Category Archives: archives

It’s Complicated

These days when people people ask me what I’ve been up to, the answers can get quite convoluted. So in the absence of a FaceBook account here’s a sampling of some recent projects, and just enough back story to make it seem coherent.

Followers of this site will be familiar with my researches into the Marshall McLuhan fonds, work that some intrepid Berliners have recently revived by marrying a poor quality lecture video to the hundreds of images that were the crux of the original presentation. The result is the Hybrid Lecture Player.

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We’re currently seeking support to go deeper (and go public) with this project. The hope is to make each image into a virtual slide down a documentary rabbit hole, for those who choose to explore. We were met with enthusiastic interest in recent conversations with the McLuhan family, and the Berliners have piqued the interest of universities in Europe and the US. All of this international attention may be enough to win the eventual support of Canadian institutions, including the LAC whose new director says he wants to revive the exhibitions and programming that have been conspicuously absent in recent years. With luck the promised exhibitions will expand beyond war and hockey.

In addition to that archival work I’m getting back into museums, by way of the academy and the internet. I’ve researched, catalogued, taught and curated in museums for much of my career, which took a downturn in summer 2011 when I was one of five curators laid off from the struggling National Gallery of Canada. The abolition of my position as Curator of International (i.e. non-Canadian) Art brought the total to seventy lost positions by the time I was out of the picture. That’s a conservative estimate, since it doesn’t count moribund positions like the curatorship of Modern Art, a role that I subsumed a few years prior to that. I found it rewarding to acquire 20thC works such as a unique Warhol print donated by a couple in Toronto and this crazy thing which I found at auction and paid for with repatriation monies from Heritage Canada.

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I also developed a deep respect for minimalist art while creating a glorious gallery for Judd, Andre and Flavin works that has since been dismantled. Continue reading

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The Internet’s Own Boy

Two stills from a superb documentary about my pal Aaron Swartz, whose death started me blogging in January 2013. The photo shows Aaron celebrating the victory over the passage of SOPA legislation. Scroll down to watch the entire movie.

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Blueprint for Counter Education Redivivus

I just received word that Paul Cronin, Rob Giampietro, Adam Michaels and Jeffrey T. Schnapp received a generous Graham Foundation grant for an exhibition analyzing and completing the inimitable Blueprint for Counter Education by Maurice R. Stein and Larry Miller, from which I quoted in this recent post. At the time I was writing a last-minute letter of support for the grant proposal, which I reckon it’s now safe to share with a new image and a few links. The fact that it fits 18 of my 30 subject tags indicates the project’s richness and its closeness to my heart! The Chicago-based Graham Foundation Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts is a wonderful institution that supported my first and last translation effort in the late ’90s.

Maurice R. Stein, Larry Miller & Marshall Henrichs; Blueprint for Counter Education, 1970, New York. Photo: Project Projects.

Maurice R. Stein, Larry Miller & Marshall Henrichs; Blueprint for Counter Education, 1970, New York. Photo: Project Projects.

23 January 2014 Dear Sir or Madam, I am writing in support of the project Blueprint for (a Media Archeology of) Counter Education, as presented to the Graham Foundation’s “Production and Presentation” grant category by Jeffrey Schnapp, Adam Michaels and Rob Giampietro. The proposed project as a natural successor to Schnapp and Michaels’ triumphant The Electric Information Age Book (TEAIB), an experiment intimately linked to the Blueprint project in form and subject matter. The book TEAIB defines the parameters of a short-lived and largely forgotten type of publication, variously described as the kinetic paperback, the inventory book and the experimental paperback. Beginning with The Medium is the Massage—the groundbreaking 1967 book written by Marshall McLuhan, designed by Quentin Fiore and ‘produced’ by Jerome Agel—these revolutionary little books rewrite the rules of style, layout and distribution. They also declare the irrelevance of divisions between highbrow and lowbrow, art and advertising, word and image, and (most crucially) form and content. This complicated mix of moves perfectly embodies McLuhan’s observation that the medium is the message. Continue reading

Video: My Berlin talk on McLuhan’s Media Practice

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Over on YouTube (scroll down for link menu) I’ve just posted a VHS-quality vid of myself standing up in Berlin on a Friday afternoon in late November 2011. It’s the only visible evidence of a few such talks that I gave in his centenary year, based on my researches into the McLuhan fonds here in Ottawa. Here’s the official announcement:

In a 1959 talk and a 1964 book Marshall McLuhan famously declares that “the medium is the message.” By 1967 the title of a typographically adventuresome book turns “message” into “massage.” In each case McLuhan is urging his audience to care less about the apparent content of communication (what happens to be “on” TV or “in” a book) and more about the psychodynamics of the particular medium (the effects of television or the book per se).

Although later interpreters have viewed the medium=message/massage tenet as central to McLuhan’s thinking, there has been little sustained attention to the practical role of inscription, publication and broadcast in his work. In short, it is time to pay closer attention to the media practice behind McLuhan’s media theory. This talk, based on extensive researches in the McLuhan fonds at Library & Archives Canada, surveys the evidence for McLuhan’s quotidian encounters with the very media that he investigates.

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