1016 LISA Conference, Guggenheim NYC

The futility of media art
in a contemporary art
Provocations based on 17 years of experience with
media art and the intimate knowledge of realities
of life as a full-time media artist.

Marius Watz

Me: Self-taught artist, educator and sometime
curator. Involved in media art since 1995.
• 1984: First computer (TRS-80)
• 1993: Computer Science
• 1994: End of Computer Science

1996: Co-curator of Electra, major media art
exhibition at Henie-Onstad Art Center, Oslo.
Featured large-scale interactive installations,
experimental design, historical works. Virtual
Reality, experimental hardware, interactive video
etc. 42000+ visitors.
Artists: Laurie Anderson, Diller + Scofidio,
Ulrike Gabriel, Perry Hoberman, Knowbotic
Research, Greg Lynn, Sommer + Mignonneau etc. etc.
(Also: “Sense:less” - VR installation by Mork, Pendry, Stenslie and Watz)

Sense:less (1996)

Mork, Pendry, Stenslie, Watz
VR installation

Due to art world politics and an unforgivable
lack of documentation Electra has been completely
forgotten and might as well never have happened,
despite being seen by 42000+ people.
Furthermore: The artists in the show were
considered highly successful at the time, but many
have since stopped making work. As a result, most
media artists I know have no knowledge of their
practices or significant works.

background, Cont.
1997-2002: The Lost Years. Web design, dotcom
idiocy, experimental personal web projects,
corporate identity consultancy.
2003: Post-dotcom crash relocation to Berlin,
committing to making art full time.
2005: Curated Generator.x as a reaction to the
media art establishment’s ignorance of generative
art and formalist abstraction based on code.
2012: Still making art full time.

Initial artistic focus
• Investigation of software processes as art
objects in and of themselves
• Semi-autonomous generative systems producing
visual abstractions based on constrained random
• Displayed on screens or as projections, often as
ambient visual environments in public situations
(festivals, public spaces etc)

System_C (2004)

Realtime software

Illuminations (2006)

Realtime software

Illuminations (2006)

Realtime software

Electroplastique (2005)

Multi-screen video

Transition to objectmaking
• Frustration with screens as mediating mechanism,
lack of physical presence combined with growing
interest in spatial structures
• Experimentation with digital fabrication
processes to produce physical objects as the
direct consequence of software processes
• Product: 3D printed objects, drawings made with
CNC tools, parametric sculpture, rule-based
light installations, tape drawings based on
projected images

Grid Distortion (2011)

Laser on plywood

Grid Distortion (2011)

Laser on plywood

Grid Distortion (2011)

Laser on alumminum

Wall Exploder + Form studies


Tape drawing, Makerbot 3D prints

Probability Lattice (2012)

Parametric objects intended for
lo-fi 3D printing (Makerbot)

Probability Lattice (2012)

Parametric objects intended for
lo-fi 3D printing (Makerbot)

Modular (2012)

3D printed objects (Makerbot)

KBG - screentest (2012)

StandardVision test for facade
at Taman Anggrek, Jakarta

Arcs[Rockheim] (2012)

Public facade

Reality check, 2012
(Cheerleading not included)
• Media art remains largely ignored by the
mainstream art world as constituted by curators,
critics, museums, galleries, biennials, art
fairs, trade magazines and collectors.
• Contemporary art discourse continues to be
remarkably clueless (or perhaps willfully
ignorant) about the intersection of tech and
culture, not to mention central concerns in
media art.
• (Open Source has gotten some traction, but
usually liberally re-interpreted)

Reality check, 2012
• A small minority of media artists have
successfully crossed over into the mainstream,
showing in galleries, museums and art fairs and
having their works collected.
(Examples: Cory Arcangel, Jim Campbell, Claudia Hart, Ryoji Ikeda,
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Carsten Nicolai, Jennifer Steinkamp...)

