A conference panel at transmediale.07 in Berlin, on 3.2.2007
The panel ‚Media Art Undone‘ revisited a seemingly everlasting international discussion on the definitions of media art which is bound to continue, not least on mailing lists like Spectre and CRUMB.
We here offer a full transcript of the presentations and the following discussion. (to access the texts, please, follow the links below)
The participants discussed whether it is time to let go of the label ‚media art‘ altogether, and to strive for a re-inscription of media-based art practices into broader art discourses. They investigated the legitimation of a self-contained discourse on media art and analysed the terminology itself as well as the relations between modes of production, technology, contemporaneity, mass media and media theory. Raising questions on the current state of media art, the role of copyright and intellectual property, culture and subculture, the panel asked if the categorisations and definitions of media art and media cultural practices that used to justify their – positive and negative – discrimination, are still valid today.
- Miguel Leal
- Inke Arns
- Diedrich Diederichsen
- Olia Lialina
- Timothy Druckrey
The discussion that followed these presentations is documented below.
Participants: Diedrich Diederichsen (de), Inke Arns (de), Olia Lialina (ru/de), Timothy Druckrey (us)
Moderator: Miguel Leal (pt)
Transcription: Valeska Bührer
Editors: Andreas Broeckmann, Valeska Bührer
The transcription was made possible by a cooperation with Digital Platform (Belgium).
Introduction to Media Art Undone
We are here today in this panel to discuss, under the title ‚Media Art Undone‘, if the categorisations around media art are still operative. In fact it is not innocently that Transmediale is trying to step a little further on this. Transmediale started twenty years ago as a video festival (being video something opposed to film as we can understand by those early festival statements). It developed in different directions in the late nineties, assuming in ’99 its subtitle ‚international media art festival‘. transmediale assumed also a categorisation within media arts art (Interactive, software or image, for instance), but had the courage to drop it in the 2005 edition.
We could read the following in the 2005 curatorial statement: “We are this year responding to various discussions by abolishing the separation into these categories. This move forms part of a general debate about the definitions and limits of ‚electronic‘, ‚digital‘, or ‚media‘ art, and we hope that opening up the terrain of the competition will help to re-evaluate the connection between art and media technologies.“
This year, 2007, the discussion steps a little further with the change of the festival subtitle. Transmediale is no longer called “international media art festival” but “festival for art and digital culture”. Believing in the curatorial statement of this year, “this name is supposed to demonstrate the step away from the niche of media art, yet still points to the field of tension between culture and digital technologies”… and we are all looking forward to understand the role Transmediale is going to play in this stepping away from the niche of media art; and to see how this is going to work in the next editions of the festival.
A somewhat disturbing idea reiterated frequently in certain circles of media art is that new media has won its private battle against old media, and has become the only true way of adequately describing and understand contemporary art. Such linear assumptions may help us realise that things have changed, but the interpretations they offer are, it seems, erroneous. Firstly, we should try to understand whether the distinction between old and new media is still a relevant aspect of defining contemporary art practice due to the wide spread of digital technologies. Secondly, we should also discuss that other category — ‚media art‘ –, which has in a certain way been emptied of its meaning by having been over-used. How can we really define media art and media cultural practices as a closed terrain? Does it make any sense to think about new and old media as two opponents in a struggle for their own survival and categorisation? And can we still look at media art or new media art as the solution for any of the self-contradictions and specific aporias of contemporary art?
This panel is exactly in the middle of this discussion. The title ‚Media Art Undone‘ points out to something unfinished or not yet done or more precisely for something that needs an un-do, one of those magic operations under the edit menu? Is it time to let go of the label media art altogether and to strive for a re-inscription of media-based art practices into broader art discourses? Or can we just say, paraphrasing Manovich, that media art (or digital culture, to use the term in the new transmediale subtitle), is happening elsewhere, or to be more precise, everywhere due to the fact that’s not a distictice category anymore?
We will start this discussion with a first round of short presentations by each of the participants and then we will open the discussion to the audience.
First we will have the presentation by Inke Arns…
When asked about a definition of media art today, very different projects and formats come to my mind, for example:
- concrete poetry (Language property , a net art project by Daniel G. Andujar from 1997 – a collection of trademarked sentences),
- mobile research labs or stations scanning the „territory of signals“ in a given location (Marko Peljhan / Projekt atol’s makrolab started in 1997),
- experiments in and with social networks (Netochka Nezvanova),
- round trips in a specially equipped lorry through industrial landscapes commented by two Bulgarian truck drivers (Cargo Sofia, a project by Stefan Kaegi from Rimini Protokoll),
- various instances of border crossing and fence climbing (by members of the irational collective, namely Heath Bunting and Kayle Brandon),
- hacking of the mass media by spreading disinformation (Voteauction by UBERMORGEN),
- workshops focussing on RFID technology,
- and even wall paintings and mobile flower beds communicating secret messages (Need Weapons and Ammunition) to helicopters and aircraft flying by (Renaud August-Dormeuil, Code International Sol/Air No. 14, 2005).
All these examples show that the area covered by Media Art today has radically widened, or expanded. It now makes use of a whole range of media which, until a few years ago, would not have been considered worth a mention in the context of Media Art. The media and technologies used in Language (property) and makrolab make them clearly recognisable as exponents of Media or Net Art. Like makrolab, Bunting’s and Brandon’s hybrid project BorderXing Guide interweaves real and virtual space and thus anticipates the activities of the irational collective in the 2000s. From 2000 onwards these increasingly shift to the (sub)urban public space and address the physical surmounting of fences and borders (Tour d’Fence, Tunneling workshop, Public Sculpture Climbing). Cargo Sofia, as a “mobile theatre space”, allows us to experience these increasingly intermingled virtual (medial) and real spaces of globalisation as tangible truck routes. In the aforementioned example it is a mural painting which illustrates the workings of the GPS system and a mobile flowerbed, communicating its messages to the skies.
But why are wall paintings, digital prints on canvas, the infection of the mass media with disinformation, journeys by lorry or climbing trips Media Art? Or rather: why can they be called Media Art, as we at Hartware MedienKunstVerein (www.hmkv.de) have been doing programmatically in our exhibitions since 2005? My theory is that what back in the 1990s was collectively labelled Media Art is gradually emancipating itself from this conceptual restriction. To be more precise: Media Art is emancipating itself more and more from the use of new media/technologies – a paradox development. At the same time it deliberates, with great matter-of-factness and great ease, how the world surrounding us, which is increasingly based on these technologies, is changed by them. This development is probably due to the nowadays routine use of these media/technologies in our everyday lives. Internet, telecommunication, video, cameras, the convergence of all these media into one, namely the computer, all this has become progressively more normal in the last five to seven years. So normal (in fact), that the Media Art courses, newly founded ten to fifteen years ago, have trouble finding new students: On the one hand it becomes harder and harder to find suitable applicants (namely, ones who do not confuse Media Art with commercial applications or the advertising industry), on the other hand, students define the territory of Media Art, contrary to their syllabus, according to their own rules, which is to say they are increasingly uninhibited in their choice of media.
