18th Art Division Critiques

Being Critically Conscious of Media

I myself do not specialize in contemporary art, rather I am primarily carrying out historical and theoretical research into visual media - landscapes, mourning images, etc. - in modernity, usually with a focus on photography. Interested as I am in such themes, my joining the Art Division of the Japan Media Arts Festival as judge has given me the opportunity to reconsider what "media" is.
This is a personal definition, but let us first consider media art as a generic art term, a field which has continued to be critically aware at all times of media itself. As a matter of fact, it is unthinkable that there could exist a work that does not use media/a medium in the sense that, as with most other cultural acts of creation, media are vehicles for conveying a message of some form from the sender to the receiver. The singular form of media (medium) is also surely well known for its alternative meaning of "psychic", a person who conveys the words of the deceased from the spirit world (in this sense, Media Arts also seems to be a redundant term).
Let us consider media a little more. Through linear perspective introduced in the Renaissance, the world has come to be viewed as if through the window of media. Those who draw a picture using perspective copy the world from a point of view isolated from the depicted subject. When the painting is complete, the viewer standing in front of the picture sees the world while sharing the same point of view of its producer. Thereupon, the surface of the painting becomes transparent. The invention of photography and film as a means of mechanical reproduction in the nineteenth century accelerated the transparency of media. For example, when a photo of a certain incident is put before a person, they will see the incident, and not the photographic medium itself.
20 years have already passed since a state in which this window opens onto a display of a computer connected to a network has come about. With the spread of recent mobile devices, this can no longer be called a "new" media and, like the air that surrounds us, it has become an environment itself.
In this way, through digital technology, many forms of media - images, moving images, text, and sound - have been unified as a numerical value within a computer.
On the other hand, it is modernist art that can be considered as a force that resisted the transparency of media. For example, the radical and constant pursuit of the specificity of the medium of painting - "the ineluctable flatness of the support", which is its physical condition - was intended to ensure autonomous art in modern times.★1 In answer to this, since the 1970s the cross-disciplinary use of a plurality of media has become routine. ★2
Although I provisionally tried to define media art as an "art that is critically conscious of media", in many cases we can assume without doubt that this refers to contemporary media technology. But here, without being bound by the specificity of the media, I wonder how it would be possible to put the critical consciousness of media up for discussion. In this year's screening, I feel that I have seen numerous methods for doing this. In particular, in this year's festival there was a prevalence of works that explored the interface between media technology and the human body. Even among these, FUKUSHIMA Satoshi's "patrinia yellow" for Clarinet and Computer, selected for the Excellence Award, portrayed, through the mixing of a performance by a living person and the real-time sound processing of the music by a computer, the rivalry between irreversible time and feedback - sampling as a form of memory.
With an interest in the history of media, what gained my attention were works that re-questioned media through an archaeological approach. For example, what GOSHIMA Kazuhiro's This may not be a movie attempts to do is to present an alternative system to the "frame", the smallest unit that has been with us since the invention of film, using existing equipment such as optical fibers and a twin-reflex camera to "map in two dimensions" what is three-dimensional. Here, the birth of the moving image as a media system can be seen re-created through a form of bricolage.
Today, when media technology has become our environment, as ubiquitous as the air around us, through being a judge in this festival I feel I have witnessed the possibilities together with the difficulties of facing this fact.

★1--Clement Greenberg, "Modernist Painting", in John O'Brian ed., Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, vol. 4, Chicago: U. of Chicago P., 1993, pp.85-93
★2--The Association for Studies of Culture and Representation, special feature in Hyosho No. 08 (April 2014) "The Whereabouts of the Postmedium Image" (pp.12-99).

SATOW Morihiro
Historian of Visual Culture and Professor, Kyoto Seika University
Born in 1966 in Kyoto Prefecture. After obtaining a master's degree from Columbia University in New York, he obtained a doctoral degree in Art Theory from Doshisha University. SATOW specializes in the fields of Art History and Visual Culture, and is the author of Topografi no Nihon kindai—Edo koroe, Yokohama shashin, geijutsu shashin (Topography and Japanese Modernity: Edo Doro-e, Yokohama Photography and Art Photography) [Seikyusha, 2011]. Recent articles include “The Picture-Language of Industrial Capitalism: Allan SEKULA and the Photographic Archive” in Parasophia: Kyoto International Festival of Contemporary Culture 2015 [Official Catalogue] [Kyoto International Festival of Contemporary Culture Organizing Committee, 2015] and “Kitch and Modernity: GONDA Yasunosuke and Naniwa-bushi as Popular Entertainment” in Taisho Imagery, vol. 11 [2016]. He was one of the Japanese translators of Geoffrey BATCHEN's Burning with Desire: The Conception of Photography [Seikyusha, 2010]. SATOW won a New Face Award at the 62nd Ministry of Education Awards for Fine Arts in the category “Art Critique.”