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Trajectories of Collaborative Publishing Ethics

An art grounded in distributed media can be seen as a political art and an art of communicative action, not least because it is a reaction to the fact that the merging of art and life has been affected most successfully by the ‘consciousness industry.’* The field of culture is a public sphere and a site of struggle, and all of its manifestations are ideological.

— Seth Price, Dispersion, 2002

 

 
An art grounded in distributed media can be seen as a political art and an art of communicative action, not least because it is a reaction to the fact that the merging of art and life has been affected most successfully by the ‘consciousness industry.’* The field of culture is a public sphere and a site of struggle, and all of its manifestations are ideological.
— Seth Price, Dispersion, 2002
 

In order to position Lungs within a contemporary context as a publication, it is crucial to conjure up the legacies of "magazine" as an alternative form of speech.  A magazine, in its essence, is a periodical which comes from the Latin word, "periodicus," meaning "returning regularly." A magazine is thus determined by its seriality, its existence across time. Throughout the history of print, however, a magazine's potential is moulded by the dynamics of the culture by which is nourished. Hence, Lungs 2017 is inherently different from and politically opposed to its inaugural issue. Within the following paragraphs, we will aim to elaborate a model of curatorial ethics and a conceptual framework through which the second edition of Lungs came into being.

German philosopher, Walter Benjamin believed in the transformative potential of mechanically reproduced images to radically shift the power structures and usher in the democratisation of art and its dissemination to the wider public. In his essay, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Benjamin talks about the social changes in the conditions of production from technical to mechanical, and illustrates how certain printing practices such as etching, which dominated the Middle Ages, were superseded by lithography following by photography and moving image. To exemplify the ease of access to images, Benjamin quotes French poet Paul Valéry in stating that just as the masses are readily supplied with water and electricity, they are now also supplied with a plethora of aesthetic imagery which came virtually at no cost. (Arendt, 1999)

Drawing a parallel to Valéry's commentary on the ubiquity of images, artist Seth Price, in his famous essay Dispersion, defines distributed media as social knowledge floating around in a market economy and accessed through numerous means such as books, DVDs, websites, magazines and so on. (Price, 2002) He argues that the collective experience of culture is contingent upon various individual expressions disseminated through all media, thus culture naturally belongs to advertising, promotion, dialogue, and discussion. In the global age of corporate capitalism, the public sphere, then, is where all culture is produced, distributed, received and consumed. Price's depiction of public art and distributed media as interlocked opens up the doors to a 'field' in which individual freedom and self-realisation can be achieved through the communal experience of culture.

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Dispersion

Seth Price, self published both in print and online, 2002

Going back to Benjamin's analysis, the rapid pace of reproduction and distribution of art and visual imagery altered the ways we interact with culture in general. This shift was originally brought upon by the changes in the modes of production, unmistakably responding to the capitalist macroeconomics of the time. However, in contemporary era, following the rise of Web 2.0, digital reproduction has largely replaced the mechanical models. Although in an existential turmoil, the print media still has a solid standing in culture. Writer and art historian Gwen Allen suggests that today, artists are particularly interested in re-exploring and building upon older and avant-garde methods of printing. She argues that now, even art historians and curators are recognising publishing as a viable mode of exhibition making. (Allen, 2016)

Digital media is often seen as an expanded field of print; a field in which e-books and digital artworks exist alongside printed books and works in traditional mediums. Art critic and theorist Rosalind Krauss was the first person to use the term 'expanded field' in her essay Sculpture in the Expanded Field to find a definition of modern sculpture which was, at the time, beginning to dip in and out of the landscape and architectural practices. In her essay, she critiques "the modernist demand for the purity and separateness of the various mediums" which inevitably resulted in the specialisation of mediums. Through examining what sculpture is thought not to be, she asserts that sculpture is actually "one term on the periphery of a field, in which there are other differently structured possibilities." (Krauss, R, 1979) In short, Krauss' notion of the expanded field provides artists a platform not dictated by the rigidity of a singular medium and allows them to explore practices and terms which exist seemingly in opposition. Therefore, we can propose that the relationship between the digital and print media is not a dialectical one but rather spatial, based on possibilities. 

Schema of "the expanded field."

Schema of "the expanded field."