I would therefore like to propose the following tentative definition: What defines Media Art today is not its range of media, but rather its specific form of contemporaneity, its content-related examination of our present, which is to a high degree typified by media. It deals with what Friedrich Kittler described exactly 20 years ago in the succinct phrase “the media determine our situation” . (in German: “Medien bestimmen unsere Lage”) (Friedrich Kittler, Grammophon, Film, Typewriter (Gramaphone, Film, Typewriter), Berlin 1986, p. 5). Which media are used becomes progressively more irrelevant. In other words: Media Art is no longer the formal category or formal genre it was considered to be, above all in the 1990s (e.g. at the Karlsruhe ZKM, the ars electronica or various courses of study in Media Art). Rather it defines itself through an intensive content-related examination of the world surrounding us, one increasingly medialised and based upon new technologies. At the same time this examination does not necessary entail the use of the new technologies, but rather makes use of (almost) all media and technologies. It frees itself from the compulsion to utilize the latest technology, discards the conceptual support afforded by the newness of the medium and faces the challenge of art. It is (finally) growing up.
In this context it also becomes very clear that Media Art is no engineering competition for the development of technologies. When artists have mastered those media and technologies they work with and make use of (e.g. in Software Art they do the programming themselves) that does not automatically mean that they also have to get involved in the development of these technologies, the definition of their standards and formats as, for example, Friedrich Kittler demanded time and time again almost apodictically. By doing so Kittler disregards the basic potential of art. The specific form of the contemporaneity of Media Art is not its technical expertise in the narrow sense of the word. Rather are the artists and authors mentioned above inventors in a broad sense, which is to say, the very sense of their specific contemporaneity, the conceptual examinations expressed within it and, by all means, also in their participation and involvement in a world in which the use of media and technology is becoming increasingly normal and which, as a consequence, is changing radically.
This change, however, is not happening right before our eyes. Even more: Since this increasing medial composedness in the form of radio waves, computer interfaces and everyday applications remains predominantly transparent or invisible and thus goes unnoticed, many of these artistic projects set to work on making these transparencies visible or discernible. The Russian formalists called such a procedure “faktura”. Such a faktura, in the era of spaces influenced by information and signals which elude sensory perception (“augmented space”) might be the only possibility for translating the signals of one system into signals that can be interpreted by another. Not the aspect of functionality is being emphasised (i.e. Media Art is not in competition with engineering), but obstacles for the eye and the other human senses are being created. This movement leads from one stage of transparency to a perceptible visibility and the sensory experience of intrinsically unintelligible spaces of data.(*)
Now one could ask: Why this adherence to a nowadays obviously redundant term such as Media Art? The answer is simple and has not changed in the more than ten years during which I have been working in the field of Media Art: because this field is still not an established part of the broader field of contemporary art. And it is even worse: the field of media art is still not being taken seriously by contemporary art (Harald Fricke’s article in yesterday’s German TAZ is yet another proof for this). One reason for this situation – and I say one reason – can be found in the field of media art itself. It is because media art has not managed to get out of the self-defined ghetto. This self-contained isolation has developed due to, and I think these are the three most important points,
- a separate structure of festivals and a few institutions focusing on media art
- the focus on festivals as the most appropriate format for media art
- and I also would blame too much technical gagetry from the side of the artists.
“The art formerly known as (new) media art“ (this was the title of a show curated by Steve Dietz and Sarah Cook) comprises everything that in content and concept deals with the world’s increasing medial composedness, or the fact that the world today is faced increasingly on these technologies and media. This exploration results in a kind of contemporaneity, which is to say, a taking part in and an inquisitive exploration of the present, which in this form cannot commonly be found in contemporary art. And I think in the context of contemporary art this kind of approach is, in a way, still considered too worldly.
Maybe Media Art today is less media art than concept art: Here something is taking place which, polemically speaking, at some academies has been driven from the terrain of the once more current manner of painting, obsessed with gut feeling and emotions: the initial formulation of a concept, followed by the freedom to chose a medium – from mural painting to mobile research laboratory.
So let me quickly wrap up:
I’ve spoken about how media art has matured and its field has broadened, and that’s a very important thing. While I would claim that it makes less and less sense to keep the notion of media art, at the same time I am convinced that the notion of media art in its matured version makes a lot of sense. Also in the sense of using it in a tactical or even as a stratetic device. I think this field which you could call media art has a lot to contribute to the more general field of contemporary art and it is not about including videos in biennials or documentas or something (I would claim that video art is only the tip of the iceberg – with 7/8 of the entire iceberg of media art being below the water surface). Media Art – the 7/8 – is about a broad practice of formats, and it’s not only about the moving image (video projections are easy to digest for the contemporary art scene because they do not question the format of contemporary art). And finally, I would also like to discuss how we can find new ways of positioning new media art in the context of contemporary art.
(*) Cf. Inke Arns: Faktura and Interface: Chlebnikov, Tesla and the heavenly data traffic in Marko Peljhans makrolab (1997-2007), in: Kwastek, Katja (Ed.): „Ohne Schnur….“ Kunst und drahtlose Kommunikation. Kommunikationskunst im Spannungsfeld von Kunst, Technologie und Gesellschaft, Revolver: Frankfurt am Main 2005, p. 62-79
I was watching the Austrian news before I came here on 3sat. They are always full of culture. This time they were announcing a show by – what they called – “neon artist” Maurizio Nannucci. Of course, is an interesting label, “neon artist”. Immediately you start constructing the history of “neon art”, you probably think of Dan Flavin, he’s maybe the father of “neon art”, who has several pupils and students around the world. But at the same time Joseph Kosuth wouldn’t possibly called a “neon artist”, he would be a “conceptual artist working with neon”.
So I’m going to make some remarks about the situation and our subject here in the light of this anecdote. I am talking from a position of somebody who’s relatively an outsider to the history of media art. I’m rather coming from, what I call here for lack of a better name, gallery art. But this distinction is, of course, problematic. I basically just used it to introduce myself. Adding to this introduction I should mention that my strongest influence on my aesthetic and political passions 30 years ago was punk. And punk was, back then, trying to avoid any kind of media and format and be as unmediated as possible. And another love of my life was a little later conceptual art. And that helped me reject any claim that there could be something that would be unmediated or immediate and all this kind of stupid illusions that punk used to have and what kind of reactionay consequences this could have.
So these two conflicting influences were determining my relationship also to media art. The distinction between gallery art and media art is, of course, one that does only work if you look at the past, at those days, when determining influences on us contemporaries took place. In the future we will probably talk only about other distinctions, maybe institutional art and market art. Or we will talk about other binary distinctions like the one in the title of the festival, digital culture and art. The problem with these binary constructions is not that they are binary. I mean, I don’t have this kind poststructuralist problem with binarisms, I’m not abhorring the binarism per se. The problem is with these binary constructions is that they simulate progress in the arts because one can always move from one framework to the other and then within the small circle one works in, one can think of having made a progress.
