New Media, Materiality, and the Art World
The new media is an avant garde of contemporary art. Not only is it succeeding to become a channel of aesthetical exploration that produces various revolutionary achievements, it is also a concrete manifestation of the contemporary art critical attitude. As an avant garde, the new media breaks the conventional, singular, exclusive, static, esoteric, meta-narrative, and autonomy values and principles of modern art. It dismantles the boundaries of objects and materials that previously were the prerequisites for any art object to drive the achievement of aesthetic discovery in the furthest points. The varieties of iterations and other possibilities in approaching art were born from this spirit. Art can then manifest as ideas, practiced through the body, embedded in interaction, based on time, becomes a transitoriness, abstracted as binary codes, et cetera. The appreciation patterns that were static and distant are then handled, both by actively engaging the audience and by expanding the appreciation funnel through virtual mediation or by direct presentation in the public space. In realizing the vision of art's partisanship in the community too, it is the most potential candidates to demonstrate the problems of the sophisticated civilization that is thoroughly integrated with technology.
Apart from the various potentials mentioned above, the new media is still faces many obstacles from being fully able to operate and circulated in the society. As an art form, it will clash with the contemporary art paradoxical attitude that still uses the infrastructure of modern art along with its value and reference code. Paradoxical because the engagement effort still operates in an exclusive and esoteric scope, if not limited in certain community and class. Even in the context of conventional value references, contemporary art still relies on institutional paradigms which see art as an object with concrete materiality. The revolutionary and critical vision brought by the new media is then trapped in the inheritance of the paradigm.
Before we further discuss the clash between values and principles above, we could question the importance of the new media operations base suitability on the contemporary art infrastructure. Why would the new media still be needed in the art world if it could operate and functions to materialize its vision in the artistic field and other industries outside the contemporary art? Moreover, by considering the potential of patronage that could be given by other disciplines and industries outside contemporary art, such as academic institutions and popular culture. Perhaps, this patronage scheme actually gave birth to innovative aesthetic findings and better targeted art utilities. This assumption is certainly dilemmatic. The new media practice, however, needs to be legitimized as artworks and mediated into the art world. By operating within the field, something can have its cultural values explored, its knowledge extracted, and its critical potential delivered. Various initiatives to accommodate and contain the new media has only just begun, and we are currently in the midst of the adjustment phase.
Back to the case of clash between value and paradigms, the main obstacles often discussed are related to the handling of the new media and its characteristics tendencies of becoming immaterial. The system of art artefacts management still in development from classical museology has since faces difficulties to keep up with the swift development of the new media, which often investigates the materiality within itself. In classic museology, the collection management is built on the concreteness of an artefact or object material. Various aspects of art handling are then being built around it. The principle then places art as a sacred object: guarded, maintained, and presented concretely through material. This paradigm is then adapted and referenced by other agencies with their own agendas, one of them being commodification.
The characteristics of new media that has the potential to become immaterial, or art dematerialization as some people call it, certainly cannot immediately follow the varieties of parameters and systems built by the convention of classic museology.
To place new media in to the frame becomes very challenging and causes many questions How can one determine the originality of a digital object composed of binary code that might be duplicated indefinitely? Is it necessary to conserve the ‘digital objects’ that are inherently eternal? How can an event or body movement be made static? How can transitoriness be frozen?
This list of questions expands when we observe the various problems in the context of presentation and mediation: How do you re-present an event experience and temporality? Can documentations immediately present it in its entirety? How can one present the experience of ‘interconnectedness’ through an interface? Does an instrument can be fully honest in representing realities? What ways should be taken in building a digital interface?
Although problematic, the discourse of dematerialization of art actually open up many opportunities and contributes to the development of contemporary art aesthetics paradigm. It may not yet be contained thoroughly yet its substantial idea provides a significant discursive impact. The indications could be found in the current activities of contemporary art. First, is the rise of conceptual awareness and intellectual aura as one of the pillars of artistic integrity in the process of artwork creation. In the discourse of dematerialization of art, the process and concept becomes very significant that materiality no longer be the end and goal of artworks, art does not necessarily need to be present as an object. Although conceptual art does not become the main aesthetic modus of contemporary art, intellectual aura and conceptual coherence of an artist aesthetic statement that is now becomes a coveted quality, can be seen as an indication. Other part of the conceptual awareness that also becomes significant is the proper choice of medium with the proposed concept. Different with modern paradigm where the medium by convention is an exclusive means which in itself will discuss art, within the practice of contemporary art the medium is a container of aesthetic and symbolic expressions to discuss and represent other things. The appropriateness of representations then is also determined by the choice of medium, because specific medium contains a particular quality that corresponds to specific content.
The position of dematerialization of art discourse to the problematic contemporary art is in one side contributes to the aesthetic discourses, and on the other side could not entirely be contained in the infrastructure. It is essentially will always be debated upon and experience development. Gradually, a sort of process of art rematerialization which puts art back into the material world, in a broader scope and boundaries. Two rejuvenation and recontextualization of ideas that could be stated are hypermateriality and neomateriality.
