Www.culturalfarming.com                                                                                                                                                                                 http://Www.culturalfarming.comhttp://www.culturalfarming.com/shapeimage_1_link_0

1. click painting to enter.    2. navigate image.    3. click links to view TV.


The Garden of Earthly Delights, by Hieronymus Bosch. 

Dutch.  ca.1504.  (87”×153”)

Art historians and critics frequently
interpret Bosch’s painting as a didactic warning of the perils of life's temptations.  However the intricacy of its symbolism, particularly that of the center panel, has led to a wide range of scholarly interpretations over the centuries.  20th-century art historians are divided as to whether the triptych's panels are moral warnings or a panorama of paradise lost.  American writer Peter S. Beagle describes it as an "erotic derangement that turns us all into voyeurs, a place filled with the intoxicating air of perfect liberty". 

From Cultural Farming’s vantage the painting is an allegorical (re)production of monstrous reality from a perspective reminiscent of, yet beyond, our (post)modern notions of fantasy, absurdity, abstraction, surrealism... a recognizable perspective that should hold visual representational resonance throughout media today.

PROJECT  (Oct. 2009):

Television may be our most important invention of the 20th Century.  It too carries Beagle’s potential as a “place filled with the intoxicating air of perfect liberty”.  But, it is not.  While North American TV does uncannily resemble Bosch’s monstrous orgy of phantasmagoric visual representation, television today is a most imperfect place filled to capacity with most every other “intoxicating... erotic derangement” except “perfect liberty”.  But then we 21st Century “voyeurs” should know this much already, as well as that media is not some monstrous “blob” hovering uncontrollably across the universe.  Rather our media are created everyday by humans, by media makers... in most cases by media-mongers... and the ways our media are made and disseminated are often as important to communication as the informational content itself.  Indeed, production also communicates.

Still specific media questions remain.  What television are we talking about?  Whose television?  Why do we have only these kinds of television?  Can we even “see” television anymore?  And importantly, after six decades of constant media research can there possibly remain anything about television not already known... or, anything about television worth knowing any deeper?  Cultural Farming believes there is.  In fact, the intellectual purpose of its projects is to “repaint” television into new (surreal) forms of recognition, remembrance and understanding -- so as to encourage the necessary development of new forms. 

Cultural Farming is a critical, often surreal, longitudinal (six year), ethnographic database for rendering the familiarity of TV into strangeness once again.  The Garden of Television Delights, however, is an internal parallel project for revealing this ever-growing database to public co-examination -- for this is the ethnographer's dilemma.  That is to say, what 'notes' do we ‘take’, how, and with which ‘bits’ do we inscribe culture, and what content is 'left-over' or discarded from our 'publication'?  Here in the Garden, a large portion of Cultural Farming’s used and unused database can now be publicly shown, examined, and offered for re-employing various ethnographic duties in an attempt to illuminate the absences -- the content between that which was and was not used.


Today, the potential in media archiving is seldom realized for critical discourse, or as a socially engaging means for data explication.  Yet as Lev Manovich (2001: xxviii) reminds with early Soviet film, “Vertov’s goal was to seduce us into his way of seeing and thinking, to make us share his excitement, as he discovers a new language for film.  More important, Vertov is able to achieve something that new media designers and artists still have to learn -- how to merge database and narrative into a new form.”  The Garden of Television Delights is a response to both Vertov and Manovich.  After all, it was Vertov who wrote that films should be as “useful as shoes.”  As such, The Garden of Television Delights stands as an ever-growing archive for thousands of ‘left-over’ Cultural Farming videos which, when coupled with Bosch’s masterpiece, proffer a unique, paradoxical, contrapuntal grand view of randomly ‘painted’ vignettes of a televisual history of mankind... 500 years later.


For Cultural Farming, most all forms of visual media communication today are struggling mightily to become a kind of television.  After all TV is the Holy Grail of technological visuality, collapsing time and space on a mass scale through the convergence of instantaneous synchronized-sound with moving images.  And everybody wants a piece of this action.  But luckily, when newly re-employing today’s deluge of recent media technologies like Broadband, iMovie, Blogger, YouTube, cell phones, Quicktime, etc. …the possibility of analyzing the production of television content offers, in turn, unprecedented potentials for purposefully interrogating the production of our socio-cultural-mediated world(s.) 