So if you’ve been a market artist for a long time you can become an institution artist and feel more independent and free from the market. And as institution artist you can get rid of all these boring, sticky, stuffy institutions, applications, competitions, prizes, commissions and become a market artist and then you think you made a progress and you can move away from media art, which is confined to the art world, or to one art world, or the institutions, and do digital culture and then you can feel liberated and assume you´re closer to the people or the real digital life and so on. And you can get rid of being a commercial cultural producer in digital culture and by moving over to the art world, and so on. This is kind of an endless game of self-betrayal, and not only self-betrayal also of illusions in history writing of these kind of movements.
I want to tell a tale of two artists. They’re both, at least they were for a long time, working at the same academy in the same kind of media art or new media department. They were both doing installations with new media and not so new media, but some of these installations had moving images, some had not moving images but other somehow installed images, some had more and others had less interactive elements. But they were both decidedly about the way their personal biography would have connections with or cross political and historical movements, events and so on. And they would do that, both, for a long time, both working in the same department, both working with a set of similar media, both referring to a certain set of theoreticians, writers and canonical texts. But they would never, never ever, be included in the same show, because one was the media artist and the other was a gallery artist. One had an upringing of art departments, and Soho shows and reading October, and the other of Ars Electronica and media labs. So they would do exactly the same kind of work, they would get along quite well, but they would never show together. Why is that so? I think it has a little to do with the past, maybe with some historical moment in which there really was a strong difference between gallery art and media art and maybe that has produced subsequently some kind of cultural gaps that can’t be overcome although one, in both fields, comes to similar conclusions or produces similar art.
It is a little exaggeration to construct the following antagonism, I know, but let´s think that, at one point, media was about – in a broader sense of the word, not in a narrow sense – about the technological, the anthropological side of institutions and gallery art (I’m always talking about the critical side of gallery art and the critical side of media art, of course, there were also more affirmative versions of it) the political, the cultural side of institutions. And while media art was about new models and paradigms of perception, physicality, humanity and non-humanity, in the field of gallery art people were relying more on given paradigms, enabling them to concentrate on methods of negation, also of caricature, of repetition, of displacement on the content level. And I think maybe also the term of the idea of what is a deep change or a deep shift in a certain continuity were different. In gallery art the horizon was the political, whereas the ultimate in media art was maybe, but not necessarily the political, it was the situation in a broader sens. When I was reading the abstract by Inke and the quote of Kittler „media determine our situation“ („Medien bestimmen unsere Lage“), I was really curious how you would translate „Lage“ when you were speaking English and you translated it with situation and that is of course ambivalent. It can be different kinds of situation, but I think in Kittler it refers via Gottfried Benns “Erkenne die Lage” (Recognize the situation!”) to something more Heideggerian, pre-political or un-political. Whereas gallery art in its political version would be more about a political and historical idea of the situation. Of course, these two versions of institutional critique converge in a term that later became more and more popular: ‚dispositive‘ or ‚dispositif‘. Both forms were about dispositifs. In the development of the situation of the situation one can not only observe a convergence of practices, but also of concepts along the line of dispositifs that have always political and somehow pre- or transpolitical components. Like I was describing in the case of these two people, under these circumstances, everything can be shown everywhere, and of course, everything that has been shown here upstairs – probably everything – in the exhibition of the transmedial.07 can be shown in any possible gallery in Berlin Mitte. And the other way round, probably.
But there still is a difference and this can be found in the cultures around it, the ways, reception, discourse around it, debates are organised. You never come together around gallery openings to something like this, it never happens, only in university, art educational, art academy departments, that organise symposia from time to time – because now they have to – but it wouldn’t normally happen, you would organise this completely different. But this is not the only difference, of course. I think in this cultural difference the genealogical difference between the forms has survived as two distinct vernaculars, two types of dialect, two types of behaviour that still exist, although they cannot, or very difficultly, be addressed. You probably might have noticed that in the last 15-25 years it has been kind of a game, a party talk topic that people that grew up secularly atheist talk about how they are protestant or catholic, how catholic it is to rent an apartment like this, how protestant it is to eat this kind of macro-biotic food and so on. This kind of talk, this kind of re-appearance of a past that your grandparents had or the city you grew up had, these sudden relation to the two forms of christianity in this part of the world seems to be part of a general, and I think: suspicious wish to be part of some tradition. This tradition is or seems inhabited and people like to re-inhabit or re-live this. Now, even Media-Art or Media-Culture, in the past always so proud to be so new, has become one of those traditions, that you wish to be shaped and influenced by – exactly the way I was talking about punk and conceptual art in the beginning. And I think that’s the way we still have the distinction between media art and gallery art as this kind of Catholicism or Protestantism in behaviour and in cultural habits, but not in the work.
And of course, what we also have, is new cultures that are neither. Many people of these two camps escaped to other camps. One would be project oriented, political art outside of the art market and outside of media institutions, but connected with certain social issues, political issues. We have immigrants from both fields there. And the other is the world of post-standardised moving images, post-cinema cinema, which is also kind of a world in which you find emigrants from both fields or people who live in several communities at once. They both have the function, I think, on an organisational and cultural level also to close the gap between media art and gallery art and they’re both very productive in this form of convergence.
Two things that could be interesting for the discussion: One is, I didn’t say anything about it, but I think it was very important in Inke’s talk, the idea of contemporaneity and how can we define in any any practice that we obsure or distinguish from another by its degree or its methods of being contemporaneous. And the other is the question what kind of situation is it that media produces? With what kind of philosophical or theoretical fork and knife can we use it?
I’d like to share with you some observations, show examples and make statements which we hopefully can discuss during the panel. First on New Media in general: In my opinion there is no need to get rid of this term due to the fact that computers are not new any more. No need to look for another more abstract name or to update the connotations of the new and pedal opposition to the old. The task is to keep the field. And to negotiate its importance both inside and outside. New media as a field of research and artistic practice is very valuable because it demands from the artists and audience to notice computer technologies that are getting more and more transparent and invisible, and to reflect on them. Another issue that I’m not against of attracting attention to, especially attention of the artists, is however about names and terminology. Working in New Media means to be very closely attached to a particular medium, thats why I’m suspicious about people who call themselves New Media artists or New Media workers. That’s too general. Net artist or web artist or satellite artist or game artist, or home computer musician sounds appropriate and appealing.
If today you introduce yourself as a media artist it says only at what events you show your works and from what institutions you may be getting grants, but does not say anything about your work, area of expertise or source of inspiration. Actually words and names are indeed important in New Media.
There is a huge gap in between net art and web art, for example. And I find it productive to talk about it, at least sometimes. But not now. Let’s look briefly at net art in the light of our theme: transitions and broadening the context.
I’d say that in its current state Net Art is a wonderful example of migration that is possible (or inevitable?) in between art markets. Recently Net Art changed form being an art form in New Media to a subject in Contemporary Art. It can be seen as a break-through or a big, huge step back. In any case it is the right moment to notice it. Let me uncover three preconditions for this transition.
1. Big audience
For a long time it didn’t make sense to show net art in real space: museums or galleries. For good reasons you had to experience works of net artists on your own connected computer. Yesterday for me as an artist it made sense only to talk to people in front of their computers, today I can easily imagine to apply to visitors in the gallery because in their majority this will be those who just got up from their computers. They have necessary experience and understanding of the medium to get the ideas, jokes, enjoy the works and maybe buy them.
