The following excerpt comes from the final chapter of my book Media, New Media, Postmedia, recently published in Italian by Postmediabooks, who kindly gave Rhizome permission to republish it in English. The book is an attempt to analyze the current positioning of so-called “New Media Art” in the wider field of contemporary arts, and to explore the historical, sociological and conceptual reasons for its marginal position and under-recognition in recent art history.
From a broadcast of the Omni television show hosted by Peter Ustinov ca.1981
Edward A. Shanken’s new book Art and Electronic Media (Themes & Movements), published by Phaidon Press, presents a rich and comprehensive overview of the history of electronic media art practices in the twentieth century, focusing mostly on work produced in the United States, Canada, and Europe. The book balances the historical and the contemporary, the analytic and the particular, with style and critical rigor.
The text is organized thematically in order to cover major topics in the field: Motion, Duration, Illumination; Coded Form and Electronic Production; Charged Environments; Networks, Surveillance, Culture Jamming; Bodies, Surrogates, Emergent Systems; Simulations and Simulacra; and Exhibitions, Institutions, Communities, Collaborations. Given the extensive breath, in historical accounts and details, this organization system presents the reader with a convenient way to access a historical period, artist, or practice of their particular interest. Each theme reappears three times throughout the book, in each of the three main sections: Survey, Works, and Documents (a division that is consistent with previous volumes published in this Phaidon series).
Quality research into the history of electronic media art production, exhibition, and conception is consistent throughout. The section on "Networks," for instance, includes an insightful contextualization of new internet-based art with pre-network art, such as Hans Haache’s 1969 News, an installation that involves a series of Teletype machines set to receive and print local, national, and international news in real time. Shanken’s placement of current genres in these historical frameworks not only enhances our appreciation of the newer practices but also develops an understanding of the historical origins of net, systems, or environmental art.
Over 200 colorful images accompany the text, many of them projects that have not been exhibited widely. One example is the photograph of Christa Sommere and Laurent Mignonneau’s A-Volve (1994-95 ...!--more-->
"The technical computer specialists, on the other hand, have to become aware of the potential contribution of the artists, develop a respect for their pattern perceiving and pattern generating abilities, for their trained sensitivity to the exploration of novelty, their ability to select what is most significant; indeed—at their best—to make concrete the future before it happens, before we can define it, formalize it and verbalize it." - Leslie Mezei
"Shifting Polarities: Exemplary Works of Canadian Electronic Media Art Produced Between 1970 and 1991" by Caroline Langill
In this research project funded by Montreal's Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science, and Technology, artist, researcher and academic Caroline Langill selected pioneering examples of electronic and new media art produced by Canadian artists from 1970 to 1991. The introductory statement expresses a need to write this report in order to construct an understanding of the greater trajectory of Canadian new media art, whose history has remained under-documented. Langill chose artworks according to their exhibition history, larger recognition in terms of precedence for later artworks and innovation in audience interaction, and their technological contribution. I know little about this subject myself, and I found Langill's series of artist interviews, accompanying essay, and image library quite instructive. I was also impressed by the fact that at least half of the artists discussed here are women, which arguably was not the case in other contexts. See below for a few works from the project, click the link to access Shifting Polarities.
Does anyone know how many biennials there are in the world, now? There is a whole sub-field of biennial studies that looks at such issues as the economic impacts of the shows on their host cities and the artists' market values, or the relationship between Eastern biennials and Westernization. Of course, the latter question hinges on whether the show is called a "biennial" or a "biennale"... The truth is, there are now so many of these that it's easy to overlook them. Even the fledging field of electronic art has a few! But Sweden's Electrohype is a unique one, bringing ambitious installations to the beautiful Malmö Konsthall. Now in its fifth incarnation, the show draws large audiences but avoids the temptation to be a mega-show, instead opting to give serious space and consideration to good work by often more emerging artists. Electrohype 08 features ten international artists whose projects focus on "ongoing processes and time." These are Doug Back (CA), Ralf Baecker (DE), Serina Erfjord (NO), Kerstin Ergenzinger (DE), Jessica Field (CA), Voldemars Johansons (LV), Diane Morin (CA), Kristoffer Myskja (NO), Erik Olofsen (NL), and Bill Vorn (CA). While time and endurance are age-old themes in the modern art world, there's not a usual suspect in the bunch! Nonetheless, there is due notice paid to the histories and influences traced by the show. For instance, Doug Back's Sticks (1979) is showing aside Ralf Baecker's Rechnender Raum (Calculating Space) (2007). Despite a large difference in scale and nearly thirty years between them, both are kinetic sculptures fleshing out what it means to compute and how mechanics might be used to reflect upon human movement. Ironically, the big piece looks at micro-motions within the body and the smaller one looks at social interaction! Other interesting works include ...
Stan VanDerBeek (1927-1984) shares with artists like Josef Albers, Aldous Huxley, John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, and Buckminster Fuller the legacy of having developed their practice at Black Mountain College, the creative mecca where these and other thinkers pushed the edges of visual art, music, literature, technology, and consciousness. His experimental films of the 1950s blurred dada collage and science fiction, and he was an early adopter of both analog processes and computer animation, establishing for him a godfather-like position in the origin-narratives surrounding new media. His often rough aesthetic anticipated glitch-fetishism by several decades and drove the surrealist aesthetic into new territory; yet this is not to say that his works didn't go down smoothly. (The internet is full of video evidence of his colorfully dreamy proliferations.) The artist is currently the subject of an exhibition at New York's Guild & Greyshkul gallery, where one can see VanDerBeek's contribution to the proto-history of digital copy-and-paste stylistics in the form of real copy-and-paste collages and his own reworkings of his early films. Much of the work in the show, including a "faux mural" he transmitted electronically to international venues, in 1970, was made in his days at MIT, where his immersion among scientists and engineers had a clear impact on his art. VanDerBeek had a futurist and almost cosmological approach to his work and was one of those artists known for spouting beautiful witticisms about finding universal modes of expression that transcended media and the confinement of traditional forms. At the end of the day, he also reminded us that "Art is the artifact of reality (not taken for granted)." - Marisa Olson