21/ UbuWeb

UbuWeb is one of my favourite online resources. It is the definitive source for all things avant-garde, be it film, sound, visual art, poetry or essays.

UbuWeb is home to over 2500 full-length avant-garde films and videos, hundreds of recordings of sound poetry and sound art, a rapidly growing dance database and, in the site’s own words, “detritus and ephemera of great artists”.

Avant-garde works have, historically, been put out with limited runs and even more limited budgets and then vanished into the ether, hoarded by collectors and, occasionally, restaged or redistributed so they can briefly be enjoyed again. The advent of the digital age, however, gives opportunity to share this work. UbuWeb has also chosen to represent work that transfers to the web interface well – video, sound and text, when experienced online remain close to the original experience of these works, where online reproductions of paintings and sculptures do not.

One of the main aims of UbuWeb has always the free and unfettered access to information, particularly works in the avant-garde, which may otherwise be hard to trace and access. UbuWeb is run entirely without funding and never seeks to make any profit from the works it hosts – but also never seeks to licence them either. Because the overwhelming majority of works on UbuWeb are out-of-print and therefore inaccessible for most, licensing these works for inclusion on the site is potentially impossible. In practice, UbuWeb has found that most artists are pleased to find their work there and grant permission for it to remain, while a few request it be taken down.

The resource is run by artist Kenneth Goldsmith, a name I was familiar with before chancing on UbuWeb. As a proponent of open access to information, often writing on the topic of piratical open access in academic published, I first read about Goldsmith when he was attempting to print the contents of the academic database JSTOR, as a part of his wider project to print the internet.  Staged in honour of the activist Aaron Swartz, this installation eventually filled 250,000 pages, stacked haphazardly around a gallery space, located in Dusseldorf, littering the floor and piled up in boxes. Goldsmith named his work the ‘JSTOR Pirate Headquarters’.

UbuWeb exists in much the same vein – built on a commitment to sharing obscure content for free with researchers, students and the like-minded public – in a practice of radical distribution.

UbuWeb can be accessed here: www.ubu.com


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