As with culture, the field of media theory is vast, complex and impossible to adequately interrogate here, but its inclusion in the production and display of art is pertinent to this study.103 The infiltration of technology into everyday life, and therefore as a medium for making art, has allowed artists to produce work that transcends “different sensory systems,”104 and although this inevitably requires both the art world and art audiences to
Harris, J. (2001), The New Art History: A Critical Introduction, London and New York: Routledge, p.3. See also Meigh-Andrews 2006, Pooke and Newall 2008
101 ibid., p.19 102
Deuchar, S. (2002), “Whose Art History? Curators, Academics and the Museum Visitor in Britain in the 1980s and 1990s” in The Two Art Histories: The Museum and the University, ed. C.W. Haxthausen, Williamstown: Sterling and Francis Clark Art Institute, pp.3-13 (p.4)
Walter Benjamin’s seminal essay, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, first discussed the role of technology in art in 1936, and by the late 1960s Marshall McLuhan had made a significant contribution to the definition of media in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man
and The Media is the Massage. For further information, see Benjamin 1936, McLuhan 1964; 1994, and McLuhan and Fiore 1967; Lister et al 2009.
104 Huglo, M. and Villeneuve, J. (2005), “Memory, Media, Art,” SubStance, vol.34, no.1, pp.78-80 (p.78)
accept the concept of “an alternative pathway for the production of art,”105 it has developed its own distinct history rather than being fully subsumed by the discipline of art history. If technology, as the site of convergence between scientific research and art practice,106 can be understood as the hardware that can be used in the production of art,
media requires a more flexible definition. It is a more ephemeral concept which takes into consideration the “social and cultural contexts”107 that exist within the many networks of communication and information that have emerged from developments in technology.108 Whilst the term encompasses a wide range of equipment, generally electrical or battery- powered, it also includes the various processes to which this equipment can be applied.
As such, the history of media spans over half a century, and in 1981 Raymond Williams suggested that new technologies, such as cassettes and video recorders, demonstrate a significant new phase in cultural production,109 although he also includes cinema and television in this definition, thus dating it back almost a century at the time of writing. Robert Hewison, however, goes further by stating that the changes signified a “new order” of information distribution and exchange that has restructured the “global pattern of industrial organisation,”110 an idea that set the tone for future discussions. This new order coincided with the launch of the Internet following Tim Berners-Lee’s proposal for the World Wide Web in 1989, and whilst its eventual ubiquity in the West could not have been foreseen at its launch, it has led to an emerging media culture that Anthony Elliot describes as “obscene...with its glimmering surfaces, its hallucinogenic intensities and its interpretive polyvalence.”111 Furthermore, it has contributed to a differentiation within art practice, with the term new media emerging at the end of the twentieth century. Lev Manovich’s influential text, The Language of New Media (2001), outlines how new media must be
105 McQuire, S. and Radywyl, N. (2010), “From Object to Platform: Art, Digital Technology and Time,” Time Society, vol.19, no.5, pp.5-27 (p.6)
See Scrivener and Clements 2010
107 Tillander, M. (2011), “Creativity, Technology, Art, and Pedagogical Practices,” Art Education, vol.64, no.1, pp.40-46 (p.42)
108 Hanhardt, J.G. and Villaseñor, M.C. (1995), “Video/Media Culture of the Late Twentieth Century,” Art Journal, vol.54, no.4, pp.20-25 (p.21)
Williams (1981), Culture, pp.110-111 110
Hewison, R. (1990), Future Tense: A New Art for the Nineties, London: Methuen, p.42
111 Elliott, A. (2009), Contemporary Social Theory: An Introduction, London and New York: Routledge, p.245
situated within the histories of art, computer technology, visual and information culture.112 He states that the term incorporates widely understood components, such as “the Internet, Web sites, computer multimedia, computer games, CD-ROMs and DVD, [and] virtual reality,” but that the number of different practices that could also be considered is almost without limit.113 Furthermore, he highlights the key identifying process of new media as that of converting analogue media to digital representation and, thus, his definition would seem to exclude early cinema and video. However, despite being sequential storage devices rather than information stored in computer code,114 he asserts the importance of film and photography as having laid the foundations for new media at the end of the nineteenth century. Consequently, whilst digitisation is a relatively recent phenomenon, Manovich traces its history back over a century, although many more academics indicate the development of computer technology during the Second World War as the key turning point.115
