I Can Live With Homogenized Tumblr Aesthetics

by Paddy Johnson on April 30, 2013 · 7 comments Opinion

Internet Archive will be accepting applications for week-long Tumblr residencies through June 1st. In an facebook conversation that was transcribed to Alt Crit, artist Nicholas O’Brien says he thinks the platform homogenizes aesthetic for the sake of individual “curatorial sensibilities”. Internet Archive’s Ian Aleksander Adams disagrees. He writes that it’s an exciting way to get people to use material from their archive. The Internet Archive itself has some lofty goals—Tumblr isn’t going to get them any closer to realizing their goal of “universal access to all knowledge”—but I don’t think that’s the project flaw O’Brien believes it to be.

Good things can happen when artists are asked to work with pre-existing materials within predetermined parameters. Just look at Elsewhere. It’s a living museum that invites artists to make art with its massive collection of objects accumulated during its former life as a thriftstore. The aesthetic of the artwork made, while varied, is still dictated by the house and the objects of the thriftstore, and yet its collaborative atmosphere brings new creative life to old forgotten things. The perimeters help this project, but like most art, it’s the people participating, not the platform that ultimately determine its value.


NicholasOBrien April 30, 2013 at 3:31 pm

This was not an interview. I am not affiliated with this project, and my concerns statements have been re-contextualized out of context twice as a result of asking the critical question, “why tumblr?”

On a side note, pointing to rare examples like Elsewhere, or Cloaque, or the few that do take measure to work critically/creatively within the limitations of tumblr does not then create an excuse for what i think is an otherwise ready-made simplification of the traditions and stylistic variety of surf culture. But maybe that time has passed, and the new normal of reblogging and notes is the paradigm that the Internet Archive feels a need to succumb to/opt for.

My main point is that this was not an interview, and I would not have responded and written in the this tone had a proper interview been conducted.

Paddy Johnson April 30, 2013 at 3:40 pm

What was the context of this discussion?

What is the ready-made simplification of the traditions and stylistic variety of surf culture?

NicholasOBrien April 30, 2013 at 3:49 pm

The context was a FB comment to Netartnet.net posting an announcement for this call. I was commented (first) as this post indicates, but because of some technical error in FB time-syncing (I am overseas ATM), the thread got all mixed up. Ian reposted it in chronological order, but I feel things got kind of lost since I didn’t see a lot of the posts in this order. So it was not an interview of any sort.

Well… I don’t really want to get into it, because i feel like a lot of backlash against “talking bad about tumblr as a person who uses it.” Mostly, I’m tired of the convo, because i think the response, generally, is “well, you’re not seeing the cool stuff that is out there.” Maybe, but I certainly am seeing a visual similarity of posts that generate heavy circulation on tumblr being derivative and “easy.” I feel like tumblr is poaching surf club aesthetic culture and the desire to find the authentic within the void of mass media. But then again, as others have noted, maybe i just need a dashboard realignment.

NicholasOBrien April 30, 2013 at 3:54 pm

LOL “I don’t really want to get into it,” I am such a contradiction!

I DO WANT TO GET INTO IT, but also I find rehashing this convo somewhat…boring? Also, I am becoming fearful/skeptical of continued misrepresentation (my own personal hang ups, so w/e). I like to take more time on these things usually, and flesh out why I have these kinds of reactions/stands/criticisms, and maybe it’s my fault for initiating the conversation when I wasn’t prepared. Although this wasn’t an interview, I’m glad to have had some opportunity to discuss these misgivings with Ian, and to his credit (although he got the short end of the stick in another FB thread) I think he handled it as best he could given my obstinate position.

Paddy Johnson April 30, 2013 at 4:09 pm

I’ll mention that this was a facebook discussion.

I don’t understand how tumblr could poach anything, let alone a surf club aesthetic. People use it for so many different reasons . Do you mean that when artists use it they poach a surf club aesthetic culture and the desire to find the authentic within the void of mass media?

I guess that’s a generalization I can see, but every medium has trappings. My point about Elsewhere wasn’t so much that they avoid these trappings, but that there’s enough creative energy in that place that at some point, a familiar thrift-store aesthetic stops being an issue. It seems to me that that’s what Internet Archive is looking to looking to create. Achieving it’s a long shot, but even those are worth taking imo.

Ian Aleksander Adams April 30, 2013 at 6:42 pm

Thanks Nick, I was happy to have have an opportunity to try and get out my ideas about the project in this kind of format – I don’t really like writing essays as much as trying to defend myself in a conversational context.

I’ve edited the post to add an additional line (it said via netartnet on facebook, but it was small) indicating that it was a facebook conversation. While I put it under the ‘interview’ tag on the site, it’s mainly for organizational reasons and I didn’t intend for it to be seen as some sort of overly official thing.

3matt May 3, 2013 at 5:25 pm

You are seriously one pretentious motherfucker.

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