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<nettime> selected themes in net.art and new media art
Kanarinka on Sat, 21 Jun 2003 00:49:05 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> selected themes in net.art and new media art

the below is a excerpted draft of a text that iKatun is preparing for an
institution interested in the current new media art and net.art
landscape - 

i'd appreciate any thoughts on the selection of artists and themes (we
chose those whose work we were familiar with/had seen in person/had a
relationship to) and the accompanying thematic discussions.

the text is meant to be introductory and readable by a layperson.

many thanks,

Selected Themes in net.art and new media art practice

These are emerging artists whose works reflect the variety of themes and
methods present in current new media and internet art practice. We have
also highlighted some of the themes that are beginning to resonate in
this (relatively) new field of artistic production. Since we are not
only curators but also artists we took the liberty of including
ourselves in this list and speaking directly about our own work.

.	Algorithms
.	Data and Databases
.	Immersion
.	Art collectives
.	Recombination
.	Transposition/Transcoding

Artists Discussed:

.	Natalie Bookchin
.	Kanarinka
.	Kate Armstrong
.	Victor Liu
.	Shirin Kouladje

New Media Art
.	Joseph Smolinski
.	David Webber
.	Forcefield
.	iKatun

.	Algorithms

We live in the Age of the Algorithm. Algorithms are demonized, reified
and mythologized in our cultural artifacts, notably in the popular media
(e.g. the Matrix, Neuromancer). Algorithms are invisible to most of us,
hidden behind the user interface of our computer screen, embodied in
obscure lines of code, yet they guide our actions, shape our thoughts,
and determine our limits in virtual space. The more our actions and
interactions happen in networked and cyber spaces, the more important
the author of the algorithm becomes.

Artists working with net.art and new media art have begun to leverage
the algorithm as a powerful artistic tool. Victor Liu (
http://www.n-gon.com ), for example, creates artworks that visually
reveal the inner workings of a compression algorithm designed to make
web-ready video. iKatun ( http://www.ikatun.com/neocommedia ) created a
grid of LED lights that visually represented the "Game of Life"
algorithm as a metaphor for "perfect information". Along with the trend
in making use of algorithms goes the desire to expose their inner

.	Data and Databases
Almost everything is or can be converted into digital data, 1's and 0's.
A database is simply a collection of data that has similar structural
properties. The advent of the database afforded artists the ability to
work with immensely large data-sets (genomes, entire libraries or the
whole internet, for example) and the ability to create complex
interrelationships and correlations between data properties. 

The sheer vastness of this technology has enlarged our conceptual frame
of reference. Many artists now work in multiplicities, large data-sets,
and complex interrelationships. Often the hope (or myth) is that if the
artist can craft the most perfect relationship structures and navigatory
interactions around their data that Truth will be revealed.  

Important questions in this new landscape of data-sets are: What data
does the artist choose to represent? How is this choice contextualized
within the larger work?

Many artists choose to represent existing data (e.g. Victor Liu, the
numerous projects to create alternative web browsers, the numerous
projects to represent internet traffic), some choose to represent data
contributed to a database as a collaborative effort (e.g. Martin
Wattenberg & Marek Walczak's work "Apartment" -
http://www.turbulence.org/Works/apartment/index.html ), and some choose
to create their own unique data sets based around certain criteria
(Kanarinka, Shirin Kouladje). Each method of gathering data has unique
formal and thematic implications for the resulting work. 

.	Immersion
Many artists are choosing to utilize disparate technologies to create
immersive spaces rather than identifying themselves with one particular
technology (e.g. "I am an HTML artist", "I am a video artist", "I am a
sound artist"). Immersion also carries the connotation of being
enveloped in or surrounded by an environment created by the artist.
Immersion can happen in both cyberspace and physical space. Virtual
environments like games and narratives often effectively replace the
sensorial power of physically immersive installations.

