Asian Art: an Online Portal to Asian Art in Belgium

In our master Cultural Studies we keep up with modern advancements and theories in our field, and nothing highlights this more than our course on Online Publishing. This year we asked our students to create their own cultural website in teams up to 5 people. The results were more than satisfactory, and in some cases we were blown away by the design and creativity of our students.
Below you’ll find a short article on how one of these groups went to work to create a beautiful and useful website.


AsianArt

Our journey started with an assignment from the Online Publishing course within the Master of Cultural Studies from the KU Leuven.  Five international students coming from different countries and continents found each other through a common love for Asian art.  The term is broad and encompasses a wide variety of expressions such as painting, sculpture, calligraphy, and dance among others; and different mediums: paper, canvas, bronze, ceramics, etc.  There we were: five heads, one passion, and a world of possibilities. Fortunately, there was also one goal, which helped us to start drawing some lines and define what was to become that Asian art website.

There was the brainstorming moment, in which the sky was the limit, and ideas were generated.  But we had to keep it feasible and realistic, so the main boundaries were defined: a portal that consolidated the different venues related to Asian art in Belgium, in other words, we wanted to aggregate in one location the information about art galleries, museums, institutes, and other institutions in Belgium dealing with our topic.  Then we moved on to the next step: identifying the available sources.  So we selected and collected the relevant information partially manually and partially using features offered in existing tools such as “feed” in Drupal Gardens. Oh! By the way, by that moment we had already decided to use Drupal Gardens instead of a fully-fledged installed version of Drupal. First of all because we agreed that Drupal Gardens offered all (or at least most) of the features we needed, further it would be simpler to split the work over an online tool and avoid having to synchronize/consolidate bits and pieces of work from each of us. The following step was to reflect and organize how we wanted to share what we have collected. We decided to group the items by the main actions in the visitor’s mind, in other words, was the user looking for a place to visit and explore Asian art, or was she/he looking for galleries to buy some artworks, or a place to learn? This helped us keep the structure and navigation simple and shallow, which meant that the information was readily available instead of buried under multiple pages (clicks). Hence, we also added the maps to the end of each page.  Regarding the look and feel, we wanted to keep it clean, artsy, and convey the Zen philosophy. Lastly we also wanted to connect our site to social networks not only as a means of “spreading the word”, but also as a solution to providing a platform in which people could discuss topics and post news in a fairly independent location, i.e.: not within the website itself.

In summary, our main steps were as follows:

  • Define the topic and draw the boundaries
  • Identify the available sources
  • Select and collect the relevant information
  • Reflect and organize how we want to share what we have selected
  • Define the tool we wanted to use
  • Create a website to share our work with other Asian art lovers living in Belgium or visiting the country.

Of course it didn’t always run smoothly from one bullet point to the next, and we had some bumps and frustrations along the road, but we suppose it is part of most endeavours. We are happy that we kept moving and hopefully others will have a chance to visit us at http://asianartbe.drupalgardens.com/ !

Daniela Barroso, Aida Khosa, Margarita Konstantinou, Natalia Qi, Noah Zhao

Hypertextual trauma: Porpentine’s Twine games and the borders of self-narration

By Kahn Faassen
(Student Advanced Master in Literary Studies)

Many interesting narrative experiments have hatched in the margins of the Internet. The paper I wrote for the course Literature and Psychoanalysis in the Advanced Master in Literary Studies gave me the opportunity to take a closer look at a very particular type of textual art that has developed online: Twine games.

Faassen1Twine is a free, user-friendly indie game engine which allows a very broad audience to create, share, and experience interactive stories. Many of these new game developers are not part of the demographic usually working for, or targeted by, the mainstream gaming industry and it shows in the works they create. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender (LGBT) artists find in Twine a very useful platform to tell the kind of stories they are interested in, and these stories are markedly different from the narratives primarily written by and marketed towards cisgender heterosexual men. Whereas most games of the latter variety are competitive and control-based, and the player’s primary objective is beating them, many Twine games focus on making the most of their medium’s interactive and storytelling potential, and primarily emphasise player affect and experience.

One game developer in particular jumps out for using Twine to tell stories that matter to her: an online artist named Porpentine. As a transgender woman who struggles with the debilitating effects of trauma and disability, her games are for her a way to authentically deal with gender dysphoria, social stigmatisation and depression, and to reach out to other people who are in similar situations. In my paper I looked at her work as a new form of autopathography, an autobiographical illness narrative irreverently straining the limits of literature, using its medium to the fullest extent to create a rapprochement between the game and the writing subject (as a self-narrative, a kind of textual therapy), and between game and gamer (which gives it an interesting political dimension).

In order to create this proximity of lived experiences, Porpentine uses the Twine game mechanics to create a sense of intimacy, intending her games to be what she calls “sensory plugins for the brain”, which give the player an impression of what it is like to live with certain constrains. The way in which the games attempt to make a deeply personal therapeutic struggle with illness and trauma into an interactive experience is a de-pathologising move, and opens up the possibility of a profound subversion of widely accepted ideas concerning embodiment, gender and normalcy by facilitating player identification.

