Host(s): Grant Kester (academic / writer), Pauline van Mourik Broekman (writer / editor of Mute)
Guests:Geoff Broadway (Cplex / artist), Kara Christine (Artlink), Kate Rich (artist), Kathy Rae Huffman (Cornerhouse) , Barbara London (MOMA), Michelle Hirschhorn (curator / artist)

Here are my notes from our TVSS break-out group discussion (this was the group with the non-TVSS folks that was supposed to discuss engaged art practice precedents for TVSS). After we got around the table with introductions we didn't have as much time as we'd wanted to really pursue issues that came up but we did at least establish some starting points. I'll synopsize these below.

Before discussing TVSS relative to precedents for activist/engaged art practice we need to discuss the definition of "activist" or "engaged" art itself. This led to a discussion of the differing associations that artists in the US and the UK have with "activist" art practice (differing paradigms, histories and levels of public funding, pejorative associations with Blair-ite community-art mandates in the UK vs. the American Canvas report in the US). There was some criticism of historical models of engaged
art (Artist's Placement Group was discussed) that tended to treat the worker as a cipher. There was also some criticism of recent net art (Heath Bunting) in which politics is addressed primarily on a symbolic level (the gesture of critique has become accepted as part of mainstream art institutional discourse).

It seems like a number of the TVSS projects/artists might not consider their work to be activist in the first place, or consider this language to be relevant to an analysis of their art practice. So where does that leave us? Is there a danger of imposing the activist/engaged label on artists who aren't really interested in these concerns? This led to a discussion of how the curatorial/organizational work of a project like TVSS might be defined as "activist" relative to art world institutions and norms (here the curators/organizers become activists rather than the participating artists). Further, can institutional transformation be seen as both aesthetic and political? What are the political and ethical implications of the curators/organizers of TVSS relative to 1) the artists 2) the various institutions, art and non-art, that supported the project? How do we deal with questions of cooptation vs. subversion, representation vs. misrepresentation?

There were precedents discussed in terms of the web-cast component of the project (Livestock Radio (?) and the Littoral "ArtBarns" project in the Bowland Forest that involved a radio station, etc.). There was a related discussion of the ways in which the mainstream art world has used notions of "quality" to marginalize activist work in the past (i.e., "broadcast quality" was used as a benchmark for early video art, which was a reflection of equipment access as much as talent). How do the internet, web-casting, and digital media challenge this? Now we have "Hollywood" directors using digital cameras for "art" films. It's possible to produce a web site or a digital video with fairly high quality with a relatively minimal investment in equipment (as compared to broadcast quality video, film, etc.).

This is as far as we got!

Grant Kester - August 2002