Friday, July 28, 2006

Nicolas Nova interviews Régine Debatty

Nicolas asks Régine the hard questions about art, technology and blogging for thousands of readers. The whole thing is worth reading, but here are some of my favourite bits:

NN: What I like in WMMNA is the very sober nature of your posts, the way you get straight to the point when describing the projects. Is there a reason behind this “no stance” attitude?

RD: Several reasons: the main one is that i don’t want to influence people, I want readers to form their own opinion. i give mine in a subtle way: when i don’t like something i just don’t write about it. it’s also quite difficult to always have a view on interaction art/design. you have to experience the installation yourself to really know what it is like. then of course sometimes i don’t give my view for a very simple reason: i have no opinion, i just “feel” that a story is interesting enough and hope others will make sense of it.

[...]

NN: In what sense do you think your blog is of interest to researchers, R&D people and foresight managers?

RD: I should ask them. I guess the projects described in the blog might be interesting because many of them give a snapshot -albeit sometimes whimsical- of people’s desires or of what tomorrow could bring ... We all need these communication technologies but sometimes we might feel overwhelmed, right? surely there should be a way to get some control over them. The industry has had little incentive to address the problem and give us more control. I hope that they are already getting their designers and engineers to work on that (especially when it comes to the technology that seems to frighten everyone: RFID). in the meantime artists are exploring methods of self-defense. hopefully they will inspire someone out there ... I think if one is willing to look beyond the quirkiness and delirious aspect of some installations or applications, there’s a lot to learn and get inspired from.

[...]

NN: To me, humor plays an important role in what you’re posting in WMMNA. How do you think this dimension can bring critical elements about technology usages?

RD: I think humour is very important. it helps getting the attention of the audience. humour puts the piece into a non-threatening, non-intimidating light. which helps a lot to get the message out.

[...]

NN: Since I am doing research about location-based applications, I would be happy to know what you think about locative media. It seems that the scene failed (see for instance what Marc Tuters and Kazys Varnelis says about it), do you have any thought about that? You were curator at Sonar about locative media project, have you seen new project that would foster a revival of this trend?

RD: [An] example is the Feral Robots by urban tapestry. I like this idea of using locative media to give the man on the street the tools to understand what’s going on in his own neighbourhood, to do that in a playful, non-academic, non-threatening way.

Update:

After reading this a second time, and reflecting further on questions I've asked her in the past, I'm finding Régine's comments about having no opinion and not wanting to influence people a bit off. Easy to read as genuine (feminine?) humility, this lack of acknowledgement of her own filtering preferences and influence strikes me as a bit disingenuous. And granted I have a personal stake in this, but her consistent association of academic work with unfriendliness and intimidation strikes me as knee-jerk (and tired) anti-intellectualism. Put another way, she could - in the name of consistency - offer a critique of business, but she doesn't. Now, I'm not suggesting that Régine is "wrong" or a "bad person" but I do find it disappointing that she won't raise her own voice, and stand up for her own opinion. I mean, with power comes responsibility - and that's before we get to what I think that means for women in particular.

But I'd like to give Andrew Otwell the final word here:
"She should embrace the fact that she *already does* influence people and could make a great contribution as a critic. If 'critic' is too strong a word, think of it as being a 'teacher.' Teach me what's interesting about a project. Teach me how it builds on what came before, or merely duplicates other ideas. Teach me how it extends the dialog about people and technology, or is just a whimsical experiment...But more interesting is the work of the many artist-engineers that blurs the line between the two fields. Exploring the cultural, ethical, and artistic qualities of *that* work is an area just waiting for someone like Regine to take it on!"

11 Comments:

Anonymous Andrew said...

Regine's blog is an amazing resource. But honestly, I'm unhappy with her cagey critical stance. Either you are an aggregator that simply lists all the items in the field, or you have a point of view. Aggregators serve a purpose, but critics help shape a discipline.

Saying a story "feels interesting" and "If I don't like it I don't write about it" is not the critical point of view of an aggregator or events listing service: it's the point of view of a critic with an opinion and voice.

I'd like to see her develop that voice more strongly. Regine has become one of the most qualified and trusted people in her field through we-make-money-not-art. She should embrace the fact that she *already does* influence people and could make a great contribution as a critic. If "critic" is too strong a word, think of it as being a "teacher." Teach me what's interesting about a project. Teach me how it builds on what came before, or merely duplicates other ideas. Teach me how it extends the dialog about people and technology, or is just a whimsical experiment.

