OutCrowd: the Interview that never was

Questions for Mél Hogan, by OutCrowd (05/2011)

When you think of someone reading “No More Potlucks,” who do you instinctually imagine as the reader?

I first imagine the readers to be the people featured in the journal. And then I imagine that their friends, their communities, their families, and their online social networks become readers. And then some readers become contributors, and the cycle repeats itself, and grows.

Your most recent issue, titled “animal,” explored our recent fascinations with animals and our more primal side as humans. Where do you find the ideas for your themes?

Ah. Good question. It’s actually a lengthy process and an important one. M-C MacPhee (content curator) and I make long lists year after year of words that we think might make good themes. What makes a good word? Well, usually we like a loaded word, and by that I mean a word that can be interpreted in a lot of different ways and that is rich in meaning on all those fronts. Trespassing. Fixate. Ego. Anonyme. Words that have multiple meanings are great because they help us to imagine different types of contributors. So that’s what we do next; we associate words with artists, activists and academics whose work we feel strongly about and when we have a good match, we make it a theme.  My dream would be to have words that are bilingual (like Animal, Rage, Rural, Chance, etc., for each issue, but since that doesn’t always work out, we have one or two in French each year—the two languages of NMP also add layers of meaning for themes, as you can probably imagine.

Do you fear for the future of the ‘magazine’?

Not at all. Why? What is there to fear in the future?  Based on what has developed in the last five years in terms of open source content management systems and print-on-demand, I can only imagine what another ten, fifteen, years will bring…Drupal, DropBox, Lulu, etc are all web-based services NMP relies and that make doing what we do not only possible but possible with so little money. We have no funds, except for a party each year (thank you Miriam Ginestier!) and a few generous donors who give us money, with no strings attached. But basically everyone in NMP—editors and contributors alike—is volunteering their talent, energy, and time because they believe in the project, and presumably gain and generate value in other ways.

So I don’t fear for the future of the journal in terms of sustainability. What we can do now we could never have done even a few years ago. The sustainability of the journal depends a lot on the efforts and the drive of people – technology and money are second to that.

I definitely could not keep NMP going without M-C MacPhee, who has been my best friend for more than a decade. It might sound corny, but at the heart of any good project is a good relationship. NMP actually has a great team of people helping out in different ways, to different capacities and with varying time commitments. Info on our team is found here: http://nomorepotlucks.org/credits

Of course if someone wanted to give us a lot of money so that NMP could become a full time job for 2 or 3 of us, that would be the most amazing thing ever. But so far, I’d say that I’m quite reluctant to think that money would necessarily make NMP better. I’d love to pay contributors and editors, etc, of course, but I’d want for that to be substantial, otherwise managing money just becomes another task to take on…and we’re pretty full on as it is!

For now the momentum is SO great—we are booking issues one year ahead of time (!!)—so we feel energized and inspired by this. We also get invited to speak about NMP a lot, at art festivals and academic conferences, so we’re fueled by the support we are getting.

What worries me though is the state of the internet more generally—will there be usage based billing, will throttling continue, will copyright become (more) of a hassle, will the web turn into (more of) a giant shopping mall… the bigger picture worries me a little because right now I feel really free doing what I do with NMP, though I am aware that the web could be transformed considerably by regulations/policy in the next few years. I’m hoping the strong counter current to these commercial forces will maintain the balance, keep everyone in check, if not tilt the web in favour of continued experimentation and creative freedom.

Where do you imagine a line of censorship for such a free-thinking magazine? What falls to the cutting room floor?

The only time I considered the issue of censorship was in an early issue where we had a ‘porn’ video and I worried that our ISP or host might flag it. Pretty sure we agreed not to host “adult” material when we bought our server space. But nothing like that ever happened, but it does make us cognizant of the fact that ownership of content online, and control over it, is murky. So yea, I do worry of the general policing of the internet… In that way we have very little control over NMP. But I personally accept that as a risk of doing stuff online, along with server crashes, sites getting hacked and spammed, and so on.

