Armin Medosch on Tue, 10 Feb 1998 22:37:01 +0100 (MET)

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<nettime> art and business: report from


This text was written for the first Cyber.Salon, held on Nov. 26 in London
and was edited afterwrads. Armin Medosch


In the last weeks we have seen two events which mark different positions on
how artists in new media could get their work funded.=20

One was the opening of the New Media Centre at the ICA sponsored by
Sun-Microsystems. Or should we say the Sun Microsystems New Media Centre at
the ICA?=20

Now it's London's turn to profit from this type of new media centre which
have existed in Europe for a couple of years, the Ars Electronica Centre in
Linz, The Zentrum f=FCr Kunst und Medientechnologie in Karlsruhe, the C3
Centre in Budapest and so on. Unfortunately it seems that the ICA was
unable to look across the Channel and learn from these foreign experiences.

So at the opening we could see a pointless installation which deployed a
lot of high tech efforts to show us some 3D triangles floating in data
space. We also saw many people in suits.

 We heard things which we have all heard before:
 "The blurring of boundaries between art and science, art and technology,
 culture and commerce" was praised. It was said that digital technology
 would change everything...until we will all live a life thats
all digital," as a  Sun Marketing representative said with real emotion.=20

 Apart from such touching moments we had some well known marketing-talk
 using visions developed by pioneers in the electronic art field. Marketing
 soldiers continue to exploit early art & technology rhethorics for their
 corporate brand strategies.

 The Sun representative said that "this is not just sponsorship, but a
 completely integrated collaboration between art and business". I was
 gobsmacked. What did he mean by "completely integrated?"=20

 That artists will make works dependend on Sun internet servers and they=20
 will create web-pages using Java programming language? You can be sure
 that the use of Java products will be more or less compulsory at this
 centre. Sun is locked into a deadly battle with Microsoft about the future
 of the Internet and  desktop computing and I cannot help but seeing the=20
ICA sponsorhsip deal in this context.

Recently a group of Dutch organisations (Virtual Platform) made an attempt
to position themselves as policy makers in the field of European new media
politics. They gathered a couple of small and medium sized institutions
from all over Europe for a conference in Amsterdam and together they wrote=
a paper, the Amsterdam Agenda. This  paper was then presented to a couple=
of politicians from the European Parliament and the European Council. It=20
argued for the arts sector to be recognized as an important part of=20
society. It tried to point out howuseful art could be for industry and the=
European unification project. All in all it reflected the wish of these=20
organisations to get funded by the European Union. In this attempt they go=
so far as to say that "the sponsor should not give only money and=20
resources but also contribute to the content of the project".=20

 Most of these groups probably consider themselves as artists, subculture,
 or even "underground". In another part of their Amsterdam Agenda position
 paper it was written that "art is critical by nature". Without moralizing
 there does seem to be a glaring contradiction between being critical and
 sponsors' involvement in content.

These are just two specific contemporary examples of the relationship of
art to business and government. How else does it worK?

1.Art and the interests of government and businesses

Art is often a tool for urban development.=20
A process of this kind can be triggered by artists themselves - settling=20
in a specific area and making it hip, so that the creative service=20
industry joins in. Then the rent goes up (see Hoxton/Shoreditch area in=20
London for example) in which case artists are often the loosers and have=20
to find a new place to live. This process can also be initiated by the=20
government or private investors, building big museums or art centres in=20
inner city slum areas. Tourists and small  business structures for tourism=
will help raise the economic level. Tourists, private sheriffs, police and=
a clean environment will drive poor people, drug dealers and prostitution=
out (development of the harbour area in Barcelona in connection to 92=20
Olympic games; Bilbao harbour area through building of Guggenheim Museum,=
Los Angeles as described by Mike Davis in City of Quartz).

 Art was historically, and is still often used in a more symbolic sense to
 make meaning of public areas and thereby "structure" them, drive the poor
 people and homeless out (see for example, development of Union Square,NYC,
 in Rosalyn Deutsche, "Art and Spatial Politics" MIT Press 96).=20

 Art is used by governments to create a positive image of a nation or city
 to help bring in foreign investment, and motivate corporations to settle
 in a specific country or city. Multinationals do care about the "cultural
 climate" when they choose a new location. (Thats why for
instance Munich is favoured by US software companies as German or European
headquarter: Clean air, lots of sport possibilities - mountains, lakes -
and the opera house, the theatres, numerous museums, what more do you want
to make your employees happy?)  Here is a very direct link between art and
the creation of new jobs. Many major art events are mainly getting state
subsidised now precisely to make a place attractive and put it on the map
for potential investors.=20

 Linz and the Ars Electronica festival is a wonderful example for the
 digital version of such sponsoring intentions. Ars Electronica was
 launched in the late 70ties, exactly when the steel industry - Linz=B4s ma=
 industrial base at that time, started to crumble. From the Mayors of
 Linz`s point of view Ars Electronica mainly has this function, to promote
 the image of Linz as an information age town and service industry centre.

