An ABC of Aesthetic Journalism

An archive of material relating to art & journalism

About An ABC

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An ABC of Aesthetic Journalism is a an ongoing work created by Fay Nicolson that aims to collect together text, images, videos, and ideas relating to the field of Aesthetic Journalism. This blog was introduced in a performance lecture at the Künstlerhaus Büchsenhausen November 09 for the launch of Alfredo Cramerotti’s book ‘Aesthetic Journalism’.

An ABC aims to use the book ‘Aesthetic Journalism’ as a  resource to bring together ideas and references whilst demonstrating some of the strategies found in this field; such as revealing the position of the author or editor, adopting and adapting mainstream methodologies of communication in a self-reflexive way, and revealing the production process in terms of both meaning and material.

The reason for formatting my research in a blog, rather than an essay or a power point presentation (for the lecture), was so that the structure could be less fixed. A viewer can navigate the archive as they wish; moving between categories, digressing to outside links, suggesting things to be included. In this way the archive is viewed, interpreted and ‘performed’ differently by each person who uses it.

Rather than an objective, exhaustive overview of a cultural field, An ABC responds to my own interests as an artist, and therefore, acknowledges the limits of my knowledge and research. If you have suggestions of images, texts, ideas, quotes, links, videos or audio files to be included in this blog/archive please send them to me at:

Platform for (un)Solicited Research and Advice – DAI / Manifesta

From Jan – Feb 2010 a group of MFA students at the Dutch Art Institute have been invited to intervene directly with this blog as part of their on-going project, ‘Platform for (un)Solicited Research and Advice’. The brief that Alfredo Cramerotti and I have written for students is below:


• Why use and explore media platforms as an artist or curator?


• What is the relationship between (mass) media and art in the past and present, and what are the possible future scenarios?


• Can media platforms renegotiate a relationship between art and the locality in a Biennale model?

Through operating as a roving biennial Manifesta must each time address and negotiate a different context with specific geographical, historical and political structures.  In this way, Manifesta offers its curators the opportunity, and the challenge, to engage with local, global and networked communities using a variety of platforms and approaches.

CPS’s approach to curation encompasses (mass) media platforms such as television, radio and newspapers, alongside more traditional exhibition formats. In the context of Manifesta 8 we ask what is the media’s relationship to the construction of a local reality, how does it relate to ideas of truth, fact and history, and what are its possibilities for engaging with new audiences and existing local/global structures?

One of the theoretical bases that informs CPS’s approach to art and the media is the notion of ‘aesthetic journalism':,id=4651/. This is a huge body of research undertaken between 2004 and 2009. We (Alfredo as writer/curator and Fay as artist) have recently collaborated to ‘unpack’ this concept using a practical approach; Fay developed an ‘ABC of aesthetic journalism’ which is published as a blog: We would like to involve DAI students in this process of progression from a (theoretical) notion of aesthetic journalism to a practical implementation of this concept (as could manifest itself in biennial models such as M8).

We invite you to engage in the ABC blog by responding to a post/s or by creating your own. You can add to, comment on, critique, extend, oppose or digress from the current content. Responses can take the form of text, image, video, audio or web link. Directly or indirectly consider our opening bullet points in relation to this invitation.  Your approach can be academic, artistic, communicative, reflexive, objective or personal. The only rules are that you cannot delete existing content and that responses are indexed in their respective alphabetical category. You will be given the username and password to the blog for the duration of the project.

Alfredo Cramerotti / Fay Nicolson

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01/11/2009 at 10:52 pm

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‘The Field of cultural production, or: The Economic World Reversed’

Bourdieu essentially maps the field of cultural production placing mass production (production for the populous) and restricted production (production for producers) at opposite ends of the scale. In this model monetary capital and cultural capital also sit in opposition, suggesting the different intentions of producers of popular and elite cultural artefacts. Here are some interesting quotes:

‘There is a specific economy of the literary and artistic field, based on a particular form of belief… The work of art is an object that exists as such only by virtue of the collective belief which knows and acknowledges it as a work of art’.