What falls to the cutting room floor isn’t really about pieces that go too far or are explicit in ways we aren’t willing to stand by – in fact we encourage people to push the boundaries of acceptability (acceptable to who?) in NMP. This is true both in terms of experimental writing and multimedia presentation of work, and in terms of content. What doesn’t make it in—though it has happened that we’ve turned pieces down—are just pieces that aren’t quite ready for the deadline, that we normally rework for a later issue. NMP is 90% by invitation, so when we ask people it’s because we are already familiar with their previous work. More and more we are getting outside proposals though, so we’ll see if that changes the process. We encourage proposals and are open to change.

How do you communicate your style to contributing artists—is there a way that you expect them to think?

We usually refer artists and other contributors to previous issues for them to get a sense of what the journal is about. Whatever they ‘get’ from NMP, that’s usually enough to guide their submission.

We don’t have a mandate but we somehow, I think, have a very strong editorial voice. We really encourage people to publish stuff they can’t see being published anywhere else. For academics in particular this can mean work that isn’t accepted by more traditional peer-reviewed journals that normally have a very long turnaround, and works that are presented as video, audio, or any combination of these things.

For artists, NMP is a great place to not only showcase their work but to have it reviewed and written about, either by being matched to a curator or an NMP editor. McLeod’s video series is a really good example of this—each issue has a featured video that is documented and reviewed by a curator. It’s very important to write about art and to get interviews with artists to be posted alongside the work itself. For activists, we think NMP is a place to be heard—it’s definitely an alternative to a newspaper or a blog, in part because it’s within the context of an arts and culture journal.

I’m always happy when people write and tell us NMP is THE place they want their work published, and not because it doesn’t fit in other contexts but because NMP is the best one for whatever they are producing. This has happened and I love hearing how and why NMP works for them, and I feel like that’s because of the amazing content and how they relate to it.

For me its important to balance the artist-academic-activist content in each issue, but as far as what people contribute, we’re very open and often publish things that push our own boundaries as editors, or that we don’t fully agree with, or that we’re not sure we fully understand. We try to balance that with being accountable and responsible for the overall publication seeing as one contribution belongs to an issue and influences the overall content of NMP.

What do you hope for a reader to think after closing the magazine and moving on to the rest of the day?

It’s funny because sometimes I’m so busy working on the details of getting the publication together online and in print, that I don’t take time to think of the important questions, like this one.

Off the top of my head, what I hope readers get is a sense that there is a lot going on in Canada in terms of art, theory and politics. And I hope that reading about it, or watching/listening/reading about it inspires readers to make things; either start their own journal, make art, make noise in their communities, or pitch an idea to NMP!

How do you your design in No More Potlucks express the relationship between images and writing?

This is an interesting question because part of it is about my limitations as a web designer for the online version, and the way we need to have certain features automated for the sake of consistency …but also to have a stable workflow. So that means that things, like the article thumbnail, might crop and scale to frame something differently than if I could do it all manually, but the trade off means I can take this on and stay sane by maximizing the potential of the content management system. Over time, I imagine, I will make these things even better. When we initially designed NMP we never imagined it would take off the way it has, so to go back in time I would revise the back end and front end design a lot. This would mean that, to answer your question with a specific example, we could insert images through our back end interface within the text, rather than just at the top of the piece. When we do insert images in the body of the text, as some pieces require it, we do it through FTP. Maybe that’s too technical or specific, but anyway, it’s just to say that for the online version, these things are simultaneously flexible and restraining.

For laying out the print version (which has become so much ore enjoyable since working with Momoko Allard) we have a pretty standard template, which we improve each year. I love our look now, in print. We decided to have a lot of white space and let the images and texts breath. We design the issue from a grid; two columns for most texts, and a (double) one column for fiction pieces. We are a hybrid, in terms of layout, between an art catalogue and a journal, so we design each piece to be relatively the same, and each issue to resemble the one before.

