Art, design, technology and culture are rapidly
converging, mixing and generating new hybrids. How have you been a part
of this scene and what are your new projects?
My background is photography, so I suppose they've been converging for
a long time. I'm not sure I'm part of the 'scene', but I've been interested
in new media for a long time, and curated a show called 'Serious Games'
for the Barbican (London) and Laing (Newcastle) way back in the last century
(1996). Newer projects have been the Curatorial Resource for Upstart Media
Bliss (CRUMB http://www.newmedia.sunderland.ac.uk/crumb/),
a web site which aims to help curators deal with the challenges of exhibiting
new media art. I have a great post-doctoral research post at the University
of Sunderland which lets me write and talk and make the stuff ad infinitum.
Right now, I'm at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, as a 'researcher
in residence' for four months, researching their approach to new media
I started with photography as well and fell into painting. The university
I attended didn't have a clue about how to facilitate a student who wanted
study new media. The department didn't even have a video track. Actually,
Digital Art Source started as an attempt to make the same sort of technical
background that you are organizing for curators available for artists;
an impetus that came from my experience of not having access myself. In
the end we focused on being a directory.
The CRUMB site seems to have captured a niche that needed to exist. Curating
for new media is a practice in constant flux, so the learning needs to
be tracked, recorded and interpreted as it evolves.
Developing categories for our links on Digital Art Source remains the
most difficult and contested interpretation we have made in an attempt
to qualify the total field. It will need to, of course, be updated continually.
Is CRUMB involved in a rigorous categorical exercise, defining the field
of curating new media art?
At this stage, I think that it would be a little presumptuous of CRUMB
to start making categories, but we have been discussion a range of fledgling
or 'common-use' categories. As a tool for thinking, I find myself using
Lev Manovich's categories of "Turing-Land" and "Duchamp-Land"
[Manovich, Lev (1996) The Death of Computer Art. [Online]. Available from
URL:http://www-apparitions.ucsd.edu/~manovich/text/death.html OR http://www.thenetnet.com/schmeb/schmeb12.html.
It's very hard, however, to talk about categories when we're not even
agreed on what to call this stuff, especially as 'new media' isn't really
very new. On the CRUMB discussion list http://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/lists/new-media-curating.html
we have themes of the month, and May/June 2001 featured a lot of debate
about "the naming of parts", which included suggestions such
as V2's term 'unstable media', 'variable media' or our very own 'upstart
media' (the debate is also summarised in a text file available from the
List site, called "7naming.rtf").
There is also the growing divide between 'net.art' and 'other' (physical
installations), which we discussed in November 2001, where net.art has
been adopted by Museums rather more smoothly than physical work.
I think we're at the very start of categorising, and look forward to
Yeah, for us, categories were necessary from the beginning. After
all, like Yahoo, a directory by definition has links under categorical
headings. I didn't mean to suggest that CRUMB would make final decisions
on it's own about what terms would exist within this area of curatorial
work, but from what you have said, it sounds like the solidification of
terminology and categorization of practices is a major part of the discussion.
Of course the best scenario allows for constant evolution.
In addition to Digital Art Source, I occasionally write reviews on new
media art and give talks at universities about art and media. I have recently
been focused on developing theories around what I call the "Ethics
and Aesthetics of Augmentation." Do you have any special theories
related to new media art? What recent works have you found interesting
I'm not sure what you mean by 'augmentation' - that brings to mind
Stelarc's wierd physical extra limb, or the fact that digital media is
particularly good at hacking, scratching, copying, morphing and changing,
which fits in pretty smoothly with the general postmodern art scene.
It's a strange time to be talking about technological augmentation, when
vast, vast amounts of money are being spent on the technological augmentation
to enable powerful countries to pound other people even further into the
dust. I'm rather fonder of the kinds of technology which augment communication,
enable gossip, jokes, and enable artists to buzz waspishly around lumbering
For these reasons I'm currently fond of artists who are graceful public
party hosts, such as Rafael Lozano-Hemmer's Relational Architecture 6
using big projections and shadows in a public square to encourage public
collaboration, improvisation, rudeness and creativity. Sara Diamond's
Code Zebra project which is a beautiful chat software involving gossip,
grumpy zebra behaviour, and hyena girl-gangs http://www.codezebra.net/.
And, in the UK, The Media Centre, Huddersfield's project Speakers' Corner
which makes poetry of the Brit's obsession with phone texting.
Most of the writing and lecturing I have been doing for
the last few years has involved trying to understand art and technology
through the lens of media studies. My initial attempt to qualify new media
art from this perspective resulted in three working categories: the digital
effect, the interactive and the immersive. While researching immersion,
I came to the conclusion that immersive art presents an unprecedented
situation for the viewer. In my opinion, immersive art presents ethical
and aesthetic problems on a number of levels for the viewer and artist
or designer creating in an immersive environment. I presented a talk last
summer to the Media Ecology Association at NYU on this topic and it can
be found here (http://www.digitalartsource.com/content/featur/feat17/feat17p1.htm)
I had begun to research and layout a thorough context for this theory(last
summer I had begun to document this apparent quality of art and culture,
from what I called the "aesthetics of accumulation" in works
such as aboriginal dot paintings and Jackson Pollocks works to the immersive
quality of cinema), but found that Joseph Nechvatal had recently finished
his doctoral dissertation on this exact subject. But while we share the
belief that the immersive is a very important conceptual framework for
understanding contemporary art and perception, he and I appear to come
to very different conclusions on the role of immersion in new media art.
