Florian Cramer on Sat, 23 May 2009 11:02:05 +0200 (CEST)

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

Hey Renee,
> You point towards a classic issue, the relevance of context. What do
> different registers (fine art, media art, design, activism, popular
> culture etc.) give to a particular work and what does a categorization
> exclude, meaning what does it make *impossible*. Every register
> influences interpretation, (in)visibility, production and funding.

Yeah, and inevitably, these registers are not just different chosen
perspectives we have on particular works, but also institutional and
disciplinary contexts in which workers have to put their work and
whose written and unwritten rules they can't avoid abiding.

> Can you speak more specifically about which curators, what art
> educational programs, which artists and what practices?

I was really thinking of the contemporary art system as it has been
described by its own protagonists, for example in Isabelle Graw's
2008 book "Der grosse Preis", or has been analyzed, with means that
really deserve the term "artistic research", by Hans Haacke as early
as in the 1970s in such pieces as "The Chocolate Master". And many
people have criticized that system from within, from Henry Flynt in
the 1960s to the writer and "Thing Hamburg"-blogger Michel Chevalier
today. I think it is legitimate to make a sweepingly general critique
of the contemporary art system just as it is legitimate to generally
criticize and attack the music industry and contemporary popular music
system for example. That doesn't mean that there would be absolutely
no good music coming out of that system. But unlike other culture
industries, the contemporary (Fine) Art system often falsely believes
in its own autonomy. And it's my general experience and opinion that
the art I'm more interested in is more often than not to be found in
places outside that system. In the 1960s, this was true for Fluxus
and Situationism, in the 1970s and 1980s for the Mail Art Network and
postpunk, and in the 1990s for Net.art, the Luther Blissett project or
the alternative pornography movement. Today, to speak in terms of our
both hometown Rotterdam, I'm finding the interesting contemporary arts
at places like WORM and De Player and only rarely at Witte de With,
for example.

> For a constructive debate, it's important to avoid caricatures,
> otherwise there's a risk of creating false enemies, or missing out
> on how to best counter the real ones.

Well, this is true, and I admit that my posting was polemical
- and emotional. My gripes with the contemporary art
system are also based on bad personal experience and
confrontations such as the one with the "Just Do It" exhibition

> hmmmm....not sure about this, having worked as a hybrid artist/
> designer/curator/media artist/collaborator for some time now, again
> I reiterate that there are many different artworlds (and for that
> matter artists/inhabitants/vagrants).

Indeed. It's just that the particular art world I mentioned above
- and which can be roughly described as the art world of the many
biennials, the Documenta, contemporary art spaces like PS.1 and KW,
contemporary art journals like October, Texte zur Kunst, Springerin
and Metropolis M, too often monopolizes the term "art" for the art
that it represents. Admittedly, its system can be permissive and
include 'outside' practices, particularly when a curatorial subject
requires it. However, it would be possible to map the institutions
mentioned above just by the overlap of the people they involve,
and come up with a fairly good representation of what makes up
contemporary art.

They same is true, no doubt, if you take ars electronica, transmediale
and ISEA, plus Leonardo, Neural, Rhizome and Nettime, ZKM and ICC
Tokyo, and pin down the system "media art". But just as that latter
system is now being - deservedly - questioned and undergoing a huge
if not terminal structural crisis, I think it is as legitimate to
question the contemporary Fine Art system, and the Western concept of
autonomous art. So, going back to Geert's initial report about the
discussion about the crisis of "Media Art" at Montevideo Amsterdam,
I think that it can't be a solution to integrate a very questionable
"media art" system into an equally questionable contemporary art
system. [As it is now happening, in education, too, for example in the
Zurich art school media department where Felix Stalder teaches, and
where the media programme has been rolled back into Fine Art on the
Master level.]

> Sometimes they intersect, rub next to each other, come into
> agitation or simply run on parallel tracks. (Not too disimilar from
> the so-called new media world.) Think of open source practitioners,
> the Max/Flash folk, and those that poach the web's detritus for
> their own purposes, they're all a part of new media arts, but each
> tend to dwell in different corners of the digital notion universe
> (or maybe not, if you're one of those cross-pollinators :-)

Yep, only that what you describe above is really declining and may not
see much art funding or support in the future. The writing is on the

> >> 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.]
> ouch, how stereotypes do prevail. I wonder if there would be a
> paradigm shift if he/she had been envisioned with a pre-paid nokia.
> ;-)

I should have told that the above example was taken from a real
life experience, although it's admittedly a deliberate caricature
when I I blew it out of proportion as above. I agree very much with
Brian that artistic practices (to put it as broadly) are deeply
intertwined in culture and communication. There's a good chance,
and I really mean this, that I am getting old - in punk terms:
a boring old fart - who's insisting on outmoded viewpoints. But
I think that critiques of modernism, as legitimate as they are,
become problematic when they're used to legitimize and maintain the
status quo. [An extreme example is the contemporary art gallery
scene and private collections in Berlin and their intrinsic links to
the German discourse of "Neue Bürgerlichkeit" ("new bourgeoisie")
<http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neue_Bürgerlichkeit>.] The current
economic, political and social developments should render all
notions of posthistoire and non-rupture in the fabric of culture and
communication, and hence also in the arts, all the more obsolete.
They also question the bourgeois insistence on artistic practice as a
product of individual subjectivity. And finally, the contemporary art
field has been much ahead of the media art system in postcolonialism;
however, if this reflection is serious, it should not exclude the
notion and system of art itself.

Well, anyway, since the Geuzen collective of which you're a member
operates in its own carefully chosen grey zone between art, activism,
design, media, research and education, I actually think that our
standpoints are quite similar, just that our points of departure
regarding the usefulness of the contemporary art system might
differ. For me, the projects of De Geuzen are a very good example
for a post-autonomous artistic practice. Again, although I'm no
friend of the media art system, I'm quite sure that it would be
practices like those of the Geuzen that would suffer and struggle
to find institutional support once the "media art" system will
have vanished and been replaced with the existing contemporary art
system (particularly the more cut-throat kind of the USA, Germany
and England, with people who are anxious not to pollute Fine Art
with applied or sociocultural practices they hate and detest as
non-artistic [1].).


[1] a good example would be Berlin's Künstlerhaus Bethanien, a renown
contemporary arts space, whose director Christoph Tannert bitterly
fights a group of squatters and their sociocultural center in his own

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

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