dunja kukovec::NEW MEDIA: ITS AESTETHICS AND REPRESENTATION
_Disclamer: aestethics is ethic, representation is process, criticism is
_Abstract: In its first part the following text presents the canvas for
reevalution of author and authorship with certain art history method. To be able
to position the author in the demanding frame a certain selfpositioning of the
viewer has to be developed. Thus, in the second part of the text I argue the
position of the active viewer and co-author._
The method of historical materialism and viennese art history school(1) is
undoubtfully insufficient for exploring and understanding the 20th century art
practices; its incompatibility becomes even clearer in attempts to interpret new
media art [history](2). On the other hand, new media art can easier be reflected
with the method that was introduced by non-academic art historians and critics
of the society in the late sixties and early seventies. "Their creative,
interrogative, and critical scrunity"(3) which derives from Marxist and feminist
studies was mirrored in so called radical art history(4). Nonetheless,
contemporary art often seems better captured and reflected by philosophers,
social scientist, culturologists and creative curators(5). After and still new
media art best criticism stays in the typing hands of society critics and techno
freaks that are often directly connected with the media itself(6).
With emergence of "media is the message"(7) and contemporay [de]structuralism
[philosophy after Hegel] certain practical shifts have occured in the last
decade. They processed the need for a change of value system in art history
which is urgently demanding for social-, time- and place- based methodology.
The role of the author
The role of author, his position and its value. The postmodern state of mind
which is rooted in contemporary philosophy has abandonded the concept of
romantic genius(8). In art history studies and in wider reflection of today's
creative society this is still not properly acknowledged.
New media art is mostly the result of a team work of an artist [the owner of
idea/information(9)], a programmer [essential executor] and/or other technically
skilled person. On the other hand there are artists that are highly skilled and
their expertism allows them besides independency, also the possibility to
execute the work by themselves in total. IMHO(10) here lies the essence of a
problem concerning evaluation.
The institutional art history was established in the 19th century at the time
of romanticism as well as rationalism, when the concept of "individualism and
subjectivity was the key to art"(11). Although romantics were utopically
oriented towards unity [e.g. utopian quest for a union with nature] that can
also be followed in a networked society(12), they appreaciated the artistic
genius and scientific hero. The romantic concept of artistic genius continued
the renaissance tradition which substituted the former view of art as craft. The
art history strategy of outlining the exceptional intellectual abilities i.e.
genius seemed optimal operational tool to establish the system of individuals
and styles. Art historians at that time easily adapted the same method to
previous periods, especially back untill renaissance. They didn't mind using
the same method in gothic or even in romanesque period although it is almost
impossible to talk about artist and names at that time. Instead they applied
same method with monks, monuments and places... Finally, they try to operate in
the same manner with the 20th century art. The classical art history never
recognised indivudual or a workshop as a criteria. A workshop was identified
with the individual or individual with a workshop, but this has never been
positioned as a criteria counterpoit to artists that worked on their own.
What I would like to suggest is a sort of new value system that is not reffered
to the white male and his geniality. Instead it would emphasize a team work,
process and expertism [''everyone is an expert"(13)] where authorship is somehow
difused among many actors in it. Suddenly, we loose the one leading author, the
hierarchy and the superiority, well rooted in eurocentrism and western white
mail history, which is continuously taken for granted. Especially art history
enables big caracthers and leading positions with the fake trust in one person
geniality what at certain point may lead to an artist that is managing to defend
its position and uniqueness with transparent strategy.
Another conception that is interrealated with institutonal art history followed
in institutional representation centers - galleries and museums. The term 'art
world' that was clearly articulated in the 1968 (by A.C. Danto) acctually
enabled strategy and method for inclusion and/or exclusion. Artists could
figuratevly decide if they want to follow the rules and the trends, in general
to be part of it or not.
Some characteristics of this issue are similar to the issue of feminism. The
core of it represents the starting point itself that was long pronounced as the
women issue, also misinterpreted as the women problem. This is how we are facing
the issue of positioning roles, authorships and values. We can firmly say the
work is done by certain artist while at the same time we are not bothered that
acctually the whole painting was done by his pupil. From perspective of defining
today new media art production and its dispersed expertism this seems unacceptable.
Many new media creativity belongs to a programmer or some other technical
person. Are we still able to consider the work of an artist as purely his work?
