Digital media art: Art of the Paradox, New Scientist, Simon Ings, 24/2/2018

The article, Art of the Paradox, in this week’s New Scientist (NS), is relevant to the work I’ve been looking at recently. It reports Transmediale, a festival in Berlin which I mentioned when posting TPG’s article about Heather Dewey-Hagborg. I am not, however, entirely sure what the writer is saying in NS.  He seems to be arguing throughout digital art is almost futile and self-defeating due to being the same thing it is critiquing. A host of problems, in Ing’s mind, arise. Perhaps whatever he finds worrying about the art is in fact what is so troubling about human beings.

He says “Internet art hardly ever get’s finished. There is always more to sort, a virtual infinitude of rabbit holes to hurl yourself down, and very little that is genuinely new has had a chance to emerge”. Firstly, I would suggest this is a reality for people growing up and existing in a world heavily shaped by our interactions with the internet and digital life. So if this lack of finding closure is a problem for the art, it is also a problem for the world. Or, it isn’t – merely a new way of being. “Nothing ages on the internet; nothing dies. Nothing is ever resolved”, says Ings. This new reality where nothing ends is a significant and substantive shift and society will need time to come to terms with it. Art which reflects it is one way of doing so. And technology didn’t start that trend. It was being spoken about at least throughout last century. See Barthes’ Death of An Author, and the end of the fixed, closed sign, of Author-gods.

“…the world of media art has suffered the same fate that has befallen the rest of the internet-enabled planet. The very technology that promised us the world on a screen has been steadily filtering out the challenges and contrary opinions that made our interests and ideas so vital in the first place, leaving us living in an echo chamber.” Anyone believing those promises was perhaps more than a little naive. Ings communicates a pessimistic view, and we as a society will find ways to address these issues and we will often fail to tackle them and then try again as we always have done. We will, of course, get over our early pioneering childlike awe before becoming overawed and naive about the next revolution. We may wreck quite a lot of our world in the process but existence is far greater than our own lifetimes. We may even be on a backward-heading social path for now, in many areas. But we will continue to explore and learn about this deeply embedded need to identify our tribe, to recognise others who are the same as us – to find echo-chambers. This human trait is not new, it is merely supported by how the internet operates, and so highlights it, and makes us see it more clearly. Which is a good thing, as we can then explore it; and even try to address it? As I mentioned last week developers seem to understand they need to be writing programmes which will combat lack of empathy, cognitive bias etc.

Of course, the art is ‘strange, hard to explain – and a work in progress’. How could it not be? That is its job. Reflecting and discussing significant shifts in society due to technology’s presence. Why would the art NOT be very odd indeed? The world is super strange, hard to explain and a work in progress. To think of it in any other way, however, seems even stranger.

In the end, the article is a very useful resource with summarised details about some of the artists involved with Transmediale, but I’m not sure it says anything terribly helpful in terms of critique. (Paywall)


Artist: Heather Dewey-Hagborg

I wish I had come across this a few days ago as might have included it as an example in the critical essay with reference to subjectivity and the intersection between art and science. From Hagborg’s website “Since 2001, I’ve been working at the intersection of art and science, with an emphasis on conceptions of the natural and the artificial. Drawing from diverse fields including biology, computation, sculpture, and critical design, I view art as an open field in which any discipline can become subject and material. I utilize art as practice-based research with which to probe the deep and often hidden structures of media/technology/science that dominate the contemporary moment and frame our cultural imagination.”

So much in this work seems relevant from the way we define boundaries, to how technology frames and influences our understanding of reality. But the critical point for me here is that t would have been an excellent example of how the idea of ‘objectivity’ is a fallacy.

Last weekend our digital programme team were at @transmediale, a media arts festival that takes place every year in Berlin. Alongside a conference programme with discussions from artists, writers, activists and theorists, two exhibitions and large series of fringe events occur. We’re going show some highlights over a few posts. The work in this photograph is called Probably Chelsea by #HeatherDeweyHagborg and @xychelsea87. Dewey-Hagborg algorithmically generated each 3D portrait from samples of Chelsea Manning’s DNA while she was imprisoned. The variety in the portraits comes from different approaches to working with DNA, and shows how much subjectivity there is in analysing and interpreting data. #facevalue

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Sonia Boyce: An article referring​ to removal of Waterhouse’s naked nymphs painting

Everything in this article feels relevant but in particular:

“…why a mythological painting is judged so differently to a photograph. Participants remembered the confiscation by police in 2009 of a photographic work in Tate Modern by Richard Prince, of child actress and model Brooke Shields aged 10, depicted with an oiled torso in a bathtub. Is it the classical story versus the documentary image that makes one kind of object charming and the other so problematic as to be judged illegal?” (Boyce, 2018)

Feedback Recommendations

1. Benedict Drew:
2. Pipilotti Rist – showing in A Minute Ago in London shortly:

(‘A Minute Ago considers the idea of ‘a moment’ through artistic practice: how do we experience a single moment in time, and how do we process, communicate, and reconstruct it. Including performances by live art practitioners and moving image work selected from the Zabludowicz Collection, the exhibition investigates the ways in which a moment can be interrogated through different art forms’.)

