INTERVIEW: “Jose Luis Brea. The Critic Operator of the Web 2.0″ by Ignacio Nieto

(Read the interview in Spanish)

NMF’s contributor, Ignacio Nieto interviews José Luis Brea who was formerly Dean of the Fine Arts Academy of Cuenca and Director of Exhibitions for the Ministry of Culture between 1985 – 1988. As a free lance art critic, he is a regular contributor to Spanish and international art magazines including Frieze, Flash Art and Parkett. He is Spanish correspondent for Arforum and regional editor for Rhizome. He has organized multiples exhibitions as independent curator and has published several books including Auras Frias and El Tercer Umbral. Currently, he is professor of Esthetics and Theory of Contemporany Art at Carlos III University in Madrid, editor of the magazine Estudios Visuales and he is director of two new online projects: salonKritik and ::agencia crítica::
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Ignacio Nieto [IN]: With the popularization of blogs, a number of spaces have developed which had no place within the logic of political economy; contained and produced by media, creating a new front for ideas and critical thinking. For you, what would be the advantages and disadvantages that blog technology has over traditional media (newspapers, radio and television)?

José Luis Brea [JLB]: I believe that there are two fundamental advantages: an extended possibility of access, and participation. The first is very important, of course, because it proposes access to critical thinking that is made available to a larger part of the population, something that was not possible in the past (this is without exaggeration, of course, one must never forget that the supposition of total access is an illusory fantasy—an interest of Capitalist ideology). Considering television and the culture of diffusion, Bourdieu called this the “lowering of the level” (of access). Let’s say that more people heard and saw—maybe even read—for example philosophers; Derrida, and now Zizek, whom they would never have had heard, seen or read before. This is much more evident with new media (especially since the development of the web 2.0)

But for the same reason this amplification (possibility to access) would not have an excessive importance; it would be purely quantitative, it would not contribute without making “more of the masses” the culture of masses, and maybe to incorporate in it cultural objects, of the critical tradition which before belonged to areas in culture less popular, more “elitist” or more reserved for specialized communities, let’s say (for example “deconstruction,” “Theory of acts of speech,” or “antagonist thinking”). This is why I think that the quality that is important is the latter, that which I have called “participation.” This is something that the web 2.0 has re-enforced a lot. Before, of course, it had already occurred that all new media, obviously from radio to video, from “vietnamita”[1] to photocopy or the fanzine, and of course, the website programmed in HTML, makes possible a certain extension of interactivity (in the construct of collective critical thinking), related to the conversion of the spectator/reader/ receiver into emitter. But with the emergence of the blog, forums postnuke, and phpBB, wikis, and podcasting in general all DIY media publication has grown exponentially, and it is there where a great leap has been produced; its impact on the discursive field we currently entertain, (critical thinking), necessarily is huge; and it will ultimately culminate in those diverse forms authors call “collective intellectualization.”

Let’s say that all the manifestations of technologies of treatment, gesture, diffusion, archiving, and organization of access to knowledge (not only the tools of e-science, but also those dialogical and interactive prototypes of the web 2.0), necessarily open and submit critical thinking to processes much more intense and, to put it this way, frantic public contrast. The challenge for critical thinking resides in confronting the consequences of its new logic and its social construct.

And it is there where it should be pointed out, also, the disadvantage, the danger, which respectively corresponds to new media: that the elusive “lowering of the level” is not only produced in the terms mentioned above (of more open access), but also produced as a lowering of the level for content. Let’s say that the public dialogue ends up converting critical thinking into chatter, vulgarity, in an ineventual series of commonalities badly developed and repeated from blog to blog, like echoes each time more hollow of ideas, which in those repostings lose more and more panache and sharpness. In my reflection on the transformation of the tools of cultural criticism with the apparition of these new media, I dedicate an ironic post to this question specifically titled “Chatter” (of unquestionable Benjamanian references, which surely some readers will recognize).

(http://www.agenciacritica.net/criticaeck/archivo/2005/11/chachara.php)

IN: Do you believe that blogs could displace ranking terms in search engines like Google?

