This is an interview with artists Gretta Louw, Antonio Roberts & Annie Abrahams. This material is to be included in the last chapter of my PhD, called, Unlocking Proprietorial Art Systems.
Marc Garrett: There has always been a feeling that there is a divide between media arts culture and the already established, traditional art systems. If you think this has been true what do you think has created this divide?
Gretta Louw: I think one of the biggest issues is the commercialism of the traditional art systems vs the anti-commercialism of a lot of media art. Perhaps another aspect of the same issue is the lack of viable commercial options for media artists to pursue.
I do think another issue is related less to the art side of things but the media aspect; the Internet has developed according to a Freemium sort of model; people expect everything to be free online, and I have long wondered whether this leads to a perceived degradation of the importance of online culture. It is seen as more throwaway than traditional art forms. I wonder whether this springs more out of the attitude that has developed towards the digital as something that is not really ‘real’, that is ephemeral, and easily accessible/disposable.
Antonio Roberts: Media Arts/New Media/Digital Art (or whatever you want to call it) goes against a lot of what traditional art systems represent. In Media Arts ownership over an idea is often shared amongst a group of people, importance is rated on contributitions to a community or cause over charisma, and, quite often, the creative output in media arts is not a physical object which can be owned, traded or sold.
All of this is scary, especially considering the long history of traditional art systems, so I can see why there would be a reluctance to adopt new practices.
Annie Abrahams: I see a lot of different reasons : Media arts culture is based on the idea that new media bring about a new art domain. It has been preoccupied with and fascinated by the means, the technology and its possibilities and not so much with what kind of specific aesthetic experience that brought about. So media arts culture never got grounded very well as art. Partly because art historians and critics didn’t know how to or want to look at it, but also because there was and is aesthetic disdain by a lot of media art practitioners.
The art world is a conservative world that doesn’t let others in easily, than professionals. A way to judge that professionalism is by a diploma of an art school. Art school were very late to introduce media art in their curricula, mostly because traditional teachers didn’t know anything about it and couldn’t judge it. So this was self-enforcing the not crossing over of the fields.
The art world is in general solipsistic, not concerned with collaboration and exchange. There lives the culture of the individualistic genius. In Media arts you have to be collaborative and you have to exchange – so the “culture” in both domains are different. Media art is closer to science in that respect.
And the last thing I thought of : The art world needs sellable objects, which either we don’t make, or can’t guarantee to stay “alive”. There is certainly more to say about this. Curators and exhibition makers also played a big role by till, maybe until recently, putting together works based on technological and media criteria and not or hardly ever by treating a subject while using media and traditional art in one show. Moreover on festivals works used to be presented in dark, small, often ugly spaces. There was little attention for showing the aesthetic qualities at it’s best.
MG: If you feel and or think it has changed for the better – how and why, and to what degree?
GL: I think media art over the last decades has made HUGE contributions to the broader arts community. A lot of the politically and socially engaged art that we are seeing today across all mediums has been, I think, inspired to some degree by media arts practices that have demonstrated how art can be more participatory, egalitarian, and directly engaged in social justice movements.
That being said, I am also seeing more of a movement towards a commercialisation and coopting of media art practices by the existing corporate and capitalist interests. This is the imperviousness of the capitalist system; it seemingly always finds a way to coopt resistance into the system (for example the way that organic food movements are now used by massive, anti-environmental companies like McDonalds to sell more product; buy an organic burger and a salad from Maccas!). I am personally losing some faith in the use of digital tech as a medium through which to critique the progress-over-everything neo-liberal narrative of capital-T Tech.
AR: I do not think it is changed for the better. In my view, Media Arts is trying to gain more relevance by mimicking traditional systems. For example, media arts biennales, prizes and rankings, using technology to create false scarcity. It does mean we, as media artists, are gaining more acceptance into the traditional systems, but these systems are flawed from the outset, so it’s not necessarily a winning situation.
AA: Since the 60s and the last century – not much. Although there are more known artists using technology (it is teached and included in curricula now). And maybe yes, the media art system became more powerfull, less underground, alternative (in the 90ties a lot of artist came to the internet in order to avoid the traditional art world) or almost unvisible because practiced in one “obscure” science department somewhere. Nowadays there is a lot of money and manipulation going on through technology based compagnies and governemental institutions – there is money in media art. Artists somehow facilitating the introduction of technology to the layman and they start to be used for that.
MG: My study explores aspects of proprietorial systems. If you generally agree on the premise of where I am coming from. What areas in your practice do you feel this needs to change?
GL: As I mentioned above, I am beginning to turn away from a lot of computer/software mediated approaches to making my work. I want to use more heritage techniques, slower methodologies, and things that are outside of the all-encompassing tech obsession.
AR: Related to my previous answer, I think in order to change we need to have a shift away from gaining importance and building a better reputation by associating yourself with large, traditional institutions. This also extends to giving any one large body, whether they be Indie/DIY or corporate, dominance over our practices.
So, questioning whether an artwork is good, because it is judged to be good it has been exhibited at [insert large institution].
MG: Also, if you know of examples you feel where proprietorial systems are being challenged positively (or negatively). let me know.
GL: Well, I think our app project Mirawarri from last year does this to a certain extent; it is about providing fun/accessible/pop-y digital culture tools that our outside of the closed North American system of platforms like Snapchat and Instagram filters. It presents a possibility to engage with digital culture through a completely different cultural lens. Examples of how it’s being used: https://www.instagram.com/mirawarri/
Also I’m working on a project at the moment with Owen Mundy and Joelle Dietrick called Tally, which is a browser extension in the form of a game that basically educates players, in a fun, gamified way, about how and when their online activities are being tracked in the background for marketing purposes.
AR: However, new technologies such as the more recent iterations of VR are largely owned by private corporations. Whilst these technologies are accessible int terms of how they can be used and developed on/with, there is the danger that by giving them so much power and investing so heavily in their way of doing VR/AR we will allow them to dominate our workflows and dictate how, what, where, and when we create.