Dyske Suematsu
Since the beginning
Works in United States of America

I think, theorize, and write about highly irrelevant matters.
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Breaking the Ice

Hi Michael,

Responding to your question about the past discussions:

I JUST noticed that all of my emails to RAW since 2002 are archived on this site under my profile page. (Curt has 227 pages of them!) I didn't know. Reading the stuff that I wrote in the past is amusing in that I have no idea what I was thinking. (Just re-reading what I wrote a few days ago above, I'm wondering what I was thinking...)

My main outlet is writing, and when I don't debate my ideas with others, I feel like it's all just a bunch of theories or fantasies. That is, for me, "to act" is to debate/discuss. It's very much like writing a piece of software; until people actually use your app, it's just a bunch of code/logic; it's not really an application. And, as soon as people start using your app, you discover a lot of bugs and usability issues, and you learn from them to iteratively perfect your app. This is how I approach my own writing. Some people work on a long book for years without sharing it with anyone, and boom, they publish a magnum opus. To me, this is the same as releasing an ambitious app with thousands of features all in one go without user-testing it. I would be afraid that a large part of it would be deemed irrelevant, and/or many bugs and usability issues would be discovered as soon as it's released. My own approach is very much like the idea of "lean startup" or the urban planning philosophy of Jane Jacobs; I do as little as I can and just get it out, and work iteratively based on the feedback. In other words, my work is always collaborative, like most software applications are. For this purpose, Rhizome was very useful. I wouldn't point to any particular discussions; the entire process was inspirational, educational, and useful. It's where I did my user-testing.

It's hard to do this with blog format because content on blog is organized hierarchically. Only the editors/contributors can post (start a discussion), and it's curated for general public consumption. Rhizome Raw was completely flat (or "rhizomatic") where anyone could throw anything in the sandbox for everyone to interact with.

For community development, I think we can learn a lot by following Jane Jacobs' basic principles. Instead of imposing a grand vision of how people should interact with one another, we observe how people are/were already interacting, and implement structural changes that support the positive aspects while minimizing the negative aspects. Organizers, in this sense, is serving under the community, not above it. They lend their invisible hands to nudge people to a mutually beneficial direction. I feel that this is what the original founders of Rhizome were doing.


Breaking the Ice

Hi Curt,

This is so true (it made me laugh out loud):

"To them, posting to the community discussion section is just too risky. You don't want to appear anywhere on Rhizome just speculating and honestly talking about stuff. Maybe you will accidentally say something stupid, and then your potential art star street cred will be blown, and nobody will put you in their list of the next 50 upcoming x artists in whatever x online or print magazine."

I agree with you, Curt; I don't think forming a community like what Rhizome was a decade ago is possible. Back then, the idea of "Net Art" or "Digital Art" was so new that there was no power structure of any sort, which meant that nobody had nothing to lose by frankly expressing their thoughts and opinions. Now there is indeed too much at stake. They are better off keeping their mouths shut and let their fancy sponsors and patrons project the mystique of "artists" onto them. It is not just Rhizome that matured; perhaps the entire world of net/digital art did.

But again, I think this is how life goes on. It's very much like how artist communities move within New York City. Young emerging artists move into a dangerous, desolate neighborhood and give it vitality and excitement, which draws more people into it, which in turn makes the area safer, then the area attracts some progressive businesses, and eventually it turns into a shopping mall like SoHo is now. In a way Rhizome is a digital version of SoHo; they are now safe enough to attract major corporate sponsors but at the same time it means there is too much at stake to do anything "RAW" like they used to.

So again, my own opinion is still the same: Rhizome is good for what it's good for as they are now. After all, SoHo is good for certain things too. But I don't think it would be realistic to get the rawness of an emerging art community back into a place like SoHo.


Breaking the Ice

Hi Michael,

The last big debate you and I had on Rhizome was on Iraq war, so that would mean about a decade ago. Personally, that was the height of my involvement with Rhizome, and it fizzled out after that.

Although I do agree with your observations about Rhizome, I'm not sure the solutions you offer are realistic. I think every organization, like every person, has a "will to power", and as they age, there is a natural path that they to take where their own survival takes precedence over their stated mission. Rhizome started out as a self-organizing community to help one another. It was a support group with no real hierarchy; artists helping one another. I think many organizations start this way but such a structure is limited in what it can achieve. It's like a group of soldiers who refuses to build a watchtower so they can only see what can be seen from the ground. In terms of survival and power, it is not an effective strategy.

Just as in science, we all build on the knowledge and ideas we inherited from the past. This is how power is built also. We graft ourselves onto the existing power structures. We cannot build power entirely from scratch on our own. People graft themselves onto prestigious universities by getting degrees from them, onto successful corporations by working for them, onto well-known publishers by writing for them, onto respectable museums and galleries by having exhibits, onto famous people by befriending them, and so on... Rhizome grafted itself onto the prestige of New Museum and other institutions, nothing unusual there.