All the issues are available from Lulu, via print-on-demand (http://stores.lulu.com/nomorepotlucks).

Choosing the cover image is pretty intense, sometimes. A great image isn’t necessarily a great cover. And as we have learned a cover speaks loudly about who people think we are and what people assume we represent. So I chose very carefully… Over time, the covers a s a collection of images takes on its own meaning, and I think represents well the general idea of NMP. But I leave it up to you to say what that is…what the connections are between themes, images, etc.

What is ugly to you?

Injustice. Insecurities. Taking things too seriously. Inequality. These things are ugly.

In terms of design aesthetics, I’m probably quite conservative. I like clean lines, minimalist and simple grid layouts, and the choice of one good font for body text and one slightly more illustrative for titles. I think good design is about knowing why you are putting things where you are putting them. Everything has a place and until you really know that, you don’t mess with the rules, you follow them! I do still feel quite limited in my CSS skills to get NMP to look exactly how I want it to in Drupal, but it’s OK for now – the design works.

In print, the design is where I want it to be. 

Many of the articles in your magazine cover diverse transnational subjects. How have you navigated the magazine’s multicultural, multi-lingual perspective in a way that inspires universal interest?

We strive to showcase a lot of Canadian content, at least 75% of any issue. That said, who and what counts as Canadian is open and we don’t have a firm take on that. But we are quite strict on maintaining a certain Canadian-ness in whatever shape and form it takes on given that it would be so easy to fill the pages with American content—there is so much being produced south of the border that resonates with NMP.

Which issue would you recommend for a first-time reader?

Pretty soon all the issues will be free online—we are ditching the subscription model—so I would recommend that someone just playfully navigate the site and read it diagonally… whatever draws them in, randomly or thematically, for research or leisure.

What is a magazine without its design?

 Nothing!

Of course if you ask the designer they’re going to tell you it’s really important… but seriously, I think design is funny in the sense that if you do it well, the work and craft of it disappear, and so it is not really recognized (except by other designers, usually). I think NMP could use a slight upgrade – a slight freshener. As the art director I try to balance those changes with the consistency of what has become NMP and what people expect when they visit the site.

I think design is communication. Design says as much (more?) than content. Design speaks to us on another level though many of us haven’t developed the affective vocabulary for it nor a shared sense of how colour, shape and form appeal or repel. We feel it, but we don’t understand it necessarily. And so the layout of the website, and print journal, means we read the content differently whether or not we are aware of the design.

How do you judge a really successful issue?

I’m not sure. For me, there have been a few little dances-of-joy and virtual high5s when I get someone whose work I really admire to be in NMP… like Ann Cvetkovich, Laura Murray or Jane Anderson… or Mary Bryson, Kim Sawchuk, Anne Golden, Line Chamberland, Jane Siberry… all these amazing thinkers and doers… the list is quite long now. To me this is a great measure of success.  The mix of academic, activist and artist content is a measure of success too. As is diversity by all definitions.

There have also been pieces that have had an insane amount of hits: I’m thinking here of Sarah Maple’s work, the piece on the late Will Munro, and pretty much anything Yasmin Nair writes. I can see from our stats, and more recently through a visible counter at the bottom of each page, which submissions get the most attention. This is also a measure of success.

So far though, I think each issue has been successful by virtue of being up on time, out in print, and full of amazing content… and this for 15 issues now. 


Review: Chosen by Jackie Gallant

This review is part of an ongoing series of video art reviews located at Wayward. I only review work I love.

Chosen by Jackie Gallant

If I was a curator, I would programme Chosen into every possible screening.

Chosen remixes, re-voices and reconstructs the starstruck gaze.

Probably a few of you, like me, think of exquisite octopad drumming when you think of Jackie Gallant. Who would even know about the octopad if it wasn’t for Gallant? Not me. Three years ago I interviewed Gallant in ArtThreatwhere she revealed a few secrets about her rock and punk roots, and admitted to the pleasures of performance–“the tightrope you walk on when in front of an audience.”

