Charu Maithani |
Proprioception.in is a website that is dedicated to experimental videos and artists’ films, net art and digital publications. It places itself in the landscape of online viewing practices. It is curated in the format that only one video/film by an artist/filmmaker is on view for a month. Additionally, the chosen video is either remarkable in terms of technique or is a commentary on post-internet living. The video is contextualised by an interview with the artist. The interview helps in illustrating the larger practice of the artist; aesthetics, medium and digital materiality are promptly discussed.
There are several websites that motivated proprioception.in. Proprioception.in takes inspiration from tank.tv, a pioneering website for moving image practices. Vdrome.org and http://www.saisonvideo.com/ also have similar programs of videos by artists and filmmakers. Derives.tv is an excellent website that has resources on and by several European artists and filmmakers. Unfortunately, the website is in French, which limits its access and reach. Proprioception.in situates itself in the context of South Asia and wants to extend itself to South-East and East-Asia bringing together writers, curators, artists and filmmakers from this region in dialogue and exchange.
This piece discusses three main features of the website, proprioception.in, to explicate the current discussion around video and digital art practices online. It will provide a deeper understanding of the relevance of such a website in our context.
The word ‘proprioception’ is a medical term for the relative sense of balance and position of the human body with respect to things around them. In 1906, Charles Scott Sherrington introduced the terms proprioception, interoception and exteroception. Exteroception is the perception of the exterior world, the information of which is provided by exteroceptors -ears, nose, skin and others. Interoception is the perception of human responses like pain, hunger, which is provided by interoceptors that include internal organs. Proprioceptions takes information from proprioreceptors- muscle, tendons, sensory neurons in the inner ear and articular organs- that supply information on light, temperature, sound and other sensory information. Proprioception allows us to walk in darkness without losing balance. It allows us to drive an automobile with our limbs performing automatic functions and allows us to learn and perform new skills by understanding the proprioceptive tasks required for it.
With respect to the website, we automatically interact with the web interface -to play, scroll and use buttons – in accordance with our perceptive and visual literacy. In the context of the website, ‘proprioception’ invokes an individual’s position to the moving image situated in the evolving digital landscape. What is the relation between the viewer and the world in this mediated environment? What impact does it have on our visual culture in the post-internet phase?
Enquiring Online Video as Artistic practice
Viewing experimental film and video art is not easy because there are very few venues, exhibitions and festivals that show them. By functioning as a temporary gallery space, the website can show moving image works to potentially millions of people. While some artists are very protective about keeping their works off the web, releasing only selected images of the work, several others put up all the information and videos of the works online and few others create their works on the web.
Not all videos can be seen online. The closeness of the screen and mobile viewing is not suitable for all works. Of course, some of the works have to be viewed in a particular setting provided in an exhibition. They require collective viewing in a shared time and space. They are presented as an installation and within a context; the viewer can be immersed in the work like the artist intended. As an installation, the artists and filmmakers have more control over the viewing conditions. The viewer walks into the space of the artist while on the internet; the artist’s work is played in any kind of setting – be it a room or on a train; and on any screen size. In several instances, it is perfectly fine to be viewing a video on the web, and in fact better, due to the physical proximity of the screen and ubiety of the interface. The quality of experience of watching videos online has an impact on how we engage with the video. A smaller size will be viewed on a small screen, albeit with more distraction and elements around the viewing screen. A high definition video can be viewed on a large screen, changing the encounter with the video. A single screen can be expanded, collapsed or created into multiple windows, but the video does not lose its cinematic representation. Cinematically, the frame of the video within the frame of a larger window – the browser – is placed in a meaningful relationship of adjacency, which might convey information, aesthetic pleasure or both .
Some videos are made mainly for dissemination through the internet. Websites like proprioception.in have the advantage of access and distribution that the world wide web offers. The system of distribution and consumption are changing. No matter what the form is; film, video, photographs, sound/music, all are transformed into a video that can be viewed and accessed online. So the internet video is not a specific language, but a format by its logic of distribution . The distribution not only propels accessibility, but also convergence. There is a concentration of audiences with similar interests. For proprioception.in to have an impact or even to be a decent database, creating a community, an audience that views and shares the content is very important.
