Media Art Undone discussion

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Question Florian Cramer:
I think if one looks at the term media art theoretically, it doesn't make any sense at all. Because any art is always about media and any good art is always also a reflection of its media. That's the ground assumption. Then I would like to go back to what Inke mentioned as the tactical use of that term. I think we actually need some kind of tactical use and I'm afraid, also I'm not happy about it, we still need the two systems. And that became perhaps clear in another event here in this very academy which was about the current reform of copyright. And there you saw that, unfortunately or not, we really have two cultures and two completely mind-sets. We're the entire culture, namely, let's say, oldschool artists who see copyright, intellectual property and the notion of the original of the original as a kind of insurance policy and a kind of labour rights, they as atists own, whereas in net culture, (or that what is now called digital culture in this festival) I think, there has been a very strong copyright-critical, anti-copyright, copy-left tendancy and I don't see how you can overcome these two modes of production, these completely different kinds of understandings of the status of the art and the status of ownership and the status of the original. Having art which doesn't have originals anymore and which doesn't have objects to sell, unless it's going back to the gallery spaces with these specific computers that Olia was showing. I don't know how you can resolve that cultural gap within the current art system. And I think as long as the art system with its white cubes is not receptive to that, and as long as it fundamentally relies on a notion of an object that has exhibition value, to quote Walter Benjamin, and that has a signature, an artistic signature of an original, at some point, and that is limited by copyright. As long as that exists, I think we still need these two systems and that's also the reason why in fact especially the artists that Inke was showing in her slightshow, often they didn't come from the traditional media art field. Many of the net artists, who came into so called media art in the 1990s, actually had a background in sub-culture. And the entire copyright art, if I think e.g. of Mongrel/IOD, who started at the festivals of plagiarism in the late 1980s, if I think of the Zero One's, who started on the Luther Blissett projects - they all come from practices that weren't media but they found the media art system a receptive platform for doing an art that is not working with the old notion of intellectual property and that seems to be an important issue for me.

Answer Diedrich Diederichsen:
There's plenty of gallery art or projects these days that are not for sale, not based on originals or objects, that someone takes home or can even take home. And they are de-built after they've been shown and so on. But of course, they are part of the gallery system and so there is something to be sold and there is something sold: little fetishistic things, traces, leftovers. Which reminds me of the way how the music business, the sub-cultural music business works these days. You sell tee-shirts or caps or something, that's how you finance an operation that is mainly about doing something processual or performative on stage that you cannot sell or that you can only partly sell. So I don't think that this is such an (I mean, at least in terms of what the artworks were talking about) unbridgeable gap in terms of practices. It's only a different form of organisation and of course it is also something that has been a subject matter in the very art of the 60s, of course, when art became art as an idea, that people like Buchloh and others are canonising now. Even then certain side effects of non-objective art were fetishized, like the typeface of Dan Grahams typewriter. But in the beginning it was already the same thing, so I think this is from the practice and from their several mixtures around, it's not totally unbridgeable. In general I don´t think that the critical art discourse of the last 40, 50 years had a lot to do with owning artworks. It was about experiences and reproductions. I would even argue that this is the reason why non-objectivity was much earlier to be had in visual art than in other arts: because the intellectual interest was not in the object as a storage of data, like a book or a record: you just had to know that it exists.

What I'm surprised about (just to make this little remark as a non-regular of this place) is, how easy it is to say 'we' here - and be emphatical about it. This is very difficult to do in other cultural milieus these days and in most cases, where this is possible, you need some kind of opponent in order to be able to say 'we'. You need a large enemy and I'm kind of suspicious that this kind of enemy is not really existing, except if we talk about some real large enemy like capitalism, but in this smaller sense, like Buchloh, Krauss and others and their book: everyone knows that when you write down a canon in such an aggressive and authoritarian way, everything that is covered by this, is no longer really valid. No one would touch the canonized, except maybe a few first or second semester students, who have to. And that is a pity, of course, for the work that is part of it, - different from you - I care a lot about. To me it's not a pleasant effect of it that Broodthaers is a now canonized and used to torture art history students. Probably it is not that far. But as an enemy it's not really working.

