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conAdios Douglas Davis ·· The Sentence has no end ·· The last nine minutes · Documenta 6 · 1977 ·· EARLY TELEMATIC ART ·· Whitney in 1995 ·· The Sentence has no end. Sometimes I think it had no beginning. Now I salute its authors, which means all of us. You have made a wild, precious, awful, delicious, lovable, tragic, vulgar, fearsome, divine thing ·· Write with me on your tv screen ·· virtual culture ·· Psycho Mein Amour ·· new media art ·· net.art · arte en Internet ·· Video against video ·· The world's first collaborative sentence ·· The sentence ·· Newsweek ·· The five myths of TV power ·· or why the medium is not the message ·· one of the more magnificent minds engaging modern art and media ··

“The Sentence has no end. Sometimes I think it had no beginning. Now I 

salute its authors, which means all of us. You have made a wild, precious, 

awful, delicious, lovable, tragic, vulgar, fearsome, divine thing.”

Douglas Davis, 2000

The World’s First Collaborative Sentence, created by Douglas Davis for a survey
exhibition of his work in 1994 and donated to the Whitney in 1995, is a “classic” of
Internet art. Allowing users to contribute to a never-ending sentence, it anticipated
today’s blog environments and ongoing posts. In early 2012 the Whitney Museum
undertook a preservation effort spearheaded by Carol Mancusi-Ungaro,
Associate Director of Conservation and Research and Christiane Paul, Adjunct
Curator of New Media, in concert with Farris Wahbeh, Manager, Cataloguing and
Documentation, and implemented by Ben Fino-Radin, digital conservator at
Rhizome, and the Museum’s Digital Media department. The result of the initiative
are the two versions of the Sentence accessible here.

Photo: Douglas Davis performing the pioneering satellite telecast, 
"The Last 9 Minutes" — Documenta 6, 1977. 
Also part of the Telecast was Joseph Beuys and Nam June Paik.
Part of this Interview is to be used for another feature on 