’The production of the value of the art work… has to consider as attributing to production not only the direct producers of the work in its materiality (artist, writer etc.) but also the producers of the meaning and value of the work – critics, publishers, gallery directors…’

‘The literary or artistic field is at all times the site of a struggle between the two principles of hierarchization: the heteronomous principle, favourable to those who dominate the field economically and politically (e.g. Bourgeois art) and the autonomous principle (e.g. ‘art for art’s sake’)’

‘In an artistic field which has reached an advanced stage of this history, there is no place for naifs; more precisely, the history is preeminent to the functioning of the field’.

Pierre Bourdieu, ‘The Field of Cultural production’.

Is journalism in the field of mass production and art in the field of restricted production?

Does art have no meaning or value to those who are uninitiated? Is the mass media driven by monetary gain? Can artists elude restricted structures (the gallery, institution, etc) and still achieve recognition; can artists infiltrate structures of mass culture or create their own structures that disrupt this normative model?

If in fact the model exists, when does a cultural product (whether a book, a song, an image) switch between being in either the mass or restricted fields and how could producers and consumers transform this field all together?




Kurt Cobain


Che Guevara T-Shirt

Big Brother

Big Brother Logo copy copy

Big Brothe Logo

Big Brother is a TV show that began in the Netherlands in 1999, ‘it has been produced in 42 territories and has been a prime time hit in 70 countries’.

germain greer big brother copy copy

Germaine Greer ob Big Brother

Big brother- shilpa

Jade goody and Shilpa Shetty on Big Brother

Before Big Brother, the idea of ‘reality TV’ or just filming what happens – may have been associated with the documentary genre. Reality TV adopts some of the forms and conventions of ‘ informing’ genres and catapulted them into the context of the prime time entertainment industry.

Bertold Brecht

Bre - mother courage

images: Munich production of Mother Courage and Her Children starring Therese Giehse in tht title role, Munich, 1951

– Claire Bishop on Brecht in ‘Introduction /Viewers as Producersto Participation, ed. Claire Bishop, Whitechapel: London and MIT Press: Massachusetts, 2006, pp. 11:

‘As Benjamin explains, Brechtian theatre abandons long complex plots in favour of ‘situations’ that interrupt the narrative through a disruptive element, such as song. Through this technique of montage and juxtaposition, audiences were lead to break their identification with the protagonists on stage and be incited to critical distance. Rather than presenting the illusion of action on stage and filling the audiences with sentiment, Brechtian theater compels the spectator to take up a position towards this action.’

Written by Fay Nicolson

01/11/2009 at 9:20 pm

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Michael Moore on CNN discussing Sicko


A contribution by the Platform for (un)Solicited Research and Advice:

Posted by Jimini Hignett
Cargo was an extremely controversial project executed in 1992 by the Dutch Werkmij group. In the middle of the kilometres long Afsluit-dyke which was built to enclose the former Zuyder Zee, a steel giant constructed form electrical pylons, and ‘bricked up’ with 20,000 loaves baked on-site using grain from the polders and sea water from the adjacent former Zuyder Zee formed an enormous sacrificial image entitled the ‘National Gift to the Sea. Due to be ‘sacrificed’ this project, which took place at a moment when the news was full of drought and famine, caused national uproar as children collected signatures, politicians and other dignitaries complained of blasphemy. The planned submergence of the sculpture was prohibited and following its disappearance and the discovery of loaves of bread washed up along the Belgian coast it left in its wake a new national myth and an unsolved mystery.

National Gift to the Sea - Afsluitdijk - 1992

Kees Bolten of Werkmij with loaves

Clandestine dismanteling of the sacrificial statue

All photos from website Kees Bolten


Censorship is a means of controlling the dissemination of certain pieces of information.  The very fact censorship takes place illuminates the power of language, communication and the media. What should be censored? When are we unable to decide for ourselves what is appropriate, when do we need to be protected, from what and by whom? How have these values changed over time. Where do we encounter censorship in our everyday lives? – How would we ever find this out!

The media, and practices such as investigative journalism both disclose facts and censor them through what is edited out, not shown or investigated at all.

Explore the Washington Naval Observatory on Google Maps

Wiki on Censorship of Maps

censored - map

Censored Map

The File Room is an archive of cencorship. Initiated as an artist’s project by Antonio Muntadas, The File Room was originally produced as an installation by Randolph Street Gallery 1994 with the support of the School of Art and Design and the Electronic Visualization Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Since 2001 The File Room (TFR) has been hosted and maintained by the National Coalition Against Censorship.

the file room - munt 1994

Antonio Muntadas, The File Room, 1994


‘We observe ‘life out there’ at a certain distance, as if through the viewfinder of a photographic or video camera: a longing for authenticity… difficult to experience, given the media’s increasing control of our first hand-experience. In the current situation, no space other than art (venues, programmes, funding bodies, producers and receivers) can sustain the effort to counter this control; and, as long as they do not convert to a sort of ‘political news service’ for the art circuit, this is a potential still relatively unexplored’ Aesthetic Journalism, pp. 64-5.

A contribution by Thinking Practices by Heather Jukes

C is for the Chagos Islands and the indigenousChagossians

A topical political slant on Antony Gormley’s Field

AND F is for Field, an art piece authored by Antony Gormley in many versions since the early 1990s, and fabricated under the artist’s direction by different communities in different countries. The piece comprises many thousands of clay figures, each formed by hand and therefore taking on an imprint of the makers’ conscious and subconscious individuality. The uniqueness of each piece mirrors individual identity.

field.jpg (150×180) Image from

On this level it has a naïve and primitive narrative. En masse it is very different. There is a darker message. The individuality is replaced by anonymity and its sequelae, associated with restriction and subordination under political power.

Tate Liverpool described the 2004 Field as ‘an ‘invasion’ or ‘infection’, and the sensation is that of a tide; an endless mass that has become temporarily limited by the architecture of the place where it is installed, but could easily extend further than we can see.’

Asian Field 2003 Clay from Guangdong Province, China, 210,000 hand-sized clay figures made in collaboration with 350 people of all ages from Xiangshan village, north-east of the city of Guangzhou in south

It is uncannily reminiscent of a vast broiler house of poultry. It conjures up humanitarian issues of refugees, displacement, and the aftermath of natural disasters of earthquakes and floods.

This is particularly relevant to the British Government’s plans to create a huge maritime reserve in the middle of the Indian Ocean at the expense of the 2,000 Chagossian islanders and their descendents who were evicted from their homeland in the 1960s and 1970s.  Is it right that this beautiful and isolated archipelago of pristine coral reefs (now named British Indian Ocean Territory) should be still denied to its rightful owners (currently in exile in Mauritius and the Seychelles) but be available to Britain and the US as a 21st century potential military base?

Middle Brother Island in Chagos Archipelago

Image, Aerial view of Middle Brother Island, in Chagos Archipelago. Illustration: Anne & Charles Sheppard/Chagos Conservation Trust, source

Written by Fay Nicolson

01/11/2009 at 9:01 pm

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The Death of the Author

A contribution by the Platform for (un)Solicited Research and Advice:

The Death of the Author is an important text from structuralist and critic Roland Barthes, published for the first time in 1967. But more imporant the Death of the Author is a concept in art theory about the giving of meaning. Barthes argued that the viewer was the one who was important for the making of meaning. The author was the one who wrote the story down (or painted it on a canvas) and afterwards his job was done. He might have put his own meaning in it, but a viewer could still extract a totally different meaning. Barthes believes that a viewer normally makes meaning by examining signs in an image. The viewer creates a interpretation of a text, he is not looking for a final definitive meaning. An interpretation starts with a viewer objectively looking at a text and describing what he literally sees in or reads from the text. This literal description of the text is what Barthes calls denotation, a descriptive and literal level of meaning shared by virtually all members of a culture. What these signs mean for a person calls Barthes the connotation; the personal associations a viewer has with the signs.

Does this mean that an author or artists leaves the work of art behind after the completion? Wouldn’t an author have any influence on the signs the viewers are going to see? Or does an artist consciously leave traces behind, a path he wants the audience to follow? Can he make certain signs more noticeable and with this steer the interpretation in a desired direction?


What is a document?

What does it mean to document something?

How does Documentation differ between different fields and practices, e.g. law, science, media and art?

I have included the dictionary definition of ‘Doctrine’ in the image below as although this may not seem relate to the word ‘document’ at first glance, both have the same root in the concept of ‘to teach’.

Dictionary Definitions

Dictionary Definitions

‘The document’ strives for objectivity, for officialdom, for a particular status. A document is a clear guide that separates fact from fiction and often right from wrong.

Alfredo mentions Foucault and Benjamin in relation to the document and states that; (for Benjamin) ‘accepted views are formed by the organisation of documents in a system of truth that are established no matter how verifiable or real the content may be.’ pp. 72.

Traditionally, the mass media hides its system of truth, or perhaps it presents itself as the only system, and for that reason remains invisible. Art has the potential to reveal systems; others and its own, through illustrating, excavating and manipulating them.

What is a document’s relationship to truth? Does a document record history or construct it?


Lyndsay Seers


Documentary as a form or genre contains an inherent tension between observation and direction, reality and performance, recording and editing, fact and fiction, education and entertainment.

Documentary; documentary style / docudrama / docusoap …

Documentary forms (in their widest sense) are interesting in relation to aesthetic journalism as they are present across the field of cultural production: from prime time television to biennials.  In one way you could argue that the ‘documentary’ (both as an individual work and a genre) is in fact a system of ‘truth’, a form that carries authority- yet it is a system that inherently grapples with definition of truth itself, a system with the potential to reveal itself through the gaps in its essential paradoxes. Artists, journalists and media producers have the potential to question the authority and purpose of the documentary form through acknowledging the subjective viewpoint of the author and revealing their methods of production.


Looking for Langston - Isaac Julien


Nanook of the North - Robert J. Flaherty

Written by Fay Nicolson

01/11/2009 at 8:31 pm

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A contribution by the Platform for (un)Solicited Research and Advice:

EGBG is a Dutch registration research company set up by artist Martijn Engelbrecht in 1994. The company conducts market research on several levels, for his own practice and commissioned. Engelbregt deals with information and privacy issues (his company name actually stands for ‘Once Given Remains Given’ or ‘Engelbregt Information Management Group’). He was one of the people starting to look for the borders of what people voluntarily fill in on questionnaires.

At the hight of the telephone market research hype, EGBG created a guide to counter attack telephone interviewers. The one being questioned becomes the one questioning and the other way around. He also worked for the critical Dutch TV network VPRO, where he mapped the information of all the VPRO emlpoyes.


Walker Evans

Walker Evans photographed many aspects of the great depression whilst working for the Farm Security Administration. He later went on to write for Time magazine, edit Fortune Magazine and become a professor of photography at Yale. His images of everyday people, often suffering from poverty, combined the form of journalistic documentary with the aestheticization of the art image. His images have been shown and distributed in newspapers, publications and galleries, spanning a range of audiences and contexts.

Walker Evans, ‘Negro Barbershop Interior, Atlanta’ 1936
Bud Fields and His Family, Hale County, Alabama, photograph by Walker Evans, c. 1936–37; from the book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941) by Evans and James Agee.
Untitled (Subway Portrait), gelatin silver print by Walker Evans, 1938–41; in the Art Institute of Chicago
Untitled (Subway Portrait), gelatin silver print by Walker Evans, 1938–41; in the Art Institute of Chicago

The Enlightenment

The enlightenment was a time of cultural, industrial and economic development driven by the authority of objective reason. Rather than a particular set of ideas, the enlightenment categorizes a particular value system in Europe. It was a time when the natural world could be measured, classified and categorized.

During this time artists were employed to authentically copy aspects of the surrounding world, particularly to scientifically document ‘new species’ on transcontinental expeditions to  help establish a taxonomy of the natural world. These forms of representation and categorization attempt to convey an objective, scientific and rational truth, and have left their legacy in western culture. Contemporary artists such as Alberto Baraya respond specifically to the European colonialization of central and south America during the enlightenment, and particularly to the ways plants, land, animals and people were documented, renamed, and redistributed under the guise of discovery and scientific reason.

The Enlightenment Room at the British Museum
Alberto Baraya, Herbarium
Alberto Baraya

A contribution by Thinking Practices

“All  our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to the  understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than  reason” – Immanuel Kant

Kant, who is regarded as the philosopher of Enlightenment questioned or proposed the freedom to know and understand the reasons. A man who cultivates his own mind to understand is encouraged to spread his knowledge . This branches out into the philosophy or arts, which describes aesthetic ideas are determined by experience of reasons.

Media plays an important role in expanding the realm of communication where people are able to share and exchange thoughts.

‘I value poetry only insofar as it is the ornament of reason’ – Voltaire (quoted in Furst, 1969, p. 19)

Poetry is one’s expression in awakening to the truth, understanding the reasons and one’s courage to accept it. In fact, this branch of philosophy is comparable to mind observation, which is a movement towards scientific consciousness.




Written by Fay Nicolson

01/11/2009 at 8:05 pm

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Fact / Fiction

Fiction has the potential to reveal truth and fact can be a well crafted fiction. By exploring the definitions of FACT and FICTION and by working between these categorizations artists and cultural producers have the potential to explore how information is communicated, how systems produce truth and how forms carry meaning.

‘A journalistic report, an artwork or a literary narrative would not fill the gap between reality and its representation but reveal it, generating a story with an inner self critique. A fictitious or aesthetic approach does not necessarily mean that the work is irrelevant or useless. If we were to climb a building any single ornament and decoration could be useful.’ Aesthetic Journalism, pp. 32.

This analogy explores form and function in relation to fact and fiction, highlighting that it is not only the content of a work that gives or denies it authority; a context and form can often communicate more than what is actually being said and establish whether something is factual or fictional, actual or imagined. Two examples that exploit this relationship between form and content in relation to establishing fact from fiction are ‘Pierre Menard: Author of the Quixote’ a short text by Jorge Luis Borges and the work of Walid Raad and the Atlas Group.

Borges’ text is written as a non fictional account reviewing the work of a recently deceased writer, Pierre Menard. One of Menard’s most ambitious projects involved rewriting Don Quixote word for word, but not by a process of copying, though learning 16th century Spanish, forgetting modern history and essentially trying to be Michel de Cervantes. Borges adopts a formal and authorative tone, uses footnotes and references, and gives us no clue that Menard does not exist. It is the reader who must decide how believable this account is and how the tale of this obsessive writer may relate both to the tale of Don Quixote and the nature of fiction itself.


Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote, J.L. Borges


Don Quixote

Walid Raad documents the contemporary history of Lebanon through The Atlas Group. The Atlas Group has an archive of documents available to view on line. Examples of these documents are the Fakouri File Note Books (attributed to the fictional author Dr Fadl Fakouri). Notebook number 38 contains 145 cut outs of cars. They correspond to the exact make, model and colour of every car that was used as a car bomb between 1975 and 1991.

In a recent talk given at Anthony Reynolds gallery for his current exhibition ‘Scratching on things I could disavow: A history of art in the Arab world _ Part I _ Volume 1 _ Chapter 1: Beirut (1992-2005) Walid combined the factual and fantastical within the familiar framework of a gallery talk. This opened up space between what was being said and the interpretation in the mind of a viewer. For the first time in a while I left a gallery full of thoughts and ideas, questioning my experience whilst trying to build a web of understanding between various references.


The Atlas Group, Already Been in a Lake of Fire_Notebook Volume 38


The Atlas Group, Image from Sweet Talk: The Hilwe Commissions 1992-2004

Written by Fay Nicolson

01/11/2009 at 7:54 pm

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Dan Graham

In Homes for America, 1965, Graham travelled the United States documenting prefabricated homes. This body of work was intended for Esquire magazine but finally ended up being published in Arts Magazine in 1966. Both Graham’s method of gathering images and the intended context for these images adopts and manipulates journalistic and media strategies and contexts, playing with different languages of information.


Dan Graham, Home for America, 1965/6

Clifford Geertz

A quote from aesthetic journalism: ‘Clifford Geertz…proposed considering culture (in this case art) being like a map; functioning both as a model of –  describing phenomena, processes and events – and a model for, providing the instructions to build a reality.’ pp. 70.


The Guerrilla News Network is an alternative to mainstream news broadcasting. Geert Lovink has said of GNN ‘The political videos of Guerrilla news network are a challenging affair in terms of their content, aesthetics and distribution. Deeply hybrid, GNN is crossing boundaries in such a professional – and easy – manner, it almost seems that we have landed in the perfect, tactical media future’.

Written by Fay Nicolson

01/11/2009 at 7:38 pm

Posted in G


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