Something For Nothing:
The New Multiple In Contemporary Art

Laurel Beckman

Something For Nothing, a visual manifesto (textual, photographic, diagrammatic), emerges from two decades of inquiry and practice to expound on relative value in contemporary art. Upping the ante on the troubled relationship between print/photo multiples and one of kind art , electronic media offers an updated and analogous fascination and tension around issues of authorship, originality and function; all roads leading to confrontation with a definition of value in contemporary art and its circumscription in text.

The belief in a transcendental (capacity of) art has traditionally been dependent upon the viewers assumption of a 'straight shot' between the artists hand, the mark, and the viewers beholding eye. The less intervention in that trajectory, the stronger we've been moved through the identification process. A shared physicality. Photo/print based works, producing inexact clones of a fixed 'master', have at their root the desire to disseminate. This desire may be linked to propaganda, to education, to technical exploration, to an expanded market, and/or to generosity. The second-class status of the multiple in art has historically been attributed to each of these desires, with attendant arguments about artistic invention, quality, commercial affiliation, and the accessibility of a formal language buzzing the head of the debate. This is important groundwork in understanding how electronic media has been met in the studio, institution (academy, museum) and by the viewer.

Something For Nothing pursues the linkages and divergence's between the tangible multiple and digitally produced work- and the attitudes producing and receiving such work. A reconfiguration of value will feature the new multiple-an 'object' with no materiality- the digital product with it's propensity for exact clones and a mutable, participatory 'master'. Words as images, pictures as text and texts without ground(ing) yeild multiple referents- relying equally upon visuality and historicity as a means to convey their meaning. Interactive potential (with due nods towards actual access and use) forces art culture to re-see real and slippery collaborative processes (between authors, between image and text) : invisible, unattributable, and potentially without hierarchy.

Let's look at something. The desire for some-thing is large. So large that feelings of unworthiness, greed, and denial conspire to mask honest longing. Longing is uncomfortably indiscriminate, so a concrete and worthy target must be established. Something has obvious value. Put the thing next to yourself and something will rub off. Something is transferred. With a traceable history and promising future, our materialized desire manifests value. The relentless pursuit of authenticity- established through a collapse of the respective desires of owners and makers- really veils a mushy, unacceptable longing.

Let's look at nothing. Does fear surround a depersonalized content? A participating 'audience' defines a shining center star, a process alternately seen as service or invention. The dis-placement of creative control from the center, jettisoned out to audience/contributors, shifts significance away from individual expression and style, the core. The kind of expansion afforded by nothing is too unwieldy for much of art culture to enjoy. We want to hold it and shake it! We want to see our (the) self! 'Nothing' yields an undifferentiated space, promiscuous in it's lack of classification. We want to move left to right, we want to classify, we want to know!

Buy me! Commercial culture thrives on duplication. And people love to be included. How is art culture navigating the shift in importance/influence away from the unique fixed object towards the seductive and seemingly inclusive landscape of information? An environment where the same 'goods' are utilized in retrospectives, retail, and the latest film releases. Where what we buy (in to) is without substance.