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When I reviewed the literature on media art, it became apparent that there is a problem with finding
systems of classification, of categorisation and even a clear definition of the art form. Despite a 25
year history of media art, and some would say it's much longer, this work is only just beginning. 9
"The terminology for technological art forms has always been extremely fluid" says Christiane
Paul (2003). According to her, 'digital art' has first been called computer art, then multimedia art
and is now subsumed under the umbrella term 'new media art' (Paul 2003, 7). Other words which
have been used to refer to the field as a whole or to sub-genres of it are: electronic art, art &
technology, video art, software art, net art, generative art, information art, virtual reality art, game
art, tele/robotics art, hypermedia, hypertext, interactive installation. Potentially this list could be
much longer. The choice of different terms for more or less the same thing often betrays a
preference for a certain flavour: someone is speaking historically situated and from a specific
theoretic or artistic perspective - Bourdieu's position taking. For instance, while some artists are
happy being labelled as net artists, others prefer to talk about telematic art, whereby the latter
appears to give the field more gravity. 10
Most classification schemes are based on the technology used - e.g. video art, or net art -, and few
attempts have been made to categorise media art forms according to motives, topoi or other
aesthetic categories and principles. Stephen Wilson favours an encyclopaedic approach in
Information Arts (Wilson 2002), the most comprehensive book about media art to this date.
Lamenting the "deficiency of categorisation" he claims the impossibility of doing the complexity of
multi-layered media art works any justice by any system of categories as the reason why he
categorised works according to the technologies which they make use of. In doing so, he arrives at
no less than 81 different technologies which structure his 8 chapters over slightly more than 900
pages. What is the trouble with classification? Is it that the field is still so new that any
classification would run danger of "setting up predefined limits for approaching and understanding
an art form" (Paul, 2003, 8)? Or is it because technology is constantly under development with an
"unprecedented speed" (ibid., 7)? As difficult as classification is the task of providing a definition.
One of the basic but crucial distinctions made here is that between art that uses digital technologies
as a tool for the creation of traditional art objects - such as photograph, print, sculpture, or music -
and art that employs these technologies as its very own medium, being produced, stored, and
presented exclusively in the digital format and making use of its interactive and participatory
features. (Paul 2003, 8)
I would tentatively add to Christiane Paul's definition that many works of media art contain an
element of self-referentiality; that they are not just 'using' a medium but also questioning and
challenging its boundaries; that they try to make implicit or explicit statements about properties of
media technologies and thereby raise questions about the intersections of science, technology and
culture. Such a definition points to a qualitative difference in the understanding of media art. The
medium in this definition of media art is not just a carrier of content but formative for the creation
of meaning.
Technology and culture are not seen as categorically separated but understood to be
intricately linked. However, such a definition of media art can not be assumed to be universally
shared. In this paper I will use the term media art not in a prescriptive way but as an umbrella term,
as a widely used convention, by and large synonymous with other terms such as digital art.
In The Language of New Media (2001) Lev Manovich analysis "the language of new media by
putting it within the history of modern visual and media cultures"(ibid. 8). Manovich's
methodology, which he calls a 'materialistic' approach, deserves our attention. It enables him to
avoid the usual troubles with definition and classification. Taking inspiration from computer
sciences, he uses a model of layers to advance "from the material foundations of new media to its
(ibid., 9). This approach seems to be productive insofar as it allows speaking about forms
without losing touch with the material reality. However, there are reasons why the model of
understanding new media cannot be fully recommended. One is the lack of distinction between
mainstream new media artefacts and the works of avant-garde new media artists; the second reason
is the use of cinema as the "key conceptual lens" through which to look at new media (ibid., 9).
Both things I would consider as open to further discussion and not as foregone conclusions.
What has come to be termed variously "digital art", "computer art" or "electronic art" stands at the
intersections of vectors of three historic forces: engineering (in particular computer science),
transnational commodity capitalism and the traditional "fine arts". [..] Digital media artists are
attempting to deal aesthetically with a technology which is the technology of power in our culture,
both paradigmatically and economically.
(Penny 1996, 127)
To this list of Simon Penny (above) I would add two fields: the culture industry (Adorno 1991),
now re-branded as the creative industry, and socio-political movements. The field of media art
cannot be understood without asking which connections media art has with other fields in society.
As Penny's choice of words suggests those 'forces' do have a strong influence on the field and
sometimes it looks as if the combined power of those influences is so overwhelming that a core of
media art is hard to identify. My personal position in this regard is that it is important to
acknowledge those contextual links, yet to insist that media art is not reducible to the contextual
relations it has. The field has historically always struggled to define its boundaries. Those boundary
struggles are very revealing about the differentiation process of the field in relation to the art
system, the overall political economy, the computer and telecommunications industry, the creative
industries and political activism. Any more extensive mapping of the field would have to consider
those relationships instead of trying to define an 'essence' of media art.
It is not a diffuse 'essence' of media art which justifies it to speak of it as a separate field but the
existence of a system of institutions which are more or less exclusively concerned with it.
Institutionally media art is characterised by the existence of two types of institutions. On one hand
there are large festivals, such as Ars Electronica, since 1979 held in Linz, Austria, and large brickand-
mortar institutions such as the ZKM in Karlsruhe, which attract major funding, organise big
exhibitions and produce heavy catalogues. On the other hand there are many small institutions,
sometimes called 'self-institutions' - so called media labs or hack labs - which have been thriving
over the last 10 years, forming an alternative or 'unstable' field (Druckrey 2005) with increasingly
world-wide connections and a more decentralised and networked approach. Whereas the large
institutions face typical pressures for legitimisation such as demands to be instrumental in regional
development, the world-wide network of small institutions often lives on shoe-string budgets
mostly provided by state funding agencies. Some activities are not funded at all or are rather selffunded
- made possible by the energy and work of participants. According to Bourdieu this area
could be called a field of restricted production. Economically it is insignificant but discursively it is
I am not trying to construct a binary opposition between two types of institutions and
acknowledge the existence of many medium sized institutions and a lively transfer between the
fields. However, it is important to state that there is an institutionalised field and that it is not
homogenous but heterogeneous.

9 Classification systems have been addressed on the mailing list CRUMB (2005). The ZKM in collaboration
with other institution has launched media art net, a sprawling attempt of identifying histories, terms and
definitions (Media Art Net 2005).
10 Telematic combines the Greek telos with automatic - tele-matic.

úryvok z textu Technological Determinism in Media Art, 2005