graham, 2008). Other case studies are presented in Aesthetics of
Interaction in Digital Art (Kwastek, 2013); in this book, Kwastek illustrates and
briefly elaborates on the challenges interactive new media art presents to both
curators and exhibition designers.
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In more general terms, Steve Dietz mentions how discussion on new media
exhibition design remains scarce and needs to be elaborated upon more (Dietz,
2003). This lack of literature does not mean there is no knowledge being generated,
but rather that it remains within the internal documentation of institutions or as
scattered knowledge, often kept by individuals outside of traditional academic
circles, such as designers, engineers, and other professionals. This presents an
opportunity for this thesis to collate and elaborate on this knowledge.
2.3.2 Exhibition Design Literature
When it comes to exhibition design literature, we are faced with an interesting
situation: as a profession, exhibition designers have a wealth of knowledge when it
comes to working with interactive media. This experience comes mostly from science
museums and discovery centres as well as from multimedia displays and interactive
exhibits. For example, Philip Hughes Exhibition Design (2015) approaches
interaction at all stages of the design process, including accessibility considerations,
designing with children in mind, building considerations, materials, etcetera. Another
source often cited alongside Hughe’s book is David Dernie’s similarly titled Exhibition
Design (2006). Unlike Hughe, Dernie has not updated his book since its publication
and may thus be less useful to this study in terms of contemporary practice. Albeit
focused on natural history museums, the book Dinosaurs and Dioramas by Chicone
and Kissel (2013) provides some really good recommendations on kiosk design that
can be applied to interactive new media art. This book puts a lot of emphasis on
interactive displays and how to make them usable, accessible, and durable, since
kiosks are often handled by thousands of individuals, including children, who may not
be the most careful of users. As all these concerns are valid in any kind of display,
the book has become a good starting point, which was latter complemented with
interviews and personal experience.
However, these and other similar sources operate from the assumption that should
an exhibit not work, it can be repaired or replaced, especially since they are broad
documents embracing everything from commercial to cultural projects. This may
prove unworkable when art is involved, since conservation and copyright issues
often impede such actions. This is not to say there is no precedent for repairing or
replacing the entirety of a work of art as long as the intention remains. One of the
most famous examples of this practice being the replacement of the snow shovel in
Marcel Duchamp’s In Advance of a Broken Arm (1915/1964), which MOMA proudly
announces as the fourth version (MoMA, 2015). Nevertheless, it is highly unlikely
that most artists are open to this approach, and while Hughes book and others like
it, including Manual of Museum Exhibitions (Lord and Piacente, 2014) and Virtuality
and the Art of Exhibition: Curatorial Design for the Multimedial Museum (Dziekan,
2012), do not consider new media art, their solutions and technical know-how can
still be derived and adapted for the purposes of this dissertation.
The MITES Manual (Gillman, 2002), edited by Clive Gillman, is the closest thing to
a best practice manual in the field; however, as it was edited in 2002, it mostly
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concerns itself with video and format migration rather than interactivity and new
media art. For the purpose of this dissertation, it will be used as both a template and
evidence that such endeavour is indeed achievable. A second example of a
dissertation which has become a manual of sorts and which is available as a digital
resource is Transmedia Art Exhibitions, from Bauhaus To Your House by Julia
Fryett (2012), a work released under the Creative Commons Attribution-
NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License. Said dissertation serves both as an example
of distribution and a template for creating a hybrid work that functions as both a
manual and a dissertation by proving that creative commons and digital distribution
are compatible with the requirements of a doctoral thesis.
As new media continues to integrate new technologies, the best sources of
information on how to implement such solutions come from manufacturers’
websites, technology enthusiasts’ blogs, wikis, and industry magazines. Since new
media art works depend on what are for the most part consumer products, their life
cycles move too fast for traditional curatorial documentation. Inversely, older new
media is also best documented in these websites, often kept going and even
improved on by enthusiasts. For example, some of the best resources for
information on configuration and troubleshooting for VR include the specific
manufacturers (Oculus, HTC, Samsung, etc.) and steampowered.com, an online
marketplace for video games including VR. Of these, the former is far more
unstable, since as new headsets replace the older ones, their support may be
reduced and eventually eliminated from the website. The latter, on the other hand,
is meant to provide continuous support both by Valve Software and the community,
as users do not always upgrade headsets with every new product that hits the
market. As for older technologies, hobbyists often keep old software running and
also document fixes and replacements for hardware they wish to keep running.
Some examples of these resources include My Life in Gaming (Carlson and
Duddleson, 2013), a YouTube channel dedicated to old video games and how to
get them working again, and PC Gaming Wiki (2020), a wiki dedicated to
troubleshooting gaming software and hardware.
Reproducibility is a crucial concept for certain types of new media art. It particularly
refers to works that can be duplicated without degradation. Since the poetics of an
artwork often happen at a conceptual level, input interfaces and the software that
facilitates such interactions can be duplicated without risk. Namely, new media art
often lacks an original in the same way that more traditional artworks do. Unless
artists wish it so, their works can be easily duplicated in order to facilitate access or
make interactions related to connectivity much more obvious by allowing visitors to
witness what is often a distant connection within the gallery space. While Walter
Benjamin perceived that this reproducibility would result in a devaluation of the
object by undermining its authenticity (2010, pp.1112), new media art challenges
this through works that are just as authentic and valid as non-reproducible art.
Furthermore, by their very nature, these works even lack a “production master” (the
version of an object from which further copies are made), in fact, every time the
work is migrated to a different storage media, shared online, or copied between
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computer folders, it results in the creation of uniquely distinct copies. This leads to
negating the argument for preserving one copy of the work untouched because it is
the “original file”. As can be seen, the argument for the singular unique art object is
untenable in new media art. I leverage this fact in the manual to make a case for the
reproduction of artworks in order to preserve their artistic intentions over their
physical manifestation for a variety of reasons, such as accessibility or to better
illustrate its connectivity.
2.3.3 Cross-departmental collaboration
As the research moved on and interviews took place, it became clear that one area
of improvement for interactive new media art curatorial methodologies was the
integration of other departments into the process. For example, Mark Murphy, Joan
Burnett, and Jon Couch of FACT (Appendix 3) would go on record mentioning the
value their respective departments could add to curation, either through technical
expertise, working with new media from a technical perspective, or through
observations of the public and how they actually engage with the art. The need to
address this situation arose in further conversations during supervision meetings
with my PhD evaluation committee. Finally, while specific studies on the subject do
not exist, as far as I am aware, heritage curation has engaged in studies on the
value of cross-disciplinary work between curators and exhibition designers. Material
EncounterS with digital Cultural Heritage (meSch), whose purpose was to “…bridge
the gap between visitors’ cultural heritage experience on-site and on-line by
providing a platform for the creation of tangible smart exhibits…” (meSch, 2013),
has done research on this type of collaboration.
After four years of research and development, their findings concluded that an
approach that simultaneously worked on content (curation) and interaction (design)
led to a final exhibition that was far more effective than one in which one stage
follows the other (Petrelli et al., 2016). Furthermore, it became evident that while
this challenges the traditional exhibition design process and requires curators to
become more creative and involved in all stages of the design process up to the
final experience, the results are quite satisfactory (Petrelli et al., 2016).
2.3.4 Health and safety
Health and safety in interactive new media art often concerns itself with light
levels, safely covering cables and loose wires, and other traditional aspects of
exhibition design. Furthermore, far more effective resources exist to train Health
and Safety officials. Nevertheless, there are a few areas that are not usually
contemplated in standard training for museums and other cultural institutions that
bear covering. In the manual, I address VR headset hygiene and operation, robots
in the gallery space, and some basic electrical safety guidelines to expedite the
selection and planning stages.
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For VR hygiene, I rely uponHygiene Aspects Of The VR Systems Applications
(Homola et al., 1997); this journal article highlights the possibility of transmission
of diseases through the headset as well as risks related to tripping, neck strain,
and other risks.
For robotics, OSHA’s ‘OSHA Technical Manual (OTM) | Section IV: Chapter 4 -
Industrial Robots and Robot System Safety | Occupational Safety and Health
Administration(OSHA, 2017) was the main source of information on how to
operate around large robots. This information was further validated during the
interview with FACT’s IT expert, Andrew Joy.
