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NEW-MEDIA-CURATING  2004

NEW-MEDIA-CURATING 2004

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Subject:

Re: taxonomies

From:

Josephine Bosma <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Josephine Bosma <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 24 Sep 2004 13:17:17 +0200

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hello all,


The question Charlie brings up have been adressed at a congress
organised by Hartware in Dortmund last year called '404 object not
found'. Some info on this congress can be found at:
http://www.404project.net/kongress/thema/index_e.html
Archive:
http://www.404project.net/datenbank/index_e.html
There you will also find some texts, one of which is mine. This
particular text has in the meantime been re-written, re-published and
now also re-editted (as these things go). The latest short version of
this text I will paste below. Unfortunetaly all notes have disappeared
in this most recent edit, as have most of the subtleties. It was edited
by Andrea Wiarda, to be published in the October issue of the Belgian art magazine A Prior.
www.aprior.org

I just want to remark that what is quite striking about both the
definition *and* the preservation of media art is that there are two
or three strategies that seem to be working alongside eachother and
which feel quite different. There is the textual or theoretical
approach in which there is an attempt to contextualize a work in
history and/or in contemporary culture. Then there are those that seek
the best possible material preservation by collecting hardware,
software and/or emulating hardware and software. I guess it is this
tactic that mostly leads to the kind of problems that Charlie mentions
(with the lightbulb situation), because it is more obvious a change in
a work if something material is 're-interpreted' then when a part of a
work is re-interpreted immaterially.
At the congress in Dortmund one of the speakers (I think it was Pip
Laurenson, Sculpture Conservator at the Tate Brittain) had the courage
to mention that when preserving art one also has to learn to deal with
loss. This was not at all picked up at the congress, which should not
be a suprise of course, since we all like to keep our favorite art
works alive, and preservation of media art works also means
recognition of this art. It seems to me however that whether or not
loss is acceptable is one of the key issues in art today. It is
connected to issues of power, to deep cultural and economical issues.
It seems as if loss is not acceptable because it means loss of
presence on almost all levels of cultural influence. We seem trapped
in having to adjust to standards that do not really apply to many of
the art works we are dealing with today, trapped by economical issues
most of all. I do have some ideas as to how to deal with this, but I
will leave it with this slightly sombre observation.


warmest greetings from rainy Amsterdam,


J
*


No Ego: preserving the exchange between artist and audience
Josephine Bosma

translation, art as conceptual space and art as experience

Thinking about the preservation of new media art in relation to
translating implies thinking about media art, and I would like
to think art in general, as a language of sorts, thus tempting
us to take into consideration all aspects of language as well
as the cultural impact of language issues also in the arts.
Preservation of art is not just about preserving matter, like
translation is not just about finding words with the same meaning
in a different language. It is most of all about preserving and
conveying that which is intangible in the text itself or in the
matter of the art work itself, which makes us enter the (mostly
textual) realms of education and (oral) tradition, of culture as
an intangible entity. Preserving art always presents us with
problems, whether it concerns what type of paint to use for
eventual restorations of paintings (which is in the end also a
cultural decision too) or whether it concerns the preservation
of an artistic 'intervention' in public space.
The Nederlands Media Instituut Montevideo/Time Based Arts in
Amsterdam has recently started to interview artists about the
past, present and especially future of their work, a project
that seems vital for new media art. Yet, what we should keep in
mind is that talking about any kind of technical solution for
preserving art does make one tend to get stuck, however slightly,
in quite rigid ideas about art as a material object of culture,
even if the artist never intended it to be so - and maybe the
audience never experienced it in this way either. I have
therefore decided to talk about how I see art in the age of
information networks and how art today has, and will, become
increasingly difficult to preserve in the traditional way of
storage and restoration, because it is not just leaving the
traditional art object behind, but also because art is changing
into an art experience, maybe even a lifestyle.

Art as Cult, Art as Space of Engagement

We are still witnessing the continuation of a change in art
that started with the development of reproduction technologies
and which accelerated in the era of industrialization. However,
this change goes back, not to the invention of photography or
the jacquard loom weaving machines (just to name two popular
starting points of new media art history), but to the invention
of printing. Print, the end of written text as an almost intimate
connection between writer and reader, and the end of written text
as being almost purely a conveyer of meaning. This breech in
inter-human connectivity - the reproduction of texts and
especially the uncontrollable dissemination and spreading of text
this in the end produced - created a bigger distance between
writer and reader. It created an audience, rather then a group
of individual readers, itself interconnected through printed
periodicals.

Even if it took a few hundred years before the way in which
'ordinary' people would experience written text changed, when
reading in silence to oneself alone became popular amongst the
working classes as well, printing as a technology is very
interesting when considering the cultures of estrangement the
modern and postmodern era have been and continue to be today.
It offered an empowerment of the individual that was almost
unprecedented in the history of the arts by enlarging the
distance between author and reader, between the author's
intention and the reader's interests, through a manifold of
layers of production and possible interpretation. This
interpretation happened inside the reader's head and translated
itself into visible culture through the development of fashions
and 'cults' such as for example gothic romanticism or decadence,
or the cults around the work and personality of Goethe or Oscar
Wilde.

