This text has been written for the proceedings of the international conference "New Perspectives, New Technologies", organized by the Doctoral School Ca' Foscari - IUAV in Arts History and held in Venice and Pordenone, Italy in October 2011
The "portal" designed by Antenna Design to show net based art in the exhibition "Art Entertainment Network", Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 2000. Courtesy Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.
In the late nineties and during the first decade of this century the term “new media art” became the established label for that broad range of artistic practices that includes works that are created, or in some way deal with, new media technologies. Providing a more detailed definition here would inevitably mean addressing topics beyond the scope of this paper, that I discussed extensively in my book Media, New Media, Postmedia (Quaranta 2010). By way of introduction to the issues discussed in this paper, we can summarize the main argument put forward in the book: that this label, and the practices it applies to, developed mostly in an enclosed social context, sometimes called the “new media art niche”, but that would be better described as an art world in its own right, with its own institutions, professionals, discussion platforms, audience, and economic model, and its own idea of what art is and should be; and that only in recent years has the practice managed to break out of this world, and get presented on the wider platform of contemporary art.
It was at this point in time, and mainly thanks to curators who were actively involved in the presentation of new media art in the contemporary art arena, that the debate about “curating new media (art)” took shape. This debate was triggered by the pioneering work of curators – from Steve Dietz to Jon Ippolito, Benjamin Weil and Christiane Paul – who at the turn of the millennium curated seminal new media art exhibitions for contemporary art museums; and it was – and still is –nurtured by CRUMB - “Curatorial Resource for Upstart Media Bliss” - a platform and mailing list founded by Beryl Graham and Sarah Cook in 2000 within the School of Arts, Design, Media and Culture at the University of Sunderland, UK. As early as 2001, CRUMB organized the first ever meeting of new media curators in the UK as part of BALTIC's pre-opening program – a seminar on Curating New Media held in May 2001.
In the context of this paper, our main reference texts will be CRUMB-related publications, from the proceedings of “Curating New Media” (2001) to Rethinking Curating. Art After New Media (2010), a recent book by Beryl Graham and Sarah Cook; and New Media in the White Cube and Beyond, a book edited by Christiane Paul in 2008. Instead of addressing the specific issues and curatorial models discussed in these publications, we will try to focus on the very foundations of “curating new media”, exploring questions like: does new media art require a specific curatorial model? Does this curatorial model follow the way artists working with new media currently present themselves on the contemporary art platform? How much could “new media art” benefit from a non-specialized approach? Are we curating “new media” or curating “art”? ...
The following excerpt comes from the final chapter of my book Media, New Media, Postmedia, recently published in Italian by Postmediabooks, who kindly gave Rhizome permission to republish it in English. The book is an attempt to analyze the current positioning of so-called “New Media Art” in the wider field of contemporary arts, and to explore the historical, sociological and conceptual reasons for its marginal position and under-recognition in recent art history.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
«There is no such a thing as a copy. In the world of digitalized images, we are dealing only with originals - only with original presentations of the absent, invisible digital original. The exhibition makes copying reversible: it transforms a copy into an original.» Boris Groys
«One could of course argue that this is not the real thing, but then - please, anybody - show me this real thing.» Hito Steyerl
The MINI Museum of XXI Century Arts (also known as MMAXXI) is a 7'' digital photo frame bought on eBay equipped with a 4GB pen drive. Founded and directed by Domenico Quaranta, the MINI Museum has been designed to store and display the art of the XXI century - that is art that takes, has taken or can take digital form, at some time in its life, and can thus be stored on a USB pen drive and displayed on a digital photo frame.
The MINI Museum will travel from node to node around a network of artists, and will host temporary solo shows by the artist owning it at the time. All the artworks shown in the MINI Museum will enter the permanent collection of the Museum itself. The Museum will return to the Director when there is no more storage space left. The process is scheduled to start on October 15, 2010, when the MINI Museum will officially be given to its first “temporary owner”.
The MINI Museum addresses issues of copyright, ownership, networking, versioning, sharing, curating, collecting and displaying, but also of space and time, scale, history-making, preserving and forgetting.
A space for XXI century Arts
The architecture of the MINI Museum has been designed employing the most basic display media devices available today. Digital frames are cheap, kitschy, easy to use and understand. They are the ideal gift for your granny. Designed to display mainly digital photos, most of them support many other media formats as well. USB pen drives made both CD-ROMs and DVDs dead media in the blink of an eye. 4GB pen drives are currently the smallest, cheapest format available on the market. Both digital frames and pen drives are beautiful examples of digital waste, since they are both used to store and display absurdly heavy files. The MINI Museum wants to turn this waste into a resource: an architecture to store and display art.
