JOHN BERGER’s Ways of Seeing – Case Study: Part I

To illustrate the first part of our case study on John Berger’s Ways of Seeing, we got to talk with Canadian artist Lorna Mills on a project she curated for The One Minutes in Amsterdam, titled Ways of Something. 114 artists from across the globe were involved, each curating a one-minute adaptation themselves, creating a melting pot of digital art. This critical interpretation of Ways of Seeing gives a fresh look at the well-known BBC4 art series by offering a singular take on each minute and incorporating mediums not originally analyzed by Berger. We can only imagine what Berger would have done with virtual reality and fractal photography. Digital art makes the fundamental analysis that characterizes Ways of Seeing relevant once again.




ESTELLE GERVAIS: Ways of Something has been qualified as a critique, a remake, a parody, and tribute to Berger’s iconic art series. As the curator of the project, what would be your qualifier of choice and what was your initial goal behind the project, besides its incorporation in The One Minutes program? Did you expect a specific reaction of the public following the release of the first two episodes?

LORNA MILLS: In this project, I’m an artist first, before I’m a curator, so I didn’t start with any end result in place. It was propositional, using the word ‘something’ in the title was my way of not setting up a specific end goal. I also had no expectation that there would even be a public reaction or that much interest outside a small circle of artists.

EG: Speaking of curatorial work, was this your first artistic experience playing such a role?

LM: This project was pretty unique (and I doubt I’d repeat the formula).

EG: How did you find it different from representing your personal artistic perspective?

LM: I couldn’t control every nanosecond. Each artist’s minute was their own art.

EG: What made you interested in Ways of Seeing in the first place?

LM: I was invited by The One Minutes in Amsterdam to curate a selection of one-minute videos. I didn’t want to come up with a theme or do an open call, so I had a problem coming up with any interesting way to approach it. I saw a Facebook post by Jaakko Pallasvuo with a link to episode one of “Ways of Seeing”. The video in the Youtube link was close-captioned, and it was that small distinction that made the whole idea crystallize since it is the abrupt change in text style and text handling (in Ways of Something) that reinforces the idea of visual discontinuity that overlays John Berger’s beautiful “BBC voice of God” narration.

After episode two, I did part company with The One Minutes and continued the project with my own resources.

EG: Do you believe John Berger’s vision of art to still be relevant to this day, considering the advent of internet art?

LM: Yes. Especially with his repeated calls for artists to control the means of art production and dissemination.

EG: Gathering 114 artists for a project must have been quite a challenge, considering the project includes such a variety of digital art forms. Can you tell us more about your selection process for collaborators on Ways of Something? Did you want to represent a specific aesthetic with your selection?

LM: I invited artists one episode at a time, so it wasn’t until the very end that I was wrangling so many people. I was interested in networked artists who were using digital tools, and of course there is an aesthetic within that, but I didn’t want to narrow it down further. I knew the project would be more interesting with wildly different approaches minute by minute.

Looking back now, my selection process was idiosyncratic-lots of people I admired, and some people chosen because I was curious about what they would do (or what they would be like to work with).

EG: I imagine you listened to the series multiple times in order to complete the project. What struck you the most about Ways of Seeing and has any of it influenced your practice or the way you perceive art following Ways of Something?

LM: I read the book a long long time ago when I was still in art school, so any influences on my practice may have occurred then. On encountering it all again, I was struck by how fresh it all still seemed because of current art being made on the internet.

EG: Ways of Something is currently on display at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, which you must be thrilled about! [it closed in february]

LM: Showing Ways of Something at the Whitney was a treat mostly because I got to take over 114 artists with me.

EG: What do you think is the future of net.art pieces in museums considering the support used to view them is easily transferable (to computers or phones, per example), which is unlike traditional mediums?

LM: Actually many contemporary museums already have a history of showing impossible work. Institutions are good at that if there’s a will to show something.

EG: Lastly, any projects you are currently working on you’d like to share?
LM: I have a three-minute video that is part of Transfer Download, a project by the tireless Kelani Nicole, that will be travelling to Basel and Shanghai this year, I am currently working on a commission for the Museum of the Moving Image opening in May I also participated in The Library of the Printed Web, a project by the brilliant and generous Paul Soulellis that has been acquired by the MOMA.


“I couldn’t control every nanosecond. Each artist’s minute was their own art.”