- 1 What is media art?
- 2 Artist groups and collaboration
- 3 Artist and scientist
- 4 Artist as artisan
- 5 Constructivist side of rationality over expression
- 6 Stripping aesthetics of meaning
- 7 Art in the service of society: Against l'art pour l'art.
- 8 Modified McLuhanism: Technologies as the sole agents of social changes
- 9 Media and politics. Artists and engineers in civil resistance
What is media art?
Artist groups and collaboration
- issues leading to breaking up of New Tendency groups [constr p.77]:
- ideological maturation
- experiment is not art
- discovery and invention are that and no more
- newness is irrelevant to art (in art there is change rather than progress)
- purity can be a vice
- much great art is impure; impurities, like trace elements in soil, strengthen it
- (NOT as the outcome of pressure from dealers)
- Arts and engineering groups and collectives in CEE
- theories and writings about Collaboration and art
Artist and scientist
- Artist exploring exhaustively all possibilities of minute differences within particular idea. Scientist, when the door is open, passes through, while artist will examine every aspect of the room even when the door is open [constr p.79].
- Constructivist shift: nature as the landscape, still-life, portraiture is ignored; rather nature as the great fount of physical phenomena, inoxerable laws, and orderly relationships, is investigated by artist and made the vehicle for his statement [constr p.81].
- Matthew Fuller, Think Twice, 
Artist as artisan
- PRO industrial production (Naum Gabo and constructivists, Vkhutemas, Bauhaus)
Constructivist side of rationality over expression
Avantgarde art of 1910s and 1920s brought about a radical change to arts: artists started to examine analytical approaches in their makings. Developments followed: neo-constructivism, visual research, computer art, etc. Many artists and theorists of a 'rational line' argued for rationality in the opposition to expressive gestures of artist-genius, uncontrolled trial-and-error efforts, based on various findings. What the artists today can learn from the legacy of the functionalist thinking inherited from constructivism opposing the surrealist line of "imagination" and abstract expressionism?
As Peter Weibel writes in his introduction to the New Tendencies retrospective exhibition in ZKM, when contemporary art relaunched itself after 1945, and began to reference sources from before fascism and WWII, at first what was favoured were Abstract Expressionism, Informel and Tachism, 'the expressive and spiritual side of abstraction (Weibel 2007, p. 4). Then Weibel goes on to say that 'the rational branch of constructivism' which according to him had started with the Constructivist Manifesto of 1920 by Naum Gabo and Pevsner (Weibel also cites 'geometric abstraction' as represented by Abstraction-creation) started to be rediscovered in the late 1950s. (Medosch about New Tendencies (2008), )
The work of Croatian neo-constructivist group Exat-51 active in 1950s, ideological and linguistic precursor of New Tendencies movement, was in opposition to 'recommendations' of Yugoslavian Party ideologues to accept 'modern' manner of expression, which was part of Josip Tito’s policy aimed to shift art to the other side of the ‘Iron Curtain’, to the very heart of the mainstream – abstract expressionism and its affiliated artistic languages. (Merenik about New Tendencies (2007), )
Max Bense, influential promoter of information aesthetics, who played major role in New Tendencies 4 in 1968, held that the process of art criticism should not further relay on subjective opinions, but follow rational scientific criteria, what was thought to be a sharp weapon against art historian chatter. This theoretical framework challenged the 'Stuttgart School' of computer art not only to consider information aesthetics as an art critics tool, but as a method to generate art with help by a computer. (Kluetsch about New Tendencies and Cybernetic Serendipity (2005), )
Functionalist thinking of Bense and Max Bill (head of the Second Bauhaus, where Bense and his collaborator Abraham Moles were teaching) was strongly opposed by the Situationists (them being heirs of Surrealism). Bense was attacked by German section of the Situationist International in 1959 in Munich. A public lecture of Bense was announced and once the audience gathered, a tape recorder was switched on and the voice on the tape declared that Bense was unable to come and would instead give his talk in "cybernetic form." The talk was a deliberately nonsensical cut-up of German, Latin and French phrases with garbled quotations from Marx and Hegel. The German Situationists attacked Bense, according to the S.I.’s report of its 3rd conference, for his "perfect continuation of constructivism." (Cramer: Words Made Flesh (2005), )