The MINI Museum can display artworks in jpg, mp3, mpg and avi format. Any artwork adopting one of these file formats is eligible to be shown at the MINI Museum and enter its collection. Furthermore, any artwork that, according to its author, can be legitimately translated into one of these formats without losing its status of “artwork”, is eligible to be shown at the MINI Museum and enter its collection. This means that the MINI Museum can virtually store and display any kind of art: digital images, animations, photographs, videos, software, music scores, texts but also paintings, drawings, installations, sculptures, architecture, performances and so on.
This is why the Museum has been called “The MINI Museum of XXI Century Arts”. Many attempts have been made to describe the arts of the XXI century, and much emphasis has been put on the fact that a new art requires new media. Bullshit. If there is any lowest common denominator between the arts of the XXI century, it is not the fact that they are digital, but the fact that they can all be translated into digital form, or exist temporarily in digital form. Not all contemporary art is media art, but all contemporary art can be mediated. Thus, all contemporary art can be displayed via a digital photo frame, or stored on a USB pen drive.
The way the MINI Museum is conceived reflects the shifting identity of contemporary art in a networked, globalized, information-based world. It's light and portable. It can travel. The collection won't be the result of an act of individual selection: it will be the unexpected, dynamic result of friendship connections and casual meetings, fair play and mischief, and dynamic interpretations of its rules. All this will become part of the history of the Museum - and art history in general.
The MINI Museum was directly inspired by the Nanomuseum, founded in 1994 by the Swiss curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, and by the Pirate Paintings conceived in 2009 by the Greek artist Miltos Manetas. The Nanomuseum was a little frame, bought by H.U.O. in a store set up in Düsseldorf by the German artist Hans-Peter Feldmann. Throughout the Nineties it housed many solo exhibitions by the likes of artists such as Chris Marker, Yoko Ono, Gilbert & George, Christian Boltanski, Jonas Mekas, Gabriel Orozco, and the architect Cedric Price. Its final show was supposed to be by the artist Douglas Gordon, who was going to organize its funeral, but then the Museum was lost in a pub. The Nanomuseum was a free museum, without a regular programme and, of course, without a collection.
The Pirate Paintings are oil paintings featuring the logo of The Pirate Bay and equipped with a pen drive or a hard disk full of files (including Manetas' collection of Neen artworks) that visitors can freely download to their laptop or mobile phone.
Further inspiration came from Marcel Duchamp's Boîte-en-valise, the Fluxus boxes and Andy Warhol's Timeboxes.
How it works
1. After buying the digital photo frame and the USB pen drive and setting up the MINI Museum, the Museum Director will hand it over to an artist. From then on, he will have no control over the life of the Museum until the end of the process.
2. The artist will make a work for the Museum, set it up, put it on show for an unspecified length of time, document the exhibition, send documentation to the Director and hand the Museum over to another artist. This is a recursive rule: that is, all temporary owners of the MINI Museum have to follow this one basic procedure.
3. Only the “temporary owner” of the MINI Museum can decide who the next one will be. He or she might choose to lend it to a close friend, or to somebody they just met. But the artist may also choose to pick up a name from a growing list of applicants. If you are interested in joining this list, please send us an email at the following address: email@example.com. With luck, you could be the next one.
4. The process ends when there is no storage space left on the pen drive. The artist adding the last work to the collection is to take care of the MINI Museum until he or she has a chance to give it back to the Museum Director.
5. From then on, the MINI Museum Director will be in charge of curating the Museum - rearranging the collection, lending pieces to other museums or exhibitions, restoring pieces, etc.
6. Before starting the process, the MINI Museum Director will store a README file on the USB pen drive containing additional instructions for the artists. Each participating artist is kindly invited to follow these rules. But since the Museum Director does not have any control over the process, all artists are free to decide, at any time, that they do not wish to follow one or more of the rules: potentially deleting other artists' works, stealing them, selling them, renaming them, reformatting the pen drive, or donating just one 4GB artwork and then giving the Museum back to the Director.
The MINI Museum Unboxing Ceremony:
Director, The MINI Museum of XXI Century Arts
Also, I'm still not sure of the opportunity to talk about new media art as something "different". In chapters 3 - 4 - 5, there is a comparison between dematerialized / time based / participatory works from the contemporary art history and new media art. The comparison is introduced by the title line "How New Media Art Is Different". My question is: is new media art really different? Wouldn't be better to say that new media - whether they are used as a medium or not - are forcing us to rethink the concepts of materialization, time and participation? Can we still think about material and participation in the same way as we did in the 70s after the digital revolution?
