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Developments in Visual Art

The penultimate plenary here at MiT5 has started, and I'm afraid I walked in a little late and missed part of the introduction to Reproduction, Mimicry, Critique and Distribution Systems in Visual Art. The first speaker is Michael Mittelman from ASPECT, who founded the group out of a frustration with the lack of availability of contemporary video art in useful formats. He began by collecting such works and documentary videos about them, but then also began to develop DVDs collecting such works and offering optional voiceover tracks of the artists speaking about their works. Such DVDs needed to be affordable and comfortable, and are designed for home use rather than simply for use in exhibition spaces, which are traditionally very ill suited to longer-form video content. However, galleries make a percentage off low-volume, high-cost DVD content; they are poorly equipped (and generally disinterested) for producing such DVDs in higher volume for a home market.

Web2.0 Critiques

(I'm afraid I accidentally deleted a couple of comments here last night - please repost them if you can!)

It's the last day of MiT5, and we're in the first session of the day. Mary Madden from the Pew Center is the first speaker, on Socially-Driven Music Sharing and the Adoption of Participatory Media Applications. She notes that the term Web2.0 is imperfect but convenient for summarising many of the current developments in the online world. Tom O'Reilly defines Web2.0 as harnessing social effects; it may not be a revolution, but there have been important changes. We now need to think critically about how and why it emerged as a major force in the first place.

Tools for New Media Literacies

The last MiT5 plenary session for today is on Learning through Remixing, and Henry Jenkins introduces it through examples of remixing as pedagogical practice in earlier times. This can perhaps be described as a process of taking culture apart and putting it together again, in order to better understand how it works.

The first speaker on the panel is Erik Blankinship, of Media Modifications, who build tools for exposing and enhancing the structure of media in order to make them more understandable to all (and he demonstrates this now by using a few redacted clips from Star Trek: TNG). Some of these which will also be online soon at, and another example for this is showing clips from The Fellowship of the Ring (the movie) next to the text of The Fellowship of the Ring (the book), and even a comparison of the Zeffirelli and Luhrman versions of Romeo & Juliet with the original Shakespeare text (which allows the viewer to compare how differently the two directors interpreted the text, and even to created hybrid versions with the 1996 Juliet and the 1968 Romeo interacting with one another). Fascinating stuff!

From Battlestar Galactica to BSG Studies?

There's a whole panel on Battlestar Galactica here at MiT5 - how could I resist? Melanie E. S. Kohnen is the first speaker, presenting on Battlestar Galactica and the Reimagination of Contemporary American History. She begins by noting the connections between the BSG story of a surprise attack on the twelve colonies, and the 9/11 attacks (although strictly speaking, in a full analogy, it would have been only the people within the Twin Towers who had survived). Different from the black-and-white positioning of the U.S. adminstration, however, the question of who is on which side is problematised strongly within BSG; it is almost impossible to determine who is human and who is Cylon in the BSG story. Melanie now describes the BSG scenario after settlement on New Caprica, where humans under Cylon rule are caught between collaboration and resistance (through suicide bombings and other oppositional actions) - this is personified in the opposition between Baltar and Roslin in the show.

Copyright, Fair Use, and the Cultural Commons

The next session here at MiT5 is another plenary, on Copyright, Fair Use and the Cultural Commons. It is introduced by William Uricchio, who begins by noting the historical development of the concept of copyright, and the initial argument for copyright as promoting the rights of authors but also ensuring public access to knowledge after the termination of the initial 14-year period of copyright protection. Today, of course, copyright has been almost infinitely extended, paradoxically at a time when the circulation of information has become faster than ever before.

Barriers to Access, Multiplying

We're starting the post-lunch session here at MiT5 with a paper by Marlene Manoff, titled Volatility, Instability, Ambiguity: The Evolving Digital Record. She has been working in collage art for a long time, and notes that recently viewers of her work are increasingly asking whether the artworks were created through digital means (they weren't). This is a sign of a wider trend towards a growing ambiguity of digital objects, also forcing us to see traditional objects in new ways and challenge the nature of cultural objects. This is also a form of interpretation and re-interpretation of existing objects, and the emergence of digital media has led to a concern about the dehistoricisation of media; a failure of archives to connect new to existing work. The digital record, in fact, is particularly susceptible to distortion and manipulation, and this is increasingly a focus of research.

Video Collages and Educational Tagging

The next panel here at MiT5 is a smaller affair, and is started by Sam Smiley, presenting on Claude Shannon Remixed. She begins with a couple of video collages based on image searches on a narrow range of terms in Altavista (the video is also on YouTube). These videos use original music, but copyrighted images and videos, and Sam recently received a message through YouTube messaging from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation asking her to take down one of the videos - but without any specific information about what aspects of the collage are owned by CBC.

Produsing Culture: Implications of User-Led Content Creation

My colleague Jean Burgess is the first presenter this morning at MiT5 - we have an all-QUT panel going this morning. She begins with a nod towards Andrew Keen's recent book The Cult of the Amateur, which provides an argument not based on a deep understanding of Web2.0, but is mainly a response to the increasing hype around Web2.0 (providing a kind of hysterical anti-hype which in itself still adds to the hype, though). Jean's own work on vernacular photography provides a more intelligent, nuanced look at some of the Web2.0 phenomena.

Collaboration and Collective Intelligence (But Where's Pierre Lévy?)

We're now in the second plenary session at MiT5, which was opened by Tom Malone who began by introducing the concept of collective intelligence (and MIT is now starting a Center for Collective Intelligence). The first speaker is Trebor Scholz from the Institute for Distributed Creativity, and he notes that one of the key questions in participatory, collective environments is now that of labour - all the many activities performed by the users in such spaces can be described as a form of labour, but in the main such labour contributes particularly to the value of the spaces within which it takes place, not so much to the fortune of those performing that labour. This, Trebor says, is a further move towards the commercialisation of social life - the very few benefit from the work of the very many, in a classic capitalist move.

Defining Web2.0

The next session I'm attending has nothing less than the task of defining what exactly we mean by 'Web2.0'. Fred Benenson and Peter B. Kaufman are making a start with their Five Theses about Creative Production in the Digital Age, and Fred also notes the importance of free software as an enabler of the Web2.0 development. He sees YouTube as the key mediator of Web2.0 styles and ideas at present, and as a site which opens up further questions of copyright, creators' rights, and other related issues.


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