Art & Technology #9: Technological Intervention
Technology, intermediating art and man
Mankind perpetuates within a world where empirical actuality coexists with potential virtuality. Empirical actuality is a state that can be demonstrated, like the clear and unmistakable sound of breaking waves. Potential virtuality, on the other hand, is a state that cannot be demonstrated, like the countless collisions of water droplets that compose said breaking wave. It exists in our imagination.
This binary world of virtuality and actuality is also very much relevant within the structure of our modern society, even though it appears to be ruled upon values of practical utility. For instance, it would be no exaggeration to state that film, literature, art, and the creative arts in general, exist by means of that binary world, with technology as its intermediary.
The role of technological intervention in contemporary art
<Jurassic Park III> and <Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone> were two major film productions released in 2001 that left a mark in cinematic history. Jurassic Park III was a realistic spectacle created by injecting technology into an actual, maybe even familiar expression of something from the past. In contrast, Harry Potter featured many scenes that brought to life possible virtualities that would otherwise be impossible to believe, and left the viewers questioning empirical actuality. Imaginary events possible only in fiction came to life on screen, and during the 159 minutes of the film’s running time, audiences lost track of actuality to accept the potential virtualities flashing before their eyes.
Technology is efficiently put to use by producers and distributors who make elaborately calculated interventions to raise consumer spending. To that extent, technological intervention is quite virtually a guaranteed tool for marketing and producing images. As a result, it is also no surprise to find so much focus and effort around creating lucrative images through the latest technology.
People have an inherent need for external input, which is a vulnerability in some ways: the desire to experience. Behind this pathos lies the loss of creativity, to actually imagine and think on one’s own. Because of this, some have voiced concerns that provocative computer-generated spectacles detract people from independent, first-hand experiences. Such perspectives on the role of technological intervention in regards to potential virtuality and empirical actuality have diverse implications for the arts. What is important is that the level of technological advancement, its application, and the manifested effects of the artistic vernacular, are far secondary to the attitude of those using that technology.
For a spectacle to effectively stimulate the imagination, the process of an art project must be drawn dramatically. And because of that, an artist’s fame, rare materials, level of difficulty or complex processing, and utilization of the latest technology all add to a story’s drama. Artists also continue to innovate means for new art, as if responding to market forces. At this point when modern mythologies are being added to art projects, the birth of a new artistic vernacular is sending the message that technological intervention will need to propose fresh means of creation. As such, technology that was previously limited to a supporting role in the archiving of artwork, is now becoming more involved in how art is created, in line with the demands of the times.
The issue of technological intervention in art
Supported by technology, contemporary art is blessed by the mythology of innovation, and many perceive art today as new urban attractions. To see people gathering around an artwork incites a certain fluttering of anticipation that technology can open a new era for art. Yet at the same time, there remains concern that the tail is wagging the dog. At this crossroads of opinions regarding technology, a discussion of possible outcomes and their issues is merited.
First is the alienation of the artist’s role caused by the specificity of technology. Introducing new technology to art requires a great deal of effort, such as learning new fields of study and gaining firsthand experience. An artist may not need to become fluent in the language of coding and programming, but it goes without saying that using computer programs like a magical wand without a fundamental understanding is not a viable option. The role of the artist in creating art is gradually decreasing in terms of the diverse proficiencies once required in the past, and some artists consider technological intervention a compromise to the essence of art, rejecting its use.
Second is the means by which technology is consumed. Rapid change is a key aspect of modern technology. Not only is development rapid, but its dissemination rate also. Technology seeps in, intervening into visual culture across many fields. Art will be distributed like apps, and will increasingly require diverse applications of technology to produce ever more fantastic images. Once a new art vernacular associated with a particular technology is applied to a large-scale project, it is more likely to be repeatedly associated with other similar artworks, making the older art vernacular appear uninteresting. This is where art is liable to become an experimental subject for testing the application of new technology.
