Response to the Underbelly: Anne Helmond

The Materiality of Facebook and Localizing the Cloud

In “The Like economy: Social buttons and the data-intensive web” colleague Carolin Gerlitz and I looked into the way Facebook uses the technical infrastructure of social buttons buttons to create a data-intensive web. In this study we aimed to go beyond the interface level by analyzing the infrastructure of the Facebook Platform (API) itself. Recently, Mél Hogan from the University of Colorado-Boulder pointed me to a blogpost where she wrote about the material infrastructure of Facebook by focusing on its data centres. In her post ‘The Node Pole as the Archive’s Underbelly‘ she points to the materiality of Facebook by describing how “these dislocated centers heighten the distance between users and the data they generate as necessary to maintain the archival illusions of continuous uninterrupted access.”


CFP: Convergence Journal: Digital Archives & Open Archival Practices

Convergence: Special themed issue
Vol 21, no 1 (February 2015)

Digital Archives & Open Archival Practices

Guest Editors: Sarah Atkinson and Sarah Whatley

This special issue aims to bring together researchers, artists, professionals and practitioners from the field of digital archives and the archiving of practice with an emphasis upon Art, Design, Media, Film and Performing arts disciplines. It specifically aims to explore the affordances of digital technologies upon archival practices.

Within digital archival practices, there is a notable shift from the closed to the open and from the traditional single-user archive model to emerging multi-user, collaborative forms of archival practices and scholarship. The digital preservation and presentation of archival materials dramatically impacts upon the nature and notion of access. The types of discoveries, insights and findings that can be made through online digital interfaces can be radically altered.

The call for papers will invite contributions that focus on the widest range of digital archives (film, dance, sound, oral history etc), that consider national and international collections, which might focus on archival strategies, policy, copyright and education, and which consider technological aspects of digital archiving including the semantic web, analytics, meta-data, tagging and time-based meta-data.

The editors are particularly interested in encouraging submissions from a range of contexts, originating from academic research, policy making and from the archival professions. Contributions will be welcomed, but are not limited to, articles and pieces that address the following questions:

· How are digital archives changing our experience of the ‘live’?

· To what extent do digital archives ask us to re-evaluate the value of archival collections; how are digital archives altering our perception of the ‘archive’?

· What are the critical discourses and practices that help us make sense of the role and impact of digital archives in contemporary society?

· How do digital archival practices shift our view of the ‘archive’ and the ‘archivist’?

· How do digital archives participate in artistic practice?

· To what extent does the representation of art and artists in digital archives shift, diminish or support artists’ practice?

· What role does design play in the creation, curation and visualization of artistic practice in digital archives?

· To what extent do digital archives prompt us to reconsider the value, place and purpose of the archive in contemporary society?

· What role does the user have in constructing the archive?

· How do born and re-born digital archives contribute to the discourse of ephemerality and permanence in contemporary arts practice?

· What is the future of digital archives in contemporary arts practice?

· What are the nature and functions of the digital archive in education, research and scholarship?

· How can digital archives contribute to the notion of a digital public space?

· How can the consideration of digital archives and open archival practices most usefully contribute to the Open Source, Open Educational Resources (OER) and Open Educational Practices (OEP) movements?

Standard articles will be in the range of 4000-8000 words. A more flexible approach may be possible for other formats and styles of submission (for example interviews, reports or reviews) so we encourage contributors to contact the Editors in the first instance to discuss their ideas prior to submission. Full details about how to submit are available here:
Submission of full papers to the Editors by February 28 2014.

The special issue will follow the Digital Echoes Symposium at Coventry University in January 2014. A call for papers for the Symposium will be issued shortly and confirmation of participation will be in November 2013. Presenters at the Symposium will be invited to consider contributing developed papers for the special issue of the Journal.

All correspondence and submissions to both:
Sarah Atkinson
Sarah Whatley

CFP: Call for contributions: Society of the Query Reader

Call for contributions: Society of the Query Reader

Society of the Query Reader
The INC Reader Series, edited by Geert Lovink, give an overview of the present day research, critique, and artistic practices in a thematic research field at once broad and limited. The set up is multidisciplinary, with academic (humanities, social sciences, software studies etc.), artistic, and activist contributors.

Following the success of the previous INC readers we would like to put together an anthology with key texts considering online search and search engines. In parallel with the second Society of the Query conference which will take place in Amsterdam on November 7-8 2013, the Institute of Network Cultures is devoted to produce a reader that brings together actual theory about the foundation and history of search, the economics of search engines, search and education, alternatives, and much more.

This publication is edited by René König and Miriam Rasch, and produced by the Institute of Network Cultures in Amsterdam, to be launched early 2014. It will be open access and available in print and various digital formats (see below for information on the INC reader series).

Theory and Foundations of Search // Googlization: Mapping Google’s Dominance // Search Engines and Education // Searching Elsewhere: Non-Western Perspectives // Personalization: Testing the Filter Bubble // Regulation in a Globalizing World // Localization as the New Paradigm // Software Matters: Sociotechnical and Algorithmic Cultures // Showcasing Alternative Search Engines

Internet, visual culture and media scholars, researchers, artists, curators, producers, lawyers, engineers, open-source and open-content advocates, activists, conference participants, and others to submit materials and proposals.

We welcome interviews, dialogues, essays and articles, images (b/w), email exchanges, manifestos, with a maximum of 8,000 words, but preferably shorter at around 5,000 words. For scope and style, take a look at the previous INC Readers and the style guide (pdf).

Send in your proposal (500 words max.) before June 15th, 2013. You may expect a response before July 15th, 2013.

