Link Editions is proud to announce the release of “Beyond New Media Art”, by Domenico Quaranta.“Beyond New Media Art” is the revised, updated version of a book first published in Italian with the title “Media, New Media, Postmedia” (Postmedia Books, Milan 2010). Through the circulation of excerpts, reviews and interviews, the book produced some debate outside of Italy, which persuaded the author to release, three years later, this English translation.
“Beyond New Media Art” is an attempt to analyze the current positioning of so-called New Media Art in the wider field of contemporary arts, and to explore the historical, sociological and conceptual reasons for its marginal position and under-recognition in recent art history. On the other hand, this book is also an attempt to suggest new critical and curatorial strategies to turn this marginalization into a thing of the past, and to stress the topicality of art addressing the media and the issues of the information age.
From the book’s preface: “So what is New Media Art? What does this term really describe? And what has occasioned the schism between this term and the art scene it is supposed to describe? And lastly, what accounts for the limited presence in critical debate of an artistic practice that appears to have all the credentials for representing an era in which digital media are powerfully reshaping the political, economic, social and cultural organization of the world we live in?”
Domenico Quaranta is an art critic and curator. His work focuses on the impact of the current techno-social developments on the arts. He regularly writes for Flash Art and Artpulse. In 2006 he edited (with M. Bittanti) the book “GameScenes. Art in the Age of Videogames”; in 2010, he published the book “Media, New Media, Postmedia”. As a curator, he organized various shows, including “Holy Fire. Art of the Digital Age” (Bruxelles 2008, with Y. Bernard), “Playlist” (Gijon 2009 and Bruxelles 2010) and “Collect the WWWorld. The Artist as Archivist in the Internet Age” (Brescia 2011; Basel and New York, 2012).
Link Editions is a publishing initiative of the Link Center for the Arts of the Information Age. Link Editions uses print on demand and digital formats to create an accessible, dynamic series of essays and pamphlets, but also artist books, catalogues and conference proceedings. A keen advocate of the idea that information wants to be free, Link Editions releases its contents free of charge in .pdf format, and on paper at a price accessible to all. Link Editions is a not-for-profit initiative and all its contents are circulated under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0) license.
I worked on this a couple of years ago, but it’s finally out in printed and digital form. Edited by Valerio Terraroli and published by Bompiani / Skira, It’s an art history book meant for the high schools and universities, from cave paintings to… net art. I made research for the second half of the Vol. 5, on contemporary art from the Fifties to the XXI century, and I was able to add some issues that are not usually featured in high school art history manuals.
It would be great to know if this is happening also elsewhere, and get documentation of it.
Sorry for the bad mobile phone pics…
A quote from Michelle Kuo‘s introduction to the September issue of Artforum, “Art’s New Media“:
“Today we still cringe at manufactured genres like “computer art,” even if art as we know it could barely exist without computers. Technophilia and technophobia alike pervade museums, galleries, and art-fair booths; the language of new media and social media—platform, network, algorithm, sharing—abounds in press releases and exhibition titles, slaking our thirst for 1960s-cum-1990s cyber-euphoria. At the same time, Leider’s doubt echoes in the distance, a critical reminder that art’s affair with media is always prone to historical amnesia, to lazy conflations of vastly different positions and practices, to abrupt shifts from the faddish embrace of progress to a pining for the obsolete. We are nostalgic; we want to move on.”
This is my response to Claire Bishop‘s essay “Digital Divide“, published in Artforum in September 2012 (also posted in the comments section of the article):
Reading this article was a pleasure, and a pain. Some of the points made here are really good, and I also felt a lot of empathy for many of the examples raised, such as the use of obsolete or dead media, or the “archival impulse”, which have been the polar stars of my curatorial and critical work so far.
The problem is that Bishop fails in formulating the main question, that is: contemporary art should respond to the digital age – why it doesn’t? In my opinion, this question should be reformulated this way: “why the mainstream art world, the small niche I belong to and I’m talking to hereby, doesn’t respond to the digital age?”
