Sunday, May 21, 2006

After The Academy/Jargon (#772)

Professor VJ on Poly-Ticks (just something found browsing referrer logs to LS):

It's funny, but whenever I start talking about digital narrative and the use of new media technologies, most colleagues in the field immediately want to start talking about the available technologies that are being experimented with and then, once they have their tech-jargon credibility established, they inevitably drift into mimicking the by-now canned theory that has been established around the tech-jargon. And yet, when it comes to discussing the actual formal innovation of the narrative, the meaning-making apparatus that defamiliarizes the story being told, or the way a work constructs identity or digital persona, most of the time the interlocutor's eyes get that "glazed over" look of "I have no idea what you're talking about" and an attempt is made to get back on track -- and in this case, on track means referring to the by now established techno-theory that somehow informs the development of weak new media art created for the express purpose of justifying that techno-theory's existence. Of course, this approach is back asswards and just like most of That 80's Show gender and identity politics killed the potential of art in the worst of possible ways, now new media art is quickly beginning to show its structurally insecure spots as well. This essential weakness in the international new media scene has made it less palatable to a lot of artists I know who first got their start in this field, myself included. How to break away from this institutionalization, academicization, and "scientificating" [scientific-pontificating] that is now suffocating so much of the new media arts?

The first thing you have to do is break the cycle of co-dependency. This means that you may have to diss the academy, diss the scientific community, and even diss a good portion of the curatorial apparatus and/or festival directors who are busy building their sand castles so that they can attract funds to pay for the mega-events they are coordinating. That's not easy, especially when networking is such an essential element of the new media art scene. And when there is a lot less pie to go around than in the mid-to-late 90s, and the pie that is being made is oftentimes only possible thanks to the largess of mainstream academic, scientific, and governmental organizations (and in the US, there's very little of that to go around), the cycle of co-dependency creates lots of competition to become even trendier so that you and your work will stand out as the newest of the new media artist-trendsetter crowd.

[...]This is not to say that there are not new media artists who use the Internet space for largely political purposes. Think of the work of The Yes Men or even a straightforward comix artist like Tom Tomorrow. I use my forthcoming book META/DATA (MIT Press, 2007) to suggest alternative approaches to working in and with new media that will enable us to break out of the academic, scientific, and commercial molds that are debilitating the formerly refreshing and fruitful potential of this networked media art scene. Basically, my premise is that a great deal of the work being created in the new media art and theory fields is being wrapped up in an institutional straitjacket that is neutering our ability to have any real effect on the world we live in and that a great many new media artist-theorists are falling into this trap by willingly buying into the same forms of co-dependency that the predominantly academic-scientific communities have bought into long ago. In META/DATA, I don't address this issue dogmatically, wagging my finger at those who buy into the Big Lie, but by doing an end-run, mixing spontaneous theories with avant-pop fictions and self-effacing pseudo-academic essays that read more like poetry remixes than argumentative papers.

To my mind, this is all connected to one's political agenda. What does it say about your professional network, especially one so tied to the First Amendment like the artistic and academic communities are, when the huge symposiums and conferences that bring them all together, collectively ignore the big elephant in the room. And I mean ELEPHANT. The question is: How To Be A First Amendment Patriot while maintaining a healthy anarchic attitude toward organized politics in general? In the past, what made America unique among nations, was its practical implementation of the Bill of Rights. But now it looks as though we're giving it all up to those who would rather dictate a patriarchal Bill of Far Rights.

Except for the occasional sideshow, don't expect to find this as the primary point of discussion at any new media conferences or festivals.

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