Question Manray Hsu:
I'm a curator from Taiwan in contemporary art and I happened to curate biennials and working very much in the fields of biennials, going to conferences, giving talks and workshops and things like that. When I hear Tim talking about 'we' I feel kind of uneasy because when I sit here I feel like I'm the opponent, I don't believe in the school of october, whereas in the case of many contemporary art curators that are also working in both fields. And I also highly appreciate the attempt by many of 'us' here trying to bridge the gap by making the effort, e.g. Inke in this case is trying to use the concept of the contemporary as if we use 'the' contemporary and try to pursue in what is the contemporary, in its own content, it its strategic way of approach, then maybe we can find some common ground to bridge that gap. And I really appreciate the examples that Inke has given that are actually examples, you can say, in contemporary art exhibitions that are very easily included in any biennials or contemporary exhibitions. But I think the problem now is that when you work in this field you also find that throughout looking at this new technology art or media art, you also find that the whole development is still going on. And then there is a big area where it is difficult for contemporary art to consider to include in there. And usually that's this kind of blurred line which is very interesting at a moment, e.g. I can say at an exhibition you try to include "media art", then I would not consider work that really explores into technology development per se, like the very high-tech and with no conceptual link to contemporary life or whatever. So it's like on this line where we find how the differences in a unmediated moment still. So, why we are trying to find a convergence or a way to marry the two fields that we are very conscious about the similarities but at the same time also the differences. And I think it's also interesting to look at this fine line that runs through how e.g. in both fields young curators or art historians trying to cross the gap and how they confine the differences, how they include from into eachother, or - I don't know if this is also part of Inke's strategy - if that strategy is going to work, it would make media art as a subcategory of contemporary art. So is that part of the intention? It's a possible outcome of it and can we take that as well?

Answer Timothy Druckrey:
Though I used this example of "Art in 1900" of the October school, I don't count them as an opposition. I just count them as those who have decided to speak for an entire 20st century, half of which belongs not to them but to us.

Answer Inke Arns:
Thanks, Manray, for your statement which I really appreciate. I would like to react to what you have said. You asked whether it was my intention to turn media art into a subcategory of contemporary art? No, not exactly. Let me tell you why I think that this won't be working. It is, as you said, because of the similarities and the differences between media art and contemporary art.

I was trying to argue that it is important to claim that media art is part of the contemporary art field. It's as valid as any kind of other practice in that field. At the same time there's something in the field of media art that is impossible to – if you want to use that word - sub-categorise under the existing structures or categories of contemporary art. That’s, I would say, in some cases a really very deep, very intense experimentation with technology which still makes it very different from contemporary art. This kind of involvement or experimentation is just not being taken seriously in the field of contemporary art. Secondly, besides the sometimes playful, sometimes very serious fooling around with technology, there is, in many of the works I am thinking about, a very conceptual approach or questioning of our world that is relying increasingly on media/technologies. And this conceptual approach does not, as I have tried to argue, necessarily have to use these specific media or technologies. It can rather be executed in many different media. This is what I meant when I was speaking about media art emancipating itself from the ‚compulsion’ to use media/technologies.

If you want to be really heretic you could claim that it is media art and its specific contemporaneity I have tried to describe that makes the ideas dealt with more contemporary than the ones contemporary visual art is dealing with.

Question Peter Krell:
My name is Peter Krell, I'm from Game Face Magazine and I would like to mention that I've been living through this process of the end of the eurocentrism and coming from werstern culture, so to speak, and being with an Asian background which I think makes this time for us very interesting indeed. To see the entire culture opening up towards a new view which is also becoming to taking in account that there is a strong Asiatic economic space bringing along old traditional background with at least 5000 years down the lines. Though I think it's very interesting towards like terminologies, we try to put on everybody, like it's a notion of commercialism, of course, but also colonialism attached to it that those terminologies of Chinese for instance, they do speak to a certain audience and we are part of that community. And I'm also considering myself to be part for this community. And therefore I think the unfinished logo from this show is really much indeed very accurate and it does reflect on many notions of cultural changes, shifts and changes taking place right now. Where the art culture itself and the way we talk about the word 'art' and what it could signify in several languages does change and what I do understand about digital culture, though, is that the digital is just a face like Bernhard Siegert has e.g. put forward in his book 'Die Passage des Digitalen' (The Passage of the the Digital), which does mean that the other high-tech generation to be basically anticipated already and that the digital cultures also predominated by standards from huge corporations. And they are our common ground when we're speaking about art and media art, because bottom line those standards make our work, our art works work and I think this is where we are getting all embraced by those technological standards. And the way to theorise about it could include to have this perception of individuality and also identity pressions attached to questions of dealing with, what we call, the open space or the idea of freedom. And then dealing with China.