Finally, electrical safety guidelines were drawn from the Health and Safety
Executive web page (Health and Safety Executive, 2012). This webpage contains
all the relevant up-to-date and government approved recommendations needed for
a curator to make informed decisions in the choosing of artworks and have the
basis to approve or reject works that may be unconventional in their manufacture.
2.3.5 The Aesthetics of Interaction in Digital Art
In Aesthetics of Interaction in Digital Art (Kwastek, 2013), Katja Kwastek presents
interactive new media art through the lens of its aesthetics. She also covers
theoretical issues, such as the effects of time on the artwork, as well as the
difficulties that come with works of art that can be interpreted as immaterial. Of
particular interest to this work are the methodologies and theory behind questions of
public participation, remote and in-situ audiences, the spatial and conceptual
scaffolding required for said situations, the artist’s role in presenting the work, often
as a work in progress, and how curators must be flexible with the constant
mutability and evolution of new media art.
However, the most important argument Kwastek makes revolves around how
visitors experience interaction. Given that not all visitors are willing to be
participants (the term participants is used as a way to avoid implying all visitors
will interact with the works), curators must be willing to present interactive
experiences in ways that allow observers to “vicariously participate”. This
concept is very relevant to the design of any curation manual, as it highlights the
variety of needs that an effective curation should meet. Vicarious participation is
the idea that a person may experience an interactive artwork by observing others
interact with the artwork. However, this interaction must include an
understanding of the process of interaction and not simply observing the results.
It is for this reason that a simple video is inadequate as a substitute for direct
interaction or even vicarious participation.
Kwastek also addresses other particularities of interactive art, such as the artistic
value of the technical systems involved in interactive new media art. These
systems are often ignored or considered irrelevant to the work’s meaning, yet,
they are often the first point of contact between the work and the recipient and
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thus cannot be entirely ignored. Finally, the author also provides us with tools to
understand how time and space become of paramount importance to interactive
new media as well as why we should consider them when planning an exhibition.
This includes the importance of both material and virtual space, as well as
interaction time, the presence required by actors to activate works, and the
design challenges a curator may find in designing an exhibition. Aesthetics of
Interaction in Digital Art is an invaluable resource for developing a sound
curation and design strategy and methodology.
Another valuable source along the same line comes from Pau Waelder’s online
course for the Node Center, Curating New Media Art: Process, Interaction, Virtuality
(Node Center, 2019). This course covers both curatorial and practical concerns,
particularly the aesthetics of cabling. Unlike traditional multimedia installations,
artists often wish for the cables, projectors, and other devices to be apparent, often
being part of the aesthetics of the work itself. This knowledge openly contrasts with
the exhibition design canon and exhibition designers need to be able to understand
and be ready to design for both artworks that hide their inner workings and those
that are overt about them, often side by side.
2.3.6 Online and Offline
Offline and online are two concepts used by Marialaura Ghidini to help describe the
different sites for exhibiting and creating art as well as the different approaches
curators may take regarding exhibition mediums when working with new media art.
This merging of exhibition media is often referred to as trans media (Fryett, 2012).
Online refers to works existing on the web, be it in social media sites, video
streaming, or traditional websites, to name a few. Offline, meanwhile, deals with
more traditional exhibition mediums, be it gallery exhibitions, print publishing,
and time-based events (Ghidini, 2015, p.21). Ghidini also indicates that, while
both are separate entities, they are connected through both their ubiquity in day-
to-day life and the novel ways curators are bringing them together (Ghidini,
2015, p.21). Ghidini thus sets a series of practical recommendations for curators
to follow in the curation and design of exhibitions. These suggestions also
highlight the way curation and design tend to, if not merge altogether, at least
come into much more contact than before. This is in contraposition to more
traditional curation, where exhibition design comes after other institutional
departments have performed most of their work.
Meanwhile, in a new media art exhibition, even at the curatorial level,
considerations on space, time, and layout, as well as installation budgets, come into
play, often forcing curators to actively engage in the design of the space at every
level. Ghidini also argues for a more involved merging of both traditional exhibition
practice (offline) and the emerging field of online curation and exhibition design. As
one of the most thorough scholarly sources available, Ghidini’s doctoral dissertation
proved to be of utmost value in the development of this project.
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2.3.7 Case Studies
Through my search for exhibition design case studies, I was able to find two
examples which actively engaged with the practical aspects of curation and
exhibition design. Both entries belong to Beryl Graham. While other case studies on
new media art exhibitions exist, only the two aforementioned studies actively
engage with practical questions of display.
The first paper, Serious Games (Graham, 2008), is a report of the exhibition
curated by Beryl Graham for two different venues, the Laing Art Gallery in
Newcastle and the Barbican in London. The second paper examines the
exhibition 010101 Art in Technological Times (2001) at SFMOMA in San
Francisco, USA (Graham, 2002).
Curating New Media Art: SFMoMA and 010101 (Graham, 2002) is a report on the
exhibition of the same name. It is important to make note of the fact that Graham
was not able to directly observe the exhibition and thus depended on memory
generated by the institution and those involved in the exhibition (Graham, 2002,
p.8). One of the most useful tools identified by staff, and which I personally often
resort to, is the scale model. While these models can never replace the intimate
knowledge of an exhibition space, they can be useful in initial planning stages. As
mentioned before, new media art may seem portable, yet the equipment required is
often delicate or difficult to relocate, and at times both; this makes models an even
more important tool in planning an exhibition. Other issues identified include the
varying degrees of technical information provided and issues with space, light, and
sound. All of this required cross-disciplinary expertise created a more horizontal
structure for the team, and the aforementioned challenges also demanded the
layout to respond to structural needs rather than genres or other considerations
(Graham, 2002, p.36). Through this report, we find multiple solutions which could
prove useful in different exhibitions, as well as the collected knowledge and
suggestions of multiple curators and experts and their solutions and methodology
for working with an unfamiliar medium.
Serious Games presented a variety of challenges to Graham, including two different
venues with their own peculiar needs, which limited the choice of artworks that
could be shown, sound issues, pacing, signage, and operating instructions
(Graham, 2008). While it is a short text, the considerations and insights offered by
Graham are useful and concise while not being so case-specific that they cannot be
adapted to other situations.
These two studies will provide the basic structure for developing both a case
study methodology and a lay-out practical knowledge for this dissertation by
providing examples of what information should be collected and presented
within this dissertation.
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2.4 Exhibition Memory Making
2.4.1 Introduction
The creation of memory is crucial to ensuring the preservation of the history of new
media art as well as ensuring that future exhibitions preserve the intentions of the
artists and future audiences engage fully with living works instead of the static
remains of works rendered inert due to lacking documentation. As such, various
academics and institutions have taken it upon themselves to begin the arduous task
of determining how to best preserve new media art in a dynamic lively manner. The
following are some of the most prominent examples I was able to find.
2.4.2 Variable Media Questionnaire
The Guggenheim’s variable media task force created the Variable Media
Questionnaire in order to ascertain the wishes an artist may have about the
preservation and display of their work long after the artists passing as well as
their intent (Ippolito, 2004b). This questionnaire generates a set of flexible
medium-independent mutually compatible behaviours (ibid). Although, at first
sight, this questionnaire may be focused on the curatorial aspects, the gap
between curation and exhibition design is incredibly narrow in new media art.
Thus, input/output interfaces exist both as technical objects and as artistic
artefacts. Networks are both medium and subject of study, as are databases.
These are a few examples of where exhibition design and curation intersect.
Through the behaviours suggested by Ippolito (see Figure 3), it becomes easier
to determine not only the best way to curate an object but also how to present it
in the future as well as preserve it. Since the questionnaire attempts to discover
the intentions of the artist regarding their work, it becomes easier to determine
how best to emulate, replace, duplicate, or modify a work long after the artist has
passed away and retain the essence of the work in question.
