Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Lauren Coats and I have been surveying interesting web objects for possible inclusion in our Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities “Archive” collection… and that’s how I came across One Terabyte of Kilobyte Age: Digging Through the Geocities Torrent. Although I knew about the ArchiveTeam effort to preserve as many sites as possible from the old GeoCities world, I didn’t know that Dragan Espenschied and Olia Lialina were also making exhibitions out of the remains. There is a physical exhibition called Digital Folklore at Hartware MedienKunstVerein in Dortmund, Germany through the end of September, which I would love to see. (Not possible.) But through deliberate or just uncontrolled generic slippage, it seems they are also calling their blog, One Terabyte of Kilobyte Age, an exhibition. In posts dating back to 2011, when they started to download the entire terabyte of GeoCities data, they extract and examine gems from the digital midden heap of Web 1.0, “home of many broken web pages… scenes that are best described as ruins.”

In a talk titled “The Only Thing We Know about Cyberspace Is That It’s 640 x 480,” Lialina insists that their project is not driven by nostalgia. But if it were, why would that be so terrible? Is not nostalgia at the other temporal end of the future-tripping affective vector that produced the GeoCities websites in the first place–personal websites filled with vacation snapshots, “Cute Boy” contests, and misbegotten revelations?

yellow brick road screenshot from lanitana100

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elton John – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road Lyrics. Posted by lanitana100.

I don’t exactly miss the old web of GeoCities days. Those sites are, by today’s standards, fairly static and ugly, even if we admire the democratization they represent. But I do have a personal investment in their loss and preservation, which is not precisely identical to my official professional interest. I had two GeoCities blogs, both abandoned by 2002, both pretty embarrassing. Embarrassing as in, I wouldn’t mention them if you could see see them. One, co-authored with my partner at the time, was written from the point of view of our standard poodle Hankabel. For instance, Hankabel described her method of typing with paws and posted vacation photos. The other blog was slightly more serious–a journal I kept during a fellowship year at the École Normale Supérieure. I am sure, however, that as much as it was a record of my studies and discoveries, it was also an exercise in the future-conditional emotional passages of proto-nostalgia: the feeling that a transformative experience is in progress and that, consequently, you already miss both the experience itself and what came before it, from which you are now or about to be forever cut off. In short, in ways both simple and possibly more complex, my blogs were exemplary expressions of the time-consciousness that is embedded into any kind of narrative created specifically for future perusal, especially a narrative about the present. Doing this for an evanescent “public”–whatever public a blog purportedly written by a poodle might have garnered in 1999–via a medium that has proven to be more ephemeral than super-8 film… well, that just adds another temporal layer to the nostalgia package.

This blog, too, will undoubtedly prove both ephemeral and embarrassing.

But there’s something else about the One Terabyte project that is important to me here, and that is the metamorphosis of a “blog” into an “exhibition.” Since reading David Balzer’s Curationism: How Curating Took Over the Art World and Everything Else, I have become even more uncomfortably aware of the term “curation.” Happily, this discomfort has a silver lining.

  • Yes, “curating” and “editing” are terribly abused and over-used. But as we (who is “we”?) do more and more of the sort of making that is intended to produce certain kinds of designed but open-ended experiences for others–experiences to generate learning, thinking, seeing, hearing, feeling; experiences that may partake of all or some of the traditional features of classes, editions, digital interactions, broadcasts, and exhibitions–I think we will rely more and more heavily on these two verbs. Perhaps we need to expand and diversify the vocabulary for this sort of activity. “Experience making” might serve as a prima facie description of this fundamental labor… although as far as terminology goes, it’s worse than what we’ve got.
  • Whatever the better name might be for this ur-activity, it is becoming more prevalent in my own work–or at least, I am becoming more conscious of its prevalence. Curating exhibitions and teaching classes and writing for strangers no longer seem like distant cousin occupations, but more like sibling pursuits. Collection-building and course-planning feel increasingly similar, not necessarily in their topical configurations but in their general aims. Conference presentations and blog posts and essays too. What’s behind this new alignment is, for me, the paradigm of the exhibition: an experience you make for others.

 

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