Fashioning a virtual Artist?

Posted by Rhizome | Mon Apr 28th 1997 1 a.m.

A virtual artist? What would an artist be like in virtual reality? For
an artist, the creation of a virtual artist is a contemporary form of
self-portraiture. The artist who gazes into a mirror and puts paint on
canvas aims to capture much more than a self-likeness. Similarly, an
artist working in virtual reality both discovers and creates the links
between subject and image. In fashioning a virtual artist, the artist
presents an exploration of his or her artistic self, a process akin to
making a series of self-portraits in the studio, posing with palette and

Virtual reality and other computer-based technologies are flooding the
art world. Ideas that a few years ago could only be mere speculations
are now integrated into art and popular culture. When Jeffrey Shaw
patched together "Legible City" in 1988, the virtual buildings the
viewer bicycled past appeared only as text on the projection screens.
Today, artists at Carnegie Mellon have created a meticulously realistic
bicycle ride, which kids will use to learn bicycle safety rules. The
degree of sophistication in the technology is not a measure of artistic
inventiveness; nonetheless, the exponential improvements in computer
technology are transforming the art world. People love their computers,
and young artists, especially those still in school, are impassioned
about computer-based art.


Barbara London, 1997. []

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After reading Barbara London, Tom Hobbs wrote:

As for London's essay, hummmm. These are very interesting questions that
I don't think are limited to the 'genre' of electronic or computer based
art. I think the same questions apply to too much of twentieth century
art: Andy Warhol or Joesph Beuys are very good examples of this. My
feeling is that it is looking at the artist in too 'secular' a fashion,
isolating and separating artists as though there practice or
investigation is entirely self driven and is purely about self
exploration is a little unrealistic. I think this is especially
inappropriate for electronic art, or perhaps more specifically
interactive art. Interactive art as it relies on a user investigation
and interpretation and requires discussion in its production for it to
gain or sustain any conherence. I have seen many a interactive (screen
based) piece fall down because someone has banged out six months work in
confinement, thrashing out there idea or expression around an interface
only for it to become incomprehensible. There is a short story by Herman
Hesse called 'The Painter' that I think expresses this point well. I
think it relates very well to the discussion of disppearance surrounding
the internet...

G. H. Hovagimyan also responded to Barbara London, focusing on her
mention of the virtual artist's creation of a "series of

Unfortunately this seemingly innocuous statement reveals just how
off-base people can be in their opinions. However since Barbara has the
tough job of explaining video and digital art to a mostly conservative
board of collectors (oops I meant directors) and an indifferent public
who still are barely interested in "Modern Art" one can't really fault
the rhetoric.

Trying to equate what artists have done in the past i.e.
self-portrait-studio-reflexivity was the current conceptual trend of the
1970's art world. Vito Acconci's several video-performances come to
mind. It really has no relevance to what's happening in the 1990's.

Of more important consequence is the establishment by Regis Debray in
France of a new field of study called Mediology. This presents the ideas
of mass media information global circuits.It's what I've termed as a
global media mythos in "Terrorist Advertising"

The more advanced "young artists" are not doing what London thinks they
are doing; for instance creating single author virtual objects that can
be displayed, collected bought & sold. They are doing things such as
building multi-user gaming environments that take two or more people to
activate. The content of the work occurs in the cognitive shifts,
learning and communication between the users. Notice I said "users" not

The Rennaisance ideal of the individual artists vision has been played
out. So has Modernism's supposed march towards Utopia. A medialogos
global society is in process of being formed. Art issues from a society.
It's meaning has relevance to the society. For digital society there is
a different discourse, series of signs and modes of presentation in art
than has existed previously. It is in my opinion a mistake to apply
previous modes of critical explanations to the digital society.

I should like to congratulate MoMA and Barbara London on taking the
plunge into this new discourse. It shows great courage. ;-)

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