My theory of "The Ethics and Aesthetics of Augmentation" is
a way of understanding how we fundamentally require pauses in sensory
immersion in order to actually perceive or judge a work of art. This implies
that augmentation takes place when a viewer is able to interpret during
the experience of art and likewise that the artist or designer is able
to make judgements while creating. The word augmentation is used to describe
virtual reality systems which combine what I call a "straddled data
stream" of both virtual and real world information into the experience,
namely "augmented reality" systems. Historically, Douglas Englebart
framed the word in his proposal for the "Augmentation of Human Intellect"
during experiments at Xerox Parc which resulted in the developement of
networked workstations and the mouse, among other innovations. Ultimately,
the way that art and technology is used sets precedents for the way that
society is structured. Augmentation, as a concept, recognizes the permanence
of our mediated environment and the narrative inherent in media structures.
This theory is grounded in an understanding of immersion but attempts
to understand the role of augmentation in enabling a continuous feedback
of creation, interpretation and further creation.
The role of augmented reality systems in the military is, as you may
have been suggesting, it's most prevalent use. While I am opposed to much
of what has been going on militarily around the world, I don't think that
the concept of augmentation itself is the problem. Augmentation is everywhere
as a strategy in art, and the web and networks are natural places for
it as a phenomenon.
How do you see art influencing society through specific uses of technology?
Could you see a show organized around this idea and if so what would be
I really don't have many theories about immersion, and feel that
because that technology is rather difficult to get access to, there are
very few examples of 'immersive' artwork to develop a body of debate.
I know that Char Davies also did a PhD, in Wales, concerning immersive
work, which might be of interest to you. For the moment, I'm happy to
wait until more artists make more artwork before hazarding a theory. There
are certainly more media theorists than media artists in some fields!
Returning to the subject of categories, Peter Lunenfeld compared a category
of immersion with a category of "extraction", both of which
are interesting, I think, because they put the user experience at the
centre of the category. Again, for me it's the interaction which is the
most interesting, which brings me to your last paragraph:
What immediately springs to mind concerning 'art influencing society'
is the very early linking of net.art and net.activism. Natalie Bookchin
has made an excellent timeline http://calarts.edu/~line/history.html which
includes both net.art and net activism. Her line includes several exhibitions
on that very theme. She also explains more about art and activism relate,
and how they both relate to physical realities, in a CRUMB interview http://www.newmedia.sunderland.ac.uk/crumb/phase3/nmc_intvw_bookjack.html.
The Internet sometimes seems to inspire projects of the 'internationalist
overview' or 'We Are The World' type. Often, however, it's the projects
that are very located in specific geographic areas or problems which are
most successful, such as the "No One is Illegal" project http://www.contrast.org/borders/.
There's also 'community broadcast' projects which simply enable various
communities to have their say, such as Superchannel.org http://www.superchannel.org.
In the gallery or museum of course, it tends to be different kind of
'society', but interesting things happen there too. Did you have any examples
in mind yourself?
Lunenfeld, Peter (1993) "Digital dialectics: A hybrid theory of
computer media." AfterImage, Nov. 5-7.
Yeah, augmentation, as I see it, relates to this notion of extraction
and activism, online or off, because it places the viewer or the creator
of art in a position of intervention or interpretation. And that can be
empowering. Interaction can also include works that just reflect their
structure or design. The best works don't and the worst works do. That's
what makes interactivity, as you suggest, the most fertile new quality
of new media works.
But, while Manovich claims that the world of new media conferences and
the art world won't converge, a migration certainly takes place. The art
world is trying desperately to absorb as many people from these conferences
and work them into the canon, as long as the shows generate hype and revenue.
This mad dash for the "wow-factor" is setting alot of precedence
while very little is being sorted out in terms of how quality is judged.
I am generalizing, but ultimately this relates to my basic concern; the
way that media affects our ability to make these critical judgements of
quality. And immersion is the category that forces extreme distinctions
about this effect. Here I don't limit immersion to the context of virtual
reality but like Nechvatal, interpret it as a contemporary condition.
I find that many contemporary works are just output of effect with some
sort of narrative laid on for good measure. Do you see any contemporary
works made with digital media as merely effect, in the media sense (what
I call "digital effect", meaning not interactive and not immersive)?
Yes, I think there are plenty of examples of digital works which
are not interactive and not immersive, which is not to deny their quality.
It's just that they come from a different history of video, or design,
I'm thinking or artists such as Bill Viola, Jeremy Blake, Heike Baranowsky,
and lots of net.art, including the recent Generation Flash series:
This artwork isn't meant to be interactive - you're just meant to look
at it, and that's fine. My point is that not only does this kind of artwork
fit in much more smoothly with existing media theory (including Manovich's
The Language of New Media), it fits in more smoothly with existing Museums
and galleries. These artists tend to have fine-art or design type education,
rather than coming from Turing-Land.
The problem with 'Interactivity' is that it tended to be used so loosely
that it became meaningless. There was also the problem that it became
associated with "hands-on fun for all the family". What it means
now is that the audience doesn't know whether to expect interactivity
or not, and may be disappointed, or not. There's a lack of consideration
of HOW interactive an artwork might be, when considering how to exhibit
it. It's interesting that much of the debate about exhibiting new media
has been very formally Medium-Based: "should net.art be in the gallery?"
Net.art obviously ranges from the non-interactive to the very participative,
but this isn't often acknowledged.
It's important to explore all the languages of new media, and it's important
for curators, publicists and press to be clear about the intent of the
Some interesting press coverage:
Anton, Saul (2001) "Net Gains: A Roundtable on New-Media Art."
Artforum March . 119-125.
Golonu, Berin (2001) "Net Art's Broadening Niche." Afterimage
May/June . 4-5.
Mirapaul, Matthew (2001) "O.K., It's Art. But Do You View It at
Home or in Public?." New York Times, Mar 19 .