Response to John and his answer 6/25:
You wrote: "You must be proposing some model of artistic practice that is both new and meaningfully distinct from forms of everday engagement with the pragmatics of existence to posit an activist as an artist, or else the artist/activist's relation to the "old" art models and institutions is purely negative or parasitic, rather than dialectical."
Here are two relations problematic: First, the relation between art and activism, and second, the dichotomy negative/dialectical or parasitic/non-parasitic.
First: art/activism: I can´t see art and activism as two different frameworks which have to be defined before they can be related. Questions of differentiation and the development of autopoietic systems are part of the history of modernization. There are wider discussions if art can relate to ritual forms of societies within a modern society.
Meanwhile Arthur C. Danto reflects transformations of ritual forms within performance art as antimodern or negative in relation to the development of modern forms of presentation (autonomous paintings) there are other traditions based on Georges Bataille and Antonin Artaud which provoke a rethinking of processes of socialization and which try to open minds to hidden and forbidden but important processes. Victor Turner, Richard Schechner and Hermann Nitsch´s Orgien Myterien Theater are relevant points of reference. These authors reconceptualize the relations between elder ritual forms and newer separations of social and theatrical kinds of action. These separations are the consequence of modern differentiations between systems. These differentiations are in flux and not stable.
Second: parasitic/original: Our self-education concerning our "tastes" and social behaviors is `parasitic´ before we are able to develop more differentiated concepts or attitudes and `new´ concepts which try to cause a break with conventions and traditions.
Now this is a trivial knowledge but discussions in the seventies had to problematize the belief of painters in the originality of their studio production. Realistic painters like Rudolf Baranik conceptualized their studio as a sphere outside social and economic influences. This sphere was for them the base to start a social critique with artistic forms of presentation (Ramsden, Mel: Perimeters of Protest. In: The Fox. no.1/1975, p.145). The studio is for artrists like Baranik a not preconditioned `void´ as if the artist is a genius not preconditioned by his lifeworld.
Conceptual strategies with new media, mass media forms of information and activistic strategies were the counterpart. All these strategies were parasitic for a formalist criticism meanwhile conceptual artists like Victor Burgin reflected the forms of new media and included reflections of formalist aspects of montage and photography. Victor Burgin integrated formal photographic skills into his photo-text-combinations meanwhile Joseph Kosuth argued at the "Symposion über Fotografie" in 1979 (Forum Stadtpark, Graz) against artistic forms of nonconceptual photographers like Lee Friedlander (in "1979" and in the interview in Kunstforum vol.35/1979). Burgin discussed Friedlander´s "Hillcrest" (1970)in "Looking at Photographs" (Screen Education, no.24/1977) as a positive example for photographic composition: "Photography is one signifying system among others in society which produces the ideological subject in the same movement in which they `communicate´ their ostensible `contents´. It is therefore important that photography theory take account of the production of this subject as the complex totality of its determinations are nuanced and constrained in their passage through and across photographs.
Burgin conceptualizes photography in relation to the history of photography. Conceptualism doesn´t negate the established uses of photography but he investigates them and uses them in reflected manner. Conceptualism and the redescriptions of the history of Historicism converge in the seventies. `New´ and conceptual uses of photography in series and photo-text-combinations must not contradict elder uses of photography. Conceptual strategies offer a research in the `normal´ use of photography f.e. in journalism, advertisement and private snaps (Bernhard Johannes Blume, Dieter Zimmer). Burgin is `parasitic´ in his reflections and use of the skills and theories of photography. He is eclectic in his use of theories of Roland Barthes, Umberto Eco and Julia Kristeva. Here we have an example of parasitic and eclectic strategies in (one of) the best, most `original´ sense(s). It is better to use the word `constructivistic´ as a substitute for `original´ because it implies that you can use fragments of codes and established uses of media in a way which transforms or transgresses their usual conceptualizations.
Mel Ramsden in "On Practice" and Michael Corris in "Historic Discourse" (The Fox, no.1/1975, p.66-95) described the constant need of self critical processes via cognitive processes of remapping the contextual frames of identification. The internalization of a self identification within a white middle class and their economic and intellectual needs is discussed as a process of (self) education which already began before the artist was able to reflect them.
The critique of processes of internalization influenced and caused by commercialization and patterns of a career is now trivial because Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger and Allan Mc Collum used its critique as a basis for their famous forms of presentation. A criticism of problematic economic factors of the distribution of art within art journals and the art market was replaced by affirmative and cynical strategies. The institution of art became the basic framework of artistic activities. This framework allowed parasitic strategies like the reuse/appropriation of photographs (Sherrie Levine, Richard Prince) and paintings (Mike Bidlo, Elaine Sturtevant) meanwhile they were sold in the same manner as "originals". You can develop "negative" or "dialectical" kinds of interpretation for these strategies of appropriation. It depends on your discursive framework how you deal with them. But you remain within the given framework of art criticism and art history.
