1. THE ANTENNAE OF THE RACE
by Nina Colosi, Producer/Curator, evo1
2. NOTES ON INTERNET ART
by Christiane Paul, Adjunct Curator of New Media Arts, The Whitney Museum of American Art
THE RESONANCE OF DIGITAL TECHNOLOGIES IN EXPERIMENTAL SOUND
by Debra Singer, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art, The Whitney Museum of American Art
THE ANTENNAE OF THE RACE
Marshall McLuhan said “The power of the arts to anticipate future social and technological developments, by a generation and more, has long been recognized. In the last century Ezra Pound called the artist ‘the antennae of the race.’ Art as radar acts as ‘an early alarm system,’ as it were, enabling us to discover social and psychic targets in lots of time to prepare to cope with them. This concept of the arts as prophetic contrasts with the popular idea of them as mere self-expression.”
An examination of the cultural production at the dawn of the 20th century reveals ideals, developments, and problems that would evolve and have a defining impact on our culture throughout the century. A cross section of artistic styles expresses a widespread mood of paranoia, giddiness, pessimism, and fin-de-siecle angst.
Among the emerging avant-garde artists at the time were Kandinsky, Matisse, Mondrian, Kupka, and Picasso. While still in the shadow of the great masters Bouguereau, Gauguin, Klimt, Manet, Monet, Munch, Cezanne, Degas, Renoir, they expressed the thought, subject, technique, and mood of that time. Eventually they became the revolutionary figures breaking new ground and creating the new languages that defined and set the course for the new century.
At the same time, composers such as Schoenberg, Strauss, Scriabin, Debussy, Mahler, Reger and Puccini were at the cutting edge of the new progressive ideas emerging within the arts world. They showed that the way ahead was to be found through expanding the boundaries that had become convention in the music of the established masters.
The question, “But is it art?” is regularly argued by those opposed to innovation. The 19th and 20th centuries saw public reaction of shock and disapproval to many “new” art forms. In 1830 the audience happily threw cabbages and bags of household trash onto the stage at the premiere of Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique, and their early- twentieth century counterparts jeered and hurled objects at the orchestra during the 1913 Paris premiere performance of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Both works are now regarded as seminal milestones in orchestral composition.
Some fifty years ago, Nam June Paik, Andy Warhol, and John Cage began using technology as a poetic instrument. Not unlike photography -- which took more than a half-century to be taken seriously as a fine art -- video spent years in the cultural fringe before reaching the museum gallery. Although Andy Warhol first used video in 1965, it was not until the 1980s that video installations moved to the forefront of new expression in contemporary art and artists such as Paik, Bill Viola, Dara Birnbaum, Gary Hill, and others created large and compelling bodies of work. Digital art, originating with the evolution of the computer, is increasingly receiving acceptance.
By comparison, Internet art, less than a decade old, is still in its formative stages. Museums and art centers have recognized that the Internet will play a central role in the artistic activities of the 21st Century museum not only as an information resource, but as an aesthetic medium. The Whitney Museum of American Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the Tate Modern, ZKM, the Walker Art Center, the Museum of Modern Art, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, are validating Internet art by routinely displaying it in virtual galleries that exist solely online, as well as within the context of an exhibition.
Today’s avant-garde music draws upon a tradition that dates back at least to 1913, when the Italian Futurist Luigi Russolo published “The Art of Noises,” a manifesto calling for the inclusion of the noises of everyday life into music. This concept spread further in the post-World War II era with John Cage and the French “music concrete” movement in the 1940s that incorporated chance and manipulation of sounds into compositions. This has had an extraordinary impact on composers from the mid-twentieth century to the present. Today’s composers use the innovative tools of technology for inventing new techniques of sound creation, manipulation, and production. They incorporate popular styles of the last several decades and create work that reveals the concerns of our time.
As at the beginning of the twentieth century, the cultural production at the dawn of the twenty-first century signals the ideals, developments, and problems that will have a defining impact on our culture throughout the century. Artists are responding to a world increasingly influenced by technology and as art critic Jerry Saltz points out, we face such issues as how or if digital technologies might be fundamentally transforming life or art; how information theory might alter thought itself; how the medium of least dimension might open up alternate interior spaces; and the possibility that the speed of digital media could in fact stimulate what Milan Kundera calls ‘the pleasure of slowness.’
evo1 is a chamber ensemble of visual and sound artworks that resonate with the social, commercial and artistic energy of our time. The exhibition presents Internet art, digital art, video, computer animation, documentary photo-collage, multi-media, light sculpture, and environmental art from Russia, the United States, and Europe within a soundscape of electronic music. These works have been created by established and emerging pioneer artists who use technology as their instrument and address contemporary issues of humanity in their theme.