To put it simple: there is the new media art world, which is a niche- true; there is the mainstream art world, which is a niche as well (a couple of magazines, and a few dozens of galleries, collectors, institutions, curators and artists); and there is the real art world, which is comprised of all the people who recognize themselves as artists, of some who don’t (but do something that can be understood as art as well) and of all the people working around them. In the real art world, there are not five, but legions of artists responding to the digital age. Some of them are really bad, some are really good, but just a few became successful in the mainstream art world: the ones Bishop named, and some of the ones named in this discussion. These artists are neither new media artists nor mainstream contemporary artists: they are artists that sometimes use digital media, sometimes don’t; sometimes do unique objects for galleries, sometimes spread their work on the internet; they work with second level galleries, and with curators that aren’t art stars yet; they don’t sell out at art fairs, but they have a market and collectors; they are rarely featured in mainstream art events such as the Venice Biennale and Documenta, but they have an increasing presence in a big network of institutions, despite the fact that Claire Bishop doesn’t know them. This is the background where mainstream artists such as Thomas Hirschhorn and Thomas Ruff go fishing to find ideas like the ones displayed in Touching Reality, or in the Zycles series. The true innovation takes place there, and not in the mainstream.
And – I think – it couldn’t be otherwise. To ask with mainstream contemporary art is not reacting to the digital age would be like to ask why William-Adolphe Bouguereau and the French Academia weren’t reacting to the industrial revolution and to photography. At the time, to see true innovation you should make a visit to a photographer’s studio in Paris; now, dear Claire, I’d warmly recommend you a trip to Rhizome.org.
Bishop puts it in terms of fear:
“Is there a sense of fear underlying visual art’s disavowal of new media? Faced with the infinite multiplicity of digital files, the uniqueness of the art object needs to be reasserted in the face of its infinite, uncontrollable dissemination via Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, etc.”
Of course, the establishment fears and rejects what may force it to change; that’s why a century of apparently “innovative” art didn’t change the way art is circulated, discussed and collected at all, but rather enforced it. Innovation was accepted as an ideology, but rejected as a means of true chance. But again: if the establishment (that is, the mainstream art world) is pretty coward, contemporary art isn’t. You just have to look for the brave ones.
Artistic Director, Link Center for the Arts of the Information Age
It’s nice to see Arcangel at the Whitney and Ryoji Ikeda at Park Ave Armory before that, but two isolated shows don’t change the fact that this work is barely being shown in the US. And how is Trecartin a “New Media” artist, anyway? Like “Design and the Elastic Mind” before it, MoMA’s “Talk to Me” is great because it exposes the general public to new ideas from technology-based art and design practices. But nowhere will you find the exhibited works described properly within an art context. The V&A in London did a similar sleight-of-hand with their DECODE show, subtitling it “Digital Design Sensations” even though none of the works dealt with design concepts.
Sure, a few notable galleries have picked up new media artists. Shockingly the work has even begun to sell a little, which is a huge improvement from 10 years ago. But walk through any art fair (except perhaps ARCO, which has made media art a focus and does fairly well with it) and you’ll see precious few works that can be defined as media art. Maybe an Arcangel or a Nicolai here, a Jim Campbell there and the lurking spectre of a Hirschmann or a Lozano-Hemmer. If you happen on a booth from Bitforms or the 4-5 galleries worldwide specializing in New Media you might get a bigger picture.
But this isn’t such great news once you consider that easily 90-95% of even moderately successful media artists have no access to the market at all. Instead their work is known (and validated by) the ephemeral European media art festival circuit and public speaking, as well as ceaseless self-publishing (especially in the case of net-based art.) In the US media artists would have precious few outlets if they weren’t setting up their own project spaces, which is a laudable activity but unfortunately using lacking in staying power and mainstream validation.
Meanwhile European funding for media art has just been decimated across the board, a move that is likely to have significant repercussions. The large interactive installations of the mid-1990′s disappeared overnight the last time funding dropped away like this. It’s no secret that many US-based media artists historically have kickstarted their careers by showing in Europe before gaining visibility at home. I’m certainly not alone in worrying about the resulting fallout from this development.