Britain is acting in a similar way now, but here it is a special story. You
got the Young British Artists exhibition at the Royal Academy; The Young
British Designers at London Fashion Week, Young British Filmmakers at the
London Filmfestival and so on and so on. In a way which is not particularly
new, but which I have not seen anywhere else in such an explicit way
politicians are stressing the importance of the "creative sector" for the
nations economy. Indeed, media and entertainment are now Britain's second
largest industry. The defense industry is still Nr.1. But for defense the
prospects of further growth are not so all hopes are lying on the
"creative industry", from the Spice Girls to Prodigy to Damian Hirst to
ensure that Britain has a happy economic future.

 Art, which one would assume does not belong to a specific nation but is
 universal for all humans is harnessed into the national economy. Artists
 willingly or unwillingly are joining in because it is one of a few reasons
 why art is still getting money. Modern governments don=B4t sponsor art
 because they like the artistic or humanistic values it  stands for but
 because it helps the economy.=20

 It is very similar with sponsorship from the private sector. The idea of
 the Maecenas, the rich entrepreneur donating huge sums to artists just for
 idealistic reasons is a deeply outdated model. Nowadays sponsorship also
 is not simply about getting the company logo on an invitation card or
poster. Companies sponsoring art events are looking for an "integrated and
multiple synergetic" effect.=20

 Sponsorhsip often also helps corporate communications, inside and outside
 the company; companies like having special parties inside the sponsored
 art event to show their business partners what beautiful things they are
 doing and how cool and modern they are; big companies will have free
 tickets for sponsored events and will make the visit of an event a kind of
 incentive for their employees; it improves vertical corporate cultural
 integration as well as horizontal cross-company communications (to
 paraphrase corporate talk).

 Sponsorship can be directly targeted at certain hip- or trend-groups of
 society; if they accept the product the masses will follow. One example
 was last September's promotion show called "Global Cooling" on Hoxton
 Square, Shoreditch, for Fosters "Ice", a new beer brand.; the entire crowd
 there looked like they'd been paid to be there and be taped by numerous
 video crews armed with high tech broadcast equipment to record any single
 sign of fun or creativity. The event was deeply boring but I
am sure it looks good on video. It also showed that sponsorship can become
the only reason for an event creating a social setting and a complete
corporate environment.=20

 For most people here what I'm saying won't be particularly new.
 Nevertheless it was important to mention some examples of how art and
 business are interconnected in capitalist media democracy. To avoid any
 misunderstandings I want to stress that I dont want to create an
 artificial (and to my oppinion also obsolete) dichotomy between art and
 business. I do not see all of their links  as intrinsically evil . I don=
 see art and economy as completely seperated parts of society. Art is a
 business in itself, an economic activity. But it is also not "just another
 business". Here we have to be very careful. I don=B4t belief in this
 anarchist fear of "commodofication". We have to acknowledge that we live
 in a mass society. Cultural objects, of whatever character or materiality
 they are, have to be produced and distributed and all along this process
 value will be created - symbolic value and financial value. We have to
 look carefully at this process and  how the creation of values is
 structured, who is doing what and who gets which benefits. Then we could
 start figuring out how art can find a sound economic basis in society.

When it comes to money-other than notions of merit- art is not valued high
in society. It is often looked at not as a necessity, but rather a luxury.
So spending money on art - state subsidies or business sponsorship - is a
"good weather activity". When the economy is going well, money can be
spent, if not, spending is cut back close to zero.=20

 In a democratic mass society in the highly industrialized world art is
 maybe even more necessary than  bread/food because everyone should have
 food anyway but a problem we are lacking  commonly acknowledged cultural
 values. It can help to create such cultural values.  Art has the power to
 address things of common interest in a way no other discipline can. It
 goes beyond the cultural fast food coming out of Hollywood and the
 regressive spiritualism of religions and sects. It helps to negotiate and
 intermediate problems of a social dimension.And it can even be a tool for
 gathering knowledge.=20