Question:
I would like to relate back to the panels theme 'media art done un' or 'undone' or 'done'. Done or undone is something I could relate to something I know about, I gain some knowledge, I come back to it or refuse it because it's done, it's not interesting anymore. But I think with this whole artistic practice some people formerly used to call new media art, or whatever I'd prefer to call it, art dealing or using instable media. So it's hard to document or to deliberate for one time, so this really involves problems why books, like this one Timothy Druckrey mentioned, are probably still important and art history is still important because now we already experience generations of artists re-inventing the wheel again and again, which is considerably boring. So other people who experienced former times think, 'oh my god, this is really done, isn't it?'. While others in the same cultural environment think, 'wow, this is a really refreshing idea or concept'. So I think the basic concept of something being done or undone in this sense of can we re-think it or can we leave it and proceed to something else, not to proceed in this kind of old fashioned 'Fortschrittsgedanke' but just, in a way, proceed in depth perhaps needs something to reflect upon this kind of knowledge, intellectual excess. So that's why I think it's important also to think about historical methods, kinds of documentations that is really difficult, not perhaps only limited to electronic media, but it was already the case with performance or performative arts in general. But I think that's why the question is not so much or not solely about terminology or about artistic environments. At least, perhaps, to this point of audiences because if greater audience keeps records or something the chance is little greater that it is transported over the time, like it be by oral history. And so I would like to bring this kind of idea into the discussion.

Question:
As someone who went to study in a media art department in the late 1980s, I find it intriguing to sort of following the career of the word 'media'. Because then nobody really cared much about it outside of media departments, but after that the art world has become full of media art defining artists as media artists and my colleagues in all that fields like literature or - what have you become also of media - scholars in a way. And so I think it was appropriate to site the Kittler notion that media determine our situation. In the same book he proposes that the word 'medium' will become irrelevant and erode, and I think it's interesting to study the career of the notion of the word 'medium' from this spreading all over the place and this, maybe, sort of situation where people find it less relevant to use. So, I wanted to thank the panel to contributing to understanding this career, but also I want to ask you, there's two conflicting notions of media art circulating in the discussion now. I think one more specific when it comes to maybe digital art or technology driven in sort of a more minor way. And then another which is to say that all art is media art because every artist is in some way working on a medium. So I don't know if you could comment on that tension and how you see the concept of media art related to that. I could also add that for a strategic point of view it seems to me that what is the media art of transmediale is partly adopted totally in the art institution, and I mean video, which is now very central whereas the digital part maybe, which is more marginalised in the history which Timothy drew up.

Answer Timothy Druckrey:
You're saying that all art is media art because it was done with some sort of apparatus, some media. For me it's just facile and not very interesting to say that painting was made with paint. One really does have to make the distinction what constitutes media practices. That is very much using the very apparatus itself as part of the commentary on the use of the apparatus. One other thing for me is that grounds the notion of being modern is that (in modernity, let's say) which is that art experience is mediated by the experiences second order. This is for me one of the characterising factors of being in modern culture. That of our experiences through an apparatus. Somehow we're observers of the machine observing us. And I think this has become now the most pervasive thing that is happening to us. So, it's easy to think if I do it with a pencil or a pen or a typewriter, it's media art. For me it's just a way too large to a simplification. We have to then determine like when is it that conscious interrogation of the apparatus itself as an idea become part of different practices and one ground. One can start this in cinema, or can start this with the radio, I mean it's hard to choose a starting point. But for our sake, let's say, we choose either the slow confrontation with the algorithms of the computer. I mean for our purposes one can start with, Kittler does it in other ways with the grammophone, film and typewriter. So then I think we have to decide that this term actually has a real meaning for us and that it establishes a difference between a kind of - not what, if I remember Inke used this phrase like expanded field - this idea, but for me it's about a distributed field because then it's about a whole series of other issues. So for me the media arts are about consciously understanding that the role of the apparatus itself is part of the interrogation, not simply a functional device. I use a typewriter, therefore I'm a media artist. This is absurd. So I think that's a way of unravel that question.

