Time and life has changed radically in the last 20 years. Most people are now vested in, and depend on, multiple forms of digital technology in their day-to-day routines. Starting a post with this argument, even sounds antiquated, as Western dependency on the digital is woven in to so many elements of life and the very fabric of the economy, yet it needs to be stated to provide the context for this month’s topic.
Directly generated from the digital revolution, an increased number of individuals (artists and non-artists) are working online and are expressing their opinions visually with the use of digital tools and new forms of media. This is globally spawning growth in new areas of aesthetic interest – essentially – through mediated engagement with emerging networked technologies – society is collectively building and simultaneously consuming information online. In this age of digital distribution it is time for the artists specialised in the criticality, and versed in the technical aspects, of this practice to be included in the art market.
Art World Dominated by visionaries?
‘Two opposing camps are battling it out for domination of the international contemporary art world. On the one hand, the huge globalised art dealerships catering to the international super-rich – those individuals so dazzlingly wealthy as to be immune to the economic crisis. And on the other, a vision of art that is politically engaged, historically aware and socially inclusive.’
The Guardian – Charlotte Higgins, chief arts writer
Thursday 18 October 2012
ArtReview recently posted their top 100 movers in the art world today. As the quote from Charlotte Higgins mentions above, the list reflects private establishments with great revenue and the political curators and artists who are discussing, through practice, the social change in the world (a number of whom benefit from the revenues of the first group). The people on that list deserve to be there and their efforts are to be applauded and remunerated. The list is however, overdue in its inclusion of people like Gerfried Stocker – Artistic Director Ars Electronica and Diethard Schwarzmair – Financial Director Ars Electronica, Sarah Diamond – OCAD University President, Sarah Cook & Beryl Graham co-editors of CRUMB (Curatorial Resource for Upstart Media Bliss) and also organisations like Furtherfield who promote experimentation in art+technology development. These individuals are responding to the ‘now’, by working with artists at all levels, and by critically discussing shifts is aesthetic caused by the social change. They are contributing their opinions, deconstructing theory and forming new language for artists. Importantly, they are making new opportunities for New Media practice to develop within a financial structure. This is a body of researchers and ‘Art World’ visionaries who are helping society to understand the reshaping relationship humans are consciously adopting in-line with networked technologies.
Most artists use at least one form of digital media in their practice, if not to produce new work, then to document it, or to broadcast it. This behaviour includes artists developing practices in Contemporary Art. While New Media and Contemporary Art are independently complex fields with some overlapping processes, one central distinguishing feature of New Media is that the artists tend to retain the technology and process in the foreground of their work. The decision to place emphasis on the tools used in the production is an integral component of the conceptual process. Two main reasons for this inclusion are, one because by revealing the process to the audience the artist is deciding to share their concept either to reveal or demystify or to allow another to learn from the process so that they may also re-purpose the piece. The second, which is perhaps the one associated with most institutional issues, is that these works are often hacks of various technologies re-assembled or coded in order to develop a one-of-a-kind system. Camouflaging the building blocks of the piece counter reason number one, and they can also make it difficult for system problems to be solved should the work technically falter.
New Media works are also often associated with the stigma of being problematic for exhibition spaces and costly to maintain during shows due to the technical hiccups that can occur with their set-up. The problem with archiving these works is also complex because by nature they depend on fashionable technologies and elements such as web browsers, IP addresses, or live access to databases that are frequently updated beyond the control of the artists, which can render the works defunct until they can be re-programmed, re-started or updated. However, continuing to think about New Media in this way is not progressive, and it does not reflect the social change that has happened over the last 20 years. Furthermore, it won’t solve the problem of how to support New Media artists.
New Media is possibly the most critically engaging work of our time, and the real question is – when is the mainstream art (read: Contemporary Art) world going to allow this practice into the financial market?
New Media artists, curators and researchers works take shape beyond the art institution, as listed datasets, tumblr feeds, visualizations, interactive sites, and youtube videos with millions of hits. These practitioners are integrating their work into public venues that are not always affiliated with the arts, and are filtering projects out across the web and screens in public spaces. Without the public art institutions, the New Media artists are becoming famous and their audiences reach far beyond the footfall of an Art Faire because their work crosses into new networks, bridges research strands in the arts, technology and sciences, is emotive and above all accessible. Intuitively, it appeals to the ‘new’, ‘contemporary’, or ‘modern’ glocal mindset (chose your own vague description appropriated by the arts, for being ‘hip’). These artists are in some cases globally prominent already, and yet the infrastructure that could be celebrating their achievements, showcasing this groundbreaking work, or at least encouraging its production and developing critical debate around it, is reluctant to re-imagine their financial and exhibition structure in order to support this critical practice.
As New Media successfully intervenes into society through back doors and via specialized support networks it is interesting to see people like Dave Hickey simultaneously resign from the art world because of the stifling gatekeeping that exists within it.
‘Money and celebrity has cast a shadow over the art world which is prohibiting ideas and debate from coming to the fore[front],”… ‘the current system of collectors, galleries, museums and art dealers colluding to maintain the value and status of artists quashed open debate on art.’
– Dave Hickey
Perhaps New Media’s most noble trait, is that often it’s practice is community spawn and focused, a necessity to overcome the technical complexities of the works, which require expertise from networks beyond the arts such as the sciences and technology.