Owen Chapman (DJ O+) also included Gallant’s insights about sampling inhis dissertation, and highlighted Gallant’s gift for improvisation and manipulation.

What does this have to do with video art? With Chosen? My guess is that it has everything to do with it.

Gallant knows pacing, rhythm, and timing. And Gallants knows sampling: she knows how to extract the good bits, and how to mix them up, manipulate them, how to make them fit together to reveal something else, something greater.

Gallant’s craft at weaving media, sound with image, reveals the fast-paced, absurd, funny, and most often tragic feeling of celebrity hype. Lindsay Lohan is chosen by Gallant to reveal, if not testify, her own half-truths, often slippery clichés and cringe-worthy teenage delusions. And yet there is nothing here of judgement — the artist’s appearances in this dizzying underwater of expectations suggests that Gallant relates to rather than rejects the awkward trajectory in and out of the spotlight.

See more of Gallant’s videos on 52 Pick Up Videos: 2009 and 2010.

Mél Hogan, May 18, 2011.

 

DNA Symposium: Lightning Talk on Failure

I’m going to tell you a story about an archive.

Canada has one of the oldest online video art archives, if not the oldest, on the web. Few people know about it.

Launched in 2003 after a year as a pilot project, SAW Video in Ottawa was responsible for creating a repository of 486 independently-produced videos accessible for free online, in full length. This project was called the Mediatheque. Its web infrastructure was custom-built, and the archival process relied heavily on trial and error as no precedent existed for this kind of endeavour.

The funding for the Mediatheque was allocated specifically as an archival grant under the Canadian Culture Online Funding Programs from the Department of Canadian Heritage. Preceding YouTube by two years and reaching a terabyte (over a 1000 GB) of content , the Mediatheque placed an open call for video artists and paid 200 dollars per submission for the rights to showcase works for 3 years online.

The Mediatheque lived long enough to see this contract with artists expire, though most artists agreed to renew the rights, this time without payment. In this second phase, starting in 2006, the Mediatheque continued to add new works, and featured more than 300 videos from the original pool.

In 2009, the Mediatheque’s server crashed and the project has been offline since. There was no database backup at SAW Video, nor with their corporate sponsor who was hosting the project. Neither had assumed it their responsibility. Saw Video reassembled its website using Google Cache but never attempted to piece together the Mediatheque via the Wayback Machine or other means. For SAW Video, the crash represented an opportunity if not a cry for change. It was time for reflecting on the project in relationship to emergent social media that now largely constitute the web. After more than 6 years online, had the needs for this archive changed? Had the context for video art expanded in ways to render the project obsolete? Revived, would the Mediatheque be a relic, or does it remain a failure of the very concept of online archiving by virtue of its ephemeral nature? Is failure embedded into the concept of the online archive?

Apart from the grant application and few reports to the government, little documentation exists about the Mediatheque, and nothing at all exists that attempts to answer these questions or to situate the Mediatheque within the framework of media studies, archival theory, or video art’s art history.  (Besides my doctoral work, that is).

Today, SAW Video plans to rebuild an archive containing many of these videos, however no longer under the name Mediatheque and with no necessary attachment to the 2003 version. In this sense, the new repository is neither a straightforward continuation nor an attempt to replace the defunct project. The new version was originally intended for December 2010, but continued delays suggest that the conundrums of the online archive remain, for which pragmatic and philosophical questions alike are difficult to answer of in the long-term thinking demanded of the archive by very definition.

So the burning question is: is failure embedded?

Web Archeology

Documenting my ‘digs’ of video art online repositories from a Canadian cultural context here:

http://www.wayward.ca/wayward/webarcheology/archeology/

And for the Mediatheque, here.

Over the course of the next few months, I will post video clips at wayward.ca that explain the history of these now mostly defunct websites.

Because it is a) difficult to describe a trajectory back in through the wayback machine (internet archive) that include numerous iterations of a same project and because b) it is almost impossible to do the same ‘search’ twice, I am recording my findings and posting them here.

