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.
DEADLINE: September 30th 2009, arrival date.
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Once Upon a Time in the West
We keep on talking about “new media”, while in actually fact these media are anything but new. The Net is twenty years old, if we start counting from the advent of the Web, forty if we start from Arpanet. Spacewar!, the first videogame ever, is more or less the same age. Virtual worlds are the updated, lighter versions of a technology acclaimed as “the future” when Second Life programmers were still in diapers; social networks are the bastard sons of Fidonet. As for the computer, it is younger than Lord Byron, but certainly not than his daughter Ada.
Once upon a time there was the electronic frontier, an abandonware myth which was able to regenerate itself thanks to the continuous advance of the frontier itself. Like in space, in technological progress there's no ocean at the end of the trip. But, unlike the space race, the race to the next technology is endless, and endlessness is boring.
Yet, while we got used to innovation and the day-after rhetorics, we have never got used to the loss of the past. We look back to what was new yesterday and is trash today, and we feel a deep sense of nostalgia. Commodore 64 and 386dx. The first Apple Macintosh. Bulletin Board Systems. Animated gifs. Glittering images. Web buttons. Super Mario. Doom. Napster. Jennicam. Mosaic. ASCII art. MIDIs and MOOs. Not to mention VHS, vinyl, audio cassettes, cathode tubes, portable radios, faxes. It is the kind of nostalgia that we feel for a relative who died young, once the pain abates: you are left wondering what kind of man he would have been. Or for someone that, once grown up, does not live up to his or her promise. Sometimes nostalgia develops into historical research, and becomes media archeology. We don't look for the technologies that we once loved, but those we have never seen in action.
But in both the cases, in the artistic field this sentimental look at the past is producing some brand new, interesting stuff. Reviving dead media and obsolete technologies, retrieving and rekindling their aesthetics, making them do things they were never expected to do, and telling stories about them with other means is proving to be a sound artistic strategy - undoubtedly more so than “the exploration of the artistic potential of new media” which became the mantra of most New Media Art. This happens because, when you give up on the rhetorics of novelty, what is left on stage is the human element: the man of the past who domesticated the media, put his own life into them and was changed by them; and the man of the present, who looks back on that past with the same sentiment as the venerable Sergio Leone looked to the West.
On the occasion of its 10th Birthday, Pixxelpoint festival wants to explore this feeling. Clean out your attic, the folders you haven’t touched for years, GIF repositories, your university's warehouse, and the dumps of Silicon Valley - or its small-town emulators. Get your hands on this stuff, and send us your finds. Any media is allowed, apart from new!
Domenico Quaranta, curator
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Rules and conditions
Pixxelpoint 2009 International New Media Art Festival will begin on December 4th 2009 in Nova Gorica, Slovenia in Nova Gorica City Gallery (Mestna galerija Nova Gorica) and it will last for eight days, until December 11th 2009.
Competitors can choose between categories:
- New media installation (new media work that is exhibited in spatial arrangements)
- Computer based art (new media work that doesn’t require physical space, for example, programs, computer games, internet art, etc.)
- Digital print
- Other (work in traditional media - ie drawing, painting, sculpture, embroidery and so on - that may fit thematically or conceptually in the exhibition)
Submissions must be sent free of charge to:
Kulturni dom Nova Gorica
Bevkov trg 4
SI 5000 Nova Gorica
(Att. Blaz Erzetic)
Deadline is September 30th 2009, arrival date.
Works can be sent on:
- e-mail (email@example.com)
Label on the media must contain the name of the author and the work. Every single work must be accompanied by entry form. Works submitted without this entry form will not be valid. In case of sending by email, attach scanned filled form or send it by fax to 00386 33 540 19. Media will not be returned.
There are no software and hardware limitations.
Competitors agree that their work can be used for promotional purposes for the festival Pixxelpoint and catalogue for Pixxelpoint festival.
Submitted works will be selected by the curator on the basis of artistic achievement. Autors whose works are admitted to the contest will be contacted by the oragnizers.
Author guarantees the authenticity of his/her work. In case that work is partially or completely not competitor’s property, he/she assures that he has all the rights and permissions to use this work.
With this statement the author frees the festival of any misunderstandings regarding copyrights.
