19th Art Division Critiques

The Imaginative Power of Old Media

The evolution of media technology knows no bounds. Only a decade ago, it was unthinkable that people would be walking on streets with a handheld computer, equipped with a communication function (i.e., a smartphone), in their hands. Although humans have not changed, the media environment is constantly changing.
But this is not to say that the Award-winning Works in the Festival's Art Division were evaluated based on their use of the latest media. In fact, most of the works made use of technology that has existed for a long time. For example, The sound of empty space, winner of an Excellence Award, makes us aware of a seemingly empty space by combining ordinary materials, such as mics, speaker cones, and motors, in a kind of bricolage.
As for two works that received New Face Awards, Gill & Gill and Communication with the Future - The Petroglyphomat, both deal in part with the subject of "stone", a material and medium that people have used since ancient times. Since the dawn of human civilization, stone was used to inscribe images and text. However, stone is hard, so it required a great deal of effort and skill to carve lines into it. When someone carved written characters in stone, they sensed - and conversed - with the physical resistance of the material in their hands. In other words, stone was not merely a medium that passively accepted information, it actively exerted an influence on people. Thus, the relationship between people and the material was not unilateral, it was interactive. This perspective, in which a material or technique exerts an influence on people as an agent, has recently appeared in various social and cultural theories.
As time passed, materials that were easier for people to process and handle were adopted as media. After clay tablets, tortoise carapaces, and the invention of paper, digital media emerged at the end of the 20th Century. In the contemporary era, the physicality of media has become increasingly diluted, but it has not disappeared entirely.
The hardware, at least, still exists before our eyes.
In 50 . Shades of Grey, which was chosen as the Grand Prize winner, source codes based on six programming languages are framed and displayed. The act of calculation, performed in the heart of the hardware, is not visible to the naked eye and remains incomprehensible to the layperson. All we can see are the images and texts on a display, and all of these things are connected by a programming language. Recalling SAITO Tamaki's idea that the images, programming, and machinery in computer animation correspond to Jacques LACAN's theory of the imaginary, the symbolic, and the real★1, we can see the lines of characters on the display as symbols of digital media or subconscious. It is also possible to interpret this work, which is a kind of psychoanalysis of digital images, as a visualization of the interactive relationship between technology and people in the way that it overlaps with the artist's life.
Media art dates to the 1960s, so 50 years have already passed since it first emerged. 50 . Shades of Grey is a work that takes this history as its subject. To younger artists, obsolete media technology is a source of novel ideas. In 1995, the sci-fi writer Bruce STERLING proposed "The Dead Media Project". STERLING set out to compile a "media book of the dead" in order to document a variety of obsolete media, including pre-digital technology such as the phenakistiscope. In his words; "What we need is a somber, thoughtful, thorough, hype-free, even lugubrious book that honors the dead and resuscitates the spiritual ancestors of today's mediated frenzy".★2 ASANO Noriyo comments that "thinking about the reasons for the demise of a given dead media, inspires us to imagine 'possible futures' that might have occurred if they had survived".★3 The trend toward retrospection among this year's winners perhaps reveals an aspiration to this type of sci-fi imagination.

★1─ SAITO Tamaki, Ikinobiru tame no Lacan (Lacan for Survival), Chikuma Bunko, 2012.

★2─ Bruce STERLING, "The Dead Media Project: A Modest Proposal and a Public Appeal", The Dead Media Project, deadmedia.org/ modest-proposal.html (accessed January 15, 2016).

★3─ ASANO Noriyo, "Design Fiction and Dead Media", Ékrits, June 8, 2015. ekrits.jp/2015/06/1659 (accessed January 15, 2016).

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.”