The phenomenon dismisses or - at least critically - observes how materiality is something required by art representation, thus the condition of immateriality is impossible to achieve. This new concept of materiality sees the multiplication between the civilization with technology and digital reality could gives birth to new possibilities in perceiving and responding to material. In our current reality, ‘material’ can be presented no in physical substance. For it to be perceived, something needs to become or at least shows the characteristic of being material. Material can manifest as energy and its development as information. Through the means of a device, reality can then be transformed and abstracted in such a way and represented in the form of other materiality. Aside from this process of being, the concept of new materiality is also trying placing the subject in such materiality conditions, demonstrating how information technology can reflect itself on the environment and civilization, shows how it is the 'residue' of digital process, and finally positions how the 'digital' faces the human.
The new materiality perspective is not directly applicable as a reference for adjusting the field in breaking up polemics, problems, and the dilemma faced by new media. At least, this idea opens up a gap to be worked on as a reference and basis for building policy patterns in accommodating it. Not only in the context of handling works, the operation of art infrastructure in the community can actually take advantage of this concept. New materiality expands the possibilities of mediation and distribution of contemporary art by presenting new experiences in appreciating art so that the extraction of knowledge contained in it can take place proportionally, however utopian and idealistic these expectations are.
About the Exhibition
It is worthy to note that to explain the discursive positioning and offers of the exhibition, the essay explains the problems faced by new media in a significant weight. This is felt as necessary to review by the author due to the layers of problems, and the background of the exhibition is based on the sociological problems instead of a motivation to declare an aesthetic manifestation. So how then does Matter Matters respond to the problem?
This exhibition attempts to read the tendencies of new media within a specific boundary: paradigm of market and art commodification. This boundary is deemed as sufficient to have an urgency of considering a significant market position in supporting the activities of national contemporary art activities, and the paradigm of material concreteness that it still upholds as important. The question that will be answered is: what specific character of new media that can still be accepted in such a paradigm? The attempt to answer this is by exhibiting works of artists considered as consistent in being involved within the market activities, which then expanded by involving artworks from the collection of several collectors. Aliansyah Caniago, Bandu Darmawan, Eldwin Pradipta, Fluxcup, M. Akbar, and Ricky Janitra are then put up together with the works of Aki Sasamoto, Erika Ernawan, Exonemo, Kao Chung-Li, and Ming Wong, which are contribution of the collectors.
There are several reading points which should be elaborated from the successfully collected works. From the aesthetic aspect, the medium of installation, video art, and performance seems to be prominently used. The three are mediums with significant historical value and has been a quite common aesthetic mode of new media, that a convention have begun to be formulated. The presence of such convention is an indication of legitimation of the three as an art medium gradually accepted in the art world. Whether we realize it or not, the convention also arbitrates the materiality issues of the three and became prevalently circulated in the fine art world activities. Apart from convention, the dematerialization issues are also arbitrated by the presence of concrete material. The strategy of installation handles this by directly presenting a concrete object or device that is handled as an inherent part of the artwork. For art performance, the presence of material seems to be utilized to capture and contain the characteristics of art performance that in essence involves time, space, and body simultaneously. The artefacts of art performance then become a trace of transitoriness, the autonomy of the artist’s body, and the singularity of space. Aside of leaning toward convention, video materiality can also be justified by leaning toward the concept of hypermateriality, which sees the materiality potentials of energy instead of always being bound to physical substance.
Through this concept, the position of light which is significant in videos, can be explored as a modality of appreciation and an anchor of materiality. If this perspective is accepted, the position of art performance video can also be observed as being material.
The other reading point worth to be elaborated is the tendency of discussion of problems that have not yet been fully operated in the complex of cultural-technology-humanity. The artworks presented in this exhibition indeed shows a broad variety of issues but tends to still highlights the cultural-humanity axis such as the issues of identity, social polemics, art world problems, et cetera. There is even an artwork that exclusively highlights the aesthetic quality without having the pretense of responding to other issues. New media actually opens opportunities for discussion on the position of technology in civilization and how it changes our current cultural-humanity landscape. This can be realized by, for instance utilization of networked technology, questioned the virtual reality, data-driven, etc. Utilization of these aspects can actually optimized the new media aesthetic exploration in a more revolutionary level.
The discussion above relates to the last reading point that this exhibition is expressing, which is about the digital elements of new media that is yet to be an issue of priority. The role of digital technology in the presented works can be said as still limited to practical handling as tools and instruments, not as a philosophical foundation for the establishment of the aesthetic idea. Indication of this can be observed from the presence of digital and analog technology in the presented works, whether in autonomy, juxtaposed, or together at once, seems to be not an issue. Whereas, in the recent discussion on new media digital element of the artwork is a fundamental character and becomes a main point of identification. Awareness of this issue it is certainly important to consider our daily reality and aspects of culture today, which is a subject of digital quantification and abstraction. Behavior and actions of human, which is essentially a biological entity can even be represented numerically and ‘simplified’ as data. The new media actually has the potentials and is the appropriate candidate to discuss the polemics of culture and humanity that has been the subject of algorithmic manipulation and digitization.
