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NEW-MEDIA-CURATING  2004

NEW-MEDIA-CURATING 2004

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Subject:

Re: Art and science ......

From:

Eric Kluitenberg <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Eric Kluitenberg <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 1 Mar 2004 01:14:11 +0100

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Dear all,

I was very afraid of this when entering the list that this month
would be too filled with other duties to be able to repsond properly
to posting and questions raised. The end of the month is herem, and
probably CRUMB is on to a new them tomorrow. Too bad...

However, I would like to clarify a critical point that seems very
important to consider now, and on this point I disagree, or at least
take a sharply different point of view, from Ken Friedman (in the
best and most appreciative manner of his contribution to the
discussion, obviously, but still looking quite distinctively
different at these matters...).

At 22:57 +0100 15-2-04, Ken Friedman wrote:
>I want to suggest that the notion of an "art/science
>blockage" strikes me as a cliche. There may be individuals who belong
>to a group of artists or scientists that cannot communicate between
>and among fields, but this is their fault as human beings. It is not the
>fault of "art" or the fault of "science."

This seems to me like rushing to a point without considering what
kind of blockages we are actually talking about.

>IMHO, the idea of "art/science blockage" is one of those mythic --
>or cliched -- notions that does not hold up under scrutiny. I understand
>the problem to which you refer, but this a problem either of artists
>or of scientists, not of the fields of art or science. More important, it
>is generally the problem of individuals who look toward art or science
>from a deficient perspective and background.
>
>As someone who works in more than one field, I'll suggest that there
>are multiple and plural approaches. The first step is to give up the
>notion of a blockage, of Snow's two cultures, and so on. I'd feel much
>better with a note reading,

OK - on the point of giving up CP Snow's concept of the "two
cultures" I can readily agree, and replace it with a more complex
understanding of how scientific and artistic enquiry, at least in the
Western frame, are part of the same cultural continuum, even if they
may be operating in generally quite seperated fields. This is more a
question of the social organisation of these respective practices,
rather than some fundamental incongruity. I think that even someone
like Lyotard would agree that there is a shared affinty, and that
there is no condition of incommensurability that divides both
practices in fundamentally disparate "language games".

However, if we talk about blockages in the context of this discussion
(referring to the introduction by Beryl, which followed up on a
discussion in Rotterdam at a V2_ conference on media art and research
that went a bit haywire unfortunately), we were not immediately
pointing to these kind of conceptual differences (wether they be
percieved or real). Rather, we were referring to very real and actual
blockages of productive collaboration that apparently hamper a
productive cross-disciplinary collaboration.

The starting point here would be that there is a very rich history of
art and science, and art and technology exploration in the frame of
Western contemporary art practice, as well as contemporary techno
culture, but that a really firm institutional basis that supports and
enhances these kind of practices is by and large absent.

The respective roles of art and science, as "methodologies" have
within that history been identified and quite clearly described as
primarily complementary, not as fundamentally contradictionary (even
though local contradictions may very well exist).

Roughly summarised the argument is that the scientific approach
provides rigorous methodology, and constructions of arguments and
experimental settings that have a sufficient degree of verifyability,
but as a result of these demands lack the required flexibility to
explore vast solution spaces, or shift swiftly between different
possible methodologies.
Artsitic enquiry lacks a certain methodological rigor, but adds an
intuitive ordering of theoretically vast solution spaces to a given
problem, which may indicate new directions for research and problem
solving. Artistic enquiry is less strictly bound to specific
methodologies, but can instead appropriate multiple methodological
approaches within a single strategy of arriving at a desired
solution. This is not to say that artistic enquiry is entirely
"free", it is still bound to a set of conventions that can in part be
understood as the unwritten rules of the art world, but on the
methodological level there is a greater degree of flexibility.

In a research context artistic and scientific disciplines should then
be able to benefit greatly from each other. While artistic research
can be more flexible in identifying new directions for problem
solving, scientific methodology can provide the rigor to test these
assumptions and provide them with some degree of reliability /
verifyability. In the field of new media arts this connection becomes
closer because the artists and the researchers basically share the
same (digital) tools, which makes it more likely for their practices
to converge at different points.

