Living in the Bay Area we don't ACTUALLY have more access to the world wide whack, but it usually feels like we do. So many web "content producers" (otherwise known as writers, designers, musicians, and filmmakers) live in this region, that many of the most popular sites have a distinct Bay Area flair.
The flow between the monetizing interwebs and the Bay's creative-for-creative's-sake scenes is perhaps more seamless, or perhaps at higher volume, or perhaps simply better understood than elsewhere. Or maybe it's none of those things, but we still THINK we invented the internet. Whatever. I'm just trying to point out that it would be silly to do a year-end best list that doesn't integrate online content on a Bay-specific art blog. In fact, it's the interaction between online presences and offline presences that is so spicy ... and weird. These never integrate the way you'd expect.
For example, one of the more online-present people I know is Charlie Anders, publisher of permanently-on-hiatus Other magazine, co-editor (with Annalee Newitz, also editor of Other) of the Gawker science fiction blog io9, and analog novelist. Charlie is perhaps best known in the Bay, however, as the organizer and host of Writers with Drinks, quite simply the best reading series in the Bay Area. Aside from the lively combo of genres and disciplines, and a great crowd that is both drunk 'n' rowdy, and literary 'n' focused, what makes Writers with Drinks the best is Charlie's fictional biographies of the readers and performers she hosts. Writers with Drinks is, however, entirely a real-world event. Charlie doesn't document the series or podcast or nothin', so there's little on the internet about an event that really has to be experienced live. The video (below) is one of the few internet samples of her introductory art to be had.
Speaking of io9, this terrific blog represents both a loss and a gain for San Francisco. Because of her editorship of said blog, which premiered a year ago, former Wired writer and Techsploitation columnist Annalee Newitz stopped writing for both publications, online and off. I used to rely on her to tell me how to feel about the new technologies. Now I rely on her to tell me what to think about sci-fi. It's not really entirely a fair trade, since I have plenty of people to tell me about sci-fi. In fact, that's what the internet was created for. However, io9 -- which originates creative content that can best be described as "pseudo-sociological studies of sci-fi" (alliteration unintentional) -- has gathered up a collection of interesting bloggers, including Geoff Manaugh, a senior editor for Dwell magazine, whose BLDG BLOG is one of my favorite - er - spatial-relations-in-a-macro-sense blogs.
There's an online posse of people who get off on architecture, landscape, geography, and spatial use and design generally. Manaugh is one of the best of these. Another favorite -- probably my most favoritest -- is non-Bay-based architect Alexander Trevi of Pruned blog. Pruned focuses more on landscape design and land use; BLDG BLOG focuses more on architecture; but both jump off of our increasing obsession with geographical and space issues, made particularly piquant in a space-crunch area like the Bay, to spin out ideas, speculations, and fantasies about what is happening, or could happen, in the world of environment-adaptation. It's utterly appropriate that the design work and reportage happens in the real world and in print, whereas the speculation and flights of imagination happen online.
The internet as a site of disciplinary blurring is distinctly a Bay Area theme. Despite our self-image as technologically and politically cutting edge, we Bay Areans do LOVE to patrol the borders of our categories. Look at this blog you're reading, for example: here we are, online, but we insist on splitting visual off from theater, dance, music, film, and lit. When you have such strict categorical divisions, it's easy to just not see, or think of, things that mix media, or fall outside of disciplinary boundaries. Thus you'll often see a much stronger online presence for many interdisciplinary artists -- and much more interdisciplinarity (interdisciplinarialism? interdisciplination?) for technology-drunk artists -- than with artists who find it easy to stay inside the lines.
One of my favorite experimentations from both categories comes from Oakland-based Praba Pilar, broadly speaking a performance artist, whose practice focuses on the intersections between technology and a complex of community issues encompassing agriculture, labor, women, and immigrant communities. Pilar's current ongoing project, The Church of Nano Bio Info Cogno, has her setting up chapels to hold services in a variety of arts locations, including Yerba Buena Center for the Arts during this year's Bay Area Now 5.
Until recently, this performance about technology has been -- ironically -- entirely analog, with no real online component. But this year, Pilar started building a presence on online multi-user world Second Life, and 2009 will see the dedication of a virtual church currently being built in the alternate world. Pilar will integrate her offline priestess persona with her online avatar to hold services. You'll WANT to keep an eye out for this. Don't worry, I'll update you. (On the entirely analog tip, her performance on September 11, 2008 at the San Francisco Art Institute with radical performance artist Larry Bogad, commemorating the Chilean coup on Sept 11, 1973, was one of the best things I saw this year.)
Another obvious use of the internet for artists is creating online portfolios to make their documentation available, on the cheap, to curators and viewers the world over. An obvious but difficult use, because artists are no more tech savvy than the rest of us slobs, yet their work demands not merely a more challenging array of applications to display it effectively, but also a good website design (this is VISUAL art after all). This year I got turned on to an online application that artists I know are using, called Other People's Pixels. (This is a for-pay service, but I have NO relationship with them and am promoting this simply because I?m impressed.)
Like blogging applications Typepad or WordPress, OPP (yeah, you know me) allows you to sign up, pick a template, upload content easily, and you're done. I LOVE stuff like this! It's how artist Jenifer Wofford (whom I reviewed last month) got her extensive, yet pretty and easily navigable site up. Another recent convert is Sita Bhaumik, whose annual underground motel show, in which she and a collective of women artists take over a motel room for 24 hours, make art there, and then throw a party on-site, is one of the highlights of my year.
Getting online is a way to monetize your practice, if you have work to sell, like Wofford does. Then there are radical artists, making work in a traditionally political vein -- in murals and printmaking, which necessarily makes the work more transportable, democratized ... and salable. The artist collective of Taller Tupac Amaru, comprised of Favianna Rodriguez, Jesus Barraza, and Melanie Rodriguez, is commited to both activism on behalf of the empowering screenprinting medium (teaching it, sharing it), and making it possible for themselves to live off of their artmaking.
This is perhaps the most exciting movement I've seen in the East Bay arts: the unapologetic and clear-eyed melding of radical politics and commerce, on the site of artmaking. Taller Tupac Amaru is part of a community network that includes the Eastside Arts Alliance, and the Village Bottoms Cultural District: projects that aim, in different ways, to promote creativity and community, home and space ownership in the Fruitvale and West Oakland, respectively. Taller Tupac Amaru holds an open studios art sale periodically at Favianna's family home, into which the entire house and family are drawn: the artists display work on the walls, the family serves food in the backyard, a band plays, and artists talks are held. You just missed the winter open studio last weekend, but you can buy work online and stay up to date on when the next opportunity happens. It's a great time, and another of my favorite art things in the Bay.
None of what I've discussed happening above is possible without internet use and integration. It's not merely a matter of using emails instead of fliers, of turning from analog to digital versions of the same thing. In all of these cases, whether the project is internet-based or not, the use of the internet to market the project changes the way the events happen.
So, I hereby sign off from 2008 (I have one other post coming, but whatever) and dedicate 2009 to greater real-world/internet integration in the arts ... both in the hot crucible of my mind, and in my future posts right here at KQED.
Happy Holidays, everyone!