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This is a transcript from
an informal roundtable
discussion that took place in the
PORT gallery at the MIT List Center
on March 29, 1997.

Roundable Participants:
Robbin Murphy organizer, Remo Campopiano organizer
G.H. Hovagimyan core participant, MITleaf Carmin Karasic participant
John Kim volunteer, Canadian Spy visitor
Mark Tribe visitor, Several unidentified visitors


ROBBIN: When we talk about hierarchy what we're also talking about is historicism. Who writes it down, creates the record? How do we understand what has happened outside of our own experience. Columbus may or may not have "discovered" America, but he was the first one to write about and exploit what he found effectively for other Europeans. Whether we should celebrate this is another question.

GH: What's that quote, history is written by the winners?

ROBBIN: It could be a lot of factors: the writer who for some reason manages to have his writing saved and reproduced for instance. Now we have is 
an opportunity for a lot of different perspectives to be circulating and I think that's what's different, its circulation. And that's rhizomatic. That's what's both unsettling to established hierarchies, whether it's the art establishment or it's the government or whatever. That unease is what's happening and they really should be uneasy because we have these structures in order to make our lives easier. It's when they become controlling that they turn bad.


REMO: One of our premises from the beginning, although I didn't know the word, was to be rhizomatic because we rejected the concept of being curators and we were inclusive all the way through.

ROBBIN: Well, I don't know, and Ebon brought this up on the listserv when he defended the concept of someone having the authority to make decisions. It's not so much that we rejected being curators. I rejected calling ourselves curators because the term has all sorts of connotations for people as someone who is deciding what has worth and value.

REMO: You mean to say we were curators?

ROBBIN: I'd say we were redefining that term to suit this project. People still insisted on calling us curators. The List Center staff assumed the curatorial role of advocates for the public. We were advocates for the artists.

GH: Facillitators.

ROBBIN: Yeah, facillitators. I was trying to ignore how people define curators and we just kind of dropped it.

GH: I would like to mention, by the way, that Rob studied curatorship.

ROBBIN: I know what a curator does in a museum. Most people outside of museums, and many in them, who call themselves curators aren't really curating. Curatorship  demands a certain relationship and commitment to a collection of objects and the care of the collection. Most people who say they are curating are really being editors in some way. Or they are focused on connoiseurship, which is the fun part.

CARMIN: Choosers.

ROBBIN: Choosers has a nice egalitarian ring to it.

REMO: The person writing the history.

ROBBIN: Creating that window of belief out of the available data. But we were doing that. We were basically saying who was in and who was out.

CARMIN: And because of that point I don't quite understand how you can say you weren't in any way curators.

REMO: That's why he's hedging.

ROBBIN: I am hedging. I'm saying we were redefining what that role would be because we are working with a different kind of environment and I though it would be better not to predjudice participation with a kind of curatorship meant for another environment and collecion of objects.

REMO: Maybe what we did was redefine the criteria in which to curate. We weren't looking for the highest quality we were looking for the highest potential and possibilities.

ROBBIN: Potentiality. Yes.

REMO: That's why we could bring in somebody like Carmin halfway through because we could sense all the possibilities there.


VISITOR 1: It seems to me you're really redefining the art object.

GH: Yes.

CARMIN: That's definitely it.

GH: The question of objectness is something that has to do with the idea that something is discrete. It could be a virtual object as long as it has some sort of boundary that is descrete. Positionally what we were trying to make something that was not descrete. It was in some way open-ended.

ROBBIN: It was giving people the permission to network and connect with others. So there is no discrete object. There is the virtual object, with virtuality being the totality of possibilities.

SPY: Because the bit of information, it is on the top of the hierarchy, what does that mean here that there are no rules saying something is better than something else? What for you is the relation between the bit of information and the memory? And the bit by itself and the dynamic in the change. That repositioning of information that is so fast moving. It's the joy to be in the change but how can you ... we speak about memory as if there was no memory ...

GH: You brought up a point. The experience of the viewer, the one-time first totally creative unique experience which is usually defined in the art world as someone makes a unique object and other people look at it. But what I say is that creativity and uniqueness is the experience of the viewer for the first time. That's so that when you are looking at an information stream you 
pull something out of the information stream and you have the experience and it goes back into the stream. The information itself is there all the time and 
it's not unique in any way shape or form. Your experience is unique. That's where the creativity occurs.

REMO: I was here in the List Gallery the whole time and I saw so many people at different levels of understanding come through. When they just came in here and stood in the middle of the room and watched what was going on, even if they did understand, there really wasn't that much for them to grab on to. 

(To SPY) You've been asking that question for the last week. "What is this thing?" The reason why I've been backing off from you is it's really hard to say what that thing is. But you just said something that is pivotal. If there is some "thing" and some other "thing" and the exciting part is the connection between those things, not the things themselves, how do we remember them?

SPY: If you get that one snapshot of one reality of just seeing one object for one second it's a global experience that involves all of your senses: you've been living in a global experience. You're not going to forget that. 

MITleaf Let's say you're looking at a movie without hearing so in your memory it is without sound. When you come back to that movie you're not allowed the voice.

But if you imagine that you're looking at the movie one night and in two hours a lot of things happen -- the cat climbs on your hair and someone can touch your toes -- you're going to have a lot of different kinds of sensations that you're going to remember in different level. Still, you're not going to forget just one sense, let's say the sense of hearing.

(NOTE: SPY is French-Canadian and is not always clear in English. She is trying to make a point about the interrelation of the senses -- in otherwords, multimedia -- and memory. The misunderstanding by the others is a continuing thread in this discussion and could be construed as a "pluralistic narrative" in action.)

REMO: What's your point?

CARMIN: This is more than experiential, it's more of an environmental piece and when you come in it needs to have the elements beyond the visual.

SPY: I'm not speaking that it has to be ...

CARMIN: But it has a greater impact because it does have these other elements.

REMO: And what I was saying is that when somebody sits down and participates then they become involved in the connectivity, because of the connectivity. And that's when they get excited. The only time I've seen people  exciting is when they're participating. Otherwise they're bewildered. When they participate they get it because the thing we're trying to present here is networked connectivity. A networked environment.

ROBBIN: I don't think it's even a matter of participation. I've been trying to stop using the word interactive because a lot of people come in here expecting something they call "interactive art". I find that a very difficult term to deal with, along with virtual. I've started to use the word engagement, which I  got from the art critic Harold Rosenberg writing about the work of the painter Hans Hofmann. Something clicked in me. That's what's important, that's what we've done that is shared with abstract expressionism, with renaissance art, with any kind of art. It's the engagement, different forms of engagement.



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