We must master and utilize these new opportunities not only in our own research, but also as an everyday means of civic, instructional-discourse, to help inform and reform any medium that inhibits full democratic participation.  And we can do exactly this today by folding these new technologies and techniques into our visual-method practice.  Anyone inclined can do exactly what is done here and throughout Cultural Farming, which I believe is a thrilling idea.

As my research continues to provoke “big” media production and presentation, my corporate ex-clients, my ex-cohort in news and journalism, and everyday television viewers; I hope to also provoke my comrades in the academy.  And there lies the rub.  No one, particularly smart people and particularly academics… nobody welcomes provocation.  After all, we already know TV, right?  Indeed, viewers of all stripes eagerly jump to exact their media opinions in public forums as breathlessly as media scholars are expected to make meaning, to provide “fixed’ interpretations.  And so, contemporary media theorization often becomes mired in negotiations to get the final say. 

Likewise, it is the propensity of too many scholars to treat media texts as if they had no other purpose than to be decoded, thus choking-off the methodological potential of critical visuality.  It is more than paradoxical that the same people whose lives are spent fighting over words should now strive to fix “true” meanings within the visual-methods project -- even as they construct roadblocks to new, provocative visual research methods... like appropriation and remix. 

Cultural Farming, however, to use George Marcus’s (1986) phrase is a “messy” project; one that is intertextual, multi-voiced, open ended, resistant to theoretical holism yet committed to invigorating contestable complexities of cultural criticism; and all while folding my own story into the mix to produce a meaningful, performative, critical media discourse about the crazy worlds we inhabit.  Worlds made crazier still through normative contemporary media production practice.

Cultural Farming is personal experimental ethnography for provoking taken-for-granted media methods and for challenging our “fixed” media meanings.  And so, I would like to think Cultural Farming is a necessary antidote to the inept infantilism we see permeating so much of today’s “monstrous” production fetishism -- and to our profound belief that we know television.  I can only hope Hieronymus would approve this bald allegorical appropriation.

Please take a moment here to see -- with new critical eyes -- the television you think you know.  Then go remix some media for yourself.  Because the only way to address television’s “intoxicating... erotic derangement” is to resist its oligarchic production of socio-cultural storytelling.

Indeed, television remains one of our most important inventions.  It has simply been held for too long, in too few hands, for too few reasons ... with monstrous results.


“The University has been slow to recognize and allow for transdisciplinary inquiry.  As Robert Hodge argued in a 1995 issue of the Australian Universities Review, while more and more postgraduates are pursuing such an approach to their research, they run the risk of being inappropriately supervised and assessed.  Hodge makes a passionate argument for students to be bold enough to hold to this approach, and for universities to change their culture to reflect the shift.

For Hodge, the transdisciplinary turn is a kind of Kuhnian revolution or, in Foucault’s terms, an ‘epistemic rupture’.  It is a question of refusing the way in which disciplines, whilst transmitting useful and important knowledges, also ‘repulse a whole teratology of learning’ - teratology being ‘the study of monsters’.

Hodge exhorts us to be open to the monstrous, to ‘take seriously those problems, beliefs and experiences that are annulled by a dominant discipline, whether they be intractably personal or contaminated by the disreputable demotic or popular, by passion or anger or delight, by the desire to change the world or to dream a new one.’  Being a transdisciplinary scholar then is not to seek refuge in a new mastery but to place oneself, as a site and vector of knowledge, at risk - to seek to become something other than what one is.  It might be to seek, as Jane Bennett has argued, productive new hybrids of thought, machine, history and subjectivity.”  *

  1. *A lot of very good media-communication scholarship comes out of Australasia, like Burke’s and Hodge’s notions above.  Yet at the same time so does ‘monstrous’ TV like this promotional campaign for University of Otago in Dunedin, NZ.  Go figure...:

(direct link)


An American, living

in Canada, now spending his life experimenting with new forms of critical media ethnography.