At that point it is necessary that input should be properly argued. The
discourse about the process itself looks like the logical outcome. Thus each
part of the work has gained the same unadorned meaning! What I am suggesting is
another click in our mind, a reflexion on just passed postmodernism. The method
of postmodern relativists and contemporary feminists(14) can easier render
misinterpreted history, moral and viewes of authoritarian approach in terms of
artist uniqueness as just one of the repeating failures. Switch the mind and let
us understand the popular grand artists weren't so grand finally, whereas the
authorship positioning represents just another one in the series of issues
reagarding proper value system, that should also affect the copyright issue.
We are witnessing just another interesting outcome at recent new media art
events - recognising the coding as creative practice and not just as a skill.
Thus the new media art and its authorship is requestioned and is placed
alongside with questions of identity, body, materiality and ownership - the keys
of cybertheory. Art historian's author has been abandoned by avatars that are
representing the large part of online art projects. Duchamp, dadaists and
conceptual artist obviously weren't destructive enough, although they produced
work like: A Piece That Is Essentially The Same As A Piece Made By Any Of The
First Conceptual Artist, Dated Two Years Earlier Than The Original And Signed By
It is not destruction but a deconstruction. Deconstruction which would enable us
more appropriate attitude in the newly reconstituted system. The system that
could easily adapt to 'copyleft attitude'(16), or even further to the system of
commons. This also leads to de[con]struction of authority but not in
deconstruction of individual, his materiality and ideas. "The artist is author.
The author is information"(17) But because "information presented at the right
time and in the right place can potentially be very powerfull"(18), it has to be
represented with all that awarness.
The positioning system in digital art history is requesting a change and so is
the value system of references and credits. Author is a reference and a credit,
not an authority, consistency and integrity, or a genius that can be sold. "With
everything is always shifting; consistency is not a virtue but becomes a vice;
integration is limitation. Everyone is no one."(19)
But above all "an organism is most efficient when it knows its own internal
order"(20), with subversive words: when it acknowledges its [disperesed]
Do you remember the ideas in the air?(21) To paraphrise Goethe: each work is a
work of collective being.
Can the work of collective being stays the property of one person?
The role of a viewer
"What our age needs is communicative intellect. For intellect to be
communicative, it must be active, practical, engaged. In a culture of the
simulacrum, the site of communicative engagement is electronic media. In the
mediatrix, praxis precedes theory, which always arrives too late. The
communicative intellect forgets the theory of communicative praxis in order to
create a practice of communication."(22)
After this introduction there is a practical and quite usual example of a
certain adoptable practice:
"...ninety per cent of the people - would walk in, put their hands behind their
back and walk around looking at the computers; they wouldn't even approach them
and some just walked out. On the other hand, the younger generation came in and
got totally engaged and set-up worked perfectly. People were engaded in two
minutes, and were there for hours against convention of the gallery where people
are supposed to spend only fifteen minutes and than go to the next space."(23)
According to media-is-a-tool(24) practices and its representation we are often
and unfortunately still faced with fascination and sensation of an object, its
provocative, engaged, mind-twisting or visionary message, so in those moments we
are still putting hands behind our back and mediate. But we are also facing the
art works [world] that are [is] not solely standing on its own, but needs
interactivity in all its sense.
The term interactivity became a real buzzword in the last couple of years. It
has acquired different meanings according to author or/and situation. In general
it "means that the user/audience has the ability to act to influence the flow of
events or to modify their form"(25) and interactivity as "creating versus
consuming"(26). After Wilson we can differ them by what kind of interaction is
required (choosing, contributuing, authoring...) and how intense in terms of
time and control the intreactivity would be (rigid, flexible, total...).
In figurative historical timeline we could extract following phases of interaction
_finishing (proposed by Brian Eno(28) in 1996)
_changing the content (proposed by http://0100101110101101.org
_engaging as political subjects
The roots of interactivity are deep and wide-spreaded. In these roots many of
the 'actions' are acctually closer to 'interpassivity', whereby today's
understanding of interactivity means the straight ability to change the content
and to co-authorize the work.
In the 1920' the Dadaists established cabarets and street theater in which
audience members were encouraged to participate as creators. The communist
upheavals in Russia resulted in the agitprop movement in which workers were
expected to become active as artists. Berthold Brecht street theater in the 30's
linked politics, art and participation. In the 1960's and 70's the interactive
art movement flourished all over the globe in art forms including visual art,
theater, dance, music, poetry, and architecture. For example, happenings created
free form installation/theater events in which the audience was often absorbed
into participation into ongoing events.(29)
On the other hand, the recent activities [that are also shaping communities]
present the huge step towards interactivity and "making media"(30). However,
"conversation that is shaped creatively by all its participants can be both a
vehicle for cultural change and the social sculpture that results." Besides "the
pleasures of conversation and the erotics of encounter" we can hope for better
organisation between individuals, i.e. artists and viewers, who will than be
able to take and continue an active role in the society.