September 15th, 2013.

Miriam Rasch (publications Institute of Network Cultures) at miriam[at]networkcultures[dot]org
Society of the Query:
INC readers:

CFP: CALL FOR ABSTRACTS: Production Studies, Volume II

CALL FOR ABSTRACTS: Production Studies, Volume II
June 3, 2013 – 12:39 pm |
Please consider submitting and/or forwarding:

CALL FOR ABSTRACTS: Production Studies, Volume II

Setting its lens on the storied nature of media industries practices and their practitioners, Production Studies: Cultural Studies of Media Industries (Routledge, 2009) called for a return to studying local, regional, and national economies of media through the perspectives of media makers and production cultures. Studies of media workplace cultures, invisible labor, trade mythologies, as well as social relationships and power dynamics in the workplace are now often elements of a well-rounded industrial critique. The varied work of production studies researchers provides a range of self-reflexive interdisciplinary approaches to examining the roles of cultural producers and lay theories of their practices. Five years after Production Studies, it is time to assess where cultural studies of production are going, and where they may take us next.

Editors Vicki Mayer (Tulane University), Miranda Banks (Emerson College), and Bridget Conor (King’s College London) seek chapter proposals for the second volume of Production Studies. We are especially interested in reading new approaches to the study of production across a wide range of media industries (music, publishing, video games, web design, etc.) and from across the globe. Abstracts should be 500-700 words and include a biographical background. Selected authors would be asked to turn in first drafts of their 6000-word chapters by May 1, 2014.

Please address your abstracts and inquiries to Vicki ( by October 1, 2013.

Vicki Mayer
Editor in Chief
Television & New Media

in media res: The Environment in the Media


The Environment in the Media [June 3 – June 7, 2013]

Monday, June 3, 2013 – Sara J. Grossman (Rutgers University-Newark) presents: Wind Map: Visualizing Environmental Mobility

Tuesday, June 4, 2013 – Allison Page (University of Minnesota) presents: It’s Easy to Be Green

Wednesday, June 5, 2013 – Mél Hogan (University of Colorado – Boulder) presents: The Node Pole as the Archive’s Underbelly?

Thursday, June 6, 2013 – Rachel Silverman (Embry Riddle University) presents: God Made a Farmer

Friday, June 7, 2013 – Garrett Broad (University of Southern California, Annenberg School for Communication) presents: Dodge Ram Made a Farmer

Theme week organized by Lauren Cramer (Georgia State University) and Jason Puckett (Georgia State University).


Congress 2013

Andrea Zeffiro will be presenting our co-authored paper “Suture and Scars: Evidencing the Struggles of Academic Feminism” at Congress 2013


University of Victoria June 2013

Congress 2013 is being hosted by the University of Victoria in Victoria, British Columbia. The theme for this year’s Congress is “@ the edge.” The Academic Convenor of Congress 2013 is Dr. Andrew Rippin.

Unrivaled in scope and impact, the annual Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences is known simply as “Congress.” Organized by the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences (CFHSS), Congress brings together academics, researchers, policy-makers, and practitioners to share findings, refine ideas, and build partnerships that will help shape the Canada of tomorrow.


Panel 2C:
Cornett A221

Disclosing and Documenting/ Divulgation et documentation
Chair/Présidente: Shoshana Amielle Magnet, Univesity of Ottawa
Shoshana Amielle Magnet
Univesity of Ottawa
Representing Insect Sexuality: Queer Theory, Life in the Undergrowth and Green Porno

Caitlin McKinney
York University
10,000 Images, One Scanner, Two Volunteers: Digital Media at the Feminist Archive

Matthew J. Bowman,
Kenneth C. Werbin
Wilfrid Laurier Univeristy
In or Out? Stories of Social Media, Sexuality & Queer Identity

Andrea Zeffiro
Emily Carr University of Art and Design
Mél Hogan
University of Colorado
Suture and Scars: Evidencing the Struggles of Academic Feminism

Program (PDF)

Google’s Suggestive Archive

“Never forget that Google collects data for a commercial purpose. It is not a public archive. Besides this, the Google search engine is getting more and more ‘polluted’, coming up with useless and predictable search outcomes.” – Lovink 

As you type, Google’s algorithm predicts and displays search queries based on other users’ search activities and the contents of web pages indexed by Google. (ref)

Not everyone sees the same suggestions; it can depend on location and language.

Popularity is also a factor, but some less popular searches might be shown above more popular ones, if Google deems them more relevant. (ref)

Google Autocomplete also has what the company calls a “freshness layer.” If there are terms that suddenly spike in popularity in the short term, these can appear as suggestions, even if they haven’t gained long-term popularity. (ref)

Things about nationality (not religion though) are removed from “suggestions”, as are:

– Hate or violence related suggestions
– Personally identifiable information in suggestions
– Porn & adult-content related suggestions
– Legally mandated removals
– Piracy-related suggestions

Google has been sued a few times over problematic “suggestions”. (ref and ref)

The following is my experiment in our collective mindset, with “suggestions” made by the Google search engine, documented for the past three years… and ongoing.



free speech
hate speech
sex work
tom cruise

References (to explore)

Murphy, Samantha 2012. How a Google Search Travels Around the World [INFOGRAPHIC]

Beall, Jeffrey. 2010. How Google uses metadata to improve search results. The Serials Librarian 59(1): 40–53. Taylor & Francis Group. Link.

Google Autocomplete:

Blachman, Nancy and Jerry Peek. 2011. Google Guide. Part II: Understanding Results. Cached Pages. Posted December 28, 2011.

