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that we separate out „the arts‟ from other, more useful or commercially valuable or defensible areas of human endeavour. Such thinking is encouraged by the recent Arts Council Funding round which, like an exam marked against the curve, pitted organisations against each other in a slowmoving, paper-based culture war imposed on us by politicians who act like Greek gods playing chess with the destinies of the arts world below - though this time it was the rather less than super-human Hunt and Vaizey supping mead while they manipulated Arts Council England into laying waste to the cultural scene. It may work out - the NPO structure is not bad and the RFO model was massively flawed. But the way it came about leaves a sour taste and a trail of resentment. But that is not my concern. Like the old-fashioned Wittgenstein fan that I am, I want to ask the question: If the meaning of a word is its method of use, what is the meaning of the word ‘art’ in a digital culture? Even framing the question raises a host of issues, because „art‟ is not a simple work like „fork‟ or „table. Art is what we do, it is not a product of doing. Just as language is not a product of thinking but what thinking looks like, consciousness in action, so art is another form of expression for the thinking mind. Art is not a product of a culture, art is what a culture looks like. Just as there is no pre-linguistic mind, there is no pre-cultural art. Art is going to be created and experienced by digital minds embedded in a digital culture. Art will be made, conceived and experienced in this digital cultural environment
>> Digital Culture We are in a digital culture not a digital world. [Slide:100110011001] I don't believe we are heading towards a 'digital' future, whatever the current shorthand may be. The physical world will not vanish, we will not be sublimed into the machines to live, Tron-like, under the control of the Master Control Program. [Slide: Not digital] [Slide: no longer analogue] But we are going to be living in a 'hybrid' world where physical experience, analogue culture and digital technologies co-exist, an Age of Electronics, not an Age of Bits, and in this new age we here in the privileged West with easy access to computers and smartphones and connectivity will develop a digital culture, just as the early scholars with access to printers and codices and postal systems created a print culture. [Slide: co-existence] [Slide: cuneiform tablet] [And Linear B oldest European writing] This is a transition as significant as the development of literacy 5000 years ago, or the invention and use of movable type 800 years ago in Europe. It is a once in a civilisation transformation and has consequences for all areas of our lives, from how we raise our children to how we do our jobs - and what jobs are done - to how we remember our ancestors. It will have an enormous impact on culture in the widest sense, taken as 'how we understand our place in the world', and in the more narrow sense of artistic practice and its dissemination. [Slide: Manga, Titian] >>Artistic Practice in Digital Culture Artistic practice can be seen as a series of overlapping and intersecting discourses,
cultural conversations between actors that involve shared vocabularies and are mediated by the practices of the chosen discipline or artform and curated by institutions established to develop the conversation and enable it to reach an audience. [Slide: Google Art Project screen shot] For the arts world the potential for new digital culture offers a great opportunity to do new things, to do old things in new ways and to do old things in old ways but present them in new ways. All artists and the institutions which support them and curate or present their work will be faced with the challenge of absorbing the new practice, because even the decision to do nothing to incorporate digital technology and network awareness into one's practice is a decision. [Slide: Website is just the start] This is not about having a website that advertise performances or putting images online so that people can see them outside the gallery, although these things matter and doing them well is important. It is about changing our understanding of what it means to make art and what sorts of cultural practice we privilege. >> Screens Suck At the moment, and for the foreseeable future, we live in the age of the screen, and just as with the age of steam and its pollution, unfair distribution of wealth and oppression of the working classes, it has its downsides. Screens have low resolution, cause headaches because they require fixed focus and have no depth of field, use enormous amounts of energy and yet cannot be used outdoors in sunlight, and are often made with toxic materials that cannot be recycled. E-ink, despite enormous promise, is a minority interest and remains inflexible, monochrome and with a slow refresh rate that makes the Kindle one of the most irritating consumer electronics devices ever sold.
Alternative input technologies are in the lab but will face massive obstacles before they come to market. VR goggles still make you fall over and throw up, while spectacles and contact lenses that use lasers to draw directly on your retina have toxic materials and a significant PR problem to overcome before we all strap them on. And direct neural-silicon interfaces may appeal to the wannabe cyborgs but could find it difficult to get FDA approval, especially once copies of The Terminal Man start circulating again. >> Screens Aren‟t Going Away We aren‟t going to get away from screens, in our phones and on our laptop and desktop computers, in consumer goods and cars and on walls and tables. Every surface can be a display, and pretty much every surface will be a display of some sort. >> Screen-based Reality The British Library‟s strategy for 2020 is to move as much of its collection onto screens as possible, digitising books so that they can be searched for and read on electronic devices. This approach recognises that for more and more people anything that cannot be found by Google (or perhaps Bing) doesn‟t exist, and anything that can‟t be read/watched/listened to on a phone/tablet/laptop will simply be dismissed. The great cathedrals of Europe were once alive with people, worshipping, disputing, trading and discovering. They were richly painted, centres of community life and fundamental to the dissemination of knowledge. Now they attract few worshippers and offer tourists a glimpse of the preserved glories of the past. Libraries, filled with books and people, will go the same way as we move from the age of the codex to the age of the screen and pixels and bits come to do the heavy lifting of ideas that was until recently the preserve of the book. Books will not die but they will become tertiary storage after the mind and the hard drive, just as TV and radio have become the second or third draft of history now that Twitter and the blogosphere can do the reporting faster.