 One of the accidents of modernity was to exclude art from being a form of
 gathering "real knowledge". This was only attributed to the sciences, and
 specifically the "hard"-science, physics, mathematics and so on.  But now
 we slowly start to understand how deeply all science is linked to cultural
 pre-conceptions, to metaphors, to traditions, and art is a specilist in
 dealing with that. We can no longer say that scientific knowledge is
 "objective" whereas the kind of knowledge which art provides is considered
 to be "subjective".=20

 We still have not recovered from this cut into the cultural texture which
 they created in their attempt to make their discipline a hard science. Art
 and Science should be treated on the same level as important tools in
 gathering knowledge, to understand the world, and for the economy to

 But in return artists themsleves should not be considered living "outside"
 normal society. They belong very much to its elite - specialists for
 manipulating symbols - which is not so different from being a lawyer, a
 journalist, a researcher or a marketing specialist. The undervaluing of
 art in society is, unfortunately, in parts a result of the behaviour of
 artists themselves.=20

 Progressive movements in the sixties already wanted to abolish the
 traditional notion of the artist-genius. They saw themselves very much as
 cultural workers and developed conceptions of art beyond individualism,
 working in groups, not using their personal identitites but group

 Since then we have seen a return to "art business as usual".  In this
 condition the artist is a 19th century figure. In his youth the artist is
 determined to suffer and starve and eventually, when he makes
it to become a well known figure, will be rewarded double and three times
for the hard early years (which mostly happens, if at all, after the
artists death). The artist has to be and has to remain "individual" because
only his individuality can serve the goal of becoming "famous" later on, a
genius drawing his knowledge from deep insights won in times of suffering,
insights whose sources are enclosed of from the rest of society and which
are reliefed by the artist in a ritualistic and almost religious way. Such
an artist as "genius" seperated from worldly thoughts needs a galerist or
agent to take care of the business side.=20

 The aura of genius and mystique is very important for the image of
 artists, especially for the collectors, wealthy individuals, who want to
 lift their own selves to higher levels by getting in touch with the
 "higher self" of the artist. Although most artists know all too well,=20
that this image is not true (because they spend as much time for promoting=
themselves- getting their press statements written, their cv=B4s updated,=
their presentation color copies done - as on  creating the actual work,=20
and are just hard working cultural specialists like everyone else in the=20
broader field of the creative sector,) they still have to live up to this=
image of the art-genius to be "interesting" for their upper class audience=
(ands their hip arty friends?). This very obsolete configuration was=20
already critizised by Benjamin in his 1937 essay "the artwork in the age=20
of technological reproduction" but has changed very little. It is an
absolutely inadequate ideology for a modern mass society and a main reason
why there are no artists unions. An artist in a union is not credible for
collectors. The image of the artist as outsider and individualistic genius
persists  yet when artists work with new media  tools in particular this
configuration is not just obsolete but also hinders necessary forms of
teamwork between specialists (coding specialist, conceptual specialist,
visual specialist...).

2. Art means business

 What I talked about in part 1 were forms of relationships where artists
 are usually  ripped off but  get at least some money in return. But there
 are other forms, where the state and the business get everything for free.

Looked at from a certain point of view, art can be seen as a tremendous
commercial success. Until the age of The Enlightenment art did not exist as
a seperate entity. It was only with the 19th century, the fall of
aristocracy and the rise of the bourgoise that artists had to do marketing
for themselves. Before there was no "market" for artists and there were no
artists as we understand it today.=20

 With the industrial revolution the notion of the artist and the notion of
 "art" as something you can exhibit and sell came into existence. Artists
 were immensily successful in creating a market, where there was no market
 before. The objects which they produced became buyable objects for a
market of millions. Art as a commercial activity can therefore be seen as a
tremendous "marketing success", as the creation of a new commodity and its
selling. In other words, art is a role model for modern marketing.

 Art objects are objects whose "qualities" do not rely on fixed and
 rational criteria (and also not on tradition any more, not with the rise
 of "modern" art). So the economic value of an artwork is connected to the
 "name" of the artist. The bigness of a name in art is a result of the
 net-value of the artist. It consists of critic-choices, participation in
 major exhibitions, the amount of media hype around an artist. =20

 Marketing people will start to listen at this point. Because what it takes
 to make an artist a brand name is exactly what it takes to make a product
 succesful. The choice of consumers nowadays is less influenced by the
 rational criteria of a product's qualities but of the image of the product
 and the image of the company. So we can say that artists have - if not
 invented than at least - co-founded the principles of modern marketing.

