Florian Cramer on Tue, 19 May 2009 11:57:34 +0200 (CEST)

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

On Sunday, May 17 2009, 10:59 (+0200), carlos katastrofsky wrote:

> what i am always wondering about is why the media arts field is so
> concerned with its media. is dealing with "new media" or "old media"
> an excuse for making good or bad art? IMO defining art by its media
> is on the same level as defining art by its subject. not getting
> over these definitions will result in a ghetto-situation sooner or
> later.

I am not so sure whether I agree. It all depends on your definition of
"media". The problem is that the word "media" means quite different
things in different contexts: In the arts, it traditionally refers
to the material means of expression from which artworks are created
[painting, sculpture, photography, video, performance - that were also
the media meant with such terms as "intermedia", "mixed media" and
"multimedia" since the 1960s]. In communication studies, "media" is
practically synonymous with mass media and refers to an apparatus and
system of communication, including newspapers, radio, TV, Internet.
In other humanities, there is a notion of media as any symbolic or
semiotic carrier.

For example, in the contemporary art (but not media art) world,
there just has been a series of exhibitions on pornography, from
"BodyPoliticx" in Rotterdam to "The Porn Identity" in Vienna. One
could call pornography a medium and thus say that these exhibitions
were curated from a media perspective. After all, the ars electronica
did almost the same thing with its "Next Sex" theme in 2000. Or, a
random example taken from just having browsed the Tate Modern site
and its blurb on the current exhibition "Stutter": "The onomatopoeic
word 'Stutter' refers to an act of speech interrupted by agitated,
spasmodic, or involuntary repetitions. As the title for this
exhibition, it suggests a metaphor for questions of disruption and
discontinuity in processes of thought, systems of communications
or conceptions of knowledge." Again, this is pretty close if not
identical to curatorship from a media and communications viewpoint.

> the problem -IMHO- is not that media art is not recognized by the
> fine art world but that the fine art world is dealing with other
> subjects.

If I take, for example, the subjects of the last nine transmediale
festivals ("Do It Yourself", "Go Public", "Play Global", "Fly Utopia",
"Basics", "Reality Addicts", "Unfinish", "Conspire", "Deep North"),
they could just as well have been the names of contemporary art
exhibitions at PS.1 in New York, KW in Berlin, Witte de With in
Rotterdam, or any other contemporary art space.

> when was the last big exhibition dealing solely with "painting" or
> "sculpture" you've seen? ars electronica and the others are doing
> that every year: "new media art" with changing subtitles.

One could just as well say that contemporary art deals with "white
cube installation art" with changing subtitles.

> the same problem persists when new media artists and theorists
> insist on "politicalness" and "radicality".

The same terms abound in the contemporary art discourse if you read,
for example, "October" or "Texte zur Kunst".

> those terms don't say anything about certain works either, no matter
> which media is used in it. they only say that they may be recognised
> as "political" in a certain time in a certain context.

IMO art is, like any public expression, always political. Art that
claims not to be political being all the more political as a matter
of fact (with symbolist l'art-pour-l'art being a prime example). What
I would describe as the political-artistic quality in the art of,
for example, ubermorgen is that unlike 'actual' politics, it can be
willfully and even criminally irresponsible. One could admittedly
dismiss this as a romanticist argument, but it has nevertheless a lot
going for it, not just if we look at gothic aesthetics and Bataille's
aesthetics of evil, but also at more recent artistic practices like
Otto Muehl's commune and Eastern European art since the 1980s.

> but that doesn't say anything about it's "artness" either. "art
> doesn't become art by having specific characteristics but by a
> specific kind of processual reference to it." (J. Rebentisch,
> Aesthetik der Installation)

Not knowing the full context of this quote, I nevertheless find such
systemic definitions of art quite risky. If the basic quality of art
- in the sense of 'Fine Art' - lies in its self-reference to its own
system, then it would be something very narrow and ultimately boring,
and something already exhausted by Duchamp in the 20th century. It
would pay a high price for having, since the 19th century, rid itself
from more popular forms of visual culture. Such a definition does not
even apply to the arguably most elitist forms of other contemporary
arts such as poetry and contemporary classical music, since poetry can
still be defined outside its own system as highly condensed/conjugated
language and new music as highly organized sound. - On top of that, it
is an exclusively Western concept of art which blatantly contradicts
the post-1990s efforts of integrating postcolonial considerations into
contemporary art. Remarkable enough, these integrations never question
the concept of "art" itself - although the concept of autonomous art
only exists in Western cultures or as a Western cultural import in,
for example, Asian countries (which traditionally do not separate art
from craft).

> if i want to learn something about politics i would read a book with
> proper information about it and not go to see art that repeats the
> common sense that there are bad things existing in our world.

True. Only that exhibitions like Documenta XI have been haunted by
this concept of art.


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

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