Answer Olia Lialina:
I would like to say something maybe very banal, but I really feel uncomfortable when computers and networks, such important environments, are just brought to the level of tools that we use to make art. So this is probably, I think, important to mention that at this moment that this is something much, much bigger than just the instrument or the tool for the artist to create art works.

Question:
I would like to make a small comment on this sentence from Kittler that the 'Medien bestimmen unsere Lage'. There are many ways that one can understand this sentence and there are many media because many media are able to define our position like e.g. prison bars for a prisoner. The prison bars are a medium that define the disposition of a prisoner, e.g. I wouldn't say I'm a curator but I'm involved in organising events, squatted houses like the Rauchhaus here in Berlin that has the name from Georg von Rauch, who was assassinated by the police with a media. It was a pistol and there was that kind of bullett that came into his body and killed him. So that's another way to define your position through media, through pistols. Nowadays the police is using other kinds of media to interact with public 'Darstellungen' (displays), exhibitions like demonstrations. As they used pistols, now they are using cameras. That's some other kind of media that 'bestimmen unsere Lage'. Like filming demonstrations and things like that. That's how police is getting artistical nowadays. I think that's also a theme to think about in this context.

Answer Diedrich Diederichsen:
Although you can write a name on a bullett, it doesn't mean that a bullet is a medium. I mean, it's not.

Question:
I have a question coming back to the word 'media'. I understand media art coming from more a tradition from the 60s with Nam June Paik, a heavy influence by Marshall McLuhan and that had actually relation to mass media. And at the same time the expression 'the medium is the message'. So they used electronic media that at that time had a message. So I guess my question is how much of media art today has to do with mass media? That's really for me an essential point in the 60s and the 70s and it seems today media art is diversified into all sorts of art that has nothing to do with the mass media as such, but uses new technology as itself. So it's almost medium is the message in that same context and that's for my question, how much is the mass media in the media art?

Answer Inke Arns:
That’s a good question, indeed. Aren’t all media today mass media? I would certainly agree with you that in the beginning, i.e. in the 1960s, „media art“ (btw. it would be interesting to research the origins of that notion) was about critically dealing with the mass media. Just think about the TV interventions by Wolf Vostell or Nam June Paik.

But media art was also about developing, or placing minor media against mass media. Minor media in this sense being a certain practice or way of using the media. There are these opposing models of centralized, one-way (mass) media and decentralized, two-way new media, like e.g. the Internet. Certain technical structures, like the Internet, allow „talking back“ (bottom-up) or (horizontal) networking in an easier way that centralized structures do ...

I don’t think you can say that all media art today is dealing with mass media. This would be a rather defensive position. However, there is a great variety of other kinds of approaches, like e.g. the media archaeological approach with is looking into the past in order to find alternative structural models for the present.

What is very interesting in the context of your question about the mass media: If you look at net based media art practices then and now, it can be noticed that what once has been an alternative, non-centralized medium has partly turned into a mass medium (even if not in the strict technical sense of the word). This is reflected in the transition from net art to web art. What is interesting, though, is that it was rather net art that critically and very sharply talked about the net turning into a mass medium. Web art uses the technical tricks without reflecting much the nature of „mass media“.

Answer Olia Lialina:
It's not kind of, it's really mass medium.

