[NetBehaviour] NetBehaviour Digest, Vol 1479, Issue 1

marc marc.garrett at furtherfield.org
Sun Nov 25 14:22:43 CET 2012

Hi Patrick,

Thanks for posting such a detailed text to the list.

I think that one of the issues that keeps cropping up with much of 
contemporary art practice, is how it needs to remain within art 
frameworks, and its 'given' or 'scripted' dialogue/space, for it to have 
a presence of status. I am not sure if this kind of framework offers 
wholesome 'value' other than to the artists themselves, and the 
established structures appropriating them. The other thing is that, art 
has a tradtion of trying to bash out its validity in the same contexts 
as before and using the same historical canons, whether it is proposing 
something as (I use this term hesitantly) innovative, or not. I also 
refrain form using the term 'new', because to me the word has lost its 
essence, and is more to do with marketing and branding than any concrete 
things which offer 'actual' social or cultural emancipation, as art.

So, what I am asking I suppose is, in what way, or where do you think 
“pop-up” galleries are offering a context where critical ideas around 
'breaking down hard-edged systemic reliances' on established functions 
around art and top-down control are happening as part of the dialogue in 
the work as well as an infrastructural tendency?

Wishing you well.


 > >From my post to the Reality Augmented Blog:
 > Curating the Quantitative Life
 > The 1%, The Ambitious Middle-Class, and The Curatorial Politics of 
the New Aesthetic
 > This week (that is, the week of October 26, 2012) I heard a fantastic 
conversation about the ecosystem of galleries, curators and artists in 
the Chicago area on the local NPR station.  They laid out the 
sociocultural terrain so well that I had a moment of clarity, and it is 
that instant that I want to share with you. And yes, it also has to do 
with my thoughts about the New Aesthetic. For context, as an independent 
curator, I had a tactical position that I would curate the shows that 
the mainstream institutions either did not understand or did not want to 
support, thus gaining the foreground.  The result of this was, in 
essence, a “pop-up” gallery, which is a prevalent form of curation in 
Chicago and many cities with extra storefront space. Therefore, what we 
have in Chicago now are a plethora of pop-ups, apartment galleries and 
the like that you can’t turn around without finding a new curatorial 
project or another.
 > The effect of this is to flatten the art world considerably – 
everyone’s a curator, gallerist or something.  While Jerry Saltz once 
said on his Facebook page that this is one of the best things to ever 
happened to art, it has raised the bar on competition to new levels.  
What this shows is that as Jer Thorpe (visualization artist for WIRED 
and the NYT) recently said is that almost any interaction or consumption 
from donuts to cell phone usage can be placed in a “power curve”.  This 
is a logarithmic curve that begins near infinity at the beginning and 
stretches out into what Chris Anderson has called “The Long Tail”.  
Bascially, there are people who talk and text 80 hours a week, and there 
are people who only text once or twice a week, and the distribution of 
usage translates into this curve.
 > But considering that the effect of the “new curation”, is the art 
world actually flatter?  Yes, because the flatness is only perceptual 
when you are out on the tail of the curve where the mass of “curatorial 
life” resides, with the tumblrs, YouTube lists, and so on.  With things 
like tumblr, Pinterest, et al, we live a curated life.  However, my 
theory of the flattening of the art world comes when you mirror the 
power curve/Long Tail into a asymptotic sort of spiked pyramid that 
shows a mass quantum noise of every day curation, the mass of pop-ups 
and residential spaces, web sites, etc., up the chain, a winnowed-down 
group of “middle-class” influential curators/galleries, and the “spike” 
of hyper-elite curators, artists, and designers, like Jeffrey Deitch, 
Hans Ulrich Obrist, Zaha Hadid, Anish Kapoor, Rem Koolhaas – you get the 
idea. What this is essentially a concentration of cultural capital into 
the upper 1% while the pyramid of fame/success is sagged down to 
accommodate the Long Tail.
 > So, what I am saying is that in the cultural era of the Long Tail, a 
few are concentrated into the Straylight-like crèche of capital, where 
the other 98% percent of the cultural world are forced to 
entrepreneurism, or to cultural production “for its own sake”, often 
scrambling from month to month between practicing one’s work and the day 
job down at the health club.  Or, taking it to a more extreme level, we 
could also say that Pinterest curated image boards are becoming 
curatorial quantum noise, as we swim in a sea of digital chaff.  If I 
were to go to the end of the Tail, we would go to 4chan.org, and since 
Rule 34 takes effect there in that anything on the Net shall have porn 
made about it, we don’t need to go there.
 > So, to summarize; 2012’s style of curation seems to reflect the 
financial paradigm – a couple percent with concentrated capital, a steep 
curve of established curators and producers, and then a widening saddle 
of aspiring producers, such as residential and pop-up galleries, 
widening out into a “culture of the everyday”, of massive free 
production which is gleaned by the social media companies as its content 
and curated by the masses for the effect of their own personal 
 > This is the cultural model of Big Data as expressed in the art world 
and the curated life.
 > So what does this have to do with the New Aesthetic? Big Data assumes 
that in many cases that the power curve (the asymptotic curve generated 
