Ken Jordan on Sun, 22 Feb 2004 04:49:07 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> questions to nettime

> but an artwork based on artifical life technologies
> and life sciences, as for example some of the
> Sommerer/Mignonneau what do they have in common with
> the Media? 
Well, how about this: it's Media when the only way you know it exists is if
you see it on a screen. Not that anyone has yet come up with a good
definition of "media" (in Understanding Media, McLuhan treated as media:
roads, wheels, weapons, clothing, and housing; anything that could be
thought "an extension of man") -- but it is useful to think of "media" as
including any formal representation that is crafted by people. From that
perspective, artificial life certainly counts. And so too, possibly, does
Eduardo Kac's green bunny (tho that opens up a whole round of other
questions, albeit interesting ones). But since artificial life depends on a
device like a screen, and since the way that it appears depends on decisions
made by a person about its formal representation, there's no reason not to
think of it as "media."

> Yeah but is it the computer the center of this art
> forms? Maybe now...but as the other sciences (for
> example cognitive sciences, biology etc) and
> technologies (nanotech? etc) change completely the
> computer sciences and become the center of the artwork
> should we still call it digital art?? is it the
> digital the focus?

Names like "new media," "digital multimedia," etc only matter in narrow
contexts -- because this whole territory is in a state of flux. New forms
are bound to emerge, tho the sciences you mention all also involve the
computer, one way or another. For our book, Randall and I chose the term
"multimedia" because we wanted to focus attention on certain aspects of
computer-based art, and to make explicit the connection between that work
and pre-digital traditions in the modernist avant-garde. One of the things
that computers make possible is a new kind of cross-disciplinary expression
that is non-linear, interactive, and immersive. We wanted to draw attention
to it -- and provide a framework for understanding where it came from. But
this take on the term "multimedia" doesn't apply to ALL uses of the computer
for communication and personal expression. Nor does any other term,
"cybernetical art" included.

Digital is like air or water -- increasingly, if you look for it, it's
there. We're only beginning to appreciate digital's peculiar properties.
Some of these properties will lead to new art forms -- along with new
political structures, new social forms, new economic models, etc. What to
name that art today, frankly, isn't that important (unless you apply for a
grant thinking that "new media" means one thing, when it turns out the
judges think it means another...). Twenty years from now some academic will
get herself tenure by renaming it something else. So what's the point?

But for those of us who don't care much about museums or the academy, the
choice of one particular term over another is just a way to advance an idea
about what's most valuable about digital stuff. Which aspects of it are
worth paying attention to.

Many of the academics who got involved with "new media art" came out of the
tradition of video and sound art. They applied language and concepts from
that work -- the bleeding edge of the 70s -- to art that uses computers.
While not a terrible fit, it's inexact, missing much of what makes digital
different than those other forms. One reason this happened was because
museums and universities had departments devoted to video and related "media
arts." Some of the first computer-based work was done by video artists (Lynn
Hershmann, Bill Viola, etc). So the video slot in these institutions was
expanded to include computer-based work, as well. Often the same
administrators oversaw both disciplines, sometimes conflating them into one
("media arts"). This, in turn, led the institutions to support
computer-based artwork that demonstrated a linear descent from the earlier,
once avant-garde tradition.

You're right that biology, cog sci, nanotech, and computer science are
mixing things up -- in remarkable ways. Our whole notion of what art
is/isn't is being challenged. What we need is for science departments in
universities to start supporting artists in their midst. This is starting to
happen. Get artists to apply the techniques of art to the substance of
science -- that's where the formal innovation is going to take place.

> What bothers me is that behind a particular term there
> is a whole universe or discourse arising and making
> able some "neural connections" and making unable
> others but with so much "possibles" floating around
> waiting to lay on and evolve into new thougths and art
> works/process...

People make their own neural connections, when they are motivated to get off
their asses and do it for themselves. The info is out there, for those who
want to make the connections.

Ken Jordan

"Be as if." - Andrew Boyd 

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