The index project left fixed kinds of mapping separate fields of discourse and used different forms of "semantic networks" (Charles Harrison/Marvin Minsky) for remappings since 1972. You find annotations in "Blurting in A & L" about the differences between the dynamic redescriptions/reconceptualizations in an enlarged framework on one side and the limited and static framework of the institution of art (and its consequences for a practice of artists who don´t want to problematize these limitations) on the other side.
If the use of the term "parasitic" is senseless in relation to "originality" because the conceptualizations of "originality" became problematical: How many senseful uses of the term "parasitic" remain?
Methods of reconstructing intertextuality lead back to hybrid semantic networks and demonstrate the processes of transformations of frameworks, "Kunstgattungen"/art media included (The discourse on intertextuality began with Bachtin´s reconstruction of the beginnings of the history of the novel as a hybrid): media in flux. Intertextuality is a research of different forms and their combinations within works or projects. Intertextuality implies a research of the semantics of these forms. The history of the use and codes of forms as signs within established contexts is necessary. The forms are not conceptualized as causes for immediate experience. They are conceptualized as preconditioned/semanticized.
The research of intertextuality and the acceptance of hybrid works interfere. Hybrid works reuse or remix different sources without combining them in a new, "original" framework. Does the parasitic use of analog and/or digital copy strategies allow a simple return to questions of originality?
Back to "First: art/activism": A wider framework of communication is needed instead of old strategies to define the autonomy of art or an autopoietic system of art (Members of the faculty art history want such definitions as their legitimation). The reflections on the necessity of a wider contextual framework are part of the development of models of (ways of world and media) observations apart from the discourses of experts who work within the different faculties of universities.
The artist as an expert for (models of) generalization: He is one but not the only relevant expert for generalizations and negations of the experts´ limited fields of insights. The problems in discourses on art begin with this non-monopolistic position of artists.
"Semantic networks" are one of the possible concepts to demonstrate the need for generalization. Other examples offer hypertext with the possibility of links between all elements and the distribution of data in the net via search systems which can´t separate different expert systems. Links don´t stop at the boundaries of academic frameworks. Digital networks and semantic networks combined have characteristics which can be used as a stronger argument for reconceptualizations of dynamic processes of remapping and the development of new versions of maps/worlds. Cognitive, communicative and media strata are interwoven in these maps.
The question of a clear marked difference between art and activism (or other activities) is an `old´ problem dependend on the name `art´ and its preconditions which we can transform or transgress. The usual definitions of art as activism or activism as art or activistic tendencies within art are derivations of a conceptualization of art and activism as completely different frameworks. Activism against changing conditions of digitalisation and telecommunication concerns all media practices which depend on these conditions. The problem of defining and acting for the preconditions of activities within expert cultures is not only a problem for experts within the art system: The relation between the source code of web pages and forms of presentation ruled by this code includes the problem of the relation between concept and presentation in a manner which is relevant for all net users.
This problem was an inherent part of Event Cards of George Brecht and other Fluxus artists before it became a problem of conceptual artists: The change from a non-notational, originals producing practice of art (painting, drawing) to an art which differentiates between notation and realisation constituted intermedia art. The relations between notations and realizations in early intermedia art became the forerunner of net.art.
The digital languages of most experimental notations of Post Cage/Fluxus artists are not art specific. It became a problem for the discourse on art if realisations with art external characteristics are only recognizable as art within an art context and if this contextualization is really a condition of an art practice. Now we discuss problems of art with the knowledge that these basic problems are not solved by widely accepted theories. We live with and within changing frameworks for practices in a wider surrounding of art meanwhile definitions of art don´t exist for the intermedia problems which can be used as secure basics for further discussions. But nobody expects such basic definitions for explications of the framework of literature.
The practices within the net change before expert cultures can react with theories and definitions. The inclusion of text related art to the repertory of museums prolongs only a problem which object art posed: Do we need canonized forms of presentation? If the museum is the last canonizing instance: Do we need museums? Street actions, Blurting in A & L, The Fox, Art-Language and net.art can be documented and collected by museums - but do they resist museumization? My answer is: Yes, they can´t be integrated without an import of possible transgressions of the established art context.
The distribution of information within the net became a social relevant factor of its own. Can you refer to elder definitions of art and/or the art world meanwhile you want to problematize networks with interwoven social and media strata? Thomas Dreher (TDreher@onlinehome.de)