If such a highly productive relationship in the field of digital
media seems probable, why then is there so little substantial
activity in this direction?

Why are there no highly developed fundamental and applied research
trajectories in which artistic and scientific enquiry stand on equal
footing and complement each other, as pointed out in the argument
above?

It seems to me that the problem is neither on the conceptual level
(the "two cultures") not on the human level (individual artists and
scientists are simply not interested in each other), but rather on
the institutional level. Traditionally the access to mainstream
research funding is located within sceintific institutions, from
which the artistic actors (artsist and arts organisations) are
excluded. Access to these sources of funding is entirely dependent on
the willingness of research foundations, companies, research
laboratories, universities, research consortia, governments and
ministries to grant cultural actors access to these funds.

Research funding within the arts and culture sectors itself is by and
large non-existent. If sufficient funding was available within the
sector, these cultural actors could simply set up their own research
trajectories and invite scientists and engineers to work with them.
This is indeed what is happening a lot, but because of the limited
fnding available for anything that is not directly related to the
production of art works, or the mediation of art and culture to the
audience, these projects tend to be marginal, often interesting, but
in size, scale and number insignificant in comparison with mainstream
academic research and industry R&D.

So, the real question I would like to see discussed, not just here
but genrally, is how to address this institutional inbalance?

I firmly believe in a productive synergetic relationshiop between
scientifc and artistic enquiry, but seeing how slowly this
relationshiop is taking shape, even after the tidal wave of
digitalisation more or less across our whole society, I think it is
not enough anymore to merely talk about the conceptual side of this
question.

In The Netherlands this institutional question is very much on the
table right now. The country's rather curious but intersting 4-year
cycle for structural arts funding is reaching it's critical phase of
decision time this Spring, and policy plans are being considered as
we speak for the period 2005 - 2008. From debates so far about the
relationship art/culture and new/digital media (dubbed "e-culture" in
the best of euro-speak) it seems that most funding for new
development and investigative projects in the arts go in the
direction of the digitising of, and multi-media access to, cultural
heritage. The "living arts", experimental settings for new media arts
and artistic research are once again no policy priority.
Simultaneously artsitc research or cross-diciplinary research between
art and science is not playing a mayor role in debates on
"innovation" and the "knowledge economy", where they should be a
naturally constitutive element of the national innovation strategy
and ICT related policies. The question of how the arts might address
the wider social and cultural significance of the "fact of the new
technologies" is even much farther out of sight....

Our strategy from the field of new media culture / arts is twofold
right now. We engage policy makers, including cabinet members in the
current (liberal/conservative) government in active debate to create
awareness of these issues and the potential of cross-dicplinary
activity. Secondly we will be highlighting exemplary projects that
have been realised in recent years despite the dreary financial
circumstances of most organisations in the field. Although nobody
really counts on the big frameworks of research funding and support,
it would really help to bring the field of "artsitic research' to
maturity.

I doubt that this strategy is strong enough to break the
institutional blockages that I have outlined, but "real" power simply
does not exist within this sector, and therefore creating awareness
and understanding among decision makers is the only possibly strategy
right now to create in-roads into the wider domain of research and
R&D. A strategic coalition with (new media) education might be
another important element of the strategy. Connection points between
the arts field and new media education have existed from the very
start, but it might be useful to consider them more strategically if
we ever want to get beyond the current 'constipation'.

The necessary complement to this is the development of a critical
vocabulary and a willingness to examine practices self-crticially
within the field of new media arts/culture itself. Our discussion
going haywire in Rotterdam (people in the audience at the first
critical tone asserting a "crisis of new media") showed that we have
not even begun to develop such a vocabulary, nor a proper framework
in which to develop it in the first place....

Eric Kluitenberg
Media theorist and organiser
Head of the media program at
De Balie - Centre for Culture and Politics,
Amsterdam.

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