Florian Cramer on Fri, 15 May 2009 12:55:59 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> Political Work in the Aftermath of the New Media Arts Crisis

On Monday, May 11 2009, 21:29 (+0200), Geert Lovink wrote:

> While society at large is inundated with (new) media, the art branch  
> that deals with the digital moved itself in a ghetto. 

This is too true, and that branch has to reinvent itself from scratch
or it will collapse very soon (if it isn't already collapsing). But it
goes for the entire "new media" field, including academic new media
studies which have used up their credit within the humanities. It's
already happening in arts education where famous media art schools
have been rolled back or integrated into Fine Art courses.

It's not even a question of too narrow technological focus, but one
of perceived artistic quality. Historically, "media art" has been
a tactical alliance between radical artists from Nam June Paik to
ubermorgen.com and high tech academic research lab art that has no
whatsoever contemporary art credits. From the late 60s to today, one
hand washed the other - the former brought the artistic credibility,
the latter the money and infrastructure. Festivals like STRP or ars
electronica perfectly illustrate it. However, the research lab art,
particularly in the form of "interactive installations", has always
dominated the field in sheer mass, quantity and visibility. A visitor
who would visit an arbitrary new media festival with an interest
in contemporary art would see, first and most of all, preposterous
machine parks. Or, in friendlier terms, it's the kind of art that
rather belonged, as an educational or aesthetic gimmick, into a museum
of technology than into a contemporary art discourse.

However, I find it hard to get past a certain attachment to the
"media art" ghetto because it tends to combine the very worst (even
painfully, unspeakably stupid and monstrously worst) with - IMO - the
very best to be found in contemporary art. Ubermorgen are an excellent
example, needless to drop further names here. And I'm afraid that
abandoning that ghetto, although it's theoretically the right thing to
do, will in the end result in even greater collateral damage.

Since the 1990s, the so-called Fine Arts do provide no really
desirable environment either, likely they're even worse. It is telling
enough that the term "Fine Art" suddenly has become a universally
accepted standard while, not a long time ago, any self-respecting
contemporary artist would have fiercely rejected if not opposed it. In
the past ten years of reading contemporary art magazines or visiting
art biennales and Documentas, I've been flabbergasted by the lack
of vision and radicalism in this field. It has morphed, somewhat
comparable to New (composed) Music after the 1960s, into an academic
discourse ruled by a neo-bourgeois jet set of hipster curators posing
as cultural theorists on the basis of a not-even-half-baked knowledge
and recycling of postmodern philosophy and cultural studies. The
system consists of artists who have been academically trained to
produce works - along with non-understood theory lingo - that fit the
required curatorial buzz. Along with this development, the paradigm of
the white cube and art works as good-looking exhibition objects has
become stronger than ever before and rules out any art practice not
fitting this format. All the while, the system thrives on the delusion
that it still represents visual art as a whole although, unlike, for
example, in film where 'highbrow' and 'lowbrow' still coexist, its
popular forms like comic books, tattoos, fantasy figurines, t-shirt
illustrations, wildlife paintings... have long been excluded from its

I dare to claim that under "saner" conditions, no Documenta and
no Biennale curator would get around artists like ubermorgen or
the Yes Men, just like no Documenta curator got around Beuys in
the 1970s and 80s. Instead, we get artists like Mike Kelley all
over the art world in whose work I'm either not getting something
or indeed seeing the Emperor's new clothes. ("Review" babble like
http://www.frieze.com/issue/article/tomorrow_never_comes1/ affirms the
suspicion that the art world has no clue either.)

> Director Heiner Holtappels opened by noticing that new media art    
> is not easily accepted by fine art. Traditional art has become      
> eclecticism. According to Heiner, all art is technology based.      

This is true, yet contemporary art has mostly given up on reflecting
its media. [I can almost hear an iPhone-wearing curator saying that
reflecting one's media is outmoded modernism.] It's most obvious in
the way video installations have become its mainstream format, in the
form of video loops shown in booths inside exhibition spaces. Video
is just taken as a documentary TV or wannabe-cinematic format, as if
radical video art from Paik to Infermental had never happened. (It
seems as if most contemporary artists actually don't know it anymore
which is comparable to painters no longer knowing about abstract
painting.) One should perhaps advise Montevideo just not to leave its
video art roots behind.


blog:     http://en.pleintekst.nl
homepage: http://cramer.pleintekst.nl:70

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