Sunday, February 04, 2007

Media Art Undone @ Transmediale Berlin

Dear Ursula,

yesterday, I was at the Transmediale panel "Media Art Undone", with Inke Arns, Olia Lialina, Diedrich Driederichsen, Miguel Leal and Timothy Druckrey. It was a strange discussion, mainly about the question if it is time now to let go off the label "Media Art" altogether. I was wondering why they still discuss these questions in festival panels, as these terms have been negotiated for quite some years now. If they want to have some sort of "democratic" terminology, why don't they just go ahead and ask everybody in the WWW to submit their definitions, just as the New York-based artist Dan Phiffer does it with his Postnational Society? I like his approach, as it shows the arbitraryness of definitions and plays with our urge to put a terminology on everything.
And while this was discussed, the terms "new media art", "digital art", "netart", "media art" have all been mixed up, as usual. It just seems that those different terminologies are being used in different strategies and tactics for different communities.
Diedrich Diederichsen drew a line between "media artists" and "gallery artists", Olia Lialina went on further in subcategorizing the term into different categories like, for instance, blogart. Timothy Druckrey said that he mistrusts the label "new" in "new media", as it originates from the advertisement industry. Inke Arns proposed a definition of media art which I would probably refer to: "What defines Media Art today is not its range of media, but rather its specific form of contemporaneity, its content-related examination of our present, which is to a high degree typified by media."
Ironically, the term "media art" has emancipated itself from the use of digital media, which can be demonstrated by some of the artworks at the Transmediale exhibition: for example, "Random Screen" by Aram Bartholl, which is a mechanical project based on the use of thermodynamic candle lights and thus creating the illusion of digital pixels.
Another assumption from the panel was that media art does not manage to get out of its "self-defined getto", I think Inke Arns mentioned that, quoting a journalist`s remark about the Transmediale. What do you think about that, I mean as an artist? Is media art a self-referential system? Timothy Druckrey sees the problem here: "(...) too often this situation is reinforced by idiosyncratic and solipsistic approaches to the 'media arts' -- or worse 'new media arts' - as either a distinct field characterized by an autonomous development or as a marginal field only incidentally relevant to the histories of art."
Olia Lialina says, yes, media art has a history, but it lacks pride. According to Olia, there is no need to find substitutes for the term "media art" or to give it an official acknowledgement that the term has been matured, accepted and embraced by contemporary art.
What I missed in this discussion was the impact of the lack of art market structures in media art, plus the forms of presentation. For instance, it seems that festivals are still considered the only appropriate format to present media artworks.
When talking about festivals, I want to quote a funny remark by Diedrich Diederichsen at the end of the panel discussion: " I am wondering, as a non-regular visitor of this festival, how easy it is to say 'we' here." I found that an interesting point.
So, Ursula, what do you think about all those weighty topics: is the distinction between old and new media still a relevant aspect of defining contemporary art practice?
I am not sure yet...But do I need to have an opinion on that, anyway?

All the best from Berlin,