Digital Art Source is taking five.
Five questions to five people who are showing up on our radar.
Some have been here from the beginning, some have recently hit the scene.

 
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Beryl Graham

Beryl Graham, along with Sarah Cook, recently launched the site CRUMB. The site provides info on curating for new media.
Check out the CRUMB website


Scott Weiland

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?

Beryl Graham

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 curating.

Scott

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?

Beryl

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 emerging debates!

Scott

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 and why?

Beryl

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 institutions.

For these reasons I'm currently fond of artists who are graceful public party hosts, such as Rafael Lozano-Hemmer's Relational Architecture 6 http://www.telefonica.es/fat/artistas/rlh/eimagenes.html 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 http://www.speakerscorner.org.uk/ which makes poetry of the Brit's obsession with phone texting.

Scott

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 the theme?

Beryl

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?

References:

Lunenfeld, Peter (1993) "Digital dialectics: A hybrid theory of computer media." AfterImage, Nov. 5-7.

Scott

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)?

Beryl

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, or film.

I'm thinking or artists such as Bill Viola, Jeremy Blake, Heike Baranowsky, and lots of net.art, including the recent Generation Flash series:

http://www.potatoland.org/landfill/

http://www.whitneybiennial.com

http://www.electronicorphanage.com/biennale

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 artwork.

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 .

   
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