t byfield on Sun, 8 Mar 1998 21:47:43 +0100 (MET)

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Re: <nettime> Funding Digital Culture

scp@plexus.org (Sat 03/07/98 at 02:30 PM -0500):

> I'm both intrigued and irritated by this adaweb saga.  Intrigued because it
> highlights a need for discussion about funding online arts entities and the
> pros and cons of their formulas for survival.  Irritated, because of the
> fuss concerning adaweb's of decision simply to stop just because their one
> source of monetary nourishment terminated - to quote Benjamin Weil "...
> they said 'We don't have any more money to fund this,' and then it was our
> decision, more or less, to stop. You know, how could we do it without
> money?"  Obviously sucking on that one corporate teat for the last three
> years produced a mindset that cannot tolerate an existence without its
> regular dolce latte. 

Hm. To begin with, I hope we can dispense with this unfortunate metaphor
of "sucking at the corporate teat": it does little more than infantilize
the recipient, and that at the expense of those beings who possess teats.
Speaking entirely personally, I liked them when I was a tot, and I still
like them; and while I've never seen a corporation with a teat per se, I
recognize that, for some, the power relations embedded in suckling might
seem insufficiently "dignified" or "glorious." It reminds me of that old
saw about some so-and-so who, on encountering a Modern Painting, remarks
that "my kid could have done that," and thereby kills two birds with one
stone: art and children. Anyway...

There's an interesting ambiguity in your very thoughtful remarks: you're
irritated with the fuss but, it seems, a little skeptical about the line
he has taken and the choices he has made. You seem to be saying, basical-
ly, under corporate sponsorship, he's gotten 'soft,' gone 'native,' some-
thing to that effect. Now, I imagine that Mr. Weil--whom I've never seen
or spoken with--would like adaweb to continue. But what's gone unmention-
ed in this storm in a teacup is the possibility that he and his partners
have other considerations or priorities than keeping adaweb alive at any
or all costs--by any means necessary, as it were. At the bottom of these
questions and condemnations is the presumption--rather arrogant, I would
say, and coming from ME that's something--that folding shop is somehow a
failure to fulfill some solemn obligation. This seems strange: as though
the nominal institution had somehow subsumed the potential of the people
it was made of. That this kind of creeping institutionalism would appear
in nettime, of all places, seems especially curious. Just "where" is net-
time? At Desk? At the Thing? In Ljubljana? In Berlin? In London? In Buda-
pest? To be sure, this distribution--as much between *people* as between
sites--is both nettime's strength and its weakness. In the wake of Ljubl-
jana, I heard some grumbling about disorganization, about how there were
no solid resolutions, no definitive programs or advances. And I thought
to myself (and said as much to Vuk, Pit, and others) that this was great:
it's very easy to cement social organization around Programs, but harder
to preserve looser bonds--loyalties, trust, a certain faith--and that, I 
think, is what came of Ljubljana. So here we are, presented with the (to
my mind rather forced) 'spectacle' of adaweb's demise, attended by great
finger-wagging and I-told-you-soing and lesson-learning and whatnot. All
of it privileging the institution over the individual. Now, Mr. Weil may
be (or may have been) an Executive Curator, but that doesn't mean adaweb
was a MVSEVM carved in stone. To demand that of electrical signals built
on a small group of people, at this stage of the game, is excessive, imo.

> At the end of '94 and beginning of '95 a number of arts websites appeared
> among them The Thing, PLEXUS, artnetweb, adaweb, and others.  The
> principals of these organizations had prior acquaintance from dialogue on
> pre-web dial-up BBS's like The Thing.  There was, however, a fundamental
> difference between adaweb and the rest. They were a wholly owned part of a
> parent corporation - one of the cherries on the cake of John Borthwick's
> start-up, WPStudios, an ambitious conglomerate of online publications. The
> rest of us were "independents" that had little or no corporate or state
> funding, and therefore had to constantly devise new ways of paying the
> bills and keeping the marshalls from closing our offices, while at the same
> time building online environments to promote discourse and digital culture.
> I am not declaring financial poverty to be a virtue here, just that
> hardship has been a factor that has necessitated a diverse approach to
> survival, albeit a slower and perhaps erratic development.

And who is to say that adaweb's demise isn't a moment in its personnel's
own erratic development? But, then again, *you* go on to say just that.

> My purpose here is not to put the boot in when the man is down; adaweb has
> made an important contribution and I sincerely hope that Benjamin Weil
> finds a new way of continuing its mission. There are, however, lessons we
> can draw from their dilemma. <...>

And there are contingencies that no amount of lesson-learning will end.


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