Time and Motion – Materialism and New Media

 

Kinetica 2014 includes some of the key historic exponents of Kinetic art, including Cle du Soleil by Jean Tinguely. Born in 1925, his kinetic sculptures made comment on life, death and the universe during a period of over production. Incorporating a range of homespun kinetic technologies, his often auto-destructive works, the antithesis of machine efficiency, spoke with the voice of

Dadaism.

 

In 2014 are there places left for the anarchic, irrational and questioning ? Art, innovation, digital, app design and maker culture, are all assimilated and productised as part and parcel of a ‘one-stop’ capitalist system. This the same system is creator, consumer and art market, a market, adept in adapting and forming trends, which acts as  symbol for new forms of cognition, perception of matter, material and value, mimicking our capacity to swallow all. 

 

In Being Digital, Negraponte, signalled in 1994 many aspects of digital culture, personalisation and the materiality of digital significant predictions for data culture and trade. With our ability to sense and measure smaller and increasingly fleeting particles, our relationship with technology is complicit, our understanding of material, physical place, time and cultural identity is acute, but not new. ‘Innovation’ has harnessed algorithms to automate and accelerate nearly every function of our lives, along with the construction of a diffused virtual info-tainment complex, across time and space.

 

Whilst seeking to challenge the instrumentalisation of new media for purely economic regeneration and the assimilation of 'innovation' into scientific language, the efficiencies and democratising power of technology are compelling. Experiment and collective experience are neither new, or the sole terrain of the arts.After the Second World War, the remenants of an industrial economy and a deep belief in technology as a solution, combined with imagination and a surplus of the leftover machines of fighting. Science and technology entered hobbyism: wireless, model aircraft combined with the essential past time of small scale construction, learned from a culture of wartime invention. Personally, I still feel these effects: my childhood memory of a father, very interested in

science and technology, tinkering in his shed. Fixing, connecting and converting devices, for non-artistic purposes; the conversion of war-time habits, necessities and activities of an industrial age, into a leisure industry and a precursor to our current maker culture.

 

Nam Jun Paik, born in 1932, is considered to be the first video artist and, although the godfather of new media, was a member of Fluxus. His own father, a textile mill owner would probably have understood trade and chemistry. Nam Jun Paik experimented with video synthesizers, performance and television, bringing together new sets of knowledge

and technologies. His artwork not only referenced the new televisual era through the sculptural and kinetic values of the TV set, but also exploited the potential of the globalized network itself.

 

In Good Morning, Mr. Orwell (1984), Paik a natural collaborator and improviser connected artists of different disciplines together, including John Cage and Charlotte Moorman, through video transmission networks across the globe. These networked video performances (irreverent and haptic like much of his sculptural work) involved improvisation in different spaces, creating a perverse and durational multi-cast live broadcast, which at once interfered with and challenged mainstream media. Paik is also attributed with being the first adopter of the term, Information Super Highway, predicting global communications, internationalism and the Internet. Similarly prescient, William Gibson's archetypal cyberpunk novel, Neuromancer, written in 1984 (now thirty years old), excited our minds, setting out ideas of the networked matrix and introducing the term ‘cyberspace’. The tension, which both Paik and Gibson dealt with – that between a modern virtual utopianism and dystopian science fiction - anticipated something of our current fractured condition. A predictive culture of filtering, measuring, tagging, tracking and monitoring has taken over, and with it comes an interchange or confusion between agents; human or otherwise. In the early nineties, the emergence of new media art, promised a democratised exchange of ideas, stories and independent networks, not only viewing technology as a carrier, but as the material itself. Frequency Clock, 1998-2004 by Radio Qualia (Honor Harger and Adam Hyde) a prime example of an early digital work which was as much aconduit for information as an art object.

 

Genuine fascination to learn, hack and build telecommunications, video, computing, and cybernetic technologies would lead artists to create new conduits and artworks that involved direct interaction and were more kinetic in nature. Hobbyists and artists can now experiment with Drone technology, both as fascinating devices but more critically within a socio-political context. David Rokeby, made cybernetic sculptures performing

and appropriating surveillance technologies, Border Control, 1995, one example of sophisticated kinetic work, addressing privacy, security and automation.