These digs are totally unrehearsed and unchoreographed, which means that I often get lost in the regenerated loops of the wayback archival process, and take you with me. These digs are meant to record the research process as much as they are intended to document the portals I explore.

VIDEO VORETX READER 2 Crashing the Archive/Archiving the Crash (2011)

Hogan, Mél. “Archiving the Crash/Crashing the Archive” Video Vortex Reader II: Moving Images Beyond Youtube Amsterdam – Institute of Network Cultures. 2011

Video Vortex Reader II: moving images beyond YouTube

About the book: Video Vortex Reader II is the Institute of Network Cultures’ second collection of texts that critically explore the rapidly changing landscape of online video and its use. With the success of YouTube (’2 billion views per day’) and the rise of other online video sharing platforms, the moving image has become expansively more popular on the Web, significantly contributing to the culture and ecology of the internet and our everyday lives. In response, the Video Vortex project continues to examine critical issues that are emerging around the production and distribution of online video content.

Following the success of the mailing list, the website and first Video Vortex Reader in 2008, recent Video Vortex conferences in Ankara (October 2008), Split (May 2009) and Brussels (November 2009) have sparked a number of new insights, debates and conversations regarding the politics, aesthetics, and artistic possibilities of online video. Through contributions from scholars, artists, activists and many more, Video Vortex Reader II asks what is occurring within and beyond the bounds of Google’s YouTube? How are the possibilities of online video, from the accessibility of reusable content to the internet as a distribution channel, being distinctly shaped by the increasing diversity of users taking part in creating and sharing moving images over the web?

Contributors: Perry Bard, Natalie Bookchin, Vito Campanelli, Andrew Clay, Alexandra Crosby, Alejandro Duque, Sandra Fauconnier, Albert Figurt, Sam Gregory, Cecilia Guida, Stefan Heidenreich, Larissa Hjorth, Mél Hogan, Nuraini Juliastuti, Sarah Késenne, Elizabeth Losh, Geert Lovink, Andrew Lowenthal, Rosa Menkman, Gabriel Menotti, Rachel Somers Miles, Andrew Gryf Paterson, Teague Schneiter, Jan Simons, Evelin Stermitz, Blake Stimson, David Teh, Ferdiansyah Thajib, Andreas Treske, Robrecht Vanderbeeken, Linda Wallace, Brian Willems, Matthew Williamson, Tara Zepel.

Colophon: Editors: Geert Lovink and Rachel Somers Miles. Copy Editor: Nicole Heber. Design: Katja vay Stiphout. Cover Image: Team Thursday. Priner: Ten Klei, Amsterdam. Publisher: Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam. Supported by: the School for Communication and Design at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (Hogeschool van Amsterdam DMCI). The Video Vortex Reader is produced as part of the Culture Vortex research program, which is supported by Foundation Innovation Alliance (SIA – Stichting Innovatie Alliantie).

pdf

To order a hard copy of Video Vortex Reader II email: books@networkcultures.org

Geert Lovink and Rachel Somers Miles (eds), Video Vortex Reader II: moving images beyond YouTube, Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 2011. ISBN: 978-90-78146-12-4, paperback, 378 pages.

Review: Wicked Games

Originally posted @ Wayward.

Wicked Games by George

I find this video magical. And haunting. And really hard to write about.

I saw George’s video at the EDGY WOMEN festival, in a programme curated by Dayna McLeod, the founder and project manager ofhttp://52pickupvideos.com. Wicked Games was one video among 39 others at the festival, created by 26 artists who currently contribute to 52pickupvideos, or who have done so in the past. It’s an amazing online venue for artists, and is open to newcomers who are willing to take on the challenge of making a new video each week, consecutively, for one year.

Wicked Games can be found here: http://52pickupvideos.com/HTML/George_Week5.html

What is also worth noting about 52pickupvideos is that it invites artists — in the case of George, a dancer and choreographer — to express, experiment and work through video no matter what their background or prior experience with the medium.

