2. Juni 2015

Rethinking Media: The Mobile Image, New Audiences and the Post-optimal Object

Since the integration of electronic network based telecommunication devices into the artistic process art has changed fundamentally. Did it mean anything? It´s time to remember, how it all started and think about, where it could go. 

rethinking media by Tanja Vietzke (2014) // watercolour and blueprint on paper

"In this type of event, it is not the exchanged content that matters, but rather the network that is activated and the functional conditions of exchange. The aesthetic object is replaced by the immateriality of field tensions and by vital and organic energy (mental, muscular, affective) and artificial or mechanical energy (electricity, electronics) that transform our mundane object-centered sense of space and time. Equally the subject is transformed, being no longer defined by rigid opposition of self/not-self, but becoming part of this same flowing field of energy". In Art of the Electronic Age (1997) Frank Popper circumstantiates a fundamental aesthetic and terminological change in the artwork. 

As the development of new techniques changed established definitions of reality, „new“ media art started exploring the expressive possibilities of technologies like the telephone, telegraph and internet by questioning the object-oriented cognition of audience, space and time in art itself. Whereas the traditional way of art creation and perception was mainly focused on the interrelation between a materialized subject, placed within a defined site to be perceptible for a certain audience, a new media art put emphasis on the immaterial process of human perception implementing participation and its own definition of site.
Even event or performance-oriented artworks of the 60s or 70s, which tried to break the patterns of cultural frameworks, were mainly oriented to transmit a finite content intended and formulated by the artist. In contrary to that, the first wave of artworks in the 1980s dealing with the new network based applications put emphasis on the medium and its sensual possibilities of interaction itself, rather than on the transmission of a substantial message encoded by the artist as a creator, decoded by the audience as the spectators.

One of the first telematic art pieces that has to be mentioned in this context is Hole-in-the-Space (HIS, 1980) by Kit Galloway and Sherlie Rabinowitz. The media artists, collaborating as Mobile Image, created a satellite connection between Los Angeles and New York, installed screens in public spaces in both cities and made it possible for the passing people to get in contact with each other by interacting through the transmitted images of each others sides. While the first days went with people just watching the installation, after a certain period of time they started to explore ways to use the connection for personal encounters and communication with the other side. The process of participation went so far, that people brought other people in order to explain and demonstrate, what was going on. Moreover families, friends and relatives started using the Hole-in-the-Space to meet each other. Eventhough a material interface existed, it was not part of an ultimate aesthetic object but of an ongoing process instead. Galloway and Rabinowitz underlined this independency by avoiding any hints concerning their authorship or what the installation was made for. 

Whereas the statement is readable or not, the artwork as a question itself made a lot of different answers possible.

The new and exiting of the artwork was its open structure, the network character that had to be filled with content by the participants activities in order to get completed without the approach of becoming perfect. The audience became an active and autonomous part of the piece, being enabled to create something by using the given functional conditions out of the artist’s control.
People involved in
Hole-in-the-Space created their own personal and temporary content, which was determined and produced by their will and efforts. Thus, the subject of Hole-in-the-Space was a question and a field for unconventional self-experience within the social and cultural context, rather than a rigid statement or limited projection screen given by existing artistic conventions.

Whereas the statement is readable or not, the artwork as a question itself makes a lot of different answers possible. That is because the work depended almost entirely on the individual experiences of the people contributing to the network by communication and exchange. The vital energy expressed in the active behavior of the people that stopped in front of the screen for experiencing and investigating it as well as the translation of their physical appearance into artificial energy and critical data, created a mobile image that questioned not only the traditional understanding of the artwork as a unique, object-oriented, and site-specific creation of the artist. Moreover established parameters of exhibiting and consuming art in a specific cultural and social framework of place and time seemed not to exist anymore.

This new way of aesthetic and artistic investigation feeded further discussions about the changing role of audience as well as the meaning of site as a physical location and discursive vector. Hole-in-the-Space demonstrated clearly the artists understanding of the audience not only as a group of people, fixed in space and time, brought together by a shared interest in the subject of the performance as traditionally understood.
Galloway and Rabinowitz allowed people to express themselves, without telling them what is appropriate and what not. By doing so, process-oriented art of the electronic age allows the production of subjects which are not given in advance or part of the established political, social and cultural definitions and structures anymore. Of course the participation in Hole-in-the-Space had its limits. It did not realize an participatory model, that allowed infinite interactivity and different types of participation or diverse roles determined and played by the participants as claimed by Paul Nemirovsky for his concept of the New Audience Model (NAM)

These contents are not longer monolithic units of meanings (UOM) but decentralized many layered patterns of self created substance. 

Following Nemirovsky’s theory, the new enabled audience as a part of the process can use the new devices as tools of expression to create their own subjects, which can result in new behaviors and contents. These contents are not longer monolithic units of meanings (UOM) but decentralized many layered patterns of self created substance. People are not longer reduced on decoding the performer’s message. They can evolve their one meanings, being not only limited to follow a given line but improvising their view in multiple paths, provoking and reacting on the unexpected and creating new combinations of different matters in a flowing energetic process. In conclusion the single narrative, the one big story, is not sustainable anymore and a plural world of diverse truths and concepts becomes the only existing reality, which can be experienced by everyone at every time at every place. 