 

We are watching and bombing ourselves. Trevor Paglen and James Bridle are notable artists who work across mediums, very seriously de-constructing continuing the agendas of surveillance, privacy and power. Electro-mechanical or computational technologies seem best developed in preparation for war, (after all we owe the military the Internet)

and like contemporary art, modernist kinetic art denies and turns upon the assumption of progress through a more absurd and irrational stance.

 

The physicality of much of the work characterised in the Kinetica setting comes from artists with a more sculptural, playful and critical need to make the invisible, visible, beyond the digital aesthetic, expressing our deep need for material engagement and the tangible. Rather than making things seamless, these artists prefer to crudely deconstruct with humour, fuelled by a need to make physically manifest the un-seeable. Thought or ideas rarely translates with pure elegance into material. 3d printers are slow and pretty clunky, Minecraft blocky. As we wrestle to quickly adapt to multiple digital identities and environments, does our desire for the physical grow stronger? It is no longer just about the digital, but how it is part of a wider physical and social whole. There is a movement of ' The new materialism', which might be seen as a rejection and revolt, but maybe should be seen as something like 'Digital Materialism'. This at first sounds like an oxymoron, but is in fact a subtle role of the digital in the mediation of, giving it some of the strange properties of the digital.

 

There are many current fragments of this meme such as tangible interaction, distributed cognition and smart cities. “Like McLuhan says, we are antenna for changing society. But not only antenna - we also have output capacity, capacity to humanize technology. My job is to see how establishment is working and to look for little holes where I can get

my fingers in and tear away walls. And also try not to get too corrupt.” Nam June Paik

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The work of Art can be thought of as a fiction; yet an obscurified and predictive form, one that balances upon the cusp of reality. The artist, by their own criteria, examines an existing subject and passes judgement upon how this should be re-formed; on how things ought to be. This outcome is imagined and fictitious, but attains a perceived significance

and potential for prescience through the reverence with which we have come to behold the work of Art. The role that the artist fulfils, of observing the world and interrogating its makeup, presents an opportunity to demonstrate the possibility of change; at the edge, where the infinite potentiality of the fictional bleeds into actuality. With a fictional

ontology, art is not burdened. Sam Meech’s Punchcard Economy, an extension of his work for FACT’s exhibition, Time and Motion, Redefining Working Life, reinterprets the industrial heritage of North West England’s textile industry, whilst documenting the current experience of the freelance creative. The final work is produced on a hacked domestic knitting machine using a combination of digital imaging tools and traditional

punchcard systems. It is a product of its own making displaying irony and wit. In contrast to the scientist, artists and designers are allowed to disrupt dominant narratives, (Well at least in more liberal countries). They are innovative thinkers and problem solvers and more importantly they create new realities or narratives. The artist is free to re-make the world as they see fit, without need of permission, justification or thought for consequences. Proposition and provocation are unbounded from the fear of risk or moral accountability, safely distanced from one another by the gap between Art and life.

 

The world of the artist’s own imagining permits an endless multiplicity of ideas to be explored without the constraints of pragmatism or rationality. However these can still attain a real-world significance through our elevated conception of Art as both object and process. As Colin Guillemet puts it when I requested the image of his work TheWorld“I should perhaps mention that I am slightly bemused by how this work seemed to have taken on a certain relevance to people concerned with new media, technology, internet etc. My concerns are actually grounded in sculpture, i.e. what happens when materials/objects are used as signs and what kind of obedience they have to one another; as well as the sort of slapstick situations one gets when one acknowledges that information, however ethereal/ flippant /or cloud-like, actually has a real concrete footprint somewhere, that may come back to embarrass it.”It is this continuing belief in art as a fictive realm, rather than as existing in service to ‘progress’, that has enabled art to push our boundaries, conceptually, politically and intellectually. The license, with which we give artists, both expresses societies reflexive maturity, and allows increasingly ephemeral objects to gain value in our minds and markets.

 

 

Mike Stubbs

 

Thanks to Amy Jones, David Ogle, Lesley Taker, and Mark Wright