Wicked Games stood out for me at the EDGY WOMEN festival screening, though I haven’t found it easy to pin point why or what kind of effect it has had on me. There is something about the seamlessness of this video and careful crafting of sound that makes the video hard to dissect after the fact, though in the moment – watching it – I was fully captivated.

The plural of ‘Games’ in the title hints at the way this piece is crafted: playful but definitely wicked, too. It captivates and repels. The wicked games in this video are the levels of reality; the intense gaze from the moment the video starts in synch with an accelerated slow-motion that sets the tone and speed of the piece. A swaying man stares into the camera signing Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game over the sound of a very present creaky floor. The man’s gaze is intense but not inviting, and is interrupted by a high contrast black and white version of himself. These ‘interruptions’ bring in an unmistakably iMovie aesthetic to the video, a formal decision that speaks not only to George’s use of video to comment on video, but of editing to comment on movement.

A second chapter begins when the two characters appear in the frame for a forced and constrained dialogue – a gesture marked in the narrative by the ‘main’ character leaning forward, indicating that he is turning on/off the camera. This suggests a new level at which the viewer is expected to interact. The viewer shifts from witness to audience: we are invited to acknowledge the act of recording, the presence of the camera, and a performance that is in itself only made possible by its re-presentation in ‘real time’. In this way, the work demands the attention of its audience, and in turn, the audience makes the work complete.

Mél Hogan, April 7, 2011.

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Review: le jeu du pendu

Originally posted @ Wayward.

Les jeux anodins ne sont pas toujours les plus anodins

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le jeu du pendu par lamathilde

I recently saw this video again at FIFA. I’d seen it on YouTube soon after lamathilde posted it and I asked her if it could also be featured in NMP: she chose NMP’s love issue–a perfect fit–which comes out Nov 1, 2011. But I don’t want to wait until then to write about it.

I think I could spend some time reflecting on how watching a video online and on the ‘big screen’ are part of the same technolandscape now, and to go with that, that I really don’t understand the reluctance to post video art on the web. I don’t think everyone has to, at least not for all videos at all times, but I think certain works, presented within a particular framework and context are essential in these digital times. As someone who likes to review video art, having access to a version online is key for me to watch.now.overandoveragain. I think I’ve watched le jeu du pendu twenty times now, and I thank the internet for that.

I guess my point is that lamathilde’s generous offerings, in the form of video online – and le jeu du pendu in particular – speaks to a particular political viewpoint that equates the sharing of ideas with the possibility of larger and more unpredictable conversations that are long, long, overdue.

What I love about lamathilde, and about her work (these things cannot really be separated after all) is her political sensibilities. She knows how and when to exude power and how to surrender to it. le jeu du pendu is testament to this and to lamathilde’s unwavering attention to ideas of community, love, and the communicative potential of art. These are elements that stand out for me and that seem to make her voice so present in her work. With this voice – spirit, heart, mind, and body – lamathilde recounts her brother’s hanging using the morbid game of ‘hangman’ as a narrative device. The voice vacillates between that of storyteller, sister, and artist, and is in moments necessarily sarcastic, frustrated, tender, sad, authoritative, and forgiving.

In only 1 minute and 39 seconds, lamathildes draws links between death, gender, discourses of power, capitalist values, and the butterfly effect. Through the weaving process of these important themes and by referring to a game largely based on guessing rather than strategy, lamathilde invites the viewer to ponder accountability–how individual actions are each important to the overall well-being of family, community, humanity, and ultimately, oneself.

Mél Hogan, April 2, 2011.

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Screening: Edgy Women Festival

My video “stunts. ruelle” was shown at Edgy Women 2011

Dayna McLeod presents selected works from 52 Pick-Up.

Presented in collaboration with MainLine. Saturday, April 2nd from 9 pm to 3 am
Venue: MainLine Theatre (3997 St-Laurent)