[artinfo] [spectre] Fwd: Lovink: Political Work in the Aftermath of the New Media Arts Crisis

St.Auby Tamas iput at c3.hu
Thu May 14 20:08:30 CEST 2009

(forwarded from nettime with geert's permission; -a)

From: Geert Lovink <geert at xs4all.nl>
Date: Mon, 11 May 2009 21:29:14 +0200

On the event of the Montevideo/Netherlands Media Art Institute 30th
anniversary, departing curator Susanne Jaschko put together a one day
symposium entitled Positions in Flux. Régine Debatty at We Make Money
Not Art blogged about it. Unfortunately, I was only able to attend the
morning session. The event on May 8 2009 took place in Trouw
Amsterdam, the followup of Club 11. From what I heard, Positions at
Flux had a critical take towards the common media art discourse and
asked relevant questions. It was a relief to see that the attention
was, for once, not focused on history, preservation and conservation.
Cultural heritage has already taken over way too much attention space-
in part because this is one of the few areas where there is still
plenty of funding. Sigh. Just for one day, no celebration of "medium
religion" or "art meets science". Director Heiner Holtappels opened by
noticing that new media art is not easily accepted by fine art.
Traditional art has become eclecticism. According to Heiner, all art
is technology based. The subject of the symposium was a visible break
with the video art heritage that Montevideo has been known for.
Politics topics, a courageous step? "Is there a future for us?" is a
question not many institutions dare to ask. In the Dutch daily De
Volkskrant of that day, ex-Montevideo curator Bart Rutten (now
Stedelijk Museum) took up the role of expressing the ambivalent
feelings of the Dutch art establishment towards the new but no longer
young art form. Whereas he praised Montevideo's work, he himself had
moved on. "You can ask yourself if Montevideo should continue to show
only media art works. In this way they preserve their specialism. It
was my main reason to leave."

In Zero Comments I mapped the current challenges for new media arts.
While society at large is inundated with (new) media, the art branch
that deals with the digital moved itself in a ghetto. While this
analysis still holds up, many in the sector openly admitted the
shortcomings and are now putting in place strategies to escape the
dead end street. Technology has lost its original fascination, while
spreading even faster in society. Is this a reason enough to abandon
the field? While experimentation with electronics and the digital
might have lost its aura and the spirit of curiosity has somewhat
fained, the field of new media arts at large is still growing, despite
institutional setbacks here and there. What most participants shared
was the feeling that, despite the intimidating institutional violence
of the large players, museums will die or become a zoo if they do not
deal with the Digital. Some say new media arts lacks the timeliness
and the depth. Whereas ICA London closed its media lab, Laboral in the
North of Spain, which opened in 2007, is now a large exhibition space,
devoted to media art. Chairman Chris Keulemans emphasized that new
media arts was always at it best when it criticized the media itself,
with its codes and nodes. Each of the three presentations in the
morning session gave a different answer to the question how relevant
political work could be produced.

The Iraqi-American artist Wafaa Bilal is known from his installation
Domestic Tension, in which the artist lived in a gallery space for a
month, pointed at by paint ball gun operated by web users. Shoot an
Iraqi had 80 million visitors and, according to Bilal, was a "strange
mix of aesthetic pain and pleasure." What made the work so popular was
the power of viral connections, in particular through chatrooms and
video he put online. What happened here was a confrontation between
conflict zone and comfort zone, disengagement and engagement, virtual
versus physical platform - both in the case of the artwork and war in
Iraq itself. Bilal concluded that the body has its own language that
is not in sync with the electronic reality. Bilal made a distinction
between interactive works, in which the end-states is already
determined, and dynamic pieces that are open ended. A lot of the old
school new media art is interactive. Increased user participated was
illustrated in Bilal's story of the 'virtual human shield', a group of
people that gathered to protect the artist from being shot at. Dog or
Iraqi was a month long online debate who gets waterboarded: a dog or
an Iraqi? Bilal also briefly discussed his modded version of a 2003 US
shooting game that he renamed into Virtual Jihadi. Instead of killing
Sadam the user can now hunt GW Bush. This and other projects were
documented in Wafaa Bilal, Shoot an Iraqi (City Light Books, San
Francisco, 2008).

Former Etoy Hans Bernard of Uebermorgen.com didn't show projects but
read a text concerning the role of "European techno fine art avant
garde." I am great fan of Uebermorgen. It's in fact becoming
impossible to list all their interventions and hacks. Uebermorgen is
all about "surreal outcomes", not bound by any medium. "The
transformation from digital to physical is important. The work is not
pop art, it is rock art. We are not activists, we are actionists." For
a while seeking large audiences was a thrill, but that's no longer the
main motivation. There is a new strategy for each new project. Bernard
did his best to prove that Uebermorgen's intentions were neither
political nor ideological. The aim should be Art, not Politics.
Communication is the 9-5 job, but that not the passion. Bernard's
insistence on the non-political status didn't convince. Uebermorgen's
claim, not to have any political agenda, refers to an ancient, rigid
definition that was already problematic in the late seventies when I
studied political science. Maybe in Austria politics is still
associated with corrupt parties and fat, ugly politicians but
elsewhere in the world people use a much broader definition of "the
political". His insistence on artistic freedom is amiable but the idea
that once art becomes political it turns into politics and seizes to
be art, simply doesn't hold. His separation between the private
opinion of the artist as a citizen and the Artist as a public figure
is problematic for the same reasons. Bernard's insistence  that
"perception and production need to separated" sounds good-but we all
know that visual arts no longer operates outside "perception
management." Autonomy, at least in the Dutch context, is the official
state religion. We all anticipate aesthetic impact, even if we reject
the categories of the day and undermine the dominant visual logic.
Hans, there are no commissars anymore that control the ateliers. If
there is any censor it's probably the Politically Correct Self. So, if
we state, "in production we need to be free," there is no one who will
stop us - but ourselves.

Knowbotic Research, teaching and working in Zurich, was the third
presenter. Their translocal distributed temporary works avoid-and seek-
the Political in yet another manner. Christian Huebler showcased the
Blackbenz Race project between Prishtina and Zurich, a city marketing
proposal that was refused because of its negative image of the proper
Swiss finance capital. The broader idea was to play with the Kosovo-
Albanian-Swiss people that hover in-between places. Code words are
fog, smoke, blurred spaces and multiple identities. The self-built
stealth boat project has a similar intention. The micro audiences
become actors here. Activism doesn't need more exposure and
transparency. Art doesn't need moral outcry. The celebrity industry
took over this role. Art questions and creates new spaces for
reflection. What's required are slow spaces. All three projects showed
that new media art "doesn't need to be a monade, merely celebrating
itself." (Huebler) This is the age of entering other contexts, times
and spaces-assisted by production houses that have in-house knowledge
about the specificity, and the Eigenartigkeit, of digital technologies.

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