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Michael, Are You Serious?
Apr 06, 1998 :: Vivian Selbo

With regards to "The One to One Future, Part IV," the first premise worth scrutiny is the assumption that we will someday want everything customized, or to make it a question, what will "customization" mean in the realm of art? Dictate meaning in advance? I don't think so. Art has always been about examining the way we see, hear, feel, and know the world and ourselves in it, which to my mind is counterintuitive to calling those shots before they're fired. It may sometimes address our need for control, but generally speaking, disrupted expectations are the payoff, even if it's simply "that noise with that yellow!?"

Contrary to "unique needs and wants," much of what we desire is hugely influenced by what others have, and whether or not we want to have it -- or can get it -- too. Choosing "the daily me" will also include inventing "who do I want to be today?" There's no accounting for taste, and there are buyers of art who only want it to match the couch, but that's a different kind of investor than one who looks for work that challenges ideas, a medium, history(s), our perspectives, experience, or understanding -- in short, art with a long-term return.

Besides, customization -- with a twist -- is already out there: see Andrea Zittel's "A-Z prototypes", in which the collector helps "finish" the work through their personalization, James Turrell's site-specific "light" rooms, Rikrit Tiravanija's dinners, in which one is served a meal prepared by the artist and then owns the aftermath, or "Safe and Secure" surveillance installations by Julia Scher. These artists create very personalized experiences while simultaneously asking, "what does this mean to you?" It's also already the case with much conceptual work that instead of buying an art-object, you participate in something and then have the option to purchase a fragment, the documentation, or something "in remembrance." Jenny Holzer's art spans that spectrum from her participatory online piece "please change beliefs" to her "truisms" carved in granite benches, or printed on pencils available in most contemporary art museum stores. Like video, it's sometimes hermetic, sometimes environmental, and sometimes complimentary to a tangible object. This work is based more on communication than representation, emphasizing auxiliary meanings over skill and craft.

"The One to One Future" or "what's in it for me?" will become a different question in artistic practice precisely because a narrowed space between creator and audience -- not to mention the difference between "high and low" -- brings that gap into the work, if not becoming the piece itself. Art has always looked at the peevish question "what do we want?" and at play with technology will simply ask it in new, more entangled ways.

Instead of considering the unruly imponderable "what will artists make in response to a changing marketplace?" I wonder more about how will that art be found, seen, and ultimately generate support for its makers. A key question is what will be the critical context, since even, or especially, on the web context is critical. Attention will be the initial currency spent, so the first purchase to worry about may be getting a good strong grip on the viewer.

-- Vivian Selbo has been known to make art of her own, and is the former creative director of adaweb.



Other pieces about personalization: