Digital Amateurism and the Platformisation of Art

Yvonne Schweizer, University of Bern, Switzerland,
Annette Urban, University of Bochum, Germany

This session seeks to critically examine the figure of the digital amateur who entered the art field beginning in the early 2000s. It aims to investigate the advent of digital platforms as a particular moment that blurs the hierarchies between amateurism and professionalism. Tales of deskilling and sharing, the celebration of collective creativity and vernacular aesthetics have since remained at the core of digital culture. At the same time, platforms offer the stage to highly commodified participatory promises as well as gendered images of craftsmanship and technical expertise. 

Speakers & Abstracts

What We Share: Platforms, Polarization and Empathetic Address

Dr. Emily Rosamond (Goldsmiths, University of London)

Broadly speaking, today’s online platforms polarize by design: grouping like-minded users together, and pitting opposed groups against one another. Such measures increase platform engagement, but amplify racism, misogyny, bigotry and disinformation in the process. Given tech companies’ inability (or unwillingness) to address polarization, some online users experiment with ways to reach across ever widening divides between online factions. Feminist artist Angela Washko and transgender YouTuber ContraPoints seek to invoke empathy and understanding in the unlikeliest of online environments. Washko administers feminist interventions within misogynistic online spaces. In her four-year piece The Council of Gender Sensitivity and Behavioral Awareness in World of Warcraft, she stopped playing the Massive Multiplayer Online game World of Warcraft (WoW) normally, and instead initiated discussions among player-avatars about how female WoW players were being treated. ContraPoints’ feature-length YouTube performance-lectures move fluidly between costumes, sets, academic debates, personal references and online controversies. Her performance-lecture Canceling (2020) provides a nuanced critique of online ‘cancel culture’ debates, while also charting more empathetic styles of online disagreement. Drawing from AbdouMaliq Simone’s ‘People as Infrastructure’ and Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of addressivity, I argue that these performers produce experimental infrastructures of address, grappling with the problem of addressing online audiences, in an attempt to rework online platforms as shared spaces where one can speak across social, experiential and political divides. These performances effectively administer and envision a form of outsourced, ‘amateur’ platform governance, which addresses polarization through a combination of empathy and debate, where interface design and content moderation have failed.

Performing the Feed: Durational Performativity and the Live Feed

Andrea Liu (Berlin/New York)

Taking as a starting off point the essay by New York-based artist Paul Soulellis’ “Performing the Feed” (, my talk deals with the changing nature of performance in light of the durational performativity of twitter feeds, Twitch streamers and what Rob Horning (The New Inquiry) describes as a “new boredom” constituted by a state of watching-togetherness brought on by amateur-replete digital platforms. Quintessentially emblematic of this dynamic is performance artist Shawné Michaelain Holloway’s brand of Youtube-broadcast-as-performance, whereby Holloway video-broadcasts herself doing sex work on X-Tube (i.e. X-rated version of youtube) and then solicits her real life X-Tube digital audience to pay to be spectators. Low fi and decidedly amateur, Holloway then presents the end result in galleries as art, a wry twist on achieving the goal of being “paid for your art.”  Marked by an at times unsettling co-mingling of lurid self-objectification coupled with confrontational discursive thrusts and interrogation of issues of digital intimacy, control, and power/submission, Holloway bluntly asks, “Who or what controls who’s arousal? Who gets paid? Are there different kinds of currency used for pay-outs? Who gets what kind of currency—is it all equal?” One gets the impression of the conceptual equivalent of Matryoshka dolls (i.e. wooden Russian dolls of descending size that nest inside one another) when encountering Holloway‘s video-broadcast-as-performance, where questions such as “who controls arousal?“, “who gets paid?“ “what turns you on?” “what do you think is dirty?“ seem to get wrapped in one another throughout the body of Holloway’s work. Questions with sub-questions and topics with sub-topics (all of which have a rhizomatic interlocking coherence)—about exploiter/exploited, digital voyeurism/exhibitionism, power/submission, the politics (and political economy) of arousal--abound. This talk looks at how performance artists are using amateur digital platforms to radically re-constitute the parameters of what a performance is, as such stalwartly anti-virtuoso “continuous feed” performances through digital platforms have no discrete beginning and no discrete end, creating a durational time-space requiring less of an “audience” and more of a “witness.”

The Crowdsourced Monument

Dr. Elizabeth Johnson (University College London)

In the last decade the monument has come under increasing pressure as grassroots activism has challenged its authority as a symbol of a singular historical narrative and collective identity. As early as 1993 scholar of Judaic studies James E. Young argued notions of “collective memory” needed to be replaced by practices of “collected memory” that gathered multiple voices in a common memorial space. Meanwhile, digital media scholars (e.g. Tiziana Terranova) have considered how social memory can be understood when it is distributed between humans and machines. However, to date, the significance of digital technology on the generation of new visions of monumentality has been largely overlooked, missing a vital opportunity to mobilise contemporary art to critique the monument’s power to represent identity and memory in the digital age. This paper intervenes in the scholarship of monuments to explore how contemporary artists have engaged digital crowdsourcing in practices of collective memorialisation to produce a monumentality centred on heterogeneity and dispersal. Specifically, it focuses on Material Speculation: ISIS (2015-16), a series of crowdsourced 3D printed replicas of ancient monuments by Morehshin Allahyari (b.1985) and the Toppled Monument Archive, an artist-led opensource online platform aimed at documenting defaced and removed public monuments. Drawing from art historian Verónica Tello’s counter-memorial aesthetics, I argue crowdsourced monumentality challenges dialectical notions of memory and counter-memory by mobilising the structural heterogeneity of participatory digital practices. Ultimately, this paper uses contemporary artists’ engagement with crowdsourcing to scrutinise the impact of recent digital technologies on understandings of memory and place.

How Exquisite is a Digital Corpse? Digital Art, Amateurism and Platformisation Avant-la-Lettre

Verena Kuni (Goethe-University Frankfurt am Main)

[Disclaimer: In the following abstract, the terms (and notions of) “art” and “amateurism” are used according to and referring to traditional concepts formed by dominant threads of Western/European art history and cultural history. So what we are discussing here are problems and perhaps also promises of certain, but certainly not globally relevant and for sure highly debatable perspectives on culture and cultural production. Keeping this in mind should also offer chances for critical reviews and necessary widenings of these perspectives. I hope to be able to contribute to the latter. V.K.]

One would think with the “platformisation of (almost) everything”, the idea of an “art for all” that embraces not only its perception and reception, but also its production, has entered its Golden Age. For any conceivable demand there is a supply, as it has become considerably easy to search and find, to discover, look at and behold, to appreciate and validate, to collect and discard, to study and to learn more about art – and also learn how to do it yourself.

Obviously distinction, and with inclusion also exclusion are still remaining as driving forces, especially within the professional operating system(s) of art. However, the rise of amateur art production – as many amateur cultures become increasingly accessible to more people and increasingly popular in Western bourgeois societies from early modernity onwards – has again gained momentum with the broader access to digital media, digital networks and networked platforms as means for the production, presentation and distribution.

So may we speak of a “Here Comes Everybody” in the arts? Has at least in the arts the “Access4All” dream of early network cultures finally become true? And if so, are we already facing – no, not really a “War of the (Art) Worlds”, but a “clash of the systems” that has also the power to challenge and change the traditional institutions of art?

In order to further explore the recent developments, it should be helpful indeed to take a look back to look forward into the (art) histories of network cultures, and to include in addition to the technologically and culturally marked threshold period of the early 2000s also the earlier decade of the 1990ies into our perspective, before we return to the more recent years. My paper will draw this line along selected projects and scenarios that I want to discuss with respect to the general focus of the panel and some of its more specific questions directed to digital amateurism and the platformisation of art.



70 Cowcross Street
London EC1M 6EJ

+44(0)20 7490 3211