Google Guide. 2007. Google Help Forum. Google. Technology overview.

Keen, Andrew. Interview with Siva Vaidhyanathan about The Googlization of Everything: How one company is disrupting commerce, culture, and community. SXSW. Link


The following is an interview I conducted with video and performance artist Dayna McLeod. McLeod’s work is ripe with humour and socially charged situations and she has received funding for video projects from the Canada Council and the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec. Over the course of the last month, we have been exchanging emails about her video editing process, drawing particular attention to self-imposed rules and the politics of remixing popular television shows. The following transcript contains the highlights from this conversation.

Original interview on Vague Terrain:

Mél Hogan: Describe your process for working on videos like Nothing Compares to You. How much time did that video take to make – from finding scripts to editing, etc. What are the steps in making a video like that: Watching shows, finding scripts, mapping out content. Tell me everything in detail, unless, of course, it’s a secret.

Dayna McLeod: Nothing Compares to You took 6 months to make. I downloaded the first season from a bittorent site, and found the first season of scripts transcribed by fans at These transcripts were saved as pdfs, making them easy to search. At first, I had made some fairly insane rules for myself that I later broke: originally, I searched the transcripts for each word in the song in order; so if I took “It’s” -the first word of Nothing Compares 2 U- from episode 1 and found it, then I would search for “been” from the next episode, in order, until I found it. So if I didn’t find “been” until episode 5, then I would start my search for “seven” in episode 6, and the search would continue numerically and loop back to episode 1 once I reached the last episode of season 1. These rules proved to be insanely tedious, and I threw them out after working on the piece for two months, when I had only gotten through the first verse. It was really important for me to have House perform the entire song—a rule I only broke twice, ie: Foreman says “yard” because not only does House never say “yard” (for the line, “in the backyard”), I could not make him say it by splicing together words, as I did with other words that I couldn’t find him saying, intact. I also wanted to ensure that House was on camera when he said each word, which also proved to be impossible.


[Nothing Compares to You]

MH: Tell me more about these rules. How do you decide which rules to set for yourself? Why have rules in the first place?

DMC: For found footage/quick-cut projects like this, I need to have rules. Otherwise, it’s too easy to get lost in all of the possibilities, especially when I’m looking for such small sound bites. The rules seem to write themselves at first and are a bit of a rush: can I meet my own challenge? It’s like I’m competing against myself. Sometimes setting rules is the best way to jumpstart my brain to a better solution, and throw the rules out completely. That’s extremely satisfying; setting rigid rules and finding a better process that makes these rules seem ridiculous.

MH: Why do you do what you do? What time of day do you work? Is the process meditative? How many hours in a row can you work at this?

DMC: I’m not sure if this video making process was particularly meditative; it was more of an endurance challenge. I usually work at night, or all day, depending on the project and my other time commitments. A project like this is both addictive and repulsive; addictive because it’s a challenge to see if I can do it, and repulsive, because after about 5 hours in a row of working on it, I start to force words to work, and they don’t, and it’s frustrating. Also watching the same show over and over again, especially in 1-second sound bites, becomes annoying and irritating, especially when you aren’t having success, or you only make it through one line in an editing session. That’s how I know when to stop, when I can’t stand the show or the searching anymore, and I start to force things that I end up undoing when I come back to the edit.

MH: You show your work online, at festivals, in performances. Can you tell me a bit about how these work for you? What each context provides?

DMC: Obviously, there is a huge difference between watching work in a festival and watching it on a computer or portable device. I house almost all of my videos on my website at This is a portfolio site, and given the digital reality of media, is a way to show work to anyone with a relatively good internet connection, anywhere in the world. But festival play is my favorite way to show work; sitting in a theatre watching videos with likeminded festival goers is fantastic, and similar to a Cabaret audience, you know if your video is funny, not funny, boring, or entertaining because everyone reacts naturally. I also use video in my performance work, often playing with the false reality of projection, characterization, improv and karaoke.

MH: How do you choose your themes? Why popular TV shows?

DMC: I love tv: I love bad tv, I love good tv, and I will pretty much watch anything. I think it’s fair to say that I’m a critical viewer, but I also enjoy watching. I don’t see myself as a passive viewer, and these videos are essentially my interactive participation in existing mainstream culture.

In television, there are repeating patterns of storylines that we can see in different series. For example, shows often have Christmas, Hanukah or holiday themed, birthday, or “issue” oriented episodes. For me, these “issue” shows become a fairly significant marker of our media culture, a snapshot of where we are socially: Natalie almost gets raped in The Facts of Life (1) (1981) during a mugging and empowers herself by taking a self-defense class. Dana Plato wears blackface to confront a racist boyfriend in Diff’rent Strokes (2) (1980). After 4 seasons, Ellen DeGeneres comes out on her show, Ellen (3) (1997). These were all significant tv moments for me as an evolving viewer, having grown up with tv, and seeing the power of it. These examples were also considered to be ground-breaking, but in contemporary television, these themes are as commonplace as a Christmas special within a series. “Racism”, “gay”, “abuse”, “eating disorder”, “molestation”, “rape” are commonplace themes, and the reason I put these in quotes is that they are often heavy-handed, especially in sitcoms and dramedies. Lately, I’ve become distracted by when these agendas overwhelm the show itself: Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Gay, Gay, Gay, is an example of me short-cutting an episode of Boston Legal by cutting it down to the essence of what the maker’s agenda is, ie: the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy of the US military.


[Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Gay, Gay, Gay]

MH: This kind of collage work is really your signature style. How would you describe your work aesthetically, politically and artistically?

DMC: YouTube and online attention spans have demonstrated to me that you have about 15 seconds to capture someone’s attention, and maybe 1 minute to keep it, if you’re lucky, so I like to get to the point quickly, and this is why I love the short video format.

Aesthetically and artistically, the collage videos are about the content and cutting to the chase. Recently, I’ve been working with both an additive and reductive process: Nothing Compares to You is additive- I’m searching for specific content and putting it together to make something new from the source material. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Gay, Gay, Gay and the Secret Messages series are reductive because I’m taking the episode or film, and cutting out the irrelevant content (to my rules). After the challenge is met, I then have to make decisions about the final cut- adding the sweeping melodramatic chords from the song forNothing Compares to You, the timing of the music, do I cover up the cuts for words I’ve spliced together, how do I end the piece, what happens in the 20 second bridge in the middle of the video? These are all choices that get resolved in the edit, but are obviously integral to the final version.

Politically, most of my work is pretty fucking GAY. It doesn’t apologize or assume the victim position, the quiet queer, the polite lesbian, the normative gay. And critics, audiences and programmers tell me that that in itself, is political: I’m here, I’m queer, get used to watching my videos.


[Ultimate SUB Ultimate DOM]

MH: Your work is, I think, a commentary on television culture itself, and so the projects demand that TV be your pool of sources. Who do you imagine as your audience? Does it matter if they are well versed in television culture or pop culture? How important are those common reference points?

DMC: This is a good question, because it keeps coming up. I think the best way to address this is to look at 2 pieces that I’ve made for essentially the same (queer) audience. Ultimate SUB Ultimate DOM: Maria Von Trapp & Mary Poppins imagines Maria Von Trapp fromThe Sound of Music as a submissive to the Mother Superior, begging for mercy and looking for a spanking, and Mary Poppins as the Mother Superior, wielding a dildo-sheathed umbrella and a ball-gag. Cut to a monologue about this fantasy scenario, I used footage from both films to illustrate this fictitious relationship, assuming that most viewers, queer or straight would be familiar with these characters. However, if you don’t know who these character are or aren’t familiar with their embodiment by Julie Andrews, does this matter? Are the signifiers of Nun and British Nanny clear enough for you within the video to enjoy the subversion of putting them in an S&M scenario? And, contrarily, if you are intimately familiar with these characters, then you will hopefully enjoy references to their actions that I make outside of the video that might not be clear to others, like Maria being punished for dressing children in drapery, or Mary Poppins’ umbrella fetish. That’s Right Diana Barry, You Needed Me, is a very Canadian piece and I don’t think it will play much outside of Canada. Originally commissioned as a performance for Anne Made Me Gay curated by Moynan King and Rosemary Rowe at Buddies in Bad Times in Toronto, this video uses Anne Murray and Anne of Green Gables in a karaoke mash-up. I cut the 1984, made-for-CBC television version of Anne of Green Gables staring Megan Follows, to Anne Murray’s, You Needed Me. Now, if you’re already asking who the hell Anne Murray, Megan Follows or Anne of Green Gables are, or what the hell the CBC is, well, I feel we have our answer.

I also see this work as related to 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon; whenever I watch tv or film and see actors appear in something else as a different character, does this add to your viewing experience or take away from it? Do the antics and drama that actors get up to off camera (hello Mel Gibson and Charlie Sheen) impact how we watch media? Does it affect the story? Try it: the next time you watch something with an actor you’ve seen before, think of everything you know about that actor, and every show you’ve seen them in – how does it affect the story you’re watching right now?


[That’s Right Diana Barry, You Needed Me]

MH: You distribute your works internationally and nationally. Has there ever been a copyright issue? Do you worry about copyright at all? Are distributors reluctant to distribute your stuff b/c you don’t clear rights? (Clearing rights would be impossible in your case.)

DMC: I use artist-run distribution centres in Canada to distribute my work, but festivals and broadcasters with copyright infringement policies won’t play these kinds of work, for fear of legal action because the copyright infringement becomes their (financial) responsibility.

MH: Tell me how you see copyright as a political issue.

DMC: Invariably, when I show work that contains copyright material, someone will ask how can I make it- how do I “get around” copyright. These are good questions, and ones that I take very seriously. In 2000, I won an online contest for Best Comedy and Audience Choice Award for How to Fake an Orgasm as part of the PlanetOut Queer Short Movie Awards. This video is a one-shot monologue with PJ Harvey’s album, Rid of Me playing in the background. I used it because she moans and screams rather dramatically throughout the album, and I wanted to time my talk about faking orgasms with these outbursts. PlanetOut wanted to distribute all of the winners (there were 5 categories) on dvd, but insisted that I clear the rights to this music. I couldn’t, and did not end up on the dvd. This was an important lesson for me, because it made me aware of the implications and consequences of using copyright material in my work right at the beginning of my video art career, and I made a choice to continue, because my work is about pop culture- it needs the original property in order to critique it. Without Julie Andrews as Maria Von Trapp and Mary Poppins, Ultimate SUB Ultimate DOM is meaningless. Without Dr. House, Prince or Sinéad O’Connor, I could not make Nothing Compares to You.

More and more mashup artists are citing Fair Use (in the US) (4) as a means to legally use copyright material, a pre-emptive strike against legal action because Fair Use allows for parody, and as long as there is no damage to the original property in the marketplace, then it is A-OK to use. (5) However, one is supposed to ask for permission from the property holder to claim Fair Use if we haven’t afforded to purchase the rights, so we are essentially asking permission for legal approval to subvert the very thing we are using. Another concern I have with even talking about Fair Use in relation to my work is that by doing so, I am acknowledging that I’ve done something wrong and that someone else, an authority [read: “The Man”] needs to approve it.

