"Showing new media work in the gallery": what's at stake.

I have been working on a marathon interview that will be posted on the interviewer's site soon. The subject, more or less, is "showing new media work in the gallery," centering on my and another artist's current shows, and the interview has become like this insane Fluxus event where new information keeps surfacing and the dialogue goes on and on. I think it will be enjoyable to read, for all that.

I was talking to the interviewer yesterday and we uncovered more broad swaths of things that could have been said. Here's a summary of some of those items, before I forget, plus some stuff I just thought of.

1. The "tech discussion" is boring but there are some fundamental things that need to be covered. Specifically, what similarities exist between art and design in the web/computer environment and aesthetic principles of the art world. In the interview we talked some about the differences between the remixology/upload/download culture of the internet and the art world's need for defined, specific objects that can be shown in real space. My comments below are mostly about the similarities in the form of "minimalist" sensibilities common to the art and geek worlds.

2. Design consultant/philosopher/guru Edward Tufte talks about the need to reduce elements (in charts, etc) for maximum clarity and information flow. The minimalist sensibility in the art world talks about unnecessary gestures and ornamentation and "truth to materials" used to make art.

3. Software (e.g. Windows, Adobe) that is cluttered with unnecessary bells and whistles and extraneous lines of code is not beautiful or good. The "hacker aesthetic" seeks to remove this clutter (in Linux, Firefox, etc) so that users have more control over their lives.

4. Conceptualism in art also seeks to peel back the control mechanisms, to dismantle or parse the aura of the white cube and the mercantile systems underlying art (and therefore information) exchange.

5. In my case, my art is made in the simplest paint and GIF programs so I can eliminate some of the superfluous or overly controlling features of more "state of the art" software. Cory Arcangel and others have hacked even deeper--trusting only the numbers themselves under the graphic interfaces.

6. By putting the GIFs in the gallery (as videos), I'm making an immaterial art that is highly context dependent--depending on the shape of the room, lightness or darkness of walls and floor, and acoustics (for pieces with sound). I want the viewer to recognize the almost joke-like simplicity of the imagery (but not "overly simple," that's where the interviewer and I initially disagreed) and reflect on the mechanisms of the GIFs as well as the mechanisms of the white cube.

7. The other artist in the interview had similar goals but a very different approach, in that his presentation is more high tech and memory-intensive (even though his imagery is videogame-clunky), and the work is more absorbable into the gallery-collector-museum commodity stream by virtue of consisting of easily dispersable, physically portable pieces, with current hard drives, nice flat screen monitors etc..These "video-objects" will look pretty consistent everywhere they're shown, whereas mine change with the vagaries of available equipment and will be reconfigured on the fly for every space and hardware configuration. (Even though the underlying DVDs are offered for sale.) We never had a chance to really debate our different approaches, and I'm not sure we wanted to. Suffice it to say he has a better shot at posterity by meeting the commodity system halfway (as opposed to my quarter-way).

8. To sum up, the common (mostly unspoken) points of inquiry in the interview were: (i) what is the hacker aesthetic? (ii) what is the "gallery aesthetic"? (iii) how can these aesthetics be commingled? and most importantly, (iv) how can the viewer be made to understand these ideas just from viewing the work itself, without a podcast to explain it?

- tom moody 6-09-2006 4:35 pm

Yes!! This will be a great read. When/where will it go up?

Hopefully, I will be putting up a show next year that covers just these issues (dang you for outlining them on the net first!).

As to (4), I think that may be a convienent conclusion. With Conceptualism freeing the art from the object, almost an about face from Minimalism, we are left with the idea. Net based art is made entirely of information, not ideas. The ideas come from the context (as you illustrated above), something almosty always taken into account in the realization of Conceptual works. A small, but noteworthy difference, would you agree?

As to (5), I think there may be a logical inconsistancy here. The white cube is not the enviroment of the .gif. Can Net.art effectively critique and explore gallery space? I suppose we shall see, however, "If you wanted to make a motion picture you wouldn't use stone." -Antony Gormely.