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Figure 3: Breakdown of new media behaviours and examples of what they contain. Diagram by Jon
Ippolito (Ippolito 2004)
2.4.3 The Indeterminate Archive
The Indeterminate Archive is an effort by Lizzie Muller and Caitlin Jones at creating
documentation on the artist’s intention and the audience’s experience with an
artwork and functions as an evolution and augmentation of the Variable Media
Questionnaire (Muller in Graham, 2014, pp.184201) and the methodology used by
Muller during her doctoral thesis (Muller, 2008), and combines artist interviews with
audience interviews and technical information, links to other exhibitions, and a
bibliography (ibid). The difference between both methodologies comes from the
engagement with the audience and the often surprising realities of what the “real”
exhibition is, that is, what the audience perceived, experienced, and learned, and
the “ideal” exhibition, which is what the artist wishes to communicate and teach with
their work. Muller manages to collect this knowledge through the framework of oral
history. This allows her to acquire a great amount of knowledge that otherwise
would get lost in the formality of forms and questionnaires.
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It should be mentioned that one of the crucial ways this methodology diverts from
more traditional art historical memory making is in its flexibility, allowing for the
constant evolution and collective authorship of new media. Notoriously, it tracks the
reactions audiences have with the work, thus allowing for the artwork to evolve and
become more refined by highlighting points of friction in its design (Muller, 2008).
This form of memory making is sorely needed in the curation of new media
exhibition, as it can provide answers to questions not yet posed by academics or
even entire methodologies. As further memory making happens, it will be easier for
curators and designers to more confidently engage with the form.
2.4.4 Conserving Digital Art for Deep Time
Although the title for Francis Marchese’s article appears to privilege conservation
over curation and display, we must not forget that when it comes to new media,
all three disciplines are almost inseparable. Marchese instead suggests a
curatorial/conservation approach that will allow future exhibition designers to
recreate as closely as possible the artistic intentions and goals of new media
works. What he proposes is a more practical version of the Variable Media
Questionnaire. Thus, he breaks down the requirements for documentation in the
following way:
Requirements: what is the system supposed to do?
Architecture/Design: includes construction instructions and their relationship
with the environment.
Technical: Documents how the workings of the system operate, including
source codes, algorithms, and interfaces.
End User: manuals, instructional videos, and other supporting literature for
end-users and staff.
Supplementary Materials: this includes literature on the work, legal
documents, interviews, drawings, web sites, etc.
(Marchese, 2011, p.305)
Once the entire survey is completed, one should be able to answer questions of
authorship, development process, technical context, and its theoretical
foundation (ibid). Marchese also mentions aesthetics; however, with it he brings
in a question of value judgement when he asks “Does [the work] possess an
elegance and refinement comparable to any other beautifully created object?”
[emphasis mine] (Marchese, 2011, p.306). Combining the Variable Media
Questionnaire with the Indeterminate Archive and Conserving Digital Art for
Deep Time was crucial to developing an efficient online and offline memory
making methodology based on proven methods.
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2.4.5 Laboratorio Arte Alameda
Laboratorio Arte Alameda (LAA) is an institution in the heart of Mexico City’s
cultural hub and is dedicated to showcasing new media art, both national and
international. As a relatively new institution, it has the advantage of beginning its
curatorial and exhibition design journey unencumbered by past decisions and
actions. As the LAA has a small exhibition space and no permanent curator, it
instead focuses on inviting independent curators and guest artists to create a
rotating exhibition programme. Due to this situation, the LAA has decided to focus
on memory creation as a way to preserve its exhibition programme, see Figure 4.
Through interviews with their head archivist, I discovered the museum has two
different archives, one is the founding curator’s archive, consisting of all the
exhibitions during his tenure, and a second archive, consisting of every exhibition
after his tenure. The former is not being currently indexed and the latter is being
actively archived and documented.
Figure 4: Laboratorio Arte Alameda Archive. Within each of the cardboard boxes on the top shelf
resides the entire memory of an exhibition. In this way, while the event is long gone, it is still possible
to learn from previous exhibitions. Photo: Rene G. Cepeda
This second archive seems to echo the ideas set by the Variable Media
Questionnaire (indeed Jon Ippolito has been invited to the institution); however,
the effort itself seems to have been an in-house solution to the issues presented
by exclusively collecting memory, as the works rarely remain in the institution.
This peculiarity has given the LAA a pragmatic approach to the often-asked
question of how to document the immaterial. As such, the LAA is an interesting
primary source of information for how to generate exhibition design memory in a
practical working way.
As for its curatorial wing, Laboratorio Arte Alameda (henceforth LAA, for
brevity’s sake) lacks a curator and instead relies on guest curators and artists
in order to furnish its exhibitions programme. Such situation presents us with a
challenge, since there is no standardised approach to its curatorial practice.
Thus, the museum’s staff has adopted a case -by-case approach, which has
given them an impressive degree of flexibility when it comes to working with
interactive new media art. It is this knowledge and unorthodox approach that
may prove useful to this dissertation.
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2.5 Summary
By pursuing various curatorial resources, including curators, museum
administrators, and available literature, it became possible to identify the specific
needs this dissertation will attempt to address. A second realisation came from this
survey: various curators covered in this chapter, Graham, Cook, Paul, and Ippolito,
amongst others, are actively engaging with new media art; however, their efforts are
not as widely distributed or available as the resources for the curation of other
media. While it is possible to find multiple books, journal articles, web pages, and
even web courses on art curation, when it comes new media art, and even more in
its interactive variation, it becomes a truly monumental and often disheartening
effort. As my research continued, it became clear that what has been lacking is a
distribution channel for the information gathered, but more importantly, more
academics and curators involved in new media art and its circulation.
Similarly, the lack of specific information on the exhibition design side of things
allows me to attempt to fill this specific gap. In this particular case, it appears that
design departments find themselves distanced from the curatorial aspect and often
respond to a design brief, which can often result in disjointed experiences or the
entire technical questions are offloaded on the artist and the technical team,
resulting in a case-by-case approach and a lack of documentation on the process.
Even though this practice is effective while the artist remains accessible, as time
passes, this approach becomes more and more problematic.
One way these issues could be addressed is through the creation of literature
aimed at non-specialised curators and designers interested in interactive new
media art. Thus, facilitating the curation of interactive new media art and promoting
its inclusion in more collections and shows, thereby creating a positive feedback
loop that encourages the creation of new knowledge and the collection,
preservation, and display of the art form.
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3 Chapter Three: Case Studies
3.1 Introduction
In order to get as much valuable data as possible and from as distinct approaches
as possible, it was necessary for the chosen institutions to be as different as
possible, while at the same time meeting a basic set of requirements.
As such, a series of criteria were designated to determine the suitability of
various institutions:
The institution had to engage with interactive new media art as a core aspect
of their programme.
Staff members had to be willing to participate in answering questionnaires.
Exhibitions had to be a central part of their programme.
Had to include at least one interactive work in their exhibitions at the time of
the visit.
Must be accessible to the public (no private collections).
One had to be a Latin American institution while the other had to be in the
English-speaking world.
Visiting these institutions should be within budget.
Having laid out the criteria necessary for the institutions, two main candidates were
chosen: Laboratorio Arte Alameda (LAA), for Latin America, and the Foundation for
Art and Creative Technology (FACT), for the English-speaking world. Both
institutions have a rotating exhibitions programme that is publicly accessible and
revolves around new media art, staff was willing to participate, their exhibitions
Circuito Alameda (2018) for LAA and The Future World of Work (2019) both
included interactive works, and all expenses fit within my budget.
Circuito Alameda presented further opportunities, since LAA has no in-house
curator and the institution relies on guest curators; in this case, Argentinian curator
Jorge la Ferla, who chose to work with Brazilian new media artist Gilbertto Prado.
This allowed the study to expand its scope to a total of three distinct Latin American
cultures and approaches to new media art. Apart from its curatorial work, LAA has
an almost complete archive of exhibitions that the institution hosted or was involved
in. This archive is unusual, as even FACT does not document its exhibitions. The
archive was created by LAA’s original curator, Priamo Lozada, and makes an effort
to preserve the memory of an institution that lacks a collection. All these factors
made it a prime candidate for study, as it combines the three main sections of the
manual: curation, display, and memory making. Incidentally, it is worth mentioning
that it seems LAA has, if not a larger budget, a more stable one and also enjoys
from certain governmental subsidies that allow it to operate on a larger scale than
FACT. The LAA’s largest disadvantage seems to be its status as a relatively
unknown and hard to find institution.
