A Conversation with Barry Jones: How To Generate PR for Ephemeral Works of Internet Art

 

Barry Jones, Associate Professor of Art at Austin Peay University in Clarksville, Tennessee and I met recently at the 2012 ISEA (International Symposium on Electronic Art) conference where Professor Jones was hosting a panel on how to get greater public attention–PR–for Internet/New Media/Digital Art projects. Actually when we (the talk was attended by a little shy of a dozen people, which was pretty good for that time slot) all arrived, Professor Jones mentioned that the title of the panel “How To Generate PR for an Ephemeral Award and Exhibition System?” was a little misleading. His panel was less a “how to” and more of a “how would you do it?”

Here’s Barry’s abstract:

How To Generate PR for an Ephemeral Award and Exhibition System?

“Terminal (http://www.terminalapsu.org/) is a space sponsored by the Department of Art and the Center of Excellence in the Creative Arts at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, TN. Its mission is to showcase and examine internet and new media art. Annually, Terminal gives out four $500 awards for the creation of new internet artworks. Since its founding in 2007, Terminal has had difficulty building an audience, both inside the art world and without. This paper will explore the difficulties in generating PR for an ephemeral award and exhibition system and strategies to get important work the attention it deserves.”

What better place to investigate this subject than at a world-class electronic art conference? I was impressed by Barry’s attempt to turn the tables on the usual panel format, from a “one to many” information exchange to a “many to one” exchange. Why not take advantage of the incredible brain trust at ISEA and hold your own think tank? Professor Jones got the conversation started and made his case about TERMINAL, a one-person curatorial and funding organization he runs out of Austin Peay. TERMINAL actually provides funding to New Media/Digital Artists. Let me repeat that. TERMINAL funds artists. Coming from my perspective, as an artist seeking funding, this is nothing short of heroic, and a rare thing for a university to actually share scarce funding dollars.

Since I had this guest blogger stint coming up with the Art21 Blog, I decided on the spot to enter into a conversation with Professor Jones and try to incite a broader conversation on the subject. Why? Because maybe the difficulties of TERMINAL to generate PR for Internet and New Media artworks indicates some broader trends, some continuing struggle of new art to gain a greater foothold and public profile.

So these blog entries will begin with TERMINAL and venture out to the broader picture. My hope is to provide a little of that PR profile to Barry Jones and TERMINAL and kick off a conversation about whether or not Internet, Digital and other New Media Artworks get proportionately less attention than they deserve. Conversation is what this medium is all about, and any strategies used successfully by others might work for TERMINAL and beyond. In the interest of full disclosure, I need to be clear that as a New Media Artist, I have a vested interest in this subject. So like Picasso, I enter this blogging project as a spy looking for clues, and since this is a public forum, any clues uncovered by what we hope will be a frenetic conversation, will benefit everyone who cares enough to read and contribute. To kick things off, I will begin with a conversation with Barry Jones and end with a call for the community to share what they think. Here goes:

DC  Spensely: Professor Jones, please share some details about the difficulties you have had generating PR for TERMINAL.

PBJ: I hope I don’t sound to whiny here …

I try to think about TERMINAL’s mission in two ways: to expose my University and local community to important and groundbreaking internet art and to engage and contribute to the art world. I have had some success locally with PR, but the greatest hurdle I face is education. Even though artists have been making art on the internet for over 20 years, it is an incredibly new concept to most people. I find that I have to attempt to define the medium in every press release, no easy task since the medium is continually redefining itself. I still get many emails and phone calls asking where the gallery is located.

The greatest difficulty I have faced is entering a conversation with the larger art world. This may be due to a southern inferiority complex, but it seems that the home base of an internet art site matters when it comes to art world attention. Does the art world pay more attention to organizations based in larger art centers? Also, TERMINAL is a one-person operation, which makes doing the PR right a challenge.

DC: Do you think this is a broader trend, this lack of acknowledgment for Internet, Digital and New Media Arts? And if so, why?

PBJ:  I certainly do think this is a larger trend. The logistics of exhibiting new media work is difficult for most institutions (equipment, technical knowledge, etc.) and internet-based work in particular creates even greater problems since it does not require a gallery or museum at all. The fact that most of this work is ephemeral and not object based also creates problems, and as far as PR goes, it can be incredibly difficult to explain.

DC: Since you asked this question, what have you uncovered? What strategies have you encountered and have you had any successes you can share?

PBJ: I have discovered that more people are aware of TERMINAL and its programing than I thought at first, so some of what I am doing is working. But in general, traffic to the site has not increased much in the last few years and I’m still uncertain exactly how to change that. The best suggestion so far has been to open the site up to more contributors and increase the number of people directly involved with TERMINAL.

