Media art and culture

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The term media art is useful and used for artistic projects bringing up the technological, aesthetical, social, cultural, legal and political issues that come along with the emergence of new media. Since 1990s the new media have included internet, web, mobiles, wireless, GPS, and others. Media culture in this regard uses and is used by new media.

Media art includes projects exploring technological and aeshetical of emerging tools and standards, such as video, computer, mobile devices, internet, software, code, computer games, streaming, GPS, sound production devices, or robotics. These projects usually focus on the manuevre limitations, stereotypes of perception, or aesthetics of these tools.

Looking at the media art and culture mailing lists, conferences and festivals, the current discussions are held on various topics, such as public domain and accessibility of data, software, and devices, democratisation of electromagnetic spectrum (open spectrum), social web (or web 2.0), protection of personal data and identity, and human rights. Projects dealing with these social, cultural, legal and political issues stemmed from media art field and still can be considered as a part of it.


Wilson: Information Arts (2003)

Stephen Wilson v Information Arts[1] klasifikuje prace na zaklade pouzitych technologii (v knihe spred 6 rokov ich naratal vyse 80).
Wilson integrates art and techno-scientific research with critical theory into "art as research".
Also: Boundary_objects_between_arthistory,_history_of_technology,_and_sociology#Stephen_Wilson.2C_Information_Arts_.282003.29

Manovich: New Media (2001)

Lev Manovich v The Language of New Media[2] postupuje od materialnych zakladov novych medii k ich formam.
In section Media and Computation I show that new media represents a convergence of two separate historical trajectories: computing and media technologies. Both begin in the 1830's with Babbage's Analytical Engine and Daguerre's daguerreotype. Eventually, in the middle of the twentieth century, a modern digital computer is developed to perform calculations on numerical data more efficiently; it takes over from numerous mechanical tabulators and calculators already widely employed by companies and governments since the turn of the century. In parallel, we witness the rise of modern media technologies which allow the storage of images, image sequences, sounds and text using different material forms: a photographic plate, a film stock, a gramophone record, etc. The synthesis of these two histories? The translation of all existing media into numerical data accessible for computers. The result is new media: graphics, moving images, sounds, shapes, spaces and text which become computable, i.e. simply another set of computer data. In Principles of New Media I look at the key consequences of this new status of media. Rather than focusing on familiar categories such as interactivity or hypermedia, I suggest a different list. This list reduces all principles of new media to five: numerical representation, modularity, automation, variability and cultural transcoding. In the section, What New Media is Not, I address other principles which are often attributed to new media [digitally encoded media is discrete in contrast to analog, different media types are displayable using one machine, random access, digitization inolves loss of information, endless copying w/o degradation of media, interactivity]. I show that these principles can already be found at work in older cultural forms and media technologies such as cinema, and therefore they are by themselves are not sufficient to distinguish new media from the old.

