[ISEA2011] Paper: Christiane Paul – New Media Art and the Mainstream


Over the past decade contemporary art in many of its forms, technological and non-technological, has increasingly been shaped by concepts of participation, collaboration, social connectivity, performativity, and ‘relational’ aspects. One could argue that the participatory, ‘socially networked’ art projects of the past ~15 years that have received considerable attention by art institutions all respond to contemporary culture, which is shaped by networked digital technologies and ‘social media’ (from the WWW to locative media, Facebook and YouTube), and the changes they have brought about with regard to connectivity (interpersonal, social, and global), information economy, and new understandings of embodiment emerging from them. Yet the ‘relational’ artworks prominently featured in major museums seldom make use of these technologies as a medium and technologically based projects remain conspicuously absent from major exhibitions in the mainstream art world. While art institutions and organizations now commonly use digital technologies in their infrastructure—“connecting” and distributing through their websites, facebook pages, YouTube channels, and Twitter tours—they still place emphasis on exhibiting more traditional art forms that reference technological culture or adopt its strategies in a non-technological way.

From an art-historical perspective, it seems difficult or dubious to not acknowledge that the participatory art of the 1960s/1970s and the 1990s/2000s were responses to cultural and technological developments—computer technologies, cybernetics, systems theory and the original Internet/Arpanet from the mid-40s onwards; the WWW, ubiquitous computing, databasing/datamining, social media in the 1990s/2000s. While different in their scope and strategies, the new media arts of the 60s/70s and today faced similar resistances and challenges that led to their separation from the mainstream art world, respectively.

The paper will will sketch out the complexities of the uneasy relationship between so-called new media art and the mainstream art world by taking a look at exhibition histories and art-historical developments relating to technological and participatory art forms; and by outlining the challenges that new media art poses to institutions and the art market.

  • Christiane Paul is the Director of the Media Studies Graduate Programs and Associate Prof. of Media Studies at The New School, NY, USA, and Adjunct Curator of New Media Arts at the Whitney Museum of American Art. She has written and lectured extensively on new media arts. Her recent books are Context Providers — Conditions of Meaning in Media Arts (Inrellect, 2011), co-edited with Margot Lovejoy and Victoria Vesna; New Media in the White Cube and Beyond (UC Press, 2008); and Digital Art (Thames and Hudson 2003; expanded new edition 2008).  At the Whitney Museum, she is responsible for artport, the Whitney Museum’s online portal to Internet art and has curated the shows “Cory Arcangel: Pro Tools,” “Profiling” (2007) and “Data Dynamics” (2001); the net art selection for the 2002 Whitney Biennial; the online exhibition “CODeDOC” (2002); as well as “Follow Through” by Scott Paterson and Jennifer Crowe (2005). Other recent curatorial work includes “Eduardo Kac: Biotopes, Lagoglyphs and Transgenic Works” (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 2010); Biennale Quadrilaterale (Rijeka, Croatia, 2009); “Feedforward – The Angel of History” (co-curated with Steve Dietz; Laboral Center for Art and Industrial Creation, Gion, Asturias, Spain, Oct. 2009); and INDAF Digital Art Festival (Incheon, Korea, Aug. 2009).                                                            newschool.edu/public-engagement/ma-media-studies