Monday, March 03, 2008

What the Hell is New Media Now?

I just got back from the College Art Association Conference in Dallas, as I think you may have figured out if you're one of the 2.3 actual readers of this blog, and I spent a lot of time there attending sessions on New Media. This is in part because I am a member of the New Media Caucus, and also because I have it in my head that I am keenly interested in New Media. But in truth there was another more nefarious reason lurking in the background, driving my participation. Namely ...

... I was hoping to figure out what New Media actually is. Er, or are. Whatever.

I recall a time when "New Media" generally seemed to mean video, which has not exactly been "new" since about 1967. Then for awhile it seemed to include anything that was a hybrid of other forms; that definition seems to have been co-opted for now by "New Genres." For another little while, it seemed it was anything having to do with site-specific or time-based art ... which nowadays seems to mostly be called "site-specific" or "time-based," or which sometimes gets called "New Genres" too. Duh.

Wikipedia helpfully defines New Media Art as "an art genre that encompasses artworks created with new media technologies, including computer graphics, computer animation, the Internet, interactive technologies, robotics, and biotechnologies." Which sounds solid, but then unfortunately it continues, "The term differentiates itself by its resulting cultural objects, which can be seen in opposition to those deriving from old media arts (i.e. traditional painting, sculpture, etc.) This concern with medium is a key feature of much contemporary art and indeed many art schools now offer a major in "New Genres" or "New Media." New Media concerns are often derived from the telecommunications, mass media and digital modes of delivery the artworks involve, with practices ranging from conceptual to virtual art, performance to installation."

So is the label "New Media" entirely dependent upon the framework of the delivery of the artwork? May it or may it not include media that are not at all "new"? And does "New Media" really produce "cultural objects that are in opposition to those deriving from painting, sculpture, etc."?

In my own way of thinking, all artwork is in some way deriving from that which has gone before. Joseph Beuys labeled his community artwork "social sculpture," and early computer graphics work got called "digital painting." The concerns are still very similar in terms of whether or not a piece "works", the aesthetic concerns are also there. In Dallas, I heard alarms being sounded about archive-ability and stable documentation of New Media art, and speculation about where New Media art lands us on the trajectory.

While I was busy trying to pin down "New Media," the super-wonderful people at expanded their definition of it. For their 2009 call for proposals, they note: "Rhizome has expanded our scope, formerly focused strictly on Internet-based art to encompass the broad range of practices that fall under new media art. This includes projects that creatively engage new and networked technologies to works that reflect on the impact of these tools and media in a variety of forms. With this expanded format, commissioned works can take the final form of online works, performance, video, installation or sound art. Projects can be made for the context of the gallery, the public, the web or networked devices."

Well alrighty then. If even is having to shift around to get it right, I think it's safe to say "New Media" is nothing if not a moving target. Which it should be; it wouldn't be very new if it didn't change now and again, would it?

Next post, maybe I'll take on "New Genres."

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