Pixxelpoint will not sell artworks or copyrights of the submitted works. The festival is meant only as exhibition and promotion for the artists.
All submitted works must match the given theme ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ as described on this page.
even if I tried to support the project, I can't but agree with one of the artists in the show. If the artists are unhappy, the project is a failure of course.
Talking about segregation, in my little work as a curator I always tried to avoid it. Probably today a separated "net art show" is even more stupid as ever, since most of the best artists working on the internet are working out of it as well, with galleries etc. That said, I still think that the Internet pavilion made an interesting step onward, at least conceptually, talking not about "net art", but about "net citizenship". Probably this isn't enough to make a good show, but the good news is that the "ceramics pavilion" model is a thing of the past
thank you for the nice and long review. It was a pity not to meet in Venice...
I agree with most of the things you say, but I have some concerns about your position regarding the Internet Pavilion. You say:
> Further, I found it odd to frame the internet as a territory, when it’s clearly a tool and a medium.
This is quite surprising if said by a Rhizome editor :-) The Internet is definitely something more than a tool and a medium, and that's what makes it more interesting than any other medium. Video is a tool and a medium. The Internet is a tool, a medium, a place, a space, a society, a meeting point for cultures, subcultures, aesthetics, philosophies and the place where new cultures, subcultures, aesthetics and philosophies are born. And much more than this. The notion of netizenship may be old, but it still works. Just a little portion of Manetas' work is net-based, yet 99% of it couldn't exist without the Net. And I think the same should be said for all the artists in the New Wave exhibition.
You found some naïveté in the press release, and you describe the installation as loose, sloppy and disappointing. That's what I thought in the beginning, but spending some more time in the pavilion, I started feeling comfortable with this kind of presentation. A serious, functional, museum-style installation would be too much "telic" for the father of Neen. In my view, the Internet Pavilion wants to be a meeting point, an happening site, a place where you can meet hackers and pirates and where you can see some good, fresh art, but without the seriousness of an exhibition. It doesn't want to compete with its neighbor Pinault, but it wants to be the cool place where everybody is going after visiting Punta della Dogana. You say:
> Given that these artists are doing some of the most compelling work in the field today, this was an enormous letdown. More attention, care and thought could’ve been devoted to the presentation of each artist’s project.
In a way, what's really naïve and immature here is not their conscious, ironic appropriation of the celebratory language of the first net art years, but your anxiety for the recognition of the practice (but I could say “our anxiety”, since my approach would have been very similar to the one you suggest). Good art is not recognized as such because the label on the wall is in the right place. The looseness of the Internet pavilion can be a lesson for all of us who believe that net art can enter the system simply becoming user friendly, imitating traditional art forms and putting well formatted descriptions on the wall. The problem is: are we making it more accessible or more boring?
the following happened this night to me... sorry for submitting a personal case, but I think it can be significant.
This night I've been killed by Google. When I woke up, I tried to enter my Google Account as usual, but what I got was only a short message:
«Sorry, your account has been disabled.»
“This fucking password!”, I thought, and I retyped it. Same message. At the end of it there was a question mark with a link. I clicked on it, and this is what I read:
«If you've been redirected to this page from the sign in page, it means that access to your Google Account has been disabled.
In most cases, accounts are disabled because of a perceived violation of either the Google Terms of Service or product-specific Terms of Service.
Google reserves the right to:
* Suspend a Google Account from using a particular product or the entire Google Accounts system if the Terms of Service or product-specific policies are violated.
* Terminate your account at any time, for any reason, with or without notice.
If your Google Account has been disabled, please review the relevant Terms of Service before attempting to create another account. For guidelines on a specific Google product, please visit the product homepage for a link to its Terms of Service.
If you believe your account has been disabled in error, please contact us so that we can assist you.»
“Terminate your account at any time, for any reason, with or without notice”? Wow! If God exists, probably he is more democratic than Google. But, well, of course it's a mistake. So, let's fill the form.
I did it, and this is what I got:
«Thanks for contacting our Google Accounts team. Please note that we'll only reply if we have additional information to share about your disabled account.»
I take a cigarette. “Hope is a good breakfast but a bad supper”, I think. Tons of emails, two blogs, about one hundred images, videos, documents, web pages, presentations, two years of work lost for... what? Because I believed in a fallible God.
