Cyber art, quite like film, is indisputably a mass medium;
it is also an information and entertainment medium. This means
that its genre conventions, the expectations of its audience,
as well as the conventions regarding its consumption differ from
those of the "finer" arts, as does the relationship
between the work (of art) and the spectator.
In August and September this year The Goethe Institute in
Munich hosted a seminar called: New Media Art ~ from interactive
installation to cyber art. The idea was to get together a group
of artists, curators, media philosophers, writers and academics
from different parts of the world to give them concentrated information
as well as an overview of the new and the latest in digital art
happening in Germany today, and exchange thoughts on the actual
and conceptual levels reached in this area in each one,s local
environment. The seminar comprised of presentations and discussions,
and visits to four cities in Germany - as well as the noted Ars
Electronica festival in Linz in Austria.
To me, this was an opportunity to get a glimpse behind the
scenes of digital art in the economically developed world today.
My own work includes a great deal of video installation, often
the end result of performance. Concurrent to the time based and
lens based media is the use of drawing and of "hands-on"
objects. Moving with fluidity across continents and media has
entailed a re-contextualisation of my interests. These traces
of interest are gradually processed and made tangible through
whole range of media that traverses paths between film, video,
photo, performance and text, and more recently, a tentative inclusion
of digital media using the cyber space.
Within this context , I engage with cyber art more on a conceptual
level. In real terms of practice and experience in India, there
is still a want of ready availability of resources, technology
and equipment. One is still struggling to make visible, and indeed
create an audience for video art.
I must point out here that despite the superficial similarities,
video art and net art can well be the two ends of the spectrum
of Media art. Conceptually, digital art is closer to music than
it is to other new modes. As Gerfried Stocker, Artistic Director
of this year's Ars Electronica Festival explains: "Most
media art is more related to music than to video, film and photography.
Once we recognise this, we will be able to design a formal structure
to understanding it. For instance, the music lies in each interpretation
made by the conductor or the team rather than the score itself,
just as in digital media it is each new configuration of the
software which brings about the new form."
Stocker believes that in order to develop an independent understanding
of new media one has to put away ~albiet for a moment~ the old
concepts so as to not use these as a filter to view Media art
through. Indeed, the Agenda of the Ars Electronica 2001
(where we began our seminar) states: "Let's take a look
at the thing formerly known as art!"
This seems to point at an interesting discrepancy not only
between old and new forms of art, but also between the situation
at home vis-a-vis net art, and concerns at something like the
Ars Electronica, where the discussion was around new ideas and
potential application "to save conventional VR systems from
the fate of the dinosaurs." And where Running Pixels, Interactive
Art, Net Vision, methods and processes of biotechnology and bio-informatics
as artistic tools and CAVE technology are the by-words.
Despite the ongoing boom in edutainment and infotainment,
we here are yet to begin to focus on strategies to integrate
interactive media into exhibitions and museums.
A very obvious difference to my mind is that cyber art in
India comes not from a rarified space of the Arts and/ or scientific
interventions but via the streets: via the cybercafes (the idea
of personal computors for the masses being distant and out of
For that part of the seminar that was devoted to discourse,
we dabbled with sounding the depths of the constellations and
framework conditions of the art of tomorrow, about the paradigm
shift, new role definitions, working models and the creativity
burst. However, for me one of the key points of the seminar was
to see pioneering works of interactive media art archived at
the ZKM-Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe.
This very special collection casts a light on ideas and concepts
of the practice of art in view of the variegated, forking paths
programmatically offered by the medium, as well as the perspectives
of artists whose terrain is not primarily media.
I especially liked the work of Masaki Fujihata ~ artist-in-residence
at the ZKM.
Fujihata's work is concerned with investigating virtual systems
and examines concepts of information storage and communication.
His interactive installation Beyond Pages is a
virtual book which take the shape of installations.
On the table, the book is reflected as an image of the computer;
however, when the pen in one's hand touches the image, the image
comes alive, the pages turn and new pages appear one after the
The functions of the books are moved to the computer and they
are produced with interactive format which could not be possible
with ordinary books.
Another profound work at the museum is Jeffrey Shaw's : Place
- a user's manual.
Since the late 60's Jeffrey Shaw has pioneered the use of
interactivity and virtuality and as the current Head of the Institute
for Visual Media at the ZKM Center, he leads a unique research
and production facility where artists and scientists are working
together and developing profound artistic applications of the
new media technologies.
Place.. extends the tradition of panorama painting, photography
and cinematography in the vector of simulation and virtual reality.
The interactive interface in this work is a video camera that
is controlled by the viewer. When locating himself at the center
of the surround pictures the viewer can completely reconstitute
the original 360 degree In this way the virtual and actual spaces
are made coactive on many levels of signification. Carrying forward
this concept, the team of researchers at the ZKM are developing
a liberated, camera using a fish eye devise, that would overcome
restictions that a navigator ( viewer) has with selecting audio.
According to Shaw, the future of Cinema is going to be altogether
(Juxtapose this with a typical sample from the pacy, Ars Electronica
futurelab: an elaborate appararus and Net set-up that employs
serious, strategic devicing and very expensive equipment to enable
you to water your plants through for you when you are away, on
a holiday! One looked askew.)
Concerns with content as opposed to the medium being
the message with often little regard for content, were a
commonly shared one amongst the participants at the seminar.
