The Rise of Amateur Culture
Eternal September is a group exhibition that aims to explore the relationship between professional art making and the rising tide of amateur cultural movements throughout the Web, a historical event that has triggered a huge, fascinating shift in every field of culture, especially the visual one. The exhibition includes works by 15 authors and artistic groups (professionals and amateurs alike) and a series of special projects and accompanying events that will take place both offline and online.
“Nothing like a little disaster for sorting things out.”
“Eternal September” is a slang expression that was coined by David Fischer in a comment sent to the Usenet group alt.folklore.computers in 1994 (“September 1993 will go down in net.history as the September that never ended.”). The sentence refers to September 1993, the year in which the major providers began offering access to all their customers. Up to that time, the network population was composed mostly of university members, a group that would get a little bit bigger every year in September when a number of freshmen would enter college and have their first net access. Every time a fresh influx of “newbies” joined a network, its community had to confront their “net illiteracy” and general lack of netiquette; their behaviour was, in fact, considered annoying and potentially dangerous for the quality of content and discussion.
After 1993, this influx of new users became permanent, and this “Eternal September” is still happening today at exponential speed. Internet access, which is now global, is constantly growing, despite the well-known “digital divide” issues. This phenomenon, which transformed from a tidal wave into an unstoppable tsunami, gave birth to an enormous cultural shift.
This “access” topic needs to be addressed in a very broad sense: the opportunity to access information, as well as that to use production tools and distribution channels. Every system previously used to managing and controlling cultural production is now experiencing a deep crisis, which is also causing the inevitable collapse of all the related business models.
The ultimate consequence of this scenario is also the most radical one: the questioning of “professionalism”, an event that has been foreseen by many observers ever since the 1970s. Gene Youngblood, for instance, wrote about it in the 1982 Siggraph catalogue:
“A tool is ‘mature’ insofar as it’s easy to use, accessible to everyone, offering high quality at low cost and characterized by a pluralistic rather than singular practice, serving a multitude of values. Professionalism is an archaic model that’s fading in the twilight of the Industrial Age.”
The Eternal September exhibition also aims at highlighting another fundamental feature of the emerging cultural scenario: the speed that characterizes the production and distribution of creative content. This hectic and unstoppable circulation of ideas and digital artifacts has led many critics and journalists to use words and adjectives borrowed from biology jargon: viral contents, mind viruses, contagious media. Some also refer to a controversial scientific theory that was born in the 1970s in the context of the genetic research boom: the so-called “memetics”. This theory postulates the existence of “memes”, units of human cultural transmission analogous to genes, arguing that replication also happens in culture. In a fast and liquid environment such as the Internet, in which any content – images, sounds, texts – can be edited in real-time and fed back into the communication circuit, the metamorphic nature of any cultural product rises exponentially.
In an era like the present one, in which image production is so advanced and refined that it can be easily considered scientific matter, the amateur “look and feel” of many contemporary cultural products also seems to function as proof of authenticity, passion and enthusiasm. This attitude reminds us of what happened in the early twentieth century, when the simplicity and spontaneity of archaic and exotic artifacts was seen as an antidote to the weariness of Western culture, considered decadent and artificial. Today, the new “primitivism” coincides with the “amateur”.
This exhibition comprises a mix of artworks by professional artists and “non-professional” ones, comparing images, aesthetics and languages. A great number of contemporary artists, in fact, actively and fearlessly confront this new scenario in which the boundaries between professional art making and amateur products are increasingly blurred and intertwined. The project also aims to show how some of the aesthetic and stylistic strategies normally associated with cutting-edge contemporary art have been assimilated by popular culture that is born and happens online.
Our definition of art is once again changing radically, challenging both artists and viewers, two categories that are getting more and more unstable and interconnected. Eternal September is an attempt to acknowledge the revolution that is subverting today’s visual culture, a colorful and messy catastrophe that is rapidly wiping away all our landmarks in the artscape. This show does not offer any new certainty, though. Instead, it’s an invitation to dive in together, and start figuring things out.
Credits, more information about this project and related events HERE
2 – 26 September 2014
Curated by: Valentina Tanni
Anonymous (The Game Pro),
Tymek Borowski & Pawel Sysiak,
Dennis Logan (Spatula007),
Valeria Mancinelli & Roberto Fassone,
Casey Pugh et al.,
Phil Thompson and Wendy Vainity (madcatlady)