Sunday, December 19, 2010

What is an object

I wish I could tele-transport myself to London for "What is an Object?", a one-day conference at the Anna Freud Centre:

12 February 2011
What is an Object?
Day Conference

An inter-disciplinary symposium
at the Anna Freud Centre, London NW3

Art theory, anthropology, philosophy and psychoanalysis have been brought together by the Freud Museum to wrestle over the deceptively simple question 'What is an Object?

Following hard on the heels of the British Museum's 'History of the World in 100 Objects', and connected to our own 'Objects in Mind' exhibition, the conference examines the many meanings and functions of the objects with which we surround ourselves.

The word 'object' resonates throughout the history of psychoanalysis - love objects, lost objects, part objects, transitional objects, fetish objects, internal objects and object representations.

The Symposium will invite scholars and practitioners from the worlds of art, psychoanalysis, philosophy and anthropology to discuss their differing approaches to the question of 'objects', from children's toys to the world of high fashion, from a can of baked beans to a religious icon.

Confirmed speakers include:

Anne-Marie Sandler (UK)
Psychoanalyst, former director of the Anna Freud Centre, and co-author with Joseph Sandler of Internal Objects Revisited (1998)

Salman Akhtar (Jefferson Medical College, Pennsylvania)
Psychoanalyst and author of Comprehensive Dictionary of Psychoanalysis (2009), Freud along the Ganges (2005), Interpersonal Boundaries (2006), and Objects of Our Desire (2005)

Michael Rowlands (University College, London)
Anthropologist and author of “Remembering to Forget” (1999), Memory, sacrifice and war memorials (1997), co-author Handbook of Material Culture I (2006)

Martin Holbraad (University College London)
Anthropologist, co-editor of Thinking Through Things: Theorising Artefacts Ethnographically (2007) and Technologies of the Imagination (2009).

Kenneth Wright (UK)
Psychoanalyst and author of Vision and Separation (1991) and Mirroring and Attunement (2009)

Cornelia Parker (UK)
Internationally acclaimed artist and Turner Prize nominee. Professor of Conceptual Art at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland.

Darian Leader (UK)
Psychoanalyst and author of Why do women write more letters than they post? (1997) Promises lovers make when it gets late (1998), Freud's Footnotes (2000), Stealing the Mona Lisa: What art stops us from seeing (2002), and The New Black: Mourning, Melancholia and Depression (2008)

Lucia Farinati (It)
Independent curator based in London. She is the co-director, with Daniela Cascella, of Sound Threshold, a long-term research project which explores the relationships between site and sound.

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Friday, December 17, 2010

The bias of the network and analog activism

Working with the bias of distributed networks sends activists offline.

16 December 2010, BBC
Anonymous Wikileaks activists move to analogue tactics

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Friday, December 10, 2010

Disco Edits and Their Discontents: The Persistence of the Analog in a Digital Era

I'm pleased to announce the online publication of "Disco Edits and Their Discontents: The Persistence of the Analog in a Digital Era", my scholarly consideration of Disco Edits in New Media and Society. (Access via a research library or by subscription. Email me if you don't have access to either.)


Disco edits and their discontents: The persistence of the analog in a digital era

Margie Borschke
University of New South Wales


This article foregrounds the distinction between two compositional forms and creative strategies in dance music – edits and remixes – as a way to gain a better understanding of the relationship between media use and media content, between producers and users, artifacts and events. It considers how the earliest disco edits in the 1970s were shaped by listeners (DJs and dancers) working in tandem with the material qualities and functional properties of vinyl records and other analog technologies and argues that while contemporary edits are made with digital tools, they continue to be in debt to their analog antecedents. In doing so this article critiques the enthusiastic adoption of ‘remix’ as a metaphor to describe digital culture and questions whether this rhetorical usage overshadows the aesthetic priorities and political implications of a variety of creative strategies that involve media use and re-use.

This essay takes a media studies approach to the subject, and I'm particularly interested in how media formats shape media content.

For those interested in Walter Gibbons, please see Tim Lawrence's work on Gibbons.

For those interested in disco acetates (and their collectors), see Disco Patrick.

For interest in contemporary edits:
A short documentary, Nu Disco (Re-edit Yourself) from The Art Pack, a video mag from France.

Andy Beta's "Disco Inferno 2.0" in The village Voice.

Or ask your local record store.