Abraham Moles, another theorist of information aesthetics, opposed the classical view of an artist as a spontaneous genius who is expressing something through art. He called for realizing the closeness of scientific and artistic processes through the concept of experiment. He saw the traditional art mainly following the concept of "trial and error", in contrast to the concept of experiment, which is scientifically defined. According to Moles, experiments are characterized through a methodological planned construction of circumstances, which then are subject to scientific observation. From this point it follows that they must be able to be repeated. (Kluetsch about New Tendencies and Cybernetic Serendipity (2005), )
Many artists of New Tendencies avoided gesture of the individual artist genius, and rather chose to explore and demonstrate "the possibilities of the new medium". (Rosen about New Tendencies (2007), )
Stripping aesthetics of meaning
In 1960s and 1970s, computer-assisted art offered the artists the relatively safe haven of creative freedom. Not considered as art, "no content" works were immune from both Socialist Realism imperative and state ideological censorship. In contrast, in alt-socialist Yugoslavia, choice of many artists and scientists to adapt scientific methods for art' sake was more deliberate, and in line with the theorists of information aesthetics, who called for stripping aesthetics and poetics of any concept of meaning. Straight recontextualisation of visual representation of scientific problems into 'artistic context' is risking falling inbetween two worlds, not being declarative science neither 'open work' of art.
Non-objective, non-representative, abstract art - began with Malevich's Black Square.
Gabo: "we don't make images of"
Russian artist collective Dvizhenie deliberately called themselves "decorative artists" in order to bypass imperative of Socialist Realism and be free to create "no content" kinetic works. (Tillberg about Dvizhenie (2007), )
After becoming "unwanted" by communist regime in Slovakia, Jozef Jankovic quit creating sculptures and found asylum in computer art. In cooperation with computer scientist he started to produce lithographies and serigraphies based on computer drawings.
Referring to David Birkoff's Mathematical Aesthetics, Claude Shannon’s Information Theory, Noam Chomsky’s Generative Grammar, and Norbert Wiener’s Cybernetics, Bense developed a new aesthetic based on strict science. The goal was to measure the value of art works by determining the ratio between order and chaos respectively, information and redundancy. He held that given the rules for generating aesthetic information, a computer can produce aesthetic objects which are perceived as signs. Bense aimed to reinvent aesthetics and poetics, stripping it bare from any concept of meaning. (Cramer: Words Made Flesh (2005), )
Some works at the New Tendencies exhibitions are merely 'visual' applications of systems art, reiterative and aleatory visual compositions; others which produce a similar visual output are based on actual issues in molecular biology and computer science. A similar gap affected also some of the text based works - works by artists using language and the computer to either investigate similarities between code and language or to produce a 'deconstructed' neo-dadaist code literature. The deconstruction remains again on a superficial aesthetic level and lacks the philosophic wit and irony of, for instance Art & Language. (Medosch about New Tendencies (2008), )
Art in the service of society: Against l'art pour l'art.
With the 1917 regime change in Russia, an art was introduced which for the first time sought to directly influence the people's consciousness and living conditions through agitation and activism. Following Scriabin' synthetic utopia, Russian Constructivists sought to move beyond the autonomous art object, holding that art's foundation has to be in the only domain of the authentic - life. They called for the social function of art, which is to be produced industrially. Bauhaus cultivated these developments - science, architecture, technology and the visual arts were all working toward one another so as to shape as many aspects of life as possible. In 1970s, more "socially engaged" artists worked to make contributions improving the coexistence of ultimately diverse society. Artistic strategies of small social interventions have been however challenged by the artist/activist groups which abandoned the idea of "altering social relationships by altering form", since the attitudes and habits, thinking patterns and value standards can be only marginally influenced through colors, sounds and forms, and thus got involved in a direct social action.