2. Mature medium
Not only the audience is mature now, but the medium itself. The Web is an every day environment. I’m happy to see that my favorite medium is not going to die despite bad prognoses convoying it for more than ten years. And at the same time I don’t find the right place for myself there anymore. Because there is a right place for everything and everybody already arranged. To me it appears futile trying to tell stories to users who are very busy watching youtube or writing blogs. I could challenge the technology, but this is not very interesting to an audience overloaded with „rich user experience“. I would like to experiment, but even this became a guided tour, as artists online are now supposed to make mash-ups with interfaces kindly provided by internet giants.
Users are really busy and the medium is totally invisible, and if I want to attract attention of users to their online environment and make the work about the WWW, I’ll better do it offline. Net Art today is finding its way out of the network. In many different senses actually.
3. Slim computers
Good relations of net art and gallery spaces today would not work of course without flat computers. Not flat screens, but exactly flat computers. „Computer for Arts“, as the British computer seller Torch Computers names these devices. Their guidelines show the way how computers should appear in contemporary art:
- The whole appearance must be as plain and uncluttered as possible
- There should be no manufacturer’s marks or logos visible when hung on the wall
- The screen should be capable of being hung in either portrait or landscape orientation, with no cabling or connectors visible in either mode
- The screen, with its integrated computer, must be as slim as possible and lie flat against the wall
- The bezel should be as narrow as possible
- The bezel should be offered in any colour required by the artist
- The unit should run as quietly as possible, generating as little heat as possible
It also comes with only one button. You press this button and art piece starts. Reducing a computer to a screen, to a frame that can be fixed on the wall with one nail, marries gallery space with advanced digital works. Wall, frame, art work. And the art world is in order again.
So, experienced audiences, artists and gallery-friendly computers make the transition of Net Art from New Media to Contemporary Art very explainable. The audience recognizes and values internet aesthetics. Artists make works about the internet, gallerists see a nice way to present and sell. Everything works smooth and comfortable. And comfort for all parties is a feature of Contemporary Art. New Media does not know this word. In New Media artists fight, curators suffer, audience gets angry. And that’s how it should be.
Net Art this season is not a part of New Media, and that’s fine. But if New Media becomes a theme in Contemporary Art and dissolves there, this would be a real loss. So actually here I would like to disagree with Inke and I wouldn’t see it the way that we should find the way for New Media to enter Contemporary Art and to have a nice place inside there. So in the end let me introduce to you another curious development, actually a process in the counter direction.
A year or two ago I thought that a new phenomenon named „Blog Art“ has to be born. Blogs became a medium and artists like Abe Linkoln, Marisa Olson, JODI, Dragan Espenschied, myself, others, actually many others, went into special relations – artistic relations – with blogs; misusing them and bringing them to extremes. Experiments were (and are) great, but they did not grow into anything bigger, I mean there is no Blog Art scene in New Media. But there is a big scene of artists who would never call themselves Blog Artists, though they really are, because they produce art for blogs.
Art for blogs or Blog Art, as I call it, is curious digital objects, mainly gadgets, that are equal to their description and promo photos. To appear in a blog like we-make-money-not-art.com or rhizome.org is for many artists the highest point in their artistic career. Not at all just a step on the way to the real museums or galleries, though they’re making real objects. But this is actually a step to the real audience, because the biggest audience is now in the blogs. And here I can also now make a comment to Diedrich’s comment that you think that sometime in the future the option can be that there is institutional art and market. I have another assumption that in the nearest future there will be one big art scene – Blog Art – because it’s the easiest and greatest way to get the audience and to get to the audience. Those artworks are not such an interesting subject for us by themselves, but blogs as the exhibition platform number one is obviously a topic for New Media resarchers and I hope we can also touch it today a little bit later.
I thought I would start instead of giving a manifesto what is and what is not media art, but instead to read something. A very short text written in the year 2000 for a French television magazine called Télérama, kind of a TV guide. It was written by Pierre Bourdieu and it’s a short text that I want to read since it seems relevant to what we’re talking about, and then make some other comments. The title is Grains of Sand *:
„If I say that culture is in danger today, if I say that it is threatened by the rule of money and commerce and by a mercenary spirit that takes many forms – audience ratings, market research, pressure from advertisers, sales figures, the best-seller list – it will be said that I am exaggerating.
If I say that politicians, who sign international agreements consigning cultural works to the common fate of interchangeable commodities subject to the same laws that apply to corn, bananas, or citrus fruit, are contributing (without always knowing it) to the abasement of culture and minds, it will be said that I am exaggerating.
If I say that publishers, film producers, critics, distributors, and heads of TV and radio stations, who rush to submit to the law of commercial circulation, that of the pursuit of best-sellers, media stars, and of the production and glorification of success in the short term and at all costs, but also to the law of the circular exchange of worldly favors and concessions – if I say that all of them are collaborating with the imbecile forces of the market and participating in their triumph, it will be said that I am exaggerating.
If I recall now that the possibility of stopping this infernal machine in its tracks lies with all those who, having some power over cultural, artistic, and literary matters, can, each in their own place and their own fashion, and to however small an extent, throw their grain of sand into the well-oiled machinery of resigned complicities; (…) it will be said perhaps, for once, that I am being desperately optimistic.
- This piece first appeared in the French TV listings magazine Télérama, 4 October 2000.
For me I think even the panel represents a kind of quandary. It’s clear that the history of the media arts, however we want to think about them, is a matter of grave and very, very important thinking and it, for me, doesn’t have to do specificially with the concept of media art as it has been defined over the last 20 years or 26 years depending on which festival you want to be born at. But in fact to a much larger extent to a re-thinking of the whole concept, the whole project of modern culture, which has been an atmosphere of the medial sense since the beginning, it seems to me that the way our histories have been written, the canons that we’ve been assmilating whether the literary canons or the scientific canons and the art historical canons are all flawed in a certain way by their lack of confrontation with the idea of a developing sense of medial environments, in which they’re evolving and so, for me, it’s a much larger question.
The more specific question for us in terms of the media arts has to do with the evolution – let’s say since the 1960s – of phases. I’m not making this categorical phases, but a kind of test case, which is a shift from this first phase, which I call the phase of ambiguity, which was the phase of the 60s and maybe into the middle 80s, when electronic arts, computer arts seemed ambiguous and had no real focus, and were just kind of playful. And yet underneath it we know there was some serious thinking being done, and you can start to understand by a series of exhibitions that there’s a re-thinking of this period of the 60s, the exhibition at the ZKM now called Buffalo MindFrames which talks about the experimental television experiments from the 60s, of Paul Sharits and Stan Brakhage and Weibel and Vasulka and James Blue and others. That this material finally started to be unearthed for us again and we have to confront the transition that happend in the 60s to 80s from film to video, video to computer and then this kind of second period, if I can say it, a period which I call the proliferation period, let’s say it’s from the late 80s to the 90s in which there was an explosion, everybody was doing it, everybody was faster at it, we finally and very sadly inherited this really hard name for it – new media, a phrase that I hate more than anything else in the world.
