Walter Benjamin’s essay, “The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction” focuses on the new functions of modern post-aesthetic art that leaves behind its traditional functions in ritual and aesthetical enjoyment by highlighting its new function in politics and popular, visual and tactile culture. His claim that the work of art becomes “a creation with entirely new functions, among which the one we are conscious of, the artistic function, later may be recognized as incidental” is a starting point for this paper on new functions and tasks of new media art.
Today we are coming across the new media art projects as artistic services that occur at the intersection of contemporary art, networked economy, new politics (activism, hactivism), technoscience and new lifestyle. The artwork is not a stable and aura-based object anymore, it is a process, an artistic software, an experience, a service devoted to solving a particular (cultural and non-cultural) problem, a research, an interface, which demands from its user also the ability for associative selection, algorithmic (logical) thinking and for procedures pertaining to DJ and VJ culture, such as (re)mixing, cutting, sampling, filtering and recombination.
The art service is not so much the manufacturing of things as it is a process of reshaping the thing, moving it, connecting it and incorporating it into new relations, (re)combinations and (re)contextualizations. The service presupposes a problem, a challenge or an order to be solved or carried out. The performer of the service is always faced with a certain task, challenged to solve it in a sequence of steps, chosen as economically as possible. The service therefore ends with a solution of the problem (or its removal) and not the manufacturing of an object. The service always implies an algorithmic procedure that has to be as rational as possible, economical, divided into phases, steps, instructions needed for it to be carried out. The new media (digital) art blurs the lines between “two cultures” (Snow’s notion) and can be mentioned even as a dry run for experiencing new forms of communication, research and even the alternative political engagement (e. g. hactivism, flash-mobbing).
This essay provoked by Benjamin’s calling into question on the ritual based artwork explores the fundamental shifts of paradigms, which take place in the new media art and are essential for understanding of contemporary society, too. One of the key functions of new media art is doing a research of its own. What do we talk about, when we bring to the fore the research function of such art projects (actions, performances, non-commercial software pieces, artistic events)? First of all, we mention a post-object new media artistic service-like practice (which is often integrated with molecular biology, informatics, robotics, communication sciences, networked economy, hactivism etc.) devoted to public accessed critical science as it is opposed to the official one, executed just by means of professional scientists. The idea of public science is based on efforts of some artists or groups (e. g. Critical Art Ensemble) who ‘contribute to making the meaning of scientific initiatives immediate and concrete, as opposed to the vague abstractions they tend to be’ (Critical Art Ensemble). Therefore, art as a research in order to show that research could be ordered and executed otherwise, not just within a frame of official science. And the artist as researcher in order to demonstrate that her tasks are beyond the art-as-know-it that used to be even corrupted in its main stream and capital based links.
Janez Strehovec Biography
Full text (PDF)