15th Art Division Critiques
Everything becomes Media Arts today 2011 as turning point
How would you describe the nature of media arts?
The definition of media arts has become even fuzzier in recent years. When the Japan Media Arts Festival began 15 years ago, there were still relatively few works that employed digital technology. There seems to have been a tacit understanding that the media arts were defined by their use of digital technology. Today, however, there are hardly any works produced without the use of digital technology. Applying the original premise, almost any work of art would now fall under the media arts. At the same time, all web-based works are interactive and even photographs and movies become installations if exhibited that way; such concepts are insufficient to define the genre. Indeed, the very term "media arts" in current seems to invalidate genre categories. But fundamentally, "media" refers to the form through which a work is transmitted or recorded, not the form of the work itself. When understanding a work as an example of the media arts, you have to look not only at the form the work takes but also its sociocultural context.
What trends did you see among works submitted to the art division this year?
I think the key is the way media converts the information it receives as input into some other form as output. Until now, so-called the media arts have been too concerned with the surprising relationship between these inputs and outputs, like the conversion of material textures or of images into sound. Such conversions alone, however, no longer feel fresh. The question now is what these conversions signify. And no matter how unconventional a conversion one performs, in the end, the output will naturally overlap with existing genres such as film, music, painting, and drawing. In this year's screening there was a sense that quality has matured to the point where works can now compete on the basis of their content, not simply on technology, and hold their own against traditional genres. The use of technology is a matter of process, and perhaps the distinctiveness of that process does not seem appealing unless conceptualized as a criticism of conventional culture. Grand Prize winner Que voz feio (plain voices), using only paired images and soundtracks, succeeds in bringing to the surface a story of historical and spatial depth by highlighting a variety of differences and disjunctions. Focusing on informational differences that materialize through technology generates nothing but an imagined image, an assumption and the words "plain" accurately portrays the images that such disjunctions generate. In the contrast of such imagined images, this work presents a different image with poetic insight. The brooch at the core of the story is both a medium and a kind of poetic language. This unseen object, by its very nature, conveys to us the irreproducibility of individual experience.
There seem to have been a particularly large number of the Great East Japan Earthquake-related works in the art division.
I certainly think there has been a change in artistic sensibility since the disaster. There were a lot of high-minded works using conventional technology to overwhelm, startle, or expand people's senses through technical precision and scale, but this kind of expression no longer has much impact. The shock we felt when we saw film of the tsunami, for example, despite the images themselves not being so unlike those in any number of disaster movies, was completely different. But this is a difference that cannot be expressed. In the movies, no matter how terrifying something is, by the end it is always transformed into something enjoyable for the audience. Reality, though, is like watching a move that never ends: the image is never fully resolved, and the thoughts and feelings remain in an unsettled state. Perhaps this shakiness demands some other media to tie things together. Because the works selected this year do not emphasize impact, they may seem subdued, but their level of precision has risen in terms of depth, criticism, and contents. I think this year's body of work shows the difference made by powerful editorial techniques that capture the shakiness of a multilayered information environment. Of course, since the jury operates as a council, my perspective alone isn't enough to speak to all of the art division's award-winning works (laughs).