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FACT, on the other hand, is an internationally renowned institution focused on the
intersection of art and technology. The initial reason to contact FACT was its world-
class exhibition program and vast track record of new media exhibitions. Furthermore,
my prior relationship with the foundation made it easier to be allowed to perform my
research. As part of my master studies, I had developed an academic relationship with
director Mike Stubbs and head of research Roger McKinley that allowed me to
approach the institution and propose an in-depth study of the institution and its
workings. This collective knowledge could not be dismissed and proved a main
motivator in pursuing FACT. A second motivator was the scope of the exhibitions
presented within in comparison to those shown at the LAA. This allowed me to
compare and contrast the methodologies of both British and Latin American
institutions, as well as those of an institution dependent on governmental funds and
one that relies on grants and donations as its main source of income. This allowed for
a varied set of recommendations, ranging from the very low budget ones to the very
lavish. FACT’s largest challenge proved to be an internal re-structuring that reshaped
the exhibition I was meant to study as well as both Mike Stubbs and Roger McKinley
leaving the institution. This sudden change required a change in the methodological
approach, which will be explained in depth in section 3.3.3.
Additionally, as a consequence of this restructuring, the interviews carried out for FACT
had a different format. The interviews were modified to consist of two stages. In the first
stage, the interviewee was told what the aims of the study were as well as how their
contributions would be implemented, then they were presented with the first draft of the
manual, allowing the participant to ask questions themselves and being shown the
relevant areas to their expertise. They were then asked to offer their impressions on
the work done and if they wished to contribute to, correct, or amend any of the
information presented in the manual. Through these interviews/conversations, it was
possible to further refine the manual and finalise its contents.
3.2 Laboratorio Arte Alameda
3.2.1 Introduction
The Laboratorio Arte Alameda (LAA) in Mexico City was chosen as a case study in
order to examine and learn from a non-western and relatively recent institution that is
still finding its identity and determining the best way to approach new media art. This
allowed me to observe an institution that has no prior history in the handling of
traditional artworks and thus may not be affected by preconceived notions of curation,
conservation, and art historical context when dealing with artworks.
While, at first, it may seem that a non-western perspective may not divert much
from a Eurocentric one, cultural attitudes towards art itself and its monetary value
have implications in the dialogue between curation and conservation, especially
when it comes to duplication and modification.
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The time frame for this study spanned a period of three weeks, where Skype
conversations, on-site visits, and email conversations took place. In order to approve
access to artists, curators, and the museum’s staff, it was requested that I submit a
diagnostic of the museum and offer recommendations on any issues I may have found.
This study has already been submitted as requested and no further obligations remain.
3.2.2 Context
Laboratorio Arte Alameda is a Mexican cultural institution founded in the year
2000 by the National Council for Culture and the Arts (CONACULTA) through the
National Institute of Fine Arts (INBA). It is a state-owned museum located in the
former San Diego convent within the western end of the famed Alameda central,
a cultural corridor located in the heart of Mexico City. As this building is a world
heritage site, the hanging and display of works within the space can be
complicated and often requires custom made and novel answers to curatorial
and exhibition design concerns.
The museum was originally headed by director Paloma Porraz Fraser and the late
Mexican curator Priamo Lozada. During its eighteen years of existence, the LAA
has been host to a variety of national and international artists, including Rafael
Lozano-Hemmer, Takahiko Limura, Gilbertto Prado, and Marina Abramoviç. It is a
dynamic space that has become point of entry for Mexicans who may not usually be
exposed to new media art.
3.2.3 Curatorial Concerns
Since Priamo Lozada’s unfortunate passing, the LAA has no longer had a curator
and instead has relied on guest curators and curator/artists for its exhibition
program. The absence of a curatorial lead and the noted lack of a physical
collection stand out amongst most cultural institutions. Interestingly enough, this
latter peculiarity is shared with another institution dedicated to the presentation of
new media art, FACT in Liverpool, United Kingdom.
As a consequence of this situation, the archive of exhibitions generated during
Lozada’s tenure has been kept under key and awaits cataloguing. Until this effort is
completed, all the information generated by the curator is not accessible to
researchers or museum staff.
While this is no doubt an unfortunate situation, the more poignant consequence for
this lack of a curator is the current working method. According to LAA’s deputy
director Paola Gallardo Aguilar, their focus now leans towards promoting
museological research and problematizing[sic] the contemporary.
Thus, the LAA has become adept at accommodating the individual needs of every
guest curator and artist and their particular workflow. During my research, guest
curator Jorge La Ferla characterised working at LAA with artist Gilbertto Prado as
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being partners in crime instead of a vertical working structure with the curator making
all the decisions. This allowed the working relationship between both guests to thrive
and allow for greater freedom in the selection of works as well as the porting of one of
Prado’s works, which has undergone changes for the last 20 years, being adapted
from a 3D webchat interface to a more traditional video game-like configuration. This
work, Desertesejo (2000/2014/2018), was created as an interactive virtual reality
experience where the participant picks up a rock and must transport it to a new
location where it becomes a marker of their virtual presence, afterwards they must
move through one of many portals where they embody an animal. Further
interactions and interconnections may happen during the experience, but they follow
the same logic as the prior examples. For Circuito Alameda (2018, Mexico City), it
was modified in two principal ways. First, it was adapted to contemporary computing
hardware, as the first version of the work is no longer compatible with current
technology, and, more importantly, it was modified to not require the VR helmet used
in other versions of the work. Consequently, the work’s meaning is changed as the
embodiment and immersion of the work is lessened by the lack of full visual
immersion and the self-consciousness that arises from being able to see other people
while one interacts with the work. As Kwastek notes, this may lead to self-censoring
or even refusal to interact with the work (Kwastek, 2013). This interaction with the
work was also a source of concern at LAA, since works in Mexico often need to be
adapted to a non-English speaking audience and whose average height is 1.67 m for
males and 1.60 m for females (Mexican Business Web, 2012). This requires
adaptations to overcome both language and anthropometric differences between
Western and Latin American populations.
For more traditional art-forms, such as painting and sculpture, this is usually not a
problem, as most visual media feature little if any written texts and require little to no
interaction. For new media art, and its interactive variant even more so, depending
on the work, the participant’s height and ability to follow instructions are critical to
experiencing the work in full. As Jorge La Ferla said, “The biggest concern is to
consider the interface with the public in relation to whether it is going to be a
simulation or if the work will work in situ through the user / viewer of the work”, thus
highlighting the importance of adapting a work to the space and public it is to be
engaging with. Of course, all these modifications depend not only on the curator but
also on the artist, the conservation department, and the current holder of the work.
Within LAA, conservation is onboard with this effort, understanding that any
attempts to preserve the “original” work will result in its eventual obsolescence and
the loss of the work’s meaning.
An interesting difference between my previous experiences working in the United
Kingdom and Mexico is the approach taken to methodology. While in the UK
documentation is expected and clear processes are encouraged both internally and
by other governing bodies, the situation appears to be more relaxed in Mexico. This
can be seen, for example, in the speed at which works are hung in the gallery, with
complicated electric work being done while at the same time interns are placing
works or painting walls. In terms of curation, curators often request spaces that lack
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electrical outlets or internet connectivity, knowing that a solution will be found and
enacted by the installation staff without several layers of bureaucracy in between.
An electrical extension will be laid, a protective cover will be put over it, and the
problem is solved using prior experience and common sense as a guide. A similar
process in the UK would require the use of approved extension cords, a health and
safety evaluation will be done, and only then will the work be approved.
Even in a world heritage site, like the one where the LAA is located, fewer
challenges are encountered in comparison. During the exhibition, two of the works
feature running water and plants are actively being grown within the space. This
does not imply that there is no care for the building, but that the guidelines that
regulate the space are not over designed to the point where the space becomes a
liability to the institution’s mission. LAA is an agile institution and knows its building.
Another consequence of this more flexible attitude is reflected in how works are
handled, particularly new media art. Given that this art form is not often culturally
interpreted as significant to the local culture, as is art from the Viceroyalty Period, it is
easier for artists and curators (as long as collectors are not involved) to argue for
modifications to works and experiences in order to facilitate their display in often
complicated spaces that may not be optimal for the works. In a way, this allows
Ippolito’s and Paul’s ideas of works being in constant change to be observed in a
practical space.