The videos on proprioception.in are a commentary on contemporary times. These are works exploring the conditions of post internet, where artists have moved beyond the novelty of the internet to make art. They provide a critical commentary on media consumption, the culture of remix and reuse to generate multiple meanings, dis/connection in the post-digital society, and the politics of online images and mutation of aesthetic forms. The website is also interested in works that use the characteristics of internet video to make the audience aware of the mediated images on the web by modifying their perception of reality, creating hyperreal experiences and simulations of reality.
Featuring Net Art practices
Digital art practices and art institutions such as museums and galleries have not had a friendly relationship with one another. The relationship, if at all it may be called one, has been clouded with ignorance about each other. The first most prominent instance of digital art practice was in the form of net art . Documenta X was the first big event to feature net art in1997. Catherine David, the curator, brought together different disciplines including writers, filmmakers, sociologists from Asia, Africa and Latin America. For the first time a website was created for Documenta. Curated by artist and curator Simon Lamuniere, the website was conceived as an art project and not merely an information portal. Peter Weibel, the Director of ZKM termed net art as ‘a great power which radically transforms a closed system of object aesthetics into modern art – into an open system of post-modern (or new modern) space of activity’ . In the 2001 Venice Biennale, the Slovenian pavilion presented a computer virus. The source code of the virus, biennale.py, was made to spread in the invitations to this 49th Venice Biennale on the opening day. The source code as well as deinstallation instructions were also made available. It was controversial and received flak for being irresponsible. But at the same time it was exciting, testing the digital medium and highlighting new networks and modes of circulation at a mainstream art event. Conceived to create alternative temporary space, net art is anti-establishment and non-object. It destabilizes the traditional relationship between the spectator and the art object. Since the dawn of digital art practices, the galleries and museums have been unsure of the complex technology based set-up that the works require. Even though net art has been absorbed by many institutions, it largely remains outside their control due to the nature of the internet. Julian Stallabrass talks about other factors that make art institutions more resistant to net art – internet art is associated with tactical media and radical politics. Moreover, the indifference to net art was deepened by the remixing culture where re-appropriation of pop culture images and collage of existing images is a common practice . The reluctance of institutions to integrate net art and forms of digital arts in their discourse has led to an ambivalent relationship with the art world; net art thrives in the creative practices of technologists, designers, coders and digital architects.
Net art projects in India are few. In my research work at Sarai (2015) on net art practices in India, I found out that most of the net art projects in India were produced between 2000 and 2005. With the changing definition of net art, the practices have also undergone a change and questions on newer forms like memes and gifs have to be included. Moreover, with web 2.0, net art can be seen as networked art. This development opens up a whole new series of projects. Currently, proprioception.in includes browser based net art practices only. Though plans to create a grant where artists are invited to create artworks on the web in form of websites, emails, games are in the pipeline.
As a consequence of its form, the website, proprioception.in, is creating a database of net art projects and artists’ videos. Not only can the works be viewed, but interviews with the artists and filmmakers capture the essence of the work and encapsulates its temporality.
Model for Online Curating
The idea of curating the web has its roots in the role of curator as an author. Curators like Harold Szeemann, Walter Hopps saw the role of the curator as a creator of forms and experiences by structuring exhibitions around new ideas, which did not follow a art history genealogy. The role of the contemporary art curator as an entrepreneurial auteur, a “free agent, capable of almost anything”  takes shape in the landscape of the internet. Moreover, the characteristics of web2.0 provide the tools for anyone to create, assimilate and congregate content. This has made curation a more general term, distinct from the art historical context.
