Flat against the wall

For Media Art Undone panel at Transmediale.07

On the right side of the page you can see some remarks and thoughts that came to my mind during the panel and when I was making this HTML document.

A visitor at With Elements of Web2.0 exhibition at GEDOK, Stuttgart, January 2007

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 Mediafile:///home/drx/Desktop/transmediale/b32.gif in general:

file:///home/drx/Desktop/transmediale/b32.gif With New Media I mean a field of study that has developed around cultural practices with the computer playing a central role as the medium for production, storage and distribution.

In my opinion there is no need to get rid of this term because 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.file:///home/drx/Desktop/transmediale/b09.gif

file:///home/drx/Desktop/transmediale/b09.gif Timothy Druckery showed his deepest disgust to the term New Media, which is typical for those who see computers and networks as tools in a row: pencil -> video camera -> computer -> connected computer. Actually, I'm also not a fan of this word combination, but inside this field I find respect of scholars and artists to digital and networking culture.

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 game artist, or software artist, satellite jockey, 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. Words and names are indeed important in New Media.

There is a gap in between net art and web art, for example. And I find it productive to talk about it, at least some times.file:///home/drx/Desktop/transmediale/b14.gif

But not now. Let's look briefly at net art in the light of our theme: transitions and broadening the context.

Net Art in New Media and Contemporary Art

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 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 did not 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 they will just have gotten up from their computers. They have the  necessary experience and understanding of the medium to get the ideas, jokes, enjoy the works and buy them.

file:///home/drx/Desktop/transmediale/b14.gif No, it was the last time I talked about it in public. I swear that in the future I will discuss it only with my students, closest friends and family members. Public discussions about terms always end up with somebody saying things like: "The bullet from a gun is a medium, so are policemen media artists?"

There is a big mess with words, and every attempt to bring clarity is in fact not more than a projection of somebody's fears or interests or fantasies. We all the time mix up politics, technology, arts, culture. Media theory and digital culture, tools and media, networks and modems ...

Beautiful evidence of this confusion I found in the Transmediale survey questionnaire: "Which media do you use on a regular basis?" Books or WLAN?:

In the German version on the flip side of the sheet, the anonymous author used Internet instead of WWW.

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 a 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 the internet behemoths.

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 different senses actually.
When the discussion was opened, one person in the audience asked why we (artists or panel participants?) don't elaborate on mass media aspects, don't make critical works about mass media. I don't have a good answer to this question and not sure that I remember it correctly, but it made me think that the difficult relations with the Web today or the confusion around it can be well explained by the fact that the Web indeed became mass medium. It is not not only mature, but a part of the mass media system, which demands from artists and researchers to adjust their view on it.

3. Slim computers

Computer for Arts by Torch Computers

Good relations of net art and gallery spaces today would not work of course without flat computers. Not flat screens, but 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.

On the next picture you can see works of myself lying flat against the wall in portrait orientation, and Vuc Cosic ASCII Art on flat computers in landscape orientation colored black.

At Transmediale exhibition was a similar installation of flat screens for the work Still Living by Antoine Schmitt:

ON/OFF exhibition curated by Caitlin Jones at the Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery, October-December 2006

I think Caitlin Jones represents a new generation of Contemporary Art curators, who, as I define it for myself, "studied JODI at university". For them Net Art and other digital culture phenomenas were a part of their education, they have an appropriate ground to depart in a constantly emerging field.

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.

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.

If you have seen this year's Transmediale exhibition and others from the field formerly known as (New) Media Art, you will see that my "would be" is not fitting. There is no tension or "work in progress" or step onto a new territory. What we see are well presented art objects properly using digital technologies: camera tracking, animation, data visualization and accousticallization, ...

Blog Art

Electric bath duck by Nicolas Gaudron

Another curious development, 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 popular format and artists like Abe Linkoln, Marisa Olson, JODI, Dragan Espenschied, myself, others, maybe even many others, went into special relations with blogs; misusing them and brining to extremes. Experiments were (and are) great, but they did not grow into anything bigger, I mean there is no Blog Art movement 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 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 or rhizome.org is the highest point in the existence of many artworks. Being featured on a prominent blog is not just a step on the way to real exhibitions, though it is about real objects.

Those artworks are not such an interesting subject by themselves, but blogs as the exhibition platform number one for both online and offline art is obviously a topic for New Media.

Olia Lialina, 2007-02-14

Inke Arns noticed that media art is getting a part of contemporary art, there should not be borders. Diedrich Diederichsen assumed that soon we will deal with more general divisions: institutional art scene and market art scene. Florian Cramer from the audience pointed our attention to the idea that the conflict lies in between copyright and "free culture". I rather think there are two types of events: those visited by Regine Debatti or Tom Moody and those that are not.