This event was the place to be on a freezing Wednesday 27th March. We all gathered at the ever so the hospitable Arts Catalyst (thank you Rob), armed with beer and pizzas (thank you Easynet) and barely able to contain our excitement at what was to come tonight.
The event was kicked off by Ilze Black, the Chair for the evening, who gave a brief intro to the topic and run through our working taxonomy of the New Media Art.
William Latham was the first speaker and took us on his own Computer Art personal journey, talking about how after graduating from RCA he started messing with maths and ended up producing rave videos for The Shamen!
His initial idea was to explore the rules of evolution and attempt to create a software code based on those rules, to encourage the computer to create its own 3D creatures simulating evolutionary organic mutations (the code was aptly named Mutator). His work predated the Web as he started as early as 1986, but he used the Web to connect the computers to maximise their power. The process of generating Mutations required immense computer muscle which was very difficult to obtain in those days and only a sponsor like IBM could support him.
William was 100% sponsored as an artist by IBM, who were interested in the patents that Mutator’s work with the genius programmer, Steve Todd, generated for them. IBM provided the computer power impossible to get at home at that time. Mutator needed top-end rendering machines and computational power, which was why William needed a commercial backer. It was a bit like in the Medici times, he said. We should look at re-instating that today!
William was attracted to the works of Mandelbrot, Musgrave, Norton and Karl Sims, who were then at the peak of their creativity and used to meet at Siggraph (in California) from 1987-1993 to swap code and try to outdo each other by pushing human-computer creations to their limits. William described those years as the ‘Golden Years of Siggraph’ when the concept of artist-scientist was born and where the future of Computer Art was debated, much of the work being based on Dawkin’s theories.
Artists such as Karl Sims worked on mutations using the Lisp programming language on Thinking Machine; Mandelbrot was seeing how far he could go with fractals, while William was interested in how natural, organic forms could grow in synthetic environments.
WiIliam’s work was based specifically around the horn structure, a twisted structure which was then allowed to develop freely by the mutating algorithms. At a later stage William developed the concept of artist as a gardener, as the 3D organic creatures required regular trimming and re-directing to keep the aesthetic fresh. It was commented on as ‘maths sliding on the bannisters and shouting “whoopee!”’ as some of these organic creatures looked very mischievous!
Once they had created rules for the code, William had an infinite range of structures generated automatically through the computer with high rates of mutation. When William visited Henry Moore, the sculptor, whose arms were deep in plaster, William commented that Henry’s method seemed the anti-thesis of the sculpture he was doing on machines. Similarly the ready- made art of people like Jeff Koons, was not exciting for him, as it was fetishizing an existing object instead of creating new forms.
The organic 3D sculptures made by the joint effort of human and machine were very different as they offered infinite number of directions and creative output. William knew the mainstream art world would never warm to him, as the critics were frightened of the new field of human-computer duos creating art.
William’s exhibition, ‘The Conquest of Form’ exhibited in the UK for 2 years. The Scientific Press covered it, but the Art Press did not as the critics did not understand it and were afraid in case it heralded elimination of a human in the process of art creation. The art critics were too focused on unmade beds and preserved sharks and were victims of Saatchi’s art scene manipulations!
IBM then cut his post as a result of the recession and William’s involvement in rave culture. This was too much of an existential jump for IBM. William moved into popular culture as he had a huge following in the rave movement where people fell in love with his organic art forms during the raves where clubs used them to project real-time mutations on the screens. The Ravers were eco-warriers and often found chained to trees in a battle to prevent non-sustainable developments, so the organic nature of William’s work was appealing to them aesthetically as well as philosophically as machines were suddenly seen as possessing a ‘nature-like’ imagination.
The band The Shamen called WIlliam up and invited him to direct their videos. They claimed that whenever they took a certain Amazonian mushroom, they would visualise his forms! The Shamen found it hard to believe he didn’t take drugs too and that the magic of the synergy of his human ideas and maths led the computer to create forms so beloved by them.
It was commented that maybe it was human-computer merged subconscious that created the forms which felt so familiar to us yet so unique. William ended up directing The Shamen’s videos and designing all their album covers. A new aesthetic was born, that then dominated the club scene till late 1990’s. For one of the videos, for the single ‘Ebeneezer Goode’, the images were delivered by rendering video across IBM’s networks during a night-time session.This didn’t go down well with IBM due to the band’s link to Ecstasy (although the track went on to reach No.1 in the charts).
William then decided to explore the creative opportunities in game development and worked with Hollywood including projects for Mattel and Warner Bros. The journey of a geeky artist from an IBM basement to a club scene God would make a great movie- any interested scriptwriters, please get in touch with Cybersalon!