  • Medosch: The history of media as told by Manovich appears to contain only unbroken continuity. For him, the Jacquard loom is a kind of predecessor of the computer because it could be 'programmed' to produce different ornaments using punctured strips. In typical technological deterministic thinking the logic of progress is at work, while human actors are sidelined. Lewis Mumford sees the Jacquard loom in a different light. According to Mumford aesthetic demands motivated the invention of the 'programmable' Jacquard loom - it were the complex patterns fashionable at the time which necessitated its invention (Trögemann and Viehoff 2005). Where Mumford sees human motivation, Manovich sees a 'logic' at work: from Daguerreotype and the Differential Engine (Babbage) to cinematograph, radar, television and computer, with the side-streams of the Hollerith machine, telegraphy, radio waves and wireless telegraphy. Yet Manovich never looses a word about where all those inventions come from. There is always a 'logic', a 'trajectory', some intrinsic reasons at work, why technology progresses in this or that way. Thus, technological progress becomes naturalised. Taking this to its final consequence, technological progress would be motivated by a teleology of which computer based (new) media appear as the provisional end point. [..]
    Lev Manovich claims that the aesthetic principles at work in new media culture have been developed by Russian and German avant-garde film makers in the 1920s.
    A hundred years after cinema's birth, cinematic ways of seeing the world, of structuring time, of narrating a story, of linking one experience to the next, have become the basic means by which computer users access and interact with all cultural data. (Manovich 2001, 78 -79)
    In particular Dziga Vertov's film The Man with a Movie Camera (1929) can be used as the guide to the understanding of the language of new media. In order to give the aesthetics of cinema such a privileged role in its influence on new media, he has to neutralise the key counter-argument, namely that computers are interactive. According to Manovich it is a non-statement to say that computers are interactive - they are so by their very nature (Manovich 2001, 55). He says that he would offer only qualified notions of interactivity, and that in principle all art forms are interactive (ibid., 56). With this conceptualisation he basically kills interactivity as a category specific to media art. In order to cement his key thesis that computer based media can be seen through the lens of 1920s avant-garde movies he introduces an extensive genealogy of the screen.
    VR, telepresence, and interactivity are made possible by the recent technology of the digital computer. However, they are made real by a much older technology, the screen. (Manovich 2001, 94).
    Only by dismissing interactivity and by making the screen the central component of new media art, he can say that Russian avant-garde cinema has laid the foundations for media art. Thus, a seemingly progressive position is turned into a conservative one. Manovich appears to suggest that aesthetic innovation ended 80 years ago whereas we now move forward in making more perfect technically what Vertov et al have achieved then. The revolutionary methods (in the 1920s) of montage, of zooms and pans, of the liberated and accelerated kino-eye have become menu functions in Photoshop. American software engineers are providing the public with drop-down menu access to the aesthetic innovations of the 1920s.
  • Medosch about Batchen's critique. Geoffrey Batchen criticises Manovich for using cinema as the key conceptual lens through which to address the language of new media, ignoring the histories of photography and telegraphy (Batchen 2004). The use of 35mm discarded movie film by Zuse, the German inventor of the computer, is evidence enough for Manovich to see "all existing media translated into numerical data accessible for the computer."
    But the plausibility of this particular historical metaphor depends on two particular claims: 1. that computing and photo-media have no interaction until the 1930s, and 2. that cinema is the key to any understanding of the forms and development of new media.
    In his own account Batchen shows how closely the histories of the computer, photography and telegraphy were interwoven, partly because inventors such as William Fox Henry Talbot and Charles Babbage on one hand, and Samuel Morse and Louis Daguerre were in close contact with each other. According to Batchen four "inter-related technologies and their conceptual apparatuses - photography, mechanical weaving, computing and photo-mechanical printing" were first conceived around 1800 and need to be understood in the context of modernity, which means "capitalism, industrialisation, colonialism, patriarchy." It is important to note that Babbage and his assistant Ada Lovelace saw the computer as "a cultural artefact that enabled nature (and therefore God) to represent itself in the form of mathematical equations".
    That means that Babbage's calculating machines were seen as proof of the existence of God. Batchen concludes that any single 'conceptual lens' is inadequate and therefore also any linear chronology. He demands "a more complex rendition of the relations of past and present," "a threedimensional network of connections," a history "thick" with unpredictability which faces up to the "political challenge" about the way how history is written.
  • Cubitt: is new media, are new media, unified by an intrinsic quality or field of qualities? Or is it perhaps their very modularity, variability, transcoding, that marks them out as a loose aggregation without a single defining presence? [3]
  • Holmes: what always irritated me in Manovich's writing was a kind of smug insistence that the new media were essentially defined by a certain kind of rhythm, a certain multiplication of screens, a certain connection to databases, etc. - in other words, that new media were essentially defined by the dominant trends of contemporary capitalist society. For me this seemed like a total abdication of criticism itself, and it also seemed to be a sort of cheerful, "I'm on the winning side" version of the dark technological determinism and philosophical doomsaying promoted by the post-Leftist thinkers in the wake of Baudrillard. What I missed was the very question of autonomy, and some recognition of its quasi-infinite complexities as they've been ceaselessly developing from the Neolithic to now, in the long and discontinuous series of messages passed from human world to human world. Imho, the poverty of new media art - its "crisis" - has intrinsically to do with poverty of media critique tout court. [4]

Penny (1993)

Simon Penny v texte "Consumer Culture and the Technological Imperative: The Artist in Dataspace"[3] hovori o digitalnom, pocitacovom a elektronickom umeni (pouziva ich ako synonyma) ako o spojnici troch historickych prudov: techniky (engineering), transnacionalneho komoditneho kapitalizmu, a tradicneho vytvarneho umenia. kedy digitalni medialni umelci pracuju s estetikou technologii, ktore su v kulture technologiami moci.
In many discussions of computer arts, the conversation has focused upon a dialectic between the sciences and the arts, a recapitulation of C. P. Snow's somewhat dated dualism. I want to insert a third term, without which such a discussion can have only limited relevance to contemporary culture: consumer commodity economics. [..] In this discussion, the terms "computer artists," "electronic media artists," and "artists who use technology" are used interchangeably, as I know of no useful and brief blanket term. There will be some specific reference to interactive media artpractice.

