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Teaching and Learning Multimodal Communications

Alyssa Arbuckle, Alison Hedley, Shaun Macpherson, Alyssa McLeod, Jana Millar Usiskin, Daniel Powell, Jentery Sayers, Emily Smith, Michael Stevens, Authors

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UbuWeb: Academic & Absurd

Hosting more than 7,500 media files (pdfs, mp3s, swfs, gifs, etc), UbuWeb's content is vast and wide reaching, yet sometimes tedious. While they host both obscure and well-known work by prominent poets and artists like Christian Bok, Patti Smith, and Richard Serra, they also recently acquired the 365 Days Projecta collection of random audio files from 200 different contributors containing an audio clip for every day of the years 2003 and 2007. This kind of obscure and ephemeral material comprises a significant portion of the content on the site. By providing space for both "projects" and individual works of art or poetry, UbuWeb also unsettles the institutional hierarchy that exists within humanities scholarship, one that tends to deride collaborative publishing in favor of what is produced by a single author, replacing traditional infrastructure with a more democratized approach to scholarship, collaboration, making, and publication.

The archive organizes its content into sections, including (among others) conceptual writing, sound, ethnopoetics, and one entitled outsiders (also called the "insane section," where the 365 Days Project is housed), which archives found/obscure ephemera in an effort to legitimize and acknowledge novelty art, further disclosing the archive's populist commitments. In this way, UbuWeb seems intentionally elusive (and perhaps even openly antagonistic)remaining both academic and absurd, and as high-brow as they are quotidian.

Although UbuWeb provides free access to these files, most of the work is copyrighted, and its actual use depends on artists' consent. And while the site certainly speaks to issues of access, it tends to elide the obvious problem of copyright, deflecting it instead to the archived artists and users of the content to sort out (an approach that may not, after all, be a bad thing). Researchers interested in reproducing the material in a publication may then run into the same old problems, for while UbuWeb does make the content accessible, it does little to make it easily available for actual use (at least as far as publication goes). Sometimes it seems like this is the point, and it is certainly a part of the anti-institutional rhetoric that makes the site as refreshing as it does frustrating. For while their loose restrictions on content sharing might seem to encourage piracy, or at least permit it, this same lack of constraint (as well as the very nature of the archived work) also tends to encourage a loyalty to the artist that is often lost through the mediation of institutions.

Author: Emily Smith
Word Count: 410
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