This is not to say that this approach is flawless, as the local laissez faire approach
to things often results in a lack of accountability. Often times, decisions are made
without the entirety of the relevant staff being aware of a decision, and other times
decisions are made on the spot without considering what the consequences of such
choices will be, and thus, as new problems arise, they are fixed, which in turn may
or may not create unpredictable consequences further into the process. Memory
making is often made difficult, as these changes are not reflected either in the
original project proposal or in the final documentation submitted. Thus, valuable
information that could be used as a learning experience and to simplify future
projects is lost in the way.
Every fifteen days, there is a project evaluation meeting where changes and
proposals are made; however, this knowledge remains only with those present at
the meetings, as these notes are not appended to their respective projects. Thus, a
wealth of knowledge and learnt lessons is or will be lost as staff members move on
or forget the information, resulting in a loss of efficiency and money that could easily
be avoided were this to be documented.
As curation is left to independent curators, catalogues are few and far in between,
and are often relegated to being collections of essays by guest writers or the artists
and curators themselves. As a secondary consequence of this, research on the
artist, work, and context is highly dependent on what the visiting curator decides to
do, and since there are no guidelines in place, this can go from a list of the artist’s
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exhibitions and a small biography to a fully formed research project with a
theoretical and practical background on the exhibition and the artists involved.
As can be seen, the Laboratorio Arte Alameda is a unique case as to how it handles
curatorial issues, and while its unique approach to museological research allows an
incredible amount of creative freedom to curators and artists, it is also a liability,
since the quality between exhibitions could vary widely and also in the creation of
memory, as will be shown in the memory making subsection.
3.2.4 Exhibition Design
Exhibition design is one of the Laboratorio Arte Alameda’s weaker points, as
exhibitions feature minimal signage and no marketing or branding. This results in an
exhibition that lacks identity and stands solely on the visual strength of the works
presented. As mentioned in the book Exhibition Design (Hughes, 2015, pp.4748),
the branding of an exhibition is crucial to attracting and retaining an audience
whose attention is more and more fragmented. As a point of interest, the local
police around the institution are not aware of the museum or what is shown in it,
and upon asking for the location of the museum, I was directed to the fine arts
museum (Palacio de Bellas Artes) located at the opposite end of the park from
where the LAA is located. In turn, the exhibition I was invited to observe lacked any
kind of visual attempt to draw visitors.
The space adhered to white cube standards with white walls, minimal labelling, and
almost no interpretation either through wall text, brochure, catalogue, or assistants
(See Figure 5). While this minimalist approach is often found in commercial
galleries, it can do a disservice to exhibitions, particularly those with new media art,
where it is often required to not only explain the operation of works but also to help
the public interpret works whose aesthetics are often not immediately apparent
(Kwastek, 2013, pp.94, 144, 171).
Figure 5: Prado, Gilbertto, 2000/2014, Desertesejo, Mexico City. The label introduces some aspects
of the versioned labels suggested by Jon Ippolito, in this case variable dates and development
teams (2008) Photo by Rene G. Cepeda
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While exploration and uncertainty may be part of the experience as desired by the
artist, and thus instructions may be omitted, in cases where this is not the intention,
some attempt at guidance should be made. In the specific case of Desertesejo
(Prado, 2000/2014), for the experience to be fully realized, the participant must first
grapple with the input device, in this case an Xbox 360 controller by Microsoft. This
controller features eleven digital buttons, two analogue triggers, two analogue
sticks, and a digital D-pad. Of all these inputs, it is not clear which are operational or
their function, and this serves as a barrier of entry for participants for two distinct
reasons: first, the controller can be intimidating to some for its complexity and,
second, such a high degree of uncertainty and lack of feedback when
experimenting with the control may result in either frustration or the assumption that
the experience is limited to walking around the barren landscape. This can be
corrected in three ways:
1. By implementing a controller layout screen within the software itself.
An option to invert the y-axis may also increase usability.
2. Through a controller layout printout either as a label on the pedestal
or a separate sheet of paper.
3. By training a museum assistant or other member of staff in the
gallery on the proper usage of the experience.
Figure 6: Prado, Gilbertto, 2000/2014, Desertesejo, Interactive virtual installation. Initial screen the
participant is presented with upon beginning the experience. Screen capture by Gilbertto Prado.
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Figure 7: Xbox controller (there are four more triggers on the top of the controller). Photo by
Microsoft.
The minimalism of the experience is also evident in the lack of way-finding and thus the
second floor containing a history of the artist’s works and one final art piece can be
easily missed. All these flaws are easy to correct in an often-interesting institution.
Regardless of these missteps, the LAA’s unique methodology has also yielded
some interesting observations. As reported by both guest curator Jorge La Ferla
and artist Gilbertto Prado, the LAA has functioned as a facilitator, placing few
requirements on their respective work and fulfilling their requests for materials
and technology in the fastest, most effective way possible. This mainly translates
in allowing the artist to modify his work to fit the space and the local culture.
While this may seem as a simple request, as the literature shows, this is often
not a simple endeavour due to conservation or institutional inertia. Authors such
as Nora Almeida (2012), Ben Fino-Randin (In Almeida, 2012, p.3), Graham and
Cook (2010), and Lev Manovich (in Graham and Cook, 2000), amongst many
others, have mentioned that one of the biggest challenges when working with
new media art is the contradiction that exists within new media’s reproducibility
and museums tendencies towards the preservation of the unique, and how
these attitudes conflict with the display of new media art. Laboratorio Arte
Alameda, with its welcoming curatorial policy, facilitates this process at all levels.
Gear is available to adapt video, audio, and even hardware to the specific
context of the institution. Should they not be at hand, the LAA is willing (within
budget) to procure the materials or expertise required.
As for the technical staff involved in bringing the museum’s design visions, it consists
of a designer and a group of technicians / handy men who take on most of the tasks,
including electrical installations, carpentry, art handling, hanging, and more. This
peculiar approach stems from the way Mexico, as a culture, handles Health and
Safety, reducing the need for specialized staff for tasks and activities that would
require them in the United Kingdom (Depalma, 1993). With lax enforcement of health
and safety regulations, a DIY culture has sprung; in general, this situation creates
unsafe working conditions (nevertheless, the museum has a good health and safety
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track record) but results in faster installation times and fewer delays due to having to
procure experts or to test every device’s output or requiring enough outlets (Health
and Safety Executive, 2012). Rounding up the exhibition team, the museum utilises
unpaid interns from their art history and exhibition design internship programmes to
handle hanging, assembly, and graphics.
Overall, Laboratorio Arte Alameda is not an outlier in its installation practices. In
both personal experience and informal talks with other curators, I have come to the
realisation that there is simply a more relaxed approach to Health and Safety, and
as long as something is not obviously dangerous or threatens the integrity of either
the space or the art, it is allowed to happen. While I do not advocate for a relaxing
of health and safety standards, it is admirable how the institution values prior
experience by its installation team and allows them to solve problems without
having to elevate them to a higher authority for permission to carry them on. Also
impressive is the flexibility of the institution in accommodating the needs of the artist
and understanding the unorthodox needs of new media art which make it unable to
remain static.
3.2.5 Memory Making
As the Laboratorio Arte Alameda’s mission statement says, museological practice is
of the utmost importance to them. LAA addressed this through the creation of the
Centro de Documentación Príamo Lozada (Documentation Centre Príamo Lozada)
,or CDPL, to document and investigate the curatorial practices that arise from new
media art exhibitions (Laboratorio Arte Alameda, 2011). As was mentioned in my
contextual review, the centre consists of two distinct archives, the Príamo Lozada
archive, which is not categorised or documented, and the post-Príamo Lozada
archive, which is. Thus, I only had access to the latter and is consequently the focus
of my observations.
The CDPL has been tasked with the archival of each exhibition and project in which the
LAA has been involved. To achieve this goal, the CDPL attempts to collect as much
information as they can about each exhibition they host. The methodology followed by
the museum includes collecting all printed materials produced for the exhibition,
including panoramic shots of the space, press releases, catalogues, any research
material provided by the guest curators, wall and label texts, exhibition briefs, exhibition
reviews, and curatorial debriefing interviews.