Douglas Davis 

by Jill Martinez and Lani Boyd

JT:  As mentioned in your website, you are officially acknowledged as being the very first artist to work with satellite technology for artistic purposes ("Seven Thoughts" - Dec 29, 1976).  How important do you feel it is to be the very first representative of an emerging artistic medium?  Did being the first in this inherently networked medium filter the way you perceived your collaborators and colleagues who may have been second or third by the time you met them?
Was there a kind of unconscious hierarchy involved or was it still truly a collaborative process?
DD:  I was the first entirely because of the political and cultural barrier that had been wrapped around television broadcasting and most of all the satellite.  At first I wanted to do it entirely to make a statement of political resistance: at that time nobody was allowed to SPEAK on TV--and most of all the live satellite, which meant a global audience--except governments and corporate TV networks and the military.  Remember the date, 1976.  Like many of my friends in the video art network and everywhere else, we were fresh from resisting the War--as the 1776 Declaration of Independence leading to the American revolution demanded and our Constitution later ratified (we may gather "peacefully" to protest the actions of King, President, or Congress in the USA).    SEVEN THOUGHTS WAS PEACEFUL RESISTANCE... against the idea that only the mighty and powerful could speak or broadcast to the world.  BUT AS SOON AS I DECIDED TO DO IT, ART BECAME MY MISTRESS.  And I began to think about the beauty of doing it all alone in the middle of a big domed stadium with nobody watching...of speaking the seven "private" thoughts only into the ears of those allowed to hear at that moment (so the Electronic Arts Intermix videotape recording, made by the amazing Andy Mann hanging from the roof of the Astrodome in Houston simply shows you my lips moving: the words were meant to be heard only live, which made them more precious, like a lovely, sweet woman who won't let you touch her; it also raised the question WHO DIDN'T ALLOW ME TO HEAR THIS WHEN IT WAS BROADCAST).  In the end, this is the point, art not politics became my real mistress and the fact that it was FIRST--which surely liberated lots of others to play with the Satellite, including friends like Willoughby Sharp, Keith Sonnier, Nam June Paik, Joseph Beuys, and Documenta 6--meant nothing to me.  What mattered was the still, silent beauty of it all. 
JT: Care to elaborate on your telecom collaborations?
DD: It was intense and intimate and REAL. Everybody involved was close to me except perhaps the one or two maintenance men on the field, sent there by the President of the Astrodome because he was in love with Marilyn Lubetkin, lovely collector and chair of trustees at the Contemporary Arts Museum, without whom I never would have gotten the Astrodome...James Harithas, director of the CAM, old and mad friend who wrote the most beautiful description of it ever written (it's short and i will try to find and send it to you), the late Andy Mann, of course, who was also a major Video pioneer, Chris Burke the photographer beside him on the roof, still alive, still a friend, and his late wife, Carmen Quesada who took those incredible photos on the field, and, finally, Giuseppe Panza, the Italian collector who gave me the money to rent the Astrodome at a very bargain rate (thanks to Marilyn}: he got in return the 7 pieces of paper I read up to the satellite that night, ending the work, then dropped into a locked black box that he either still possesses or has given to the Guggenheim Museum, which hasn’t the foggiest idea what it is, nor do they care--it was touched by Panza's hand, therefore it must be valuable: that is the way many museums think...but not all, thank God.  And of course I cannot forget Jane Bell, my wife, and Paul Schimmel, the curator at that time for the CAM (though I think he has forgotten what a fantastic thing he did in the Astrodome when he was about 20 years old).
JT:  Was Telecom on your mind before knowing that the Satellite technology would even be available in 1976?  Also, what is your opinion of contemporary artists who are seeking to become the first pioneers of Biotech and Nanotech?  Do you feel that they will have the same spirit as yourself when you become the first in Telecommunications art?
DD: Yes and No.  The politics are gone.  And the idea of being First, of doing something nobody else has ever done before, is now highly active throughout our entire society, in medicine, commerce, telecommunications, the digital industry,sexuality.   NOW EVERYONE WANTS TO BE FIRST AT SOMETHING.  As a Quantum man, I applaud it.  The universe is just beginning....
JT:  I was wondering if you could recollect some details of individuals such as Robert Adrian in Vienna, Hank Bull in Vancouver and Bill Bartlett in Victoria?  I am thinking in particular of the "Artists' Use of Telecommunications Conference" hosted by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (Bill Bartlett) and The Center for New Art Activities in New York?   If a new project were to come up similar in spirit to Interplay and ARTEX, would you be interested in working with these people again?  And if yes, in what capacity?
DD: I knew Robert Adrian directly and personally.   I knew about Hank Bull and Bill Bartlett and I did participate in the event you described and would again, for sure.  But to be interesting, the medium needs to be changed.  Now it has to involve both seeing and touching.  At St. Petersburg U. I met a man who is developing instant translation language for multi-cultural discussions.  He, too, ought to be included.  The closer we come to each other's soul if not sole, the more peaceful and imaginative the world will come.  As I once said in a Terrible Beauty performance: "Everybody has to speak to every one else about everything."   Or else.  What we have now.  Death and terror.
JT: Over the years have you noticed any visible evidence of a shift away from New York as a cultural center as a result of telematic projects such as ARTEX, Worldpool and Interplay when exhibitions became more collaborative and global in scope?  Along the same lines, were you at all surprised at the time to see locales like Victoria and Hawaii sharing the same bill with New York, Vienna and San Francisco? 
DD:  Yes and no.  In the first place, Place is less FUNCTIONAL than ever before, in terms of determining how artists and scientists and writers think or work: we are all in closer touch with each other than ever before--and the contacts are both immediate and spontaneous, which permits deeper modes of reflection.  But in the second place, as always, any single trend or movement generates the reverse, as Modern architecture inspired Post-Modern architecture and the Video-Conceptual-Performance art of the 70's and 80's brought on a flood of bad, glorious painting  in the 90's (leading Dave Hickey to predict on a late 90's panel that the "next" obsession was going to be with "Beauty," resolutely shut out by both the Moderns and Post-Moderns: I think he was right and Beauty has me in her claws right  now).  So now we have a growing obsession with intimacy, with touching, with being in the same room if not bed or sofa with each other.  Virtuality was always destined, as I said in a panel in 2000, imitating Hickey, to promote a fascination with and re-discovery with Reality.  What is the difference between a "real" as opposed to "virtual" experience.  Well, the more vivid, sensual, and multi-dimensional videoconferencing comes, for example, the more intricate this difference--certainly there, certainly "real"--becomes. As for New York, where I domesticate, I have been hearing all my life that this or that city is about to replace it, from Los Angeles to Dallas to London to Paris (remember Paris?).
It will never happen: the 9/11 terrorists insured that: ten  million people went to Ground Zero last year just to gape at a hole.  What nobody understands about New York is its meaning, that is, what it represents or stands for.  Instead I think all those other great cities I mentioned, including Vancouver, are going simply to re-discover and re-define themselves, and their own meanings, which can't be New York's any more than New York can be New Orleans.,
JT:  What was the general reaction in New York at the time to Telecom art in general? 
DD: If you mean the beginnings of video around 1965-1970, it was of course hated by the makers and purveyors of traditional art and welcomed by the lively vanguard minds attracted to this city.  I started making video in Washington, D.C. but had to move to New York to get anything significant done.  In 1971 I got a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts to buy a video portapak.  No place else in the world at that time would have forked over $2,000 for something so mad, except perhaps Poland:
JT:  In my interview with Robert Adrian he mentions how the WorldPool Collaboration in 1977 was at a time when experiencing the fax medium back then was equivalent to experiencing "magic".  I think it was Arthur C. Clarke who felt that any good science was "indistinguishable from magic".    Do you feel that there is still "Magic" left in some of the newer technological experiences out there?  Or in other words, do you see Telecommunications Media as having metaphysical properties?
DD: Yes, it is magical because we are magical: Robert Adrian is a Swami.  I will be very surprised if we ever discover any other human race in the universe.  My instinct is that God/Goddess put us here for some inexplicable reason we can only discover through high art made in high technological terms.
JT: Part of why I ask you this is that I am very interested in more details about your piece "Joseph, when will you call?" (1993/1994/1996)- where you attempt to contact Joesph Beuys from beyond the grave using mobile phone technology.  Is this telecom work directly inspired by Edison's early attempts to contact people in the afterlife? 
DD: It is a solid, real work of blackboard sculpture on the surface of which I re=drew Joseph's  Sun State, a drawing he made at the Chicago Art Institute in 1974, the first time he came to America, after years refusing to go because of our genocidal wars in Vietnam and Cambodia (akin to the genocidal war conducted by his own nation, which nearly killed him in a flight over Russia--where he as a young kid drafted in desperation he sat beside the pilot of a bomber that was shot down).   I believe the Art Institute now owns the blackboard: in any case, inspired by Rauschenberg's Erased DeKooning, I then erased my/his Sun State and chalked over it in red "JOSEPH, WHEN WILL  YOU CALL?"  I did it because the Art Institute was then parading a very quiet, formal, pathetic exhibition of Joseph's drawings, with all the fire and politics withdrawn, and the School had invited me to talk to their students about my collaborations with Joseph: they wanted me to talk about him as a man, not as a clump of art history.  But why not invite Joseph himself?  So I used HIS medium, the blackboard, found a new gallery  called "312" off in Chicago's warehouse district, and hung a cel phone on the frame, so that he could call us whenever he wished during the 30 days it hung there.  In truth I didn't believe Joseph was REALLY dead in 1993, just as I don't believe Spalding  Gray , my missing friend and beloved monologist, is dead, either.  Now, eleven years later, after all this silence (nobody else has heard from Joseph, either), the cel phone never ringing, not even when I show the work in public to a large audience, the size he loved to confront, talking for hours about how we can as a race improve our state, I now concede he probably is in the state we call "death."  But certainly that doesn't mean he can't talk.  The  so-called "dead" talk to us all the time, if we can but listen: in books, films, video, memory, in the quiet of the middle of the night, and in our own voices: I often find myself suddenly talking, in my sleep or near sleep, and it's always somebody else's voice, words, or ideas that I'm being driven to repeat and remember.  I speak Joseph's lines without prompting, Jack Kennedy's, Martin Luther King's, many others--my Grandfather, for example, and most of all my Grandmother, over and over.  The most fun is when I am talking to Marilyn Monroe. Edison?  No.  I didn't have him consciously in mind at the time but when you mentioned his experiments, of course I remembered them.  Perhaps they were inside me...subconscious.
JT:  With regards to your "Last Nine Minutes" Telecom performance collaboration at Documenta 6 with Joseph Beuys and Nam June Paik - if you had to produce the "Last Nine Minutes" of Telecom history, what shape would it take and what would be the central message for those who wish to remember the totality of Telecom Art?
DD: The Last Nine Minutes is the work I am proudest of--save only a few pieces I'm working on right now--and Joseph inspired it.  Not consciously.  He gave me a freedom, a sense that I could be as serious, as much on the Edge as I wanted to be, simply because he was there.  Nobody could object to what I wanted to do on the ground of radicality if Joseph were going to be allowed to speak--which he was, in the end, though the right wing tried to stop him.  I meant a lot of things by the title--The Last 9 minutes of our program, the last 9 minutes you and I will ever share together at this moment in the world when an artist can finally use the satellite to reach out and...destroy  your TV screen...in order to touch you, to make human, not media touch (which we did, together,  you and me).  It wasn't about telecom history.  In fact  it DEFIED telecom history, in the sense that it had been and still is driven by the notion of "mass" communication.  When there is no mass.  There is just...you and me.
What would I do now?  I don't know.  Once, around 1980, I think, I made a performance in Columbus, Ohio called How to Make Love to Your Television Set.  Not today.  Today I want to make love with...everyone....in the universe.
JT:  What is your opinion on the current state of telematic art and/or emailed art?
DD: Obsessed with itself.  What matters in art is not how it is made or delivered but where--and how--it ends.  My guess is for example that Joseph WILL talk to us in Vancouver but in a totally startling and unpredictable way.   One morning we may approach the gallery to open it and hear the phone ringing.  Excited, we fumble and lose the keys while the phone goes on ringing.  When we finally get in--perhaps breaking the door down--it stops.
JT:  What kind of future do you envision for telematic art and/or emailed art?
DD: Glorious.  As soon as we forget what it is and think only about...the Other.
JT:  Are you actively interested in the increasing trajectory towards video-game environments (avatars and bots) and software emulation as an art-form? 
DD:  Sure.  I am interested in anything that extends me...into you...into another state...beyond where I  am now.
JT:  Do you have any advice for online artists of today's generation?