Christiane Paul, adjunct curator of new media arts for the Whitney Museum of American Art, selected the Internet art collection for evo1. This will be one of the first displays of this medium within the context of an exhibition in Russia or anywhere in the world.
A conference at the Russian State University for the Humanities will follow the opening. Participants will include Christiane Paul; John Klima, Internet artist; Diana Walczak, computer animator; Agnes Denes, environmental artist; and Marty St. James, video and digital artist.
Richard Lanier, the director of evo1’s primary sponsor, The Trust for Mutual Understanding, states "The award is being made [to evo1] by the Trust in recognition of the importance of enabling American and Russian new media artists to discuss their work and address general issues of art and technology and in anticipation of the value of the professional relationships that are likely to be established during this forum…”
Perhaps these established and emerging artists, who are recognized trailblazers of the new art of our time, can help spark the notion that innovative ideas and free thinking promote progress. It is the response of artists in all mediums who, with rhythms, sounds, words, colors, movement, and images, have the power to instill unity and action. The intricate mechanisms of the artist’s mind can be harnessed to create new models of thought processes that can help find new solutions to the tribulations of the human condition.
evo1 aims to affirm that, as our sponsor CEC Partners International states in their mission, “… the arts are a society's most deliberate and complex means of self-expression and communication. International partnerships in the arts can help us to overcome a long history of reciprocal distrust, insularity, and conflict. By developing human resources in the arts, and by supporting the excellence of artists and arts organizations, we achieve benefits for our societies. “
It is planned that evo1 will tour internationally, engaging artists in each country to participate and collaborate.
NOTES ON NET ART
The World Wide Web has been used as a platform and medium for artistic practice since its inception approximately seven years ago. While the on-line art world has been expanding ever since, there have been only few venues in the “physical” world that have chronicled this medium since its inception and museums and commercial galleries in the US have only recently begun to incorporate this art form into exhibitions.
After seven years, Internet art has become a broad umbrella for multiple forms of artistic expression that often overlap. There is “browser-based” art—art that has been created for and exists within the browser window; there are telepresence and telerobotics projects that establish telematic connections between remote places (for example through the use of Webcameras) or allow manipulation of remote places through robotic devices; there are performance and time-based projects that take place as actions within a specific time frame during which they can be experienced by Web visitors worldwide; there is hypertext that experiments with the possibilities of non-linear narrative, consisting of segments of texts that are woven together through electronic links and allow users to choose multiple paths; there are netactivism or “hacktivism” projects that use the network and its possibilities of instant distribution and cloning of information as a staging platform for interventions, be they support of specific groups or a method of questioning corporate and commercial interests; there are alternative browsers, which rewrite the conventions of our conventional ways of exploring the Web through Netscape and Explorer; and there is software art that doesn’t make use of existing applications but is coded from scratch and distributed over the network.
The term “net art” has been used to describe art that uses digital technologies as a medium, being produced as well as stored, distributed, and presented by means of these technologies. However, the Internet is now employed by artists in such a variety of ways that the term "net art" or "Web-based art" becomes more and more meaningless. There are installations that use the Internet as a component for distributing data to the network or receiving data from it. There is art work that is not distributed on the Internet but exists on a local computer and relies on live data from the network. There is art work that can be downloaded from the Internet and then exists on the user’s computer without relying on real-time data from the network. The attempt to squeeze all this work into one neatly defined category quickly becomes futile.
concepts and terminology
Unfortunately, technologies tend to develop faster than the rhetoric evaluating them and we are, at this point, still in need of developing descriptions for the status of digital art and net art, in social, economic and aesthetic respects. One of the problems of evaluation certainly is that we have to throw a lot of old distinctions over board when dealing with a hybrid form such as digital art.
artwork: Digital technologies and interactive media have significantly challenged traditional notions of the artwork. Developments in digital art and net art, in particular, suggest a paradigm shift for art practice from the artwork as a form of artistic truth to conditions of possibility and a fluid interaction between manifestations of information. There are some on-line art works that bear at least some similarities to the traditional art object because they provide some sense of closure—they are images or sets of images that move when we make them move, they are navigable for the individual viewer but not completely open to interaction within the network.