I agree that there seems to be more media art writing going on – some of it even serious and well-considered. But most of it is still an internal discourse, and as such marginal to the art world or the larger public. I was amazed to have a recent show in San Francisco covered on Artforum.com, but the show’s affiliation with a ‘serious’ institution like the SF FIlm Society likely helped a lot. The amount of column space given to media art in mainstream journals is likely to be coverage of a handful of iconic names (Arcangel etc.), stories on emerging artists or shows that don’t feature big names are few and far between.
So I’m afraid I’ll play devil’s advocate and share Domenico’s summary: New media artists who want a serious play at the art world might do better to play down the media art rhetoric.The “New Media” label has served to differentiate and promote the field in many ways (not coincidentally by helping it to gain funding), and without that discourse there would be no field at all. But for the artists themselves it can also be an obstacle to be taken seriously.
New Media as Grand Project has already been done, and arguing the transformative potential of technology should be superfluous in a world of smartphones. So let’s focus on the good work for its qualities as art, and not because of the rather outdated and frankly meaningless label of “New Media”.
Meanwhile, the contemporary art world (with all its inertia and dubious internal agendas ) should sit up and pay attention to a field of art that is both vital and important. Not because media artists need a pity fuck, but because their work often address contemporary issues of society and identity better than a lot of what’s going on in art in general. That’s Quaranta’s ultimate agenda after all, to communicate once and for all that is unforgivable for the art world to pretend we’re still living in the 1960′s.
PS: It feels strange and counter-productive for me to be arguing against the notion of a growing success of New Media, when I personally have much invested in such success. But I’m hearing echoes of the inevitable 5-year hype cycles (“Virtual Reality is the New Shit”, “No, It’s Net.Art”, “Man, Look At Those Kitten GIFs”). Call me cynical, but I worry that we’d be lulling ourselves into another lithium dream. (“Look, we’re doing great, there’s at least 3 blogs that say so.”)
I’ll take Quaranta’s harsh analysis any day, particularly since his perspective is largely based on actual history going back to the mid-1990′s rather than hopeful projections based on the current situation.
Paddy Johnson, “Is New Media Accepted in the Art World? Domenico Quaranta’s Media, New Media, PostMedia”, in Art Fag City, August 30, 2011.
Do institutions and galleries have a growing interest in New Media? Two weeks ago, I identified the art “internet bubble” at The L Magazine, a trend that’s currently giving new media the spot light. Not everyone sees new media the same way though. Domenico Quaranta, an Italian writer and curator previously best known to this blog for “Holy Fire“, a dubiously themed new media exhibition in Brussels that included only “collectible” work, being one such example. Quaranta’s followed up the 2008 exhibition by writing a whole book on the subject of New Media — “Media, New Media, PostMedia” — one core theme being that the field isn’t accepted in the contemporary art world. ”New Media Art is more or less absent in the contemporary art market, as well as in mainstream art magazines,” he writes in his abstract, ”and recent accounts on contemporary art history completely forgot it.”
Go on reading…
Contemporary art, to my mind, is in the business of asking “what is contemporary art?”
If contemporary art were pressed to say “contemporary art exists in the digital network as much as it does outside of the digital network,” then contemporary art would all of the sudden be operating from radically different premises.
The “white cube” paradigm (as the site where contemporary art occurs) would be threatened from within.
The “where” of “where the art occurs” would be altered as the simulation of the physical work through (primarily) the Web archive would be understood to be art’s arena.
To my mind, work which successfully bridges the worlds of the digital computer network and contemporary art is work which, on some level, implicates contemporary art into this very network.
It’s not work about the digital computer network, it’s work about contemporary art’s own entanglement in the digital computer network.
And for contemporary art to acknowledge this, it would demand that contemporary art changes the way it sees itself.
As such, contemporary art wouldn’t be taking in an orphan, but a virus.
That’s a lot to ask, but, nonetheless, there’s an urge to start asking.
In Post Internet, June 1st, 2010