One could see a healthy skepticism towards the seduction of technology,
designed to overwhelm. There were people from Germany Spain,
Singapore, New Zealand and the U.S., but the majority of us were
from nations of developing economies: Peru, Argentina, Brazil,
Cuba, Israel, India, Portugal, Slovenia, Hungary, Poland. Most
of the participants straddle various media, New Media being one
of these. Those more closely engaged with the immediate title
of the seminar happen to be in the academic field.
One of the Seminar participants: Gilberto from Brazil is currently
recreating a live, landscape of the region he comes from for
the net. He turns database information into poetic information.
For instance, the information about visitors (viewers) from different
countries can change the colour of the Sao Paolo sky on the screen.
Also, you can come in like an eagle or a snake or a jaguar. If
you don,t like your 'avatar' you have to log out. As in a shamanic
dream the choice is not made by you.
According to Gilberto a lot of what one encounters through
the electronic media could be seen as virtual mythmaking: the
desire, and indeed the need to replace as well as substantiate,
(and add to) old myths with renewed understanding arising out
of a newer sensibility of the virtual.
Art on the net is conceptually and essentially a lot more
interactive, in that one can sense, the virtual presence of other
people in the the space alongwith themselves. The lack of interactivity,
by contrast, has a reductive effect on the Self.
Another workshop participant, Margarita Schultz ( from Brazil)
is engaged in developing the philosophical meaning of the term
interactivity, and the problematics of the use of concepts of
aesthetics for new media. She draws an analogue between the multiplying
effect of interactivity on the biodiversity in the universe.
With the development of the Self in a climate of interactivity:
"analogical thinking and digital thinking are not really
opposite, these infact convert themselves into a superior level
that is strongly inside the main idea of the metaphor, in art.
Metaphor becomes the solution or the link."
An interface between the imaginary space set up by imaginary
, virtual device, in interaction with the body and physacal space
has come to be termed as mixed, reality. The Mars Institute in
Bonn, Germany is an institute for mixed, reality, interactivity,
poetic interfaces , knowledge discovery and semantic web. Mixed
reality is mainly about taking back the digital/ virtual into
the real space, as opposed to the principals of virtual reality
where everything including out physical bodies, disappear into
the virtual space. Building up an experimental field for the
interaction of mixed reality stage which can, however, also extend
to an everyday work space.
Monika Flieschmann, joint head the Mars Insight candidly sums
up the funding criteria in Germany today: "art couched in
the lingo of high technology has more and better chances of attracting
Further insight into attitudes towards the monetary aspect
of Media work comes across through Axel Writh, the seminar organisor
and director of the organisation Media 203. "we don't care
how much it costs. Crying poverty is a cop-out. We want to achieve
any and all that is and may be possible. We want not one New
Media but 50 New Media and that is what is crucial."
At this , a mild protest ensues amongst us third-worlders,!
A brief excerpt from one of the discussions amongst the seminar
Axel: we need not one bue fifty different New Media
Arts and that is what is crucial, whatever it costs.
Catherine: But where is the content?
Karin: It is interesting how the different centers
approach the infrastructures for making media art. Here in the
West we spend the entire day in and with our computors , with
Media. So in this context it is very important for me to make
some sense of what does it mean and how to make art, out of this
Sergio: High tech art is doomed not to make much sense
because of the mega-money involved. One gets an Apocalyltical
Axel: But it is important for the expensive science
tools (genetics, robotics) to be used for intellectual art purposes.
Deborah: a direct contact with the artists would for
us be more useful than the well-financed, well resourced perspective
of the organisors.
Jorge: The poorest art we saw was the best.
Jose-Carlos: Let us not dwell on the question of science,
because intellectuals really use only the basic concepts of science
rather than their applications.
Karin: But are the artists ready to discuss it at all?
No. Because these science conferences are totally powered by
rich sponsors. There is little discussion about ethics.
Margarita: discussion about art or no-art is sterile.
Piotr: In the climate of very radical changes, since
fine art is not becoming the mediator, and media art is the mediator
between knowledge and application, I think media art therefore
is the hot spot of discussion.
Whether-and how-digital art can make sense and be preserved
for the future is not only a question of the technical competence
of museums and archives, but is also inherent in a fundamentally
new conception of self that is emerging among artists. Be it
New or Old media, we do need artists as an interface. As for
the fuzzy area they may belong to , it is best summed up by Johannes
Goebel, noted director of the ZKM Institute for Music and Acoustics
"Certain smal fish, while still young, swim in shoals
that from farther off resemble a very large fish, and no predator
dares come near them. Once they have grown into adulthood, the
young fishes swim their own way, no longer needing the protection
of a deceptive form.
Many artistic applications of digital technology are like
these small fishes. They are still young compared to other art
media ~brush, stone, string instrument~ and have garnered their
experience merely within the last few decades, as opposed to
centuries and millenia. Such applications hide behind big words
like multimedia, interactive, networking, thus swimming with
the times. They think their scales need to glint as variously
and colorfully as the much bigger fish, but sometimes one wonders
if anyone has ever seen the big fish they are imitating.
We ought to be aware that the big fish are secretly watching
the small ones, fearful of missing any change in movement and
direction. For who knows if new feeding grounds might not be
Sonia Khurana is
a visual media artist. She works in the area in-between video,
photography, performance, installation and public art. Sonia
received the INLAKS Grant to study art at the Royal College of
Art in London, between 1997 and 2000.
For the year 2002 she has been selected for a long-term
workperiod at the Rijksakedemie in Amsterdam.
Sonia currently lives and works between Amsterdam
and New Delhi.