And many thanks to all the DJs, producers, dancers, and collectors for many spirited and enlightening discussions about edits in person and online.

Earlier versions of this article were given at the following conferences and workshops:

What’s it worth? ‘Value’ and Popular Music

Annual Conference of IASPM-ANZ
International Association for the Study of Popular Music
Australia-New Zealand branch
27-29 November 2009


ARC Cultural Research Network's Obsolescence Research Workshop
Obsolescence: Media history, policy and aesthetics Project
University of Wollongong
1 & 2 October 2009

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

In Praise of Copying

Marcus Boon's In Praise of Copying from Harvard University Press

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Friday, July 16, 2010

Hiding in Plain Sight: Regionalism and the Underground

An essay I wrote for the special underground issue of Artlink.

Borschke, M 2010. "Hiding in Plain Sight: regionalism and the underground". Hiding in plain sight: regionalism and the underground". Artlink 30:2, p32-33.

I never really went looking for 'the underground', but as a teenager in the mid 1980s I found one at the top of a steep set of stairs in an artist-run gallery in downtown London, Ontario. The place was known as the Forest City Gallery, and in addition to providing exhibition space for the area’s visual artists and filmmakers, the gallery opened itself up to the city’s diverse underground music scene, including teenagers like me. It was the promise and thrill of an all-ages show that first brought me here.

As I remember it, the space was split like a heart into two chambers, with artworks lining the walls, young people with vaguely dangerous haircuts loitering without worry, and crews of earnest young things plugging in amps, plucking strings, fussing with synthesisers and microphones, in preparation for the music to come. It was a post-punk teen dream.

Also on the scene was a coterie of people my parents' age - ‘artists’, my friend Joel told me. They ran the place. They were the people who made it all possible, and while at the time I was in it for the joys and sorrows of punk rock, I would later learn that there was a lot more at stake. This was a community dedicated to artistic autonomy, where fierce regionalism reigned and where the idea that bigger cities like New York or even Toronto should set some sort of creative agenda was scoffed at.

Among the grown-ups was the late Greg Curnoe, one of the gallery’s co-founders, an artist who spent a great deal of his career exploring regionalism as an ideal. As Canadian curator and art historian Terrence Heath wrote:

"In the late sixties and seventies, [Canadian] artists and writers from coast to coast embraced the belief that art can only be made out of the specifics of life, place and time. Curnoe was one of many, but he was a leader and one of the strongest voices....It was not that they rejected all art made in what are called ‘art centres’ per se, but that they rejected the right of any person or group to prescribe what art should be....They sought out and found, in their own lives and localities, the stuff of their art." [1]

To my teenaged self, however, Greg Curnoe was just someone’s dad (Owen, Galen and Zoe’s), a middle-aged man who had a moustache and seemed like any other dad except for the fact that he spoke encouraging words about pretty weird music and actually seemed to enjoy listening to it. More curious still was his occupation: he was an artist. A successful one, I was told. And apparently there were more of them around. It hadn’t really occurred to me that there were actual artists in London, Ontario. I was pretty sure you had to go to Toronto for that. Or maybe Montreal. But here he was, painting everyday things like his bicycle, ink stamping entertaining anti-American rants, making magazines and – the clincher for me – playing kazoo in a band that dared to declare a pot full of marbles an instrument, and called themselves The Nihilist Spasm Band. It was a revelation that there were adults – 40- and 50-somethings – who did such things, and they did it all by themselves in boring old London, Ontario, population 250,000, sitting pretty at the forks of the Thames.


‘There’s no such thing as an underground anymore,’ sniffed a young friend when I told her I was pondering the quandary of underground music in the age of broadband internet access. I didn’t bother to mention that our paths had first crossed at an underground dance party in Sydney; hers is a popular 21st century refrain. Recorded music, new and old, marginal and mainstream, has never been more accessible, and we have digital and network technologies to thank. The Internet’s global reach and the ease of digital duplication has made once-marginal sounds not only more visible, that is easier to find, but more audible as well. But the joys of connectivity and the benefits of bypassing corporate gatekeepers and distribution channels seem to be giving way to a kind of underground fatigue: this increasing visibility and representation of the margins is also perceived as a threat to their health and wellbeing.