Today's technological creative derivatives don't present a movement or a group,
their interactive "spirit" can be traced in object based contemporary art works.
The level of interactivness varies also in the online works themselves. "What
you see is ussually not what you get"(31). There are works that simply need a
broader contex that can be embraced only with active participation, emancipation
All this "interactivness" demands an active viewer. She has to known [or she has
to recall the simple Deleuzian-Guattari(32) desire] how to act, react, where to
continue and how to conclude. This position is opposed to the passivity and is
demanding engaged and active collaborators. Persons that are ready either to
educate, read manuals, to be individual, to search for solutions or to be
explorative. Many new media art works are presenting a challenge for a better
and clearer comprehension of the new media tool itself and its creative
For a while we have been talking about the process. Often everyone can take an
active part to a final realisation, to a representation and its perfect outcome.
This is also where the issue of curating can be introduced. In curating new
media art exhibitions the discourse about inability to present net.art in the
museum or gallery has been going on for quite a while.(33)
To present it correctly you have to fulfill as many layers as possible:
formalistic objectives, content/context relation, intention and engagement. The
majority of older net.art projects functions most properly when you click on
them by chance. Although this is not an essential caracheristic for all of them
(eg. the recent art-act project: Heath Bunting's BorderXing Guide(34) does not
have to be discovered online by chance, the project is based on research, on the
contrary it is much better to follow it every than and now to check for
'improvements'). However, the early net.art functioned the best when you dropped
'there' by chance. At that time it was argued how impossible it is to
incorporate concept of chance in a "sistematically arranged" exhibition.
The active viewer is thus not only consumer of the art, but an explorative
person, collaborator with an open mind attitude, interested in technology, its
various use and in the progress itself. It is not for high-tech fascination he
would search in the galleries, but a certain subversive use of technology, where
technology itself is placed in another context, where its use is diverted.
To decide for technology, when various theoreticians are already claiming there
is no more difference between artificial and natural, means to decide for ethic.
Acctually the ethic is the reson to say yes, to be involved, engaged, capable to
read so called 'new media art'. It is not about technology, it is about freedom,
society and direct democracy. The artist and the viewer are living in the newly
defined art world: "a platform to air viewpoints and promote discussions that
are not supported by the mass media and offical government. Our choice of
"profession" gives us the freedom to say things that others fear to say in
public, even if they think the same way or at least are curious to hear another
viewpoint. If we are silent or don't contribute to the public discourse, who
After comes the art history of details.(36)
The Ars Electrica Prize 1999 went to Linux OS(37). This belongs to a curatorial
practice of Duchampian 'claiming' the [in] art. A sociological phenomenon is
proclaimed for a piece of art, that at that very moment gains all its atributes.
Linux is above all directly requestioning authorship and it is provoking
corporativist system of power.
While we look at it from the art history perspective we can think of an
architectural project, where many individuals worked, only that in this century
they have worked volutarily. This new media project can be seen as
'gesamtkunstwerk' with a slightly different carachteristics: it is a tool
[media], a content and a message at the same time. Another principle of
'gesamtkunstwerk' is Frequency Clock(38), recently released streaming shedulling
system, that represents a convergence of media of such an importance, that it
can easily slip into the art field.
For ages women are not solely cookers and reproduction machines anymore, why
would than the viewer be just an observer and a slow passer-by with hands behind
Finally, the ikononology(39) of contemporary works is so multilayered that a
viewer has to be at least so interested and detail oriented as the middle age's
pilgrim to be able not to get just an impression but to live the meaning and the
power of media-message.
first version published as: Kukovec, Dunja (2002), New Media: Its Aesthetics and
Representation, Digital Art History? Exploring Practice in a Network Society,
Proceedings of the CHArt Eighteenth Annual Conference held at the British
Academy, London, 14th and 15th November, 2002
1 established in 1852 by Eitelberger von Edelberg in Vienna.
