With graduation fast approaching, I return to something a teacher told me during my very first semester. He said, "Instead of seeing the world in a poem, I prefer to see the poem in the world." There's only one way to express the effect of these words: they blew my mind. Never before had I imagined that there were other ways of looking at texts besides close reading. I continued to ask the question "What do texts do?" while at the same time asking, "How was this text made?" and "What social function does this text serve?" and, importantly, "What power relations are at play throughout?"
Throughout this course, jokes have been made that "Kiera hates art," and while these have been quite funny, I would like to clarify that this is not at all the case. Rather, I am wary of a particular reading of art: the "close reading" that happens in critique sessions. I prefer to look at art from a cultural studies perspective---seeing "the poem in the world," as it were. The cultural studies model is interested in production, text, and reception. Personally, I find analysis of reception most exciting for it encourages us to ask a number of questions: what do people do with texts? What conversations do texts enable? How do people use texts to form identities and communities?
That said, I think I have drawn an unnecessary line between "art" and "media," essentially declaring, "No, no. I don't make art. I make media." Calling my work art seemed unimaginable; I make podcasts and receive checks from NPR. I thought surely the categories of "what I make" and "art" were mutually exclusive.
This course has asked us to question labels of "art" and "media," and until now I have not done so. With this project I am putting a frame around one episode of my podcast and calling it art. In some ways I feel like I am giving myself a makeover and walking self-consciously into homeroom with a whole new look. Gone are the public radio clogs, relaxed fit denim, and seasonal lapel pins. And what does this new outfit look like? "Art-Media" explores the possibilities while posing the question of what is gained by calling something "art."
In "The Author as Producer," Walter Benjamin argues that producers should "induce other producers to produce" and "put an improved apparatus at their disposal" (78). Benjamin mandates that producers should turn consumers into producers, and I take this quite literally. I see this project as an umfunktionierung---a work that has a function in that it organizes people. How much organizing will this project incite? How much (if any) structural transformation will this project bring about? We must wait and see.
And so I return to my teacher's words that have been ringing in my ears for three years. I encourage you to approach "Art-Media" from a cultural studies perspective, for declaring it to be a work of art does not necessitate a close reading. Indeed, "Art-Media" can be seen as making a poem, setting it off in the world, and seeing what people do with it.
Since February I have hosted a podcast called YouthCast. YouthCast is distributed by alt.NPR and a radio website called The Public Radio Exchange (PRX). YouthCast is the podcast for Generation PRX--the youth-oriented branch of PRX. Every two weeks I pick a youth-produced radio story to feature. These stories come from PRX, where stations and individual producers can upload their work and license pieces.
"Art-Media" is comprised of two parts---a podcast and an online participatory project. The latter is my primary focus in "Art-Media" but the two go hand-in-hand.
The podcast is comprised of host bits, a piece called "Radio Love" by a youth producer named Tiffany Patterson, an interview with the producer about her production processes, and a teaser for the DIY Radio Project. This podcast has much less umfunktionierung than the online participatory element of "Art-Media." Yet, I see this podcast as a text that could help organize people in that it directs/encourages traffic to the online participatory project.
Additionally,this podcast marks a change in how I conceive of myself as a producer. With this podcast I decided that my ideal audience is composed of either youth producers or youth consumers. I usually put the producer interview on the YouthCast blog, but from now on I will put them in the podcast itself. Producers talking about their processes of production demystifies these processes and could enable consumers to produce.
The online participatory project: [click here to visit the "DIY Radio Project"]
The DIY Radio Project is hosted on the Generation PRX site that runs on a Ning platform. Essentially, Generation PRX is a social networking site for youth radio producers and teachers. The DIY Radio Project is an invitation to youth producers to make and distribute radio tutorials. The goal is to share skills and knowledge in a non-hierarchical manner.
It is essential that these tutorials be youth-produced (and posted by youths on the website). Benjamin argues that radical culture "transcend[s] the specialization in the process of production" (68). With that in mind, this project challenges hierarchical production and dissemination of knowledge. Benjamin urges producers to give their work "revolutionary use-value" in that it enables consumers to change the "productive apparatus" (75). Similarly, In "The Radio as an Apparatus of Communication," Brecht argues, "The radio should step out of the supply business and organize its listeners as suppliers" (1). Similarly, the DIY Radio Project attempts to organize listeners as suppliers of the knowledge necessary to create radio. The ultimate goal is that listeners will organize themselves as suppliers---that they will not be organized by radio but rather organizers of radio. In that vein, this project seeks to transform the power relations at play in the production of knowledge about media production.
In "Constituents of a Theory of the Media," Enzensberger argues that "the author has to work as the agent of the masses," setting a "goal to make himself redundant as a specialist in much the same way as a teacher of literacy only fulfills his task when he is no longer necessary" (275). Brecht also uses a metaphor of education to address the relationship between producer and consumer. He argues that radio "must follow the prime objective of turning the audience not only into pupils but into teachers" (1).
Ideally the DIY Radio Project will do two things: first, turn consumers into producers (who are in turn able to turn other consumers into producers; second, turn producers into author-producers who are also able to turn consumers into producers. By calling for youth producers to teach each other how to make radio, I hope I have planted the seeds for my own redundancy as both a specialist in media production and a specialist in the teaching of media production.
(DIY Radio Project screenshot, 12-12-07. DIY Radio Project group membership #: 9)
Planting the seeds is a fitting metaphor, for a reorganization and decentralization of the teaching of media production cannot happen overnight. These first two tutorials (see above) were not posted spontaneously by youth producers; rather, I aggressively solicited two youth producers. Ideally, the project will take off on its own and youth producers will post their own tutorials without my prodding.
Enzensberger concludes the article, writing, "It is characteristic of artistic avant-gardes that they have, so to speak, a presentiment of the potentiality of media which still lie in the future" (275). My project is focused on the future, but it involves none of the negative connotations of "presentiment."
In our first class discussions, it was posited that radical art is that which proposes a future that is different than the present reality. This project operates on a similar register of the imagination. Perhaps a bustling, non-hierarchical network of teenage radio producers will form over time, sharing skills and resources outside of institutions like schools. They will be both teachers and pupils, producers and consumers-- operators of their own radio apparatus. And perhaps one day they'll realize that they can even bypass the hierarchy of Generation PRX. I have administrator privileges on the site. These privileges position me as gatekeeper of the means of production within this small community. Yet, those privileges would be irrelevant if all the teenage members decided to create their own social network on Ning. All it would take is a single mouse click.
And then again, they could even band together and form a new kind of community unrelated to Ning --a community of their own devising.
Benjamin, Walter. "The Author as Producer" in Cultural Resistance Reader, edited by Stephen Duncombe. Verson, London: 2002.
Brecht, Bertold. "The Radio as an Apparatus of Communication." 1932.
Enzensberger, Hans Magnus. "Constituents of a Theory of the Media." 1970.