I don't believe in God, actually. That's why I always have to understand what happens to my life. So, I start making some research. Google invites you to put your whole hard disk online. If you have a Google account, you can check your email, but you can also run one or more blogs. Picasa lets you share your pictures, and since Google bought Youtube, you can create and access a Youtube channel with the same username and password. Google Documents is a kind of Microsoft Office. You can create and share word documents, spreadsheets, Power Point presentations, databases. It's far but easy to fascinate me, but if I find something useful, I use it. So, I run two blogs, I have a Picasa account, a Youtube channel, and several documents online - most of them being material I use for teaching, and that I share with my students. All under the same Google Account.
So, let's check if everything is working. My email doesn't work anymore. R.I.P. My blogs are still online, but I don't have the right to edit, delete or update them anymore. Actually, I'm not the owner of these sites anymore. They are still there, but they aren't mine - they belong to Google. I realize right now that they always did. As for my Youtube videos and my documents, the same as above: only Google can decide if my students can go on studying what I teach. Finally, I look for my Picasa channel: it's gone.
“You asshole!”, you may say. “You are boring us with your fucking story, and it ends up that you uploaded some sex images or copyrighted material.” I didn't. What I put on my Picasa account are just my photos: some holiday pictures (as private albums, accessible only to me - and Google of course) and some pics related to the exhibitions I organized up to now (as public albums). I go through the terms of agreement about one hundred times, and what I understand is that I didn't violate any rule. Maybe the following one?
«4.5 You acknowledge and agree that while Google may not currently have set a fixed upper limit on the number of transmissions you may send or receive through the Services or on the amount of storage space used for the provision of any Service, such fixed upper limits may be set by Google at any time, at Google’s discretion.»
I don't know how many megabytes I used - unlike for Flickr, there were no upper limits for Picasa till yesterday. Maybe I used too much disk space and they decided to kick me out?
I don't know. Probably, I'll never know. Since this morning, I wrote about 10 emails to Google, but I got no answer. I can just look back to my dead account and wonder: is it dead because God decided to kill it or because it violated some stupid rule?
Of course, I will migrate on other platforms. I'll do even if my Google Account comes back from hell. Nothing is really lost, besides my time. But don't forget: if it happened to me, it can happen to anybody, at any time, everywhere. Everything is there, in the contract you signed with God - or it was the Devil?:
«4.3 As part of this continuing innovation, you acknowledge and agree that Google may stop (permanently or temporarily) providing the Services (or any features within the Services) to you or to users generally at Google’s sole discretion, without prior notice to you.
4.4 You acknowledge and agree that if Google disables access to your account, you may be prevented from accessing the Services, your account details or any files or other content which is contained in your account.»
Training to live in a new reality
Catalogue text for the exhibition H Y P E R L U C I D - Prague Biennale 4, May 14 - July 26, 2009. More infos:
Reality is no longer what it used to be. The media are increasingly infiltrating it, filling our dreams, which usually come when our eyes are open. Wide open. In the context of “Expanded Painting”, H Y P E R L U C I D is an exhibition of works born on the invisible edge between two different levels of reality (actual reality and media reality), and documenting the continuous transition from one level to the other. The boundaries are increasingly porous, and sometimes even the most lucid among us can't help but wonder which level of reality we are looking at in a given moment. We all experienced this feeling when confronted with the 9/11 pictures. As Slavoj Žižek wrote in 2002: “Virtual Reality [...] provides reality itself deprived of its substance, of the resisting hard kernel of the Real [...] Virtual Reality is experienced as reality without being one. However, at the end of this process of virtualization, the inevitable Benthamian conclusion awaits us: reality is its own best semblance.” 
Instead of dealing with the virtualization of the real, H Y P E R L U C I D explores the actualization of the virtual. Media reality is reality. Media no longer produce simulacra: they produce events, history, life. The map doesn't precede the territory, as Jean Baudrillard claimed ; the real still exists, and the map is now part of it. The media overwhelm us with icons, brands, pixellated images of torture, wars, outrages. The hardest fight happens there. They help us to construct new levels of reality, both abstract and hyperreal, and to get used to them. Videogames and virtual worlds are our training grounds: there, through increasingly complex social and narrative dynamics, and through a photorealism which exceeds our playing needs, we forget how to recognize simulation, and we exercise our brains for the next step: the one in which, between tangible reality, simulated reality and media reality, there are no barriers anymore, but only the translucent, easily penetrable sheets of shadow theater. We took the last train to the world of Perky Pat, and there is no way back .
