Art and Technology III

Next week on Thursday 24th November at 1:15pm I will be presenting Art and Technology III in HUMlab. “Konst och Teknik” (the Swedish title) is a short course dealing with some of the ideas and practices at the intersection of art and technology. HUMlab will be set up as a lage digital gallery for most of the day and I will be leading a group through a large number of examples and concepts under the heading Art and Technology. I think because it is the third time I have presented this course I have begun to understand how huge a topic it is. For this reason I thought to present it for the first time using themes:

• Narrative
• Space
• Interaction
• Collaborative
• Mixed

Narrative is often a difficult concept to apply in art forms as the interplay between viewer/user/consumer and the work/text is constructed as interpretive and in the modern Western tradition as being individualistic. However in a lot of digital art there is a narrative presented in a variety of ways. Computer games and art is an interesting area for consideration with such games as Fable being heavily reliant on narrative forms to convey the play aspect of the work. This is achieved greatly through a visual register that game players ‘read’ during their play. The work of HUMlab’s artist in residence Linda Bergkvist embodies complex visual narratives in an almost traditional (I often think of John Bauer in relation to Linda’s work…a sort of cyberpunk androgenous Bauer) but yet archaic (outside of time) sense. Another interesting aspect of narrative in art and technology is how multimedia forms, often in a fragmented way compliment and combine with each other in the psyche of the viewer to form larger expressions of meaning that would not have been so in their individual parts. The work of Sheldon Brown is a good example of this and leads well into the next theme, Space.

Space is everywhere these days. Something about it that I find very interesting is the mixed reality or what Sheldon would probably call ‘the augmented reality’ space. In Konst och Teknik we will be looking at such examples of technology as using GIS (Global Information System) in art and combining everyday reality with the artistic reality of digital environments and constructions. This often works in the context of performance such as in the work of Jane McGonigal and in Jeffrey Shaw’s «The Legible City» . These two examples use very different ways of manifesting as spatial, imaginative, playful, aesthetically beautiful constructions of meaning. Another favorite artist of mine who develops images and ideas in often spatial ways is Mary Flanagan with much of her work engaging with issues of gender and identity in mediated environments (often game hacks). Each of these artists also constructs degrees of interactivity between the viewer/user and the works.

Interaction can be a tricky thing. When considered as an expression of freedom or agency of the viewer/user in relation to the work of art we could have a great debate about to what degree is possible to set up such a situation. The author/artist is always there leading the interested party through an experience or an embodied idea. Having said that, there is clearly a lot of stuff that comes under the heading Interactive in Art and Technology, least of all the production of art itself, with tools and procedures available that bring about media interaction which is of an extremely high level. Making the work yourself but at the same time working under the invisible guidance of the author/artist is one of the most exciting possibilities in digital arts technologies. Perhaps one of the strongest forms of interaction in this area is the collaborative work. In a sense collaborative works by multiple artists/authors are the essence of interactive technologies.

Collaboration in art is nothing new. Last year I had the privilege to be able to visit the musée du Louvre in Paris and see some of the art produced by the great Italian studios of the 15th and 16th centuries. Many of these were collaborative works, both between artist and between genres of knowledge (such as Art and Science). One example is with the body of the painted subject being divided up between different ‘specialists’ and one artist doing the hands, one doing the faces etc. etc. The Master of the studio would then complete the work and inspect it to maintain the standard of work desired. It strikes me that this is a system of artistic production we are seeing again in digital arts technologies. As well we are able to collaborate over distance using digital technologies, something I have done often myself in the production of music and audio art. One famous example of digital art collaboration (there are very many) that I am fond of is C-Level. The now defunct game hack performance arts collective for me represented a recent high point in collaborative arts technology. Much of what C-level did, and several other artists mentioned thus far, is to mix sources, inspirations, languages, codes, images, and media in flexible bricolage constructions that could also span over great distance and times.

Mixed is the mix, the mix to fit, and the mix that is the trick. One feature of particularly digital technologies that we have been hearing a lot about lately (but have actually been dealing with since the very analogue days of Walter Benjamin – 1892-1940) is mix and rip, cut and paste, copy and burn. So much that is produced using new media technologies is very easily reproducible or copy-abled. This has had an enormous effect on artistic production with the wildest dreams of the Dada and Surrealist grandparents now being realized in countless bedroom studios and backstreet performance spaces (as well as the money making businesses and the multinational companies). We can take materials from a number of sources and re-work it into something totally new or into a commentary on the original, its values and assumptions. A brilliant recent example of this is the trailer for The Shining: A Love Story, a recut of the horror classic The Shining (one of the most truly scary films I have ever managed to see) into a feel good family love story. Jack just needs to be loved! Thinking about it a bit more this final theme of Mixed returns us in a way to the first theme of narrative, and what are the material components of a narrative structure.

So that’s about it. I hope to see you in HUMlab next week, Thursday 24th November at around 13:00. A lot of this short course will be in English but much will also dabble in the Swedish language which I am OK at. A sort of a remix project if you will. Details and registration can be done here. I am number 12: Konst och Teknik III.