Douglas Davis: "Write with me on your tv screen" (1979)

Registro del video de Douglas Davis "Write with me on your tv screen". Registro hecho durante el evento "Muestra de Video del Festival de Caracas". Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Caracas, 1979. Caracas, Venezuela. Fuente: Archivo de Videos de Margarita D'Amico. Weblog: http://performancelogia.blogspot.com

Douglas Davis is a unique American artist, writer, performer, critic, teacher, and digital media consultant. Widely exhibited and published, he has often constructed  seminal works of theory and championed the work of unfashionable artists later seen as central to contemporary culture. His first book, Art and the Future: A History/Prophecy of the Collaboration between Science, Technology, and Art (1973), now out of print, is a widely translated classic. Arthur Danto said of The Museum Transformed (1991) that it "sets the standard" for all subsequent works in this field. Donald Kuspit has called him "one of the more magnificent minds engaging modern art and media."
His groundbreaking work as an artist employs the content, identity, time, space, and gender in equivalent degrees, both comic and tragic modes. Among the first artists to use both video and the Web, he pioneered the use of "live" video transmission on CATV and satellite, working on both coasts (at the Long Beach Museum of Art, the Contemporary Art Museum in Houston, in New York at the Whitney and Guggenheim, and in Europe at Documenta and the Center for Art & Media in Karlsruhe. And his early prints brought the spontaneity and immediacy of video to flat paper while his later installations and mural-scale digital  photographs bring the distant "virtual" Web down into the viewer’s space.
 The World’s First Collaborative Sentence, commissioned in 1994 by the Lehman College Art Gallery, was purchased early in 1995 by Mr. and Mrs. Eugene M. Schwartz, then donated to the Whitney Museum of American Art, which now maintains its ever-evolving content. "The true significance of Davis’ art," says David Ross, "is the transformation of immediacy into discernible form."
 He has taught widely and often, at Bard College, Columbia University, UCLA and ArtCenter in California, as well as throughout Europe and Asia. In 1995 he was Fulbright lecturer at the Russian State University in Moscow.  In 2002 and 2003 he received grants from the Trust for Mutual Understanding to both teach in Eastern Europe and foster a dialogue between countries like Russia, Croatia, Slovenia, Estonia, Poland, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, and perhaps beyond, on the proper potential and direction of a "virtual culture." 

