by Jonathan T. D. Neil


by Domingo Mestre


by Noah Marcel Sudarsky


by Juanli Carrión


by Bosko Blagojevic

THE field of contemporary art has, in the past century, seen the extensive development of various enabling and entrepreneurial organizations. I’m speaking here of the spectrum of exhibition venues, critical journals, various supporting service industries, public relations firms, and so on that now constitute an expanded landscape of a cultural production system more tolerant of new forms than new social relations among its constituents. Such structures are the natural consequence of a field whose reach and operational tempo, like that of many others, has increased significantly with the proliferation of global telecommunication systems and the concurrent fertility of entrepreneurial interests. Many of these facilitating structures then come regularly under scrutiny in the field’s more reflective moods--the programming tendencies of a museum, for instance, or the editorial inclinations of a well-circulated journal become rich topics for critical assessment and discussion. And yet there remain other organizations that seem somehow deliberately missed, like so much unexamined sinew of a field that is at every opportunity proclaiming its own self awareness and critical muscularity. How then to begin an assessment of such an organization? And furthermore, why?

E-flux rental project

Image from the e-flux video rental project.
Courtesy of e-flux.

The e-flux project has, for over a decade now, functioned as one such primary agent that is often, save for its perennial presence in the electronic inboxes of cultural workers around the world, largely invisible. The popular art press likewise reflects this by not reflecting. E-flux’s daily activities are the electronic distribution of texts--oftentimes press releases and institutional communiqués--from a large but exclusive group of clients and friends. And yet, somehow, it has evaded both attention and scrutiny--due in no small part to its virtuality. But, likewise, it remains a project that is greeted continually with what seems like a persistent misreading: that as an enterprise whose use value trumps the agency it so regularly exhibits and deploys.

Let’s begin then with something like a sketch of a few practical, generally understood things. E-flux as an entity originates in 1999, at a time when Anton Vidokle joined with artist colleagues and organized a one-night exhibition in a hotel room in New York’s Chinatown. The announcement for the exhibition was sent via email to a network of friends and associates, and subsequently forwarded and redistributed by its recipients. It circulated as information tends to circulate on the Internet: that is, with a mushrooming quality. The exhibition was thus well attended, and remains at the center of e-flux’s originating story. What continued from this modest beginning was a growing mailing list and a steady stream of announcements--exhibitions and events, primarily--distributed electronically. Subscription to this list was and remains free and publicly accessible. The distribution of texts to the list, however, was and is not. By all appearances, what seems to have been emerging at the time was a new media apparatus, arriving at a historically opportune moment on an Internet still lacking many of those edifices that now point back to the social and material relations of the world in which the network remains inextricably embedded.

What e-flux went on to became however was not this. More broadly speaking, the project is today an ongoing and evolving collaboration between its central protagonists, artists Anton Vidokle and Julieta Aranda, and an international cadre of cultural producers that have for many years now collectively authored an ambitious and expansive set of projects, provocations, texts and manifestations operating with and against the currents of commercially or institutionally specific art production, exhibition, and its partnering critical outlets. The organization from its beginnings signaled the arrival of a new type of networked knowledge production or distribution. I use these two terms--production and distribution--because it is precisely here, in the new immaterial sphere of activity, that they might interestingly begin to be contested or confused. That e-flux’s originating principle was as a distributor or aggregator of content is certain, but the organization has since gone on to produce various collaborative projects. An early example would be Rob Pruitt’s 1999 project “101 Art Ideas You Can Do Yourself” and the similarly spirited “Do It” book edited by Hans Ulrich Obrist and published in collaboration with Revolver five years later. Most recently, the 2008 launch of the e-flux Journal, a monthly online publication of cultural theory and artist’s projects, has again affirmed the double-pronged organization’s role as producer.

Of all the possible ways to think through or around the organization, this is perhaps the least interesting. E-flux has, by way of its endurance and taxonomical ambiguity developed something of a vogue institutional brand founded on the most non-institutional of platforms. To read even an excerpt of the company’s clients is to recognize some of the world’s most visible and powerful contemporary art institutions. Following this, e-flux commands material resources beyond its own communications capacity, and deploys them appropriately: the production, sometimes alone and sometimes partnering with other organizations or backers, of artist projects, some already mentioned in the previous paragraph. In this freedom to produce, to associate, and to do so without being beholden to any single institution is where collective autonomy finds its realization: not in some ideal future or imagined scenario, but right now, in New York, in Berlin, and elsewhere, too. The projects produced which somehow model or enact this form--an architecture of facilitation to communications or delivery--become especially interesting. Vidokle and Aranda’s E-flux Video Rental (EVR) project, for example, is at once a free and functional video rental, screening room, and a growing film and video archive. When installed, it functions as an aesthetic system based as an easily accessibly bank of popular culture moving towards obsolescence (the video rental store) on the one hand, and a useful (but controlled) distribution point for artist’s video on the other.

To evoke again, perhaps precariously, the language of architecture--a mode of analogy not uncommon in the field of information technology and networked computing--what we are discussing here is less an abstracted edifice designed and overseen by two artists, so much as a structural facilitator of the production, distribution and consumption of knowledge and information. It wouldn’t take more than a glance to the digital horizon to recognize this model operating outside of the field of contemporary art. It is everywhere finding new audiences and uses in the world of networked media and the content-driven Internet. We see it in the social networking sites whose developers create unobtrusive database interfaces and allow users to author the content that adds value to the site and attracts additional users. We see it also in media sharing sites like Flickr and YouTube, themselves a kind of conceptual approach to developing mass media: If you build it, they will come.

Much ink, to utilize a humorously outdated turn of phrase in the present discussion, has certainly been spilt on theorizing these late approaches to networked computing. They invite this sort of theorizing because they move so strongly in the direction of transparency, intuitive human interfacing, and a ubiquity that withstands the temperamental fashions of Internet usage. Most of all, they purport to a kind of denied agency: so long as no copyright or legal content issues be raised, they only serve the user her own data. To develop such a structure with an agency--a politics!--requires an affirmation of distributive or editorial control. It is the type of control we witness in the realization of the E-flux Video Rental previously mentioned, under the direct stewardship of its eponymous founding organization. The clearly oppositional orientation of that project to the popular mode of art video distribution as the editioned work is both a driving concept and an opportunity for the production of something between an aesthetic experience and a useful if temporary exhibition venue.

It is the same control we see in e-flux’s daily operations: subtle, perhaps, but certainly present in the select relationship with clients and the distribution of materials. Think, for instance, of the occasional atypical communication that makes its way to subscribers: Albert Hetta’s June 2005 announcement of a Kosovar Pavilion at that year’s Venice Biennale or a February 2008 news item on the financial capsizing of a very particular Lower East Side pawnshop. The organization’s politics emerge in these details, as they do in each production that bears the mark of their collective authorship. Just short of allowing one’s eyes to slip out of focus, e-flux begins quickly to resemble something like an art project. Or, rather, a cosmopolitan platform for enacting such projects. In this sense it is not unlike the abstract discursive platforms we find in the work of artists like Liam Gillick (by way of sculpture) or Rirkrit Tiravanija (by way of the kitchen)--both of whom have also extensively collaborated with Vidokle and Aranda. The difference between art as discursive platform and a project like e-flux is, of course, that the former is oftentimes embedded within a functional art exhibition context, while the latter many times exhibits no need for such things.

Past Number 00