Krauss' elaboration of the expanded field bears a resemblance to French philosophers Deleuze and Guattari's Rhizome Theory. In the previous paragraph, we have already established that many forms of publishing, whether in print or online exist in a spatial context; rather than negating each other, they realise the possibilities within their space.

The botanical term rhizome means horizontal underground stems and it originally relates to the growth of tubular flowering plants. Within the Deleuzian theory however, the rhizome is used in relation to the production of knowledge. Deleuze and Guattari initially developed The Rhizome Theory as a response to the traditional models in cultural production. These old modalities, as described in Krauss's interpretation too, only enable us to create knowledge out of already established connections, limiting the potential for free thinking and expansion. Hence the difficulty in determining whether or not something is a called a sculpture!

The old type of 'root-tree' system not only implements a hierarchical structure, but it also seeks the "source of things", creating a genealogy and narrativising a history (Deleuze and Guattari, 1988). In addition, tree roots only grow towards certain directions either upwards or downwards; thus the links are established linearly suggesting that knowledge can only expand towards certain directions predetermined by external conditions. On the other hand, a rhizome allows for meaning to be extracted from multiplying, randomly linked connections, prompting further growth of knowledge.

Deleuze and Guattari's rhizome theory can be interpreted as a criticism of contemporary power structures within arts and culture, governments, epistemological and cognitive systems, social mechanisms, and so on. It can be seen as a different way of thinking in creating culture, a new model for knowledge so to speak. Deleuze's widely used quote describes a rhizome as having "no beginning or end" as it is "always in the middle, between things" (Deleuze and Guattari, 1988). The knowledge, in this context, is never a complete model. However, it is always in the process of multiplying and creating more networks. 

An example of knowledge distribution models. The rhizome model falls into category C.

An example of knowledge distribution models. The rhizome model falls into category C.

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Lungs Project

logo inspired by rhizomatic connections

It is useful mention here, another French contemporary Bruno Latour's Actor-Network Theory (ANT). Latour sees the social sphere as a kind of flow rather than a fixed object. Originated from science studies, ANT's main argument asserts that everything natural or socially constructed only exist within perpetually shifting networks, and there is nothing outside of this network of relations. These connections are always ephemeral, constantly changing and re-assembling. (Latour, 2008)

Following the theory, we can state that the public space is a process rather than a point in time, and it remains in a state of flux. Acknowledging that social relations are continuously performed (acted) within networks, we can then, assert that we constantly need to re-negotiate our stance in the world and re-evaluate our values as these values develop through our relations with one another.

With a clear influence by the Deleuzian rhizomatic thought, with an addition of non-human (object based) elements, Latour's motivation behind ANT, similar to Krauss' concerns when she postulated the 'expanded field', was to analyse and counteract normative and linear modes of modernist thought. Just like Krauss suggesting the co-existence of many different terms relating to sculpture rather than the prevalence of one medium, Latour also promotes non-linearity, asymmetry, and heterogeneity in creating culture. Both Rhizome Theory and ANT denote a conceptual framework which nurtures non-hierarchical thinking against the existing power structures. 

Appropriately, this viewpoint constitutes the very basis of Lungs 2017 reformations, as we now accept that the space of cultural production is the public space and as artists and curators, we must directly engage with the contemporary society. As a result, we initiated this engagement firstly within our immediate environment which we call home, the North East of England, with the intention of serving this community. In this respect, to publish (from Old French, "publier", "to make public, spread abroad, communicate") utilising all means of distribution from exhibition to public events and parties, from print to social media, seems even more relevant in our practices.

Alluding to Price's quote which opened up this chapter earlier, ("The field of culture is a public sphere and a site of struggle, and all of its manifestations are ideological.") the necessity of devising a heterogeneous and all inclusive ethics in the field of curation becomes clearer. All of the theories we analysed in the previous paragraphs share the same common ground we also drew on in creating the second issue of Lungs. From the design of the new website to the social media campaigns we ran, we made a conscious effort to demonstrate an awareness of these non-hierarchical thinking patterns and multiplicity of meanings standing against dominant, singular narratives.


The histories of print media and publications go far back, as small zines and booklets have always been a part of the artistic process and sharing one's ideas, as seen in Dadaists, Surrealists, and Fluxus. However, 1970’s represented a vital shift in the development of art criticism. When approached from a critical perspective, in the 70's we witness the emergence of magazines as an alternative to the mainstream and the established art market, carrying a conscious critical attitude against the modernist thought including, then popular, Greenbergian formalist criticism. Within the following paragraphs, we will introduce two very important avant-garde publications whose ethics are aligned with ours, i.e. Avalanche, Art-Rite.