Collectors of analogue formats (vinyl records and the like) sometimes lament the loss of the hunt – musty garages, second-hand record shops and mysterious correspondences with other collectors. While I appreciate a good ‘thrill of the chase’ story, I don’t accept the idea that the ease of digital discovery is the real problem faced by underground music cultures; nor that its moderate success in distributing music by reproducing it has somehow undervalued the experience of listening to music, making it, dancing to it, or even collecting it. Recordings – be they on vinyl, tape or CD – have always made possible the movement of sound from place to place, and recordings have been at the heart of most contemporary music cultures: so the ability to move music with ease can’t by itself undermine the underground as a political ideal. Besides, as music journalist Simon Reynolds wrote in The Guardian, ‘Underground really ought to mean more than just ‘being into something not many people know about’.[2] If the underground as an ideal is to be of any use, in the 21st century it needs to be scalable: to be able to expand and contract; to offer the promise of self-determination, autonomy and community to anyone willing to help build and nurture it. It needs to be able to withstand its own representation.

* * * *

As I sit at my desk in Sydney, browsing through photocopied flyers of bands with names like Dormant Checker Effect, Bits of Food and Sheep Look Up, and scanned photos of teenagers dancing in their thrift-shop best, I can’t help but wonder about the qualities that made those fleeting moments at The Forest City Gallery so filled with creative and social possibility (if only until the last bus left downtown at midnight), and whether they might offer any lessons for this quandary of the underground in the age of the Internet. As a teenager, I couldn’t get out of Ontario fast enough, but I am beginning to wonder whether the regionalism that Greg Curnoe espoused might be more relevant and more powerful than ever. I can’t help but wonder whether in the process of building online communities-of-interest based around micro-genres instead of nurturing diverse local scenes, we may be simply replacing old centres of influence with new ones.

Writing about why he and other artists established Region Gallery (an earlier artist-run space launched in 1962), Curnoe wrote

"London [Ontario]’s official art circles, such as they are, are completely smothered by out-of-date sophistication. No person or group seems to realise that this city is not a cultural centre – it is a backwater. I and several others involved with Region believe that this is a good thing. Due to the mass media most people’s eyes and ears are on radio, TV and newspapers, and never or rarely on where they are. Because of this we can work without being bothered. Our way of working can not be called a movement because each of us has many and severe reservations about the others’ works, and because we are not using regionalism as a gimmick but as a collective noun to cover what so many painters, writers, and photographers have used – their own environment..." [3]

Today, when seemingly everything is documented and accessible, when we are looking and listening everywhere all at once, and as advertisers and marketers rush to the margins to get in on our distributed gaze, it strikes me that the need for some kind of underground has never been more necessary. Networking artifacts from underground cultures past – recordings, videos, scanned flyers and photos – should serve as a reminder that art and inspiration can come from anywhere, but as I scour the many user-generated archives that populate the web, I keep returning to the fact that anywhere is still somewhere; whereas on the Internet, to appropriate the words of Gertrude Stein, ‘There is no there there.’ If we think that the Internet has made the underground disappear because it has made certain styles and genres of music more audible by first making them more visible, then what specific qualities were lost in the process of networking music? Could it be that the social and political value of an underground remains entangled with the physical power and contingency of place?

Despite the promise of network equality, digital centres of influence on the web cast long cultural shadows, but perhaps we can find in that darkness room where we can hide in plain sight. Regionalism as a creative strategy is not so much a case of turning off as it is of acknowledging that the more pervasive our networked media environment becomes, the more situated experience and the particularities of place matter. We need to resist the notion that we are now engaged in a global culture based solely on proliferating micro-genres, and consider the possibilities that are only available to us in the here and now. In Sydney, I can’t go out to listen to the surviving members of The Nihilist Spasm Band play (as they have done every Monday night in London for the past 44 years) but I can still hear their message loud and clear. If you want to keep an underground alive, Do It Yourself, in the place that you’re at.


1- T. Heath, 2001, ‘The Trojan Bicycle: Greg Curnoe’s Life & Stuff’ in BorderCrossings, Vol 20#2, Winnipeg .

2- Reynolds, S, ‘Notes on the noughties: The changing sound of the underground’ The Guardian Dec 21, 2009, .

3- D. Reid and M. Teitelbaum (eds) 2001 Greg Curnoe: Life & Stuff, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, p148.