Douglas Davis:
Douglas Davis explores the third dimension of art and thought.
To break hold of the flat, monocular image, Davis invites the viewer into a new realm, through twelve double-imaged photographs and six viewing booths (each offering entry into three dimensions). The framed pictures are mounted with handles and control buttons linked to recorded sound. The booths are equipped with an extraordinary mirrored viewer, invented by Charles Wheatstone in 1838. The precursor of the popular stereo viewer, long-forgotten device transforms flat, conventional images into ones of depth and dimension.
Ranging in size from 16" x 24" to life-sized 40" x 80" prints – in color and black & white – these photographs cross the line that divides photography from painting. Produced with both traditional 35 mm and advanced, state-of-the-art Polaroid cameras, the photographs combine several juxtaposed images (often mirror reflections of each other) in a scale, vibrancy, and subtlety of color reminiscent of painting and motion picture film. In the deepest sense, these photographs contradict the definition of "photography', as Davis's work in video and film has challenged the limits of those mediums.

The work in this exhibition pays homage to three men who are notable for challenging and breaking down the restrictions imposed upon the mediums they worked in: Charles Wheatstone, Leonardo, and Velasquez. Velasquez's famous painting, Venus at Her Mirror, is recalled in a pair of images at the heart of the exhibition . The new Venus, modeled by Alison R. Pilcher, gazes past her mirror at a tiny television set. Other models who perform in this exhibition are Joan Worth, Jana Tvedt, and the artist himself.

A booklet with extended captions for each photograph is available for reading at the gallery desk.

Douglas Davis is an artist who has chosen to work in a wide range of mediums, from performance, film and video to printmaking and drawing. His most recent film, (Psycho Mein Amour), was featured in the 1985 Whitney Biennial and is now touring the U.S. under the auspices of the American Federation of the Arts. He has exhibited regularly at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts since 1977 and in many museums here and abroad, including the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, and the Museum Szturi, Lodz, Poland. Davis has participated in group exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Tate Gallery, Documenta, and the Venice Biennale.
by feldmangallery
Joseph Beuys and Douglas Davis at documenta 6, 1977. As published in From 
Europe: Art Contemporary 9. Vol. 3 No. 1, 1977. Courtesy: Nancy Frank and La 
Mamelle Inc. Photo: Nancy Frank

Douglas Davis, «The Last Nine Minutes» Live 
performance for international satellite telecast, 
documenta VI, 1977

i do not believe in communication! (douglas davis interviewed by tilman baumgaertel 07.05.00): he believes in the big adventure to try communication, mainly amoung long distances made by time, language, space, geography, gender. This should be the big challenge. It does work rarely, just for one instant or two.
The last 9 minutes was produced by the german Hessischer Rundfunk for the opening of Dokumenta 1977; the 3 performances were broadcasted all over the world, inclusive the former sowjet union. Nam June Paik and Charlotte Moorman were performing first, then Joseph Beuys. The last 9 minutes of the broadcasting were performed by Douglas Davis: he is looking for the frame, for his audience. Off voice and text are telling something like: wherever you are, i'll find you in 9 minutes.. put your hand on the displays. Let me hear your watch ticking. In 9 minutes we will destroy this bounding. At the end a performer in Caracas spelt the countdown in spanish while Davis is telling to the public they all have to strike against the display at 1. So the 2 performers did and crashed at the same time against the glas. Then the live picture faded out.
Or also "Seven thoughts", 1976 december 29th at Hustone Astrodome using for 10 minutes Comsat satellite .


How was documenta born, and how has it evolved? From the “100-day museum” of its founder Arnold Bode to the “archive in motion”—the oxymoronic definition of 2007—Julian Myers retraces the history of this very particular institution, created as a moral and cultural recompense in postwar Germany—an attempt to reconnect the threads of modern art persecuted by Nazism. In particular, Myers concentrates on some of the most radical editions of documenta over the last forty years, including those curated by Harald Szeemann, Catherine David and Okwui Enwezor.

Launched in 1955 by the artist, critic and designer Arnold Bode with the Society for Occidental Art of Kassel, the documenta exhibition was initially a complex gesture of mending and expiation. More than an “overview” of the contemporary art of the moment, the first edition set out to juxtapose European postwar abstraction—the avant-garde trend at the timewith the historical works of the pre-Nazi era.

In certain critical writings these works have been indicated as icons of modern art (Expressionists, Fauves, Cubists and so on) disparaged by the Nazis in the most spectacular way in the major exhibition on “Degenerate Art” in 1937. From this standpoint, documenta was supposed to be a way of apologizing for the phobic offenses perpetrated by the Nazis against art and life. According to other studies, on the other hand, almost all those artists (and Bode himself, last but not least) had shown their works at the Orangerie of Kassel in a series of shows prior to the Nazi rise to power: this outlook interprets the first editions not as a way of apologizing for German misdeeds, of promoting a renewed attitude of internationalism and open-mindedness, but as a revitalizing return to the modern expressions of pre-Nazi Germany—especially the ideals of Jugendstil and the Bauhaus, where Bode had eagerly found nourishment at the time (2). Installed among the ruins of the Fridericianum Museum, “the truth of the present” (to quote from the first documenta catalogue) (3) was shown through its reconnection with the past of the avant-garde that had been brutally cut short by Fascism.

