New Media Art

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Fractals, a common theme in generative art

New media art is an umbrella term for artwork produced using new media. It includes a diverse set of categories such digital art, computer graphics, computer animation, virtual art, Internet art, interactive art technologies, but may also pertain to such fields as computer robotics or art as biotechnology. New media art is characterized by spanning practices ranging from conceptual and virtual art to performances and installations. Very often, new media art acts like a platform for communication and interaction rather than a closed work.

This course is intended to serve as an introduction to the subject of new media art, with the aim of presenting the general domains, artists, and themes that are associated witht the production of art in new media.

Introduction and History[edit]

Genco Gulan, Hello, 2015

New media art, as the name clearly indicates, can be any form of artistic production that is created in a medium that does not belong to traditional modes of artistic expression. This makes the entire discipline strictly tied to developments in technology, and crucially to the availability of that technology to the artist. These technological developments, as well as the reasons behind their origin, have a clear influence over how these contemporary works are designed and how they are meant to be examined. The best example here is the Internet. The Internet was designed to be a tool for efficient communication, through which people could communicate not only using written messages, but also by having the ability to share vast sets of data with each other. Hence, much of Internet art revolves around mutual interaction, with the artwork typically responding to the actions of the observer/participant. This is only one of the common features of the many subdisciplines that may be examined as art produced in new media.

New media art has its origins in the late 19th century. This is the period where the advent of new technologies began to enter the domain of artistic production. These beginnings can be traced back to the moving photographic contraptions of this time, such as the praxinoscope (1877). From the 1920s through the 1950s, various forms of kinetic and light art can be viewed as the harbingers of the future proliferation of works produced in new media. In 1958, Wolf Vostell became the first artist to use a television set in one of his works, The Black Room Cycle. In the 1960s, new developments in the realm of video production allowed for experimentation with visual elements. Of notable influence was the artistic collective Fluxus. By the early 1990s, the development of computer graphics and the advent of the World Wide Web provided a new platform for novel artistic productions. Key names of this period include Lynn Hershamn Leeson, Ken Rinaldo, and Roy Ascott.

Today, new media art is a dynamic field of the arts that offers never before available tools for artistic expression. It is becoming increasingly popular and accessible - mainly due to the dissemination of personal computers with significant computational abilities. Because of this democratic character of new media, the amount of works being produced is impossible to measure. The discipline has therefore become an enticing field of study, with many higher education institutions offering courses on new media art production. In short - new media art is at the frontier of contemporary art.

Major themes[edit]

Because of the wide range of media that are involved in art production in contemporary art, it is difficult to pinpoint common denominators. However, one shared theme present throughout new media art is a strict reliance on the medium (meaning the medium is inextricable from the content of the work), as a result of existing in a time where the progress of humanity is mostly dicated by advances in technology. Because new media art is not a set of common practices, it is better to focus on the areas to which art produced using new media is applied. A work pertaining to science will have a different reference frame than a work targeted at a social activism. This is also one of the main reasons behind the diversity of forms and approaches in new media art - each may serve a different purpose.

A pervasive theme in works produced in new media is non-linearity, which is primarily oriented at disrupting normal modes of perceving art. This can be easily noticed in immersive exhibitions (such as those of Jeffrey Shaw) or works based on hypertext.

Another popular theme is the interactive quality of new media art, which aims to create artwork that can be unique to every viewer, depending on their input. This results in making the viewer an integral part of the production, giving the artwork potentially an infinite amount of interations and interpretations. In this sense, art becomes an extreme semiotic system, with one system capable of generating many others.

The notion of a system and the extent to which many different formations are interconnected is also a central theme in new media art, stemming from the way the Internet fuctions.

Some other major themes in new media art are described in the work New Media Art by Mark tribe and Reena Jana. These include computer art, collaboration, identity, appropriation, open sourcing, telepresence, surveillance orhacktivism.

Examples and Overview[edit]

New media art is merely and umbrella term for a wide spectrum of subdisciplines. The traditional approach of applying genres to sets of works sharing similair features has a limited efficacy in new media art, as there exists a large range of overlapping qualities. A salient example of this is the work of Eduardo Kac, who is known for exploring DNA as a new form of art. This is an approach so unique that it would prove difficult to assign to a more general category, other than of common means of production. The subtypes of new media art are therefore usually only loosely defined. Below is a selection of a few of the most prominent types along with examples and brief analyses. The reader is strongly encouraged to explore these categories in-depth and apply critical analyses to the works encountered independently. This task is made easy due to the Internet, which remains the dominant platform for the publication of work produced in new media.

Digital art[edit]

Digital art is a category that pertains to works of art based foremostly on digital means of production. It utilizes digital technology as an aid in the creative process. It differs from (or can differ from - the boundaries are not clear cut) virtual art in that the works of art are still displayed in galleries or at presentations, as opposed to work that is purely virtual.

