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Shanken Hybrid Discourse Draft 0 2

Shanken Hybrid Discourse Draft 0 2

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Published by Joseph Nechvatal

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Published by: Joseph Nechvatal on Apr 07, 2011
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ContemporaryArtandNewMedia:TowardaHybridDiscourse?
EdwardA.ShankenExpandedfromaconferencepaperfirstpresentedatTransformingCultureintheDigitalAge,TartuEstonia,15April,2010;excerptpresentedatISEA2010RUHR,Dortmund,23August,2010
DRAFTOFWORKINPROGRESS.PLEASEDONOTQUOTEWITHOUTAUTHOR’SPERMISSION
Sincethemid-1990s,newmediaart(NMA)hasbecomeanimportantforceforeconomicandculturaldevelopmentinternationally,establishingitsowninstitutions.Collaborative,transdisciplinaryresearchattheintersectionsofart,science,andtechnologyalsohasgainedesteemandinstitutionalsupportwithinterdisciplinaryPh.D.programsproliferatingaroundtheworld.Duringthesameperiod,mainstreamcontemporaryart(MCA)experienceddramaticgrowthinitsmarketandpopularity,propelledbyeconomicprosperityandthepropagationofinternationalmuseums,artfairsandexhibitions.Thisdynamicenvironmenthasnurturedtremendouscreativityandinventionbyartists,curators,theoristsandpedagoguesoperatinginbothdomains.Yetrarelydoesthemainstreamartworldconvergewiththenewmediaartworld.Asaresult,theirdiscourseshavebecomeincreasinglydivergent.MCApracticeandwritingareremarkablyrichwithideasabouttherelationshipbetweenartandsociety.Indeed,theyarefrequentlyengagedwithissuesthatpertaintoglobalconnectivityandsociabilityindigital,networkedculture.GiventheproliferationofcomputationandtheInternet,perhapsitwasinevitablethatcentraldiscoursesinMCAwouldemploy,ifnotappropriate,keytermsofdigitalculture,suchas“interactivity,”“participation,”“programming,”and“networks.”ButtheuseofthesetermsinMCAliteraturetypicallylacksadeepunderstandingofthescientificandtechnologicalmechanismsofnewmedia,thecriticaldiscoursesthattheorizetheirimplications,andtheinterdisciplinaryartisticpracticesthatareco-extensivewiththem.Similarly,mainstreamdiscoursestypicallydismissNMAonthebasisofitstechnologicalformorimmateriality,withoutfullyappreciatingitstheoreticalrichness,ortheconceptualparallelsitshareswithMCA.Newmedianotonlyoffersexpandedpossibilitiesforartbutoffersvaluableinsightsintotheaestheticapplicationsandsocialimplicationsofscienceandtechnology.Atitsbest,itdoessoinameta-criticalway.Inotherwords,itdeploystechnologicalmediainamannerthatself-reflexivelydemonstrateshownewmediaisdeeplyimbricatedinmodesofknowledgeproduction,perception,andinteraction,andisthusinextricablefromcorrespondingepistemologicalandontologicaltransformations.Toitsdetriment,NMAanditsdiscoursesoftendisplayanimpoverishedunderstandingofarthistoryandrecentaestheticandtheoreticaldevelopmentsinMCA.DuetothenatureofNMApracticeandtheory,asamatterofprinciple,itoftenrefusestoadopttheformallanguagesandmaterialsupportsofMCA.Thisisoneofmanyreasonswhyitfrequentlyfailstoresonateinthosecontexts.Theperennialdebateabouttherelationshipbetweenartandtechnologyandmainstreamarthasoccupiedartists,curators,andtheoristsformanydecades.Centraltothesedebateshavebeenquestionsoflegitimacyandself-ghettoization,thedynamicsofwhichareoftenintensionwitheachother.Inseekinglegitimacy,NMAhasnotonlytriedtoplaceitspracticeswithinthetheoreticalandexhibitioncontextsofMCAbuthasdevelopeditsowntheoreticallanguageandinstitutionalcontexts.Theformerattemptsgenerallyhavebeensofruitlessandthelattersosuccessful,
 