  • Armin Medosch[4] k Pennyho trom prudom pridava este dva: kulturny priemysel (frankfurtska skola) a socio-politicke hnutia (aktivizmus). Pojem "media art" chape ako stresny pojem, analogicky k vyssie spominanym pojmom.
    To this list of Simon Penny (above) I would add two fields: the culture industry (Adorno 1991), now re-branded as the creative industry, and socio-political movements. The field of media art cannot be understood without asking which connections media art has with other fields in society. As Penny's choice of words suggests those 'forces' do have a strong influence on the field and sometimes it looks as if the combined power of those influences is so overwhelming that a core of media art is hard to identify. My personal position in this regard is that it is important to acknowledge those contextual links, yet to insist that media art is not reducible to the contextual relations it has. The field has historically always struggled to define its boundaries. Those boundary struggles are very revealing about the differentiation process of the field in relation to the art system, the overall political economy, the computer and telecommunications industry, the creative industries and political activism. Any more extensive mapping of the field would have to consider those relationships instead of trying to define an 'essence' of media art.[5] [6]

Medosch: Media Art (2005)

Medosch talks about media art being justified by its institutional context[5].
It is not a diffuse 'essence' of media art which justifies it to speak of it as a separate field but the existence of a system of institutions which are more or less exclusively concerned with it. Institutionally media art is characterised by the existence of two types of institutions. On one hand there are large festivals, such as Ars Electronica, since 1979 held in Linz, Austria, and large brickand-mortar institutions such as the ZKM in Karlsruhe, which attract major funding, organise big exhibitions and produce heavy catalogues. On the other hand there are many small institutions, sometimes called 'self-institutions' - so called media labs or hack labs - which have been thriving over the last 10 years, forming an alternative or 'unstable' field (Druckrey 2005) with increasingly world-wide connections and a more decentralised and networked approach. Whereas the large institutions face typical pressures for legitimisation such as demands to be instrumental in regional development, the world-wide network of small institutions often lives on shoe-string budgets mostly provided by state funding agencies. Some activities are not funded at all or are rather selffunded - made possible by the energy and work of participants. According to Bourdieu this area could be called a field of restricted production. Economically it is insignificant but discursively it is important. I am not trying to construct a binary opposition between two types of institutions and acknowledge the existence of many medium sized institutions and a lively transfer between the fields. However, it is important to state that there is an institutionalised field and that it is not homogenous but heterogeneous. [7]
The thesis is, in short, that certain founding fathers have succeeded in establishing media art institutionally but it was a pyrrhic victory. the language and 'philosophy' they have employed was about a fetishized notion of disembodied information and an equally fetishized notion of interactivity. Thus, they have failed to build solid theoretic and terminological foundations. Because of the internet being openend up their discoursive relevancy was over by 1995-96. Although some good things came afterwards this sort of foundational mistake has blighted the field and subsequently lead to the confusion and misunderstandings we find ourselves in now. [8]

Snow: Two Cultures (1959)

Lecture by C.P.Snow[6]

Lyotard: New materials (1979)

Lyotard in book La Condition Postmoderne (1979), in which he prophesised the end of the grand narratives, the end of man's control over being (Descartes), the end of the humanist tradition. In Les Immatériaux exhibition he curated he made the visitor realise that the existence of new materials (new technologies, computerized spaces, internet) would alter man's relationship with the world even more extremely. These 'new materials' would force him to recognize that the old Cartesian programme of mastering and posses¬sing nature was history. These 'new materials' were not, as Lyotard explained, materials that are new, but materials that 'work' or 'talk' themselves and thus question the idea of Man being the only one who works, talks, plans and remembers. Goods, images and signs themselves generate new processes, resulting in ever new goods, images, signs and meanings. The sphere of influence of these processes extend far beyond the conscious intentions and interpretations of those who make and absorb it. This is the most fascinating proof of the ability of 'a work' to work and to affect its own operations. It has a 'life' of its own.