This complex historical position—the investigation of contemporary art through the use of past models of internationalist modernism—sets documenta apart from the myriad of biennials and periodic exhibitions it has nevertheless helped to inspire. In effect, the most interesting recent editions subject the ever-present art of the present to a yardstick based on the past of the exhibition. The present condition claimed by the definition “the one-hundred-day museum” chosen by Bode for the event coexists with a description of the show as an “archive in motion”—the oxymoronic title with which documenta presented its own history in 2007 (4).
To further define this curious temporal condition: joined by the art historian Werner Haftmann as the “theoretical brain” of this retrospective avant-garde (5), Bode went on to direct the three successive editions of documenta (Annette Tietenberg has convincingly explained how the book by Haftmann Painting in the Twentieth Century, published in 1954, represented a key model for the project of historical engineering of the first edition) (6). Christoph Lange chooses an ambiguous way of classifying this cycle of exhibitions, noticing a “detemporalization” and citing the apocalyptic vision of Haftmann of a modern avant-garde deprived, at this point, of any future projection: “The artist is on the front line, faced by a dark, chaotic field, without traces and form, in which he must venture with the ‘antennae’ of his own medium and on which he must seek to impose order with his arguments, to active transform it into pure presence” (7). But this disoriented avant-gardism would not last: Haftmann withdrew halfway through the planning of the 1968 edition, leaving the work of selection up to a committee that made a breakthrough with respect to the temporal strangeness of the first three editions, opting for a more conventional “review” of contemporary art.

The next editions of documenta addressed the need to index the present under the guidance of always different directors. With the aim of “Questioning Reality—Image Worlds Today,” Harald Szeemann “outlined a trajectory of mimesis” that, like the editions marked by the influence of Haftmann, was well-equipped on a historical level (with the presence, for example, of works by Adolf Wölfli, an exponent of Art Brut who died in 1930) (8); nevertheless, the 1972 edition is remembered above all for the involvement in its “structured chaos” of Minimalism, Conceptual Art and Fluxus. In like manner, the exhibition of 1977 curated by Manfred Schneckenberger presented a radical “overview” featuring the unprecedented inclusion of video, performance art and new media. The contribution of these two curators influenced the future of the event, cutting off its link with a universalizing but weakened—due to lack of future—vision of a modern bent. This did not prevent the two curators, however, from becoming the targets of harsh criticism for their radical approach. As the historian Walter Grasskamp points out, they paid a price, namely the substantial impossibility of finding work in the years to come (9). Szeemann liked to say that documenta had been “the end of a career.”

While recent editions—especially documenta 10, 11 and, it would appear, the next one, number 13—have made a growing commitment to focus on the history of the event, this diachronic orientation has been accompanied by spatial expansion. The watershed edition curated by Catherine David in 1997 placed its contents in the framework of what she defined as “retroperspectives”—in explicit reference to the past-present dynamics mentioned above, while organizing the selection of the works around turning points of postwar life. But although she called into play the idea of “limits,” David also pursued an incredible scattering of content and of the spatial logic of the exhibition. The event seemed both crowded and empty, with frequent displacements of certain aspects outside the exhibition site, or in the non-site of cyberspace; the curator also (through the Caribbean writer Édouard Glissant and Gayatri Spivak, among others) embraced the logic of otherness and diaspora, offering a “multiplicity of spaces and a platform extended to discussion and debate, in Kassel and elsewhere...” (10). Okwui Enwezor then formalized and expanded this dispersive logic in the 2002 edition, with multiple “platforms” set up in Vienna, Berlin, New Delhi, St. Lucia and Lagos. The universalist vision of Bode and Haftmann has been productively relativized with these exhibitions, in favor of a position that recognized (or, more precisely, attempted to reproduce) heterogeneities and a contemporary “global” existence.

How can we sum up an exhibition that is both now and in the past, and that (in its recent manifestations) is neither here nor there? How can we stop this “archive in motion” in order to study it? The artist Morgan Fisher has suggested that the very uniqueness of the exhibition, set up under the authorship and image of a single curator or director, has become irritating and arbitrary, though the exhibition itself seems to spread into other places and eras (11). 

Perhaps I can hypothesize an ideal resolution in the terms of a “dialectical image” (to cite a central methodology of Walter Benjamin) (12), that might solidify some of the elusive generalizations outlined above. A photograph of an old newspaper clipping offers a complex comparison. A first figure occupies the right part of the image: a man seen from behind, hands at his sides, clinging garments almost indistinct in the dark image. Facing him there is another man or his virtual image, in the rectangular frame of a TV screen. We can recognize the hat and vest of the German artist Joseph Beuys (heroic cult figure of German art and veteran of many of the editions of the event). A caption tells us something more, informing us that the other man is the artist Douglas Davis, and that the occasion is the opening of the sixth edition of documenta, in 1977 at Kassel, Germany; Davis, Beuys and Nam June Paik participated in the performance The Last Nine Minutes, one of the first five performances to be broadcast live via satellite for an international audience.

