“Modernism is our Classical Antiquity”

[Original German Blog Post]

(1) “A Vernacular is like a crumbled street version of a classic language. Like Italian is a vernacular language and Latin is a classic language. What does actual vernacular online video sound like, that’s native to the Internet and speaks vernacular Internet ease? I’ll just read you the categories of an unnamed [Online Video Network] here: ‘LOL, OMG, WTF, Cute, Games, Geeky and Trashy’. Those are actual terms, coined on the Internet. Now, you could think, to be classy, you would like to expunge that vernacular, and instead of them saying ‘LOL’ they should say something like ‘commedy’, instead of ‘OMG’ something like ‘experimental’. – Allright. That’s not how it works. It is a little hard to understand this, but the actual path to classiness is to upgrade the vernacular. You have to get through LOL, OMG, WTF, Cute, Games, Geeky and Trashy and somehow come out the other side. You have to make network culture classy on its own terms. You have to ennoble the vernacular – not by teaching people Latin, but by writing Dante’s Inferno!”
Bruce Sterling, Closing Keynote: Vernacular Video from Vimeo Festival. (My transcript)

(2) classic 1610s, from Fr. classique (17c.), from L. classicus “relating to the (highest) classes of the Roman people,” hence, “superior,” from classis (see class). Originally in English “of the first class;” meaning “belonging to standard authors of Greek and Roman antiquity” is attested from 1620s. Classics is 1711, and is the earliest form of the word to be used as a noun.
Douglas Harper, Online Etymology Dictionary

(3) “Modernism is our Classical Antiquity”
Roger M. Buergel’s mantra as curator of Documenta 12

“The idea to put together an international Exhibition on the art of the 20th century in Germany is so obvious, that there seems hardly any need for explanation.”, thus gives Werner Haftmann as introduction into the catalogue on the first Documenta 1955 in Kassel. Evidently the makers of this first mass-art-show were exactly clear about what would make the art of their century. After my tour around the Documenta 12, however I was clear about this being the last Documenta for me to visit. While the curators of the three preceding exhibitions would have tried, to draw a picture of today’s art – and would fail, everyone in his own way, 2007’s exhibition had abandoned to define something like “classical art of our time”. What could give the impression of negligence or of idleness of the mind of the curator, I would today take as a symptom for upheaval in visual arts, which will be shaken in a similar way like media, music industry, and all the other so called creative arts.

Modernism – modern art, like it has evolved during the last three centuries – is classical antiquity, exactly like Roger Buergel says. Like the scholastic adherence to the antiquity had governed thought and creativity in modern occidental culture for a long time, the modern-contemporary terms and categories are still seen as the measure for “classical” quality. Review and analysis of contemporary art either lead to anaemic formalism, like in the latest issue of Kunstforum, or end up in total randomness, just like the last Documenta.

Helpless we look around: isn’t there something to step in place of the old and venerable? A new generation? A new direction? Bruce Sterling gives the answer in his nearly hour-long closing-speech at the Vimeo Conference. The new is already there, and thus as vernacular, popular dialect, cant, in short: standing outside the classical culture. The new can be found in the vernacular culture of the Net.

You might argue, that this insight is neither new nor very inventive; the Internet rolling up culture out-and-out is told in whole annuals of Wired and thousands of hours of TED-conference. But Sterling says something different from that: To recognise the new, we have to be able to speak about it. The (professionial) terminology of cultural sciences and the critics is still the Lingua Franca of Modernism. At the same time, the vernacular of the Net-culture is not much more as a jargon yet.

The Shape of future art (as long as we still want to use this word, compromised by the “adoration of the genius” and by the bourgeois production process) could look like Urban Art or Generative Art – Favela Chic, to speak in Sterling’s words – or the eclecticism, peculiar to Net culture, the Bricolage, the Collage, Punk – Sterling’s Gothic High Castle.

This vernacular culture is distinct from classical contemporary culture particularly by its conditions of production. The classical author, artists or composer is remunerated by judicially sanctioned transfer systems like HFA, MCPS, SESAC – or he is directly employed by the state, as a university professor, member of the state orchestra or editor in the public broadcasting system. In opposite to that we find the much lamented “for-free-culture” of blogs, online video, the remixes and covers, and the so called “citizen journalism”, and so forth and so forth. And even if it might occur obvious to some, to just transpose the way of production of the classical culture onto the vernacular creativity of the Net, however this effort is doomed: the categories of the old world gain no longer traction; the people do not want to speak Latin anymore, because Italian now gives them the most fluent ability for expression.

