Let's Call It Art: CAA Recognizes the New Media Caucus

Posted by Juliet Davis | Sat Mar 5th 2005 4:03 p.m.

Re: Follow-up on CAA Review - Just to Make Sure You Got It
Let's Call It Art: CAA Recognizes the New Media Caucus
Juliet Davis

Who would have imagined the Atlanta Marriott Marquis would become home to b=
oth the CAA Conference and the National Cheerleading Championship? What di=
vine fate brought girls in sponge curlers and pink fuzzy slippers saunterin=
g past a gender studies presentation entitled "Looking for Lolita?" Some w=
ould say plenty of strange bedfellows congregated at the conference Feb.16-=
19. Balancing the traditional art history sessions were a series of "first=
s," including two new panels sponsored by the New Media Caucus (one that dr=
ew a standing-room-only crowd); a panel and mentorships sponsored by Leonar=
do; two sessions on the Patriot Act (a fund-raiser for Steve Kurtz and CAE =
was held Saturday night); and CAA's first new media gallery entitled "ArtSp=
ace." As for things pink and fuzzy (as well as poofed and fishnetted), Sim=
eon Hunter's panel flaunted costumes in "Play, Pleasure, and Perversion: In=
subordinate Refusals of Discipline in the Practices of Art and Theory," whi=
ch openly satirized art history academy practices past and present. (This i=
s not your grandfather's CAA.)

In his 2003 Ars Electronica review entitled "Don't Call It Art" (Rhizome Di=
gest 9.17.03), Lev Manovich argued that much of digital art is fundamentall=
y at odds with contemporary art because the very term "digital art" (and, b=
y extension, "cyberart", "new media", etc.) presumes a formalistic preoccup=
ation with medium. Therefore, he argued, digital art is not compatible with=
contemporary art, which comes from a conceptual art tradition. As one of =
many counterpoints to this argument, the CAA New Media Caucus, while asking=
some of the same questions Manovich has raised ("What exactly is [sic] the=
phenomena of . . . 'digital art,' 'new media art,' 'cyberart,' etc.?), pre=
sented us with digital work that operates in a larger field of cultural pro=
duction.

For example, a session entitled "Screenshots and Audio Effects: Electronic =
Events," chaired by Caucus President Doreen Maloney (University of Kentuck=
y, Lexington) and Rachel Clarke (California State University, Sacramento), =
featured a mix of traditional and nontraditional approaches to situating ne=
w media in art-and-theory contexts. CADRE artist and theoretician Susan Ott=
o described a horizontal axis of emerging technologies shifting and interse=
cting with a vertical axis of "private intent of information and public con=
sumption of data." The moment of this shift, she claims, is "a moment of c=
ultural production," which she demonstrated through several of her own work=
s that use scientific strategies and data collection to examine cultural my=
thologies and intersections of public and private space (for example, her c=
ollection of snake drawings by random male bystanders indexed and exhibited=
with the use of a database; her x-rays of post-operative gunshot wounds se=
t to ambient music; her project asking scientists to plot what-if scenarios=
for a Sasquatch--http://cadre.sjsu.edu/people/susan/ ). Even Zachary Lieb=
erman's interactive language visualization project (which might be termed "=
software art") was an appropriate litmus tests for CAA, precisely because i=
t is so culturally relevant (who is going to say Austrian children creative=
ly interacting with visual representations of language is not culturally re=
levant?). And who would argue the legitimacy of Nomi Talisman's project en=
titled "Everything I Knew About America I Learned From the Movies" as it pl=
ots a relationship between home movies and mainstream film? Exposing the m=
aterial substance of film (sprocket holes, etc.), Talisman ran home movie c=
lips alongside feature film clips, on the same screen, to make visual conne=
ctions between the "cultural role of cinema" and "everyday life." Children =
mugged for the home movie camera on one side of the screen as movie stars s=
truck poses on the other; a family-man smoked a cigarette beside a movie-st=
ar cowboy (http://www.mills.edu/MCAM/mfa2003/talisman.html <http://www.mill=
s.edu/MCAM/mfa2003/talisman.html> ). All of this art seems to come from a =
conceptual art tradition and engages us in critical dialogue.

Theorist Judy Rudinsky (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) built up=
on Talisman's presentation by asserting that, because new media art and ent=
ertainment share markers such as medium of presentation (e.g., sharing the =
"screen" with television and the Internet), there is a "constructed overlap=
" that produces ambiguity and discord. This overlap, according to Rudinsky=
, becomes further problematized by the "complex and varied" narrative forma=
tions of new media, which, instead of "unifying sequences over time," tend =
to "expand over sequences" and alter the relationship between author and au=
dience.