Given that curators have different working habits, some exhibitions are much more
well documented than others, causing an issue where it is never certain what the
quality of the material within a box is until said box is opened. The curatorial
debriefings are also unstandardised and thus the quality of these varies from project
to project. One approach that may be worth pursuing is the full implementation of the
Variable Media Questionnaire, an approach that may provide a structure and facilitate
research long after the original staff has moved on.
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This lack of standardisation is both a boon and a curse, as some curators may not
wish to be involved in administrative tasks and may in turn be happier working in
such a space. On the other hand, researchers may be frustrated by the uneven
nature of the information preserved in certain projects, hampering thus the very
mission of the institution. While the institution may wish to take a backseat in the
curatorial process and allow curators to experiment, a certain degree of
structure, perhaps based on the Indeterminate Archive, may prove productive
and allow future researchers and curators to draw from the content produced by
their predecessors. During my email contact with the head of the archive Cid
Luna Benito, he confirmed that minutes are not archived, but that after our
conversation he may begin to do so. Furthermore, as of late, standardisation
attempts are being made now.
Despite these minor missteps, CDPL’s efforts are to be appreciated, as the institution
has preserved a wealth of information for future researchers. One possible challenge in
the future of the CDPL will be that of physical space, as each box requires
conservation efforts, including climate control. Fortunately, the institution is aware of
this and is taking efforts to digitise as much content as possible, and while this brings
forth its own issues and challenges, the duplication of the archive both in digital and
physical form enhances its survivability for now.
Another facet of the CDPL is its media migration approach. Media migration refers to
the practice of converting media from an outdated or deprecated format to a newer, still
supported format. This practice can at times be the only measure left to preserve a
new media project. As technology moves forward, software that was top of the line at
the time becomes abandoned by its creator or replaced by a newer version that no
longer supports the older version. However, migration is not often a simple process as
converting a VHS tape to a digital file, since many computer software and file archives
can be system dependent, that is, they depend on a certain hardware or operating
system version, thus creating a chain reaction of conversions. In order to avoid the loss
of the artefact, costly solutions may be required or certain sacrifices may become
necessary. In the case of the CDPL, they possess a small migration station where
certain digital artefacts can be migrated from one format to another. Namely, the
station consists of a Mac computer, a laser disk player, a VHS and Betamax player, a
scanner, and a CD burner, all connected to an audio video input card in the computer;
in this way, old media can be converted into digital files. The computer itself is also
capable of converting certain digital files into newer formats. However, more
sophisticated actions remain outside the purview of the institution, as it lacks personnel
capable of porting (that is, recreating software that can no longer interact with current
day computers due to technological advances) software. Granted, this is a complicated
endeavour that often can be prohibitively expensive and even larger institutions
struggle with it. As for the policies dictating the migration of works, it is often done once
a file becomes unusable with current technology. It is a practical approach that
provides short term solutions but may be problematic in the future because data
degradation and past choices may lead conservation efforts into technological dead
ends, requiring more expensive conservation efforts.
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3.2.6 Summary
The Laboratorio Arte Alameda is a young institution that has gone through two
distinct phases, which have shaped its current curatorial approach. Naturally, from
its inception, it has been dedicated to new media art in its various manifestations;
however, after the tragic passing of its curator, its approach has changed and
focuses now on promoting curatorial research instead of the production of
exhibitions themselves. This has shaped the institution and made it value memory
making over material accumulation. In turn, this proved to be both advantageous
and problematic to my research.
In the one hand, my time spent at the LAA provided scant information on curatorial
and exhibition design practices, as both cultural attitudes and the variability of
curatorial practice are due to the lack of a permanent curator and an established
methodology. However, Centro de Documentación Príamo Lozada proved to be an
invaluable insight into practical memory making. As is often the case, theoretical
knowledge can come into conflict with reality, and in the case of the CDPL, it is no
different. As is common with art institutions in the current financial context, funds
can be hard to come by and, as such, exhibition preservation often has to be done
on a minimal budget. The Laboratorio Arte Alameda finds innovative solutions to
this problem. The solutions often involve preserving the documentation that led to
the exhibition instead of preserving artefacts themselves. Of course, this process
depends strongly on the quality of the data collected. It is here where the LAA
falters at times, since a clear methodology has not yet been implemented. This
results in uneven quality in the documentation of individual projects, which may
translate into the loss of some information as the staff involved leaves the LAA.
Regardless, it is commendable that the efforts to document exhibitions and
preserve as much knowledge as possible are being made, even if the results are
not often ideal.
Another facet of the CDPL’s work, the migration of old media to newer formats, also
proved interesting, as it showcases a simple approach to an often costly or
complicated process. Of course, this comes with a few caveats, since this migration
is done as the need arises and by suiting the technology available at the moment,
which in the future may become a technological dead end, thus requiring potentially
costly further migration.
In closing, the Laboratorio Arte Alameda and its Centro de Documentación Príamo
Lozada offered a valuable insight into memory making and the adaptation of, for the
lack of a better phrase, old new media into new formats to preserve its function or
even its continued existence. I can therefore say that the case study realised was
satisfactory and yielded useful information for the realisation of this dissertation.
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3.3 FACT
3.3.1 Introduction
The Foundation for Art and Creative Technology, better known as FACT, is an
institution dedicated to the production and presentation of visual art that embraces
and explores creative media and digital Technology (FACT, 2019). Opening in 2003
and coinciding with Liverpool’s bid for European Capital of Culture, FACT has
become one of the leading exhibitions of new media art and continues to pursue a
program that links the city’s community to the new media scene through a series of
programs, exhibitions, and community outreach efforts.
FACT’s origins lie in Moviola, back in 1985, when Josie Barnard and Lisa Haskel
launched Merseyside Moviola as a way to screen independent film and video
(Krzemien Barkley, 2014, p.61). Later on, FACT’s founder Eddie Berg joined and
reshaped Moviola as a “commissioning and exhibiting agency specializing in artist’s
film and video work; with this shift, the foundations for what would become FACT
were laid (Krzemien Barkley, 2014, p.61). By 1999, FACT acquired its current name
and identity, expanding its purview to encompass all technology instead of limiting
itself to film and video.
Currently, FACT shares its space with the Picturehouse, a cinema chain that shows
both indie and commercial films in the premises. FACT sees this as a strategic
alliance allowing both to feed off each other’s public.
3.3.2 Context
This case study differs from the first one in that the LAA case study focused on
exploring the need for the manual itself and the methodologies applied by an
institution actively engaged with new media art. In contraposition, the case study at
FACT sought to validate the research performed within the last two years as well as
fill gaps in the knowledge that may have been missed.
To achieve this, I spent two weeks at FACT’s premises in Liverpool conducting a
series of interviews as well as observing and documenting the methodologies
implemented in the exhibition Real Work. Originally, the case study sought to study
the interaction of the public with the artworks; unfortunately, due to scheduling
issues, it was not possible to acquire the required authorisations from the
institution’s marketing department and the survey could not take place.
3.3.3 Methodology
The study was divided in two stages, the first one involved the observation and
documentation of both exhibition spaces and the solutions implemented within each
space to address the specific challenges presented by the exhibition. This was done
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with the help of FACT’s visitor services staff who gave me access to all areas of the
exhibition space, including control rooms and cabinets. While this survey of the space
took place, I photographed specific aspects of the display furniture and devices.
The second phase consisted of a series of open-ended casual interviews with the
aforementioned staff members. I determined that a rigid series of interview questions
would not yield adequate data and, therefore, a different approach was necessary. I
opted to prepare a brief presentation of the aims of the project and the progress that
was done, and then I focused on the sections of the document more relevant to their
areas of expertise and what my findings had been. At this point, all participants were
eager to comment and present to me their observations and corrections. This was
documented through the interviews found in Appendices 1 through 3.
3.3.4 The Exhibition Space
As FACT is a purpose-built building, its gallery space has been tailored to host new
media exhibitions quite easily. This presents us with an example of the “ideal”
exhibition space. The galleries are designed after the black box concept, that is,
large open spaces with high ceilings, all painted in black (although this can be
modified depending on the exhibitions), Figure 8. However, the most notable aspect
of the space is its double floors and ceiling scaffolding (Figure 9); both the tiles and
the scaffolding allow the exhibitions team to have access to power and wired
internet anywhere within the institution. This obviously opens up design space for
more creative exhibitions, as it removes one of the biggest issues when working
with new media art. Unfortunately for this study, this has led FACT to be one of the
institutions that worries less about their space, at least in terms of power and
internet limitations, since it is so flexible.
