July 14, 2011

MMMMetadata, ephemera, and image aggregator culture



I just read a zine/art text from Edition MK: DDDDoomed—Or, Collectors & Curators of the Image: A Brief Future History of the Image Aggregator, which forms Vol. I of VIII of a series titled Img Ctrl—texts regarding the contemporary image world.

Looking back at Image Aggregators (or IA, as it's referred to) from the supposed future, the argument is made that Tumblr et al destroyed contemporary visual art and the art of curation. The main culprit seems to be the IA, FFFFound!, inspiring the title, DDDDoomed. FFFFound! is an aggregation of images, mostly random, that tend to fit a certain aesthetic. Tumblr and its ilk started out inoccuous enough, but turned into an "all out style-fest." This aesthetic seems to fit what the text refers to as "hipster capital," (as opposed to cultural capital) sort of hilariously exemplified as,
"They would've effortlessly clicked their little 'like' and 'reblog' buttons in response to some viral image, posted by some anonymous, reactionary IA supporter on his Tumblr blog, of some skinny, half-naked, tousled-haired, Brooklyn-girl, shot Terry Richardson style and wearing a screen-printed t-shirt emblazoned with some snarky referential one-liner like 'I FFFFind Therefore I Am" (p.3).
To better explain the microblogging platform Tumblr, or other IAs, in the sense they are being referred to here, they are kind of like scrapbooks... but scrapbooks without any contextual meaning. On Tumblr, you can collect and compile a variety of images, quotes, or video, which can be original, swiped with or without attribution, or "reblogged." If you see another Tumblr with an image you like, there is simply a button you can click to have it reposted, or "reblogged" on your Tumblr. You can also "like" content. This could be considered curation, but DDDDoomed quotes Christian Brändle to counter this with, "Those who curate... also comment...; they evaluate, and thus it is indispensible that collectors know the background of their objects" (p.3). Although this is in regard to museums, the text argues IA's curation contributions are to the World Wide Web.

However, DDDDoomed compares IA "curators" to "wealthy collector[s] of Renaissance painting[s] [rather] than with the visual anthropologist out to record our cultures" (p.17). So with this collecting of hipster capital, the argument is made that  the purpose of (most of) these IAs is more so to feed a personal brand, rather than to contribute to culture.

IAs promote anonymity and the erasing of authorship through their format, which the text relates to playing telephone.These IAs, could have used "ordering interventions" that contemporary artists employ to respond to visual overload, such as appropriation, archiving, collage and bricolage, and typology (p.48-50). Instead, the IA is, more interested in,  "solidifying their own authorial claims on the selection and arrangement of images that were, in most cases, never theirs to begin with" (p.67).

I enjoyed reading this zine because I do have Tumblr accounts, one being Librarian Wardrobe, and also a personal one that I have more recently abandoned. I also think it's both good and bad how IAs erase metadata and make content more "free." Sometimes, it can be used in the sense of culture jamming; regardless of understanding the creation story of the artifact, using it in a different context can provide revitalized meaning; at the same time, not understanding the background of an image makes appropriation of it somewhat irrelevant. Often, Tumblrs are "style-fests," but some have intrinsic value.

What are your opinions from the perspective of libraryland? What are your favorite Tumblrs and why; do your favorites have a specific curation mission or are they based on style alone?

Edit: from brief, yet engaging discussion on Facebook, seems happy medium is appreciated, where Tumblr is fun to look at, but can also view high art and "professional" curation, too. Doesn't have to be all good or all bad. Agree!