Other actors appear on this singular stage: a hand enters from the left edge of the image (what is it indicating?); a spotlight aims a beam (at what?) from the floor; and behind Davis, we see part of the profile of another person, wearing headphones, in the frame of a painting hanging on the wall. We can even see a glare on Beuys’s cheek—perhaps the flash from the camera of Nancy Frank, reflecting on a monitor. But we continuously return to the figures that are the fulcrum of all this movement: the two artists, Beuys and Davis, who through the mediations and multiple proximities of the broadcast and the exhibition—with Davis at the center as the melancholy subject that observes and is at the same time observed, produces and at the same time consumes. Here the “present condition” of the exhibition can be sensed in the midst of the telegraphic refraction in multiple places, experiences, audiences, moments, none of which has absolute knowledge or legitimacy. Instead, we are looking at the assertion of a sort of direct communication (between Beuys and Davis, Davis and Frank, and then, decades later, Frank’s camera and our eyes)—a communication that is in any case obsessed by the spectral image of the mass audience represented (though in negative form) through this complex tangle of transmissions and mediations.

The photograph was used to illustrate an interview conducted by Peter Frank published by the magazine from San Francisco, Art Contemporary. “You have just concluded the satellite broadcast for documenta—with Beuys and Paik,” Frank begins, and then goes on:

Millions of viewers have watched your performance, live and later, on different continents. Doesn’t the enormity of this event—as spectacle, or as a phenomenon of international audience obscure its message?

And Davis responds:

Only if you imagine that the spectator has seen it as part of the masses, as non-humans. I don’t think that is what happened. And my attempt was to reach the spectator, him or her, not millions of people. That figure is a myth, anyway. There is only one mind, two or three at the most, at the other end of the screen. (13)

Of course the photograph embodies these themes with equal force: the single viewer to whom the apparatus (the broadcast, the exhibition) might be addressed, through different mediations; and the spectre of the “non-human” pursued by projects of this scale and this ambition. To evoke this figure, in any case, means rephrasing the question: for whom does documenta stage its revolutions of time and space? (The institution likes to emphasize the numbers of its constantly growing audience, true, but what do these numbers explain exactly? Why should we be informed about them?) Maybe we could think about borrowing a particular suggestion or “action” from Davis, who continues his conversation with Franks as follows:

PF: You refer to the end of your aktion, when you ask the viewer—the world—to break the television screen and let you pass to the other side. Do you think anyone did it? 

DD: I’ll never know. There are too many cities and languages involved. The day after, in Kassel, a woman told me that the previous evening she had broken her television—please, come and fix it, she said (14).

1. I’ve borrowed this title from Louise Lawler, who though she was not officially invited to documenta VII, created stationery that reproduced the invitation sent to the artists by the director Rudi Fuchs. See the description of the work by Douglas Crimp in On The Museum’s Ruins, The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA 1993, pp. 239-241.

2. See Dirk Schwarze, “Arnold Bode und der Impuls zur documenta,” in Arnold Bode: Leben + Werk (1900-1977), Staatliche Museen Kassel, Neue Galerie, Kassel 2000. With thanks to Gary Schwartz who from his blog The Schwartzlist pointed me to this source. See the post of 2007 “284 Being Where?” [http://www.garyschwartzarthistorian.nl/schwartzlist/?id=117].

3. See Gesellschaft für Abendländische Kunst des XX. Jahrhunderts, ed. documenta: Kunst des XX. Jahrhunderts, Kassel 1955, p. 13 (note 6).

4. Michael Glasmeier and Karin Stengel (ed.), Archive In Motion: 50 Years Documenta 1955-2005, Steidl, Göttingen, p. 21.

5. Christoph Lange, “The Spirit of documenta,” in Michael Glasmeier and Karin Stengel (ed.), Archive In Motion, p. 21.

6. Annette Tietenberg, “An Imaginary Documenta, or The Art Historian Werner Haftmann as an Image Producer,” Archive In Motion, pp. 35-45.

7. Lange, ibid.

8. See the interview conducted by Hans Ulrich Obrist with Harald Szeemann in A Brief History of Curating, JRP | Ringier & Les presses du réel, Zurich and Dijon 2008, p. 91.

9. Walter Grasskamp, “For Example, documenta, or, How Is Art History Produced?” in Reesa Greenberg, Bruce Ferguson and Sandy Nairne (ed.), Thinking About Exhibitions, Routledge, London and New York 1996, p. 56.

10. Catherine David, “Introduction,” in Cornelia Barth & Jutta Buness (ed.), Documenta X: Short Guide, documenta and Museum Fridericianum, Kassel 1997, p. 11.

11 Morgan Fisher, “Documenta, a Show of Shows,” in Jens Hoffmann (ed.), The Next Documenta Should be Curated by an Artist, Revolver in collaboration with e-flux, Frankfurt am Main 2004, pp. 34-37. 

12. See Susan Buck-Morss, The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project, The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA 1989—in particular the chapter “Natural History: Fossil,” pp. 58-77.

13. Douglas Davis and Peter Frank, “Interview, July 1977,” Art Contemporary, Volume 3, Issue 9 (1), 1977: 46. Reprinted in Liz Glass, Susannah Magers & Julian Myers (ed.), Give Them The Picture: An Anthology of La Mamelle and ART COM, 1975-1984, CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco 2011, pp. 52-64. 

14. Ibid.

 by Julian Myers

When Artworks Crash: Restorers Face Digital Test

Paintings fade; sculptures chip. Art restorers have long known how to repair those material flaws, so the experience of looking at a Vermeer or a Rodin remains basically unchanged over time. But when creativity is computerized, the art isn’t so easy to fix.

For instance, when a Web-based work becomes technologically obsolete, does updated software simply restore it? Or is the piece fundamentally changed?

That was the conundrum facing theWhitney Museum of American Art, which in 1995 became one of the first institutions to acquire an Internet-made artwork. Created by the artist Douglas Davis, “The World’s First Collaborative Sentence”functioned as blog comments do today, allowing users to add to the opening lines. An early example of interactive computer art, the piece attracted 200,000 contributions from 1994 to 2000 from all over the globe.