Grau: Virtual Art (2003)

Oliver Grau in Virtual Art - ? [7]

Grau: Media Art (2007)

Oliver Grau in MediaArtHistories - ? [8]

  • Kluitenberg [9] (German)
  • Kluetsch [10] (German)
  • Frost [11]

Ascott (2003)

Roy Ascott in Telematic Embrace - ? [9]

Frieling and Daniels: Media Art (2005)

Rudolf Frieling and Dieter Daniels: media art is "by definition multimedia, time-based or process-oriented"[10]
We pointed out the special qualities of media art reception in the introduction to Media Art Net 1. This applies both to direct knowledge of the artworks and also their technological and theoretical context; we would like to sum this up succinctly in the following three theses:

  • 1. Media art must be conveyed multimedially so that its time-based, processual and interactive aspects can be understood.
  • 2. Media art needs a special theory that combines competencies from art theory, media science and media technology.
  • 3. Multimedia presentation and special theory are mutually dependent; they have to relate to each other and be published on a joint platform.

To these we can now add a fourth thesis as the sum of our past experiences:

  • 4. Contexts can be created and presented only through the Net: the idea of networking the competencies of curators, academics, mediators and institutions met with a great deal of willingness to cooperate. So finally, thanks to these many collaborators, it was possible to finance a large number of additional themes, projects and materials. Here the bandwidth of the approaches, which were often very heterogenous in terms of method, first reflects existing divergencies of theory and practice. But at the same time the joint, collectively filled data pool, starting from the work, makes it possible to respond to these works and to make them productive in this way. Cross-links between the text were built in editorially. This led to an intensification process that we often found remarkable; it crystallized out from multiple references to a whole series of older, but also more recent artistic positions.

Weibel: Digital Image (1984)

Peter Weibel[11] claims "Futurism, Cubism, Cubofuturism, Suprematism, Dadaism, Surrealism, etc." to be conceptual precursors of media art. New art forms emerging after WW2 such as "action painting, Fluxus, Happening, Pop Art, Kinetism, Op-Art, Ambiente, Arte Povera, actions, performances, etc.," are enlisted to the cause of preparing the ground for the 'liberated' digital image.

Tribe and Jana: New Media Art (2006)

Mark Tribe and Reena Jana in New Media Art[12]: New Media art and older categorical names like "Digital art," "Computer art," "Multimedia art," and "Interactive art" are often used interchangeably, but for the purposes of this book we use the term New Media art to describe projects that make use of emerging media technologies and are concerned with the cultural, political, and aesthetic possibilities of these tools. We locate New Media art as a subset of two broader categories: Art and Technology and Media art. Art and Technology refers to practices, such as Electronic art, Robotic art, and Genomic art, that involve technologies which are new but not necessarily media-related. Media art includes Video art, Transmission art, and Experimental Film -- art forms that incorporate media technologies which by the 1990s were no longer new. New Media art is thus the intersection of these two domains. We chose to limit the scope of this book to work that was made after the term New Media art was broadly adopted in 1994, and to focus on works that are particularly influential, that exemplify an important domain of New Media art practice, and that display an exceptional degree of conceptual sophistication, technological innovation, or social relevance. Deciding what counts as media technology is a difficult task. The Internet, which is central to many New Media art projects, is itself composed of a heterogeneous and constantly changing assortment of computer hardware and software?servers, routers, personal computers, database applications, scripts, and files?all governed by arcane protocols, such as HTTP, TCP/IP, and DNS. Other technologies that play a significant role in New Media art include video and computer games, surveillance cameras, wireless phones, hand-held computers, and Global Positioning System (GPS) devices. But New Media art is not defined by the technologies discussed here; on the contrary, by deploying these technologies for critical or experimental purposes, New Media artists redefine them as art media. In the hands of Radical Software Group (RSG), for example, data surveillance software, similar to that used by the United States' Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), becomes a tool for artistic data visualization. In addition to exploring the creative possibilities of this software, RSG develops a critique of surveillance technology and its uses. According to the authors, contemporary new media art pieces tend to deal with themes such as collaboration, identity, appropriation and open sourcing, telepresence and surveillance, corporate parody, as well as intervention and hactivism.