This is also the model that underpins the recent report of the Comite des Sages, three people asked by European Commissioner Neelie Kroes to examine plans for the digitisation of Europe‟s cultural heritage and make recommendations. The "Comité des Sages" (Reflection Group) was set up in April 2010 by Vice President responsible for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes and Commissioner in charge for Education and Culture Androulla Vassiliou. Maurice Lévy (Chief Executive Officer of Publicis) Elisabeth Niggemann (Director General of the German National Library) Jacques De Decker (writer) The task of the Group is to make recommendations to the European Commission, European cultural institutions and any stakeholders, on ways and means to make Europe's cultural heritage and creativity available on the Internet and to preserve it for future generations, looking in particular at funding sources, at how cultural organisations and the private sector can interact in the digital age, and at responsibilities and solutions for digitising material that is in the public domain or still in copyright.
Their report, entitled „A New Renaissance‟, was a real shock to me. It‟s good, it‟s well-argued and it makes a compelling case for action while appreciating the political and economic reality of the current situation. From http://www.iewy.com/13653-digital-agenda-comite-des-sages-calls-for-anew-renaissance-by-bringing-europes-cultural-heritage-online.html “The report urges EU Member States to step up their efforts to put online the collections held in all their libraries, archives and museums. It stresses the benefits of making Europe‟s culture and knowledge more easily accessible. It also points to the potential economic benefits of digitisation, including through public-private partnerships, for the development of innovative services in sectors like tourism, research and education. The report endorses the Digital Agenda‟s objective of strengthening Europe‟s digital
library Europeana and suggests solutions for making works covered by copyright available online Member States need to considerably increase their funding for digitisation in order to generate jobs and growth in the future. The funds needed to build 100 km of roads would pay for the digitisation of 16% of all available books in EU libraries, or the digitisation of every piece of audio content in EU Member States’ cultural institutions. Public-private partnerships for digitisation must be encouraged. They must be transparent, non-exclusive and equitable for all partners, and must result in cross-border access to the digitised material for all. Preferential use of the digitised material granted to the private partner should not exceed seven years. To guarantee the preservation of collections in their digital format, a second copy of this cultural material should be archived at Europeana. In addition, a system should be developed so that any cultural material that currently needs to be deposited in several countries would only be deposited once. The recommendations of the „Comité des sages‟ will feed into the Commission‟s broader strategy, under the Digital Agenda for Europe to help cultural institutions make the transition towards the digital age and to search for new and effective business models that accelerate digitisation while allowing fair remuneration for rights holders where necessary (see IP/10/581, MEMO/10/199 and MEMO/10/200). The recommendations will also be useful for the Commission‟s plan to develop a sustainable funding model for Europeana by 2012.”
>> A Paradigm Shift Thomas Kuhn‟s term „paradigm shift‟ is the second-most abused scientific/philosophical term after „quantum leap‟, and up there with „synergy‟ in my list of terms never to use in public. And of course Kuhn believed it could only apply to the hard sciences, but that was
because he continued to believe that in the arts and humanities individuals could make a choice over which set of basic beliefs to argue, and like the logical positivists before him he did not believe that there was any real way to distinguish between the Marxist and the Structuralist models and no process through which a new paradigm could effectively replace an old. We can have that discussion over beers later. I think that the move to digital is so fundamental that it alters the basis on which all theories and models are built in the arts and culture, and that it therefore qualifies even under Kuhn‟s criteria. Arts and culture cover a whole range of activities and invite a whole range of interpretations, not just the groupings identified by Arts Council England: Music Dance Theatre Literature Visual Arts Combined Arts There are performing arts of all kinds, lens-based media and of course games and interactive artforms. No area will be untouched by change as the age of electronics consolidates its hold Some will assimilate the new possibilities, but eventually we will be forced to change ourselves and to accommodate. Screens alter the ecosystem within which art is conceived, created, curated and experienced, and the arts in the digital culture currently expressed and experienced through screen-based media are transformed from beneath - rather as Marx argued that changes to the economic base of a society transformed its cultural, political and even religious superstructure.