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Figure 8: The high ceilings at FACT allow for a large variety of works and screen sizes to be brought
into the space. The floor tiles can be removed and replaced with tiles that give access to power and
wired internet all throughout the space. Photo by Rene G. Cepeda
Figure 9: The scaffolding at FACT allows for lights, power, and internet to run through the space
with no limitations, opening up design possibilities. Speakers are also built into the space. Photo
by Rene G. Cepeda
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Each space also has a small control room which contains control interfaces for
lights, audio equipment, and media servers, as seen in Figure 10. This approach
centralises and simplifies the space’s management. While fully implementing such
solutions may not be possible in all institutions, it is evident that a similar version of
this setup would be beneficial to any institution. In the manual, I offer specific
examples for VR, interactive performance, and livestreaming, as these are some of
the most reliant on specific media configurations. One of the most interesting
developments in displaying media technology, and that had not been accounted for
at the beginning of this research project, is the use of microcomputers, specifically
the Raspberry Pi. These micro computers can be bought for approximately 70
Pounds for a complete kit that allows the Pi to function as a computer/media centre.
These small-scale computers are very flexible and, while not suited for video
games, VR, or AR due to their very basic tech specs, they have a variety of uses for
any other exhibition space. They are ideal for multimedia playback, streaming
video, some forms of interactive performances, robotics, net art, and more. This
resulted in an extensive rewriting of several sections of the manual, particularly
those suggesting the use of more specialised and expensive media servers and
computers.
Figure 10: The control room at FACT features a sound mixer, a video console, and a computer
running Hyperdeck to control the media displayed through the projectors. Photo by Rene G. Cepeda
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Figure 11: Unlike with the Raspberry Pi, every input in this case has to be carefully labelled to
make troubleshooting issues with any media server and its control interface easier. Photo by
Rene G. Cepeda
Figure 12: The small size of the Raspberry Pi (top middle) allows it to be placed right next to the display
device, which reduces design complexities since there is no need for dedicated enclosures. It also makes
troubleshooting easier, as it is clear which media device is failing. Photo by Rene G. Cepeda
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Figure 13: This small amplifier takes the sound output from the Raspberry Pi and splits it into 4
channels, each channel can connect to independent headphones and allow more than one user to
hear what is going on screen. Photo by Rene G. Cepeda
While FACT has taken great steps in the presentation of new media art within an
exhibition space, as new technologies appear, the technical team struggles at times
with newer technologies. One of the most notable examples of this during my visit
was the VR activity in the learning space. This activity, which is only available on
the weekends, is located in an interior corner inside a small storage area, without
meaning that it is completely hidden, and visitors are only aware of its existence if
they are already in the space and it is in use. The reason for this situation has to do
with the learning space being planned as a social space and not somewhere where
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technology would eventually permeate to as well. The consequence of this is that
here we have a more traditional example of how an institution would grapple with
the situation. In this case, the niche where the hardware is housed is situated in an
inconvenient location, probably due to where the power outlets are situated, and the
space only has 1 and a half walls, which makes it harder to install outlets (Figure
15). Being faced with such a situation, the only option is for the VR hardware to be
hidden here. Even so, signage and a screen displaying what is happening within the
activity would greatly improve the experience. This example highlights the difficulty
in displaying VR in the exhibition space, as it may appear to simply be a collection
of hardware not meant for the visitors to engage with.
Figure 14 Details of the niche containing the VR experience at FACT. On initial contact, this would
appear to a visitor as a technical thing related to running the space and not an artwork. Photo by
Rene G. Cepeda
Figure 15: Picture of the social space layout. The VR experience is located in the back-right area,
hidden from the entrance on its right by a small wall. Photo by John Couch
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Having surveyed the entirety of the space and identified potential inquiry lines,
the next step in the process was to carry out the interviews with members of
staff. Part of my lines of inquiry would be informed by the findings derived from
the space. Foremost of these was the relationship between the curatorial,
design, and technical teams, the difficulties in working with VR, methodologies
during the planning and building stages, and technical questions regarding
specific forms of new media art.
3.3.5 Curation and planning
As a curator, Helen Starr will be curating a show for FACT in collaboration with the
Wysing Arts Centre, The Mechatronic Library, FACT, and QUAD called Worlds
Among Us; I was interested in how an institutional outsider saw FACT. Helen’s
concerns mirror some of Isabel de Sena’s, specifically the apparent obsession with
exhibitions that focus on technology for the sake of technology over theme. In
addition, Helen Starr is very concerned with making new media art accessible to all
by preparing museum staff to assist both in the understanding and operation of said
art. She is also a staunch believer in the cooperation between departments and the
curator in order to create exhibitions tailored to the community they are to be placed
within. After being shown the manual, Helen commented on the usefulness of the
frequently asked questions section as well as the specific recommendations in the
specialised chapters. Finally, under the considerations for labelling, Helen finds that
simpler labels not focused on the technology or its operation work best, while
keeping the technical aspects on separate handouts.
FACTLab’s research director, Mark Wright, focused more on the manual being able
to explain the importance of new media art, as it is aimed at experts not familiar with
the medium. For my interview with Mark Wright, I focused on his expertise in
embodiment and space, particularly questions regarding works that may require
physical space while having no physical presence, such as some VR artwork, or the
opposite, where there is a need for a virtual space (such as the platform Second
Life, which acts in most ways as a real physical space) while not requiring a specific
physical space, such as a gallery.
For Charlotte Horn, FACT’s exhibition producer, it became very evident that, at
least within the institution, collaboration with teams is highly encouraged; Charlotte
Horn being in the middle of it all. Her work focuses on bringing everything the entire
team has done and making it a reality. Because of this, her input on project
planning and workflow was crucial for this study. Charlotte provided me with
examples of exhibition-specific volunteer packs aimed at preparing front-of-house
staff by giving them information on the artworks, the artists, and the installation
itself. The information derived from these texts is now reflected in the relevant
chapters of the manual.
Lucia Arias is the Learning Manager for FACT and is in charge of developing
audiences and connecting FACT with the people of Liverpool. My initial contact with
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Lucia led to the rethinking of the relevant section in the manual, as I had an
outdated concept of what an education department’s responsibilities were. Having
realised that education and curatorial cater to different publics, the aim of the
chapter was switched to how this intimate relationship between education and the
local public can help the institution to create exhibitions that respond to the local
needs. Given that the manual is focused on the exhibition and display of interactive
new media, this means that my prior suggestions had to be restructured and
integrated within the pertinent departments.
3.3.6 Exhibition Design
For the exhibition design section, the main points of contact were Mark Murphy and
Andrew Joy, the Technical and IT Managers, respectively. FACT does not appear to
have a dedicated design team, instead, some of the marketing staff, who have prior
graphic design experience, take care of graphics as they are required. Derived from
this, FACT’s graphic design is very minimalist and standardised. This should not be
considered a criticism, since as a consequence of this, FACT has a very consistent
and distinctive brand identity. Regardless, the bulk of the exhibition design is
undertaken as a group between the curatorial, marketing, and technical team led by
Mark Murphy.
Unlike other staff members, both Mark Murphy and Andrew Joy were not
interviewed, instead, they were asked to provide specific recommendations for each
chapter with no prior opportunity to examine my drafts. This was done this way so
their recommendations were not biased by what I had previously written. After they
finished giving recommendations, I would ask them to look at recommendations
already on the draft for which I had questions in order to get their feedback.
Afterwards, they were allowed to peruse the entire text at their leisure, where they
would make a final list of recommendations and corrections.
The results of such cooperation resulted in a wealth of information being added to
the manual as well as confirming most of my recommendations as accurate or
requiring minor amendments. Again, I seemed to have been overly cautious in my
recommendations. With the input of both Mark Murphy and Andrew Joy, I was able
to capitalise on their experience with real life implementations.
Finally, having seen the manual, both expressed appreciation for the calls for more
and better cross-disciplinary integration of their departments within the curatorial
process, for, as they mentioned, the lack of real world applications by curators leads
them to take safe and uncreative decisions as to how new media can be presented
in the institution.