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thatanautonomousandisolatedNMAartworldemerged.Ithasexpandedrapidlyandinternationallysincethemid-1990s,andhasalltheamenitiesfoundinMCA,except,ofcourse,thelegitimacyofMCA.Thisscenarioraisesmanyquestionsthatestablishafertilegroundfordiscussionanddebate.WhatarethecentralpointsofconvergenceanddivergencebetweenMCAandNMA?Isitpossibletoconstructahybriddiscoursethatoffersnuancedinsightsintoeach,whilelayingafoundationforgreatermixingbetweenthem?Howhavenewmeansofproductionanddisseminationalteredtheroleoftheartist,curator,andmuseum?Whatinsightsintolargerquestionsofemergingartandculturalformsmightbegleanedbysucharapprochement?ArtWorldsFirst,itmustberecognizedtheverynotionofan“artworld”hasbeenaproblematicconceptsinceArthurDantointroducedthetermin1964.
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HowardBeckerchallengedthenotionofaunivocalartworldin1982,claimingthatthereweremultipleartworlds.AccordingtoBecker,eachofthemanyartworldsconsistsofa“networkofpeoplewhosecooperativeactivity,organizedviatheirjointknowledgeofconventionalmeansofdoingthings,produce(s)thekindofartworksthat[particular]artworldisnotedfor.”
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Thatsaid,anddespitegreatpluralismandinternalfriction,thereisarguablyamoreorlesscoherentnetworkincontemporaryartthatdominatesthemostprestigiousandpowerfulinstitutions.Thisisnottoproposeaconspiracytheorybuttoobserveadynamic,functioningsystem.
 
1ArthurDanto,“TheArtworld,
TheJournalofPhilosophy 
,Vol.61,No.19,AmericanPhilosophicalAssociationEasternDivisionSixty-FirstAnnualMeeting.(Oct.15,1964):571-584.2Becker,HowardS.
ArtWorlds
.Berkeley:UniversityofCaliforniaPress,1982.
Next,itmustberecognizedthatthemainstreamcontemporaryartworld(MCA)doesnotneednewmediaart(NMA);oratleastitdoesnotneedNMAinordertojustifyitsauthority.Indeed,thedominationofMCAissoabsolutethattheterm“artworld”issynonomouswithit.Despitethedistinguishedoutcomesgeneratedbytheentwinementofart,science,andtechnologyforhundredsofyears,MCAcollectors,curators,andinstitutionshavedifficultyinrecognizingNMAasavalid,muchlessvaluable,contributiontothehistoryofart.AsMagdalenaSawon,co-founder/co-directorofPostmasterGallerynotes,NMAdoesnotmeetfamiliarexpectationsofwhatartshouldlooklike,feellike,andconsistofbasedon“hundredsofyearsofpaintingandsculpture.”
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Itisdeemeduncollectiblebecause,asAmyCappellazzo,acontemporaryartexpertatChristie’sobserves,“collectorsgetconfusedandconcernedaboutthingsthatplugin.”
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TheoperationallogicoftheMCA–itsjob,sotospeak–demandsthatitcontinuallyabsorbandbeenergizedbyartisticinnovation,whilemaintainingandexpandingitsownfirmlyentrenchedstructuresofpowerinmuseums,fairsandbiennials,artstars,collectors,galleries,auctionhouses,journals,canonicalliterature,anduniversitydepartments.Thisisbynomeansasimplebalancingactandeachoftheseactorshasavestedinterestinminimizingvolatilityandreinforcingthestatusquo,whilemaximizingtheirownrewardsinahighlycompetitiveenvironment.Theirpowerliesintheirauthoritativecommandofthehistoryandcurrent
 
3Interviewwiththeauthor,13April,2010.PostmasterGalleryisoneofthefewgalleriesinNewYorkthatdoesnotdrawdistinctionsbetweenNewMediaandContemporaryart,representingimportantartistsassociatedwithbothartworlds.4QuotedinSarahThornton,
SevenDaysintheArtWorld 
(London:Granta,2008)p.21.
 