>>The Arts and Technology
The belief in the division between arts & culture and technology is a pervasive one, but it is incorrect and has recently become dangerous and indefensible. The technology of oils was invented and deployed by artists during the Renaissance The technology of book binding, and later the technology of printing, underpinned much of western culture The technology of film was created in response to the discourse of film-makers James Cameron is only the latest example. We have witnessed the growing alienation of the artist from the technology the devise, adapt and exploit. This is as much a product of industrialisation as the alienation of the factory workforce from the product of their labour, and a Marxist analysis is informative. It is time to do something about it. Artists of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your false fear of technology. The avant garde is as engaged in technology as in it is in resistance >> Analogue Living in a Digital Culture In her 2008 book Proust and The Squid psychologist Maryanne Wolf uses neuropsychology and imaging studies to demonstrate that the reading brain is differently wired from the non-reading brain, and that different types of writing bring about different sorts of neural organisation in order to permit fluent reading. Learing to read ideographic, pictographic and logographic writing, like Aztec, Egyptian and Chinese, leads to different brain structures than those needed to learn alphabetic writing, and there are even differences between the brains of German speakers and English speakers because of the syntactical differences. There are also profound differences between literate and pre-literate cultures - as far as I know no culture has lost literacy, so „pre-literate‟ is a better term than „non-literate‟. Acquiring writing is like losing the bloom on a flower, perhaps. In a literate culture engagement with the world through symbols and symbolic manipulation becomes possible, and the written word sits between the perceived
reality and its representation in the mind, a layer of abstraction that can be externalised, preserved and passed on. Ideas in an oral culture only exist while they are being spoken or held clearly in the mind - once the last person forgets a word then it not only ceases to exist, but it is as if it never existed since there can, by definition, be no record of it. We are living through the emergence of digital culture, where the affordances of binary storage of all forms of information, infinite storage of all captured data, fast, reliable networks that can move this data around to any desired point, and the availability of devices that allow more and more of us to live in the liminal space between real and virtual worlds have created a new form of society, one organised around the network and its capabilities. There will not be one digital culture, just as there is not one literate culture, and the shape and limits of the cultural forms that will emerge as network thinking embeds itself into our cognitive frameworks and begins to reshape brain anatomy just as the invention of writing systems did 3500 years ago. We are, perhaps, at the point where It is only possible to be illiterate in a literate culture - in a pre-literate culture society is not organised around access to writing or the models of reality that being able to record the world and build on the past through these records afford. Even an illiterate person in a writing-based culture exists and is shaped by the world of symbols and their use. Someone who cannot read knows what writing is. The same will be true for digital cultures. Those who stay offline, or who have an email address they never use and dismiss Facebook and Twitter will still live in a society shaped by its engagement with online and people who have been immersed in digital tools and their capabilities. They will be disadvantaged and excluded. >> And What of Art? From what I've said so far you may feel as if you are being buffetted by a technological storm and that matters are outside your control. It's true that I believe that all of us in the arts world need to pay more attention to 'the people formerly known as the audience' but that doesn't mean that our practice is
determined by technology innovation. It is easy to see the technologies of the network age as 'outside' artistic practice and cultural activity, as something that is imposed, a set of tools whose underlying values neither reflect nor respond to those of the arts, but this is not the case. Artists have always innovated, and much technological innovation has been at least informed by artistic practice, if not directly driven by it, such as the development of paints and pigments by artists from early days. More recently, the creation and perfection first of photography then of audio recording, cinema and television relied greatly on the interaction between art, engineering and commerce, and much studio technology was created to serve the musicians as much as the recording engineers or companies selling the kit. Artists and the institutions that support them have key decisions to make about which technologies can best sustain the arts and culture, and designers and manufacturers will listen to them just as they listen to other markets. The capabilities of production tools like Adobe After Effects [I watched Monsters on the plane] came from the ongoing conversation taking place between the software industry and creative professionals, even if PhotoShop is largely there to serve the interests of the advertising industry, while the growing importance of “media geijutsu”, especially video game culture, demonstrates the cultural significance of natively digital, technology-dependent artforms. >> So what happens to art in the modern world? As I have said, the world is not digital. It remains as it was, but we have now created a space that is neither the real world nor the world in our heads, a third space (yet another third space…) of digitally mediated interaction, where persistent objects can be created, shared, exchanged, manipulated and experienced. Perhaps we should call it Cyberspace.