In iKatun's "Paradise" ( http://www.ikatun.com/neocommedia ), for
example, visitors walked through a 900 sq. ft. labyrinth of white fabric
to reach a sound-responsive LED grid in the center. For the 2002 Whitney
Biennial, the group Forcefield created an entire room full of knitted
creatures, video projections, and sound. For the exhibit info {AT} blah,
Joseph Smolinski ( http://www.ikatun.com/info {AT} blah/artist.shtml?id=20 )
asked visitors to enter a dark room filled with potato batteries and
fiber optic cable. In her project "metapet" ( http://metapet.net/ ),
Natalie Bookchin asks the user to become a manager and take care of a
semi-human creature in a bio-tech laboratory. 

In each example, these spaces were self-enclosed worlds offered up for
exploration by visitors. In these worlds the artist becomes the designer
of boundaries and participation structures rather than (or in addition
to) objects. 

.	Art collectives
Just as many new media artists incorporate different types of
technologies into their artwork, much of the work being created also
involves many different types of people. The late nineties witnessed the
resurrection of the art collective (see an NYT article on this
phenomenon: http://www.rhizome.org/carnivore/press/cotter.htm ). The
reasons are varied but include sharing expertise, pooling resources, and
the rise of the open-source culture.

Both iKatun (Boston, MA) and Forcefield (Providence, RI) are examples of
groups that incorporate artists, technologists, musicians, and others to
create collaborative artworks. Other artists don't necessarily identify
themselves with a collective but collaborate with other artists on an
individual project basis. See, for example, Kate Armstrong's project
"imageWord.not_a_pipe" ( www.katearmstrong.com ) created in
collaboration with Evann Siebens, Mathieu Borysevicz,  and Yannis

.	Recombination
The collage aesthetic has remained with us through the 20th and the
beginning of the 21st century. Working in the digital realm the
possibilities for recombination are expanded because of the inherent
malleability of digital data. Assemblage becomes re-assemblage and the
possibilities for mixes and remixes of image, sound, and data become
infinite. Media created by the artist and "found media objects" are
freely incorporated, altered and interchanged. 

Artists such as Kanarinka (
http://www.ikatun.com/k/colorstories/yellow/index.htm )and Shirin
Kouladje ( http://www.n3xt.com/ ) work in this realm. Kanarinka captures
and processes both found and original images and proceeds to structure
and layer them through code, creating many unique visual "stories" out
of the same set of media. Shirin Kouladje uses reprocessed sound and
video clips from old TV shows, found photos, and Flash technology to
create entries in her online journal.
The desire to recombine existing or "found" material and re-present them
through juxtaposition is common throughout new media and net.art.

With the advent of personal computers and networked technologies a range
of collage and combinatory prospects emerged: the opportunity to create
multi-sensory collages, the opportunity to create collages using a wider
range of media (e.g. time-based media such as sound, video and
performance), and finally the sheer quantity of combinatory
possibilities available to the artist.
Many theorists have addressed this phenomenon in depth, notably Lev
Manovich ( http://www.manovich.net/ ) and Bill Seaman (
http://faculty.risd.edu/faculty/bseamanweb/web/texts.html ). Seaman's
discussion of what he terms "Recombinant Poetics" is particularly

.	Transposition/Transcoding
Gradually, the realization that all digital data is composed of
fundamental components (e.g. 1's and 0's) is creeping into popular
awareness. With this realization comes the jarring thought that products
of artistic creation that were once perceived as quite disparate, (such
as photography and music or video and painting) are, in the digital
realm, made from the same basic building blocks. 

This opens a tremendous space for what has alternately been called
"transcoding" and "transposition", that is, recasting data from one form
to another.  How does an image sound? What does a radio broadcast look
like? How might we travel in time through the logs of a networked
server? Victor Liu's project "delter" (
http://www.n-gon.com/delter/index.html ), for example, effectively
transcodes the data contained within a digital MPEG file and visualizes,
based on certain rules, the parts of it which were never meant to be
seen by an MPEG player. The data, the 1's and 0's at the root of these
projects, are not altered - only the rules that render the data into

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