I think that as in many other areas of technology, it's tempting to believe that "it's not art" and that it's therefore exempt from criticism. For example, there are no "mechanical engineering critics" (though maybe there should be!) because engineering is traditionally seen as rational, measurable, or mechanical--attributes which can be difficult to analyze critically. Now, obviously most of the stuff that Regine writes about clearly *is* art, and should be subjected to critical analysis. But more interesting is the work of the many artist-engineers that blurs the line between the two fields. Exploring the cultural, ethical, and artistic qualities of *that* work is an area just waiting for someone like Regine to take it on!

05:17  
Anonymous anne said...

Agreed. I tried to make those points at Design Engaged, but it didn't work ;)

05:41  
Anonymous Marta said...

Dear Anne and Andrew, I find your critic of WMMNA quite jugdemental and a bit off-putting. Regine's blog is not only an amazing resource, it's become almost the only resource in the field where a large amount of valuable information can be found daily without the endless ranting of a blogger who, most of the time, is strongly opinionated about artefacts he/she hasn't even seen. One of the biggest, fastest growing cancers of the blogosphere is that opinion - especially of the indignated sort - has become a value in itself, without research, contrasting ideas or evidencing any understanding of the subject matter at all. Yet another unfortunate symptom of the "have to post this before anyone else does" race.

Having said that, I do not find WMMNA lacking editorial criteria. As a publisher, the decision to include or ignore a work DOES matter much more than the decision to praise it or to condemn it, specially when such publisher doesn't serve any advertisers or media corporations. Most of Reg's posts come from festivals where there is ten times more material to write about than what appears in her blog. I never wonder why some works have 500 words + interview while others are not even acknowleged. They are, obviously, not interesting or relevant enough to her.

We also have to remember Regine not only writes 90% of WMMNA but also sits on panels in new media related events and offers her well researched advice as a consultant for the European Comission in Italy. It is in those terms that she offers a more personal approach to her chosen field, proving once more that she does have a clear opinion but she want's to use it in the right time, in the right place.

08:22  
Anonymous anne said...

marta - I'm sorry you found my opinions "quite judgemental and off-putting" but I'm finding it difficult to tell which opinions you think are appropriate and which are not. I also think you've conjured a straw man (or woman) to attack here.

For one, I don't know who supports the kind of unreasoned and unsupported opinion you think has become a "cancer" - and I certainly don't read anyone here suggesting that kind of approach. I also don't read anyone suggesting a lack of "editorial criteria" in Regine's posts - but I do read, and stand behind, a desire to see those criteria manifest more clearly as critique.

If you want to take issue with my position, this would be a good point to take up. Perhaps you think Regine is already a satisfactory critic? Or perhaps you disagree that Regine could - or should - be a critic or teacher at all?

And finally, you seem to confuse critique with criticism. Nothing in my comments insults Regine as a person, so there is no need to defend her as a person. I am well aware of - and impressed by - the multiple ways in which she engages her topics, but both the interview and my comments referred to WWMNA as an influential blog.

You claim that her opinion is clearly demonstrated in-person, but you don't explain why these venues are the "the right time, in the right place". Arguably, only a vast minority of WMMNA readers will ever meet or hear Regine in person, so where does that leave them?

00:28  
Anonymous anne said...

oops. i meant where does that leave everyone else?

00:52  
Anonymous marta said...

As I find myself missunderstood, I will make it clearer:

1. I find Regine's blog quite refreshing precisely because her opinion is not a heavy shadow projected onto the work exposed. I like -as Nicola does- "the very sober nature of her posts". There's a whole lot of other things I like about her blog, including her enthusiasm, her sense of humour and the fact that, though she is a girl and has built this very amazing resource out of practically nowhere, she has never played the gender card. As I explained before, the state of the bologosphere makes all these values even more precious. It is, of course, a reader opinion. As a journalist, a curator or a panelist I can offer some more but they all lead to the same place: WMMNA is great exactly how it is and I wouldn't change a single bit of it.

2. No, I can't disagree "that Regine could - or should - be a critic or teacher at all" since, as I said, she is already such things, both as a panelist and as a consultant, and I am certain she is very good at both. The fact that she has decided to keep that part of her job in these very defined circumstances only makes me respect her more, both as a critic and a blogger. I guess I agree with her that readers should develope their own approaches to art and technology. There is far too many people "teaching" them what to think.

