Brian Holmes on Mon, 18 May 2009 10:54:25 +0200 (CEST)

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

Rama Hoetzlein wrote:

> New media art should be defined from an art-philosophical
> perspective. In this view, meaning is present in all works, to
> varying degrees, regardless of how they might be appropriated
> by culture. At what time in history was art not appropriated by
> culture? None the less, people continued to create art. The process
> of art-making is one of creating meaning, and this relation between
> the artist and the work is not changed despite how the object is
> ultimately appreciated, used, or abused by culture.

It's great to read such a fundamental comment. I shall add something.
My viewpoint includes both Tolstoy's and Baudrillard's. I find that
informatic art (my own off-the-cuff term, but surely better than new
media) is compelling precisely when it places subjective expression
within the most strongly coercive social arena of our time, namely
the digital networks. Your idea that there is an art-philosophical
perspective that could exclude or bypass social determinism seems,
begging your pardon, somewhat naive. What is more, I think all the
interest of art itself disappears when it is shorn from the contexts
of power and held up as a pure conductor of subjectivity. Approached
in that way, the art work tends to become no more than a mirror for
our own emotions and fantasies -- far from any state of empathy,
Einfuhlung or whatever one chooses to call it. So I am not surprised
that you move from Tolstoy's fascinating quote (reproduced below) to
the "relation between the artist and the work." I guess I am more
interested in, well, media: the way the work relates the artist to

However, your observation about new media theory (Kittler and McLuhan
were recently mentioned here) is spot on. What we are given from
the podium, over and over again, are lessons about the power of
technoscientific systems. The predicament of the human singularity,
caught within the net of determinisms yet resisting, creating another
reality and expressing this rather fantastic adventure through
whatever kind of material or semiotic medium has been chosen, is left
out of the story, which thereby becomes a monument to the crushing
regularity of the status quo. The same thing, of course, happens to
resistant political action in the hands of the sociologists and the
Heideggerean philosophers of an essential, "historial" alienation.
Both ethics and aesthetics take it on the chin.

In my view, the great inspiration for new media theory has come from
hackers themselves, who create alternative possibilities for existence
within the overwhelmingly powerful networked environment. This is why,
in essays which are inseparably about art and technics, I tend to
use concepts like "reverse imagineering" or "escaping the overcode."
Expression, for me, is the rupture of code, an excess which does not
abolish the labyrinth in which we are caught, but at least opens up a
possible new path through it.

That's one approach. There could be many others. The problem, as
you point out, is that usually there are not, because the theory
very rarely meets any actual practice. The necessary discussion of
technological power holds the center stage. Of course that is easier
for the whole "new media" social circuit, because then you don't have
to think very much, or feel very much, or try very hard to find out
what might be at stake in a particular work.

This list, I guess, is about the best place to talk about how to
approach media art. Thanks to all for starting the conversation. I'm
ready for more. Let the thousand info-aesthetics bloom!

best, BH

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