Examples[edit]

This video presents the process behind a revolutionary project in which artificial intelligence gathered enough information concerning the works of Rembrandt to reproduce the artist's style.

  1. How do you feel about this? May the work presented be considered a Rembrandt?
  2. Imagine a famous art critic concluding that this is indeed a lost work by the great Dutch master. What would the implications be?
  3. Do you think art is unique only to humanity? Or is a perfect copy created by a machine also 'true' art?

This video makes use of a fractal structure, along with audio effects such as distortion and overdrive. Like in many cases of new media art, one may wonder whether such a work constitutes art at all. However, it bears many aesthetic considerations which allow it to be viewed as such.

  1. Ridicule and satire have a firm place in Western culture, beginning with the Enlightenment. Do you see echoes of this tradition here?
  2. How can new media be used to comment on political issues? Do you think new media art can be a useful tool to express politcal standing?
  3. Does this particular work give you the impression that anything can be transposed into art? Why or why not?

Emily Howell is a bot created by David Cope in the 1990s. Participants in a controlled experiment could not distinguish between works composed by Howell and real people. It can easily be argued that the Howell has a good understanding of melody and rythm, and so compose music rather familair to the human ear.

  1. Is Emily Howell or David Cope the author of this piece of music?
  2. Do you think a robot could ever compose a symphony?
  3. Do you think that in the future a robot will be able to extrapolate the intricacies of music theory to create music that will be an artistic expression of its own condition? Why or why not?

Virtual art[edit]

Virtual art is a very loose name given to all artwork that attempts to make art in virtual spaces. The category exists, however, to differentiate between items produced or rendered in a virtual setting from work that is intended as art (to provide an example, an engineer designing a bridge in CAD software would most likely not consider the model as a work of art, but might perceive the actual architecture as such.)

Examples[edit]

An excerpt from the film Sailor by the Polish new-media artist Norman Leto. The fragment provides a presentation of lifeshapes created by the artist.

Questions:

  1. Norman Leto is a Polish is a self-taught Polish artist who admits his computer wasn't powerful enough to render his idea, yet his works are exhibited around the globe. Do you think the democratic character of new media art has made easier or tougher for young artists to become more recognized? Why or why not?

The video shows the process of creating sculptures in three-dimensional virtual spaces.

Questions:

  1. How impactful might technology like this become in the future? Can you imagine other applications?
  2. So far, it is generally agreed that such simulations still seem too artificial. Do you think this might change?

This is a video by virtual artist Cyriak, depicting his characteristic grotesque shape-shifting technique. Influences of surrealism are clearly visible.

Questions:

  1. Digital means of art production make virtually [sic] everything possible. Cyriak, however, maintains a characteristic manierism. Is style still relevant in a domain without bounds?

This site allows the reader to get a feel for generative art.

Questions:

  1. Do you believe that art which employs generated forms can ever be orignial?
  2. If you set the generator to certain settings and save them, is the fractal that is generated 'your' fractal? Why or why not?

Internet art[edit]

Internet art refers to art which is presented and distributed on the Internet. Like with most types of art produced in new media, the definition is only a loose indication of the area of interest. In this case, the focus is mostly on the interactive nature of the Internet, and many works produced in this category draw on the social aspects of the Internet such as email or live streaming.

Examples[edit]

This is an Internet-based project collecting every 3200 character permutation of the letters of the English alphabet, all indexed to created a 'library'. Such a work may be considered as a take on the nature of language, which althouth finite, allows us inifinite possibilites of expression.

Questions:

  1. What does this say about originality?
  2. Would you say that every book, in a sense, has alreay been written?
  3. Think about ways the Library of Babel be used as a tool of art (ex. as a colllage of random English senteces)? Would this also be literature?

Criticism[edit]

A framwork that proves useful in analyzing new media art is the theory of systems art. In general, this approach analizes how systems of concepts, ideas and processes replace tradtional concerns related to aesthetics and materials in art. This is especially useful in examining art produced in new media, in which the internal logic of a work must be properly deciphered to accurately establish the author's intentions. It is very common in new media art to employ a number of different artistic tools (what is known as multimodality). Jack Burnham is an important contributor in this domain, having made crucial observation on the impact of technology on sculpting, even coining the phrase "system sculpture". This framework is easily applicable to the field of generative art, which is based on content generated by a computer from algorythms and formulas.

Another unique way of examining new media art is through the lense of what is known as process art. The main tenant of this approach is not focused on the end product, or 'object of art', but rather on the process that precedes its creation. This means that what is relevant is the gathering, researching, application of ideas, and the very process of exection, leaving the product in a secondary role.

A towering figure in the world of new media criticism is the Italian philosopher Mario Costa, who is especially recommended to the reader's attention.

Selected artists[edit]

Listed below is a selection of artists operating in new media.

Notable institutions[edit]

Further reading[edit]