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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Media International: Book Notes: >Little Magazines & Modernism: New Approaches

Media International Australia
Television Comedy and Light Entertainment
No 134, February 2010

Theme Editors: Felicity Collins, Sue Turnbull and Susan Bye

Churchill, Suzanne W. and McKible, Adam (eds), Little Magazines & Modernism: New Approaches, Ashgate, Aldershot, 2007, ISBN 9 7807 5466 0149, 292 pp., £55.00.

Scholars of modernism have long considered the thousands of little magazines that came to be published in the first half of the twentieth century as important vehicles for the Anglo-American artistic and literary movement. After all, it was in the pages of such avant garde publications as The Egoist, The Little Review and The Dial that canonical writers such as James Joyce, Marianne Moore and T.S. Eliot found their first readers, and in tiny-circulation periodicals such as The Blindman and Others that modernist manifestos and highbrow pranks were let loose on the world.

This collection of essays edited by Suzanne W. Churchill, an Associate Professor of English at Davidson College, and Adam McKible, an Associate Professor of English at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, brings together periodical studies scholars who are forging new approaches to understanding these publications and the culture that produced them, treating the little magazines as primary texts worthy of study rather than as mere distribution vehicles for elite genius.

Forget the ‘Great War’ theory of modernism, the editors argue, little magazines require a ‘Great Party’ model, ‘one that duly recognizes the era’s sense of urgency, mechanization, and conflict but also address’s modernism’s spirit of creativity, conviviality, and playfulness’ (p. 13). The focus for the researchers in this collection is the collaborative and dialogic nature of the print culture of which little magazines were a part, an approach that explores the way artists and intellectuals of the era used media as a space for exchange and engagement and a wedge against (and sometimes in tandem with) mass- market publications.

Among the 11 essays are Alan Golding’s consideration of the rivalry between The Dial and The Little Review, Jayne Marek’s exploration of the role women editors played in the Harlem Renaissance, Suzanne W. Churchill’s meditation on modernist mischief-making and ‘the Great Spectra Hoax’ in Others, and Tom Lutz’s thoughtful examination of the often-overlooked role of regional magazines and regionalists in the development of modernism. In addition to students of modernism and periodical studies, this volume enriches current debates about collaboration and reminds us of the power that the media representation of marginal and unconventional voices can have on the culture at large.

— Margie Borschke, Journalism and Media Research Centre, University of New South Wales

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

"analogous resemblances” or “mimetic analogies

Remarkable Creatures
Imitators That Hide in Plain Sight, and Stay Alive

Published: February 16, 2010
The New York Times
Henry Walter Bates returned to England in 1859 with 14,000 species from the Amazon, just in time for Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species.”

Bates explained to Darwin that he had found many instances in which a completely harmless and potentially edible animal resembled a distasteful, inedible, noxious or poisonous species. He observed flies that looked like bees, beetles that looked like wasps, even caterpillars that looked like pit vipers. He referred to these as “analogous resemblances” or “mimetic analogies.”

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Sunday, February 07, 2010

Smash it up until there is nothing left: New found interest in antiques in China

Reactionaries? Make That ‘Collectors’
Published: February 3, 2010
The New York Times

CONTESTANT No. 3, a portly man in suspenders named Cui Xiaosong, clutched a golden mallet and gulped like an executioner having second thoughts. As a guest on China’s wildly popular antiques reality show “Collection World,” Mr. Cui knew he might have to get violent before the next commercial break. The victim? A delicately painted vase he had brought to the show, which he believed to be from the Qing dynasty and worth about $30,000.

“If it’s a fake, will you smash it?” asked the program’s white-gloved host, Wang Gang, as Mr. Cui faced the studio audience and three guest judges.

Mr. Cui nodded. The audience quieted down and Mr. Wang used the final minute to impart a bit of wisdom about collecting antiques in modern-day China: “Just as China opened up, so too is collecting about opening the mind to understand the outside world.”

It was hard to tell whether Mr. Cui was listening, but he certainly heard the host announce the judges’ verdict: “It’s a modern reproduction!”

Mr. Cui winced as he swung the mallet, shattering the vase — and with it his dreams of the wealth it might have brought at auction. Cue the instant replay.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Edward Said on Inventio as reassembling

Therefore, one invents--in the literal use of the Latin word inventio, employed by rhetoricians to stress finding again or reassembling from past performances, as opposed to the romantic use of invention as something you create from scratch--goals abductively, that is, hypothesizes a better situation from the known historical and social facts.

Said, Edward, "The Public Role of Writers and Intellectuals", The Nation, September 17, 2001

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