DC : Just for the record, I am not directly involved in TERMINAL at this time except for the subject of this guest blogger stint. With that out of the way, I would like to encapsulate a few of Barry’s questions and open up a larger conversation with the Art21 Blog’s audience. Here they are again:

1. How can artists and organizations that create and display internet based artworks overcome the “education gap” and shape the art viewer’s understanding and expectations of internet art to make it conceptually accessible to a wider audience?

2. Does the “home base” of an Internet art site matter in terms of how seriously the work is taken or whether it is even considered in the “art world” conversation at all? If so, how might one overcome this geographic or regional challenge?

3. Does Internet based/New Media Art get less recognition than it deserves in an “object based” or “venue specific” art world? If so, how can this challenge be overcome?

Tell me what you think in the comments section below!

Thank you for sharing your opinions and ideas with the Art21 audience!

 

 


  1. I think Internet art is highly accessible, and “Internet based artworks” promote themselves if they are any good. Perhaps it’s not a matter of public relations, but a foundational problem. The artists who grew into the Internet are in my experience far less interesting than those who grew out of it.

    Is making an arts organization online going to draw an audience? Absolutely not, the networks that people use to share and discover information are already in place, it’s simply a matter of taking advantage of them.

    I’d I may use an analogy, starting an art website is like opening a mom and pop grocery store next to a Walmart super center, it’s not going to work.

    Get your ass on twitter and tumblr and Facebook, but more importantly… Make new media that people actually want to see!

    http://www.captainmurphy.xxx/
    ^^^
    This guy was nobody a couple of weeks ago.

    Reply

    DC Spensley Reply:

    Heh, Thanks for your response Henry!

    You seem to be invoking the old digital native argument which infers late adoption of technology, which I don’t think is the case here. There is a big difference between being “Internet Famous” and “Artworld Relevant”, Internet fame being somewhat fleeting and more about fashion and memes than real substance. Ideally Art could be somewhat less fluffy.

    Regarding your comment about Twitter, In my experience, the demographic for Twitter is NOT what people expect, and so called “digital natives” AKA code for twenty somethings, actually don’t use Twitter nearly as much as “thirty to fourty somethings”. So I don’t think this is a generational thing at all, not about a lack of understanding of HOW to get the word out, rather maybe difficulty in crafting a message that is appropriate for an Art audience and context.

    “Make work that people actually want to see”. That’s true in every case I think although, I’m not sure the Captain Murphy stuff is anywhere near something I “wanted to see” but I certainly get your point.

    -DC

    Reply

  2. You wrote: PBJ: … The best suggestion so far has been to open the site up to more contributors and increase the number of people directly involved with TERMINAL.

    I think this is always true. Get the right people on the bus together and people will pay attention. Plus continue your activities and people will see. As DC knows, I’m really into the gamification of everything right now with an exhibition at the gallery I direct in SF called Come Out and Play, so perhaps there is a way to turn engagement into a game somehow. But without being deeply involved I don’t know how this would actually pan out. regardless, having real world events as well I find always helps create an audience that can then help spread the word into the ether.

    Reply

    DC Spensley Reply:

    Thanks for your reply Justin!

    Inclusion, inclusion, inclusion! Engagement, participation and play! YES! That’s what was missing from art for so long, and I think that development of a community is CRITICAL to success as an artist or an arts organization.

    And while I am myself involved in Gamification in my practice (and actually have work in Come Out and Play festival) making everything a game is not really possible or desirable in all cases. The lessons regarding play, participation and engagement however, might be employed regardless.

    But that’s still not hitting the nail on the head regarding the art context. How is it that you get artworld people and curators interested? Also, how do you do PR? Does your organization have a budget for this or rely on Social Media as Henry suggests above?

    Reply

    Barry Jones Reply:

    Yes, thank you Justin.

    It certainly does seem that Terminal needs to be a lot more inclusive and have more voices involved.

    Reply

  3. james says:

    In this case I believe that the response (viewers) scales to Mr Joseph’s commitment, and being only one person without community involvement and posting every other week the number of visitors and general visibility has adjusted to his size.

    Other than praying to “go viral” which might happen to a particular project hosted there (though at least one project seems to be non-exclusive) I would hire a PR firm / intern / student assistant.

    My response seems crass, but when you consider the folks that are at the top of the category Rhizome, Turbulence, Furtherfield etc they seem to have a good deal of community involvement.

    Will I return to his site? If a link comes up in facebook, certainly.

    Reply

    DC Spensley Reply:

    Not crass at all! This is exactly the kind of conversation that we need. Tough love, followed by salient opinions and ideas for change. The suggestions you give, particularly the last two (since paid for PR is not ideal) seem right on the mark (intern, student assistant) as does the suggestion to work on developing a supporting community.

    Also, I am going to put this link in FB right this moment!

