New Media Art vs Mainstream

For those who want to see the war of worlds in the making, an interesting debate is taking place this month on the CRUMB mailing list. The discussion responds to a recent review of the book Art And the Internet (Blackdog Publishing, 2014), written by Pac Pobric and published on the Basel edition of The Art Newspaper. Pobric blames internet art for “provincialism”, and writes:

“Artists have been making work on the internet for more than 20 years, but it is scarcely seen outside of small circles. It is virtually nonexistent in galleries and museums, and is seldom for sale at auction. Because the work operates at the margins of the art world, it lies in the suburbs of cultural conversation. Few artists break into the mainstream, and those who do rarely take the internet as their primary interest—Seth Price is a good example.”

If you don’t subscribe to the list (which is recommended), it’s pretty hard to lurk in, so I add here a direct link to the online archive for June 2014.

Below a couple of catchy quotes:

“The ongoing mainstreaming of new media art has many benefits, not least of which is to engage a new generation of artists and curators with the intellectual toolkit of art historical methodologies (and vice versa.) But something is being lost when new media art is denied existence as a legitimate or discrete subject; when it is assimilated into the art world only one-by-one as “contemporary” artworks and not studied as the collective tangled mix of media/artworks/technology/theory/industry/practice/community that it is.” Richard Rinehart

“We should not be frustrated by ignorant articles of people writing for the Art Market, which has other interests. Over the last fifty years, media art has evolved into a vivid cultural expression. […] We therefore should not stop communicate, that digital art is able to deal with the big issues of our time, all thematized on festivals and meanwhile 200 biennials all over the world. We should not count on the art market, but we should remind our tax financed museum system (in Europe) that it is their job, by law, to document, collect and preserve the relevant art of the time.” Oliver Grau

#afterart

“if recognizing that we are living in a postmedia era is just a starting point, the integration of the art formerly known as New Media Art into the contemporary art world is, again, only the preliminary phase of a broader reconfiguration of art worlds. The continental drift has begun. When it will be over, we will be probably able to understand what the word “art” will mean in the new millennium.”

#future

“Historically the New Media Art world filled the gaps between one creative arena and another, between arts and science, arts and technology. This was its mission, its destiny. Reducing it – or as is often the case seeing it reduce itself – to a niche in the contemporary art world, is not only unjust but also historically unfounded, and the same goes for considering it – or seeing it consider itself – an incubator for industrial research. Yet the conceptual model introduced by the term “incubator” is an apt one: like a business incubator, the New Media Art world has to act as an incubator for the other, more solid art worlds, creating the ideal situation for the development of advanced, risky, financially unsustainable or aesthetically challenging work, and subsequently enriching those arenas that, not out of conservatism but due to their very characteristics, would have nipped it in the bud. The New Media Art world can potentially generate the energy that powers the other art worlds, giving their respective “ideas of art” a radical evolution. While for Shigeko Kubota video was a holiday for art, New Media Art can be the childhood of art, or its spring.”

 

#collecting

The art market has already got to grips with the ephemeral nature of contemporary artworks. For our purposes it matters little whether these solutions are compromises, or in some cases, not terribly functional. The “Black Box” came about with the aim of offering a safe haven for the temporal nature of video, enabling it to be experienced over time; performance and conceptual art have learned to use methods of documentation (photography, video) and in some cases, certification. Even rapidly obsolete media have found a protocol: old film reels or VHS videos have migrated onto digital media, possibly also being restored in the process. Organic materials can be replaced, as can neon tubes. Sometimes it can be impossible to replace the original material: this was the case for Dan Flavin, who used a particular shade of red in his neon installations which has been withdrawn from the market due to toxicity. It was a fairly predictable outcome, but did not overly trouble his collectors. Hirst knows his sharks’ days are numbered but the artist’s popularity is not suffering as a result. Or it might be suffering, but for different reasons.

The issue of the “technical reproducibility” of works of art has also found a solution: photographs and videos sold in limited editions. Not even the digitalization of the image has challenged this convention, as absurd as this might seem. The fact of the matter is that those who collect works of art, be they museums or private individuals, do not let things like this stand in their way – unless they are convinced of the low cultural or financial value of the work in question. In other words, if New Media Art is struggling in market terms, this is not due to the aforementioned issues, but because there are still doubts over its value as art. Once again, it comes down to a question of appeal, a question that is influenced both by the technology and generation gap, the difficulties faced by traditional criticism and resistance to the New Media paradigm. If I have to choose between two things I have my doubts over, I will go for the one that offers more guarantees in terms of conservation and uniqueness. Such as a painting, for example.

#artmarket

“While museums have repeatedly attempted to ride the digital art wave, it is also true that other key areas of the contemporary art world have taken things much more slowly. And the sluggishness of critics, curators, galleries and collectors is what has occasioned the failure of all attempts to lend legitimacy to work using the new media in the contemporary art world. Together with the other players mentioned, the market and the collectors have the power to reverse this trend.”

 

#boho dance

“For our purposes the “Boho dance” model is a perfectly apt description of the way in which, over the last twenty years, New Media Art has approached the platform of contemporary art. Interpreted through the ritual described by Wolfe, this lengthy courtship could be described as an ongoing Boho dance enacted by two lovers who have never actually managed to consummate their relationship. […] There would be nothing wrong with this if New Media Art was a brand new avant-garde, ready to embark on its courtship ritual. The problem is that in our case, the Boho dance has been going on for almost twenty years, and while from time to time it might have seemed that Consummation was near, the applause never came. The result is that today this ritual looks like a pathetic tussle that has been dragging on for far too long. But why is this the case?”

 

#borders

“By rejecting the fetish object, and the aura that is both the cause and consequence of its financial worth, works of art lose the very characteristics that enable them to be distinguished from other kinds of artifacts. If we throw into the mix the fact that the New Media Art world has no objections to works with a functional value, but on the contrary is extremely well disposed towards works which elicit active engagement; that techne, in the New Media Art world, tends to prevail over content and that this very world has come together as a result of figures fleeing their respective “worlds” – various disciplines from visual arts to music, drama and dance – taking all these factors into account it is obvious that the typical work required by the New Media Art world is by nature a hybrid one, and that the confines of this world are anything but fixed.”

“[…] while the contemporary art world, in a small number of cases and with precise conditions, takes upon itself to welcome works from different disciplines and bestow the status of “art” upon them, the New Media Art world is a “temporary holding center” for works that are so radical or marginal that no-one else will take them. The only passkey required to enter is a creative use of technology.”