JLB: If I tell you the truth, I don’t think so. I don’t doubt that tools of semantic articulation of content (and in some ways efficient for the organization of searches) like Technorati or del.icio.us, or metablogs, could serve a similar function. But, in any case, its utility would be principally limited to the extended blogosphere, let’s say projects specific to the web 2.0, linked to the “personal publication.” Regardless, there are fundamental spaces—all those related to science, with the tools of the web of knowledge, with the new structure of access to the web of academic research (with all the transformations that it is experiencing)—that keep needing tools of organization for navigation, to classify and search, let’s say. On one side, it is evident that this have not been developed autonomously (for instance, there is no search engine for the “web of knowledge,” at the periphery of the search engines proper of databases for specific data, for example ISI Thompson), and on another side, search engines like Google do not stop attending also to those necessary searches. I want to say that at the same time that projects are developed, like Blogger, also they place in effect the digitalization of great libraries. Or, let’s say, that they attend the development of the web of “publication of personal e-culture” as well as the re-conversion and turnaround of the web of “high cultural research” and “academic culture” linked to the development of e-science (I choose general terminology and I use it in an imprecise way, because after all, this is all about trying to understand my response in relation to your question and up to what point I think that the development of those proper mechanisms of the “web of collective intellect” does not cover aspects of change for which old search engines are still essential).

IN: The blogs that work like editors/directors (Salonkritik and Agencia Critica) posses different directions, but they have various areas in common; from the design to the technology that supports them, onto the concept that validates them: criticism. Could you explain the genesis of each of these blogs?

JLB: Of course you are right about both things. It is obvious that they have a lot in common: mainly on a formal level and on their development, which come from the same hand; our team is very small ;-) –and I also confess to you that all the programming and maintenance is done by myself; I do not want, nor can I lose too much time in researching technical questions (nor obviously in design), beyond of what is strictly necessary for the final development of specific projects, logically; even though, in any case, we dispose effectively of all kinds of tools—from wikis to systems of podcasting, forums with postnuke or our own blogs running on MT or WordPress, and all on our own server, which allows us to launch a new project that we find interesting in a matter of hours.

Regarding content and objectives, the two blogs are truly different. SalonKritik basically is a resource of art criticism which is published in Spain, without much pretension other than to align (therefore open to other publics, at the same time and potentially to other debates) something that at a moment occurs only in one medium that simultaneously is elitist and functions very corruptly in Spain like a tool of power, which is the “cultural supplement.” Let’s say that salonKritik tries to destabilize a bit the supplemental economy of authority. Open it to other dynamics (even though I have to admit that the success that we have achieved with this project is not reason to launch fireworks), to enable the publication of visions and perspectives that are not published in that media, to which people can answer… ultimately, to validate justly those other qualities that we know new media have in relation to old media specifically in diffusion, contrast, and participation in the construction of critical thought.

Regarding La Agencia, it is a more modest and ambitious project. More modest in the sense, I suppose, that it would interest a smaller audience, but which is more ambitious when aiming to make public something that did not exist, and which, in my opinion, tainted the cultural landscape in Spain, which is the critique of artistic and cultural politics. There is Art criticism (quite a bit, which is not very good, of course, but very common) but in contrast there is not a lot of criticism about politics of art. And, well, more specifically that is the objective of the Agencia Crítica.

The main problem that I encountered with La Agencia, is solitude (I don’t know if this is as a forward or a goalie before a penalty, to tell you the truth), although it is true that with time la Agencia receives more collaborations by diverse people, which is what I believe would make it more interesting: that it could cover the most expansive set of multiple points of view; as different as possible. In any case, la Agencia has little time online still, and I am confident that little by little, the number of collaborators that want to participate will grow.

IN: A last question: Tell me about your new book?

JLB: Well, I have a couple of years working on it. The dense nucleus is a chapter titled “e-ck: Electronic Cultural Capitalism” which in reality I considered finished two years ago. It basically deals with the process of transformation of Capitalism in which the accumulation of capital is centered mainly on the processes of symbolic and cultural production, and all of the multiplicity of consequences that it has, including in the new political economy of societies of knowledge, as well as the critical position found within these cultural practices.

In any case, the title that the book will have is not that one (of Electronic Cultural Capitalism) but of “Cultura_RAM,” since other previous chapters have focused each time on such conundrum, specifically, of characteristic transformation of cultural practices (and its rules of production, distribution and archiving: there you have the concept of RAM like a new form of characteristic memorization) and the models of production and forms of knowledge, from the university, the museum, to criticism… Some of the texts included, as it always happens with books, have been previously published and distributed online—for example that one on criticism of art, which is the one I referred to above—but many others for now have not been edited. I am definitely finishing the book during the next few weeks, and I hope to send it for publication very soon.

(1) Vietnamita: Spanish colloquial term given to “do it your self” offset machines that were used by the anti-Franco resistance to print pamphlets.