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3.3.7 Visitor services and Operations
Visitors services at FACT is run in conjunction by three individuals: manager Joan
Burnett and visitor services and engagement mediators Jon Couch and Washington
Buckley. Together, the three are in charge of front-of-house staff. As such, they
have a wealth of experience in visitor services, interaction with the public, and how
the public themselves engage with the exhibitions at FACT. Because of this, the
recommendations made by the three have percolated into the following chapters of
the manual: Cross-departmental Collaboration, Invigilation, Space in the Exhibition,
and Kiosking Interactive New Media Art.
After being shown the document, specific questions were made relevant to the
aforementioned chapters. Regarding cross-departmental collaboration, visitor
services has emphasised that they are the first and, mostly, only point of contact for
the public with the institution. At FACT, the invigilation team is given two documents
meant to assist them with working with the public. The first one is the exhibition-
specific volunteer pack, crafted by exhibitions producer Charlotte Horn, and a
second, more general visitor services volunteer handbook by Joan Burnett.
Combined, these two documents provided me with practical examples of the
recommendations given in the invigilation section. Furthermore, Jon Couch
elaborated more on the relationship between his team and other departments.
Here, I got my first confirmed evidence that exhibition and curatorial teams tend to
consider invigilation as subordinates (See Jon Couch’s interview in Appendix 3).
This is a situation the manual attempts to correct, as it leads to the loss of
information as well as reduced cooperation between departments. This hurts
curatorial processes in the long-term, as curators are functioning under unconfirmed
assumptions and lacking information.
Other areas of interest include recommendations for accessibility to furniture,
preparation of invigilators to perform basic troubleshooting, as well as the
creation and submission of reports when artworks were not being ignored by the
public or had failed in some way to function. These conversations also confirmed
many conclusions I had made regarding the importance of invigilation in the
process of staging an exhibition.
3.3.8 Summary
As a result of my time at FACT, I have been able to better judge the necessity for a
manual of this kind. Even specialists in the field, such as curators Helen Starr and
Isabel de Sena and technical manager Mark Murphy, were able to find value in specific
chapters. What was most interesting, however, was how enthusiastic individuals
involved in the technical facets of new media were with the manual, often citing
difficulty communicating with less technologically inclined members of staff. The most
common complaints the manual addresses, according to these individuals, include
explaining the complexity of certain media setups and the varying creative possibilities
that open up through communication with technical staff (I.e. Technical staff may be
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able to suggest alternatives to more traditional display methods associated with video
that are unilaterally being applied to all new media). Other comments, this time by
curatorial and education members, included appreciation for the conceptualisation of
space as well as the taxonomies presented in the text.
Alongside the praise, corrections and amendments were made where I had over-
theorised or idealised methodologies. Examples such as overly cautious
approaches to emulation, reinterpretation, and migration that resulted in erroneous
recommendations were changed. Additionally, mistaken approaches to how
hardware is moved between countries and the functions of the education
department were some of the gravest errors this study allowed me to correct. While
other minor corrections did occur, on the grand scheme of things, the study did
confirm many of my hypotheses as well as the accumulated knowledge found
scattered in a variety of sources, such as books, case studies, journal articles,
exhibition design literature, and personal experiences, both mine and from other
experts, such as curator Jorge la Ferla and artists Cecilia Suhr and Gilbertto Prado.
While the FACT case study did not develop as planned, the findings derived from it
have proven to be of the utmost importance in the development of the manual. By
studying the space and later interviewing and conversing with staff members, it was
possible to better tailor my inquiry into a productive collaboration that resulted in a
marked improvement on the final document. By speaking to and observing
professionals who deal with all the issues presented in the manual on a daily basis,
I was able to confront my theoretical knowledge with the real-world application of
knowledge and the challenges and realities of practical work. This directly resulted
in the simplification of overly elaborated recommendations that had very little
chance of actually being acted upon and thus risked alienating professionals who
may know better than the author.
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4 Chapter Four: Analysis
4.1 Introduction
This chapter analyses material from the contextual review, the case studies, and
the manual itself (see the Manual links in Appendix 4). It uses the three headings
developed through the research and used in the Manual: Curation, Exhibition
Design, and Memory Making. It also outlines how the structure of the manual
reflected the research and identifies the findings under each heading.
4.2 Curation
4.2.1 Introduction
Interactive new media art poses new challenges to curators from a variety of
angles. At the most basic level, interactive new media art demands flexible curators
willing to embrace the possibility of a constantly evolving work that changes before,
during, and after the exhibition; often out of the control of the artist, the curator, and
the institution itself. Furthermore, it is necessary to accept that while we can
establish a baseline set of recommendations on the curatorial process (as this
dissertation proposes), it is necessary to keep abreast of future technological
developments, as future artists will inevitably embrace and exploit unforeseen
possibilities created by such developments.
In this chapter of the manual, I attempt to highlight the reasons a manual is
necessary from a curator’s perspective as well as the process that led to the themes,
subjects, examples, and recommendations given in the manual. First, I will explain
how the current trends in new media art have made a manual an even more
important contribution to research. Then, I will demonstrate how through
conversations, interviews, and other sources, it was possible to identify areas of
action for a manual on the curation of interactive new media art and how those needs
were not being met by current available sources. The next step is to detail how these
gaps in knowledge were addressed, the challenges in finding the information
necessary, and how it was validated. In the last section, I will then explain some of
my own personal contributions to the field, including expanded definitions of
interaction, time, space, and interpretation methods for interactive new media art.
4.2.2 Manual structure
I decided to structure the manual mainly around Steve Dietz’ three categories
interactivity, connectivity, and computability that characterise new media art
(Dietz, 2000). However, for this particular case, it was important to introduce the
concepts fully so the structure of the exhibition design chapter was clearer. As
Dietz’ categories are now well established in the literature, the subsections for each
category expand on what Dietz has written and provide clearer examples for non-
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experts to better grasp the concepts involved. From an expert perspective, these
sections may appear as over explaining the concepts; however, we must take into
consideration the target reader, who may or may not have heard of even the most
basic of concepts behind new media art.
For the next subsections, it was necessary to explain other important factors that
distinguish interactive new media art from other forms of media the reader may be
familiar with. Thus, it was necessary to address the complex relationship digital
media has with reality as an object and the many ways authorship can be attributed
to a work that is in constant evolution and has multiple stakeholders.
All these subheadings are designed with both theory and practicality in mind, some
include technical recommendations and others have theoretical underpinnings that
will be further discussed in the findings section of this sub-chapter. While this
curatorial chapter in its majority concerns itself with theoretical considerations, there
are some more practical issues that were considered so important for curators to be
aware of that they had to be in the section more relevant to curators rather than risk
them going unused in the exhibition design chapter. Furthermore, it is very likely
these recommendations for plugs, cables and connections, and storage devices
would appear redundant to an exhibition designer.
As the manual makes clear, label design for new media art is a complicated effort due
to media variability, its multiple authors, and the complexity of the materials, both
physical and neomaterial, which require labels that go against most recommendations
for labelling found in museum design guides, such as the V&A Ten Point Guide (V&A
Museum, 2013, p.8). For this reason, it was necessary to truly go into depth on the
necessities of new media art labelling and complement it with examples,
counterexamples, and offer various alternatives for how it may be approached.
After having handled the main theoretical underpinnings of interactive new media
art, the manual moves to issues of exhibition planning, including the language and
narratives used in exhibitions, which often focus on technology itself in often
dualistic ways, presenting new media as either panacea or harbinger of doom for
humanity. As there can be so many other approaches to new media art that are not
necessarily techno-centric, it was very important to explain why this over reliance on
romantic narratives is creating a creative bottleneck.
The marketing/commercial section takes an unconventional approach to marketing,
not speaking about the traditional obligations of marketing departments but instead
dealing with the possible points of friction between curatorial and marketing
departments. As new media tends to be anti-authoritarian and subversive and
shares many of the same media and techniques as contemporary marketing
departments, it is very possible for both to come into conflict either by invading into
areas that are not traditionally considered part of the exhibition space, such as with
the institution’s website or social media, or via controversial content provided by
either the artist or the public.
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The final subsection of the chapter addresses the planning aspects that are
particular to new media art curation, such as planning for installations, testing
hardware and software, and acquiring specialised hardware and the indiv