Reflecting a world order...

Posted by Rhizome | Thu Feb 6th 1997 1 a.m.

Annick Bureaud wrote:

Paris, August 15, 1994

It seems that art is in a bad way. Some even say art is dead. At the
same moment electronic art is developing and already generating its own
academicisms, schools and plagiarists of all kinds. Electronic art, so
it would seem, might therefore not belong to Contemporary Art. Some of
its characteristics do as a matter of fact differentiate it
fundamentally from a Western art that has been dominant until now.

Popular art - High culture

In electronic art there is a remarkable permeability between popular
culture and learned culture. Recent works are directly inspired by the
aesthetics of video games. This is the case as well with many CD ROMs
but also with some installations which employ interfaces, situations or
settings borrowed from these games. At the same time, videos and TV
shows incorporate elements drawn from high culture and experimental art.

Disappearance of the artist and the collective work

In the 20th century the Artist has become an established figure. Though
electronic art seems to question this status, this is less due to any
supposed "death" than to his/her being gradually eclipsed by the work of
art itself. And the most striking change does not consist in the artwork
no longer existing as a unique object but rather in its having lost its
unicity. With the two exceptions of computer graphics and hologrammes,
the work "produced" by the artist and that seen/experimented with by the
public are no longer the same "object". The "work of art" has become a
whole comprising three distinct components: the concept created by the
artist (created work); the physical system which results from it
(perceptible work), which can be material or immaterial and realised by
the artist on his/her own or in collaboration with other people, or else
by other persons than the artist; the system acted upon by the public
(perceived work) which overlaps with the other two dimensions only in
part, according to the complexity of the created work, the degree of
autonomy given to the public as agent, the public's culture and its
ability to explore the perceptible work, etc.

It is within this context that the debate on the collective work has
appeared (and gained particular prominence since the explosion of the
Net), the main issue being the prospect of the artist-creator
disappearing to the advantage of an emergent collective creation. In
this case what we could in fact be witnessing is the telescoping of the
now dominant perceptible and perceived works into a "work acted upon".

Public art - Private art: from art for every one to art for each person

In the 20th century art for all with its museums and art centres has
become an institution. Whoever the financier (government bodies,
companies or patrons), the ideology has remained identical: art and
culture must be accessible to all and our duty lies in building
appropriate temples where the good people can gather together in
communion with art.

From this point of view, electronic art contains an interesting
contrast: on one hand, ever "heavier" installations continue to involve
costly machines, specialised maintenance, and sizeable exhibition spaces
and budgets; on the other, parallel to this "public art", a "private
art", to be consulted at home, is gaining ground, be it in the form of
works on floppy discs (all the trends in computer-generated literature
and poetry), on CD ROM or via the Net. Art for each of us constitutes a
fundamental break in the history of art, which can be compared with the
impact of printing or, later, of the paperback on culture and thought.
What's more, thanks to electronic networks and despite its being centred
on the individual, this art can also become a collective art.

Reflecting a world order in the throes of de-structuration /
re-composition, electronic art is a field of contrasts and apparent
paradoxes, where trends towards institutionalisation and a deep
questioning of established orders coexist. In this sense, more than
being contemporary art, it is an art of the now, a living art.

(originally published as an intro to IDEA online: http://nunc.com/)

In response Joseph Nechvatal wrote:

Annick's message seems to place electronic activity by artists outside
the category of art and inside the category of (non-art) amusement,
hence commodity. Therefore she reduces this activity, which is stripped
of its role to be indicative of human feeling or depth, to the realm of
virtual golf or electronic ping pong.

What she forgets is the definition of art which I find requires constant
reiteration as artists move increasingly from organic materials to the
use of electronic and synthetic ones. Art is the creation of forms
expressive of deep symbolic human feeling. This is necessary to proclaim
simply here again as it is truthful to say, in my experience, that most
electronic and virtual artmaking to date has lacked emotive impact and
that what new technological modes of artmaking require most is not
technical finesse but the infinite suggestiveness of emotional force.

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