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NEW-MEDIA-CURATING 2001

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Subject:

Re: FEED Article - "The Demise of Digital Art"

From:

Christiane Paul <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Curating digital art - www.newmedia.sunderland.ac.uk/crumb/

Date:

Thu, 29 Mar 2001 18:38:07 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (74 lines)

>Another article, this time from Stefanie Syman of FEED, using the Bitstreams
>show to suggest that "Digital Art" is really a category that's outlived its
>usefulness and should be broken into a million more specific categories (or
>none at all).
>
>http://www.feedmag.com/templates/default.php3?a_id=1675
>


Due to time constraints just a few more or less coherent notes:
I find the Feed  article incredibly sloppy in its use of terminology. While
claiming that "digital art"  as a category has outlived its usefulness, the
review never defines what is meant by digital art (a completely fluid and
as of yet undefined term). It seems to cover everything from web-based art
to a photograph altered through the use of digital technology.

BitStreams is in fact not billed as a "digital art show" but as an
exhibition of "art in the digital age" (a big difference).

The crucial misunderstanding reflected in the Feed article (and many other
reviews of 010101, BitStreams and Data Dynamics) is the difference between
digital technology as a tool or a medium. As Stefanie Syman puts it "Being
digital or made with digital tools doesn't really say much about the art
itself." I couldn't disagree more. Art made with digital tools doesn't
necessarily say much about the art itself, true (although there are cases
in which it does). We are still looking at a photograph -- no matter if it
has been altered with the help of traditional or digital technology; again,
the interesting question here is if the use of digital technology for
altering it does lead to completely new aesthetic results (in most cases it
doesn't).

When it comes to "being digital" and using digital technology as a medium,
however, things look very different. The digital medium has created a new
aesthetic language and context that challenges traditional notions of art
and the art object, and says a lot about the art. Reading recent reviews I
get the impression that neither the medium nor its language have even begun
to be understood -- at least not by the critics who write for the more
"traditional" press (although there has been a lot more thoughtful online
discourse for the past 6 years).

One reviewer of BitStreams/Data Dynamics writes "In netomat(TM)... the
artist Maciej Wisniewski invites two viewers to type in different words --
and then on the walls around them, streams of Internet imagery and sound
inspired by the words mix and merge, creating ever-changing juxtapositions
and relationships.
It is important to remember that in the end, digital technology is just a
tool."
No, in this case it is also very much a medium. Yes, in the end art is art
and its quality doesn't depend on a medium. But that doesn't mean that one
can neglect the medium itself. Netomat is beautiful as what the reviewer
describes it -- a streaming collage of images, text and sound but it also
should be understood how it actually uses its medium. It is a meta browser
that completely rewrites browser concentions (in doing away with the model
of the printed page that is dominating our current browsing experience; in
treating the Internet as one huge repository of information instead of a
database of static files; in presenting it as an infinite floating
datascape; in creating a search engine that doesn't deliver a list of URLs
that again lead to preconfigured content; in allowing people to dialogue
with the net simultaneously; in reconfiguring notions of territory and
authorship...) -- it took a couple of years of writing code and a new
xml-based language to achieve this. And all it boils down to is "streams of
Internet imagery and sound inspired by the words" typed in. When we look at
a painting, it is embedded in the context of a medium that is centuries old
(and one doesn't have to be an art historian or critic to have at least
some understanding of the medium). It is understood that paint is a medium
and the brush is a tool. Many people looking at what is called "digital
art," however, completely lack the context of the medium -- understandably,
it is a new one after all. What I find most interesting is to see the
reaction of people in their 20s who grew up with "new media" -- they don't
miss a beat and the technology as a medium is transparent to them. Perhaps
it is just a generational problem.

Christiane Paul

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