And sure, there is the argument that these corporations, (who have put a stronghold on media culture) are the ones making the property in the first place- it’s theirs, they own it. But what about us as consumption junkies? I was brought up with Mickey Mouse™, Coca-Cola™ and Nike™. We went to Disneyland, I had the watch, the bedspread, the t-shirt, the videos- I drank the Kool-Aid™. Don’t I “own” part of this culture? Don’t I have “rights”? When I repeat a Family Guy joke, do a James Bond impression, say “just do it” or sing a song in the shower from a Disney musical, aren’t I enforcing the brand? Isn’t it mine, too? Aren’t I… helping? Or do I owe someone money for my soapy rendition of, When You Wish Upon A Star? And perhaps this is an example of my watching too much Law & Order, but who evaluates whether or not my use of the material is damaging to the original property? Paranoid projections on my part assume that making two wholesome, family-friendly characters like Maria Von Trapp and Mary Poppins lesbian lovers with a taste for S&M, might be considered harmful to the Disney Corporation™ by the Disney Corporation™. Much like my queerness, I don’t see my art practice as illegal.


(1) “Fear Strikes Back”, Season 3, Episode 2, original air date: 11/4/1981: CBS Entertainment. “The Facts of Life Season 3 Episode Guide.” CBS Interactive Inc, 2011. Web. 23 Jul 2011.
(2) “Skin Deep or True Blue (a.k.a.) Guess Who?”, Season 2, Episode 22, original air date: 2/20/1980: CBS Entertainment. “Diff’rent Strokes Season 2 Episode Guide.” CBS Interactive Inc, 2011. Web. 23 Jul 2011. .
(3) The Puppy Episode (part 1 and 2) Season 4, Episode 22, original air date: 4/30/1997: : CBS Entertainment. “Ellen Season 4 Episode Guide.” CBS Interactive Inc, 2011. Web. 23 Jul 2011.
(4) Nolo. “What Is Fair Use?.” Nolo, 2010. Web. 1 Aug 2011. .
(5) I reference this American approach to copyright here and not Canada’s Fair Dealing policy because of the murkiness of international copyright policies/laws and because of American global domination in the realm of familiarity and media culture, similar to my reasons for using American generated material in the first place: media culture identity trumps Canadian identity.

Download original from Vague Terrain.

Artengine Blog: Video Cache – Activating the Archive

This interview takes as a starting point the VIDEO CACHE project. Hogan’s research into defunct video art repositories online raises many questions about the ephemeral nature of digital culture, and the social/cultural parameters that frame the preservation of and access to such materials.
Video Cache

VIDEO CACHE is a research creation project emerging from Mél Hogan’s doctoral research (, in collaboration with Penny McCann, director of SAW Video in Ottawa, and Groupe intervention video (GIV) in Montreal.

VIDEO CACHE took place on November 24, 2010 at GIV. It was a public screening of ten works selected by McCann from the SAW Video Mediatheque collection, for which artists’ fees were paid by GIV. The Mediatheque is Canada’s first large-scale attempt to use the web as a ‘living archive’ –its server crashed in 2009 and the project has been offline since. VIDEO CACHE was also a month-long online exhibit ( showcasing these ten works, carefully documented and recontextualised for the web. The documentation for VIDEO CACHE remains online, and the event catalogue is available via print-on-demand (

On the one hand, VIDEO CACHE served to document the Mediatheque project by updating the context and addressing in a practical way what it means to ‘activate’ the online archive. On the other hand, it was and remains an entity onto itself. VIDEO CACHE has become an opportunity for Hogan to bring a creative dimension to documentation and to address loss: while it is the ‘cache’ that makes the Mediatheque’s traces visible and re-visit-able, it is the ‘crash’ that signals its ongoing (archival) value.

Mél Hogan is completing her PhD in the Joint Doctorate in Communication at Concordia University, Montreal. web: email: twitter: @mel_hogan

You’ve talked about there being a paradox in the way digital culture is created and shared and the way it is preserved. How do you think preservation, creation, and use should be interrelated in the digital realm?

I don’t know that the paradox needs to be resolved so much as it needs to be acknowledged and understood within digital preservation debates. In my work what stands out is that more attention needs to be paid to digital flows, to circulation, and to the interface and database that facilitate and mask distribution online. Preservation, as an idea and as an ideal, is transformed online, though for some reason, stating this is always a bit controversial.

In archives (traditionally) the emphasis has been on long-term preservation, which more often than not has meant rendering ‘originals’ inaccessible in the present as a means to protect or safeguard them for the future. Because archival discourse and practice have come a long way in the last decade to adapt to the continually changing technoscape, I don’t want to make it sound like the tension is between the traditional, as material/offline, and the new, as digital/online. I concentrate on the digital online as a complex realm when I study the archive, but obviously the discourses and ideas are shared with, if not borrowed from, years of traditional archival theory. I think it is almost impossible not to rely on these established ideas and systems, but at the same time, I think it is important to move beyond them and beyond comparisons between material/digital, offline/online, mainly because the foundational archival concepts—the original, the authentic, and the integral—are conceived of differently in the digital realm. So there is a need for a new basis, a point of analysis that is of the web. We need to start talking about iteration, versions, repetition, and flow…

I think preservation, creation, and use are already interrelated in the digital realm—and that the archival conundrum actually lies in the fact that these elements are difficult to distinguish from each other. I think, if anything, the digital realm will keep moving in the direction of embedding the archive into technologies of creation, dissemination, and display. So maybe the question is how do we conceive of preservation, creation, and use as distinct entities in the digital online realm—rather than interrelated—and if a distinction is no longer possible, what the implications are of that interrelatedness.

