NO: What is fascinating to me is thinking about how a collection can be a way of continuing the life of an object, but this is also where I get slightly hung up. Daniel Buren has this really great essay about the importance of the artist’s studio. He talks about how the museum is more of a crypt or a mausoleum. I think he explicitly says that when the work goes to the museum, it goes there to die. And that stands in opposition to what you said about collecting living objects, right Seb?
SC: Well, I think museums have been trying to change. Historical museums that only have works from the 19th century have a little more trouble than those that are continuously collecting. I think one of the big shifts now is that historical museums, or national museums in particular, are about asserting a national identity. I think, generally, collecting curators have an idea that things have to prove themselves as significant before you acquire them. There’s a great piece in the Smithsonian magazine where a curator at the Air and Space Museum was talking about the difficulty of acquiring the first kind of self-driving car. She was saying, “Well, we don’t know if this is going to be the one that actually makes self-driving cars popular, but if we don’t get this one now...?” In essence, she was very uncomfortable about having to take a punt on whether this car is going to be the right one or not.
The thing with systems and code is that they change very fast. If you don’t collect it, it’s lost forever. It’s like an oral history—it’s almost like trying to collect slang or popular music. It’s very hard to collect the song or the riff that is going to be the one that you remember 20 years from now. If you look back at music in the ’80s and ’90s, the most important music of those periods was almost never the ones that were at the top of the charts. It’s just the way we measure importance, particularly now with the web and the sort of mass subculturization of everything; it’s impossible to pick winners. Planetary is probably not the most significant app of that period; in fact, it’s not. But it is one that points towards how we might think about collecting things in the future.
DD: I find your reference to Daniel Buren unfair because he said that he rejected past art in bulk and that we need to break tradition completely, including museums. It was very self-serving and not in context of what a museum’s role is. He wanted to remove everything from the previous millennium and start fresh by painting lines.
NO: It’s an interesting point because I think he was also signaling a mass paradigm shift and an obliteration of what had been built before. But I think he was also leveraging the importance of the user or, if I may, the user experience of the artwork as opposed to the institutional implementation of the data of their collection.
DD: Absolutely. That gave place to performance art and how people related to that work as well. I read Jennifer Doyle’s Hold it Against Me; it’s all about how the viewer relates to the work, and not about the work itself. I think the work is almost irrelevant to us—it’s really the ramifications that it has.