In the summertime, when the weather is hot: the integration of two
worlds is the interesting thing (or an interesting thing, or maybe a
plausible metaphor) for the state of electronic arts in the UK. This
integration (or is it dis-integration) arrives in various ways: –
the institutional shifts – the generational shifts – the interface
between digital and traditional arts – the emergence of a
(permeable) digital sector
1. Arts funding in the UK has traditionally come via two agencies
funded through central government, the British Film Institute and the
Arts Councils of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. Money
drips through local and regional agencies, supporting educational work,
distribution and exhibition, publications and production.
Now things are changing. The big arts money is going to come from the
new National Lottery, a sizeable proportion of which will be
ring-fenced for use in the film/media area. Most of this will go
towards attempting to build a national film production base – a
pretty old-fashioned concept, but immoveable for at least 6 or 7
years. The debates now concern the fate of artists' film, video and
media work. The lottery is changing the ground under our feet, and
will be a hot topic for another year at least.
2. The generation game is the second new interface. For the artists
of the new Brit Pack, among whom Damien Hirst, video has become a
simple and straightforward option alongside more traditional media.
Artists like Gillian Wearing and Sam Taylor-Wood are cheerfully
producing complex and fascinating work. But for many of them, video
is a medium without a history, and a lot of material is produced
which reinvents dan Graham , Vito Acconci, David Hall and so on. On
the positive side, there's a freshness and urgency that's
fascinating. On the other, there's a sense that the work done over
the previous two decades, recently celebrated in Julia Knight's
collection *Diverse Practices*, has been elbowed into an undeserved
obscurity. More on this anon.
3. Older arts are supposed to be transformed in the digital matrix:
writing becomes hypertext, photography becomes construct, video
becomes mutimedia. But, as everywhere else, the traffic is slower and
more two-way than that. The impact of digital technologies on
painters and sculptors is mpore apparent than the impact of
two-dimensionality or mass on digital artists. Few digerati have
upended cartesian space as thoroughly as Cezanne, let alone Braque or
Duchamp. Nor has online writing graduated to the scale of complexity
of Finnegans Wake. But much of the most interesting work is going on
at the interface between media, notably in installation work – for
example the excellent media art show currently at Moma Oxford, Screen
and Scream Again, of which more in the next bulletin.
4. Also fascinating is the emergence of a digital arts sector,
despite the lack of institutional base (hence the interest in RHIZOME
here). Or perhaps because there is no institution, no single art
school or association, there is a buzzing infrastructure of moveable
feasts, individuals and groupings, mini-festivals and group shows.
This is less true of London, the black hole of the UK art scene.
The net is beginning to provide workspace for media artists on
budgets. Students are coming through an increasing number of
multimedia MA courses (new ones at Liverpool John Moores, the Slade
and Oxford Brookes to add to the established names of Middlesex and
Duncan of Jordanstone) and increasingly through courses offered in
graphics and media schools.
The UK art scene has a long-term commitment to the academic
dissertation as part of art school training, and it shows. There
tends to be more 'Yes, I know, but…' in circulation, less savage
generalisation. On the other hand, the gulf between art and
engineering is so far profound, though I recently had a student from
Gwent staying, whose tech skills were radical, and whose aesthetic
was firmly based in information as well as art discourses.
For myself, I would say that the art-as-engineering interface, the
mutual impact of old and new media, the rewriting of electronic
histories and – something I would like to bring into discussions
here – the relation between representational and constructivist
aesthetics in digital media are the big issues of the immediate
future. After all, in the long term, we are all dead.