[NetBehaviour] Crisis at the ICA: Ekow Eshun¹s Experiment in Deinstitutionalisation

marc garrett marc.garrett at furtherfield.org
Thu Feb 11 16:17:14 CET 2010

Hi Jim & all,

Thank you for you comments, and yes what you mention regarding it being 
an international concern does hold some weight. But, I do have to say my 
personal experience does offer a positive story to what you have 
discussed, which relates to our own gallery in London, HTTP. We have had 
an exponential growth of visitors to the space over the years, whether 
it is at the openings, events, or from the visitors who wish to view the 
work on a daily basis.

The irony here is that the visiting audiences are way ahead and more 
informed than the traditonal galleries are, when it comes to finding out 
about art, culture and what they wish to see. The audience has grown up 
to understand and discover themselves as part of an independent and 
variant, networked movement - their behaviour is creating how art is 
perceived now, not just us. Not always in a big way, but the main shift 
is linked to people around the world having access to alternative 
sources, to news and what is happening in the world. Art is now 
accessible to a larger audience in the same way, similar processes of 
discovery. The usual reference points remain, but how we gain 
information and explore art challenges the very core of what makes 'art' 
relevant. The reference points which were once so carefully managed, 
including many of the canons are no longer the same, these canons have 
expanded and are more complex, outside of the hermetically sealed 
borders of what mainstream art and its culture once relied upon. It 
poses major challenges in  behaviour and the meaning, the reference 
points once used by the critic as well.

Anyway - it seems to me that, one of the extra qualities of a 
contemporary artist is about connecting and re-inventing their own 
positions - either individually or collectively, in accordance to their 
circumstances, which has naturally become part of the context and 
integral nature of their art. The positive thing is that, the artist of 
the 'now' has control of their journey to a much larger degree, more 
than any other time, but what this also does at the same time is, lessen 
their worth as plyable material for those who prefer to have control 
over the creative voice of the artist - this is partly what has come 
about via a networked culture claiming its own relevance with the world. 
Perhaps, wanting our cake and eat it, has caused a spatial rift that can 
only be resolved by carrying on changing according to creative context 
at hand, and perhaps we just have to let those who build their ivory 
towers to tumble, and then - hopefully, (I doubt it), lessons will be 
reflected on.

Will discuss other aspects of your poast a bit later Jim...

wishing you well.


p.s. I did write some other text which was part of the original post but 
cut it out...

here it is...

The downside on this is, that larger organisations who are not so 
connected with their audiences (or what's really happening out there) 
still have control of the media generally, and yes, still hanging onto a 
gate-keeping formula which can only allow those who are already known 
and high-profile (usually privileged) to be seen, or acknowledged via 
its own particular rules of engagement, this cultural hegemony is of 
course very powerful and well invested upon, it has been for centuries.

A good example, relates the radio programming at the BBC, many of those 
who frequent the broadcasting channels (this includes television) are 
those who have already gone through the socially constructed process of 
being educated via certain avenues, informing them that they own a part 
of our culture, they are offered 'real' cultural cache and an investment 
in it - and everyone else are more recipients of it. This is not, by any 
means meant to be construded as a binary opinon here, I really do not 
wish this to be ture, but it does seem to be a dominant factor in 
society and it does declare concerns which need to be addressed in some 
way. And it is relevant to the conversation we are having here.

So, I remember a great radio programme on radio 4 a few years back now 
called Kaleidoscope, which was run and (I think) presented, by Tom 
Sutcliffe. Even he was from the same place, as many of the other 
individuals who have a say on our culture, from Cambridge if I remember 
correctly. But at least he was open minded and curious enough to explore 
in a genuine way, he managed to set up a situation where the show itself 
actually made an effort to bring about information for the listener to 
feature a diverse and extremely collection of programmes that were 
mentally engaging, which included conversations with up and coming 
artists, musicians, writers, poets, film-makers etc. This allowed all 
kinds of individuals and groups to get through and be represented on 
their own terms, not always perfect but better than what replaced it. It 
was the predecessor to Front Row. Which mainly features those who are 
already known, usually high-profile people in film or arts. Eshen is 
perfect material for this programme, why talk to the artists when you 
can talk to the one who decides what artists are considered worth 
seeing? This mannerism, and process of assuming the top dog knows is an 
out-moded function which presumes (incorrectly) that those who have 
chosen not to be top dog, knows less - this reflects an in-built 
arrogance which can be easily aligned to political behaviour.
Front Row, also possesses an extremely sycophantic approach which 
supports an uncritical dialogue with those already well known. Who 
usually have an infrustructure working for them, such as promoters 
lobbying for their own particular luvvy to be represented. It is vapid, 
boring and rather frustrating to listen to. Especially when one knows 
that there is so, so much more going on out there that is more 


the article takes the ica and, more particularly, eshun to task. but what
makes the article interesting to outsiders such as myself is not what it 
to say that's utterly particular to the ica or eshun, but how it tells a
story that is ongoing around the world.

for instance, is the solution to the problem to get somebody else running
the ica, like an artist? not just to recover financially, but to bring back
the 'artist run' nature of the place. or are those institutions simply
doomed to the sort of empty pretensions of late capitalism, wherein there
just is no place for the cultures of art as we have known them no matter 
you cut it?

the ica is hardly the only art institution in which the director is more
important than the art or artists. even in net art, which has 0 recognition
in the art world, the few gallery curators and other non-artists, ie, with
positions of some 'power' to show work to 5 people, are presumed to have
much more importance to net art than they actually have.

and look at the shows of steve dietz. the quality of the art itself was
irrelevant to him also. he was producing concept shows, not showing the
quality work of individuals. the quality of the individual works in his
shows was not the important thing. the important thing was that the show 
curated by dietz with a concept. the actual art was often quite poor.

and, boy, do i feel stupid sending a link to gompertz. the quality of the
work is utterly irrelevant to him too. it isn't the quality of the work 
makes art important, in his book, but the nature of the corporate and
institutional promotion and valorization.

in all this, although net art has almost 0 recognition in the art world or
literary world, it can be an interesting and progressive force in the world
because the means of production and dissemination are not so dominated and


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