The distinction is subtle, but I think crucial - both conceptually and strategically. Saying that "New media art presents the opportunity for a complete rethink of curatorial practice" we are still putting new media art on a throne, in a way that the contemporary art world will never accept.
So, as I said - I have great expectations! Thank you for giving me something able to keep my two neurons alive along this hot summer :-)
iMAL, Center for Digital Cultures and Technologies is proud to announce Playlist. Playing Games, Music, Art, an exhibition focused on the artistic reinvention of obsolete digital media. Produced and hosted by LABoral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial (Gijón, Asturias) in the frame of the Mediateca Expandida, Playlist now moves to Brussels enriched with twelve new participants and a broader range of artworks.
Playing Games, Music, Art
What happens when the emotional investment you made in your old computers brings you back to the garret where you sent them years ago? When you can’t no longer suffer to work with sophisticated machines that, while promising you more freedom, actually force you to wear the straitjacket kindly designed for you by some corporate guy? When you decide that’s time to put your hands on the machine?
Reinventing the medium: from music to visual arts
What happens is an act of reinventing the medium. Along the Nineties, many artists started working on the reinvention of obsolete, digital as well as analogue, technologies such as vinyl’s, vintage computers, game platforms and alike. Hacking software, circuit-bending hardware, they turned “dead media” into powerful tools of artistic creation. Playlist is an exhibition that explores this kind of research, focusing on the relationship between musical research and visual research, in the belief that the first, rather than the latter, has often been the driving force in this process.
Chiptune, 8-bit punk and media arts
The core of Playlist is the exploration of the “chiptune scene”, spread out from the manipulation of obsolete game technologies in order to create new instruments to play music. The show demonstrates that the retro-gaming phenomenon in visual arts can be considered an outfit of a pretty musical phenomenon, that in a bunch of years spread out all over the world through festivals and clubs, occasionally influencing mainstream musicians; and that visual and musical research progressed on parallel paths, in the quest for lo-fi sounds and low-res aesthetics, synthetic colors and notes.
Playlist proposes artists from the chiptune scene and the media arts world sharing attitudes such as DIY, recycling, subversive refusal of programmed obsolescence, aesthetics of the glitches from electronic materials. On display, artworks (objects, installations, videos, computer-based and printed works), but also instruments, tools, software’s, hardware’s, records, 8-bit music, movie documentary, platforms and communities.
2 Player Productions (US), Alex Bond / Enso (US), Boogerlab (NZ), The C-Men (NL), Paul B. Davis (UK), James Dingle (US), Jeff Donaldson / noteNdo (US), Julien Ducourthial (FR), Entter (SP), Dragan Espenschied (DE), Gino Esposto / Micromusic.net (CH), Gijs Gieskes (NL), André Gonçalves (PT), Chantal Goret (BE), Goto80 (SE), Jodi (BE / NL), Mike Johnston / Mike in Mono (UK), Joey Mariano / Animal Style (US), Rosa Menkman (NL), Raquel Meyers (SP), Mikro Orchestra (PL), Don Miller / NO CARRIER (US), Erik Nilsson (SE), Nullsleep (US), Tristan Perich (US), Rabato (SP), Gebhard Sengmuller (AT), Alexei Shulgin (RU), Paul Slocum (US), Tonylight (IT), VjVISUALOOP (IT)
Playlist is an exhibition produced by and firstly exhibited at Laboral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial in Gijon (Spain) from 18.12.2009 till 17.05.2010. The Brussels adaptation is produced by iMAL, Center for Digital Cultures and Technology.
Curator: Domenico Quaranta (IT)
Playlist, playing Games, Music, Art
June 4 - August 21, 2010
Opening the 3rd of June, 18:00 - 23:00
Open Tuesday > Saterday: 11:00 - 19:00
iMAL Center for Digital Cultures and Technology
Koolmijnenkaai 30 Quai des Charbonnages, 1080 Brussels
(metro Comte de Flandres/Graaf van Vlaanderen)
Press Release (pdf) - http://www.imal.org/playlist/sites/default/files/media/IMAL_PLAYLIST_pressEN.pdf
Press Images (zipped folder) - http://www.imal.org/playlist/sites/default/files/media/PLAYLIST_images.zip
Flyer (pdf) - http://www.imal.org/playlist/sites/default/files/media/Playlist_flyer_final.pdf
Poster (pdf) - http://www.imal.org/playlist/sites/default/files/media/playlist_poster.pdf
More info on www.imal.org/playlist
About iMAL, Center for Digital Cultures and Technology
iMAL (interactive Media Art Laboratory) is a non-profit association created in Brussels in 1999. In 2007, iMAL opened a new venue, a Center for Digital Cultures and Technology for the meeting of artistic, scientific and industrial innovations, a place dedicated to the contemporary artistic and cultural practices emerging from the fusion of computer, network and media.