 This is all the more true when the nature of the economic model changes.
 In the times of a production-driven Fordist economy marketing was already
 a part of a company's activities, but it was a secondary activity. Now,
 with a consumer driven economy, where goods will only be produced for
 which a need is already expressed, marketing - or maybe broader,
 'corporate communications' has become the nr.1 activity. The reason why a
 product gets hype status (and will be bought therefore) is as mysterious
 as why an artist becomes a "name" in the art world. It is a result of
 "soft warfare" in the discursive and symbolic reality. Distributive power,
 but also the skills of imaging are essential.=20

 Here the "digital artisan" (with reference to R. Barbrook) enters the
 field. S/he are the ones who physically create the images for the
 corporate agenda. Very often these artisans are economically forced to do
 design jobs for the industry, but in their self-perception they are
 artists, have an art school backgrounds, are  familiar with concepts of
 modern and conceptual art. This knowledge is what  makes them interesting
 to their commissioners. The are getting paid because they know the
 contemporary aesthetic codes of the diverse subcultural urban tribes.
 Corporations are keen on this knowledge because they see hip groups like
 clubbers as important trend leaders.  With the input of this type of elite
 hypermedia designer, the boundaries between contemporary art and
 commercia ladvertisement are often blurred. But the designers are not=20
getting paid as artists, not the majority. The majority are hacking html=20
code or lingo in sweat shoplike conditions getting paid low hourly wages=20
in unstable working contracts (or with no contracts at all).=20

Business gets the "hype" or the "hyper images" for free. Methods which were
explored and invented by artists get translated into advertisement without
any money transfer back to the arts scene. You can't put copyright on ideas
or methodologies. In this scenario artists are hypermedia surface wizards
helping to promote new communication technologies and supply free image and
methodology input for the corporate imaging world.=20

Once again I stress that I don't see this as intrinsically bad but it
raises the question of how adaequate payment for individual hypermedia
designers can be made secure and on a more general level how a
 flow back of resources into the arts world can be achieved. Are we all
 doomed to live a double life, working in daytime for corporate customers
 and doing our own projects at night? And what if corporate customers are
 suddenly interested in that type of work which we used to consider "our
 private stuff" because they 've suddenly smelled that this is exactly
 "what the kids want".

 3. The promises of electronic and digital art

 Sponsorship should help increase the demand for a product. Intentionally
 or not, this   is exactly what media art has been doing for communication
 technologies over the past 20/30 years  softening them, making them more
 acceptable, technologies which often originated in  the defence industries
 or big bureaucratic command and control institutions.

 The camcorder-revolution, the personal-computer revolution, the
 atari-cubase-house-party-revolution and now the revolution of digital
 networks, they were all co-prepared and enriched with new ways of
 expression and humanistic promises  by artists, who adopted technologies
 early and did video art, computer art, net art when the according pieces
 of technology stepped out of the controlled research and high-tech area
 into the mass market.=20

Artists "only" wanted to experiment with new ways of expression and of
communication. Artists with a more technological inclination wanted to work
on the core of the  technology itself.

 When I started working in this area in the mid eighties most artists
 didn=B4t have the choice but had to be technologically creative. Technolog=
 supplied by the industry was either much too expensive or insufficient for
 the needs of artists. This was the position of all techno-art in the last
 30 years; it is the reason why Nam June Paik and Steina and Woody Vasulka
 had to build their own video-synthesizers, why Jeffrey Shaw built his
 first virtual reality system himself, and so on. There was a dedicated
 cult of "low tech" versus "high tech". The assumption was - and maybe
 groups like Survival Research Labs, Punk, D.I.Y. mentality and New Wave
 and early cyberpunk imagery contributed to this "myth" - that by using
 affordable low tech in a creative way you could achieve better results
 than by working with standard industry equipment. This was deeply built
 into the artists belief-systems of that time and I admit that it still is
 an important part of my thinking.=20

 But look at computer based art today: Jeffrey Shaw is using Silicon
 Graphics machines exclusively now because VR is one of their standard
 features. So called "net.artists" are using a standard page description
 protocol, HTML, for standard web-browsers (Netscape or IE) which all runs
 on standard web-servers. Maybe some of them are using html in a
 non-standard way, which can be a very nice game, but there are so many
 standardized conditions inbuilt that the result is considerably