As to (iv), the issues you have raised pertaining to gallery vs. web are so reflexive I can't see any way you could get around an artists statement or the like. Frankly, I think you may still be thinking like a painter, and we all have seen dozens of painters address those same issues. Amazingly, there will be many people who will probably not see a similarity to your installations and that of say, Matthew Ritchie's self-reflexive examination of painting and gallery.

First reactions...

I look forward to reading and reblogging if that's possible.

- Robert Huffmann (guest) 6-10-2006 12:01 am

minor correction: your response to #5 is actually referring to #6 I think.

please explain "Net based art is made entirely of information, not ideas". The net art I like usually doesn't even have to be seen, you can tell your buddy the idea and that's about good enough (Cory, meme, etc.) Actually seeing it is just a bonus round. How is it any different from "gallery-based" conceptual art?

The one thing I want to add is that I think it's very important to keep in mind the temporary, fragile nature of technology (not just obsolescence). Without that in mind, you're heading in some f'ed up direction.
- paul (guest) 6-10-2006 11:00 am

Am looking forward to responding to these comments. Hopefully late Sunday, I must leave the realm of information for 24 hours to experience some human interaction.
- tom moody 6-10-2006 6:07 pm

hello Tom,

I wrote some notes after visiting Wilma Gold gallery in London and seeing the show "Take it to the Net".


It is about what changes when I see works I'm familliar with thanks to internet in a gallery setting. My proto-explanations of the difference was more social and economic than aesthetic so I enjoyed a lot reading your entry on the subject.

- Pierre (guest) 6-12-2006 5:44 am

Thanks, Pierre. As coincidence would have it the "other artist" referenced in my post above is also in "Take it to the Net."
- tom moody 6-12-2006 6:07 am

Hi Paul
yeah #6, not #5.. I should get my thoughts in order before I go popping off in someone else's blog. And they may not be right now, but here goes. And I will try not to write with such generalizations as my previous comment contained.

First, I can't imagine any artwork that is "good enough" in description. Three stills from Peter Campus's "Transitions", and a critical write up do not rival watching it. When I talk with other painters we certainly discuss what we're doing, but it doesn't come across fully without being seen. I'm trying to not use examples, but...

Now I am no big tech-head, but I do understand that a source code works under the graphic we see. It is a language to be manipulated. In doing so, much can be revealed- I'll point at jodi.org. This language is a tool for artists to use, sure. Some works may begin in the gallery and are put up on the web, as a document or live feed, what have you. Other's may start on the internet compiling information to be used to create a real object or performance that will possibly be exhibited in a gallery setting. But in both instances the net is used for depositing or collecting information. It is the nature of the tool.

The difference between gallery and net, as I see it? The work is created to exist, interact within, deconstruct it's enviroment, whether we are talking about Richard Jackson or jimpunk. I would say Tom's push-pin pieces do an admirable job in the gallery, mechanisms are reflexively revealed as I believe he intended. But as we have seen in recent posts, Tom has had some trouble reconcilling gallery vs. net for his gifs. He has mentioned technical issues and quality of image, even posted images of the gifs as frame stills; but I am addressing the more conceptual issue Tom raised, that being truth to materials.

"Net based art is made entirely of information, not ideas". Yeah... that sounds kinda silly. Like, "paintings are made of paint, not ideas". I see how that comment lacks clarity. But keep in mind the work of Joseph Beuys, who I will paraphrase here- Once you realize an idea it is already compromised. The true artist is a teacher, as they communicate only pure thought.

I hope this helps you to see what I'm getting at. Yeah..I may be a little atavistic, but hopefully not pedantic.
- Robert Huffmann (guest) 6-12-2006 11:25 am

The interview is now up. A link to it, and my first stab at addressing some of the issues Robert and Paul are discussing, are here.
- tom moody 6-12-2006 9:21 pm