One of the strangest paradoxes of the internet, to me, is that it both encourages and chips away at the foundations of “niche” and “specialized” content. It nurtures the stuff while eroding the category altogether. It’s full of material that is very specifically Not For You, and yet it teaches you to feel that you have access to everything, that everything is for you. All of which is kind of weird.
I assume the part about encouraging niches is mostly self-evident. The whole original vision of the web was as a tool to coordinate academic and scientific research: specialized information. It’s a short mental skip from there to any sort of specialists — hobbyists, obsessives, fetishists, whatever — using it to find one another; it’s a hell of a lot more convenient than the old method of cheap mimeographs, newsletters, envelope-stuffing. The concept, though, is the same: using a public style of communication (print dissemination) to achieve a slightly more private goal (engaging with fellow enthusiasts).
More importantly, it began with the same expectation of privacy. As you sent out your cheap regional newsletter about new developments in toy train collecting, you did so with the expectation that it would not be read or cared about by anyone except fellow enthusiasts…
Niches on the internet may have begun that way, but it’s precisely that expectation that the growth of the internet seems to have changed. The things people put on the internet can very easily be interpreted as public speech — global speech — even if they’re not intended that way. (Put a goofy video on YouTube for your friends, and you invite the comment/criticism of the world: “Why are you asking me to watch this?”)
Worth reading in full! I feel the same way: I was maintaining this blog thing just for myself and felt a little bit exposed when others read it until recently, and I have an apartment twitter that consists of inside jokes with my roommates, entirely unfit for public viewing. Also just started what may be one of the more niche tumblrs in the whole world with my two friends (although this one is hard to beat). I guess the only thing I have to add is that the Internet allows niches to bleed very visibly into one another. And, for what it’s worth, there are still plenty of channels that maintain their nichity (niche-iness?) even in this GooglinAge.
Via Harper’s Links.
Dubravka Ugresic, The Museum of Unconditional Surrender, p. 4:
7. I sometimes have coffee with Kira from Kiev, a retired literature teacher. ‘Ya kamenshchitsa [I am a pebble lover],’ says Kira. Kira is passionate about every kind of stone. She tells me that she spends every summer in the Crimea, in a village where the sea throws all kinds of semi-precious stones up on to the shore. She is not alone, she says, other people come there as well, they are all kamenshchiki. Sometimes they meet up, make a fire, cook borsch and show one another their ‘treasures.’ Here, Kira passes the time painting copies of various subjects. She has made a copy of the archangel Michael, although, she says, she prefers—threading. She asks whether I have a broken necklace, she could mend it, she says, re-thread the beads. ‘You know,’ says Kira, ‘I like threading things.’ She says it as though she were apologising.
9. There is a story told about the war criminal Ratko Mladic, who spent months shelling Sarajevo from the surrounding hills. Once he noticed an acquaintance’s house in the next target. The general telephoned his acquaintance and informed him that he was giving him five minutes to collect his ‘albums,’ because he had decided to blow the house up. When he said ‘albums,’ the murderer meant the albums of family photographs. The general, who had been destroying the city for months, knew precisely how to annihilate memory. That is why he ‘generously’ bestowed on his acquaintance life with the right to remembrance. Bare life and a few family photographs.
10. ‘Refugees are divided into two categories: those who have photographs and those who have none,’ said a Bosnian, a refugee.
Or, as I like to call it, “premasticated content.”
Jon-Kyle Mohr posted a really thoughtful critique of the online curation culture called A Complimentary Rant on the State of Convenience. (Is curation culture a term? Can I coin that?) Anyway, Jon-Kyle’s central question:
Why is it that with the ease of publishing available today people so often choose to re-post content as opposed to create it?
Yesterday I saw the Gabriel Orozco retrospective at MoMA (along with the Bauhaus thang, more on that/Alma Mahler to come), and though I loved all the witty bike/car objects and enfant terrible yogurt lids and body-clay sculptures (is it just me or is he totally riffing on Louise Bourgeois with those babies?), I think my favorite was his Working Tables (2000-2005):
From MoMA: “The tables display prototypes for finished works, the beginnings of projects never realized, and found objects the artist kept for one reason or another—all things on their way to becoming sculpture.”
I think I found the tables fascinating because they presented these objects, some of which weren’t even Orozco’s works, with such care and intent. Crafted, selected, arranged, fetishized, the pieces tell me something about the way Orozco functions as an artist, but also something about the act of creating an artistic world to inhabit, of making a universe in miniature, of picking out the shiniest stones to keep in your hot little hand and then showing them to your friends in the yard.
I worry about the echo chamber of tumblrs and their ilk and the meaningless repetition and amplification of digital objects. I’m obsessed with the way that people collect, hoard, and re-broadcast photos and music and words without also creating their own. I’m not saying every tumblr reblogging pictures of hot girls in kitten earmuffs or grainy photos of Parisian cafes is as intentional and special as Orozco’s working tables, but the impulse, I think, is similar. We are overwhelmed, and if we can pick and chose a few objects that we like, put them in a place where we can keep them, it helps us to exercise some kind of control over the flood, even if it leads to visual/aural/literary ADD and a tawdry kind of exhibitionism: look at all these things I found. But while I’d rather not bother with some peoples’ online collections, I think some are interesting as works in progress, and some seem like ready-made archives, perfect and complete.
things magazine has a typically thoughtful post on modern ruins (emphasis mine):
Perhaps modern ruins will become an integral part of the contemporary cityscape, just as parts of rural Spain and Greece are dotted with half-finished quasi-agricultural structures, filling time as storehouses and sheds until their concrete frames can be finished (see the work of Sam Appleby, for example). To think of ruins in advance is to have a suspiciously vainglorious eye on posterity. For example, the epic historical essay Losing the War (via Me-fi) has a section on Hitler and Albert Speer’s concept of ‘ruin value’: ‘Maybe it was possible to factor a certain decay mode into their designs, to ensure that some picturesque element of each structure would survive. Arches or pediments or rows of pillars could be reinforced far beyond the requirements of the load they would carry, so that they would still be standing after the rest of the structure was dust - ensuring that even the wreckage of the Reich would inspire awe.’
Awe is not the dominant emotion associated with ruins. Nostalgia, perhaps. Right now, the embedded potential of a half-finished, abandoned or decaying building isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. This might be changing. …
Perhaps the emergence of the modern ruin - whole cities of ruins - will come to represent a shift in cultural production, a more contemplative, romanticised notion of progress whereby things take time and the relentless boom is forever banished.
Ruins romanticism and the ruin aesthetic: these things I’ve thought about. Fascist ruin value is new to me, but not surprising. Something I’m trying to work out, though, is whether ruin value—creation with regard to the past of the future—is always conservative or even reactionary. things offers a few examples of designs that seem progressive (or at least more positive than Speer’s conception), but I’m thinking more of structures designed so that, in ruin, they can be re-imagined and re-built, according to the desire of the time, while still retaining the soul, skeleton, or suggestion of former incarnations. An aesthetic that steals a little from sources designed for constant re-building, from nomadic architecture, and from unforeseen re-appropriations.