Alexander Scriabin in early 1900s had grandiose plans with his magnum opus, "Mysterium (Preparation for the Final Mystery)", a mixture of rite and drama. He would have built a great temple in the Himalayas for the production for the piece, which would last seven days and nights, and bring about the armageddon, "a grandiose religious synthesis of all arts which would herald the birth of a new world." He told friends, "There will not be a single spectator. All will be participants. The work requires special people, special artists and a completely new culture. The cast of performers includes an orchestra, a large mixed choir, an instrument with visual effects, dancers, a procession, incense, and rhythmic textural articulation. The cathedral in which it will take place will not be of one single type of stone but will continually change with the atmosphere and motion of the Mysterium. This will be done with the aid of mists and lights, which will modify the architectural contours." Later he added that after the grand performance the world would come to an end with the human race replaced by "nobler beings." ()
Shortly after Russian 1917's October Revolution, split among constructivists occured. Tatlin, Rodchenko and a cadre advocated art's immediate incorporation by existing economic and industrial procedures as a way of serving society best. The opposition, composed of Kandinsky, Malevich, Pevsner, and Gabo, as well all in line calling for the marriage of art and social revolution, however took the stand that the artist's vision would be cramped by local and temporal demands so imposed. His service to culture, in the long run, they held, would be far superior without such fetters. (Macagy about constructivists (1967), )
Five decades later, a similar dispute divided the third international meeting of New Tendencies in Zagreb in 1965. Significantly, for this meeting, the policy-makers had reduced the former title "New Tendencies" to the singular. An attempt was made later to impose, on the invited artists, "project displays" which would show how "pure" art could be put into practice of realisation of its economic and technological framework. (Macagy about constructivists (1967), )
Polish artist Krzysztof Wodiczko (emigrated to Canada in 1977) was inventing vehicles for New York's winos and homeless. Utopian-looking all-purpose vehicles built on supermarket cart chassis that hobos could push around, with storage space for returnable cans and bottles, were designed so that the whole device could be converted into a cot for the night. Wodiczko looked for solutions within the realm of existing possibilities, even if they seemed a little utopian. Still, his carts are only presented in museums. This could even give rise to the suspicion that he is utilizing social destitution for the purpose of creating "valuable exhibition pieces". (Wochenklausur: From the Object to the Concrete Intervention, )
Media art tends to be easily enchanted by the promises of McLuhanist technological determinism, that the convergence of media, telecommunications and computing are about to liberate humanity. Did the Slavic intellectual tradition develop a specific and distinct concept of technology and if not, how is the liberatory potential of technologies perceived here by artists and culture?
Theorist of information aesthetics, Abraham Moles said in 1968: "The computer would bring a revolution of deeper significance than the machine revolution, which had inspired Marx." This statement sits firmly at the relative beginnings of a narration which replaces Marx inspired critique with the un-Marxist ideology of the coming of the information age, as Richard Barbrook writes in Imaginary Futures (2007). New media technologies, not humans, become the sole agents of social change. This philosophy of a modified McLuhanism should become the ideology of media art. (Medosch about New Tendencies (2008), )
Media and politics. Artists and engineers in civil resistance
Keywords: independent media, pirate radio, tactical media, media activism, free speech, hacker culture, participative democracy, propaganda, desire machine (Deleuze+Guattari), radio broadcast jamming, surveillance technologies, CCTV, database state, control society (Hardt+Negri)
Video news magazines. Original Video Journal started in 1986 with Vaclav and Olga Havel's initiative. Hungarian Black Box collective began in 1987. Kopper's video series "Video-world", 1988-93.
Serbian independent radio B-92 began broadcasting in 1989 as part of a Socialist Party effort to appear hip by sponsoring a two-week youth radio, but it stayed on the air, challenging the weakening power of the regime. It became an important part of the alternative scene in Belgrade, a kind of umbrella for NGOs, anti-war activists, feminists and minority groups, and a force behind many street demonstrations. Cyberrex, cultural department of B92, served as the electronic shelter after the ban by the Serbian authorities against B92. (B92, 20 years later (2009), )
Email UUCP-based (russian predecessor of TCP/IP) network Relcom was used to spread news about the Soviet coup attempt of 1991 worldwide while coupers through KGB were trying to suppress mass media activity on the subject.
Zamir Transnational Net was BBS system, launched by Anti-War Campaign NGO in Zagreb in 1992, with the initial help of the Dutch and German hackers, in order to connect citizens and peace activists across the war-thorn former Yugoslavia. Same NGO also founded Arkzin in 1991, bi-weekly anti-war magazine that combined politics and subculture, editor in chief: Vesna Jankovic.