  1. Look at Tony Oursler’s work (thinking particularly about his experiments with the voice and with sound; of-my-voice-sound-in-the-work-of-tony-oursler/
  2. Mark Wallinger’s Sleeper (‘performing’ the self):

I have been looking at the various recommendations Wendy gave me in the A3 feedback.

Benedict Drew – I have written about Drew elsewhere after seeing his work at the Whitechapel last year

Tony Ousler –

I couldn’t find the link I was given as it appears to be broken according to Ousler’s website but had a look at various other works by him and feel I must come back to it as there is so much. I was drawn to the above and the following words which were on an MIT site that came up when I searched for the words in the link.

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Mark Wallinger – Wallinger dresses up as a bear and wanders through a German gallery at night. Passer-bys ignore him or stare at him to see what’s going on, or are frightened by him as he lunges at them as they walk by outside.

I loved listening to Wallinger speak about his experience on the Tate website. But the critical point for me in this is his statement about performing for no-one which echoed what I was saying about Growtwoski’s assertion that a performance can be for as many or few as you like – (page 32 Kindle) – he talks about what a performance needs for something to be rendered a ‘performance’ and Growtoski says only one audience member is needed. Wallinger however, talks about having no audience at all other than himself which is just as valid in a discourse about boundaries between the idea of self and other (we are all part of the fabric of reality and therefore self and other are linguistically created illusions). However, is it not slightly disingenuous of him to say there was no audience since he filmed his performance, interacted with people staring into the gallery or who ignored him (even though they did, there was still meeting of consciousness’ caught up in the ‘performance’ of ignoring) – and then showed his dressed up isolation to another audience? Since the work was entered for the Turner prize the end result-audience was large indeed.

Pipilotti Rist – I have written about Rist several times but in particular here. I went to the Zabludowicz Collection last week and was very pleased to be able to spend time with her work in a gallery and with the soundtrack there (At that time, I had not managed to find it online with sound as there are some copyright issues on the Youtube version which means it is only shown silently in some versions – I have found it now. Apple Music  – not iMusic but the Beatle’s company are notoriously tricky about protecting copyright so wonder how this all played out….)  A while ago, I realised that I respond to aural effects, but that verbalisatised speech often irks me. For instance, I don’t recall song lyrics but at the risk of sounding horribly pretentious, I feel like I somehow kinesthetically ’embrace’ the melody, or it embraces me. That isn’t to say I don’t like or am not interested in language. I very much am and most of my inquiry here is about how language shapes our reality – but I find the human voice can quite often break a magical moment when it has been created with the use of light, sound, place, movement, rather than add to it and perhaps that is something for me to think about. I’ve digressed somehow – I am very drawn by aural aspects of Rist’s video, I’m not the Girl Who Misses Much – a dismantled version, in fact just one-line from a Beatles song, Happiness is a Warm Gun, which Rist adapts by changing the lyrics so it is about her female-self rather than a song about a female-other sung by a male-primary subject. The song is a terrific choice not only because of the words, but the combination of whimsical minor chords and its regular beat, already broken up with musical slides and somersaults, which Rist speeds up and slows down, as well as interrupts with other audio. It is accompanied by visuals of her dancing which are out of focus, with effects and editing tricks that further dismantle and disrupt the narrative. It’s the sort of work that makes me very, very excited!

I didn’t manage to see A Minute Ago by Rachel Rose, which the exhibition was named after (the upper level was closed in preparation for a performance) but have seen a clip on Vimeo here This work made me think about fellow OCA student Catherine her Second Life investigation – and how reality in our hyperreal world has been usurped by technically made visual reality, and corporeal existence is rendered out of focus


Artists: Erik Madigan

Not sure about all of these but a couple of them do seem to work really well. Muse (2014) and Red Socks (2013) in particular. I also like what the blurb has to say:

“Approaching photography with the same eye as high art, Erik Madigan Heck’s works capture the essence of painting through the lens of his camera. His work is elegant and unashamedly beautiful, exploring the intersections of fashion, painting, and classical portraiture. Working with natural light and combining in-camera effects with digital postproduction, he produces evocative and seductive images that are simultaneously timeless and futuristic.”

There’s that phrase ‘unashamedly’ again in reference to aesthetically ‘beautiful’ work. (It was also on the Zanele Muholi statement).