Paul: Digital Art (2003)

Christiane Paul v Digital Art[13] rozlisuje medzi umenim, ktore pouziva digitalne technologie ako nastroje pre tvorbu tradicnych umeleckych objektov (fotografia, tlac, socha, hudba) a umenim, pre ktore su tieto technologie jeho vlastnym mediom, v ktorom je produkovane, zaznamenavane a prezentovane a ktoreho interaktivne a participativne vlastnosti taketo umenie vyuziva.

  • Medosch: I would tentatively add to Christiane Paul's definition that many works of media art contain an element of self-referentiality; that they are not just 'using' a medium but also questioning and challenging its boundaries; that they try to make implicit or explicit statements about properties of media technologies and thereby raise questions about the intersections of science, technology and culture. Such a definition points to a qualitative difference in the understanding of media art. The medium in this definition of media art is not just a carrier of content but formative for the creation of meaning. Technology and culture are not seen as categorically separated but understood to be intricately linked. However, such a definition of media art can not be assumed to be universally shared. [12]

Lovink: New Media (2005)

Geert Lovink [14]

Murin: New Media (2000)

Michal Murin [15]

Kera: New Media

Denisa Kera [16]

Rišková: New Media Art (2008)

Mária Rišková in [17]: "Uznanie umenia nových médií ako relevantnej súčasti inštitucionalizovaných dejín vizuálneho umenia sa naplnilo, keď sa rozšíril termín media art (umenie médií, mediálne umenie), ktorý jasnejšie vytýčil pravidlá hry a uspokojil zástupcov konvenčných dejín umenia:

  • prepojil súčasné nové médiá s historickým vývojom = nové médiá sú pokračovateľom experimentov niektorých avantgárd (ktoré už dosiahli akceptáciu v akademických kruhoch)
  • akceptoval zaradenie autorov nepochádzajúcich z akademickej umeleckej scény do oblasti umenia
  • odstránil sporné adjektívum „nový“ a zhrnul pod „médiá“ už prediskutované pojmy multimediálneho a intermediálneho umenia = spolupôsobenie zvuku – obrazu – pohybu – času – procesu – priestoru...
  • prijal fenomény, ktorú už nemohol nikto v súčasnej kultúre prehliadať = interaktivita, úloha publika atď."

More writings

  • Má pojem nová média dnes ještě co říci? 2007 [13]


  1. Stephen Wilson, Information Arts: intersections of art, science, and technology, MIT Press, 2003, (online), (full book), (google books)
  2. Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media, Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001, (online), (full book), (google books), (excerpt)
  3. Simon Penny, "Consumer Culture and the Technological Imperative: The Artist in Dataspace", 1993 (full article), in: Simon Penny (ed.), Critical issues in electronic media, SUNY Press, 1995, (google books)
  4. Armin Medosch, Technological Determinism in Media Art, 2005, (full text), (excerpt)
  5. Armin Medosch, Technological Determinism in Media Art, 2005, (full text), (excerpt)
  6. C.P.Snow, "The Two Cultures", 1959 (full text) wikipedia
  7. Oliver Grau, Virtual Art: From Illusion to Immersion (Leonardo Book Series). Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2003 (full book)
  8. Oliver Grau (ed.), MediaArtHistories, Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2007
  9. Roy Ascott, Telematic Embrace: Visionary Theories of Art, Technology, and Consciousness, Berkeley: University of California Press. 2003 [ (full book)
  10. Rudolf Frieling, Dieter Daniels (eds.), Media art net 2: Thematische Schwerpunkte/ Key Topics, Springer, 2005, (online), (google books)
  11. Peter Weibel, On the History and Aesthetics of the Digital Image, 1984, (full text), (excerpt)
  12. Mark Tribe and Reena Jena, New Media Art, Taschen/Brown, 2006, (full text)
  13. Christiane Paul, Digital Art (World of Art series), London: Thames and Hudson, 2003, (online), (commentary)
  14. Geert Lovink "New Media, Art and Science: Explorations beyond the Official Discourse" (2005) (full text)
  15. Michal Murin "Nové médiá" Profil 4 (2000) pp. 4-5. (full text) (Slovak)
  16. Denisa Kera "Nová média" (full text) (Czech)
  17. Mária Rišková "Agónia a extáza umenia nových médií" Flash Art Fall (2008) (Slovak)


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