New for me means something that is instanteneous forgetting, the new for me is about erasure, the new is about a relentless present, the new is about no reflection, it’s about singularity, it’s a slogan of the advertising campaign and the fact that we use it has been damaging for fifteen years. I hope you understand that.
In this second phase, a proliferation of festivals happened, the locations of subcategories, some of them that Olia talks about, these subcategories which have also for me undermined the basic idea that we have a kind of a large-scale set of intentions that are connected to each other. Once you create these subcategories – what did she say – blog art, net art, software art – for me it really undermines our project in a very specific way and makes us even more marginal, more elite, more differentiated, more unwilling to see that our project is actually a comprehensive project.
And now let’s say there is this third project, a third phase, which is this phase of ubiquity. It’s a period where we now have to start to understand that once the status of the medium reaches into every atmosphere of culture, then our job is even harder than it’s ever been. And therefore it’s more urgent for us to come to terms of understanding that we are neither autonomous nor assimilated without pardon and we’re not just another spin of the wheel, that there’s a sense in which the stagings of the media that we work within – and I’ve really considered very deeply – are slightly different than the fact that everybody has access, everybody has gadgets, everybody has hardware, everybody has cellphones with cameras and the new iPhone, everybody’s integrated, because I feel like preferring the unintegrated and I will fight always not to be integrated into that system. It’s a niche that I don’t really want to live in. So, if we look back into these phases, this kind of history of the 21st century and think about the way that the media – by the way a term that is profoundly complex, but I can’t find an alternative – but if we look back into this, we understand that the theories of the media evolved from the culture theory of the 1930s to the consciousness media of the 1950s, and is now integrated into the, what’s been called, the creative industries, and this for me is the final incorporation of what happens to media. It’s a really dangerous side for me. And one that we are in the position of both understanding in a certain way and in a certain way fighting and I see several layers of complications – complications that no one has much time to talk about.
In his book of several years ago, called ‚From Places to Non-Places‘, the French anthropologist Marc Augé said that we live in a period with three figures of access and these are first the overabundance of events, like we are saturated with the world and events, the other was the notion of the idea of spatial overabundance, and the third, I think a very important one, was in the individualisation of references and by this he meant that we’re living in a culture in which everything that we do always seems to be socially shared but is highly individualised, perhaps even I would dare say narcissistic. Therefore you hear these phrases like iPod and YouTube and MySpace and SecondLife, and you realise that these are systems of integration. We know that they are already owned by the large-scale corporations and that falling into the trap of thinking that these are creative spaces is a myth that I think we should work very hard to dispel.
The historical complications, the relationships between the mainstream art world – the gallery world for me is of absolutely no interest whatsoever – but the mainstream art world and its histories, particularly contemporary art history is faced with very serious problems to encounter this serious discourse that’s been happening over 20 years, one that we bear responsibility for in terms of our absence from that discourse and they bear responsibility for their unwillingness to think about what we do.
The best example, a very short example, is the publication (coming out in English, I’m sure it will come to Germany) written by the four great (I call them the four horsemen of the apocalypse) Yve-Alain Bois, Rosalind Krauss, Hal Foster and Benjamin Buchloh, who have written this monstrous canonic tome called ‚Art since 1900‘, an October re-reading of the 20th century and in this large, gigantic book, which will become the standard model for the next generations of people thinking about art history particularly in English and America and any other English-speaking country, they completely avoid media but for the most obvious ones like Nam June Paik and Bill Viola and Gary Hill and blablabla – no mention of experiments in art and technology, no mention of Ars Electronica, no mention of the media arts, the communication arts, satellite arts, even if you want to have sub-categories like blog arts – vacant from these books.
So we are faced with the problem of having to decide on our terms how important it is, (a) to have no illusions about this, and (b) to have no alibi about it, but to force ourselves to start to think as art historians, but by not becoming art historians, but by re-writing on our terms the way art history is being written.
Question Florian Cramer:
I think if one looks at the term media art theoretically, it doesn’t make any sense at all. Because any art is always about media and any good art is always also a reflection of its media. That’s the ground assumption. Then I would like to go back to what Inke mentioned as the tactical use of that term. I think we actually need some kind of tactical use and I’m afraid, also I’m not happy about it, we still need the two systems. And that became perhaps clear in another event here in this very academy which was about the current reform of copyright. And there you saw that, unfortunately or not, we really have two cultures and two completely mind-sets. We’re the entire culture, namely, let’s say, oldschool artists who see copyright, intellectual property and the notion of the original of the original as a kind of insurance policy and a kind of labour rights, they as atists own, whereas in net culture, (or that what is now called digital culture in this festival) I think, there has been a very strong copyright-critical, anti-copyright, copy-left tendancy and I don’t see how you can overcome these two modes of production, these completely different kinds of understandings of the status of the art and the status of ownership and the status of the original. Having art which doesn’t have originals anymore and which doesn’t have objects to sell, unless it’s going back to the gallery spaces with these specific computers that Olia was showing. I don’t know how you can resolve that cultural gap within the current art system. And I think as long as the art system with its white cubes is not receptive to that, and as long as it fundamentally relies on a notion of an object that has exhibition value, to quote Walter Benjamin, and that has a signature, an artistic signature of an original, at some point, and that is limited by copyright. As long as that exists, I think we still need these two systems and that’s also the reason why in fact especially the artists that Inke was showing in her slightshow, often they didn’t come from the traditional media art field. Many of the net artists, who came into so called media art in the 1990s, actually had a background in sub-culture. And the entire copyright art, if I think e.g. of Mongrel/IOD, who started at the festivals of plagiarism in the late 1980s, if I think of the Zero One’s, who started on the Luther Blissett projects – they all come from practices that weren’t media but they found the media art system a receptive platform for doing an art that is not working with the old notion of intellectual property and that seems to be an important issue for me.
Answer Diedrich Diederichsen:
There’s plenty of gallery art or projects these days that are not for sale, not based on originals or objects, that someone takes home or can even take home. And they are de-built after they’ve been shown and so on. But of course, they are part of the gallery system and so there is something to be sold and there is something sold: little fetishistic things, traces, leftovers. Which reminds me of the way how the music business, the sub-cultural music business works these days. You sell tee-shirts or caps or something, that’s how you finance an operation that is mainly about doing something processual or performative on stage that you cannot sell or that you can only partly sell. So I don’t think that this is such an (I mean, at least in terms of what the artworks were talking about) unbridgeable gap in terms of practices. It’s only a different form of organisation and of course it is also something that has been a subject matter in the very art of the 60s, of course, when art became art as an idea, that people like Buchloh and others are canonising now. Even then certain side effects of non-objective art were fetishized, like the typeface of Dan Grahams typewriter. But in the beginning it was already the same thing, so I think this is from the practice and from their several mixtures around, it’s not totally unbridgeable. In general I don´t think that the critical art discourse of the last 40, 50 years had a lot to do with owning artworks. It was about experiences and reproductions. I would even argue that this is the reason why non-objectivity was much earlier to be had in visual art than in other arts: because the intellectual interest was not in the object as a storage of data, like a book or a record: you just had to know that it exists.