    Reply

  4. “terminal” looks to be a great project/resource. Congrats on all the hard work. I share some of your frustrations, being a media artist located in Reno, Nevada – one tends to be off the map in terms of the larger “artworld”. That separation, however, is also part of what makes things potentially interesting as well. Media art in general is largely peripheral to the “artworld”, netart is likely even further off the radar. I am not sure this is such a bad thing considering the state of the “artworld” just now.

    I don’t know if there is any magic bullet to gaining further exposure for media arts projects on or using the internet. One never knows what will “go viral” as James notes in his post.

    I suspect it is a combination of keeping a well designed web presence up to date and actively developing a comprehensive email list, FB updates, groups, etc.. Mostly, would seem to keep supporting really interesting and edgy projects. I know from my own experience working to share my own work, or events that I’ve directed (this being the most recent: http://www.unr.edu/art/prospectives12.html), it is always hit or miss.

    I would assume you announce projects on Rhizome, Furtherfield, etc., one might also think about paying for a add on “eartnow”, I used this once, to publicize “http://www.iraqimemorial.org”, not sure of this was greatly beneficial but for a couple of hundred dollars once reaches many thousands of inboxes.

    Anyway, my two cents worth – I think we are working on the fringes – in a way, it is important to embrace this while hoping that occasionally something we do may strike a cord.

    Would seem your website is a bit like an alternative gallery space might have been in the 70’s or 80’s – audiences tend to be small but enthusiastic. We are in a niche I guess, in terms of being artists engaged in doing something not quite in the ordinary realm of things online.

    Reply

    Barry Jones Reply:

    Thanks for the link to Prospectives12. Great show!

    I really like your comparison to alternative spaces in the 70’s and 80’s. That’s exactly how it feels.

    Reply

  5. Currently art is based on collecting and collections of objects, Internet art is something that is more fluid and transitory. Displaying Internet art has the feel of being closer to street art, in that it is posted in a specific location (although Internet art can be viewed globally) that doesn’t readily create an object that can be placed or categorized in a collection.

    Reply

  6. Oberon Onmura says:

    “… when you consider the folks that are at the top of the category Rhizome, Turbulence, Furtherfield etc they seem to have a good deal of community involvement.”

    It’s comforting to imagine that an internet presence means that one’s “community” is everywhere. Maybe if you’re Amazon or Zappo this is definitely true. But if your goal is to create a community of artists, then having a physical presence in a place where artists live and work is essential. People like to hang out, talk about art, drink beer.

    With very few exceptions that come to mind, college/university art departments are not natural gathering places for working artists, either physically or virtually. Nonprofit art spaces and galleries – what used to be known as “alternative art spaces” – are where artists gather around events, workshops, shows. These spaces naturally exist where artists live and work, and serve a hugely important role of bringing people together around current art work and thought. The “PR”, such as it is, is mostly word of mouth – which I’m told is the best kind.

    Looking at the Termiinal website, I don’t get much sense of excitement. None of the work shown there is of much interest, and the site itself isn’t what anyone would call an inventive use of new media technology. I don’t know about the arts community in Tennessee, but from my perspective out here in internet land, nothing on the site draws me to seek to become part of the Terminal community. So, if that’s the goal, in my opinion he needs to develop the site and find some interesting artists (yes, you can email artists and offer them a gig).

    But before doing that, I would open a beer, sit back a while, and think deep thoughts about what Terminal has to offer that would require artists to seek it out.

    Reply

    Barry Jones Reply:

    Thanks Oberon.

    I think I will have to politely disagree with your assessment of the quality of artists featured at Terminal. There is some pretty great work there that has garnered international attention.

    Should one of the benefits of an on-line space be that geography doesn’t matter?

    Reply

    DC Spensley Reply:

    The qualitative argument in Art nearly always comes up, and almost always is subjective. Related subjective opinions tend to group together do they not? and become demographic opinions right? Is there a connection between these aggregated opinions and whether an artist or artwork gets attention? In which channel?

    Reply

  7. 1. How can artists and organizations that create and display internet based artworks overcome the “education gap” and shape the art viewer’s understanding and expectations of internet art to make it conceptually accessible to a wider audience?
    I’d like to reframe the question in saying that the best art asks good questions while being accessible. Aaron Koblin does this masterfully through works like the Sheep Project, where he got throngs of people to create drawings of sheep for pennies through crowdsourcing while he sold them for $20 each. That piece had a low entry point and a high conceptual ceiling.

