Art & Technology #14: The evolution of digital media and contemporary aesthetics
Evolution into inter-media
The process of digital convergence
Biological evolution was process of many steps rather than a linear process of changes into variants. Likewise, media has always been a process of "an origin that involves change". In particular, digital convergence has been a process of changing its status, and has been changing how we live.
Based on digital convergence, what is digital media bringing together? It is the most basic and external layer that is converging, the “physical layer”. Smart phones brought together devices which once served independent functions, such as communication, music playback, video playback, and so on. Such smart devices are a media that clearly shows the physical layers. Today's convergence is less a combination of such a physical layer, but that of the code-grammatical layer, which is the intermediate layer between the physical layer and the contextual-layer. As such, it is no longer the former mediating layer which translates the contents to fit a particular material-ness of a particular media. Rather, its nature has transformed into a layer which brings together mediating information, driven forth by digitization. Digitized texts, photographs, music, and video are reduced into neutral numerical data, to open opportunities for diverse means of replication and recombination. In turn this unbinds the strict and strong connections between established media and physical layers, replacing them with something far more flexible.
As a result the contents that had been “added unto” the physical layer of media, or the means of realization is replaced by data files that can be reproduced through diverse physical devices or media programs. They can be freely edited and reorganized, and can be reproduced into countless iterations. The concept of "multimedia" as used in contemporary art generally combines any number of audio, video, and data bits. Fundamentally, this signifies a free conversion from one to another, and a tendency to combine heterogenic bits.
In the least, we need to follow the immanent grammar of programs (software) that is fundamentally indigenous to the digital layer. All processes of digitization require the physical structure of a computer, and the level of digitization is limited to current hardware technology. Even the most digitized information must be represented in some physical form for human aesthetic experience. In other words, for it to be experienced and aesthetically consumed, like text, music, or video, the information requires an analogization. The reason is that our sensory organs have not been digitized; they operate in an analog fashion, and our experiences require an appropriate physical representation to our senses.
Intermédialité and remediation
With the exception of digitization as a technological method, every age had its own “new-media”, and our perceptions and aesthetic sensitivity had already experienced those new-medias. At the base of aesthetic experience of new media, there is a process of remediation and intermédialité. Remediation to media what translation is to a language, where when a text in one language is translated into another language, the process involves not only the transfer of content and meaning, but also interpretation and understanding. Today's new media either acknowledges, competes against, or alters existing media such as painting, film, and television. By doing so, it establishes its own cultural significance, the process which we call remediation. Such conceptualization comes from the premise that each medium is not simply a machine for the means, but a language-like system of symbols, where the process of competition and interaction of each medium is postulated as a “game of symbols”. This concept was proposed by Grusin, where the contents of media are not “purely” retained through their conduits, but an interaction across media occur.
Between beauty and sublime, toward creativity and reformation
French philosopher Lyotard used the term “postmodern” to define the conditions of culture style following the avant-garde, asserting a danger to narratives and representation. His argument can be understood as an explanation connecting issues in aesthetics with themes in the contemporary state of culture, awareness, and lifestyle. At the center of Lyotard's analysis on the postmodern culture and lifestyle is the aesthetic aspect of the sublime. Lyotard affirmatively accommodated the concept of postmodernity, rejecting enlightening reason and universal reason. Furthermore, he was skeptical of human progress through reason, looking toward artistic and aesthetical sensibility for answers. He had no faith in realistic representation, or imitation to be a driving force for artistic practice. He asked questions on what it meant to “lack existence”, similar to Nietzsche's nihilism and even earlier, in Kant's sublime. It was the aesthetic principle of the sublime that drove modern art forward, and that was why the avant-garde is considered by many the source of that power. This has also made the concept of the sublime in any discussions of aesthetic experiences in postmodern art or literature. Furthermore, as Jameson pointed out, the postmodern aesthetic of the sublime can only be critical in discussions of aesthetic sensibility in the age of digital media.
Humans are highly capable experiencing contradictory experiences, such as simultaneously experiencing anxiety and pleasure. The conflicting emotions such as joy and pain, happiness and fear, uplifted feelings and disappointment, are in Europe frequently described as “the sublime”, an aesthetic condition that seeks to express what cannot be described otherwise. This aspect means that a particular work of art is not based on the sender of the message, or the creator of the work, but on the receiver of the message, the reader or the audience. For this reason, Lyotard saw that “the sentiment of the receiver’s aesthetic experiences” was more important. We see this in the present, where the basis of judging a work of art is not on the artist as the originator, but on how it is received. The question of “what aesthetic experience it causes” has become the crux in today age of multimedia. Amorphous aesthetics, a key feature of the sublime, became an important task through the nineteenth and twentieth century, established as an important aesthetic sensibility in understanding contemporary art on the platform of digital media.
Within the aesthetic aspect of the sublime, the inversed relationship between the recipient and the creator became an aesthetic process that can be appropriately applied to the interactive arts, and these new aesthetic experiences have the potential to further liberate cultural arts. Political philosopher Jacque Ranciere argued that if existing boundaries and arrangements within the aesthetic system of art can be restructured and the practice of collective liberation planned, the aesthetic form of digital interface might hold the key.
Today's installation art is one such area where the aesthetic theory of restructuring and redistributing existing norms and systems are found in good form. Contemporary art has factors of play, list, encounter, and mystery. It is a constant collapse of existing media and systems, the crashing down of reenactment, the invalidity expressive forms determined by the subject matter's state and status. It holds to potential to disrupt existing order, to remap and redistribute the existing landscape of positions and statuses.
New possibilities in contemporary media art embodies that undetermined, limitless possibility as Lyotard discussed. It is in the same context as Darwin’s theory of evolution, or the “new Darwinism” school of thought, where the undetermined man, the evolving man. It is not the whole and undivided manifestation of everything encoded in the genes. Instead, even within a single body, the cells interact and sometimes through external and environmental influences, or even mutations, countless new variations may occur. In the manner of human progress, perhaps it is the evolutionary nature of digital media that thrusts humans forward into an undetermined yet emergent aesthetic experience. ■ with ARTINPOST
Gogbot Festival 2008
Jenny Holzer <Xenon for the Peggy Guggenheim>
Richard Meyer Video Installation at city hall in Hague, Netherlands
Richard Meyer Video Installation at city hall in Hague, Netherlands
ART+COM <DUAL GARDENS>
Berlin 2004 ⓒ ART+COM
Jamie Zigelbaum, Marcelo Coelho <Interactive Pixel Tile>
United Visual Artists <Tryptich>
Todays Art 2007
Pascal Dombis <Irrational Geometrics>
2008 Video Installation 400×300cm
2000 Hanover Expo ⓒ ART+COM
Tacita Dean <Film>
Installation view at Tate Modern 2011
Pierre Derks <Hotel Oscar Tango Echo Lima>
Todays Art 2007