Online curatorial practices, like art making, arise and thrive outside institutions. Though institutions often have a web presence, the world wide web is being integrated as a large part of their communications strategy and outreach programmes. The web presence is to direct people to their building, a physical space. Some of these show their collections. On the other hand, a purely digital space has a more informal set-up. It concentrates an audience with similar interests in the ephemeral space on the world wide web. The audience is temporary and permeable as there are no fixed boundaries and restrictions. These attributes can be used as a curatorial methodology. It also marks a reconfiguration of the role of a curator. The world wide web can be read as a network of contexts. Each website presents a context. The hyperlinks and graphics on the webpage lead to other contexts. This is even more true in the current landscape of web 2.0. Website maintainers are called operational filter feeders by Anne-Marie Schleiner, as they feed off other filter feeder sites as well as feed to other filter feeder sites. By ‘filtering’ she means that the links are contextualised, interpreted and filtered through criticism and comments about them . Most aspects of the curatorial role are different in a physical space and web space. Schleiner gives an interesting comparison between the two:
|Past Curator||Future Filter Feeder|
|Museum or gallery exhibition space||Space peripheral, in tandem or 0|
|Art history education||Pop culture criticism, Tech history|
|Ties to wealthy patrons of art||Ties to other Filter Feeders and artists|
|Designer suits and high heels||Pajamas and sex toys|
|Urban Metropolis-located||Dispersed locations|
|Navigates bureaucracy and institutions well||Flows around and avoids institutions|
|Art as Commodity||Ephemera, Extreme preservation challenges|
|Stays within Art Community||Infiltrates, subverts other communities|
It is just the beginning for proprioception.in and has a long way to go before attempting to define a few attributes of moving practices in India. The plans of proprioception.in also include providing a space to digital publications like graphic novels, small specially curated artists’ books and self-published research on visual culture in India in order to expand the visual perspective. The long road ahead includes funding and collaborating with individuals in advancing the process.Proprioception.in takes the changing role of the curator into consideration. Curator in this age of networked art is distributed between various agents including software, program developers, graphic designers, digital artists, operations of world wide web and many more. These agents facilitate the production of the work (be it a video or a program/software), and viewing and or interaction with the work by audiences. The practice and politics of curating in such conditions allows new formations of power and control to be conceptualised and new contradictions to be revealed .
Charu Maithani is a researcher based in New Delhi. She is the founder of proprioception.in.
 Andreas Treske, “Frames Within Frames – Windows and Doors”, in Video Vortex Reader II: Moving Images Beyond YouTube, ed. Geert Lovink and Rachel Sommers Miles (Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 2011), 30
 Gabriel Menotti, “Objets Protégés: The Internet video as Audiovisual format”, in Video Vortex Reader II, ed. Geert Lovink and Rachel Sommers Miles (Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 2011), 70.
 Though algorithmic and graphic art were being created on computer. They were still presented on paper as plotter prints. Photographs had also started being digitally printed on paper in the 1980s.
 Peter Weibel, “Art/Politics in the Online Universe”, Net_Condition: ZKM Online, 1999, http://on1.zkm.de/netcondition/curators/weibel/default_e
 Julian Stallabrass, “Can Art History digest Net Art?”, Netpioneers 1.0 – contextualizing early net based art, 2009, https://www.academia.edu/1260300/Can_Art_History_Digest_Net_Art
 David Levi-Strauss, “The bias of the world: Curating after Szeemann & Hopps”, The Brooklyn Rail, 2006, http://www.brooklynrail.org/2006/12/art/the-bias-of-the-world
 Anne-Marie Schleiner, “Fluidities and Oppositions among Curators, Filter Feeders, and Future Artists”, Intelligent Agent, Vol 3, no. 1 (2003), http://www.intelligentagent.com/archive/Vol3_No1_curation_schleiner.html
 Joasia Krysa , introduction to Curating Immateriality: The Work of the Curator in the Age of Network Systems’, (Autonomedia, 2006), 22.
Krysa, Joasia. Introduction to Curating Immateriality: The Work of the Curator in the Age of Network Systems’. Autonomedia, 2006.
Levi-Strauss, David. “The bias of the world: Curating after Szeemann & Hopps”. The Brooklyn Rail. 2006. http://www.brooklynrail.org/2006/12/art/the-bias-of-the-world
Menotti, Gabriel. “Objets Protégés: The Internet video as Audiovisual format”. In Video Vortex Reader II: Moving Images Beyond YouTube, edited by Geert Lovink and Rachel Sommers Miles, 25-34. Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 2011.
Schleiner, Anne-Marie. “Fluidities and Oppositions among Curators, Filter Feeders, and Future Artists”. Intelligent Agent, Vol 3, no. 1 (2003). http://www.intelligentagent.com/archive/Vol3_No1_curation_schleiner.html
Stallabrass, Julian. “Can Art History digest Net Art?”. Netpioneers 1.0 – contextualizing early net based art. 2009. https://www.academia.edu/1260300/Can_Art_History_Digest_Net_Art
Treske, Andreas. “Frames Within Frames – Windows and Doors”. In Video Vortex Reader II: Moving Images Beyond YouTube, edited by Geert Lovink and Rachel Sommers Miles, 70-80. Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 2011.
Weibel, Peter. “Art/Politics in the Online Universe”. Net_Condition: ZKM Online. 1999. http://on1.zkm.de/netcondition/curators/weibel/default_e