Answer Timothy Druckrey:
It surprises me that the world is in more or less other dismay. And surrounded by violence and war fear and terrorism and the collapsing eco system, that there's so little work that reflects on the position of the world in the way that I wonder how Inke would respond to be in the contemporary, how little work there's actually to think about the effect, mass media effect, which is so overwhelming and everybody's like at the point where I think it's almost impossible to reflect. And this surprises me how little work there is that really thinks about this.

Question:
It seems like media art seems to be non mass media critical, and that's what I seem to speculate on this. Maybe the term media art is completely non-usable really when you say technology art like video art that has, that is turning it with aesthetics, or with other conceptual content, nothing to do with mass media at all, which is, if you look at the early works from Nam June Paik, cutting up television and all sorts of things, so a mass media critical, and that seems to be nothing to do with contemporary media art.

Answer Timothy Druckrey:
I think there are a range of people who are actually interested in this sort of deconstruction. They are rarely, or let's say frequently, included in the forums like Ars Electronica or transmediale or DEAF, because the social politics of the mass media seems to lay outside of their purview. And this is a deficiency that I think needs to be addressed in some events like this. It's like a refusal to think about this political issues and I think that's really unfortunate. I think there's one panel on Iraq here.

Answer Olia Lialina:
I never use the word media art but I really liked your question very much. Nevertheless, I think it's a really important point that I was working for a long time with a medium which was new. With Internet and Web. And then there is this really shift happening that it becomes a mass medium. Not only matured and adult and maybe boring, but that's really a different life of the medium, of technology and people and scientists, and this is something really not so easy to answer but it is a big issue to think about.

Question:
I just want to come back to the defintion of media art. Timothy answered by requiring sort of a conscious interrogation of the apparatus itself. A problem with such a position might be that it holds media art in sort of Greenbergian media specificity definition and maybe this is why Inke starts calling some kind of contemporaneity, I'm not sure, but maybe you could address this because such a Greenbergian media specificity explorations seems to be quite out of touch with a situation where you have social relational art and so on.

Answer Inke Arns:
That’s a very interesting point you are making. I think this is exactly it. I think this, as you called it, „Greenbergian“ media specificity of lot of media art projects is exactly the reason that keeps a larger contemporary art context from really getting involved into it. In this case the „Greenbergian“ media specificity would be opposed to contemporaneity. That's one thing.

The other thing is that you could see a very big difference between what Timothy has said and what I have said (dealing with the apparatus vs. contemporaneity). However, I would define the notion of the apparatus in a different way, if I may do so. Timothy said that media art is about the conscious interrogation of the apparatus. I do agree with this. I would say that such an interrogation of the apparatus is essential for contemporaneity. However, I would define the apparatus not as the individual machine, but rather as the technological system or the media systems the world is increasingly based on. If you define the apparatus in this way then it makes complete sense and then it's a very good definition of contemporaneity because technology is not apolitical. It's very political, even if technicians always say, 'I'm merely developing the technology'. I've heard this so many times. Engineers who are developing RFID technology say, 'I'm just the technician, I'm just doing the mathematics. It's not political what I'm doing, it's technology'. I would say: it’s not. It’s just the opposite.

Answer Timothy Druckrey:
One quick clarification. I didn't want to say that media art is only about the apparatus, the interrogation of the apparatus, but one of the things that diffentiates media art from use of any media. It's only a component, it's not certainly the role. Therefore I couldn't go along thinking that it's a Greenbergian category, but that's a different problem. But it's not the essiantial character but it's a thing that differentiates one field from another. You can do it from starting from Nam June Paik who was interrogating the possibilities of the machine, or the Vasulkas. Even to Herwig Weiser's 'Dead Before Disko', there's also a kind of interrogation of what the function of the machine should be without the assumptions that the functions of the machines are normative.

Answer Diedrich Diederichsen:
But isn't that a constant feature of all critical art of all kind, of the (at least second half, if not the whole) 20th century and whatever medium, whatever dispositif or constellation they have worked in? Isn't this example that Olia has given, these screens that are computers, that hide that they are computers, not the usual paradigm of backlash, one that has been seen a million times before in other formats, as e.g. in the white cube or all these kind of dispositives that hide what they are and where constantly critical art has re-exposed it and so on? And I mean is this all there is to that conflict or what else?

