Discourse is a Weapon: A Legacy Continues
The history of most artistic disciplines is full of figures that fulfilled several roles at once, often out of necessity. When mediums or concepts are new and inaccessible to the writers, curators, and producers who can help solidify and critically frame a discipline, it's often left to the artist to elucidate the new thing. Here, Paddy Johnson surveys various New Media artists who, faced with chronic lack of institutional recognition, have proactively shaped the discourse around their medium through writing and curatorial work.
The idea that artists are so entrenched in the world of visuals that they can't articulate the meaning of their own work is an enduring stereotype, despite past and present evidence to the contrary. Historically, artists have been key figures in shaping the discourse surrounding their work, particularly during the initiation stages of emerging mediums. This has been the case several times over the last 50 years, with examples coming from early American video artists such as Paik, Rosler, and Viola, as well as French New Wave filmmakers like Godard, Truffau, and Charbrol who wrote for Cashiers du Cinema. Some of the best known models of artists elevating the discourse on their own medium come from the field of photography; Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, and John Szarkowski spent a life time curating and writing in the struggle to gain professional acceptance for the medium before exhibition venues became widely available.
Today, New Media artists are the most fitting model of an artistic community eager to speak for themselves, largely because online technology enables proactive and institutionally unaffiliated publishing and curatorial opportunities. In the increasingly diffuse art world, many artists now battle feelings of critical isolation; artist communities embracing new blogging technology, however, have assurance that their work belongs within an active feedback loop. Some of the most prominent artists in the field have been curating for as long as they have been making work, and most are committed to providing written content about the medium in one form or another.
One such example is David Rokeby, whose art and writing specifically addresses how the use of technologies affect our perception. A Very Nervous System, his most well-known work to date, is an interactive installation where an individual’s movement is observed by a computer that responds directly to those actions in the language of improvisational music [read on...]