It is no surprise that videogames and virtual worlds play such an important role in H Y P E R L U C I D. It is hard for a visual artist today to escape their fascination. Eva and Franco Mattes, who were able to escape their Second Life, recently started to fight for a Half Life. If in the stylish, visionary world created in 2003 by the Californian Linden Labs they focused on identity, subjectivity and virtual life, in the ultra-violent first-person shooter (FPS) developed by Valve Software in 1998 they discovered the astounding beauty of the virtual landscape. When the spectator faces these silent “topographies”, which call to mind the sublime landscapes of Caspar David Friedrich, as well as the urban atmospheres of Edward Hopper and the Magical Realism of the Twenties, she could hardly imagine that to attain this peace the artists had to fight off hundreds of aliens and human enemies. In a narrative, the scenery is usually functional to the story, and videogames are no exception. Yet, in recent games they have acquired a life of their own; or, in other words, they are no longer sceneries, they are worlds that may - between one fight and one other - surprise the virtual hero for their gratuitous beauty and seamless existence.
Unlike the Mattes, Gazira Babeli can't escape Second Life. She was born there, and there she will live her avatar life till the end, playing the role of the virus in the system - or Neo in the Matrix - with her Keatonian sense of comedy. Gazira Babeli is the living proof that the separation between the so-called “virtual” and the so-called “real” is just an error of perspective, and that we can live just one life, the second, without appearing any less “real” for that. As she says, “My art consists in experimenting in an ironic and 'pop' way with the complementary and often contradictory aspects of a 'whole world' which, despite being inhabited by 'puppets', hosts at least a million people. Real people.” Her movie Gaz' of the Desert (2007) is the mythological, almost hagiographic transcription of her life, which in the series of prints “painted d'après Delacroix” exaggerates the romantic, bituminous light of Second Life, ironically playing with the cultural stereotypes her world relies on.
A similar irony can be found in the recent work of Miltos Manetas, which turns Will Wright's recent masterpiece, Spore (Maxis 2008), into an ambiguous garden of delights populated by hybrid creatures, apparently generated by the marriage between Walt Disney and Hieronymus Bosch. The naïveté of these images, the pale, light colors adopted, and even the special technique used by Manetas in these and other prints (vibracolor print on super glossy paper) call to mind the delicate paintings of the Primitives, such as Beato Angelico and Van der Weyden. In the series Gino De Dominicis (After Spore), these implicit references mix with a declared one, to the paintings of Gino de Dominicis; while the verticality of these images - actually self-portraits - and the precarious instability of the figures on their plinths, make them similar to the saints portrayed in the side panels of a polyptych, while their snouty noses and inscrutable ambiguity place them among the strange creatures portrayed by the Italian artist.
There is no irony, on the contrary, in Gerhard Mantz's work. For years, the German artist has used software to generate synthetic landscapes able to withstand the closest scrutiny. But don't talk about hyperrealism, baby. Hyperrealism is reproduction, 3D modeling is production. Mantz's sunrises and sunsets belong to a world that was entirely created by him. They are too beautiful to be real, too realistic to be crafted. They remind us of the romantic landscape, but also Windows' custom wallpapers; Sturm und Drang meets Vista on these big canvases. As he wrote: “My starting point is never a landscape seen in reality, but an abstraction, a constructed calculation of archetypal space. This construct is then transformed step-by-step through simulated light, atmosphere, water, terrain, flora and fauna to conjure memories that translate as complex emotions rather than a specificity of place.”