The reality is that most other industries have re-imagined their financial models to generate incomes from the internet and the new socially networked life. The press industry levies fees, designers often share some work online and sell their premium content, the banking industry has mostly migrated online, the travel industry capitalizes on online marketing, the farming industry relies on sophisticated animal tracking in order to keep food quality high and safe. All these shifts use new technologies and engage in the employment of some kind of digitization and web-based networked system.
Furthermore, this is the next age of enlightenment! Society is publicly posing plenty of questions and it wants answers. People want evidence of thorough research; they want to understand how things work and above all people feel entitled to comprehend and to engage in more meaningful ways with each other, with objects and with information.
It’s time that the Art World caught the bug as well. The Contemporary Art market is fundamentally dominating the economic system because they possess a successful financial model that has been honed over centuries. The value of Contemporary Art is immense and very important. The issue is that the market that supports it is biased and though art is always seen as a risk, the current system is relatively risk-averse. It’s time for the patrons of the arts to shift their portfolios radically in order to encourage innovation within the arts. It’s time to – as Golan Levin says ‘Buy the artist, not the art‘.
The economical model works for the sale of prints and paintings and sculptures, but time-based digital and internet dependant work can not stand the test of time because it’s technical infrastructure goes out of date so quickly and because institutions are not able to direct their finances into employing the technical services required to sustain the work during an exhibition or within an archive. Possible solutions could be that artists develop plans to lease their work out with guarantees of service coverage over fixed timescales. Research and Development (R+D) is a practical solution to the development of new work and perhaps looking to the Performance Arts fee models could be an avenue to explore for presentation of New Media works. One thing is for sure, artists working in new media are pushing boundaries in every direction and they are becoming integral parts of the way society is globally choosing to communicate. Support and stimulation in the area of New Media practice is essential and it can be done successfully by providing hackspaces, maker faires, labs, etc.
‘Bird Song’ Olivia & Andrew Pelling ‘A violin with sensors that measure the average frequency of notes being played in real time, which tweets links to the songs of endangered Canadian birds with similar frequencies.’
Another angle is to increase access to an online exhibition program or to add a transient off-site showcase -art in places that are not necessarily administered by the gallery but become integral parts of their annual programming. Initiatives like Artengine’s Mini Maker Faire are important platforms where artists can hit progress milestones by testing their work out to an audience and by developing relationships between various interest groups. By nurturing these spaces of interaction productive relationships are developed. It’s in the cross-pollination of research strands, thoughts and ideas that the ‘new’ is generated which can lead to incredibly simple ideas that are of great value to the world.
New Aesthetic Gatecrash
By continuing to ignore this area of practice, art institutions, collectors and curators are in danger of missing out on what a growing and engaged public at large is interested in, and actively involved with. They are also failing to support some of the most critically engaged artists of our time, who are teaching society, among other things, the value of collected data.
‘…regardless of the media used, old or new, the media artist has a reflexive concern with the media in their practice that conventional artists do not. This is not an issue of quality, just an observation of difference – a difference that has waxed and waned and currently appears unbridgeable.’ (source: Simon Biggs – https://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/cgi-bin/webadmin?A2=new-media-curating;52353033.1209)
New Media is a maturing discipline that can demonstrate a very healthy area of practice. It engages with politics, it uses the tools of our time to point audiences to new systems for engagement with subject matter. It strips back conventional methods for reading, it is innovative and is very punk in its attitude. While, mystery is always important in art, this area of practice tries to turn it on its head. It demystifies and that is what makes it so powerful and so engaging.
Institutional resistance to change is understandable for the technical reasons mentioned above and because the current economic system that supports Contemporary Art, is functional. As, Jason St-Laurent mentioned in his recent Artengine post, there are distinct centres that showcase and support New Media including Ars Electronica and ISEA. There are also several labs that nurture this area of practice such as the MIT Media Lab, Eyebeam Art + Technology Centre, Rhizome. In the Ottawa – Gatineau area there is Artengine, Daimon and AXENE07 who concentrate their efforts on fostering creativity in the arts and technology. These are essential spaces for artists and without them many projects would not flourish. However, it is time for established institutions which support the gamut of what is ‘new’ to consciously and imaginatively join the data driven world. To a certain extent the age of the hierarchy is ending. It’s time to get with the network.
The links below point to pieces, remarks, and theory… that partially informed/substantiated this post. In no particular order, enjoy some more/
James Bridle – http://new-aesthetic.tumblr.com/
Claire Bishop – ‘Digital Divide – On Contemporary Art & New Media’ Artforum September 2012
*You may need to register with Artforum to access this article.
Honor Harger – ‘Why contemporary art fails to come to grips with digital. A response to Claire Bishop.’http://honorharger.wordpress.com/2012/09/02/why-contemporary-art-fails-to-come-to-grips-with-digital-a-response-to-claire-bishop/
Curt Cloninger – ‘MANIFESTO FOR A THEORY OF THE ‘NEW AESTHETIC’ Mute. 3 October 2012
Golan Levin – ‘How to get more & better from your agency’s Informatics Research Division’ http://www.scribd.com/doc/110907265/-golan-eta-2012
Sara Diamond ‘The Creativity Gap – We need artists to solve the challenges of this century’
The Globe and Mail. Published Tuesday, Jun. 12 2012
Mark Tribe and Reena Jana – ‘New Media Art’, Taschen. 2006 https://wiki.brown.edu/confluence/display/MarkTribe/New+Media+Art
‘The Virtual Revolution’ BBC. Presented by Dr. Aleks Krotoski