DIGITAL OBJECTS

Posted by Rhizome | Thu Jan 16th 1997 1 a.m.

Benjamin Weil is the curator for ada 'web (http://www.adaweb.com.)

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RHIZOME: How would you define "new media art?"

Benjamin Weil: it is important to point out to the fact that its not so
much the medium that defines the production. it is more like the
adequacy of the form to the content. developing multimedia projects
with the network creates an opportunity to investigate issues in a way
that is somehow closer to the practice of art as understood in the 60's
and 70's. the issue is not so much to produce a consumable object, as
it is to create an experience, an interface for the viewser to be
confronted to a different understanding of reality. the relationship
between that viewser (hence, that term "viewser," a conflation of viewer
and user) and the artwork is more of a participating one: she or he in
a certain sense finishes the work, becomes actively involved, as an
interpreter (understood as in Umberto Eco's "l'opera aperta").

rather than focusing on the medium, it is more about a different context
- a more public one. many artists have operated with such predicament
prior to the existence of "new media." inviting them to work within
this new realm, fostering their participation is what i believe may have
serious impact on the way "new media art" is informed, and actually new
media in more general terms.

there seems to be two types of approaches at stake: artists who believe
that one needs to master technology in order to produce work that has
any relevance in this context; and artists who are happy to approach
this new realm with the help of a "shop" of some sort, not unlike the
way sculptors work with a foundry, or artists in general with a
printmaker. [...]

R: Is there space in traditional galleries for new media work?

BW: a lot of artists involved with new media are interested in the
notion of network understood beyond its electronic "incarnation", and
tend to work with both a real exhibition space and its digital/virtual
environment, creating a network that goes beyond the digital
understanding of the term. as far as exhibiting screens in a gallery,
the only relevance i can find for it is the potential for accrued
access, and consequent awareness. it does not seem appropriate to think
about galleries as a venue for digital projects, since they were
conceived for the screen, and are meant to be experienced that way.
furthermore, unless these projects ever gain a collectible quality to
them, it seems irrelevant to exhibit those in galleries, which are
places where art is on display to be purchased. as for museums, unless
there is a real attempt to include the space as a significant part of
the project (going back to the aforementioned broader understanding of
network), it also seems pretty uninteresting. the example of port, the
exhibition curated by remo campopiano of artnetweb is interesting
conceptually, as it offers a different approach to making it worth its
while to display computer screen, beyond the idea of accrued
participation. let's see how it works once it is launched.

[...]

R: What is the value of new media art projects to the arts community?

BW: so far, probably not much. the arts community takes a long time
before it can figure a way to absorb really new practices. how is that
production going to be commodified is one of the key issues when it
comes to the arts community. the fact there is not yet any real economy
for new media art projects keeps it from being co-opted so quickly.
think about how long it took for the art community to acknowledge video
as a confirmed medium! there has always been space for experiments, that
are recognized as such, but also fared as such. that in turn enables
the experiments to really push the boundaries, and that's important.

[...]

R: What challenges or issues need to be addressed when presenting new
media projects in traditional art spaces?

BW: the fetishizing of the machine is one. computers are merely tools,
like paintbrushes, pencils, or plaster, canvases, or paper: they should
be treated as such. traditional art spaces, as i mentioned before, are
not the preferred mean of disseminating digital art production.
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