What I’m surprised about (just to make this little remark as a non-regular of this place) is, how easy it is to say ‚we‘ here – and be emphatical about it. This is very difficult to do in other cultural milieus these days and in most cases, where this is possible, you need some kind of opponent in order to be able to say ‚we‘. You need a large enemy and I’m kind of suspicious that this kind of enemy is not really existing, except if we talk about some real large enemy like capitalism, but in this smaller sense, like Buchloh, Krauss and others and their book: everyone knows that when you write down a canon in such an aggressive and authoritarian way, everything that is covered by this, is no longer really valid. No one would touch the canonized, except maybe a few first or second semester students, who have to. And that is a pity, of course, for the work that is part of it, – different from you – I care a lot about. To me it’s not a pleasant effect of it that Broodthaers is a now canonized and used to torture art history students. Probably it is not that far. But as an enemy it’s not really working.
Question Manray Hsu:
I’m a curator from Taiwan in contemporary art and I happened to curate biennials and working very much in the fields of biennials, going to conferences, giving talks and workshops and things like that. When I hear Tim talking about ‚we‘ I feel kind of uneasy because when I sit here I feel like I’m the opponent, I don’t believe in the school of october, whereas in the case of many contemporary art curators that are also working in both fields. And I also highly appreciate the attempt by many of ‚us‘ here trying to bridge the gap by making the effort, e.g. Inke in this case is trying to use the concept of the contemporary as if we use ‚the‘ contemporary and try to pursue in what is the contemporary, in its own content, it its strategic way of approach, then maybe we can find some common ground to bridge that gap. And I really appreciate the examples that Inke has given that are actually examples, you can say, in contemporary art exhibitions that are very easily included in any biennials or contemporary exhibitions. But I think the problem now is that when you work in this field you also find that throughout looking at this new technology art or media art, you also find that the whole development is still going on. And then there is a big area where it is difficult for contemporary art to consider to include in there. And usually that’s this kind of blurred line which is very interesting at a moment, e.g. I can say at an exhibition you try to include „media art“, then I would not consider work that really explores into technology development per se, like the very high-tech and with no conceptual link to contemporary life or whatever. So it’s like on this line where we find how the differences in a unmediated moment still. So, why we are trying to find a convergence or a way to marry the two fields that we are very conscious about the similarities but at the same time also the differences. And I think it’s also interesting to look at this fine line that runs through how e.g. in both fields young curators or art historians trying to cross the gap and how they confine the differences, how they include from into eachother, or – I don’t know if this is also part of Inke’s strategy – if that strategy is going to work, it would make media art as a subcategory of contemporary art. So is that part of the intention? It’s a possible outcome of it and can we take that as well?
Answer Timothy Druckrey:
Though I used this example of „Art in 1900“ of the October school, I don’t count them as an opposition. I just count them as those who have decided to speak for an entire 20st century, half of which belongs not to them but to us.
Answer Inke Arns:
Thanks, Manray, for your statement which I really appreciate. I would like to react to what you have said. You asked whether it was my intention to turn media art into a subcategory of contemporary art? No, not exactly. Let me tell you why I think that this won’t be working. It is, as you said, because of the similarities and the differences between media art and contemporary art.
I was trying to argue that it is important to claim that media art is part of the contemporary art field. It’s as valid as any kind of other practice in that field. At the same time there’s something in the field of media art that is impossible to – if you want to use that word – sub-categorise under the existing structures or categories of contemporary art. That’s, I would say, in some cases a really very deep, very intense experimentation with technology which still makes it very different from contemporary art. This kind of involvement or experimentation is just not being taken seriously in the field of contemporary art. Secondly, besides the sometimes playful, sometimes very serious fooling around with technology, there is, in many of the works I am thinking about, a very conceptual approach or questioning of our world that is relying increasingly on media/technologies. And this conceptual approach does not, as I have tried to argue, necessarily have to use these specific media or technologies. It can rather be executed in many different media. This is what I meant when I was speaking about media art emancipating itself from the ‚compulsion’ to use media/technologies.
If you want to be really heretic you could claim that it is media art and its specific contemporaneity I have tried to describe that makes the ideas dealt with more contemporary than the ones contemporary visual art is dealing with.
Question Peter Krell:
My name is Peter Krell, I’m from Game Face Magazine and I would like to mention that I’ve been living through this process of the end of the eurocentrism and coming from werstern culture, so to speak, and being with an Asian background which I think makes this time for us very interesting indeed. To see the entire culture opening up towards a new view which is also becoming to taking in account that there is a strong Asiatic economic space bringing along old traditional background with at least 5000 years down the lines. Though I think it’s very interesting towards like terminologies, we try to put on everybody, like it’s a notion of commercialism, of course, but also colonialism attached to it that those terminologies of Chinese for instance, they do speak to a certain audience and we are part of that community. And I’m also considering myself to be part for this community. And therefore I think the unfinished logo from this show is really much indeed very accurate and it does reflect on many notions of cultural changes, shifts and changes taking place right now. Where the art culture itself and the way we talk about the word ‚art‘ and what it could signify in several languages does change and what I do understand about digital culture, though, is that the digital is just a face like Bernhard Siegert has e.g. put forward in his book ‚Die Passage des Digitalen‘ (The Passage of the the Digital), which does mean that the other high-tech generation to be basically anticipated already and that the digital cultures also predominated by standards from huge corporations. And they are our common ground when we’re speaking about art and media art, because bottom line those standards make our work, our art works work and I think this is where we are getting all embraced by those technological standards. And the way to theorise about it could include to have this perception of individuality and also identity pressions attached to questions of dealing with, what we call, the open space or the idea of freedom. And then dealing with China.
I would like to relate back to the panels theme ‚media art done un‘ or ‚undone‘ or ‚done‘. Done or undone is something I could relate to something I know about, I gain some knowledge, I come back to it or refuse it because it’s done, it’s not interesting anymore. But I think with this whole artistic practice some people formerly used to call new media art, or whatever I’d prefer to call it, art dealing or using instable media. So it’s hard to document or to deliberate for one time, so this really involves problems why books, like this one Timothy Druckrey mentioned, are probably still important and art history is still important because now we already experience generations of artists re-inventing the wheel again and again, which is considerably boring. So other people who experienced former times think, ‚oh my god, this is really done, isn’t it?‘. While others in the same cultural environment think, ‚wow, this is a really refreshing idea or concept‘. So I think the basic concept of something being done or undone in this sense of can we re-think it or can we leave it and proceed to something else, not to proceed in this kind of old fashioned ‚Fortschrittsgedanke‘ but just, in a way, proceed in depth perhaps needs something to reflect upon this kind of knowledge, intellectual excess. So that’s why I think it’s important also to think about historical methods, kinds of documentations that is really difficult, not perhaps only limited to electronic media, but it was already the case with performance or performative arts in general. But I think that’s why the question is not so much or not solely about terminology or about artistic environments. At least, perhaps, to this point of audiences because if greater audience keeps records or something the chance is little greater that it is transported over the time, like it be by oral history. And so I would like to bring this kind of idea into the discussion.