Third and last is the means by which art is consumed. The contemporary urban space is often marketed as a charming artwork of famous artists, and culture plays the role of religious “pilgrimage” through which to wash away the stress of everyday life. Visitors capture images of the artwork, sharing and distributing them across social networks. As we have all seen, art is consumed in the form of images captured through photographs and videos, while the experience of art is typically ruled by a city’s branding or a blogger’s opinion. In that process, art is assimilated into the media and only traces remain as simulacra, floating around a network like flotsam. Modern technology truly has changed the way we consume, from the way we sleep at night, to how we take in art. Once art is distributed and consumed in that manner, it becomes less of its original self and more of the art’s residual image. A visual playground if you will. Now that the consumption patterns of contemporary art have been reshuffled by technology, it requires something greater than a universal artistic vernacular.
The distraction of the unfamiliar language of technology, disharmony resulting from uncoordinated advancement of technology and art, and image-oriented art consumption are all issues that need to be considered in addressing and criticizing how technology intervenes.
Throughout history, artists have been both the producers and consumers of new technology. In the modern era, expert knowledge and skills are extremely compartmentalized and even fragmented. The genius and talents of the individual artists of yesterday have shifted entirely due to the widespread use of technology and the resulting changing production and distribution methods.
Yet we have no choice but to face reality as it is. Before contemporary art recovers from the trauma of new technology or develops any form of immunity, the unfamiliarity of ongoing changes might cause gradual unease. Ultimately, technology may even be ostracized or denied. Nonetheless, technology is already deeply rooted in our lives. Our lifestyles have changed as technology intervenes in our day-to-day lives. Art must be a looking glass for the rapidly changing lives of the contemporary age, because the essence of art is in encapsulating the zeitgeist.
In fact, this is relevant to the three issues mentioned earlier in relation to the relationship between technology and art. We need to distinguish and consider whether the marginalization is due to the language of technology, or the spectacle of image borne of technological intervention. Rather than bemoan the image-oriented art consumption of today’s world, we ought to reflect on the changing lifestyles of the contemporary age in order to seek the means to expand the spatial experience of art.
Art stands before the ruthless race of modern technology. Physicist Armand Trousseau once said, “The worst scientist is he who is not an artist; the worst artist is he who is no scientist.” While the way we enjoy art, and even our sentiments surrounding art, are all changing, art is also undergoing constant experimentation across various fields and disciplines. It is also time to seriously consider the fundamentals of those experiments, to confirm whether or not they contribute to human existence. Of course, this should be accompanied by a thorough understanding of humanity. Is that not the approach technology ought to have toward contemporary art? ■ Han Eun-ju, Director of Soft Architecture LAB, with ARTINPOST
Nam June Paik <Elephant Cart> 1999-2001 Mixed media 153×633×293cm ⓒ Nam June Paik Estate Image provided by NJP Art Center
Lee Bei Kyoung <Metropolis Metaphor> 2014 Image provided by SeMA
Kim Tae Eun <Time Loop> 2014 Image provided by SeMA
Lee Byung Chan <URBAN CREATURE-Galapagos> 2014 Image provided by SeMA
Dappertutto Studio 2013 Performance Image provided by NJP Art Center
Nam June Paik <Three Elements> 2000 ⓒ Nam June Paik Estate Image provided by NJP Art Center
Ben Vautier <Living Flux Scultpure)> 1966 ⓒCOPYRIGHT 1964 BY FLUXUS, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Jung Sung Yoon <Eclipse> 2014 Wheel, gear, aluminum steel 9,000×600×2,000cm Image provided by SeMA
Lee Ye Seung <CAVE into the cave(Wild rumor)> 2014 Mixed media Dimensions variable
Nam June Paik <Participation TV> 1968/1998 TV, Microphone Dimensions variable Image provided by NJP Art Center
Rebecca Horn <La Ternura> 1994 Flamingo Feathers, Motor and Metal 51×223×89cm Samsung Museum of Art Collection Image provided by MMCA
Patrick Tresset <5 Robots Named Paul> 2012 Robotic installation Dimensions variable Courtesy of the artist Image provided by MMCA
EXP LAP <From Future to Futurism> 2015 Mixed media Dimensions variable Image provided by MMCA
Cha Ji Ryang <Virus of Timeline, Timeline of Virus> 2015 10' Multi channel video, sound Image provided by NJP Art Center
Mioon <Sea of Solaris> 2015 Stainless steel, LED lamp, motor Dimensions variable Image provided by NJP Art Center