Monthly Archives: May 2011

New media social organisations

New media has enabled a whole raft of community groups with their own specific or general aims of change. These range from the grand and ambitious, fighting global warming, to the intimate and personal, organising a community garden. What ties these groups together is the organising potential of new media, allowing individuals to find others with similar interests and band together to enact change.

However, whilst it is easy to get all utopian and hail the internet and the way it can change society for the better, it is also easy to fall into the trap of thinking you are changing society when really you are just lying in bed, prostrate, pressing the ‘like’ button on Facebook. There’s a guilty party right here. Enthusiasm for causes needs to be followed up by action.

A critique often levelled at alternative social organisations online is that they don’t actually achieve any real action. It’s all online petitions and ‘liking’ causes. One of Australia’s most prominent social action groups, GetUp! has faced this criticism. How accurate is it? Does GetUp! achieve what it sets out to do? Does it accomplish anything in the ‘real world’ not just online?

Former editor of GetUp! Nick Moraitis responded to criticism that GetUp! doesn’t achieve real world action by stating ‘just because GetUp! uses online technologies more effectively than other Australian progressive groups, it doesn’t mean that’s the only tactic they employ.’

GetUp! does indeed utilise new media more effectively than most, garnering attention for a variety of important causes and providing a centralised place for donations.

And as Moraitis states, they also employ a variety of offline tactics as well, such as organising rallies and undertaking interviews with mainstream media.

GetUp! achievements speak for themselves, with $2.2 billion secured for mental health, challenging discriminatory voting laws, assisting in increasingly paid parental leave and many more. You can read more here.

There are a variety of online community groups that don’t really get past the click and like stage (the majority of Facebook groups) but when progressive groups such as GetUp! utilise both online and offline tactics the results are impressive.



The most important of the internet-led changes…

Or so says Manuel Castells of the role of the internet and social media in the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia earlier this year.

Enough of the fun and games with music and art and sharing – on to the real questions – is the internet overthrowing governments?

The role of the social media in the uprising in Egypt and Tunisia has been discussed endlessly and the way in which some arguments are being framed, it is almost like Facebook and Twitter got together over coffee and decided to overthrow the government for laughs. I think it is important to clarify that social media didn’t cause the Arab uprising but it did enable it.

A quote that sums up the situation nicely comes from Sam Guston in this Wired article:

‘If three decades of violent repression and despotic rule were kindling for the Egyptian revolution, social media was both a spark and an accelerant for the movement.’

The discontent many young people in Egypt and Tunisia had felt for years finally had an outlet, they were able to share their feelings and organise together.

It is simplistic to say that social media caused the Arab uprising. Years of violence and repression caused the uprising. There are a whole lot of countries with large social media communities that have not had an attempt to overthrow their leader. An example you may be aware of, Australia. Well, not yet anyway, but the way the Carbon Tax debate is going, I wouldn’t be too surprised. As Castells states the internet was a necessary but not sufficient condition for the uprising and the roots of the rebellion were in ‘exploitation, oppression and humiliation.’ It was these factors that caused the uprising but it was the internet and social media which allowed dictatorships which had been stable for decades to be overthrown with overwhelming pace.


Hirschkind, Charles (2011) ʻFrom the Blogosphere to the Street: The Role of Social Media in the Egyptian Uprisingʼ, Jadaliyya < blogosphere-to-the-street_the-role-of-social-media-in-the-egyptian-uprising>

Group Collaboration in New Media Art

We live in an incredibly exciting time for art – art is disseminated with incredible ease, is shared, is contributed to, is reused and remixed endlessly.

One element of this vast area of contemporary art, particularly new media art, which I find particularly interesting is the ever increasing importance of group collaboration. As was claimed in the documentary The Future of Art ‘the idea of the great man is disintegrating’. In other words the lone genius creating incredible works is slowly being usurped by works utilising the combined input of a great range of people, reusing and contributing to others’ work. ‘Many hands make light work’ seems to be trumping ‘Too many cooks spoil the broth’. The combined existence of those two sayings has always been troubling for me.

The final product is rarely the final product. You can never know what may become of your artwork. In some ways, this may make the final product perhaps less sacred as that level of untouchability is removed. The final product can be bastardised. It can also be beautified. I am going to focus on the beautification. Rather than blabber on, here are a couple of examples of works that have been remixed and reused to create something beautiful, amusing and touching.

Firstly, as was discussed in class, is Mass Ornament, a video installation by Natalie Bookchin that raises several issues of what constitutes art.

Bookchin collated and choreographed several hundred YouTube home-made dancing videos. The result, as you can see above, is quite stunning, capturing the very sameness of all these people dispersed around the world.

Are the dancing videos posted up on YouTube art? Or do they become art only when merged and combined by Bookchin? Could Bookchin’s artwork have existed without these dancers? Clearly no.

Both elements, the YouTube dancers and Bookchin, require each other in order to create this ultimately quite beautiful artwork and it is the contribution by all parties that creates the beauty and meaning in the work.

And now for something completely different, the website Learning to Love You More, which generally employed old media but used new media to draw on crowd collaboration and input. Now the website exists only as an archive but from 2002-2009 it was an active, ever-changing example of collaborative artwork.

Briefly, Miranda July and Harrell Fletcher would set an assignment for the general public each week and the general public, or whichever part of it happened to be paying attention, would respond by completing her task and posting the results on the website.

Examples of assignments included asking a neighbour to sing or play and instrument and recording the performance; climbing to the top of a tree in your town and taking a picture; making an encouraging banner. The beauty of this website was the simplicity and generality of the commands which acted as a guide and allowed for a wide variety of responses from participants worldwide. Interesting, Learning to Love You More, like Mass Ornament, showcased the amateur. This focus on the amateur is a defining feature of new media art.

In both of these works, the lone genius acts as curator rather than as content-maker. It is the combined collaborative effort that creates the meaning, empathy and beauty in the art.


Shalom, Gabriel (2011) The Future of Art Transmediale, 2011/02/the-future-of-art/