As someone who went to study in a media art department in the late 1980s, I find it intriguing to sort of following the career of the word ‚media‘. Because then nobody really cared much about it outside of media departments, but after that the art world has become full of media art defining artists as media artists and my colleagues in all that fields like literature or – what have you become also of media – scholars in a way. And so I think it was appropriate to site the Kittler notion that media determine our situation. In the same book he proposes that the word ‚medium‘ will become irrelevant and erode, and I think it’s interesting to study the career of the notion of the word ‚medium‘ from this spreading all over the place and this, maybe, sort of situation where people find it less relevant to use. So, I wanted to thank the panel to contributing to understanding this career, but also I want to ask you, there’s two conflicting notions of media art circulating in the discussion now. I think one more specific when it comes to maybe digital art or technology driven in sort of a more minor way. And then another which is to say that all art is media art because every artist is in some way working on a medium. So I don’t know if you could comment on that tension and how you see the concept of media art related to that. I could also add that for a strategic point of view it seems to me that what is the media art of transmediale is partly adopted totally in the art institution, and I mean video, which is now very central whereas the digital part maybe, which is more marginalised in the history which Timothy drew up.
Answer Timothy Druckrey:
You’re saying that all art is media art because it was done with some sort of apparatus, some media. For me it’s just facile and not very interesting to say that painting was made with paint. One really does have to make the distinction what constitutes media practices. That is very much using the very apparatus itself as part of the commentary on the use of the apparatus. One other thing for me is that grounds the notion of being modern is that (in modernity, let’s say) which is that art experience is mediated by the experiences second order. This is for me one of the characterising factors of being in modern culture. That of our experiences through an apparatus. Somehow we’re observers of the machine observing us. And I think this has become now the most pervasive thing that is happening to us. So, it’s easy to think if I do it with a pencil or a pen or a typewriter, it’s media art. For me it’s just a way too large to a simplification. We have to then determine like when is it that conscious interrogation of the apparatus itself as an idea become part of different practices and one ground. One can start this in cinema, or can start this with the radio, I mean it’s hard to choose a starting point. But for our sake, let’s say, we choose either the slow confrontation with the algorithms of the computer. I mean for our purposes one can start with, Kittler does it in other ways with the grammophone, film and typewriter. So then I think we have to decide that this term actually has a real meaning for us and that it establishes a difference between a kind of – not what, if I remember Inke used this phrase like expanded field – this idea, but for me it’s about a distributed field because then it’s about a whole series of other issues. So for me the media arts are about consciously understanding that the role of the apparatus itself is part of the interrogation, not simply a functional device. I use a typewriter, therefore I’m a media artist. This is absurd. So I think that’s a way of unravel that question.
Answer Olia Lialina:
I would like to say something maybe very banal, but I really feel uncomfortable when computers and networks, such important environments, are just brought to the level of tools that we use to make art. So this is probably, I think, important to mention that at this moment that this is something much, much bigger than just the instrument or the tool for the artist to create art works.
I would like to make a small comment on this sentence from Kittler that the ‚Medien bestimmen unsere Lage‘. There are many ways that one can understand this sentence and there are many media because many media are able to define our position like e.g. prison bars for a prisoner. The prison bars are a medium that define the disposition of a prisoner, e.g. I wouldn’t say I’m a curator but I’m involved in organising events, squatted houses like the Rauchhaus here in Berlin that has the name from Georg von Rauch, who was assassinated by the police with a media. It was a pistol and there was that kind of bullett that came into his body and killed him. So that’s another way to define your position through media, through pistols. Nowadays the police is using other kinds of media to interact with public ‚Darstellungen‘ (displays), exhibitions like demonstrations. As they used pistols, now they are using cameras. That’s some other kind of media that ‚bestimmen unsere Lage‘. Like filming demonstrations and things like that. That’s how police is getting artistical nowadays. I think that’s also a theme to think about in this context.
Answer Diedrich Diederichsen:
Although you can write a name on a bullett, it doesn’t mean that a bullet is a medium. I mean, it’s not.
I have a question coming back to the word ‚media‘. I understand media art coming from more a tradition from the 60s with Nam June Paik, a heavy influence by Marshall McLuhan and that had actually relation to mass media. And at the same time the expression ‚the medium is the message‘. So they used electronic media that at that time had a message. So I guess my question is how much of media art today has to do with mass media? That’s really for me an essential point in the 60s and the 70s and it seems today media art is diversified into all sorts of art that has nothing to do with the mass media as such, but uses new technology as itself. So it’s almost medium is the message in that same context and that’s for my question, how much is the mass media in the media art?
Answer Inke Arns:
That’s a good question, indeed. Aren’t all media today mass media? I would certainly agree with you that in the beginning, i.e. in the 1960s, „media art“ (btw. it would be interesting to research the origins of that notion) was about critically dealing with the mass media. Just think about the TV interventions by Wolf Vostell or Nam June Paik.
But media art was also about developing, or placing minor media against mass media. Minor media in this sense being a certain practice or way of using the media. There are these opposing models of centralized, one-way (mass) media and decentralized, two-way new media, like e.g. the Internet. Certain technical structures, like the Internet, allow „talking back“ (bottom-up) or (horizontal) networking in an easier way that centralized structures do …
I don’t think you can say that all media art today is dealing with mass media. This would be a rather defensive position. However, there is a great variety of other kinds of approaches, like e.g. the media archaeological approach with is looking into the past in order to find alternative structural models for the present.
What is very interesting in the context of your question about the mass media: If you look at net based media art practices then and now, it can be noticed that what once has been an alternative, non-centralized medium has partly turned into a mass medium (even if not in the strict technical sense of the word). This is reflected in the transition from net art to web art. What is interesting, though, is that it was rather net art that critically and very sharply talked about the net turning into a mass medium. Web art uses the technical tricks without reflecting much the nature of „mass media“.
Answer Olia Lialina:
It’s not kind of, it’s really mass medium.
Answer Timothy Druckrey:
It surprises me that the world is in more or less other dismay. And surrounded by violence and war fear and terrorism and the collapsing eco system, that there’s so little work that reflects on the position of the world in the way that I wonder how Inke would respond to be in the contemporary, how little work there’s actually to think about the effect, mass media effect, which is so overwhelming and everybody’s like at the point where I think it’s almost impossible to reflect. And this surprises me how little work there is that really thinks about this.
It seems like media art seems to be non mass media critical, and that’s what I seem to speculate on this. Maybe the term media art is completely non-usable really when you say technology art like video art that has, that is turning it with aesthetics, or with other conceptual content, nothing to do with mass media at all, which is, if you look at the early works from Nam June Paik, cutting up television and all sorts of things, so a mass media critical, and that seems to be nothing to do with contemporary media art.
Answer Timothy Druckrey:
I think there are a range of people who are actually interested in this sort of deconstruction. They are rarely, or let’s say frequently, included in the forums like Ars Electronica or transmediale or DEAF, because the social politics of the mass media seems to lay outside of their purview. And this is a deficiency that I think needs to be addressed in some events like this. It’s like a refusal to think about this political issues and I think that’s really unfortunate. I think there’s one panel on Iraq here.