You said that in your work ‘more attention needs to be paid to digital flows, to circulation itself, and to the interface and database that facilitate and mask distribution online’. Can you talk a bit more about this and how you think the interrelation between the ‘front end’ and ‘back end’ of online systems informs our perception and use of the archive?

When I say digital flows need to be addressed, I’m talking about community as much as I’m taking about trajectory. It’s an idea I’ve been stuck on for a while but also have a hard time articulating. From reading Ann Cvetkovich, Wendy HK Chun, Josephine Bosma, Anjali Arondekar, Tess Takahashi and others, I’m reminded of the underlying communities—online and offline—the people with a need and compulsion to collect, so that later, something can be made sense of, revealed. The archive ultimately makes possible connections that are sometimes dangerous or undesirable within a particular time and place. My hunch is that while the web has the potential to highlight the connections between people and their documented pasts, and with unprecedented reach, it also risks amalgamating everything into a large undifferentiated database that completely overlooks and overwrites the affective and the unarchivable.

We pay a lot of attention to digital content as objects, albeit virtual, when really an important part of what distinguishes the digital from its material counterparts is, I think, its movement, circulation, flow… the way people share the digital as a space, and travel through that space. Digital stuff is easy to copy—much of what we do on the computer is a form of duplication—and as many artists, theorists, and archivists have pointed out, these copies can be identical to ‘originals.’ Copies are also non-rival in consumption, which has forced us to seriously reconsider value and to come up with alternative economies, which so far seem most successful when thought of as network-creation itself. The mapping out of content, including links between digital nodes, constitutes digital trajectories, and this leads me to question the potential for archival theories that could emerge out of focusing on digital flows and online circulation, rather than the content-centric view imposed onto the digital. I’d like to expand my current project into theories of the web as a mobile archive, or a transient archive—something that highlights the passage of content, but also the movement of creators. And in turn, this means thinking about localization in contrast to the shifting place and space of the virtual archive…

As for the relationship between the front end and the back end, I think that we literally interact with an interface without knowing much of what generates our experiences online beyond that top layer. This isn’t new or limited to the web—this is basically our relationship to most technologies—but in the last few years, separating content from style and function (or form), has been pushed by developers. This has been mainly because browsers display content differently, and the separation made accessibility standards possible, making it easy to quickly and efficiently change the look of the interface without affecting content. Ultimately, the idea was to have form follow function, that is, to have use determine the appearance. So if we can take that kind of approach into account for the online archive, we begin to see what ideals shape the possibilities of the web for preservation.

Video Cache

What role do you think video artists or other digital content creators should play in the preservation of their own work?

I think this a really hard question to answer, but I’m going to respond from a personal point of view, as someone who makes video… and I am fully aware that I might make archivists and distributors shudder. I’m really for online access in principle, though I understand that in practice, it takes time, know-how, money, resources, etc. I haven’t even bothered to upload most of my videos online, so this is an ideal, a philosophical position. But it’s an ideal by which Canadian video distributors have not yet been seduced, and probably will not adopt anytime soon. And I get this—I get that making decisions about large valuable collections is something to think about carefully because once work is posted online, it simultaneously belongs to nobody and everybody.

Part of what inspires me to launch works into cyberspace is the politics of community-based activism that were about getting stuff out, sharing, exchanging ideas. There was an urgency and purpose. And as the tools became increasingly accessible, video art was about countering the mainstream in terms of both representation and means of sharing. But now it seems like the web has taken access to another level, and this is again shifting the politics of video art.

A lot of the politics that came out of video are similar to what we hear now about the web—in terms of its democratizing potential—and yet, the more video becomes common, the more precious the distinctions between art and the vernacular seem to become.

I think that there has to be some sort of middle ground—I prefer to upload videos to my own server than to YouTube for example, whose terms of use aren’t OK with me, unless I make a project with social networks in mind at the onset. But more and more artists use YouTube because it is so ubiquitous and saves on bandwidth and space. I think that online has to be thought of as many things—many contexts. So for example, if a video is shown online because someone has reviewed it, interviewed the artist, or curated an event for the work, this should make distributors and artists very eager to upload video online as part of this context. I don’t really understand the tight hold on video in these cases.

The fact that a video can be posted and embedded in numerous online contexts does not generally appeal to video distributors in Canada, who would rather see works maintained and presented in controlled environments where issues of resolution, duration, format, storage, and so on, are all carefully calculated to maintain the scarcity model on which they rest. The idea is to keep video art out of the ‘clutter’ of vernacular video—away from YouTube or on a distinct channel within it—so as to retain a curatorial sensibility.