“Stand on the shoulders of Giants”
Accessibility of knowledge
everybody a publisher
oral tradition
dilettante / amateur


(Decay of Copyright)

Bricolage (Ecclecticism)
Generative Art
New definition of Public Space
Assembly-line book
mass-marketing for books

In the table on the left I tried to interpret this development with Herbert Marshall McLuhan’s Tetrad:

As this change’s consequence we will, however, see only few more big novels, only rarely someone will take the risk to produce an expensive, full-length movie, or to practise a symphonic work of Musica Viva with an orchestra. What we experience is the comeback of the dilettante, in the best sense, of the enthusiast; “Everybody a publisher” means: Non-Commodity-Production of Culture.

Read more:
“So literature collapses before our eyes” – Non-Commodity Production
The End of History – for creative professionals.

Digital Printing for Art Books

[Original German blog post]

During the debate about the changes in media and the future importance of the Internet, you could get the impression lately, that the age of printing would come to an end after 500 years. In deed many industries that make a living from printed media are in a state of retreat since the dawn of the digital era: newspapers, magazines, intaglio and even offset printing, shown in an impressive way by the financial downturn of global market leader Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG in 2009.

For classical methods the main effort to print is to produce the printing plates – typesetting book pages, engravings for figures or today the making of plate cylinders in offset printing. Effect: the higher the circulation, the lower the price to print per piece. Everybody who has let something been printed in the classical way is familiar to the print shop’s quote: “it’s the same price if you take 1000 or 2000 pieces.”

The consequence: also valuable books that will address only a small circle of readers are printed in stacks of thousands, although only a few hundred are sold for the targeted price. The remainder of some art catalogue for which its buyers are willing to pay 98 Euros, Dollars or Pounds, goes for 14.99 to the bargain bookseller. Everyone who bought an expensive book once and later found it – fresh from the press and in original wrapping – on rummage table at WHSmiths or Barnes and Noble, will think twice if it would not be worthwhile waiting. A catastrophe from the angle of marketing. And apart from that also ecologically dubious, to go one producing remainders, using toxic ink, wasting lots of energy and paper.

Digital printing technology like laser or ink-jet printing put text and images on paper without printing plates, directly from the digital file – a PDF, a Word-Document etc.

In the last thirty years the publication process had adopted the digital options initially. “Desktop publishing” was the buzzword in the eighties, database publishing in the nineties and during the last decade the Internet brought content management up to “real time publishing”, immediate and instantly from the laptop to the web site. Step by step, publishing was thus detached from paper.

Digital printing for a long time could not compete with offset printing – neither with speed nor with printing quality. But this has changed just recently.

During the last weeks I was involved in a large exhibition project: Hundred Masterpieces for Haiti – a charity event that was arranged with support by the Rotary Club in Munich in our Galerie Royal.

Such a short-term project profits especially from the possibilities of digital printing. The time for preparation of this charity is extremely short – due to the circumstances of a sudden desaster like an earthquake, the consequences of which should be eased.

First, forty artists had to be found, willing to contribute the one hundred works of art. The works had to be photographed, the pictures were processed and brought into the same resolution. The correct caption had to be formulated for each piece, the biography of every artist had to be looked into, a price had to be set in negotiation with the artists and these information had to be authored into an accompanying text to every image. Graphics and layout were at the same time developed by the graphic arts expert Gisela Knobel in close coordination with the specialized digital printing service provider MSDD that took on the printing and post production process.

The digital printing machines like the hp Indigo, on which also the substantial catalogue to this exhibition was printed, produce as fast as classical printing machines. A broad variety of different glossy and transparent paper qualities where deployed, as well as special colours giving a realistic and brilliant reproduction.

The production of this catalogue – creation of pictures, text, layout and prepress, finally printing, binding and finishing must not take more then ten days, or there would not have been a printed publication available at the exhibition. Such a time frame would just be impossible for classic printing.

Thereby for our catalogue we had been using only a small fraction of the additional options that digital printing provides compared to classical offset printing. Digitally printed books can be individually produced practically without additional costs, i. e. every book with exactly the content the buyer would want. For catalogues of large collections or museums, a number of special catalogues could be offered: didactic working books for schools that, e.g. would just cover one defined epoch; catalogues that show the exact hanging, i.e. the works of art in the very order, in which the visitor of the exhibitions will find them in the location – no limits are set to creativity. And the catalogues could consider always the latest acquisitions of the collection – they would never become outdated.

Books are useful, they do not need electricity, they are quite robust, get never blue-screened and they can be very well read even after centuries if taken good care. The materiality gives books their pleasing, haptical quality – they lie well in the hand. Printed books show a resolution and colour reproduction that cannot be reached by electronic screens today and for a long time into the future. However books seamed to become old-fashioned, slow and sluggish by the speed and the easy accessibility of digital publishing, particularly in the Internet.

Digital printing has been used mainly for job printing – personalized advertising mailings, leaflets, business cards and so on. Today digital production can revolutionize book printing – liberate the book from its ties to production and give to it wings, like Amor did with the turtle on our Emblem!