Panelist Conrad Gleber (Florida State University) seemed to be opening up t=
he whole notion of "new media," suggesting that it is not so much a media-s=
pecific term as it is a culturally-specific term. As he interviewed artist=
s such as Lane Hall and Lisa Moline (University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee--ww=
w.badscience.org <http://www.badscience.org/> ), he asked the question: "Wh=
at shapes the desire to come to new media?" Gleber reported that all of the=
artists interviewed expressed "a desire to integrate audience into the wor=
k," expand their public, and engage in intervention both inside and outside=
the gallery. Gleber concluded that some of the distinctive characteristics=
of new media art include its continual "ephemerality, obsolescence and ubi=
quity;" the fact that it is "made out of" technologies (something like a ve=
rnacular language); and the idea that it is situated in a "sociocultural dy=
namic of cultural emergence. . . . always in flux, always new."

Perhaps predictably, the conference had a way of bringing to life topics so=
me might have thought were a thing of the past (e.g., utopian/dystopian dia=
lectics). In a relatively controversial panel called "Interrogating Interf=
aces," when two presenters suggested that adaptable VR interfaces resemblin=
g video games would "make it easier" for CEOs to make decisions about busin=
ess strategies and military figures to make decisions about going to war, a=
lively discussion erupted, with one audience member politely asking if som=
eone could please "comment on the space between video games and Guantanamo =
Bay." Meanwhile, panelist Michele White (Wellesley College), focusing on t=
he common hand-pointer, examined how race, class, and gender are rendered t=
hrough the interface, and added her concern about the power structures that=
would be creating so-called interface "adaptability." Ensuing debates abo=
ut interface design seemed to indicate that a second panel on this topic wo=
uld be productive, and Chairs Laurie Beth Clark (University of Wisconsin) a=
nd Alec MacLeod (California Institute of Integral Studies) are calling for =
position papers for "Interrogating Interfaces: Part 2."

While the conference featured little art that would be as debatable as the =
technically/formalistically-absorbed Ars Electronica software art of 2003 (=
albeit Zachary Lieberman's work was indeed featured at that conference), th=
e New Media Caucus panels and exhibition point to the idea that tensions be=
tween art and technology are not quaint, that a hybrid "third space" is not=
easily defined, and that continuous dialogue is needed. In a spirit of re=
lated inquiry, the new media exhibition called "Soft Science" (in the new "=
ArtSpace") featured works that might actually be considered "low-tech" to s=
ome, but high in critical content. Curator Rachel Mayeri explained that sh=
e was interested in "people who are the objects of their own experiments." =
The resulting DVD was screened at the conference and will be distributed by=
Video Data Bank. The collection ranges from Peter Brinson's "It Did It," =
a fictional character's story before and after Brinson took Prozac, to Susa=
n Rynard's "Bug Girl," which showed a potential loss of a story-book-like i=
nnocence as a young girl swallows a bee (and as we track it flying down her=
system in x-ray-like graphics). Perhaps the most provocative piece was cr=
eated by curator Mayeri herself: "Stories from the Genome" was a satirical=
, playful, and unsettling look at our questionable understandings of geneti=
cs, human cloning, psychoanalysis, and nature vs. nurture.

The New Media Caucus is currently calling for panel proposals for CAA 2006 =
(Boston) and for juried panel proposals for CAA 2007 (NYC), and is planning=
exhibitions for both conferences. A peer-reviewed journal entitled Media-=
N has been developed by Conrad Gleber (Florida State University), who is al=
so editor of the International Digital Media Arts Association Journal, and =
Rachel Clarke (California State University, Sacramento). Realizing that ne=
w media faculty can have difficulty gaining recognition for their accomplis=
hments on their way to tenure, a caucus task force is reviewing and suggest=
ing updates for CAA's "Guidelines for Faculty Teaching Computer-Based Media=
in Fine Art and Design" (published in 1995), which already articulates iss=
ues regarding faculty hiring, workload, evaluation, and compensation for fa=
culty in computer-based media. New Media Caucus mentorships are also being=
planned.

Concluding his 2003 article, Lev Manovich expressed optimism for the legiti=
macy of new media as art, saying: "At the end of the day, if new media arti=
sts want their efforts to have a significant impact on cultural evolution, =
they need to generate not only brilliant images or sounds but more importan=
tly, solid discourse." If the CAA conference is any indication of the kinds=
of exchanges that are possible regarding an intersection of technology and=
culture, then let's, at least sometimes, call it art.

_______

The New Media Caucus was founded in 2003 and currently lists 173 members.=

New Media Caucus Web Site: www.newmediacaucus.org <http://www.newmediacaucu=
s.org/>
CAA 2006 Call For Session Proposals: http://www.collegeart.org/annualconfer=
ence/2006/sessionproposals.html
Calls for 2006 ArtSpace submissions and for Media-N will be forthcoming. =
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