by the Long Tail) is in effect in regards to relevance to a given 
question or correlation. Huh? That means that for a massive data set, 
only a small amount of it is really relevant to our purposes, a little 
more is close to what we’re looking for, and the rest steeply falls off 
into a sea of quantitative chaff.  Or qualitative; take your pick.
 > OK. New Aesthetic.
 > NA is largely about gleaning interesting images from Big Data, as 
algorithms and robot eyes spew out images by rates as high as 30 frames 
per second in some cases, which makes images akin to grains of sand on 
the aesthetic beach.  But the New Aestheticist strides upon that beach, 
picking out a sparkly grain of sand or even the occasional diamond, 
ready-cut, and places it in their bucket (Tumblr, Pinterest) to show to 
other people on the beach.  Pay attention that there are a lot of people 
on this beach, and it is a very large beach- that’s why they call it Big 
Data.  Lots of data; lots of sand.
 > The thing that I see as problematic yet historically relevant to NA 
as curatorial model is that it there is not much agency involved beyond 
the human glean from visual Big Data.  It is a cross between banal 
Pinterest/Flickr/Tumblr posting and Duchampian readymade; a gesture of 
curating the Quantitative Life. If one thinks about it, it appears that 
the biggest difference between NA curating and screen scraping or 
pattern recognition is that of human agency in terms of aesthetic 
picking rather than algorithmic selection. This becomes an issue, as it 
creates a parallel power curve in terms of human versus machine terms of 
the qualitative.
 > Before splitting curves, let us describe the stratum of curatorial 
space that I see NA occupying.  Remember to consider the asymptotic 
curve of Anderson’s Long Tail, and consider it as one of investment vs. 
population (or amount of data.  At the uppermost, narrow end of the 
spike, we have a small amount of data, a huge amount of influence and 
money, flaring into the middle class, all of which equates from the top 
curators and major museums to the top galleries down into the regional 
art centers and mid-grade galleries.  The next major break that appears 
evident is the ‘emerging’ scene, with the pop-up and young galleries, 
and some independent curating, as well as genre shows and higher end art 
blogs at the upper end.  Where the power curve begins to truly flare out 
is in terms of self- or social curation, beginning with the Pinterests, 
Tumblrs, and Flickr pages.
 > As a note, keep that last sentence in mind.
 > Then comes the flood.  Curation (sic) in the age of social media must 
be made to include the posting of photos and videos to social media, 
with the gesture, constituting the greatest number with the least 
investment (the function of the Long Tail’s power curve – # involved vs. 
degree of investiture).  By that point, curation becomes Massive Data, 
not just Big, and we are awash, not in a sea of kitsch, but a sea of 
everything, with only currents of trend to give any direction.   This 
lower stratum from the pin board to the Like is the beach to which I 
allude earlier, with New Aestheticists doing slightly more than Liking 
an image by taking the time to find it and put it on their Tumblr, 
hoping for a Like.  And in a way, as the game Foldit allowed human 
beings to find a protein folding solution in far less time than it takes 
an algorithm, so does the New Aestheticist find an ‘image of interest’ 
faster than a parametric equation.  It makes us feel special to 
categorize galaxies in a crowdsourced application, is picking images of 
interest in the NA exercise much different?  In some ways, I feel like 
it is akin to 4chan-style image boards, just more intellectual.  But 
with the rise of art-based Internet Surfing Clubs like NastyNets and 
Double Happiness in the 2000’s, the aggregation of images of interest 
have become a function of quantum-level curatorial practice at the base 
of the saddle of the Long Tail.
 > In addition, other effects come into play such as similarities to 
arousal addiction to Internet pornography.  The prime motivator for 
dopamine release in net.porn is novelty, based on things such as the 
“Coolidge Effect”, where time to climax increases with a single partner, 
while it stays low for varied partners.  So it is with the NA; 
near-infinite seas of novel images in numerous genres.  Is it possible 
to say that New Aestheticists as becoming addicted to Robot Eye Porn?  
According to Gary Wilson, the end result to hypofrontal burnout based on 
Internet usage, with turning away being the ‘climax’ of 
net.scopophilia.  Perhaps this is a bit ‘over-blown’ to compare the two, 
but in my opinion, it is a matter of scale on the power curve of 
intensity vs. investiture.
 > The point of all this is that it asks what the degree that NA as 
curatorial practice exerts in being a function of cultural production.  
Somehow, I don’t feel like I’m going to see the famous Google Earth RGB 
artifacted airplane blown up to wall size in the MoMA.  But, on the 
other hand, we are awash in the generation of images and posting them 
for a moment of approval, shooting the aesthetic blunderbuss, hoping a 
pellet/image sticks here and there. This creates tremendous ambivalence, 
as the ‘potential’ effortlessness of NA practices conveys a certain 
pointlessness except a certain fascination with the found 
machine/algorithm-made object/image.  However, we can see the emergence 
of image boards, and the aggregation from them as art practice, and it 
has led us here, but perhaps NA is a form of curation for the masses, a 
folk curatorial practice for cyborg times.
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