Avalanche was founded by art historian and video artist Willoughby Sharp and filmmaker Liza Béar in 1968 in New York. From early on, they set out to separate themselves from various art criticism magazines of the time which were polluted by critics who gave little or no voice to artists. Instead, Sharp and Béar, with a keen interest in conceptual art and other up-and-coming art forms of the 70's, wanted to focus on the artists to support their vision and ideas.

In an interview with writer Gwen Allen, Willoughby Sharp, as an editor reiterates his responsibility to the artists, to "their creativity, their majesty, their insight, their devotion, their integrity, their vision." (Allen, 2016) He states that their intentions, from the very beginning, was to enter into a dialogue with the artists than just featuring them. Rather than presenting a form of criticism or formulating a social discourse, they were concerned with featuring interviews with artists and documenting their works to speed up the dissemination of newly emerging and ephemeral art forms such as land art and performance. In this respect, Sharp describes Avalanche as an 'artist's magazine'; an instrument devised for artists to communicate their ideas with the wider public. (Ballmer, 2011)

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Avalanche

First issue featuring Joseph Beuys, Autumn 1970

Consequently, interviews played an essential role in Avalanche. Editor Lisa Béar in particular, with her interest in the modes of artistic production, aimed to get into the crannies of art-making to reveal the creative process while approaching her subjects with curiosity, not to critique but to understand their motives. Sharp describes an avalanche as "reconfigures, breaks down the old structure" (Allen, 2015) just as they intended their magazine to accomplish. By refraining from publishing exhibition reviews or criticisms of artworks, and focusing on the constructive dialogue with the artists, Avalanche editors demonstrated strong ethics towards creating a culture which is more in line with the framework we expressed in the first section of this essay. Hence, we titled our exhibition coinciding with the second issue of Lungs "Dialogus" to be able to explore the nature of dialogue outside of print media.

Walter Robinson, Edit deAk, and Joshua Cohn co-founded Art-Rite, in New York, in 1973. While Avalanche editors took an approach to publish established and international artists (the cover of its first issue featured a portrait of Joseph Beuys for instance), Art-Rite focused on up-and-coming artists of the 70's downtown Manhattan. The publication had a tabloid newspaper layout with an unassuming and rather crude design in black and white due to its editors favouring the depth of criticality over visual aesthetics. The first issue of Art-Rite, published in 1973 as a merely eight-page booklet, all typed in Robinson's typewriter, was distributed to the galleries and art spaces in the neighbourhood in a DIY fashion. (Allen, 2015) 

Furthermore, when Robison and his team of editors all with a lack of publishing experience were haphazardly distributing their products, more alternative projects were also appearing throughout the city. Above all, social conditions were perfect for brewing more critical thought. Likewise, art critic and theorist Brian O'Doherty describes the emergence of independent galleries and alternative periodicals as "the most significant development of the 70's" (Allen, 2015), as it had ushered in an attitude of embodying social concerns over visual ones. Art-Rite, alongside a multitude of publications of their time, embraced their social responsibility in contributing to a wider critical dialogue.  

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Art-Rite

Sol LeWitt’s statement on artists’ books. Art-Rite no.14: Artist’s Books Issue, January 1976

As can be seen in the main concerns of the 70's alternative art-spaces; opposition to the mainstream and the mechanisms of the art market, and the encouragement of institutional critique also lie behind Art-Rite's publishing ethics. Although, for the most part, concerns of contemporary artists are slightly different - or shape-shifted - in the age of unlimited connectivity to the internet, we can argue that the pre-internet defiance of the art institution and its market economies, and the critique of the commercialisation of art still resonate with many. (See Seth Price's quote at the beginning of the essay)

Art-Rite editors, to illustrate their constructive approach to art criticism, state that art should not be judged based on an external aesthetic measurement but by "its capacity to engender communication and connections between people" to make art more accessible to the public. (Allen, 2015) Similarly, Lungs Project adopted methodologies to highlight this connective potential of publishing. This year, the project set out to promote rhizomatic thought, which we see crucial in any form of creative activity.