By 2005 the piece had been shifted between computer servers, and the programmer moved on. When Whitney curators decided to resurrect the piece last year, the art didn’t work. Once innovative, “The World’s First Collaborative Sentence” now mostly just crashed browsers. The rudimentary code and links were out of date. There was endlessly scrolling and seemingly indecipherable text in a format that had long ago ceased being cutting edge.
“This is not how one uses the Internet now,” Sarah Hromack, the Whitney’s director of digital media, said. “But in the ’90s, it was.”
For a generation, institutions from the Museum of Modern Art in New York to the Pompidou Center in Paris have been collecting digital art. But in trying to restore the Davis work, which was finally debugged and reposted at the end of May, the Whitney encountered what many exhibitors, collectors and artists are also discovering: the 1s and 0s of digital art degrade far more rapidly than traditional visual art does, and the demands of upkeep are much higher. Nor is the way forward clear.
“We’re working on constantly shifting grounds,” said Rudolf Frieling, a curator of media arts at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which has been at the forefront of sustaining online art. “Whatever hardware, platform or device we’re using is not going to be there tomorrow.”
“Frankly speaking,” he added, “it’s a huge challenge. Not every museum is set up to do that. It takes huge technical expertise.”
The riddles are only solved by “actually doing it,” Mr. Frieling explained.
At the Whitney, a team of programmers and curators spent more than a year debating and tinkering with the restoration of “Collaborative Sentence.” Mr. Davis, a pioneer in technologically enhanced art who is now 80, was unable to take part in consultations on rebuilding his piece, and without a creator’s blueprint in place, almost every meeting turned into a conceptual debate.
“One of the biggest philosophical questions,” said Christiane Paul, adjunct curator of new media at the museum, “was, do we leave these links broken, as a testament to the Web” and its rapid development?
Like much early digital art, “Collaborative Sentence” is still valuable, Ms. Paul said, especially as a harbinger of the future. By allowing interaction across cultures and countries, “it anticipated so much of what happened in Web 2.0,” she said.
But many artists, curators and patrons are now reconsidering whether such art should remain unchanged, said Pip Laurenson, the head of collection care research at the Tate Gallery in London. “It’s no longer the model that a museum acquires something into its collection and tries to fix it into the time it was acquired or when it left the artist’s studio.”
The Whitney considered several options. One was to simply let technological extinction take its course, and view Web-based art as “ephemeral, like a performance,” Ms. Paul said.
Another tactic was to let the new generation of Web-based creators and everyday Internet users help with the maintenance. Or the Whitney could attract more viewers by modernizing the design of the piece. But, Ms. Paul said, “that seemed too radical an intervention.”
After much deliberation, the curators decided on a nearly unheard-of artistic solution: to duplicate Mr. Davis’s installation and present it in both original and updated forms.
One version is the frozen original, with broken code, pages of oddly formatted, garbled text and instructions for users who wanted to fax in their contributions (including the number for the Lehman College gallery, which first showed the piece). Links were redirected, through the archiving site the Wayback Machine, to their 1990s counterparts.
“The idea is that it’s sort of a time capsule,” said Ben Fino-Radin, a digital archivist who helped rebuild the work.
The new version, which the Whitney calls the live version, looks similar but has some new links. Users can’t contribute to the historical site, but they can add to the live one — albeit not by fax. The Whitney also open-sourced part of the original, hoping that users would contribute to its upkeep.
In 1995 Mr. Davis’s piece was shown in a biennial in South Korea attended by the celebrated video artist Nam June Paik. It has hundreds of comments in Korean, but the code for the characters was so degraded that Mr. Fino-Radin was stumped. If other viewers fix it, he said, seeing those messages “will be a first for Western audiences.”
With new digital art being created ever more rapidly, the debate over sustaining it will continue, just as surely as the technology leapfrogs ahead of it. Over the last decade, experts at the New Art Trust, the Tate Modern in London and the Museums of Modern Art in New York and San Francisco started Matters in Media Art, a consortium dedicated to studying these issues. Another group, the Variable Media Network, was started by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science and Technology.
Aided by organizations like Rhizome, where Mr. Fino-Radin is based and which works with emerging artists and art forms, they have helped spread the word about the urgent need for conservation.
“For institutions that early on committed to Net art, a lot of that work is now vanishing,” Ms. Paul said.
And the proliferation of online culture, social media and smart gadgets — and whatever the next tech revolution brings — will make preserving those visionary moments “more challenging,” she said. “Not less.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: June 11, 2013
Because of an editing error, an article on Monday about restoring and sustaining digital artworks omitted part of the name of a group studying the issues. It is the Variable Media Network, not the Variable Network.
By  NYTimes

Cómo se restaura una obra de net.art

Una de las problemáticas más relevantes relacionadas con el net.art es lapreservación de unas piezas a riesgo de rápida obsolescencia, debido la vertiginosa evolución de las herramientas informáticas. A lo largo de los años hemos visto que algunas de las obras históricas de los pioneros de la década de 1990, como Olia Lialina oIgor Štromajer, han padecido un acelerado proceso de envejecimiento, que no reside en la caducidad de la obra en sí misma, sino en la transformación de los plugins, herramientas y soportes que actualizamos cada día y que de pronto resultan inadecuados para visualizar correctamente unos archivos antiguos.

A pesar de todo, estas dificultades no han desanimado los conservadores del Whitney Museum de Nueva York, que acaban de poner al día una de las obras más emblemáticas de su colección de net.art, The World’s First Collaborative Sentence de 1994 (...y enalce a la obra original), del creador estadounidense Douglas Davis (1933).