Answer Olia Lialina:
I never use the word media art but I really liked your question very much. Nevertheless, I think it’s a really important point that I was working for a long time with a medium which was new. With Internet and Web. And then there is this really shift happening that it becomes a mass medium. Not only matured and adult and maybe boring, but that’s really a different life of the medium, of technology and people and scientists, and this is something really not so easy to answer but it is a big issue to think about.
I just want to come back to the defintion of media art. Timothy answered by requiring sort of a conscious interrogation of the apparatus itself. A problem with such a position might be that it holds media art in sort of Greenbergian media specificity definition and maybe this is why Inke starts calling some kind of contemporaneity, I’m not sure, but maybe you could address this because such a Greenbergian media specificity explorations seems to be quite out of touch with a situation where you have social relational art and so on.
Answer Inke Arns:
That’s a very interesting point you are making. I think this is exactly it. I think this, as you called it, „Greenbergian“ media specificity of lot of media art projects is exactly the reason that keeps a larger contemporary art context from really getting involved into it. In this case the „Greenbergian“ media specificity would be opposed to contemporaneity. That’s one thing.
The other thing is that you could see a very big difference between what Timothy has said and what I have said (dealing with the apparatus vs. contemporaneity). However, I would define the notion of the apparatus in a different way, if I may do so. Timothy said that media art is about the conscious interrogation of the apparatus. I do agree with this. I would say that such an interrogation of the apparatus is essential for contemporaneity. However, I would define the apparatus not as the individual machine, but rather as the technological system or the media systems the world is increasingly based on. If you define the apparatus in this way then it makes complete sense and then it’s a very good definition of contemporaneity because technology is not apolitical. It’s very political, even if technicians always say, ‚I’m merely developing the technology‘. I’ve heard this so many times. Engineers who are developing RFID technology say, ‚I’m just the technician, I’m just doing the mathematics. It’s not political what I’m doing, it’s technology‘. I would say: it’s not. It’s just the opposite.
Answer Timothy Druckrey:
One quick clarification. I didn’t want to say that media art is only about the apparatus, the interrogation of the apparatus, but one of the things that diffentiates media art from use of any media. It’s only a component, it’s not certainly the role. Therefore I couldn’t go along thinking that it’s a Greenbergian category, but that’s a different problem. But it’s not the essiantial character but it’s a thing that differentiates one field from another. You can do it from starting from Nam June Paik who was interrogating the possibilities of the machine, or the Vasulkas. Even to Herwig Weiser’s ‚Dead Before Disko‘, there’s also a kind of interrogation of what the function of the machine should be without the assumptions that the functions of the machines are normative.
Answer Diedrich Diederichsen:
But isn’t that a constant feature of all critical art of all kind, of the (at least second half, if not the whole) 20th century and whatever medium, whatever dispositif or constellation they have worked in? Isn’t this example that Olia has given, these screens that are computers, that hide that they are computers, not the usual paradigm of backlash, one that has been seen a million times before in other formats, as e.g. in the white cube or all these kind of dispositives that hide what they are and where constantly critical art has re-exposed it and so on? And I mean is this all there is to that conflict or what else?
Answer Timothy Druckrey:
I can only go slight detours to say that one of the things you can see in the institutional, in the art museums approach to media art is, on the one hand it’s essentially about passivity. It’s mostly been projections, it’s about passivity. So it’s about the invisibilty of the apparatus on any possible level. Most media art is essentially not about this. And the other thing is, it comes already now with another kind of theory. And I think also with another territory for us to think about. Let’s call it the relational aesthetics, which bypasses media art to create a gallery art with a metaphors of media or without media at all.
Answer Diedrich Diederichsen:
I’m not a supporter of this theory at all. But I think it’s a grave and classical misunderstanding to think of activity in forms of physical activity or movement. I think of the aesthetic experience as an activity and it’s not based on my body being moving and the aesthetic experience that is connected with the reception of conscious or critical interrogation of the apparatus is an activity I can easily do standing or sitting still. So there is a certain type of passivity in all kind of art dispositive that has nothing to do with passivity in a sense of being brainwashed or being just passive on the mind. You have to recompose a composition in real time on the spot to be able to get it, that is very active, but you can do it sitting still.
Answer Timothy Druckrey:
To be standing still is just to be an observer, defies what characterises most important media art.
Answer Diedrich Diederichsen:
That’s not true. Standing still does not mean you’re just an observer. Your intellectual and sensual activity is shaping and influencing the material that you are receiving.
I have first a comment. It would be interesting to define passivity, because I do agree with Diedrich with the fact that you can’t understand media art as being distinctive from other media because it’s conscious of its apparatus. Because the best painters have always been those who were critical of the history of painting and all this. However, this brings me to my remark. It’s a fact that this kind of discussion that is going on today resamples quite neatly what has happened e.g. to video art. And that passivity Timothy is talking about is actually the destiny to which video art has kind of sadly come (not all kind of video art, of course). But the fact that it’s become just a means of support. There’s no ‚conscious‘ of the history. What you see right now in video art is that there’s no ‚conscious‘ of what has been done beforehand. Going with the moving image, it has a nice effect, you have the loop systems, what makes it easy to present the work, you have the loop and it presents itself definitively. So there’s something of a criticality which has been lost. And it’s interesting because I would say 30 years ago video art was actually asking itself this question: should we keep going with video art, should we keep having separate festivals, should we keep having separate magazines, and journals? And at one point this questions just kind of got lost and contemporary art got invaded by video to a point where video doesn’t really exist anymore. To a certain point it’s become contemporary art. So it didn’t really have that edge anymore. And it would seem to me that in many ways it’s kind of a lesson to what we could actually be thinking today, which is a sense that maybe the question is not to say is it good or bad, to use this terminology of new media. I think that most would agree that there is a problem now, because of it’s uneasy. I were using it in a tactical way or were using it to consider a field, at the same time there’s the sense that there’s this dialogue between the other media. And especially the term ’new‘ is bothering, I think, a lot of people in a sense that it just brings us back again to this kind of history as progress, history as making anything that has been done obsolete, and you’re always searching for the new. And so it seems to me that, coming back to Inke and to Timothy, I think there were two important notions. On one hand art history trying to re-think how we can write art history not as the example that were just producers, you know, the october thing. And then the notion that Inke proposes, which is the contemporary. Because I would think that one model e.g. of rewriting history that could, what I’m trying to see, if I say that, is, that if I’m trying to answer ‚is it good or bad‘, to continue to use ’new‘, it’s perhaps this moment where I feel uncomfortable with it and to make that productive and not to kind of annulated term of keep the term. There’s an uneasyness, let’s use it to produce something interesting. So if we would, e.g., decide we gonna do a new form, a new writing of art history, which would be, e.g., let’s think of the 20th century and all the contemporaneities that were produced throughout the 20th century. Let’s think, e.g., the model that has been produced by Zielinski, where he is saying instead of looking for the old in the new, let’s look for the new in the old. And that for me is an interesting model, because you get out of the things of the obsolete and you’re re-thinking using this moment of uneasyness to re-think the writing of art history. And there is an interesting example, and for him the motor is variantology.