    Therefore, the perception of an ‘education gap’ is merely inarticulation or an mismatch of intent, such as trying to fit academic art or showing art that centers on the discussion of the nature of art to a mass audience. Or, maybe it’s just bad art. Well-made/contextually framed Internet Art should presume no familiarity with the technology in order to have an outstanding experience.
    2. Does the “home base” of an Internet art site matter in terms of how seriously the work is taken or whether it is even considered in the “art world” conversation at all? If so, how might one overcome this geographic or regional challenge?
    The great thing about the Internet is that when you’re online, no one knows you’re an artist. All kidding aside, geography makes little difference, as I was in the Whitney Biennial with RTMark from Canton, Ohio, which is about as far from the global center of the art world as you can get. So, no. Actually, I don’t like to think about whether or not I am considered part of the ‘art world’ conversation at all. It’s akin to Groucho Marx’ adage that he wouldn’t want to be a member of a club that would ever have him as a member – so if you love art and artists, just jump in…

    However, a domain name sets a tone, to be sure. For example, heressomeartandstuff.cc probably won’t score a lot of points. Having a TLD helps and solid design is a must.

    3. Does Internet based/New Media Art get less recognition than it deserves in an “object based” or “venue specific” art world? If so, how can this challenge be overcome?
    That is probably most on-point of all three questions. The collapse of objective art in the 1960’s is the most problematic issue of legitimation in the 20th Century. In the contemporary art world, and let us be clear that when we are speaking about this, we are speaking about the ecosystem of critics, gallerists, collectors, and museums that constitutes the commonly conceived ‘art world’. This is the system that most academic graduate art students or aspiring artists see as the one they want to be part of. Largely speaking, it is only recently that experiential and architectural artists like Turrell, Eliasson, Tiravanija, Abramovic, the FLUXUS artists and so on have made a dent in the ‘art world proper’, but we can also talk about artists like Duchamp as challenging that model as well. In my opinion, unless you have an outstanding concept that transcends the extant material/capital cycle in the ‘art world’, it’s problematic to get recognition in that the museum/gallery ecosystem unless you are able to get external recognition, such as the Wikipedia Art project, which was chronicled in the Wall Street Journal. Aside from this there are major biennials that highlight electronic art, like Zero01, but largely, the “art world” is still largely material; labor invested into material or collectible media translated into capital.
    However, Gregory Sholette offers a parallel solution in his theorization that 80% of the “real” art world is made of ‘dark matter’, or work that does not make it into the blue-chip galleries. This is is in residential galleries, pop-ups, or festivals, and I also include much of Internet Art in this, and there is nothing to lament unless one is intent on the gallery/museum ecosystem.
    The best solution that I have seen to bridging the im-material with material art discourse is to reframe it in ways that the traditional system understands. For example, Mark Napier’s programmatic works are reframed as ‘real-time video’, which places it in an acceptable genre, or Gazira Babeli’s sale of a virtual world on a Flash drive in a wooden crate with artifacts, much like Kara Walker has done. Each of these interface with contemporary art practice in ways that collectors understand without bridging an “education gap.”

    Reply

  8. Some good comments above. A few related points:

    1. I went to see some of the “new media art” at the Terminal website, both at the “Projects” and “Physical Space” pages, clicked on the images, and instead of taking me to a video, or slide show, or web page about the art, or anything that resembles “new media,” each image only goes to the jpeg of the same image. That’s a quick way to lose an audience.

    The images themselves did not look particularly “new media”, and going to the links to the artists’ websites did not show me quickly what was in the exhibition for each artist.

    It’s been nearly two decades, if my recollection is correct, since SigChi noted the “8 second rule.” That meant most people would leave a website if they didn’t find what they want in 8 seconds. And the Internet was on slow modems then.

    2. As for getting “artworld people and curators interested,” which artworld do you mean? There are galleries of electronic art, like Bitforms . They certainly are in an art world — Chelsea, NYC. Or are you looking for recognition in Flash Art or Art in America? Start your own art world. I’ve done that a couple of times. If the art in it is interesting, people in the other art worlds will notice. It may take a decade or two.

    3. As for “Artworld Relevance,” it may be the stuff that departs from any relationship to what an art world considers relevant that is the most interesting art. By the time enough people agree on what is relevant to call it an art world, it’s not new. If you mean artwork that addresses fundamental and eternal questions of the unknowable in aesthetics, don’t expect too many people to be interested while you’re alive. Make sure your medium is archival.

    Reply

  9. A further note on the “8 second rule”: in today’s NYT an article on search engine queries suggests that the time frame has shrunk dramatically.

    “In an experiment several years ago, Google found that people reported more happiness with search even when the results were delivered a few milliseconds faster, at a rate below what the conscious mind can actually perceive. Since then, Google and Microsoft have spent billions on returning faster searches to impatient computer users.”
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/22/technology/in-search-engine-results-a-peek-at-what-we-wonder.html

    Reply

  10. Brian says:

    The reason the organizations located in the major media hubs get more attention is because of cross pollination factor.

    I think the most interesting comment is regarding the place of internet art in the context of the art economy. Without a commodity, where is its proper place? If it cannot be commodified, is it more of a purely communicative medium? To remain ephemeral as were radio programs in times past? Is the problem a matter of context?

    Reply

Leave a Comment

*