3. I didn't have the impression that your comments "insults Regine as a person". Having had such an impression I would have never commented in your blog.

07:13  
Anonymous anne said...

marta - thanks so much for taking the time to clarify your comments. i think you've raised some interesting points, and while i can't say i entirely agree, i am confident that your words can provide a valuable counter-balance for anyone else who found mine inappropriate or irrelevant. cheers.

ps. i've always thought elastico is a fab blog!

23:32  
Anonymous regine said...

hi all,
i guess i'm expected to add my two cents here. i was meaning to do it earlier but been quite busy. first of all, Anne, why am i accused of "consistent association of academic work with unfriendliness and intimidation"? have i ever written or said anything similar? in a consistent way?

ok, back to my lack of critical approach. i really can't see why it is wrong to choose the role of a reporter rather than the one of a critic. i'm afraid i can't do both. it's two different jobs. lack of time (or just laziness?): it takes hours to track the information and if i do indeed take some time to sit back and reflect on what i see or read i don't always have enough energy to come up with a half decent text to add to the post (in a language that is still a foreign language to me). then, trust me, i really don't feel confident about my own opinion. i landed in this art meets tech world 2 years ago and i feel i still have a lot to learn. part of it comes from my own experience: first, i was a journalist before, the impartial, neutral and objective kind. that's something i can't throw aways so easily even if i know, i know, bloggers are expected to take position and have an opinion and be loud about it sometimes. second, i used to be a documentary director and i remember laughing at critics that were discussing some audiovisual works but had never seen how a film was shooted nor had any clue about the technology behind it. so their comments were sometimes spot on and sometimes just naive. but that's just part of my problem i guess. besides, i often talk with people who do a great job as critics (like Alessandro Ludivico from neural.it or jose luis de vicente from, yes, elastico.net), they've been around for 10 years or so and i feel so so small compared to them that i think it is safer to keep on being a reporter. and sincerely i'm not ashamed of that. i just know my limits ;-)

i'm happy with my role of a news aggregator/reporter, i may evolve and become a critic or teacher one day. just give me some time.

02:40  
Anonymous anne said...

hi regine, nice to see you again :)

i think that this whole business of being a critic is difficult. i come from a community that has trained me to separate critique from criticism, and so i got a bit frustrated when marta employed such an accusatory tone and made the argument personal. i also got a bit frustrated when i read you asking what is "wrong" with your approach. the point of critique, for me at least, is not to judge or blame anyone but rather to explore the advantages and disadvantages of any given position. in this sense there is nothing "wrong" with what you're doing.

critique also becomes doubly difficult when you write things like "trust me, i really don't feel confident about my own opinion" because then any critique i make can be easily interpreted as cruel in the kicking-someone-while-they're-down sort of way. and if i say that you *should* feel confident in your opinion, i can easily be accused of being condescending.

i also belong to a community of scholars that seriously questions anyone's ability to be objective or impartial. this, of course, stands in marked contrast to the community of journalists which you cite as influential. what we have here is, in part, a culture clash that challenges each of us to remain open-minded, and to not compete over who is right and who is wrong.

so now please allow me to clarify:

i'm really happy to hear that you enjoy your role as a reporter and aggregator. that's great. and if you *never* become a critic or teacher, that's just fine with me. but i think you *could* make a good teacher and critic though, so i hope you will consider it one day.

00:25  
Anonymous anne said...

also regine, and i don't want to dwell on this, at design engaged, at etech, and again in your conversation with nicolas, you took aim at the inadequacies of academic discourse without simultaneously drawing out the inadequacies of the artistic, technological or corporate discourses that you most often engage.

i agree that academics can often appear overly serious and our use of specialised language can be intimidating to those not familiar with it - and that makes it difficult to get our points across to non-academics. but in that regard we are hardly unique.

in my opinion, for whatever that's worth to you, your criticisms would be much more convincing if they were more evenly applied to all the communities which interest you or come to bear on the topics of technology and art.

but like i said in my post, maybe i'm also just trying to defend the community i love and belong to.

00:30  
Anonymous regine said...

oooh! i really don't know which kind of misunderstanding caused all this fuss and i'm really sorry if i hurted you in any way on this subject. i do not despise, fear nor have any hard feelings against academics. you don't have to defend the academic community, not with me.

21:04  

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