Tag Archives: shanken

Shanken, E.A. (2007). Historicizing Art and Technology: Forging a Method and Firing a Canon. In _Media Art Histories_, O. Grau, ed. Cambridge and London: The MIT Press.

Shanken’s piece is an exhortation to integrate the nexus of art, science, and technology (AST) into art historical canon, methodology, and historiography because, simply, people are creating/using/adapting it. (I hold this is essential for planning, too, since all fields have experienced fundamental shifts of practice, orientation, methodology in the information age.) The “telematic embrace” has happened everywhere, but intellectual silos and variable languages at least slow, sometimes inhibit, intellectual sharing. Shanken’s research dispels the myth that where science and technology go, art follows.

“My research suggested that ideas emerge simultaneously in various fields and that the cross-fertilization of those ideas presupposes that an underlying context already exists in order for seeds from one field to germinate in another” (57).

For Shanken’s part, he devised the following (fluid) themes for his Art and Electronic Media (2002):

  • coded form and electronic production: the generation of multiple images, 3D copies, high-resolution photography and printing
  • motion, light, time: following from the early 20th century inclusion of motion and, therefore, representation of art through space and time
  • networks, surveillance, culture jamming: the proliferation of telematics-enabled exchange and collaboration
  • simulations and simulacra: the former are near-enough copies of the originals, but the latter “refer often to a form of similarity particular to media culture, wherein distinctions between the original and copy become increasingly murky” (62) — so much so that the simulacra might eventually attain an authenticity once the sole preserve of the original
  • interactive contexts and electronic environments: art has always needed the viewer but here the need is acute as artists design open-ended contexts for manifold possibilities
  • bodies, surrogates, emergent systems: the design of robots to consider human nature and a post-human world; like simulacra, the distinctions between the “real” and AI blur
  • communities, collaborations, exhibitions, institutions: art involving digital media almost presupposes collaboration among “artists, scientists, and engineers, and between individuals, communities, and institutions” (63).

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Stiles, K. and Shanken, E. (2011). Missing in Action: Agency and Meaning in Interactive Art. In _Context Providers_, M. Lovejoy, C. Paul, and V. Vesna, eds. Bristol and Chicago: intellect.

Kristine Stiles is professor of contemporary art and theory in the Department of Art, Art History & Visual Studies at Duke University. She’s written Concerning Consequences of Trauma in Art and Society (2010), Correspondence Course: An Epistolary History of Carolee Scheemann and her Circle (2010), and World Art Since 1945 (2011, with Kathy O’Dell).

Edward Shanken is author of Art and Electronic Media (2009) and editor of Telematic Embrace: Visionary Theories of Art, Technology and Consciousness (2003). His essays are in such journals as Art JournalArt ByteArt Criticism, aminima, Leonardo, and Technoetic Arts. He has a PhD in Art History from Duke and an MBA from Yale.

For Stiles and Shanken, “interactivity” and “agency” are bandied about a great deal in media art, often together, the idea being that in order for interactive art to be meaningful, it must enhance “the fullness of agency” (35). Only many interactive projects can be conventional and problematic. Kaprow eventually abandoned the happening, claiming people weren’t ready culturally to interact responsibly. This is not to his credit, really, because he tacitly collapsed all publics into one, but Stiles and Shanken provide a powerful anecdote with the “Hall Street Happening” (1963). After Cynthia Mailman fell through the garage roof on which she was dancing, audience members did nothing, and so exemplified the limits to interactivity and the aesthetic experience’s requisite cool detachment. The sanctity of art over agency. (But then as I think about this, perhaps that that public’s response. What if she’d performed for a group less informed about contemporary art etiquette? Might she have gotten help immediately?)

Yet the utopian dream for interactivity persists, married with the “rhetoric of novelty” trope in association with new media. Further, per Latour, power structures and prevailing social codes still construct “agency.” Technology is an interesting player here, too, because while technology itself is neutral, its very presence signifies a certain hegemony. In order for their work to be genuinely radical, artists must recognize that prevailing hegemony, and engage in Laclau and Mouffe’s “radical democratic politics” and Hardt and Negri’s “constituent activity,” which subsumes empathy, responsibility, and reciprocity.

“… we suggest agency that sets empathy in motion toward responsible interaction and constructive change is meaningful” (46).

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