Geert Lovink on Mon, 11 Nov 96 09:54 MET

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nettime: Nothing to be learned here - Arjen Mulder


Arjen Mulder
Nothing to be learned here
about electronic art

Information is no longer a scarce commodity, but insignificance is. The
issue around which electronic art revolves is not how you can stuff as much
information as possible into an image, but how you can remove from it as
much information as possible. Electronic images distinguish themselves from
all previous images - from cave paintings to video - by their ability to
possess no significance at all. You can go on about how such and such an
image is made on a Web site or a CD-Rom, but you're not meant to have the
slightest idea of what it's actually about. This is a decisive criterium in
judging electronic art. An awful lot of strange-looking pictures are, with
a little bit of reflection, easy enough to understand but then they no
longer count. Electronic images are information filters, not because they
impose a particular pattern on the information available, as painting has
done since time immemorial, but because they actively reject information,
meaning or interpretation.
You could fill a whole  book with interpretations about any electronic
image, but even then you would still know nothing, since every
interpretation is patently arbitrary. Electronic art is more than empty,
which makes it different from the works of artists from Warhol to Koons.
You can't even be sure whether these images or installations do have
nothing to say, since you can't penetrate them. They are completely
transparent, often built up from easily recognisable elements and obvious
manipulations, but what's the point of them being shown to us?
If electronic art wants to be convincing, then it has to increase its own
absurdity to the highest degree. An electronic artist should analyse his
own work to death again and again and then try it one more time. This
requires just as much love and knowledge as for making a beautiful
painting or a good video. Paintings, as well as photographs and
films, can make your life meaningful: coherent, personal, rich. But what
about images that are aimed at insignificance and the impersonal? If you
only read books all the time, you can lose your concentration and mentally
disintegrate as soon as you start consuming magazines. If you only look at
photographs and films, your world view can break down when you're exposed
to television. But as soon as you are accustomed to magazines or to
television, as we are at present, there is no longer any reason for panic,
anger or desperation. The mysteriousness or irritating triviality of
electronic images appears completely mild when you enter into the world
that they are part of. The more you see of them, the more pleasant their
company becomes. Electronic images make no claims on how the viewer is
meant to interpret the world, in other words on the way that you have to
see the world for it to be meaningful. Electronic art teaches us that all
images are meaningless. And in retrospect this liberating insight goes for
all pre-electronic images as well, from cave paintings and fine art to
photography, film and video. This is exactly what makes images so
interesting: for if they are not about the world or about us, what are they

First published in the on-line magazine 'Why not Sneeze?'

Translated by Michael Gibbs (
home page:
editor: Why not Sneeze?

Arjen Mulder (, media critic in Amsterdam and member of
Adilkno. In march 1996 the 'Uitgeverij 1001' publishing house brought out
his book 'Het Twintigste-eeuwse Lichaam' (The 20th Century Body). More
from Arjen Mulder can be found on the Adilkno-homepage:

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