The last few times I’ve done the Follow Friday thing, I’ve typically included a few people whose work is compelling and from whom you can learn something, a bit about them, and where to find them. This time out, I’m trying something a little different, and only suggesting a single “follow” or destination, a website called UbuWeb.
Thinking of it as just a website is a bit deceiving, and is a bit like calling the MoMA “a building.” This isn’t your ordinary website. What started out in 1996 primarily as a repository for concrete and visual poetry has become a veritable museum of unique, often-forgotten, art by often-forgotten individuals. While there’s not a ton on here that’s related to photography, there’s enough on the history and theory of nearly everything else to make this a vital stop if you’re trying, on one hand, to expand your cultural literacy (which, remember, should not be limited to any one art form), while on the other, trying to venture a bit off the beaten path.
And that, to me, is one of the best things about Ubuweb. It takes people who are kinda-sorta household names, or at least known by name to people who know a little bit about art, or film, or music, and fleshes them out. You’ve probably heard of John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Buckminster Fuller or Kenneth Anger, but in a lot of cases some of these names are only that. We have a vague awareness, but there’s not much to go with that name, nothing to anchor it or suggest a life (or life’s work) behind it. This provides content, and context, also making connections between collaborators, schools of thought, and historical periods, all outside of the obvious and better-known names we were given in some cursory introduction to something or other.
It’s too easy, perhaps, to be scared off by the sheer volume of culture, between what’s available online, in libraries, in museums and elsewhere. There, I said it. There’s tons of “output.” Films, music, books, photos, paintings, not to mention all the things that are hybrid forms of different media. Don’t let that frighten you off or keep you from learning more. If you wait for the right starting point or the right invitation, it’s like deciding you’ll learn to swim once you’ve seen the right water molecule; it’ll never happen, and you’ll end up paralyzed by indecision.
Instead, welcome this ocean (or, if it helps, think of it as a swimming pool) into which you can dive at any point (trust me when I tell you, it’s deep enough even in the shallows that you can dive safely) and immerse yourself. Spend a few minutes, an afternoon, or a lifetime, but by all means, find the time and make the best use of it you can.
Okay, you still want a starting point? Kenneth Goldsmith sums UbuWeb up rather messily (appropriately enough) here. If you’re looking for something more concrete by way of suggestions on a place to start your exploration, here are a few personal favorites:
A collection of Alfred Stieglitz’s proto-Dadaist 291 magazine
An overview of Germany’s Bauhaus
Robert Hughes’s The Shock of the New (BBC TV series, 1982)
Leslie Thornton’s Photography is Easy (Short Film, 2010)
Gavin Bryars’ The Sinking of the Titanic which also contains the original version of the haunting, strangely moving Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet)
And if, after all that seriousness, you need to descend temporarily into silliness, check out the Ubuweb 365 Days Project, which curates all sorts of strange, wonderful (and wonderfully strange) music from all over.
The First 10,000 runs on passion (and an awful lot of caffeine). Buy me a coffee.