For the archivists reading this, I have to refer to Josephine Bosma’s idea about rethinking loss as the antithesis to preservation because it gives elegance to these ideas. She writes, “We may have a lot to gain from losing control over digital objects. We should consider the ability of some artists to embrace an inherent loss of control over their work less as a challenge to conservation, and more as an inspiration to a solution. […] Both openness to a vital context and openness in terms of physical, material and technological accessibility may well be the best way forward in the strategy of conserving art in the environment of new, networked media.” [1]

My personal idea of what role artists and content creators should play in the preservation of their own work or collections is aligned with Bosma, and others who believe that setting work free allows for unpredictable modes of fan-based archiving tactics to happen. If we think of preservation as a process to keep work ‘alive,’ I can’t think of a better system—even if it is highly unpredictable—than the web. Except, as pointed out by Lucas Hilderbrand, the trend towards online distribution may mean that collection habits change, making it more difficult to keep works than with VHS or DVD, for example. [2]

So for content creators, I think that the idea of preservation has to be disentangled from marketing strategies, which isn’t easy by any means. In fact, the question of how to monetize content on the web may be the question nobody can answer; this demands an unprecedented level of innovation from video distributors whose best move may in fact be to opt out of the online realm altogether or wait for the hype train to pass… if it ever does.

Video Cache

The VIDEO CACHE collaboration with SAW Video activated the archive by screening some of the works from the crashed Mediatheque repository. Re-presentation through emulation or other means is a preservation strategy often undertaken with technological art of many kinds. Did you see VIDEO CACHE in this light at all, as simultaneously documenting and preserving the works?

Yes, I see VIDEO CACHE as a documentation project, but perhaps more importantly as a means of highlighting the ways in which the politics of the archive—any archive—are a reflection of the social movement(s) from which they emerge, including art movement(s). Video art history is imbued with politics and counter-movements, and these shape the discourses surrounding the video art archive on the web.

I see it less as an attempt to preserve the work within a long-term strategy where the material objects (DVDs for example) are central to the project’s history, and more in terms of preservation-as-conversation, keeping the project ‘alive’ by way of continued dialogue. Rooted in a feminist methodology, I frame VIDEO CACHE as way of bringing to the forefront the people involved in the Mediatheque—as artists or web developers or both—and their understandings of the process and labour involved, along with how their memories shape the ideals of video art and of the archive. It’s important to remember that this all started in the early 2000s, long before YouTube and broadband internet. It’s also important to mention that this project was funded as an online archive—that concept made sense very early on somehow, in that the promise of the web for preservation was something to invest in seriously, backed by hundreds of thousands of dollars of government money.


In some ways, activating the archive through a collaboratively curated event serves to document it better than written documentation would on its own; this is research-creation. The VIDEO CACHE screening and the online exhibit preserve and regenerate the Mediatheque, but very differently.

Curating a programme for a screening makes sense when you are talking about video, but it also raises a slew of questions about this assumption, given that as an online archive the Mediatheque didn’t prioritize high quality copies for screening—it was about showcasing video art online. This is a point in video art’s history that demands a look inward rather than forward. It demands a reflection on the trajectory of video art from its activist roots and from is dissident voices against mainstream representation—by women, queers, people of colour, community activists, etc.—to the current place and value of these scarce collections in an art market.

The Mediatheque is a prime case study for an archive that functioned for and through the web and privileged wide access over long-term material preservation of the files. Whether flawed or visionary as an archival approach, VIDEO CACHE preserves this idea, the Mediatheque’s aura, and the conceptual history of the project. VIDEO CACHE was about extending what I have learned from analyzing grant reports and other administrative documents made available to me by SAW Video into a case study, by highlighting preservation issues from 2003 to the present and showcasing the collection as two different modalities.

VIDEO CACHE featured only 10 works of the 486 pieces in the Mediatheque, and this sample was anything but random. So I think it’s worth noting that selection is a subjective part of this preservation process. As the current SAW Video Director, Penny McCann was the best person to make a selection based on the videos’ connections to SAW Video’s institutional history and in relation to those involved in the development of the Mediatheque from the early 2000s on.  (McCann’s curatorial statement:

Eight artists who had work in the original Mediatheque were present for the VIDEO CACHE screening at GIV, on November 24, 2010. As a result, the act of curating, on and offline, along with the discussion that followed the screening, are directly linked to the process of documentation—this event is possibly the most complete piece of documentation that exists about the Mediatheque by the people involved in the project. (

We also discovered quirky and confusing things in the process of organizing VIDEO CACHE, that again speak volumes about the archive’s politics. From November 24, 2010 to December 24, 2010, 9 of the 10 videos screened at GIV were showcased online at Despite being remunerated $200 as part of the Mediatheque in 2003, the distributor, VTape, opted out of letting us show Gunilla Josephson’s Hello Ingmar (2000) for the month-long online exhibit of VIDEO CACHE. VTape continues its research into fees for streaming in order to develop a standard. This apparently applies to works already online and, as is the case for Josephson’s video, works for which the Mediatheque retains online showcasing rights in perpetuity. I don’t think this is VTape’s prerogative alone—the control over video art distribution, its value, and its position within art worlds and markets continues to be debated, with a prevailing Canadian bias towards the ‘web-means-dead’ credo for video art distribution.

Through the process of curating VIDEO CACHE, we unraveled many things about the Mediatheque archival method itself that feed back into the research on documenting the initiative. This is the ideal intervention for me: collaboration that emerges from research and that also uncovers and generates new threads, new concepts, and new problems. It is a highly self-reflexive approach and one that situates the archive as object and source of study.

More recently at the May 2011 Database Narrative Archive conference in Montreal (, Adrian Miles ( asked me why I thought it was necessary to activate or revive the Mediatheque project. I think that collectively we can decide whether there is value to a particular collection—after all, appraisal has always been a crucial step for archivists. Nevertheless, a digital loss or a server crash shouldn’t determine what we keep or discard. Until the Mediatheque is revived, VIDEO CACHE and the trail of documents that have come out of it (like this interview) constitute its main preservation efforts.

