Media Art Histories
”’Media Art Histories”’ is an interdisciplinary field of research that explores the current developments as well as the history and genealogy of New Media Art, Digital Art, and Electronic Art. On the one hand, Media Art Histories addresses the contemporary interplay of art, technology, and science. On the other, it aims to reveal the historical relationships and aspects of the ‘afterlife’ (Aby Warburg) in New Media Art by means of a historical comparative approach. This strand of research encompasses questions of the history of media and perception, of so-called archetypes, as well as those of iconography and the history of ideas. Morever, one of the main agendas of Media Art Histories is to point out the role of digital technologies for contemporary, post-industrial societies and to counteract the marginalization of according art practices and art objects: ″Digital technology has fundamentally changed the way art is made. Over the last forty years, Media Art has become a significant part of our networked information society. Although there are well-attended international festivals, collaborative research projects, exhibitions and database documentation resources, Media Art research is still marginal in universities, museums and archives. It remains largely under-resourced in our core cultural institutions” (Liverpool Declaration).
The term New Media Art itself is of great importance to the field. New Media Art is an umbrella term that encompasses art forms that are produced, modified and transmitted by means of digital technologies or, in a broader sense, make use of ‘new’ and emerging technologies that originate from a scientific, military or industrial context. The majority of authors that try to ‘delineate’ the aesthetic object of New Media Art emphasize aspects of interactivity, processuality, multimedia, and real-time. The focus of New Media Art lies in the cultural, political, and social implications as well as the aesthetic possibilities – more or less its ‘media-specificity’ – of digital media. Consequently, scholars recognize the function of media technologies in New Media Art not only as a ‘carrier’ of meaning, but instead as a means that fundamentally shapes the very meaning of the artwork itself.
Furthermore, the field of New Media Art is increasingly influenced by ‘new’ technologies that surmount a traditional understanding of (art) media. This becomes apparent in regards to technologies that originate from the field of biotechnology and life science and that are employed in artistic practices such as Bio Art, Genetic Art, and Transgenic Art. Consequently, the term New Media Art does not imply a steady ‘genre’ of art production. Instead, it is a field that emphasizes ‘new’ technologies (in order to establish an explicit difference with traditional art media and genres). The list of genres that are commonly subsumed under the label of New Media Art illustrates its broad scope and includes, among others, Virtual Art, Software Art, Internet Art, Game Art, Glitch Art, Telematic Art, Bio Art / Genetic Art, Interactive Art, computer animation and graphics, and Hacktivism and Tactical Media. These latter two ‘genres’ in particular have a strong focus on the interplay of art and (political) activism.
Resources and Research Projects
Since the end of the 1990s, the first online databases came into being, as exemplified by the university-based Archive of Digital Art, Rhizome platform located in New York, Netzspannung (until 2005), the database project Compart in which early phase of Digital Art is addressed, and the collaborative online platform Monoskop. Monoskop In terms of institutional resources, Media Art Histories spans diverse organisations, archives, research centres as well as private initiatives. Already at this early stage in the development of the field, the actors of Media Art Histories were connected by way of digital communication, especially by so-called mailing lists such as NetTime or Rohrpost, both channels of communication that remain prime resources for the New Media Art community.
In the last few years, there was a significant increase of festivals and conferences dedicated to New Media Art, though the dominant festivals in the field continue to be the Ars Electronica, the Transmediale, the ISEA (Inter-Society for the Electronic Arts), and SIGGRAPH (Special Interest Group on Graphics and Interactive Techniques). To this day, museums and research facilities specializing in New Media Art are the exception. Nevertheless, ZKM (Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie) or specific focuses in collections (including the Whitney Museum, the New York Museum of Modern Art, or the Walker Art Center) serve as important spaces for exchange. Beyond museums that reach a wider audience, there are more and more smaller museums and galleries that focus on New Media Art (such as the Berlin-based DAM – Digital Art Museum). Additionally, archives in which are exhibited artefacts situated at the intersection of the histories of media, art, and technology are important resources, including collections such as that of Werner Nekes or those cabinets of wonder and curiosity incorporated in art history museums.
Even given this increase in festivals, however, a variety of significant research initiatives have been discontinued. These include the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Media.Art.Research, the Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science and Technology, and Media Art Net. This difficulty in establishing sustainable funding structures as well as support for access to shared data for the scientific research of New Media Art was made public and addressed by the Liverpool Declaration. Scholars and artists based at institutions all over the globe signed the Declaration in a call to develop systematic strategies to fulfill the task that digital culture and its research demands in the 21st Century. Already in the late 90s it became clear, that MediaArtResearch is spread over many disciplines and the need became urgent to give it common ground: Therefore at Humboldt University Berlin Oliver Grau in Cooperation with Roger Malina, Leonardo and Sara Diamond, Banff Center developed the international Conference Series on the Histories of MediaArt, Science and Technology, which was started in 2005 through a collective process, involving more than 10 disciplines related to media art. The world conference series attempts to foster the exchange between these different disciplines and their various actors. To date, the conference took place six times with Re-fresh (Banff 2005), Re-place (Berlin 2007), Re-live (Melbourne 2009), Re-wire (Liverpool 2011), Re-new (Riga 2013), Re-create (Montreal 2015), upcoming Paris (2017). Documentation of the meanwhile more than 2000 papers and applications can be found on MediaArtHistory.org.
Focus of Research
Several scholars in the field of Media Art History claim that there is still a considerable lack of knowledge regarding the origins of visual and audio-visual media.cf. Grau, Oliver. Introduction. In MediaArtHistories, edited by Oliver Grau, 1-14. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2005. Consequently, it is the objective of Media Art Histories to expand the historically informed knowledge of current media cultures with its developments and detours – the field is driven by the idea of a ‘deep time of the media’ (S. Zielinski).
Hence, scholars stress that the technological advances in current media cultures are best understood on the backdrop of an extensive media and art history. Contributions to this field are widespread and include, among others, researchers who have disciplinary focuses such as the history of science (Lorraine Daston, Timothy Lenoir), art history and image science (Oliver Grau, Barbara Stafford, Dieter Daniels, Slavko Kacunko, Edward Shanken, Gunalan Nadarajan, Linda Henderson, Andreas Broeckmann, Jonathan Crary, Horst Bredekamp, Peter Weibel, Hans Belting), media studies and media archaeology (Friedrich Kittler, Erkki Huhtamo, Jussi Parikka, Wolfgang Ernst, Siegfried Zielinski, Stephan Oettermann, Lev Manovich), sound studies (Douglas Kahn), film studies (Sean Cubitt, Ryszard Kluszczyński), as well as computer science (Frieder Nake).