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on contemporary art in a digital world « Previous | |Next »
January 28, 2013

Claire Bishop, in Digital Divide: Contemporary Art and New Media in Art Forum (September 2012), says that she has a sense that:

The appearance and content of contemporary art have been curiously unresponsive to the total upheaval in our labor and leisure inaugurated by the digital revolution? While many artists use digital technology, how many really confront the question of what it means to think, see, and filter affect through the digital? How many thematize this, or reflect deeply on how we experience, and are altered by, the digitization of our existence?

Her answer is that:
The most prevalent trends in contemporary art since the ’90s seem united in their apparent eschewal of the digital and the virtual. Performance art, social practice, assemblage-based sculpture, painting on canvas, the “archival impulse,” analog film, and the fascination with modernist design and architecture: At first glance, none of these formats appear to have anything to do with digital media, and when they are discussed, it is typically in relation to previous artistic practices across the twentieth century.² But when we examine these dominant forms of contemporary art more closely, their operational logic and systems of spectatorship prove intimately connected to the technological revolution we are undergoing.

She refers to the few names from a long roll call of artists attracted to the materiality of predigital film and photography. Analog film seems fashionable, rather than cutting against the grain.

She says that:

My point is that mainstream contemporary art simultaneously disavows and depends on the digital revolution, even—especially—when this art declines to speak overtly about the conditions of living in and through new media. But why is contemporary art so reluctant to describe our experience of digitized life? ....Is there a sense of fear underlying visual art’s disavowal of new media? Faced with the infinite multiplicity of digital files, the uniqueness of the art object needs to be reasserted in the face of its infinite, uncontrollable dissemination via Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, etc.

In actuality, Bishop says, visual art’s assault on originality only ever goes so far: It is always underpinned by a respect for intellectual property and carefully assigned authorship (Warhol and Levine are hardly anonymous, and their market status is fiercely protected by their galleries).

Summing up we can say that Bishop's article’s core question was why so little mainstream art reflects on what it means to think, see, and filter affect through the digital, even though the digital is, on a deep level, the shaping or condition of our contemporary life.

And so begins the debate.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 6:56 AM |