20th Art Division Critiques
Media Art / Media Arts: Looking to the Next 10 Years
With the selection of awardees behind us, I feel more than ever that "media art / media arts" is following the usual path all new cultural domains traverse in establishing themselves, having completed an initial period of "dissimilation" and "leaping away" from conventional ways of looking at things, and now proceeding through a longer process of transformation.Japan's media art has its roots in the Jikken Kobo (Experimental Workshop) and other avant-garde art groups of the postwar period and has been called many things: cybernetic art, computer art, electronic art, art and technology, hi-tech art, and, in the 1990s, intermedia or multimedia. My own first exposure to this world came at Expo '70 in Osaka, when I had barely reached the age of discretion, and it is now almost three decades since I became, near the end of the 1980s, a curator at Japan's first public museum to engage with this domain, the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography (now the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum). I consider it my tremendous good fortune that, through the many media art exhibitions the museum mounted or had a role in, including the Japan Media Arts Festival, I was given a front row seat at the rise of this cultural domain from countercultural misfit to a dynamic, flourishing, fully accepted member of society.At the end of the last century, we debated the future of "media art as present perfect."★1 In the past ten years the genre has finally emerged from promoting itself as "the newest art using the newest technology," and has sought to gain recognition within more conventional modern art frameworks as well. The significant artistic questions raised by and through the award winners of this festival over the years--"interactivity," in which the work is never fully completed; the ambiguous border between entertainment and art; the legitimacy of crowd creation; the introduction of technological approaches and different value systems; a shedding of conventional "modern art" standards of evaluation--are gradually receding into the past. I suppose the constant mutations will continue for the next decade as well in a process of transformation that gropes its way between accession and innovation.Meanwhile, Japanese media art has not only engaged in a constant give-and-take of influences with media art from abroad, but creators' "conceptions" have connected up with the "art" of scientists and engineers to become a fountainhead of inspiration.★2 Underlying this are universal currents of creativity not limited by the sort of distinctively Japanese artistic leanings that developed in our Galapagos-like isolation, such as a uniquely Japanese understanding of space that doesn't depend on Western laws of perspective, as in tatebanko (dioramas) and utsushie (magic-lantern pictures); a way of looking at light and shadow that contemplates life and death; or an infatuation with precision instruments and small things. In all, it's clear that media art is not simply art in which electronic technologies are used as the medium. Lest we forget this, the jury chose this time to honor Ralf BAECKER's Interface I, which is actualized as an intricate analog structure; Ori ELISAR's The Living Language Project, which uses bacteria as its expressive medium; and Nina KURTELA's The Wall, which captures gallery walls as photographic subjects, right alongside the "Alter" Production Team's Alter, an AI work moving autonomously in endless motion. As manifested in these selections, the "vehicle" of expression is not limited to digital technology.It remains unclear when the singularity in the narrow sense will arrive, but in the broader sense of singularity as uniqueness, I expect it to visit media art many times in the coming years. For media art has always seen ever-changing technology and science as vehicles for expanding the domain of art. Since the mid-1990s technologists have entered the territory, choosing media art as a means to externalize ideas rooted in a literacy and analysis different from those in the domain of art. For the next ten years, the debates and creative activity will continue with those who have their pivot foot outside the world of art. In the early 1980s, it was in college that we were taught programming as "a means of externalizing ideas," but today's children will learn it as part of their compulsory education. This genre is about to advance to the next stage, which art criticism and those connected with conventional art have been unable to verbalize or achieve. All efforts to transcend a domain are a form of art. I look forward eagerly to the appearance of works and talents that boldly try out new perspectives.
Annotations★1─"What's Next for Media Art: A Discussion between NAKAYA Hide and KUSAHARA Machiko moderated by MORIYAMA Tomoe," in MORIYAMA Tomoe, ed., Intermedia: Thinking about the Interrelation of Media and Art, Vol. 2: Praxis, Waseda University Global Information and Telecommunication Studies Media Design Lab, 2003.★2─Mauro ARRIGHI, Japanese Spell in Electronic Art (Dorothée KING, ed.; forewords by Christa SOMMERER and Laurent MIGNONNEAU), CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2011.