 So why at all should artists not just use standard industry equipment and
 software but try and invent their own tools? In all technologically
 supported art the technology is not just the carrier of a signal, the
 carrier itself forms an essential part of the message. Form and content
 cannot be cleanly seperated. It makes a difference if I see an image on a
 big screen or as a tiny animated gif in the upper left corner of a 14 Inch
 monitor. It makes a difference if I "navigate" through a database by voice
 control and gesture tracking or by mouse clicks. The medium pre-conditions
 our perceptions. It is not only form but  a part of the content. So any
 artists who take themself at all seriously have to think about this
 question: if it is appropriate to us emass produced software off the=20
shelf or if it is better to work on the creation of new software which=20
allowsthem to build their own  particular type of medium or interface.=20

 Of course this is not a dogma, but if art can really contribute to=20
 socio-technological co-evolution and not just show individual expression
 then the question emerges what is this special '&' between art &
technology, art & science. It is about modes of perception, modes of
cultural negotiation. Since the technology is so important for shaping our
perception the work and research done on a "better interface" goes well
beyond individualistic artistic expression and should be made one of the
real goals of a more long term strategic work. If artists could write a
better browser client than microsoft or netscape they would instantly do
society something good. (I want to mention here I/O/D=B4s Web-Stalker
project, a browser which has another logic than the standard ones) If they
were able to write an operating system which is better than win95 (and=20
needless tosay, more beautiful) they would do society even more good. And=
if they were able not just to apply software, but maybe even invent a new
 programming language- or a new concept for computation- , than they could
 do the most good, because than they would have elimineted most of the
 pre-conditions which in the end shape our perceptions. If art takes itself
 seriously it does not only make better images than the industrial
 corporate designer, it goes to the core of technology and gets
 technologically creative.

 But nowadays I am afraid I see less and less of this technologically
 creative type of work being done in art. As industrial soft- and hardware
 has become more affordable and more functionable the reason to invent
 "subjective technologies" has diminished. While 10 years ago it was a
 necessity to become technologically creative now it's a question which
 every artist can decide individually. But what I am concerned with is that
 this more technologically creative work seems to almost have vanished from
 the scene. We have got the Netscape.artist, the Macromedia.artist, the
 Silicon Graphics artist but not much beyond that.=20

 The reasons are quite obvious. Artists behave within the restraints of a
 market situation. There is a market for digital images created by artists,
 but there is no market for browsers programmed by artists. And even more
 important: It takes a hell of a lot more time and knowledge to do
 something technologically creative than to hack out a few pages in HTML.=
 So I would not blame the artists for their lack of inventiveness. In fact
 no one is to blame but a lack of sensibility towards this question.=20

 What we thought is the special aspect of art & technology, this something
 in-between, what is neither only art using some sort of digital
 technology, nor just new technology, and which only can be created through
 interdisciplinary work between artists, technicians, and scientists from
 diverse fields, this very special thing, which is and has been so much
 talked about and builds the legacy of a whole field of art, I hardly can
 see it happening today. We had bits and pieces of that in the past, but
 now, when standard technology gets better and better (in a crude way and
 by forcing us to take with it all the disadvantages of interfaces created
 by autistic nerds shut off from the world), this in-between art &
 technology thing seems to be slowly dying out again, apart from a few
 renegade projects.=20

 Finally I want to point out, that there are a few, very few, institutions
 which support the work of artists doing long term research in technology.
 These institutions are commercial research centres owned by companies,
 like Xerox Park, Interval research, and ATR, Kyoto. In these centres
 artists are well paid. They have access to all the technology they can
 think of. They have just one problem, they are no longer independent. They
 are emploees, and everything which they invent during their employment
 will be owned by the company. They will be allowed to show it around, but
 if it makes sense as a technology, a new tool or even just a gadget the
 company will own the patent. These artists are working in almost
 pre-modern conditions, like  Renaissance artists and  Baroque
 watch-makers. This is then the end of the concept of art as something free
 and open to all in a democratic society.

Thanks to: Manu Luksch, Janko Vook, Josephine Berry, Andy Cameron, Micz
Flor, Richard Barbrook, Niko Waesche, Simon Worthington, Pauline van Morik
Broeckman, Jeremy Quinn, Elaine Hernen and others, whose comments at 1 helped shape the final version of this text.

Thanks to Mark Amerika, Lev Manovich, Franz Xaver, Norman Klein, Timothy
Druckrey and Peter Lunenfeld, whose immaterial presence was on my mind,
when I wrote this.

Special thanks to John Barker.
Telepolis - Magazine of NetCulture
Office London: 52B Andrews RD, London E8 4RL
Phone: +44 171 923 88 30 Fax: +44 171 923 88 31

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