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practicesofMCAandinpromotingconsensusandconfidenceinthemarketthatanimatesit.Assuch,theirpower,authority,financialinvestment,andinfluenceareimperiledbyperceivedinterlopers,suchasNMA,whichlieoutsidetheirexpertiseandwhich,informandcontent,challengemanyofMCA’sfoundations,includingthestructureofitscommercialmarket.Witness,forexample,thedistressofthe“bigfour”labelsofthemusicrecordingindustry.Fromthisperspective,therearesubstantialdisincentivesonthepartoftheoldguardtopreventthestormingofthegates,oratleasttobarthegatesforaslongaspossible.Typicalstrategiesincludeignoringinterlopersaltogetherordismissingthemonsuperficialgrounds.NMA,ifnotignored,istypicallydismissedonthebasisofitstechnologicalmaterialitybutwithoutrecognitionorunderstandingofitsconceptualdimensionsanditsnumerousparallelswiththeconcernsofMCA.Ielaboratedsomeofthesedynamicsinmyessay,“ArtintheInformationAge,”whichidentifiedcontinuitiesbetweenartandtechnologyandconceptualartinthelate1960s.ThecomplexanduneasyrelationshipbetweenNMAandMCAishardlynew.ButthegrowinginternationalstatureofNMAandtheseeminglyirrepressiblemomentumithasgathered,makeMCA’songoingdenialofitincreasinglyuntenable.Foritspart,NMAhasachievedalevelofself-sustainingautonomousindependencefromMCAthatisperhapsunprecedented.LikeMCA,NMAismarkedbypluralismandinternalfrictions.YetIcanthinkofnoothermovementortendencyinthehistoryofartsince1900thathasdevelopedsuchanextensiveinfrastructure,includingitsownmuseums,fairsandbiennials,journals,literature,anduniversitydepartmentsthatfunctionindependentlybutinparallelwithMCA.IncontrasttoMCA,itlacksgalleries,collectors,andasecondarymarket.Butnewmediaartinstitutionsandpractitionershavefoundfinancialsupportfromdiversecorporate,governmental,educational,andnot-for-profitsourcesthatarelocal,regional,national,andtransnational.TheArsElectronicaCenter,inLinz,Austria,builtin1996,recentlywasthebeneficiaryofa€30millionexpansioncompletedin2009.Thismaypaleincomparisontothe£215millionextensionplannedfortheTateModernorthe$430millionbudgetforanewdowntownbranchoftheWhitneyMuseum.However,giventhatthepopulationofLinzisunder200,000,€30millionrepresentsasubstantialdedicationofculturalresourcestoNMA.Inthedomainofpublishingandideas,thenumberofscholarlycitationsforkeyworksofMCAandNMAtheoryisalsoilluminating.AccordingtoGoogleScholar,NicolasBourriaud’snowclassicbook,
RelationalAesthetics
,hasformidablecitationindexesof115forthe1998Frenchversionand240forthe2002Englishtranslation.Bycomparison,LevManovich’s
LanguageofNewMedia
,publishedin2001,hasawhoppingcitationindexof2271.
5
DespiteMCA’srefusaltoseriouslyreckonwithNMA,NMAis,inamannerofspeaking,anartworldforcetobereckonedwith.HybridDiscoursesandRelationalAestheticsMygoalistomapthediscoursesofMCAandNMAontoeachothertoidentifypointsofconvergenceanddivergence.Icontendthateachcanlearnagreatdealfromtheother.IalsobelievethatthetwoarenotasdissimilarasthosepartiesbentonpreservingtheMCAstatusquowouldsuggestandthatNMAshouldtakeamoreprominentplaceinthecanonofcontemporaryarthistory.ThetheoreticaldiscoursesofMCAandNMAareaspluralisticastheartisticpracticesthatcomprisethesetwoartworlds.INMCA,thepoliticaldimensionofartwasakeythemeofDocumenta10,directedbycuratorCatherineDavidin1997.Globalizationalsobeenacentraltopic,explored
 
5http://scholar.google.comCited11April,2010.Thisextraordinarilyhighcitationindexcanbeexplainedbyafewfactors.
Language
appearedatatimewhentherewerefewothertheoreticaltextsonNMA,while
RelationalAesthetics
hadmorecompetition.Moreover,
Language
appealsnotonlytocontemporaryartaudiences,buttogeneralreaderswithaninterestinnewmedia.

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