But H Y P E R L U C I D is not about videogames, 3D aesthetics and so on; it is about an irritating awareness of the reality we live in, the unfriendly ability to penetrate its multiple layers. The term “irritate” is not used by chance here. The Surrealists wanted to “irritate” our perception in order to make the unconscious come to the surface. The artists featured in H Y P E R L U C I D do the same with our visual culture, in order to make these multiple layers visible. Alterazioni Video's tapestries are irritatingly similar to Alighiero & Boetti's ones, in a way that make them appear a simple work of appropriation, which they aren't. Here, Alighiero & Boetti is not referenced in a postmodern way, but is used and abused as a medium. One of the first and most dangerous computer viruses appeared in our mailbox as a romantic love letter; in a similar way, these tapestries are extremely dangerous because they are friendly and easy-to-get. They look like the same old shit, yet they are vehicles of the forbidden. Produced for an exhibition in China, they have censored information encrypted under their reassuring surfaces - information that can be decrypted using the right cultural code, or the right technical device. In the QRCODE series, for example, in order to access the information you just have to photograph one of the embroidery carpets with a smartphone and send this image to a specific decrypting software which can translate it and decodify the hidden information: and voilà! access to pornographic web sites, contact information for political dissidents and activists, lists of forbidden words.
In the project Superenhanced (2009), the Austrian duo UBERMORGEN.COM address torture and its present use in both democratic and non-democratic countries, apparently presenting and promoting it with a striking visual campaign for the brand new service of “enhanced interrogation”. In the series, various forms of enhanced interrogation are played out directly by the artists and their daughters, in a kind of Kamasutra of torture that recycles media imagery directly from Guantanamo and other supermax prisons, glossing over the violence and replacing it with glamorous advertising aesthetics.
Lastly, Damon Zucconi and Shane Hope belong to a younger generation of artists interested in the vernacular of the Web, in the subcultures of techno-freaks that gather online, even though they reference them in very different ways. Damon Zucconi's works can be described as “meditations on contemporary visual culture”. He appropriates found material of any kind, usually through simple, almost fatuous means. In Morris Louis; Dalet Kaf (Horizontal and Vertical blur), for example, he appropriates a painting by Morris Louis, probably found on the Net, applying a simple editing filter to it and then printing it out quarter-scale. Pole Shift (2008) is a video which treats a landscape photograph as a three dimensional space, deforming it in a slow, hypnotic movement; in Slow Rave (2006) he slow down the video of a rave party in order to mimic its participants’ altered perception of reality. Sometimes Red, Sometimes Blue (2007) is exactly what the title says: a web page conceived as a “color field”, which changes randomly at every access. Trained as a sculptor, Zucconi is interested in what lies under the surface of our visual culture: an “underlying problem” that a little manipulation of the surface brings to the fore.
With an almost opposite take, Shane Hope seems to look for a complexity that doesn't even exist yet, belonging to a possible future or a parallel universe he may have visited... in his dreams, we would have said in the age of Samuel T. Coleridge's Xanadu; through his laptop, we should say today. The artist has developed a personal, hybrid language full of misspellings, scientific jargon, and new kinds of slang in order to describe a reality made of materials, technologies, cults and possibilities not yet explored. In his work (which he usually describes as “speculative vernacular”) he mixes molecular prototyping and assemblage, miniature sculpture and animation, futurology and retrocomputing. His Speculativernacular Blog Botherings are paintings - outsourced to Chinese painters, of course - depicting blog posts written in a kind of alien English. Because a new reality deserves another language, and another stage in the evolution of man: bringing us a human with a hyperlucid gaze on a layered reality, whose language is a man-machine hybrid slang, and whose “mother is open source.”
Even if it is part of Expanded Painting, H Y P E R L U C I D does not gather paintings in the literal sense. Here, painting is not a medium, but a cultural frame, a context of reference for the new generation of image makers. The artists collected here no longer paint, even if they sometimes still do: they shoot, they manipulate, they code, they make scripts, sometimes they fight with other virtual characters. Yet, in the end, they produce images. Images where all the layers of reality collapse. Images that, like a Photoshop image, are made of different layers. Images to be looked through. They are not about reality, like a painting by Courbet. They are not about media reality, like Andy Warhol's Car Crashes or Richard Prince's Cowboys. They are not about the map, or the territory. They are about both, because the two have become one and the same thing.
 Slavoj Žižek, “Welcome to the Desert of the Real”, in The Symptom, Issue 2, Spring 2002, available online at the address http://www.lacan.com/desertsymf.htm.
 Jean Baudrillard, Simulacres et Simulation, Galilée 1985. Simulacra and Simulation, University of Michigan Press 1996.
 Philip K. Dick, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Doubleday, 1965.