Whilst this raises questions about the concept of ‘newness,’116 Manovich’s identification of a turning point resonates with art practice and production, and in the 1990s the terms
media art or new media art were adopted to define the production of artworks which used materials other than those of more traditional painting or sculpture. Tribe and Jana argue that media art was “a response to the information technology revolution and the digitisation of cultural forms,”117 and this development was supported by a wider acceptance of media art practices following a generation of art college graduates who had been given the opportunity to work with new media. They also suggest that, alongside inventions such as the Internet, media art was given the opportunity to develop at a time when there was “a conspicuous void” which was filled by installation work.118 As suggested above, the history of media art arguably stretches back to the end of the nineteenth century, and it gathered momentum with the first application of computers in art production which took place in the 1960s. Consequently, the boundaries of media art are
112 See Manovich 2001 113
Manovich, L. (2001), The Language of New Media, Cambridge, Mass and London: The MIT Press, p.19
114 ibid., p.49 115
See Gere 2004; Tofts 2005 116
See Chun 2006
117 Tribe, M. and Jana, R. (2006), New Media Art, Köln: Taschen, p.8 118
somewhat clouded, perhaps even indistinguishable and, therefore, if Howard S. Becker’s claim that “art worlds do not have boundaries” was true in the early 1980s,119 it is even more applicable today.
All art needs a network, a commitment to access, exhibition and curatorial advocacy, critical discussion and evaluation. It’s easy to forget how rapidly the culture of interaction has become fixed in the imagination. At the same time, it’s hard to shake off the connotation of novelty still associated with new media arts; a novelty that, to some extent, was necessary and responsible for capturing public attention for such work in the first place.120
This association with ‘novelty’ lends the practice a youthfulness that belies the length of its history, although the paucity of literature on this subject perhaps confirms its immaturity, and it will arguably only become fully integrated into established art and cultural networks once its obsession with newness has been overcome.
As discussed above, mediation is required for art to take its place in art history. Media art, however, has been segregated by the creation of the term new media art, a process that has been aided by the rise of the new media curator, although with more media art being produced and increasingly affordable display technologies available to museums and galleries, the practices of media art have begun to infiltrate art history discourses. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that the most useful analysis of new media art comes in the form of a handbook for curatorial practice in this area, and that, within this text, the authors re-emphasise the new media art classification.
Graham and Cook state that new media art, whilst being similar to other contemporary art, differs because of its hybrid nature in “approach, method, content, and form.”121 They state that whilst some new media artworks are objects, the field also encompasses artworks that arise from the systems, networks and processes embodied by media.122
119 Becker, H.S. (1982; 2008), Art Worlds, Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of CA Press, p.35
Tofts, D. (2005), Interzone: Media Art in Australia, Fishermans Bend: Craftsman House, p.137 121
Graham, B. and Cook, S. (2010), Rethinking Curating: Art after New Media, Cambridge, Mass and London: The MIT Press, p.34
Many of these processes have been understood under different names as the field has developed, and they suggest that these are as far-reaching as:
Art & technology, art/sci, computer art, electronic art, digital art, digital media, intermedia, tactical media, emerging media, upstart media, variable media, locative media, immersive art, and Things That You Plug In.123
This lack of distinction within the field has proved problematic for new media art when attempting to locate itself, not only within art history, but also within the gallery system. This problem is further exacerbated by the roots of media art stretching back, in many disparate forms, to practices that are not necessarily identified within traditional art histories.