• Increasingly, media artists are leveling up and
playing the art market game with varying degrees
of success. Established art schools having media
art programs is fuelling this trend.
(Examples: Aram Bartholl, Joanie Lemercier, Eva and Franco Mattes, Casey
Obviously, the examples given here are inexhaustive and completely

Reality check, 2012
• However: Most media artists not only do not have
access to galleries and fairs, they don’t even
speak “contemporary art” or know how to approach
a gallery.
• Several artists who have gained gallery
representation have since been moved to “B”
rosters or downgraded to dealer relationships,
despite their status as movers and shakers in
the media art world.
Caveat: It’s obviously not a birthright to have gallery
representation or be collected, nor is it an indication of
inherent artistic relevance. Still, it’d be nice to know
that some of your work will survive if you get run over by
a bus.

Reality check, 2012
Common denominators for crossover artists:
• Practices with conceptual overtones combined
with the production of spectacular (and
collectable) objects using relatively stable
• Conspicuous avoidance of media art terminology
combined with knowledge of contemporary art
world mechanics.
• Produce works that can be understood as
extensions of conventional art practices (video,
sculpture, installation etc.)

Reality check, 2012
• A small number of galleries do specialize
in media art (Bitforms, [DAM]Berlin etc.),
participating in art fairs and educating a small
if growing collector base.
• A somewhat larger number of commercial galleries
represent occasional media artists that fit their
rosters (often conforming to the crossover
criteria described previously)
• Increasingly, media artists recognize the
dangers of being boxed into the media art
“ghetto”, adapting their work and terminology

The Media art “Ghetto”
• By which I mean the isolation of the media
art scene from other contemporary art arenas,
complete with a separate discourse and dedicated
exhibitions and festivals (esp. in Europe)
• Benefits: Access to earmarked cultural funding,
freedom to develop ideas unique to media art,
dedicated platform allowing emerging artists to
produce and show work. Some media art events
have achieved popular
• Pitfalls: Media art becomes irrelevant to
contemporary art. Media artists are marginalized
and have difficulty gaining recognition outside
the ghetto.

The Media art “Ghetto”
• Focus on integrated festival concepts is not
always conducive to optimal presentation of art
• Such events are invariably group shows, limiting
artists to a single spectacular gesture rather
than a nuanced narrative
• “Alternative” art venues and integrated events
are awesome, but contemplative works rarely do
well next door to a glitchcore concert.

media art falsehoods
Media art is immature and not capable of
producing “great” works (FALSE)
Media art is not collectable due to
instability of technology (FALSE, mostly)
Media art is only concerned with novelty
and gadgetry (FALSE)
BTW: There’s plenty of bad art being made in all media. Why discriminate?

Warning: Cynical observations incoming,
many of them sadly true.

The success of media art is NOT a matter
of time. Media art history is constantly
being forgotten.
The current historical interest and
“re-discovery” of media artists from
the 1960’s does not significantly help
artists working today.
The idea that future art history will
vindicate the current generation of media
artists is of very little comfort.

The disparity between the proven
popularity of media art with lay
audiences and the willingness of art
world gatekeepers to show / curate /
write about it is telling.

To say that art is “digital” or “made
with computers” is meaningless.
Anthony Gormley is not considered a
digital or generative artist, despite
his use of custom parametric software
Wade Guyton’s solo show at Whitney might
be “Painting, Rebooted” (NY Times), but
describing it as based on technology is
trite in the extreme. Printing press, anyone?

...but at least I’m not a

To say that art is “digital” or “made
is meaningless.
For all
the moaning
that can justifiably
be done about the lack of recognition for
is not
considered a
media art,
digital or generative artist, despite
of custom
skill setssoftware
that are
supremely bankable. Web dev might not be
glamorous, but at least you’re not giving
at Whitney
on the upper
Rebooted” (NY Times), but
describing it as based on technology is
trite in the extreme. Printing press, anyone?

Keep in mind that a successful artist is any
artist who pays her bills.
Bonus points: Be able to afford health care.

(Thanks for your time. )