American artist and Rhizome founder, Mark Tribe is Assistant Professor of Modern Culture and Media Studies at Brown University. He’s authored The Port Huron Project: Reenactments of Historic Protest Speeches (2010), as well as co-authored this book. He received his MFA in Visual Art from UC, San Diego. His interest in new media art is not so much the technologies but the way these technologies can engage cultural engagement, aesthetic awareness, and political engagement.
Reena Jana is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant whose work focuses on culture, innovation, and business. She’s now a contributing editor and blogger at SmartPlanet, and has written for the New York Times, Wired, Fast Company, to name a very few. She attended Columbia University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences where she was a National Arts Journalism Program Fellow at Columbia Journalism School.
Uta Grosenick is a Cologne-based freelance author and editor. Her work for TASCHEN includes several books from the Basic Genre Series, Women Artists (2001), ART NOW (2002), Büttner (2003), and ART NOW II (2005).
As the book’s title and publisher suggest, New Media Art is a primer for the movement. Tribe and Reena define New Media art, present its history, its art historical antecedents (indeed, some of which are unintentional, given that certain practitioners arrive through informal, non-art avenues), conceptual underpinnings and various strategies, and, per the primer mode, a set of pre-2006 examples. All this and a simple proclamation that “New Media art will likely be absorbed into the culture at large” (25).
“Like Dada, Pop, and Conceptual art, it may end as a movement but live on as a tendency — a set of ideas, sensibilities, and methods that appear unpredictably and in multiple forms” (25).
New Media art comprises projects articulate new media technologies in such a way that underscore the makers’ preoccupation “with the cultural, political, and aesthetic possibilities of these tools” (6). It illustrates the intersection of two broader art categories: art and technology (Electronic art, Robotic art, Genomic art…art that is technological but not media-based) and Media Art (Video art, Transmission art, Experimental film…basically media art before the 90s). Here the Internet is central, and the modes ever-multiplying, ever-changing.
Its art historical antecedents include: (1) Dada for its reaction to the industrial revolution’s implications for everything from warfare to text, and its subsequent stylistic output; (2) Pop art for its formal reproduction of mass media; (3) Conceptual art for its focus on ideas over objects; and (4) Video art for its breakthrough technology, specifically the portable video camera. Tribe and Reena propose that New Media art is now a movement and was so the moment documenta X presented Net art in 1997. Moreover, it’s always been a global movement, uniting artists from various disciplines (e.g. computer-based art, painters, performance artists, etc.) from all over the world. Yes, there is a “California ideology” (per media theorist Richard Barbrook) at play, but many of the real leaders were disillusioned post-communism Eastern Europeans.
New Media art is, to my mind, Situationism done in ones and zeroes. Per Tribe and Reena, it is collaborative and participatory for both technological and ideological reasons, bespeaking an art historical transition commencing with the 60s happenings — the erstwhile passive audience now interacts. Appropriation is “almost taken for granted” (13) and open-source is the watchword, evoking all: collaboration, net-based workings, and the gift economy. New Media artists engage in corporate parody, hacktivism, and cleave to an overarching morality, the “hacker ethic” (16). Per computer scientist Brian Harvey, “The hacker is an aesthete” (as cited on 16). They engage in interventions, understanding the Web to be a public space to reach non-art audiences, engage in identity construction (and de-), and interrogate (playfully or no) the proliferation of telepresence and surveillance tools. (Like I said, Situationist.)
Finally, the communication revolution’s breakneck-paced breakthroughs make New Media works difficult to preserve. Conservation strategies include: documentation (e.g. your plain-old screen shot), migration (updating bad URLs), emulation (mimic software), and recreation (reproduction with new technology).