APPENDIX It‟s clear that art and artistic practice can enter this world in a number of ways. I
want to identify three: born digital, digitised and „adequately represented‟. They can be born digital [Slide: Carey laptop] When Peter Carey types his novel the keys transmit a stream of bits, forming the letters and words. [Slide: Peter's cello] When Peter Gregson plays his electric cello his laptop receives a stream of bits, forming the notes. I don't think there is a difference. [but perhaps there is…] They can be digitised [Slide: Manuscript] A book can be scanned and OCRd and the text that results is the same - the same words, in the same order - as the original A piece of music made on analogue equipment can be sampled at high frequency and with sufficient resolution to be indistinguishable from the performance [or can it?] [Slide: 3D model of a work of art] Finally an adequate digital representation can be created. For example the Digital Michelangelo project at Stanford University http://graphics.stanford.edu/projects/mich/ Of course we can ask: adequate for what purpose? A high-resolution scan of the Lewis chesspieces or a holograph of a manuscript is useful for exhibition and also for scholarship, while a 3-D mesh of a sculpture could be suitable for modelling on a Reprap or other 3D printer. http://reprap.org/wiki/Main_Page The nature of the cultural conversation has shifted and become more inclusive, and the forms of engagement that audiences expect with art or performance have
changed. This engagement can take many forms, and some are only just emerging At the lowest level the performance is captured, as in Opera from the Met or NTLive, and simply made available to a passive audience in a different venue. Eventually this will be in true 3D -as this tech demo of a 3D holographic Princess Leia from Star Wars shows http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/nstv/2011/01/kinect-hack-3d-holographicprincess-leia.html [Slide: Leia 3d] A performance may also be captured and transformed, used as the basis for a work of art, whether in mass culture - Gollum in Lord of the Rings - or for more subtle artistic purposes, like Streetwise Opera's My Secret Heart http://www.mysecretheart.co.uk/ [Slide: My Secret Heart] But even here the end result is still a 'finished' piece, presented for consideration. This passive mode of digital incorporation is not limited to performance. The object is presented, as in Your Paintings (http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/ ), and its setting may also be captured, as with Google Art Project (http://www.googleartproject.com/ ) In addition more information may be provided, such as backstage cameos from the Met, production notes, director's commentaries, x-ray imagery of famous paintings. and so on. All of these take advantage of digital technologies, but they lack a key quality that defines engagement in the network world: interactivity. They offer more to the audience but still, fundamentally, treat the audience as an audience who will experience what is offered to them. Artistic practice that fully engages with interactivity is risky, complicated and must, by its nature, require a loss of control on the part of the artist and the institution. Stelarc's early experiments might represent the way curators in galleries feel about allowing visitors to comment on exhibits (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stelarc ),
but interventions like Hide+Seek's Tate Trumps show what can happen when an institution engages fully with its visitors (http://www.hideandseek.net/tatetrumps/). Online Q&As with actors and directors are rather tame in comparison, though they do have their place. [Slide: Tate Trumps] Considering how to engage, how to provide a space for interactivity with the people who come to the gallery, visit the museum, sit in the concert hall or watch your movies, is perhaps the next big challenge. >> What Am I Looking At? We also need to think beyond the artefact, whether it is a performance or an artwork. In a gallery we can see, in a digital sphere we have to search. In a gallery the label tells the viewer what they are seeing. Online the context can be much wider and there is no need to limit the description to a few hundred words of carefully curated text. Connections can be made, links followed, and stories told through the rich variety of online resources. But in order for any work of art, piece of music or recorded performance to be present in the world of linked data and hypertextuality it must be catalogued, with associated - and accurate - metadata that allows those connections to be made. iTunes is a good example of this not working, while the British Museum catalogue (for example at http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/aes/t/the_ro setta_stone.aspx ) shows what happens when an organisation tries hard. We also need too to establish the nature of the connection between the artwork and its digital representation, something which poses a significant challenge for curators of museums who wish to increase footfall and get more people into their building, but who also want to encourage online access, global reach and possibly enhanced status. They face the traditional 'innovator's dilemma', familiar from industry, where the
choice to sacrifice apparently secure profits from current business practices in order to move to new processes, practices or products tries the best managers. Building the perfect online museum might mean visitors stay away from the physical one because they see no need to visit. Or it might mean that they flock to it because they have been made aware of its treasures and want to experience the connection to the unique object that drives people to the British Museum to see the Rosetta Stone. Another important factor in considering the impact of the new digital technologies on arts and culture is that they enable even the smallest organisation and the individual artist or practitioner to reach a global audience, and it may be that reaching an audience of millions of people who could never have the chance to visit a physical museum, walk the corridors of a real gallery or sit in an acoustically perfect concert hall is worth the risk that some people will decide not to come through your doors.