Now that I'm in my 40s, I notice that most people around me are no longer satisfied with supporting one another on the ground. We all want to build structures by grafting onto the existing structures. I think this is a natural progression, and Rhizome too has taken this path. But one thing that I do worry a bit about is whether the net/digital artists are keeping up with the speed at which Rhizome is building up. In my view, net/digital art hasn't been able to gain the recognition it deserves, and I think it failed for the same reason the music industry is failing: digital content is hard to sell or monetize. (Other industries like book publishing, film, and industrial design too will follow the same fate eventually.)

The digital artists who managed to succeed financially are those who make sellable objects that can be neatly hanged on museum walls or propped up on pedestals, which goes against the reason why many artists were originally drawn to "digital" in the first place (to escape the power structure that physical objects necessitate or impose).

Some might argue that financial success is irrelevant, but in reality, money is a very effective gauge in determining what people value. What we say do not always correspond to what we actually do, and we all tend to value action more than words. We could rave about a certain artist or artwork, but when our own money is at stake, we act differently. And, money, after all, is probably the most flexible medium an artist can have. We cannot naively seek some sort of purity in our theoretical practices; to live in reality is to bridge this gap in our own ways. And, I think Rhizome is taking its own path in bridging this gap. It is a sign that they are maturing as an organization.

So, what would I suggest for Rhizome? I think the net/digital art world could use a vertical organization like Rhizome. I don't think it should try to be everything to everyone. In fact, I don't think that is possible. It is ironic that an organization named after the philosophical concept of "rhizome" is building a vertical power structure, but as I said above, every organization (or person) eventually reaches a point where its own survival and power takes precedence over its stated mission. I think this is human nature, and I believe that Rhizome could (is already) offer a lot by being vertical.

I think the main conflict here is that we all want everything to last forever. Nothing does. Rhizome as it existed 10 years ago is now gone. There is no reason to lament this. Things come and go. The only constant in life is change. As Rhizome begin to build a vertical structure, it will leave room for another rhizomatic organization to take its place. Both will have their own pros and cons, advantages and disadvantages.

The main disadvantage of a vertical structure is that it is always necessarily built on assumptions, which will always be deconstructed sooner or later (in paradigm shifts). All structures are illusory in this sense, and never last forever. The people who grafted themselves onto these illusory structures to gain their own power will defend/protect these structures at any cost (because their own survival and well-being is dependent on it). But this is how life goes. Alternatively, we could refuse to build structures, so that there will never be any targets of attacks or criticisms, but is that any better? It's very much like being a militant atheist who derives his meaning in life by negating religious people, a co-dependent relationship where both sides equally contribute to (and dependent on) the power of the concept "god". They are sharing the same passion, like a campfire, the only difference is where they are standing.

When we refuse to pursue illusory things in life, we are assuming somewhere deep down that there are indeed non-illusory things in life, which is the ultimate illusion of all. All that we can do in life is to build illusory structures and destroy them when they no longer serve any purpose. I think this is how life goes on, and nobody escapes or stands above this process.


Money and the Medium


This is a good summary of what is happening in the music industry. I've always assumed that live performances were a promotional scheme to sell more albums, but I guess I was wrong (it was the opposite).

What is interesting about this is that, because of MP3, music became a form of digital art, and so it shares the same difficulty that digital art faces in terms of making money. Now musicians have to think about how they can make money from what they do, as if music was a form of New Media.

Many relatively famous New Media artists still have to supplement their income through their second jobs or teaching gigs, whereas many rather unknown painters and sculptors are comfortably making 6 figures. The medium, or the means of distribution, seems to have large influence on how much money you can make from it. This has always been true in history to some degree, but with the birth of computers and the Internet, it appears to be getting more pronounced (or is it just me who feel this way?). I think writers too face similar problems, even though at the moment, most people still prefer physical books over computer screens when it comes to reading long texts. It's just a matter of time that movies will face the same fate that music has.

Money appears to be in the markets where physical objects are required or desired, or in the markets where real-time human interaction is required or desired. In all other markets, money seems to be dissipating into the air we breathe.




Hi All,

I have a new project that I would like you to check out and try out if you have nothing better to do. It's a web-based program that compares your own personal taste to those of others. There is no accounting for taste, but it's pretty clear when someone has a very different or a very similar taste from you. And this difference or similarity stays relatively consistent and predictable. So, I wanted to measure the degrees of differences and similarities. This is something I started back in 2001. I originally created it as a stand-alone application but now I put it on the web so anyone can use it to measure their differences to others, or to a specific person they know (assuming that both take the same survey.). Once you take a survey, it will tell you how similar or different you are from everyone else who took the survey. If you ask your friends to take the same survey, you would be able to compare yourself one-to-one with them. Here is the URL:


If you have any comments, suggestions, feedback, or criticism, I would appreciate them.

Thank you.