Moshe Ladanga

SCIRIA Encounters

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We attended a seminar with Phd students at the office of Sciria, one of the research groups in the university that focuses on digital art. Ilze Black, one of the Phd students, presented her curatorial work and details of her experience with Watermans Gallery, one of the spaces in London that shows new media art. The works she discussed were interesting, and it struck me that most of the works had a Foucauldian bent: StraightJacketEmbrace dealt with the psychological dimension of mental institutions, and Christian Nold’s Brentford Biobsy and Ambient.TV’s Orchestra of Anxiety subverted the functions of surveillance.

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Karen Lancel and Hermen Maat’s StraightJacketEmbrace

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Christian Nold’s Brentford Biobsy

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Ambient T.V.’s Orchestra of Anxiety

It was definitely intriguing; or maybe I’m reading too much Foucault (ha). But I think there is a thread here. In the history of the digital art, it is well-known that Vannevar Bush was the progenitor of the memex, the theoretical conception of the world wide web. But it is less-well known that Bush was also an influential figure in the development of technology for military defense (WWII, NDRC USA). The technologies we take for granted now, such as the tracking devices that Nold uses, had there conception in the era of WWII. It gets even more muddy when you read the history (Wiki link) because you can trace the development of the technology as it courses through schools (M.I.T.), corporations, government agencies, science labs, etc. Basically, the sticky thing about new media is its dark inheritance.

The great thing about the artists above is that they use the technology to subvert its uses; Ilze said that during her experience working with the gallery, the pieces that stood out were the ones that were not afraid to be political, that were even critical of their use of technology. She said that creativity and imagination especially in new media is essential, since most of the tools we use are intrinsically designed for industry.

The second presentation was a weird confirmation of that, in a loopy kind of way. I forgot her name (oops) but here research was about luxury in cars. In her studies, the revealing thing was that car customers definition of luxury was so different from how we commonly understand it: the highest-grade material, the excellent craftsmanship, the exclusivity of the design. What people wanted, her research shows, is the appearance of luxury, the maintenance of a lifestyle that they believed they had. There was such a great discrepancy in how people perceived the cars to how the cars really are. She matter-of-factly said that the company is focusing on inducing that ‘experience of luxury’, and that they can safely say (with mounds and mounds of market research) that luxury is only an idea, and what people really buy is the idea.

That blew me away, to say the least. It was confirmation of what I’ve been thinking about for a long time, especially being a filmmaker, knowing how powerful images can be. This is not the least a paradox, nor is it a crisis in professional terms, but it does bear on what I know I can do, and even more on what I still don’t know I can do. What I realized was that these ethical issues do matter, and that I want my digital art practice to reflect this.

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