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Stuff in the Background
Guy Julier 29/11/04

The BBC has just started airing a new series on television called 'The Culture Show'. The first edition included a piece about what art fabricators do. These are the people who actually make the things that some artists commission - the people who mould soap into lifesize Model T Fords, turn the contours of the pile of a carpet into a computer progamme which creates symphonic music or manufacture a thousand chocolate eclairs to be floated down the Hudson river.

Behind spectacular shows of culture lie the networks of people who are engaged in making things happen.

If we want an account of how stuff comes about, surely it'd make sense to look at how such human resources are organized, how they make a living and, indeed, how they shape processes and outcomes. This isn't just about honouring 'unsung heroes' that support 'great artists'. It is about investigating the everyday interactions and dependencies of cultural production.

Likewise, the fabulous New York-based journal Cabinet tells us about US presidents' doodles or what a junior school science teacher thinks of one of his pupil's fantasy drawings (mostly of the teacher being hung). I'm not advocating benign 'celebration' of these vernacular moments. Rather, it is important to look at this stuff in the background both as the resonance or fall-out of things in the foreground and, at some level, something that contributes to it. The foreground is made up of the information that we more regularly notice, although the background things - who we chat with or what we sketch out - probably takes up more of our everyday engagement.

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