iMAL is: (1) a laboratory and a research, experimentation & production workplace for artists in residence (2) an education center which organises workshops targeted to creative people (artists, designers, developers) under the direction of leading international artists (3) an art&culture center producing exhibitions (e.g. “Infiltrations Digitales”/2004, “Art+Game”/2006, “Holy Fire, art of the digital age”/2008), concerts, performances, conferences in order to create critical, interdisciplinary encounters between the public, artists, technology, and society.
More on www.imal.org
«It takes strength to be gentle and kind», the Smiths said in one of Petra Cortright’s favorite songs. It takes strength to take the usual, dumb, stereotyped, commodified imagery of prettiness and kindness and use it in a way that doesn’t look dumb or critical. It takes strength to adopt custom software effects, user friendly tools and vernacular genres and use them to make things that make you talk about art without apparently being anything more than what they are expected to be - a Youtube video or a Photoshop exercise. It takes strength to make art «about beauty and craft», as Ed Halter wrote.
Petra Cortright’s work has this peculiar strength. Take, for example, When You Walk Through the Storm (2009). In this video, a girl - the artist - is looking at you from the screen. Like you, she is sitting down in front of her computer. She looks sad - an impression enforced by the cold palette of the video. Slowly, she starts moving her hand up and down in front of her face. The movement activates a video effect that makes her appear underwater, fading her face in a myriad of pixels. At the same time, the intimacy created by the webcam gaze fades as well: she is close to you, on your computer screen, but the water effect makes the space in between you and her appear physical, and the sound - the song of the title - seems to come from the deep.
Most of Petra’s videos follow the same basic rules. In the diptych Sparkling I and II (2010) the artist wears sunglasses, walks through a garden and scrolls a tree, producing a beautiful rain of sparkling digital symbols; in Footvball/Faerie (2009) she plays football covered with a digitally-added pink cloud; in Das Hell(e) Modell (2009) she dances to the music of a Kraftwerk’s song, while a video filter alters our perception of time and makes her appear more angelic than usual; in Bunny Banana (2009) she eats a banana wearing bunny ears; and in Holy Tears (2009) she sheds digital tears ironically posing as a saint. All these videos are shot with a custom webcam, and use simple effects available to anyone. What makes them different from the amount of ego-clips we can find on Youtube? What gives them the power of a revelation? What makes them significant for the thousands of people that watched them online, but also for people that, for generational or other reasons, don’t share the internet and juvenile culture she refers to (in spare order, cyberpunk, psychedelia, kawaii, electronic music, sharing, exhibitionism)? Probably, the answer is: the way she is able to add all these levels, kindly and gently, to an object that doesn’t lose the authenticity of a teenager’s secret diary, or a student’s sketchbook.
Most of Petra’s gif animations and static images look like sketches, at first sight. They are, again, about beauty and craft. But beauty is unconventional and craft doesn’t mean that she uses image editing tools in the way a professional does. Quite the opposite. In her animated gifs, she either modifies vernacular material or explores animation effects and low-res aesthetics creating her own abstract gifs. In her still image pieces, she creates photo-collages where the complexity of the landscape is contradicted by the geometrical nature of the cuts; she employs different filters for different image layers; and she explores the liquid nature of the digital image literally liquifying found photographs of models, still lifes or landscapes. All this converges in The Infinite Sculpture Garden… (2010), her last and, up to now, most complex work: an abstract, suggestive landscape where geometrics, reflections, patterns, shadows and transparencies all conjure in the development of a hermetic, hyper-textual visual poem.
All these references to layers, effects and tools do not mean that Petra Cortright’s work is formalistic and medium-related. Petra belongs to the first generation of digital natives. For her, referring to internet culture and desktop metaphors is as natural as, for any aboriginal, referring to her traditions. She lives online. Let’s spend half a day on Google searching for her and we will know almost everything about her: that she loves pets and trees, that she hates New York, that her father died of Melanoma, that she had a wonderful love story and that she broke up. Her life is a continuous online performance taking place every day on her Twitter, her Facebook, her Flickr account. Her work is not about the medium: it’s about Petra Cortright. And it takes strength to be Petra Cortright.