Answer Timothy Druckrey:
I can only go slight detours to say that one of the things you can see in the institutional, in the art museums approach to media art is, on the one hand it's essentially about passivity. It's mostly been projections, it's about passivity. So it's about the invisibilty of the apparatus on any possible level. Most media art is essentially not about this. And the other thing is, it comes already now with another kind of theory. And I think also with another territory for us to think about. Let's call it the relational aesthetics, which bypasses media art to create a gallery art with a metaphors of media or without media at all.

Answer Diedrich Diederichsen:
I'm not a supporter of this theory at all. But I think it's a grave and classical misunderstanding to think of activity in forms of physical activity or movement. I think of the aesthetic experience as an activity and it's not based on my body being moving and the aesthetic experience that is connected with the reception of conscious or critical interrogation of the apparatus is an activity I can easily do standing or sitting still. So there is a certain type of passivity in all kind of art dispositive that has nothing to do with passivity in a sense of being brainwashed or being just passive on the mind. You have to recompose a composition in real time on the spot to be able to get it, that is very active, but you can do it sitting still.

Answer Timothy Druckrey:
To be standing still is just to be an observer, defies what characterises most important media art.

Answer Diedrich Diederichsen:
That's not true. Standing still does not mean you're just an observer. Your intellectual and sensual activity is shaping and influencing the material that you are receiving.

Remark:
I have first a comment. It would be interesting to define passivity, because I do agree with Diedrich with the fact that you can't understand media art as being distinctive from other media because it's conscious of its apparatus. Because the best painters have always been those who were critical of the history of painting and all this. However, this brings me to my remark. It's a fact that this kind of discussion that is going on today resamples quite neatly what has happened e.g. to video art. And that passivity Timothy is talking about is actually the destiny to which video art has kind of sadly come (not all kind of video art, of course). But the fact that it's become just a means of support. There's no 'conscious' of the history. What you see right now in video art is that there's no 'conscious' of what has been done beforehand. Going with the moving image, it has a nice effect, you have the loop systems, what makes it easy to present the work, you have the loop and it presents itself definitively. So there's something of a criticality which has been lost. And it's interesting because I would say 30 years ago video art was actually asking itself this question: should we keep going with video art, should we keep having separate festivals, should we keep having separate magazines, and journals? And at one point this questions just kind of got lost and contemporary art got invaded by video to a point where video doesn't really exist anymore. To a certain point it's become contemporary art. So it didn't really have that edge anymore. And it would seem to me that in many ways it's kind of a lesson to what we could actually be thinking today, which is a sense that maybe the question is not to say is it good or bad, to use this terminology of new media. I think that most would agree that there is a problem now, because of it's uneasy. I were using it in a tactical way or were using it to consider a field, at the same time there's the sense that there's this dialogue between the other media. And especially the term 'new' is bothering, I think, a lot of people in a sense that it just brings us back again to this kind of history as progress, history as making anything that has been done obsolete, and you're always searching for the new. And so it seems to me that, coming back to Inke and to Timothy, I think there were two important notions. On one hand art history trying to re-think how we can write art history not as the example that were just producers, you know, the october thing. And then the notion that Inke proposes, which is the contemporary. Because I would think that one model e.g. of rewriting history that could, what I'm trying to see, if I say that, is, that if I'm trying to answer 'is it good or bad', to continue to use 'new', it's perhaps this moment where I feel uncomfortable with it and to make that productive and not to kind of annulated term of keep the term. There's an uneasyness, let's use it to produce something interesting. So if we would, e.g., decide we gonna do a new form, a new writing of art history, which would be, e.g., let's think of the 20th century and all the contemporaneities that were produced throughout the 20th century. Let's think, e.g., the model that has been produced by Zielinski, where he is saying instead of looking for the old in the new, let's look for the new in the old. And that for me is an interesting model, because you get out of the things of the obsolete and you're re-thinking using this moment of uneasyness to re-think the writing of art history. And there is an interesting example, and for him the motor is variantology.

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