In her games, Porpentine works with and against constraining elements in a variety of ways. Sometimes she actively pushes against them, such as when she is confronted with the perceived limitations of a programme such as Twine. She constantly experiments with the restrictions of digital media, trying to bridge the gap between what is often thought of as a cold, impersonal means of communication and the intimate, personal stories she wants to tell. One of her games, With Those We Love Alive, introduces a particularly interactive element to involve the player, asking them to mark their skin with ‘sigils’, specific symbols which to them personally signify concepts such as ‘severing’, ‘pain’ or ‘shame’, in the course of the story. This turns the game into a physical experience which the player quite literally carries with them even after the game has ended.

Other times, she exploits the particular structure of the Twine engine, which uses clickable hyperlinks to propel the narrative in ways that allow her to curtail the player’s agency. She does this by forcing the player to go through the same repetitive actions, visiting the same places (links) before allowing him or her to progress with the story. As a consequence, the spatial structure of the games starts to feel claustrophobic and even hostile, creating the impression that its protagonists are stuck in a system that is alienating, harmful, or even deadly, but which they nevertheless help perpetuate. This is a clever and very effective way to implicate an immersed player in a system of violence which, implicitly or explicitly, turns against him- or herself.

The confrontation with these kinds of suffocating systems often culminates in an escape and a self-assertion of the queer disabled subject, who never succeeds in heroically vanquishing the system, but whose very existence challenges it. Motifs of abjection (slime, garbage, etc.) abound as the protagonist assumes a new liminal identity, no longer constrained by a discourse that necrotises their bodies and their modes of self-expression. Not being destroyed by structural violence is shown to be a radical act in and of itself.

The choice for a kind of art that focusses on boundaries, restrictions and liminality is evidently not an arbitrary one. Porpentine herself is constrained by the lasting effects trauma and chronic pain have on her art, which results in her deliberate choice for what she calls ‘trash art’. Trash art is an art of conscious failure, a kind of paradigmatic shift which recognises that illness and disability have a profound impact on the artist as well as on the art which they produce. It takes into account that poor and socially marginalised artists are stuck in systems centred around productivity which are heavily informed by a discourse based on the normalisation of a particular type of individuals and the exclusion and pathologisation of others. Trash art is an attempt to no longer be part of a structure that actively works against the artist, a choice made out of the pure necessity to create art in accordance with the body, to work around the restrictions one’s mental or physical health and socio-economic situation imposes upon the artistic process. It is a manifesto for art that can be characterised by interruptions (for medication, rest, etc.), for art that is fragmentary, transitory, unfinished, and often made out of the only materials that are available to a poor and socially marginalised artist: garbage. This new paradigm opens up the possibility for disabled subjects to reject a discourse that has rejected them, which allows them to make art that is no longer immaculate and bloodless, but actually focusses on how self-expression and embodiment intersect.

Porpentine’s games are remarkable not only because of the complex position they occupy at the junction of queer identity and disability, but also because of her use of an unconventional platform such as Twine in order to explore new ways to reach her audience, facilitate player identification, and in doing so challenge the stifling discourse on the subject of pathology and marginalised identities. Despite (or perhaps because of) her attempts to communicate herself authentically and create stories which focus on emotional proximity and empathy, she frequently brushes against the limitations of language, which leads to interesting experiments with metaphor as the games struggle to come to terms with the inherent resistance and opacity of language. There is no doubt that, whether they are seen as authopathographies, queer narratives, or simply novel intermedial experiments, the works created by artists such as Porpentine are rich and rewarding to investigate, but it remains to be seen if the unconventional hypertext stories that are being written in the dark recesses of the Internet will ever get the mainstream attention they deserve.

2/03 at STUK: Public Talk Contemporary Dance #1 – Artistic collaboration: a collaborative talk with Rudi Laermans & Eleanor Bauer

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The conversation between Eleanor Bauer and Rudi Laermans will be an experiment in public thought and intellectual exchange on the topic of artistic collaboration and collaborative methods within the field of contemporary dance. Laermans extensively discusses the different modes, the internal dynamics and the implicit political horizon of collaborative practices in the second part of his recent book Moving Together: Theorizing and Making Contemporary Dance. One of the key terms he proposes to conceptualize artistic collaboration from a sociological as well as a political point of view is the notion of ‘commoning’. Bauer has addressed collaboration and commons in group pieces such as Tentative Assembly (the tent piece) (2012) and even more explicitly in the current performing arts practice exchange platform and archive that she co-initiated with Ellen Söderhult and Alice Chauchat called Nobody’s Business. Bauer and Laermans already exchanged views on collaboration’s potential and politics but regard this public collaborative talk as a unique occasion to move on. Both prepare questions for each other inspired by their respective work and previous exchanges, and will invite the audience to collaborate in their collaborative talk on collaborative practices within contemporary dance.