The artwork has been transformed into a structure in process that relies on a constant flux of information and engages the viewer/collaborator in the way a performance might. In a media-enabled and information-based society, content is information in flux, unbound from the physical object.
audience: The networked, digital environment is by nature polyvocal and favors a plurality of discourses. Interactive art involves reciprocity and collaboration between the creator or creators, the audience and a project. Audiences collaborate in the process of remapping textual, visual, kinetic and aural components of the artwork—the public and audience becomes a participant.
artist: Rather than being the creator of a work of art, the artist often becomes a mediatory agent and facilitator for audiences interaction with and contribution to the artwork.
art world and art market: In the on-line world, the (physical) gallery/museum context doesn't necessarily work as signifier of art status. Nevertheless, there is an "art world" on-line, with an array of galleries, critics, and curators, acclaimed artists and critical forums (I wouldn't call it a ghetto but this art world sometimes has an air of exclusivity which is at least to some extent created by the players themselves). Although the traditional art world is trying to integrate on-line art and there are more and more efforts to create virtual museums in conjunction with physical ones, there so far aren't many successful ways of collecting, selling or even exhibiting digital art that is available on a network.
One of the problems is that the value of art is, at least when it comes to the traditional model of the art and museum world, inextricably connected to economic value and the scarcity = value model doesn't work when it comes to on-line art (it didn't work for photography or video either and one would expect that these art forms have led to modifications of the equation).
So-called net art obviously poses a series of challenges for the traditional museum world. It has been created to be seen by anyone, anywhere, anytime (provided one has access to the Net) and doesn’t need a museum to be presented or introduced to the public. Many net artists have strong reservations about having their work shown within a museum context and have chosen their medium in order to circumvent the traditional system of the art world and its process of validation and commodification. However, the museum can play an important role when it comes to Internet art—providing context for the work, chronicling its developments and assisting in its preservation, as well as expanding its audience. The presentation of Internet art within the museum space raises yet another set of issues. Interactive art installations have a place in museums and galleries but it gets more problematic when it comes to on-line pieces, particularly if they are time-based and open to interaction with the public. While some works lend themselves to presentation through installation and physical interfaces or projection, others need to maintain their inherent “netness” and require one-on-one interaction through the physical set-up of a computer with monitor.
As a hybrid art form, digital art requires hybrid forms of exhibition and physical galleries and museums probably have to concentrate more on the crossroads between the virtual and actual and create interfaces with the virtual world.
context/text: The digital world is a multi-layered informational system that is in constant flux and reorganization. It seems to defy a delineation or systematic arrangement of constituent elements and one of its most conspicuous characteristics is the renegotiation of polarities such as text/context. In the networked hypermedia environment, electronic links make it possible to connect texts and visuals to the contextual network they are embedded in, to visualize the network of references that would normally be separated by physical space. Digital media make relations and connections accessible and incorporate what we usually understand as context; they constitute a denatured context, enriching the context even as they contribute to making the very notion of context redundant.
The producer and recipient of art are always defined by their personal, cultural, and aesthetic context. The interactive art work significantly changes the role of both the artist and the spectator and requires an understanding of the interface mechanisms of the work, which reflect a constantly shifting context dependent on the navigational choices we make. The construction of meaning in the networked, digital environment relies on a constant renegotiation of context as a moving target.
data visualization: Information and data sets are intrinsically virtual, that is, they exist as processes that aren't necessarily visible or graspable, such as the transferal and transmission of data via networks. The search for visual models that allow for dynamic mapping of these processes and for the mapping of cyberspace has become a pressing issue in today's digital art.
Within a network, data has the potential for seemingly endless recombination. It can be presented in various ways and contexts, each creating the need for new models of dynamic visualization. These models allow users to navigate visual and textual information and experience the flux of data. They constitute a form of "dynamic mapping," where the map constantly adapts to changes in the data stream and is continually reconfigured in front of the viewer's eyes at any given moment. These data flow models go beyond traditional notions of geography and the map, which remain static once set down.
interdisciplinary: The fact that in the digital world, information can be used towards multiple ends ultimately also leads to the disintegration of the boundaries between disciplines. I believe that with digital technologies, the context for art has broadened—there are many art works that use information from realms that have traditionally been considered scientific. The whole idea is far from new—Paul Feyerabend's "Science as Art" also implied "Art as Science"—but on-line art relying on cross-disciplinary information makes it easier to grasp the idea.
narrative: Flow of information turns into the strands of a narrative that is in constant reorganization. There is an emphasis on process and no narrative in the traditional sense; it is the flux of information itself that becomes a narrative. Digital media is a space for multiple interfering narratives—the narrative of an artwork or performance, the narrative of information flow and of colliding elements.