Decisive in this context becomes the term of the post-optimal object. It is what Hole-in-the-Space demonstrates: an object that is incomplete without the human input and therefore attracting people’s attention. The caused process of creating input never leads to a final state but another stage of incompleteness that causes further activity. The post-optimal object as Nemirovsky describes it, is a motor of progress and development rather than an obstacle, because it deals with peoples natural given curiousness and creative energy. His concept of an Emonic Environment (EE), including a material input, a neural network with the possibility for direct media modification, focuses on encouraging people to seek meaning in the immaterial connection rather than in the definite content. This framework for creation, modification, exchange and performance of audiovisual media shall lead to a different type of media exploration. It is bringing things together that were never meant to meet each other like choral voices and the political orations of Fidel Castro.
rethinking media by Tanja Vietzke (2014) // watercolour and blueprint on paper

Nemirovskys approach of combining the non-combinable as the main goal of the process-oriented network communication in order to question the stiff and excluding ways of sense in a traditional way, has also become a part in the discussion on site specificity of art in the electronic age. If the object-centered perception of space and time changes, the relation of the art piece as a non-object to its actual material cultural and social environments can’t be the same anymore.
Following Miwon Kwons discussion about the transforming meaning of site in art, process-oriented and network-based works do more than address the meaning of site in a phenomenological, social and institutional as well as discursive way. In their sense site becomes a part of the creation process itself. Like Hole-in-the-Space not only uses site as an actual location, expressed by the cities Los Angeles and New York, constituted by physical elements like length, depth, height, texture and shape of walls and rooms, it discusses the social and institutional relevance of an exhibition place that’s accessibility is limited in time and space.

There is a discursive element not only in the fact that the Galloway and Rabinowitz used the public space to install their screens but also in the fact that the artists didn’t put emphasize on being present as authors and creators. By creating a field tension using the satellite system in order to bring people from different places and times together, without being able to influence their participants actions and reactions, and without the will to rule or correct it, the artists not only discussed the role of site but also created a new anarchistic dimension of site in the virtual space. This temporary site is a ‘functional’ one as James Meyer it understands. This site tends to be more textual than spatial in connection with new media art. It is not connected with physical locations anymore instead it is more an operation, something informal that brings together, what doesn’t seem to belong together and establishes an indefinable room:
video nothing with spatial something, imageless pictures with objectless things. That refers again to Nemirovsky’s understanding of decentralized units of meaning created by the new audiences mentioned above.

But what does this mean in conclusion, if there is nothing defined in a larger context anymore, or the context becomes a process of flowing energy without providing an essential, central knowledge of the self and the non-self?
On the one hand, defining constantly what means the other or the non-self is an existential necessity of human self-construction in our culture. First of all, a basic knowledge about our cultural concept of the self might be required in order to understand, where we come from. It can be seen as a mandatory precondition we need to be aware of, before we can break it´s every day patterns of perception and behavior. Even within the arts. Distinctions and terms defining the artwork in its relation to surrounding environments, audiences and cultural frameworks are not necessarily disadvantages, but can be important aspects of the artists, the audiences as well as related sociocultural identities.

But what does it mean in conclusion, if there is nothing defined in a larger context anymore?

We need to keep in mind that with the replacement of the material by the immateriality of field tensions questioning and blurring conventional boundaries, might cause a confusion that not implicitly leads to the vanishing of limiting boundaries but also to the loss of useful ones. Art within and as a part of a flowing field of energy is not only inclusive but can be exclusive for people, who aren’t fit into a world, where the extension of technical devices requires a set of additional skills that some are not able to provide and develope. Also those technical devices, aesthetic and intellectual approaches require a certain educational and economic foundation that might be essential to allow participation for everyone.

On the other hand, the loss of the self, triggered by intellectual and emotional impulses of art might keep us alive by fulfilling our needs for social fantasy, vision, delimitation and experiment. Telematic art can be seen as a societal laboratory, that helps us not only to question established terms of truth, power and hierarchy but also to experiment with alternative structures of authorship, politics, economy and community.
Thinking the art piece as something completely virtual that is not an artifact anymore, which wants to become a consumable product in the cultural market, bears the potential to discuss the economic modes we live in. Of course floating of meaning and knowledge includes uncertainty and fragility, that is not easy to face in a global world of permanent transformation and in-transparent transactions. Therefore a new aesthetic language and cognitive skills for inter-subjective investigation, that implement virtual and material realities in its instruments and address peoples awareness, needs, hopes and desires of living as an entire personality, are required. 

If we are artistically able to express, what is emotionally and intellectually in us, without being corrected and humiliated by an inner and outer system of faulty conventions, a new way of self-perception could be possible. This new self shaped by a vivid network of inter-subjective relations, able to identify common values, that define personal attitudes and vice versa can lead to positive social affective, cognitive and behavioral outcomes. Of course, the question of commercialization and money we haven´t solved yet. But at least new forms of co-authoring and creative commons in art and media raise questions for more innovative concepts of appreciation and compensation. On a higher and idealistic level a more class less art world still seems possible. A world that is more „doing, sharing and being“ within a substantial relational network, tends to be closer to the approach of democracy and diversity and less shaped by monolithic units of meanings (UOM) due to obsolete economic and hierarchic structures and struggles for influence and power.

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