The Invention of the Web, released into public domain in April 1993 opened new dizzying opportunities for New Media artists, but also limited them as the bandwidth available in 1994-1997 was painfully low. That environment favoured text and low-bandwidth Web Art and led to retraction of Virtual Reality (Virtual Nightclub by Olaf Wendt) and Mutator to off-line environments like games. At this point the Computer Art and Net Art separated for the forseable future till the bandwidth improved.
Ilze Black (artist and PhD at Queen Mary’s) talked about what happened to New Media Art since 1993, when the Web was made available by Tim Berners-Lee.
She outlined the different genres of Media Art including Computer Art, Net Art, software art, art created as a result of software by companies like Macromedia and Adobe. She mentioned the first cybercafé in London, Cyberia, and the Hypermedia Research Centre at University of Westminster (both of which led to the birth and resurgence of Cybersalon).
Ilze had set up Latvian E-Lab before arriving in London in 1996, at Backspace, which was the ‘Unofficial Heart of the City’s digital art scene’ founded by James Stevens.
Ilze fell in love with Backspace and took part in their Anti-Wide festival, organised by Heath Bunting an artist from the duo irational, when New Labour had just got into power. New Media was strongly in opposition to much of the YBA Movement (at the end of 1997 was the Sensation exhibition). Backspace represented a contest to the commercial art manipulation and mainstream market-led ‘art’ production.
To emphasise this point, Ilze showed irational artist, Rachel Baker’s Tesco Club Card piece which was a critique of the use of private data, an anti-corporate comment on the alienation of the individual from his data. She also showed Spam and Matt Fuller’s and IOD Collective- Web Stalker with the warning: “Software is mind control – get some”.
There would be no New Media Art without the server space! Access to servers was very important and spaces that offered it like Backspace, Cyberia, Hypermedia Research Centre and others were like ‘Medici patrons of the New Media Art’ in the early ‘90s. It was like giving a canvas to a painter!
To celebrate the role of the Server, Backspace ran a festival aptly named ‘Art Servers Unlimited’.
Other artists collectives such as Lo-Res.org, Obsolete and Blast Theory were all involved. In 1998 Blast Theory put up posters saying ‘Sign up to be kidnapped’ and those selected actually were! The action/performance was all streamed online, so others could watch and participate in real-time.
It was the beginning of the Net Art form, a real-time creative participation of people at various nodes on the network. In this vein, between 1994-1998 Cyberia Café ran a number of projects for the legendary London nightclubs Megatripolis and Heaven, linking over ISDN to other clubs in US and UK, inviting speakers and joint performances over the Net (with Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg, Fraser Clark, David Bowie and Boy George). These were mainly produced and created by Martin Kavanagh and staffed by Cyberians, holding the cables and routers under the ravers’ feet and avoiding the temptations of the freely available Acid pills. Character building to say the least! The collaborative opportunities for Net Art were being slowly understood and explored.
Until 1999 nearly all Web projects were non-commercial, led by artists and experimentation. Towards the beginning of 1999 the market took interest in the previously very under-ground Web and the creative ambience changed drastically. The effect of massive commercialisation of the Net and the DotCom boom heralded the shift in the attention towards commercial projects, advertising Websites and the end of the ‘punk’ attitude to corporates (at least for a while). Alex Galloway from Rhizome, famously said: ’Net Art is dead”.
New Media Art and commercial practice merged: Jodi said “Fuck You” to a prize at the Webby Awards, as it was perceived biased towards commercial projects. Ars Electronica gave a prize to Linux. Etoy (the company) sued Etoy (the artists) in the atmosphere of scandal and rights debate. The reality of copyrights arrived (and limited the ability to create mash-ups and collages) and created a lot of issues; Rhizome launched the ARTBASE. An art flea market in London, Art Expo Destructo took place. The London scene was getting more market-friendly perhaps. Mongrel developed software and sold it.
However, the positive development was that the broadband had arrived and Net Streaming radio was introduced. Ilze joined a collective called Ambient TV and made a Net piece using streaming video which lasted for 5 years. It was early crowd-sourcing: they hacked, reused and reappropriated other people’s webcams. It lasted for five years and gave birth to a concept of sharing our private images as a legitimate source for public art projects. Voyeurism, already present in video art, became acceptable on the Net and joined a mainstream creative vocabulary. Later Ilze was also involved with Soft Cinema and Database cinema and is very interested in how we share and accept/reject the boundaries of private-public images as artwork source.
Ilze also showed a map of Wireless Britain in 2001 by James Stevens ‘Consume.Net’- artists using networks.
She ended by showing one of her pieces- RichAir2030- where Roller girls raced around and tested the free wifi networks.
Cybersalon’s selection of New Media Art
Work from THEN
1. Vuk Cosic: Hollywood Films such as Deep Throat and Godzilla converted into moving ASCII Art.
2. William Latham: images and videos of early generative computer art emerging from his IBM residency. He was responsible for this aesthetic so popular with the rave and music scene in London in the 1990s.