One could, of course easily jump from the history of text
printing to the history of translation (the connection seems
obvious), but what I would like to look at first is the quite
recent history of popular cultures. I am interested in those
not as a defamation of the high arts, but I am interested in
them as a potential zone of transgression between artist and
audience. It is quite remarkable that there has been such an
outspoken tension between popular cultures and the high arts
for most of the 20th century, when both of them originated from
the same background: the estrangement from the original
intention of the author through the before mentioned reproduction
techniques, which allowed large groups of individuals from all
social classes an unprecedented freedom of and space for interpretation.

This estrangement produced a mainly social phenomenon in which art,
fashion and popular cultures would meet: the first large
'interactive' space of the arts. It created an environment in
which the audience could expand upon a work of art, no matter
how slightly or subtly, by entering the new world created by the
artist. It was the beginning of an at times shallow rapprochement,
a coming together, of audience, including curators and critics,
and artists; a time of mutual manipulation in which artists
influenced the audience and vice versa. The audience's association,
on various levels, with the arts in popular culture was always an
active, lively environment, and in the 20th century this environment
developed from being mostly an interpretation space into being a
production space as well. This communication or exchange between
artist and audience created a moving away from the singular,
original art object to a conceptual space. So when we then neglect
the conceptual meaning of a work of art in favor of its materiality,
this can eventually create problems when we deal with works of art
which are location or time specific and process or communication oriented.

Constantly moving between original intent of an art work and the
freedom of interpretation one could legitimately state that we
are in a sort of 'perpetuum mobile' situation. These circular
movements in the arts can roughly be summarized as follows:
reproduction creates distance from the original which in turn
creates increasing freedom of interpretation, this freedom of
interpretation creates a reaction on the part of the arts to
pre-create interpretation and thus regain an intimacy with the
audience; the audience is challenged by the individual artist's
pre-creation of interpretation (and the eventual reproductions
and documentation of it) to enter into a further expansion of
interpretation, and all of this is happening in an expanding
market complemented by personal and mass media.
After experiments in 20th century art and discourse which tackled
specific questions concerning originality, authorship and the
boundaries of the work of art and of art itself, we have now
entered a stage in which artists are moving away from creating
objects to focus almost solely on creating 'zones of interpretation',
on creating art processes rather then objects or installations.

Popular culture, once seen as the domain of mainly "fans and bimbo's"
of all kinds of quality and class, has developed in such a way that
it is producing its own, autodidact artists (plus art context: artist
initiatives, journalists, publications). Art has irreversibly become
part of daily life: the avant-garde can rest in peace. The
development of a non-institutional art practice has gained momentum
by the development and availability of personal media, e.g. consumer
technology. The last few decades in particular a part of the 'former'
audience has gained access to the higher levels of cultural
production, through various presentation platforms and media. The
internet seems to have been of particular importance there. On it
'grassroots' artist movements and art initiatives with an often
more profound understanding of media art and its ever changing
environment then older, more established art institutions have
developed. Some of these artists and initiatives already collaborate
with all kinds of art institutions world wide. The now much broader
(and also deepened) environment of popular culture is actually
adding to the creation of high culture: it produces high culture.

Media and art experience: "the intelligence sits in front of the computer"
(Stefen Wernery, founder of the Chaos Computer Club, the German hacker association)

The Canadian art critic Jeanne Randolph, closely involved with the
new media arts since the early nineties, has developed a criticism
of what she calls 'the Technological Ethos'. Skillfully avoiding
the often tedious and rigid Marxist criticisms of capitalism, she
criticizes our society's obsession with the appearances of our
alleged progress: virtual reality goggles and gloves, the latest
mobile phones, personal computers, palmtops, etc. Jeanne Randolph
reminds us that technology is not that shiny, desirable object, but
technology is what created it. Technology is an ever developing,
immaterial process, which we can perceive and be aware of through
the traces it leaves behind in the form of the products it every
now and then materializes in. One could even say that these
products are the temporary physical translations of an immaterial,
creative process. Randolph's reminder of the basis of our
technological environment gives us the opportunity to look at
preserving 'unstable' art works as reconstructing a partly materialized process.

The history of art created with electronic media is often presented
as a separate entity in the history of art as a whole, just like
products of technology are often perceived as a breech with the
environment they sprung from, but the art works we deal with here
could also be seen as a technologically conceived (art) form, within
the diversity of all arts, whereby technology is part of a larger
artistic, cultural context. More deceivingly even, the history of
media art is often presented as one separate, linear history, based
on technological developments. Criticism of art in all sorts of
digital networks is slowly turning into an ever more technology
centered discourse as well. It should not have to be that way,
because like earlier media art was closely related to the context
of 'immaterial' arts such as performance or conceptual art, network
art discourses have at least as much roots in a conceptual discourse
as in a materialistic one.