In the beginning of this essay, we have expressed a desire to position Lungs on theoretical grounds and establish our unique curatorial ethics. Some of the theories we have looked at, including Krauss' 'expanded field', Deleuze & Guattari's rhizome, and Bruno Latour's Actor-Network Theory, displayed a shared characteristic which constitutes a conscious stand against linear, homogenous, and dialectic narratives in the production of culture. In this instance, investing in the theory consequently brought in the ethics with no effort. Upon analysing these theories, it became evident to us that defining 'a thing' by its very opposite shuts down the avenues for growth. It furthermore reinforces the rein of systematic power which inevitably stagnates society.

We firmly believe that there are always infinite connections within 'the network,' 'the web', or 'the field.' The quintessential of egalitarian thought is to embrace the multiplicity of meanings and approaches to creating knowledge while remaining conscious of its fair distribution. Hence, we have unapologetically opted to organise an exhibition in a commercial gallery, as we wanted to experiment with all the channels -including the white cube- through which culture is disseminated.  Because Lungs, while approaching institutions and the white cube models critically and championing alternative platforms, aims to create a hybrid of all media distribution channels. As for us, egalitarian dissemination of culture is hardly about negating one mechanism in acceptance of another, but about gaining an awareness of our position within these mechanisms so that we can navigate through them, creating our unique path.

The anti-establishment and radical spirit of the 70's publications, such as Art-Rite, still is as essential to alternative platforms as it was then. Unlike the avant-garde, Lungs does not fully reject the gallery system or the traditional modes of exhibition making. On the contrary, it acknowledges the necessity of a myriad of systems -rather networks- in creating culture. The dialectic of institution vs. alternative, for us, is neither a viable nor a progressive assertion, as the institution does not define itself by its opposition to its 'other'. Hence this fallacy locks most alternative approaches within a predetermined narrative.

To simplify, Hegelian dialectic requires a negative opposition TO the subject's 'other', whereas network-based theories suggest that we exist through our multi-faceted relationships WITH EACH other. With this in mind, we had to determine our ethics to enable us to find our way when navigating through these complex networks. We have thus chosen to acknowledge and examine our web of relations with others.

How, then, can we take Lungs further? The project positions itself within the contemporary culture in acknowledging online platforms as extremely significant avenues in sharing the values created through working together. Deeply influenced by Avalanche editor Lisa Béar's thought-provoking and intuitive interview style, and her genuinely inquisitive approach to the creative process, we have decided to publish interviews with our selected artists on our website. This way, we can, not only reinforce our devotion to promoting their work to a wider audience but at the same time, enter into a dialogue out of which both parties can create a new understanding of the world as a whole.


Note: 

*"Consciousness Industry" is a series of essays written by German theorist Hans Magnus Enzensberger. He uses the term, “consciousness industry”, to describe human mind as a social product controlled and reproduced by mechanisms such as mass media and educational systems. According to Enzensberger, cultural and governmental institutions and their agencies seek to control the production and distribution of media in order to preserve the dominant power structures. (“‘The Consciousness Industry’: A Symposium.”, 1998) Price, here, broadly refers to manipulative mass media as 'the consciousness industry.'


References

Allen, G. (2015). Artists' magazines. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Allen, G. (2016). The magazine. Whitechapel Gallery.

Arendt, H. (1999). Walter Benjamin, Illuminations. London: Pimlico.

Ballmer, A. (2011). Avalanche Magazine: In the Words of the Artist. Art Documentation: Journal of the Art Libraries Society of North America, No.30

Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (1988). A thousand plateaus. 1st ed. London: Athlone Press.

Hitchens, Christopher; Zizek, Slavoj; Steiner, George; Miller, James; Schneider, Peter; Molesworth, Charles; Barber, Benjamin; Bromwich, David; Schell, Jonathan; Appiah, Anthony; Gurstein, Rochelle; Harris, Daniel; Boyers, Robert. (1998). “‘The Consciousness Industry’: A Symposium.”. Salmagundi, No. 118/119

Krauss, Rosalind, “Sculpture in the Expanded Field”, October, Vol. 8. (Spring, 1979).

Latour, B. (2008). Reassembling the social. Oxford [u.a.]: Oxford Univ. Press.

Price, S. (2017). Dispersion. [online] Distributedhistory.com. Available at: http://www.distributedhistory.com/Disperzone.html [Accessed 1 August. 2017].