3. Expo-Destructo: a new media art festival in London in 1999.
(Needs Real Player plugin)
An archive of interviews from Expo-Destructo: post-media pressure was a one day event combining a series of talks to celebrate the launch of a new book ‘README! ascii culture and the revenge of knowledge’, and a public gathering of media activists, webzines, artists working in electronic media, troublemakers and plenty others: a post-media flea-market on 20 March 1999 at Open,144 Charing Cross Road, London.
This archive is hosted on Back Space’s servers – this was a cutting-edge collaborative artist-run space in London that fuelled the early creative scene.
4. Irational: important political artists duo based in London and made up of Rachel Baker and Heath Bunting.
Donating Net Art to Art Institutions to give them value and be collectible:
Also important to see the aesthetic of the time.
Their most famous piece is no longer online, as Tesco asked for it to be removed, but there is documentation here
They used Tesco Clubcard’s marketing strategy in order to create their own club card for surfing the Net, via a database that created connections not separations between the members. The web project creates a system which allows you to earn points when you surf. Using Tesco clubcards it provides the holder of the pirate card a ‘reward’ incentive to visit selected websites.
In 1993 Ivan created the first piece of Hypertext art on the Web. He reconstructed it for tonight – and warned the audience: ’you’ll be surprised to see it’. It is text with hyperlinks.
It’s called the ‘Last Words of Dutch Schulz’ and is based on a film script by William Burroughs. It was an amazing multimedia script from an author whose books influenced David Bowie and punk movement. In the new, low-bandwidth, Mosaic-based environment, text was the best tool to explore the Net’s creative potential.
For Ivan the Web was all about text in the early days – it was about Hypertext and HTML which was very pure and minimalist, including the famous Gray Background. As Roland Barthes said “Any text is an intertext” which influenced Ivan’s thinking at that time. Artists were online, but on a text-based network! Ivan explained that they were surrounded by text online, which was both mind-blowing and extremely challenging after the years of Rococo, Mutator, Virtual Nightclub and Virtual Reality visual opulence! We had to wave good bye to those and start with text-led, minimalist art. It was a massive, sudden disruption to Computer Art at that time and traumatised a whole generation of artists who have not found themselves anew in the Web low-bandwidth environment.
But it also opened the door to a new wave of creative people who came from all walks of life, not from traditional fine art schools. The tools of Net Art were becoming very democratic with the cost of computers and modems coming down rapidly.
Demon Internet and Easynet allowed people to get on line cheaply (the famous “tenner a month” Internet subscription was the call-for-arms in that times as mentioned by Wendy Grossman who witnessed the birth of low-cost Internet Providers as we know it on CIX in 1993). Immediately after he got on line, in 1993, Ivan published a digital newsletter called World Wide Web, a term he casually borrowed from Tim (Berners-Lee) and called young artists to contribute to the Hypertext art movement.
Ivan, unlike William Latham, used cheap computers as this was the only tech available outside big corporates. He graduated from Goldsmiths amongst the Damien Hirst YBA movement in 1988. No one used a computer at Goldsmiths then. The computer lab was converted from the old Science lab! It highlighted the move from Science to Technology, but was extremely limited and only used for desktop publishing (which Ivan embraced with the speed of light as he was a survivor of the punk-zines movement and knew how to put a printed zine together – it did not take him long to figure out how to do ‘punk’ zines online!)
Do check out Fine Art Forum on Pandora urges Ivan, the whole archive is there!
In 1984: Barcode
In 1994: PGP code
That was how technology has moved forward, Ivan concluded. The dream-like and non-sequential poetry of hypertext was explored shortly after by other artists, who found the ‘naked hypertext’ irresistible. It wasn’t till Adobe and Macromedia stepped in with image and animation layers, that artists started playing with visuals again, culminating in Shockwave Baroque.
An example of this is:
Hotel: an interactive narrative by Han Hoogerbrugge, 2004.
Hans started out as a painter and cartoonist until he found the internet in 1996. He is the creator of the extremely popular Modern Living Neurotica series. Hotel was created for the online SubmarineChannel.
This work is important because it shows the Shockwave Flash aesthetic that was prominent at the time.
An early New Media activist, author of the early ‘Digital Art’ book published in 1997(!), now academic at Goldsmiths, Sean gave us a very good overview of New Media Art with a strong focus on Liverpool, but also wider. He has moved around the world a lot and shared artistic experiences with the artists in UK as well as Australia (a very active scene that is not known enough of on our shores).
Sean started off talking about Moviola, Eddie Berg’s video art festival, explored the concept of tactical media and the Yes Men who got on the BBC pretending to be Dow Corporation apologising for the Bhopal disaster- video here.