(psycho)geography: The attempt to find visual models for the non-locality of cyberspace cannot be separated from the individual's perspective and is interrelated with the question of how we define ourselves in this virtual space. On-line identity allows a simultaneous presence in various spaces and contexts, a constant "reproduction" of the self sans body. The networked society has profoundly affected our concepts of self and identity: the on-line self is now commonly understood as a multiple, distributed, time-sharing system. Identity in the age of the Internet is characterized by multiplicity, heterogeneity, and fragmentation, and a growing number of web-specific projects explores the possibilities and difficulties brought about by virtual existence.
Cyberspace constitutes a psychology of disincarnation, promising the possibility of downloading consciousness into a computer, leaving the obsolete body behind, and inhabiting the datascape as cyborg. It opens up the vision of a mind independent of the biology of bodies—thus oscillating between a celebration of the Cartesian separation of mind and body and the "I think, therefore I am" metaphysics of Descartes. It seems apt that the body in cyberspace has been referred to as "electronic cadaver"—a term that combines disembodiment with the transformation into a digital body.
The attraction of cyberspace also consists in the possibility of remaking the body, of creating digital counterparts released from the shortcomings and mortal limitations of our physical bodies. Metaworlds allow visitors to create their own (cyber)self and be all they want to be. On the one hand, the body is a single, unitary, physical object, and on the other hand it has been transformed into a multiple self of mediated realities.
recycling and reproduction: One of the pragmatic aspects of digital practice is that information can be reified in various forms and modalities—be they a physical object, an animation, a VRML representation or an interactive, networked installation. Information can be infinitely recycled and reproduced in various contexts, it can breed new ideas through recombination. The concepts of recycling and reproduction form the basis of a multitude of on-line art projects, ranging from web colliders to experiments with information as an artificial life form.
space and relation: In the networked digital space, the disjunction and combination of visual and data components emerges as an aesthetic. It is no longer this set of data or that image and performance, but the relation, the suggestion, the spaces in between. A narrative may develop in the collision of visual/textual/performance components, on-line and off-line spaces and the "spaces-in-between," which become an aesthetic framework.
The aesthetics of digital media can be explorations of what relations in the virtual space are about and a communication of those explorations back to our physical space and time. Digital media lend themselves best to an art of relations and on imagining topographies of relations that both transgress and reflect back on the relations in the physical world.
to be continued…
THE RESONANCE OF DIGITAL TECHNOLOGIES IN EXPERIMENTAL SOUND
The inclusion of twenty-five sound artists in “Bitstreams” acknowledges that digital technologies have revolutionized the creation, production, distribution, and performance of experimental music and sound art. Today’s sound artists use computers, software, and other digital equipment as compositional tools, sound sources, and even as musical instruments. With these technologies, moreover, artists single-handedly create their own music labels to publish and market their work. Consequently, alternatives to commercially available music have proliferated in recent years and are reaching broader audiences. Focusing on such noncommercial productions, the works in this exhibition make use of sounds derived from nature, language, abstracted digital noise, traditional instruments, and prerecorded music. These experiments with sonic phenomena and new technologies signal a shift in aesthetic principles as well as a desire to explore the ways in which the digital age has affected perception, identity, and communication.
Digital capabilities have changed not only the modes and sites of production, but also the quality of the work itself. The sources for musical compositions, for example, have exponentially increased, as almost any kind of nonaural information, such as light or visual images, can be translated into binary code and then transformed into sound. In addition, widely available software programs allow artists to break down existing sounds into smaller parts and reconstruct them in ways that drastically alter their original properties. Often such newly generated sounds are unrecognizable, having no physical corollary in the real world. Artists thus move beyond merely composing with sounds to composing the sounds themselves.
Many digital editing programs have furthermore given artists incredible flexibility in the layering and combination of sounds, facilitating the creation of nonlinear, non-narrative forms of both experimental and popular electronic music. In particular, such software has helped propagate a collage aesthetic in which various sound fragments, or “samples,” are brought together in unpredictable ways. These samples may be excerpts specifically created by the artist, but often include sections borrowed from pre-existent works that are then digitally manipulated to produce entirely new compositions.