Through a short survey explained at the above, material concreteness seems to still be an important and relevant thing in the exploration of new media. Sociologically, material concreteness is still a seemingly mandatory characteristic for an artwork to be circulated in the art world activities. The presence of convention built institutionally has gradually arbitrates the pseudo-materiality of new media, to be contained afterwards.
In terms of discourse itself, the material is assessed as being able to facilitate art perception if not as a precondition of manifestation, and not always have to manifest as a physical substance. Reviewing a range of views, tendencies, and phenomenon mentioned previously, it can be summarized that material, however, remains important.
The above facts open hope for the development for new media works circulation in the market activities. This achievement has to be strived for from various sides. Even though contemporary art seems so liquid and anti-conventions, the presence of institutional agreement can actually offer an orientation of reading and understanding. Convention here should not be perceived as something that strictly binds. No matter how utopian it sounds, a convention that does not constrain but dynamically capable to adapt with cultural advancement is something worth the effort.
The presence of a comprehensive history also plays a role in building understanding. While convention offers orientation, history offers reflection and references that eventually can become the base of legitimacy. Finally, convention as a parameter and history as a reflection then serves as a reference for market activities to create healthy and productive art commodification for the development of art.
The importance of materiality in art management could be observed in the work principles of a museum, such as: restoration that attempts to return the quality of the artefact in its most prime condition, conservation that handles and maintains the artefact materiality to keep it eternal, and the presentation that is kept sterile in the day-to-day space to enable its pure presence without intervention.
One of the figures who often discusses dematerialization of art is Lucy Lippard.
In The Dematerialization of Art (1968), she observed the tendency of art exploration that emphasizes on ideas and art process instead of the aesthetics (in its traditional definition). She observed the post-aesthetic symptoms (in the words of Joseph Schillinger, 1948), which present the possibilities of ‘disintegration of art’ where ideas can be fully abstracted and be freed from the material world. The idea of dematerialization of art itself was triggered by and discusses about conceptual art, but It is often referred to in the discussions of new media in the later periods.
This phrase is a true attempt to interpret the phrase of ‘interfacing the digital’ that becomes the title and theme of Steve Dietz’s discussion in his work (2007). Dietz often discussed about the way new media often uses technology and inseparable from the digital process demanding negotiations from agencies of the art world. The choice of term of interface here is based on the difference of ‘language’ between linguistic-based human and the binary code based digital world. Interface then becomes an instrument that is able to interpret digital codes in a language that can be perceived and understood by human.
The idea of hypermateriality was stated by Bernard Steigler (2009) who saw material condition as not always have to be present as physical substance, but it can manifest as energy (and eventually as information). In this perspective, nearly everything can be abstracted and transformed through digital codification and becomes a subject of algorithmic manipulations facilitated by digital device. This perspective perceives that energy and information are itself have a form and are material, that separating both would be impossible.
Christine Paul proposed the idea of neomateriality (2015) to convey the latest condition of new media materiality. Paul attempted to complement Steigler’s idea in hypermateriality, which he thought only highlights the process of being of cutting-edge material, and how human respond to it. He complemented this by involving aspects of human affection and cognition, as well as human position in the interactive flow. Neo-materiality then attempted to explain materiality that covers digital technology network and processes and reflects back these data on human.
In the context of the founding of the idea of neomateriality, the development of artificial intelligence that was quite dominant at the time, enables a postulation that imagines engines as entities with conscience (sentient being). By becoming conscious, AI must also be able to see, observe, and reflects on human upon their ‘self’ and reality.
Market appreciation toward the new media only happened in mid 2000s, despite the critical phenomenon of new media can be tracked back in the 1970s, especially in the New Art Movement. Prior to that, the new media required patronage from others such as grassroot initiatives, art collectives, or make use of community service scheme carried out by social agencies. In the case of Indonesia, the new media phenomenon can be said as based on the spirit of rebellion toward ‘official’ art discourses, which was considered as stagnant. The fundamental basic is also different to dematerialization of art, instead of highlighting the significance of concept, it is motivated by a spirit of aesthetic delivery from the sociological confinement.
This reading should not be interpreted in a strict dichotomy. Several artworks are still found to indicates an intersections and some went beyond these three limits. Even though risky, the categorization is done to provide and orientation of understanding.
In a very simple explanation, quantum physics sees light as a container that is able to hold energy (carrier of energy) despite not having a mass. In this context the light is then called the elementary particle. The term ‘particle’ here might seem paradoxical as particles would commonly have a mass. Yet, this condition is possible because the label of particle could be pinned on ‘object’ that might possess a number of chemical or physical traits, such as volume, mass, and density. It is not necessary to possess all three traits to be called a particle.
By modality of appreciation, this essay means to demonstrate how a video artwork needs to show a character of materiality (perceivable by the human senses) to be appreciate, this function is then done through light, both by emission and projection.
The significance of digital aspect in new media artwork can be traced in the ideas of several figures and proponents of new media such as Lev Manovich (2001), Steve Dietz (2007), Christine Paul (2009 & 2015), and Charlie Gere (in Paul, 2009