Entrance is free

Rudi Laermans is professor of social theory at the Faculty of Social Sciences of KU Leuven and also a regular guest teacher at P.A.R.T.S., the Brussels based international dance school directed by A.T. De Keersmaeker. His research and publications are situated within the fields of social & cultural theory, cultural & arts policy, and the sociology of the performing arts. He recently published ‘Moving Together: Theorizing and Making Contemporary Dance’, in which he unfolds a theoretical perspective on the work of several Flemish based dance artists such as A.T. De Keersmaeker or Meg Stuart on the one hand and analyzes the co-creation of contemporary dance from a sociological point of view on the other.

Eleanor Bauer is a performer and performance-maker based in Brussels, Belgium. Originally from Santa Fe, New Mexico, she studied dance, choreography, and performance at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts (BFA, Dance) and P.A.R.T.S. (Performing Arts Research and Training Studios, Brussels). Bauer is an artist in residence at Kaaitheater in Brussels from 2013-2016. She works at the intersections of choreography, dance, writing, music, and performance art. Her pieces range in scale and media towards challenging categories, methods of producing, and ways of thinking performance. Her versatile works such as ELEANOR!, At LargeThe Heather Lang Show by Eleanor Bauer and Vice Versa(BIG GIRLS DO BIG THINGS), A Dance for the Newest Age (the triangle piece), Tentative Assembly (the tent piece)Midday & Eternity (the time piece), and BAUER HOUR have toured internationally to critical acclaim. Along side making her own work, Bauer has performed with Xavier Le Roy, Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker/Rosas, Boris Charmatz, Emily Roysdon, Matthew Barney, Mette Ingvartsen, Trisha Brown, Ictus contemporary music ensemble, The Knife, and others. Bauer also frequently teaches, mentors, and writes about dance and performance. For more information, visit www.goodmove.be.


Source: http://www.stuk.be/en/program/public-talk-contemporary-dance-1-%E2%80%93%C2%A0artistic-collaboration-collaborative-talk 

Learning from Kenneth Goldsmith

By Jan Baetens

In 1972, Robert Venturi helped us to “learn from Las Vegas”, and architecture was no longer the same. Since more than two decades, Kenneth Goldsmith forces us to rethink writing, and one cannot insist enough on the necessity to learn from him.

kennethgoldsmith2

But who is Kenneth Goldsmith? First of all a pioneer of digital archiving. The “Ubuweb” (Ubu being both an institutional reference –University of Buffalo– and a nod to Alfred Jarry’s “merdre” character) he created – almost singlehandedly – is the most important multimedia archive of historical and contemporary avant-garde documents (all in open access, all for free). Second, one of the most outstanding practitioners of “uncreative writing” –a term coined in collaboration with Marjorie Perloff, the author of a groundbreaking study, Uncreative Genius (Chicago UP, 2010), on all those who invent by reusing, reappropriating, and reshaping existing textual material. Goldsmith has made important theoretical contributions to this strand of theory and criticism as well, but he is best known for the stunning “uncreative” works he produced himself, such as for instance Seven American Deaths and Disasters (Powerhouse books, 2013), in which he transcribes historic radio and television reports of national tragedies as they unfurl. The result appears to be dramatically different from what we expect, for these reports are discussing much more than just the actualities: they offer an inside view of ways of speaking and thinking that go unnoticed but that here come to the forefront. Third, he is also one of those who have radically blurred the twin fields of writing and imaging, refusing to make distinctions between our way of making pictures (with cameras) and texts (with word processing machines).

But what does Kenneth Goldsmith actually do when he starts copying and pasting texts? The most important rule he follows is that of completeness. Instead of taking out fragments or excerpts, he tries to reproduce complete files (he is infamously known for having transcribed literally every word of a single issue of the NYT in his book Day (Figures, 2003). Exhaustive? Yes. Exhausting? Yes. Boring? Yes. Fascinating. Absolutely…

Goldsmith’s reuse of a given archive, which is of course never chosen at random, involves a double shift. The first one is formal. Normally, when we reuse archives, we are looking for items that we can put after that in lists. This approach is mainly lexical. Goldsmith, on the contrary, emphasizes issues of syntax, the main problem being the rearranging and reordering of the material. The second one is semantic. Normally, archive fans are always in search of “jewels”, be they aesthetically or historically rewarding and exceptional or just weird or bizarre. In short, the archive is a kind of reservoir of masterpieces, and once these masterpieces have been identified one is allowed to forget about the rest. Unlike this anthologizing approach, Goldsmith’s work is interested in the crude repetition of what is apparently and untenably banal, yet this very repetition often produces totally unforeseen and surprising effects.

No one goes as much against the grain as Kenneth Goldsmith, even in an era where everybody claims to do something with ready-mades, sampling and reappropriationist art. What his work teaches us, is not to look for the “exceptional”, but to produce it by looking very closely at the totally unexceptional.

A concluding remark: does all this have something to do with “big data”? Not at all? For “big data” research does not ask the questions Goldsmith is asking. It does not work with the archive as a real text (a big data archive is just a reservoir for something different, which by the way offers only rarely surprising findings). It does not take risks, for example, of being boring.

(this text is the complete “transcription” of a pitch given at the Leuven hackathon of “E-Space Photography” on Feb. 25th 2016)

http://espacephotography.com/2016/02/26/e-space-photo-hack-leuven-kick-off/