2 Similar was happening e.g. with conceptualism, Minimal and Pop art in the
sixties and seventies, in institutional world that still idealised Clement
Greenberg who in turn publicly abhorred Minimal and Pop art.
Lippard, R. Lucy (1997) (ed.), Six Years: The dematerialization of the art
object, p. 30. Berkley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press.
3 Hariss, J. (2001), The New Art History. London and New York: Routledge.
4 The main ideas of marxist art criticism and feminism in art history can be
find in the texts written by Griselda Pollock, Lucy Lippard, John Berger, T.J.
Clarck and others.
5 With the emergence of creative curating we got writers for contemporary art
like Peter Weibel, Boris Groys and Hans Ulrich Obrist and others.
6 Geert Lovink, Pit Schultz, Joanne Richardson, Francesca da Rimini, Keiko
Sei, Steve Deitz and many others.
7 after Malcom McLuhan.
8 Schaffer, S. , ''Genius in Romantic natural philosophy'', in Cunningham , A.
and Jardine, N. (1990) (eds.), Romanticism and the Sciences , pp. 82-98. For
recent thesis on genius and geniality see also texts by Martha Woodmansie.
9 Leopard, R. Lucy (1997) (ed.), Six Years: The dematerialization of the art
object, p. 13. Berkley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press.
10 hackers dictionary: in my humble opinion, www.jargon.org
11 Coyne, R. (1999), Technoromanticism, p.6. Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute
13 Florian Schneider paraphrasing Fluxus statemnet: Everyone is an artist!,http://make-world.org
14 like Donna Harraway e.g.
15 Eduardo Costa, 1970. Eduardo Costa's work is beside authorship also
criticising the quest for unreachable time - the notion of speed and time
means succes and money .
16 for more information see http://www.gnu.org
17 Luka Princic, artist, musician and programmer, 2002.
18 Hans Hacke in Lippard, R. Lucy (1997) (ed.), Six Years: The
dematerialization of the art object, p. 13. Berkley, Los Angeles, and London:
University of California Press.
19 Taylor, Mark C., Saarinen E., (1994), Imagologies, London and New York:
20 Hans Hacke in Lippard, R. Lucy (1997) (ed.), Six Years: The
dematerialization of the art object, p. 13. Berkley, Los Angeles, and London:
University of California Press.
21 Like Goethe in 1832: "What am I? What have I accomplished? My work is the
work of a collective being who bears the name of Goethe." in literature of
Woodmansee, Martha (2001), Collectivities in History. The same problem Lucy
Lippard is also arguing in Lippard, R. Lucy (1997) (ed.), Six Years: The
dematerialization of the art object, p. 10. Berkley, Los Angeles, and London:
University of California Press.
22 Taylor, Mark C., Saarinen, E., (1994), Imagologies, London and New York:
23 Tamas Banovich in Cook, S., Graham ,B., Martin, S. (eds.), (2002), Curating
New Media, Great Britain: Baltic.
24 Kim Cascone, 1998
25 Wilson, Stephen, (1993), The Aesthetics and Practice of Designing Interactive
Computer Events, http://userwww.sfsu.edu/~swilson/
27 "For example, the reader of a novel or the viewer of a movie is constantly
adjusting attention, internal references, identifications, emotional responses,
and willingness to engage internal associations that come from personal
experience, social/ ethnic/ gender positions, previous experience with the art
form, etc. Some analysts would go so far as to claim there is no successful art
or media without this level of engagement interactivity.", ibid.
28 Eno, B., (1996), A Year of Swollen Appendices: A Diary of Brian Eno, London:
Faber and Faber.
29 The whole paragraph is summarized after Stephen Wilson. Wilson, S., (1993),
The Aesthetics and Practice of Designing Interactive Computer Events,http://userwww.sfsu.edu/~swilson/
30 Richard Barbrook, 2002
31 paraphrasing Lala Rascic, 2002
32 Deleuze, Gilles, Guattari , Felix : Anti-Oedipus, (1972), reprinted (2000),
London, The Athlone Press.
33 Thus I find highly important that museums are commisioning the web art
works. It is one of the best ways how to support and acknowledge net.art .
35 Tamiko Thiel, 2002
36 For exclusive reading on new media art history language read Lev Manovich.
37 Linux , operating system, more informations on http://www.linux.org/
Ars Electronica Prize see http://prixars.aec.at/history/
38 Initiators Adam Hyde and Honor Harger, more informations onhttp://www.frequencyclock.net/
39 after Erwin Panofsky.
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