This strategy of appropriation or quotation is part of a broader trajectory of twentieth-century musical history, wherein new forms of music have refuted linear progressions, rhythmic regularity, and melodic principles, favoring instead diverse sounds and mundane noises as legitimate compositional elements. When today’s artists incorporate the unexpected into their work - the sounds of surgical procedures, a bus’ hydraulic system, or a glitch in a CD - they are following a tradition that dates back at least to 1913, when the Italian Futurist Luigi Russolo published “The Art of Noises,” a manifesto calling for the inclusion of the noises of everyday life into music.
This notion spread further in the post-World War II era through two widely influential forces: the American composer and teacher John Cage, best known for the chance procedures and ordinary sounds he began to use in his compositions in the early 1940s, and the contemporaneous French movement musique concrete. A term coined by its inventor, Pierre Schaeffer, in 1948, the musique concrete referred to music created by recording onto electronic tape “concrete” or “natural” sounds, whether those of piano notes or train engine. These sounds were then treated a objects that could be “shaped” by subjecting the tapes to various manipulations such as playing them backwards, altering their playback speed, or editing out and splicing different portions. Cagean principles and the musique concrete have an extraordinary impact on a broad spectrum of musicians and performers from the mid-century to the present day.
Much of the sound work in this exhibition, however, combines these avant-garde music influences with equally inventive ideas drawn from more popular musical styles of the last several decades. This is most evident in the work of today’s experimental DJs, who often perform original mixes on their laptops while simultaneously playing multiple turntables. Many of these artists are as likely to credit various techno, synth-pop, house, and hip-hop icons as they are Cage and musique concrete. Influential precursors from the late 1970s, for instance, range from Grandmaster Flash (arguably the most important of the early hip-hop DJs and known for his invented turntable techniques) to Kraftwerk (the German electronic music group whose records were popular in American discos). They testify to the diversity of club music that has had far-reaching effects on other forms of electronic sound work.
The club, disco, and “rave” have provided vital sites for digital music innovation, including many styles of music that extend beyond the danceable. In fact, much experimental work in clubs is not dance-based music but complex, beat-driven sound atmospheres often described as “ambient” or “illbient.” “Ambient,” a term first associated with the musician Brian Eno in the 1970s, initially referred to any music that attempted to create environments of sound. More recently however, the term has come to mean pleasant-sounding mixes that use electronic music and found sound. By contrast, “illbient” denotes more rugged-sounding mixes that incorporate a wider variety of noises, especially urban street sounds, and are generated by interweaving incongruous musical elements. The unexpected results reflect the tensions and chaos of our technologically accelerating society.
Yet another developing genre related to “illbient” music’s coarse characteristics is that of “glitchwerks,” in which the basic compositional motif is the CD glitch, or skip. Glitchwerks are created using razor blades, chemicals, or Scotch tape to damage the surface of an already released CD. When played in the CD player, the ruined disc will chance speed and place randomly. The piece is in effect “composed” while the CD is running and left to skip freely. The results are abrasive sonic blasts of manic scratches and screeches-noises of technology gone awry.
Many of the “BitStreams” sound artists move beyond aesthetic and formal concerns to address the problems created by the power of computers to gather, control, and manipulate information. One artist alludes to the tenuous state of individual privacy by using equipment to intercept cellular and cordless telephone conversations. Another humorously addresses shifts in language by appropriating the specialized terms, acronyms, and catchphrases invented by programmers. Others grapple with an ironic downside of technology: the same advancements that make communication easier, faster, and global can make forging human relationships more difficult. Still other artists blur the boundaries between the real and the unreal, as software enables them to make familiar sound seem foreign and abstract sounds recognizable.
Through such reversals, artists expose some of the dilemmas engendered by technology: when the buzzing of bees resembles digital noise and the whir of spinning disk seems organic, our traditional points of reference fail, and we are unable to distinguish the natural from the artificial. This confusion is emblematic of a world in which digital information is never fixed and separating concrete reality from virtual fantasy is increasing difficult. Embracing such conditions of uncertainty in their work, the sound artists in “BitStreams” ask us to consider new ways of listening to, and making sense of, the aural information around us and, by extension, our transitory world.
- Exhibition - Opening
& Internet Conference - Essays - Press
- Contact - Russian
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