In June 1997 Tilman Baumgaertel wrote an interesting text in which
he proposed a pre-history of net art that included many 20th century
approaches to art, from Futurism via Dada to Fluxus and Conceptual
art and so on. Others have written similar texts in which art on
the net is compared to earlier developments in art history and/or
analyzed from a (cyber)feminist or political perspective. The early,
conceptual approach to network art and maybe even media art as a
whole offers a great freedom of thought, and therefore also of
practice. The desire to see network art as either a purely digital
object or as an entirely separate entity in or even from art is,
despite these texts, unfortunately still very strong. Yet if one
looks at the variety within on-line art projects it is hard to
maintain that network art is really a separate category in art.
It would be more accurate to say that art, and the art world at
large, has sort of been extended and also changed by the use of
computer (related) networks.

The reality of the arts in the age of the internet is that the
digital networks, like their predecessor the telephone, has become
a tool that combines (a relative) accessibility and 'sociability'
with (a relative) effectiveness and productivity. Artists will use
them as they please and implement them in whatever art practice
they engage in. Using all kinds of networks has simply become a
part of an ever growing multidisciplinary art practice. Artists
do use the digital networks for their specific technological
possibilities, yet those possibilities are very often subdued to
the artist's intent. Whether for instance an art work's conceptual
space is extended through the web, whether the internet is used as
a musical instrument or simple signal transportation device,
whether wireless networks make a city a local canvas, whether the
internet is used for representation only or for multi-user or even
audience participation projects, the network is in the end most of
all the vehicle which makes it all possible, its wiring or nodes
are not all there is to this art. The core is often something
else: a fascination with or need for communication, the tension
between closeness and distance, an exploration of new views, a
media-political statement etc. The apparent material similarities
of the art works do not automatically imply that they can all be
fitted under one and the same category.

Preservation of a Process = Going with the Flow or Being the Flow

A few years ago I interviewed conceptual artist Ron Kuivila, who
had presented a lecture about his idea of notation/realization as
a tool in media art at the Dutch media art institution V2. He
says: "I am raising the possibilities to the notation/realization
almost in self-defense against the boundless energy and invention
of these technical forms." And: "The acceleration of development
in digital media has also increased their ephemerality. This
becomes a fundamental creative problem for artists trying to
engage in the possibilities of a particular technology as a
'medium'. (...) What I am interested in is raising the question:
what if we begin to think of the creation of media work along
the relationship of notation/realization? What happens if we take
that observation seriously and imagine all art making with media
as having the ephemerality of performance?"
Curators of new media art, in particular of the arts that engage
digital media, are chasing the impossible. They are trying to
capture a movement, an event that is time, site and hard or
software specific. It might be time, as he suggests to "imagine
the passage between a particular set of technical possibilities
to a particular piece as a more fluid situation. Or, we can take
the opposite tack and imagine works as problems of specification..."

Let's now turn back to the development of what I called the
interactive space of the arts, the circular movement, a dance
perhaps, of interpretation in which artist and audience each
take turns. The much hailed interactivity of the new media
networks is not about clicking buttons, but about engaging in
a work socially, personally. The internet is an intimate space.
In it we find the same strange tension between distance and
intimacy that one could see in early modern art. Maybe this is
one of the reasons Boris Groys suggested that the internet did
not, as many have claimed, accelerate reproduction to a
dazzling high, but it in fact brings back the original in art.
This sudden implosion of the reproduction space has in fact
scattered the mass experience of art, and returned interpretation
to a more local, even personal level. Having left the shared space
of the museum, we are at home or in our office, or maybe even
alone at a computer in that same museum, 'reading to ourselves'.
We are engaging, participating, creating, manipulating, and
being manipulated. The implosion of the art context to the
personal level, to a level in which we are inside the art context,
inside the art process even, is the ultimate experience of art.
Preserving art in this environment is more then a technical
challenge, it becomes social and cultural theory, it becomes
concocting an explosive mixture of individual tastes and personal
stories. The question will be how to distill grand narratives from that.

Not just the preservation of the art work in a mediated environment
asks for new strategies, but also the continuation or survival of
the interpretation space between artist and audience (and of course
between artist and other artists) is dependent on a conscious
handling of these art works. Art is now entering a phase in which
wrongful preservation can not just damage the art process itself,
but also the interpretation of this art could become almost
impossible. It is not unthinkable that this happens: the rigid
copyright legislation applied to music and consumer products
(software in particular) could easily be copied for art made
with or from digital components, thus obstructing a lively,
productive exchange between audience and artist. Only consciously
keeping channels or rights open (and levels of openness can be
negotiated from project to project and from layer to layer inside
a project) can prevent art works and projects to bleed to death,
can prevent a discourse to be cut off or it can prevent that new
projects do not or hardly have the ability to connect to already
existing ones. The interpretation of art is largely happening in
a mediated environment, in which artists, audience and various
authorities (from governments to critics and art institutions)
are active, each in their own way. The meaning and value of art
lies in the activity, the movement, the process of interactivity
between audience and art work. For a lasting, living art practice
it is necessary that the audience in particular has the possibility to move and express itself.


-

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