Lüneburg, Barbara. (2018). TransCoding – From ‘Highbrow Art’ to Participatory Culture. Transcript-Verlag. https://www.transcript-verlag.de/978-3-8376-4108-0/transcoding-from-hig…


TransCoding From ‘Highbrow Art’ to Participatory Culture is a study of the interrelation between artistic practices and social media strategies, considering in particular the interrelations between social media strategies and the arts, as well as the role of authorship and aesthetics within the realm of participatory art and digital culture.

The author, Barbara Lüneburg, a contemporary music composer with a background in performance art, built a team of artist professionals in order to generate a participatory project involving the wider web community through a series of open calls launched online. Collecting and coordinating creative contributions from the general public, the author and her team produced a series of exhibitions and concerts, such as the artworks “Slices of Life”, “I am a Priest” and the interactive audio-visual installation “Read Me”.

The title of the book itself suggests the transcoding - or transposition - of traditional cultural practices like playing the violin, composing for classical instruments or performing in the concert hall to practices such as communicating through internet 2.0 and interconnecting with an online community that could then actively participate in the creative process. Furthermore the project aims at generating a new approach to the world of contemporary performative art and music, beyond the traditional idea of the ‘lonely, genius composer,’ who works separated from society.

The book presents a detailed description of all the different stages of the project, providing a comprehensive introduction of the research field, with an interesting overview of participatory contemporary (classical) music projects. In the following chapters, the author closely examines the impact of the community’s creative contributions on the role and the self-concept of the artist. In collaboration with sociologist Kai Ginkel, she presents a striking parallel between artistic research and ethnographic sociology, two disciplines characterized by a direct, first-hand engagement of the researcher in specific fields of enquiry.

The main target group was an internet-literate young audience, mostly drawn from popular culture, a non-typical audience for classical contemporary multimedia performances. Luneburg encouraged the web community’s participation and shared discourse by actively involving the online audience in the making of a multimedia artwork. The blog at https://what-ifblog.net served as the central social media and content base, presenting audio and video excerpts of TransCoding’s artworks, interview passages and community contributions.

These contributions were solicited through a series of open calls evolving around specific themes, such as “Identity”, “Powerful Woman”, “Drone Music” and many others. The public was invited to express their creativity on the given topic and the level of contribution and creative exchange between the author and the participating public members varied according to the different projects.

For example, in the case of the interactive installation “Read Me”, each community member could entirely generate artistic content, while for the artwork “I am a Priest” the author and her team had a more active role in elaborating a conceptual framework and providing professional advices to the creative contributions of the community towards the final concert/performance.

Considering topics of authorship, authority, aesthetics, participatory art and digital culture, the book presents an interesting analysis of the collaboration between professional artists and the wider web community. In fact, one of the core ideas highlighted through the research is that rather than being a lonely creative genius, the artist can generate an active collaboration with a wide range of public through online and direct interactions. Involving more than 1200 followers across its different media platforms, the project was a successful demonstration of this idea.

One of the most interesting chapters of the book is dedicated to the comparison between artistic research and visual ethnography. Taking Micheal Foucault’s ideology as a starting basis, the author and co-worker, sociologist Kai Ginkel, compare the methodologies used in both disciplines, as well as their data collection and fieldwork strategies. 

Ethnography is described as a specific style of knowledge production to be found within different academic disciplines, such as sociology, anthropology, political science, etc. The ethnographic researcher always spend a certain amount of time directly engaging with specific cultural scenarios, very much like artists exploring specific social, economical or political realities. From a more pragmatic point of view, in the last decades ethnographic practices have progressively employed visual and audio recording devices to develop their researches. Such a documentary approach has become so important that Harvard University’s course in sensory ethnography offers its students workshops on how produce photographs, videos and sound-works. Additionally, Luneburg considers how in the recent decades artistic-based practices focused on field research have become more and more prominent. Very much like ethnographers, artists are developing complex and in-depth fieldwork and analysis. The outcomes are transposed and communicated through artworks, installations and exhibitions.

Like the ethnographer, the artist is directly involved in the research process, and the practice-based outcomes could possibly change the field of study. Artistic research generates findings that cannot be produced in a traditional, academic or scientific way. Though an aesthetic experience, the results of such a research are communicated to the senses and the imagination of the viewers. Another feature of artistic-based research is that the outcomes are addressed not only to art professionals or academics, but to the wider general public.  The result of practice-based investigations can be more open to interpretation than in traditional scientific or academic fieldwork.

However, artist-researchers have to maintain a constant critical position towards their practice, to avoid subjective readings and presentations of the research findings.