The Sentence ha sido una piedra miliar en la historia del net.art y posiblemente una de las primeras obras de un año clave que, una década después del distópico mundo profetizado por George Orwell, hemos asumido como el año cero. The Sentence, fue un encargo para la exhibición monográfica de Davis en el Lehman College Art Gallery y es una de las tres obras emblemáticas de 1994 que, junto con The Mercury Project de Ken Goldberg y The File Room del español Antoni Muntadas, establecen un eje fundamental que define la génesis del arte en Internet.
The Sentence tomó forma gracias a la colaboración deGary Weltz y Robert Schneider, ambos profesores del Lehman College y se estructuró como una performance textual y gráfica en la que todo el mundo puede participar a través de Internet. “A pesar de parecer un texto plano, The Sentence ha sido un proyecto visionario que ha anticipado las plataformas contemporáneas destinadas a la edición participativa”, explica al Silicio Christiane Paul, Comisaria Adjunta de New Media Art del Whitney, hablando de un trabajo que estableció precozmente las bases de lo que sería el futuro de la red y de todas las herramientas que han enriquecido la experiencia online. En estos años hemos repetido a menudo que de alguna manera el net.art puede considerarse el más titulado precursor de la web 2.0 y The Sentencelo confirma, estableciendo una de las pautas fundamentales del arte en la red: la idea de trabajo compartido, que se crea de forma colaborativa, rehúye el paradigma de obra estática y da un nuevo significado al concepto de autoría.

Adquirida por los coleccionistas Eugene y Barbara SchwartzThe Sentence fue donada al Whitney en 1995 y desde entonces se mantuvo a disposición del público en la red las 24 horas del día, convirtiéndose en una de las piezas más emblemáticas del Artport, elportal online del museo neoyorquino, que desde 2002 y bajo la dirección de Christiane Paul, se ha convertido en una referencia internacional para la escena digital.
The Sentence, que representa una instantánea de la primera era de Internet y un documento vivo de su evolución, ha crecido y evolucionado a lo largo de una década apareciendo en eventos expositivos internacionales, hasta llegar a contabilizarmás de 200.000 contribuciones en 12 idiomas.

Con el tiempo y el desarrollo de los soportes informáticos, The Sentence empezó a tenerproblemas de funcionamiento hasta que en 2005 el Whitney decidió dejarla inoperativa,congelándola en una versión que no aceptaba nuevas contribuciones y desde entonces hasta ahora sólo pudo ser leída. 
The Sentence se estaba desintegrando”, indicaChristiane Paul. “Contenía enlaces inactivos,códigos obsoletos que imposibilitaban su lectura y no se podía seguir añadiendo más contenidos”, explica la comisaria, destacando que además de la presencia de enlaces basura (link rot), los navegadores actuales malinterpretaban los viejos códigos de programación y la visualización de los textos en distintos idiomas generaba caracteres ilegibles.
“Cuando Christiane tocó a mi puerta diciendo que quería discutir sobre los enlaces basura, no tenía idea de que se trataba de un problema de conservación”, comenta Carol Mancusi-Ungaro, Directora Asociada para la Conservación e Investigación del Whitney, que en 2012 dio inicio al proceso de restauración con el apoyo de Paul y un amplio equipo de profesionales. A partir de la pieza original, se aprovechó la posibilidad de 

reproducir el código informático, que puede ser multiplicado al infinito, para crear dos nuevas versiones, una que ha sido definida “histórica” y otra “funcional o live”.

La versión “histórica” puede visualizarse también con un navegador antiguo y ofrece The Sentence así como se podía experimentar en el momento de su creación, pero los enlaces han sido reemplazados en la medida de lo posible con una versión alternativa de los archivos originales extraídos del sito Internet Archive. La versión “funcional o live se caracteriza por mantener inactivos los enlaces rotos, en sintonía con la naturaleza efímera de la red y por permitir seguir contribuyendo al texto, devolviendo así a la obra sus funcionalidades originales.

“El proyecto plantea algunas de las principales cuestiones tecnológicas y filosóficas con las que hay que enfrentarse para la conservación de las obras de net.art. ¿Cómo y porqué preservar la naturaleza efímera de la web? La decisión de crear dos versiones del proyecto es una estrategia de preservación inusual, facilitada por el potencial del arte digital para crear copias idénticas. Además este proyecto ofrece un modelo potencial para la preservación de las primeras obras basadas en Internet, que se están deteriorando muy rápidamente”, asegura Christiane Paul

Consideramos que el problema de la caducidad de los soportes informáticos, mucho más que la obsolescencia programada de las herramientas, impulsada por la industria tecnológica, es una realidad que nos enfrenta a lo que podemos definir una futura extinción cultural. Si en la Piedra de Rosetta todavía podemos leer unos textos de hace más de 2000 años, esto con toda probabilidad no se repetirá con los archivos digitales. Por mucho que digan los expertos en conservación, el usuario corriente de los soportes informáticos, a menudo no consigue ni siquiera abrir los documentos almacenados en suviejo ordenador
Sin embargo el caso de The Sentence de Douglas Davis nos enseña que, como no podía ser de otra forma, las instituciones saben encontrar una solución para la conservación de las obras valiosas, aunque quizás con el tiempo resulte más viable conservar un retablo románico que la información almacenada en una memoria digital con más de 1000 años de antigüedad.


A detail of the Web page of Douglas Davis’s interactive computer artwork 

“The World’s First Collaborative Sentence.”
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