To follow on from my recent post about “good” blogs… I want to get down on blog-paper a few thoughts rattling around my brain about blogging…
Last year my friend Kirsten asked me about blogging – about how to go about making a “good” blog. She, of course, has a good blog of her own, but seeing as I’ve done a couple of very intensive art projects which use blogs as their primary medium, I do have some thoughts about the nuts and bolts of making them work.
There are a few different kinds of blogs that I keep. The first kind is “occasional” in nature. An example is the one you are looking at right now
On this blog, sometimes months go by between postings, sometimes I post twice in one week. I put no pressure on myself to blog with any regularity. I should add this – although this blog is primarily about art, I don’t consider this blog to be a “work of art” in itself. Rather, it’s a like a notebook where I jot down my thoughts before I lose them. The blogs attached to the Teaching and Learning Cinema site, and SquatSpace, perform a similar function.
The other type of blog I make (eg Bilateral Kellerberrin, The Sham, and the Bon Scott Blog) is what I call “blogging-as-art”. These blogs have a much narrower scope. They’re “project-blogs”. In other words, a new blog is created for a specific project, with the idea that it will have a (pre-determined) active period. During this active period, the blog becomes an intense site for collecting and cohering experiences related to the particular project.
So, for example, while I was doing my Petersham project (April/May 2006), I would write every day about what happened to me in my suburb of Petersham. I would not, however, use this blog to write my thoughts about expanded cinema, unless that subject intersected in some clear way with Petersham. In this manner, these project blogs can carve out a lot of space for – and generate an enormous amount of new material about – the particular subject matter which is their focus. I treat these blogs not just as a place to record information about an artwork, but as the site of art itself.
With these two different types of blog, I have two different methods for “running” them, as their primary author.
The first type – the “blog as notebook” type – is pretty simple to run. I write something, I post it online, and I forget about it. Sometimes, it just sits up there for ages, perhaps nobody reads it. Sometimes, years go by, and then, by some miracle of google searching, a stranger knocks on the door and writes me a comment to say, “thanks for that, I was thinking along the same lines as you”. This reader-acknowledgement is gratifying, and perhaps it helps begin to build a readership-community, but it’s not really the main reason I make this blog. My motivation for keeping this blog is because it is useful as a way of tracing back my own development in thinking about a certain subject. It’s a way to keep my thoughts in order. However, ecently, a small supportive and intelligent community seems to have assembled around the subjects I’m posting on this blog, and so I am able to “use” this community to help me think through questions which are bugging me – like, say, “What makes a good blog?” or “Should I give up the internet for a year?” And so the blog’s purpose is evolving.
Blogging – at least the first type I’m talking about – forces a certain level of formality, making me spell things out intelligibly enough so that IF someone else were to come along and read my post, it would make some sense to them. I think that is why I blog, rather than writing in a private journal, or an offline word document. However, the formality blogging encourages in my own writing should not be SO formal as to be intimidating or inhibiting to others. This is what differentiates it from, say, academic writing, which creates an expectation that everything needs to be “in perfect order” before you publish it (and which is static and immutable once published).
So much for the first kind of blogging.
The second kind (the project-blog, or the blog-as-art) is a bit more complex. In this kind of blog, what I actually think I am doing is a kind of interactive performance art. The blog-as-art usually has a speculative “proposition” with which it begins. For instance, in The Sham, the proposition was – “I must not leave my suburb boundaries for two months. I must write a blog entry every day about what happens”.
That proposition – like an “event-score” – sets up a scenario for something to happen. Blogging which follows an event-score instruction functions in three ways. First, the blog becomes a place to store the ongoing, everbuilding document of the experiences which are generated by the originating score. Second, the blog offers a guiding framework to ensure I continue to generate more such experiences. Third, interactions which happen on the blog begin to create effects in the “real world” – so experiences on the streets and behind the keyboard begin to bounce off each other. To put it in different terms: the blog produces a retrospective “account” of what happens, a way to make myself “accountable” – that is, to show others and myself how I have followed (or broken) the originating project proposition, and a means to build relationships with those who are interested in the (often rather silly) propositions which kick the blogs into life.
Early performance art, happenings and fluxus often worked under similar conditions. An originating proposition or event-score set up a framing condition, and the “art” was in the carrying out of the instructional score, in order to see what happened. This is important. Although the work does exist as a conceptual proposition, it is not just an immaterial floating concept. It demands to be executed – to be followed through and experienced “in real life” to find out “what would happen if…”.
With a work like Mike Parr’s Hold Your Breath for as Long as Possible (1971), the title of the work is its own event-score. Parr needs only follow the instruction implicit in the title, which he does, filming himself in the process. The visible/material impact of Parr following his own instruction is somewhat paradoxical. His controlling proposition results in his body getting out of control, bucking and contorting, his eyes going all buggy. The film is “evidence”, it contains an imprint (an “account”) of Parr’s actual experience in that moment – the battle between mind and body as he tries to hold his breath.
A classic case of a propositional event-score is John Cage’s 4’33”, his “silence” piece. Presented in a music / concert-hall setting, the musician opens the score and plays – nothing – for four minutes and thirty three seconds. The performance of this score/instruction results in an incredible expansion of awareness, in the audience, about the nature of sound and noise and music and the social situation of listening to music. But it has to be actually enacted and experienced for this effect to occur. The great thing about 4’33” is that anyone can perform it (it is not restricted to the work’s author) and wherever it is performed it will generate an experience which grows from the particular architecture, social situation etc of this time and place.
What I am interested in doing is practicing an everyday kind of performance art – not in the theatres and galleries which are its usual domain – but in the spaces and rituals of my own life. The “what would happen if…?” proposition thus moves into my own life’s processes.
What results is a rather strange situation, in which I am “just” living my everyday life, and simultaneously, living my everyday life “as art”. The blog – as a site which gathers an account of my experiences, and which pushes me to have more such experiences, lends my ordinary activity a kind of supercharged attentiveness, which makes it exciting – even mildly thrilling at times – even though it is still … just … kinda ordinary. The “audience” for this performance art may not even know that what I am doing is art. Actually, it’s not important for me to have them know this. In fact, the advertising of an activity as art is often an impediment to ordinary interactions, and besides, art is only one way of thinking about what is going on in these blogs. Another way to consider them is as a tool to increase my ability to pay attention to my own process of experiential learning, developing relationships with people, places and cultural phenomena.
The residue of Parr’s execution of his event-score was registered on 16mm film. The residue of my projects are, of course, the blogs themselves. What’s the difference? The extended duration of blogging-as-art means that it can fall into step with the normal rhythms of my everyday life, rather than being (like Parr’s films) a momentarily shocking incursion into life. And, blogging offers a technology which allows (what we used to call) “the audience” to participate in the process of making the work. This is especially important in blogs like Kellerberrin, Petersham and Bon Scott, where the people who are the “subject matter” of the blog are able to speak for themselves, rather than always being spoken for by the authoritative voice of the artist.
I have a few more thoughts to throw out there about the nuts and bolts of running my blogging projects, but this post might be already long enough for today.
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PS – Mike Parr speaks in an interview about his “following-a-task” pieces, as well as those of Abramovic and Acconci, over here’here.