In your study of defunct or crashed video repositories, what issues would you highlight related to the sustainability of these types of projects? Are there any specific pitfalls you have identified?

Sustainability, by definition, is the capacity to endure. Endurance is built in to the idea of the archive, and online, as Wendy Chun argues, it’s the ephemeral itself that endures: “Memory, with its constant degeneration, does not equal storage; although artificial memory has historically combined the transitory with the permanent, the passing with the stable, digital media complicates this relationship by making the permanent into an enduring ephemeral, creating unforeseen degenerative links between humans and machines.” [3]

I think identifying pitfalls is a really important step in research that deals with emergent technology and social media. There is a lot of hype and a lot of excitement about the potential of the web to make things happen, and happen differently. That said, I think it’s important to be able to talk about failure in a generative way, even if highlighting issues related to sustainability is sometimes difficult. In this case, for instance, I am dealing with incredible, invaluable, long-established collections, but am addressing only their host organization’s relationship to the web—how they have resisted it, adapted to it, appropriated it, and so on. So I guess I want to start by saying that I recognize the value of the projects—even if they have ‘failed’—and that identifying pitfalls is in line with, rather than against, this kind of recognition.

Generally, what is most striking is that a lot of the pitfalls are relegated, and often mysteriously and suddenly, to technological failures, when in fact much of what happens to archives on and offline can be tracked back to human error and social/cultural parameters. This is what I was able to confirm in my doctoral research, and this is what makes it so complicated; it becomes impossible to make a bullet point list of pitfalls that we can all avoid and build from for future projects. I think engaging with and through technology requires a lot of knowledge on different levels (even with the democratization of media tools), including the upkeep of skills and tracking the constant developments. And this is often downplayed if not made invisible by the interface itself, which in a way becomes another pitfall.

Technology facilitates a lot of things, but ultimately it relies on human decisions and energy, and goals within a specific social, cultural, and legal context. This context also largely determines funding possibilities, the handling of copyright issues, the framing of the relationship between art and ownership, and so on, which then get coded into specific projects online. The process is iterative, and technology certainly influences choices in terms of format, access, and layout, but, as almost everyone I spoke with in this research makes clear, without (human) motivation and energy, online projects die. This probably goes without saying, but there seems to be lot more energy and money going into creating websites than into maintaining them. This is perhaps a pitfall too in the sense that the trend toward constantly creating new projects (though often duplicating entire systems) rather than centralizing or bringing content form disparate sources into one content management system might make upkeep more feasible. I believe this is something that Videographe plans to test out; there has been mention of offering up the viTheque repository as a template and/or platform for other institutions.

In my study of defunct and crashed online video art repositories in a Canadian context, I found that these philosophies of use differ greatly for each project, but most shared a common discourse about the role, place, and importance of the artist. There is a layer of each of the projects—and some more superficially than others—that reflects the history and trajectory of the artists as a category in Canada, as the first country to pay exhibition fees to artists (in the mid 70s). This is, of course, not the case in most countries, and so it explains some of the particular pitfalls that Canadian repositories fall into in terms of maintaining this professionalization of art into the digital realm, and under conditions that differ greatly from similar initiatives elsewhere. So copyright—or the way it is loosely interpreted and applied—is a major element, and I would say pitfall, in most cases of Canadian online video art repositories.

Another pitfall, I think, is the way copyright is being interpreted and, in turn, how technologies are being used to put into measure some of these ideas that, from an archival point of view, seem to pose additional problems rather than provide viable solutions. Technological protection measures, like files that self-erase/destruct after a period of time (chronodégradable), locks based on password protection, locks that limit the number of copies a user can make, and so on, are all ‘solutions’ justified by the desire to protect works from illegal copying (and which by default block fair and legitimate copying). To impart technology with these roles—rather than engaging with these issues as a social process that accounts for fair dealing—is to misconceive of the function of copyright and to throw off its intended balance. Also, with increasingly long terms of copyright (across the globe), this kind of copyright rhetoric becomes commonplace, and access online somehow becomes in itself conceived as an assault to artists’ rights.

Copyright is a major issue, if only because it is conflated with other issues, and as a result, those underlying issues aren’t directly addressed. Copyright—and Creative Commons for that matter—are not systems of remuneration for artists, they simply inform the parameters for using other people’s stuff without asking, beyond fair dealing.

The initiative to create an online repository requires a huge amount of time, resources, knowledge, and money. This is a point I will keep repeating because being for or against copyright isn’t at the crux of the matter. And, while I think that for the most part an open and free exchange of materials circulating via the web is positive for creativity, I do think copyright and Creative Commons alternatives demand that we continue to question ownership in the face of large user-generated content sites that have at their disposal untapped media content.

So this brings me to the issue of funding and financial sustainability. In the projects I have looked at, it seems that funders (often government funding bodies) are eager to fund the creation and development of online repositories for about two years, after which it remains a bit unclear what is expected or how the project is meant to maintain itself. For the most part, these projects are not self-sustaining, and bring in very little in terms of revenues, at least in comparison to the costs incurred maintaining the site.

I try to always think of these pitfalls and failures as generative, but I also think that we have many (too many) examples of how trying to contain and control digital flows backfires in terms of preservation strategies.


1.; “The Gap between Now and Then: On the Conservation of Memory” in Nettitudes
, Let’s Talk Net Art NAi Publishers (2011).


3.; Wendy Hui Kyong Chun (2008) The Enduring Ephemeral, or the Future Is a Memory In: Critical Inquiry 35 (Autumn) The University of Chicago: 148.




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).


To order a hard copy of Video Vortex Reader II email:

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.