The Next 5 Minutes Festival showed what could be done with networks. Tactical media was about showing that the media we’ve inherited is lethal, “let’s puncture them” was the call for arms and BBC was one of the early targets. The theme of anti-establishment attitude of New Media is here again, with many participants of the scene hailing from the contesting movements, often very political and anti-corporates.
Laurie Anderson, AudioRom, AntiRom were key example of New Media Arts.
For Sean, one of the most moving Internet projects ever was ‘My boyfriend came back from the War’ by Olia Lialina (about the Afghanistan Soviet War).
Jodi.org and Potato Land were then discussed as was how important Open Source had been for those without corporate budgets. Sean thinks that with CSS (Style Sheets) things started to go wrong and that creativity disappeared as CSS closed down the options very severely. The European New Media Art scene grew fast, with the Browser Art, Software Art, ZKM opened in Karlsruhe, ISEA and Ars Electronica festivals keeping the flame alive and commissioning new work. But limitations were increasingly visible, and when Rhizome.org asked for subscriptions, everyone left to the Nettime list, but it diminished in importance. Many artists joined commercial agencies and left the field.
New Media Art Festivals always struggled with the challenges of how to show CD Rom art and Web art in galleries, which was an issue then and it is now. The experience of interactive arts is individual, but the gallery space is plural and the challenge of showing those works in a public space has not been addressed successfully. New Media Art is still looking for its temple.
However, many artists like Keith Piper from the UK, Sarai from India and Itau Cultural from Brazil came and broadened the story by giving a non Western centric viewpoint
For Sean digital is only a tool. Techno-determinism is only part of the story of Media Art. He is also critical about calling it “alternative” media. New channels have an emotional connect with audiences (Daniel Reeves et al) and should be consider on par with other, mainstream art.
The lessons we learnt from the 1990s was that it wasn’t all about cyber utopia, and fighting the mass media ‘bad guys’. It was also about giving a voice to a new generation that had emerged from the raves, from deep recession in UK of early ‘90s and who lapped up the opportunity to tell their stories in a hypertext format.
Ruth Catlow and Marc Garret- Furtherfield
Furtherfield is a gallery in Finsbury Park, London that specialises in Media Art
The Net is a new public space (a Digital Common) and at the Furtherfield gallery in Finsbury Park people come to see Media Art “without knowing it’s Media Art” as Marc explains. It’s about creativity in community and “making heroes out of those who aren’t in the Art History books”.
Ruth is from a fine art background and used to find all the ArtNet and Bulletin Board work uninspiring at the beginning as it was just text. But slowly it got under her skin and she has developed a fascination with the Net, interested in it especially because of the power of networks for collaborative, peer-to-peer art and the opportunity for engaging non-traditional art audience/creators.
Marc and Ruth were involved in DIWO (Do It With Others), evolving from DIY culture. This is about collaboration and interaction, sharing and incremental value of peer to peer (p2p) artworks. Networks gave artists a way to category hop and opened them up to new connections. That connection is not just to each other but to their audience (or ’people formerly known as audience’ as described by Doc Searls in The Cluetrain Manifesto).
Marc coined the term ‘post-art’, that is art that is not selected by a hierarchy of “misogynists or commercial agents” or art speculators influenced by the desire for profit from the art sales. Rather, post-art is open and it is for the people by the people. This is what his am is for Media Art, to be a tool, a framework facilitating people’s own creative efforts, a tool for democratisation of art practice not just via free server space but open source code pieces that visitors can use to collaborate in real-time.
They both believe showing Media Art in a physical space is vital for social conversation and interaction between people, demonstrating the power of the networks. But they are also suggesting that it is Not about showing Web pieces or CD-Roms in a gallery, but more about building a gallery space and tools that people can use there to creatively connect with others, to interact physically, virtually and share their thoughts and emotions. The gallery is the temple not to admire the work of others but to create our own contribution of an artistic piece.
They mentioned new artists such as Jeremy Bailey, where the audience play a crucial part and is on par with the artist. Other piece showing the collaborative traction is an HTML embroidery by Ele Carpenter which attracted 70% of audience over 60 (Granny demographics). It’s a physical manifestation of a Wiki with hyperlink layers, knitted by a number of different contributors.
Marc also discussed the “Zero Dollar Laptop”- a project one-up from MIT Media Lab’s $100 laptop project- rather giving unused and recycled laptops and free and open source software for people on low budgets to get on line and to encourage creative contributions.
For their opening exhibition Furtherfield showed Thompson and Craighead’s London Wall N4 which is based on Twitter and on increasing interest in ‘shared’ creativity.
In summary, the evening covered a wide spectrum of New Media Art, from pre-Web Computer Art (Mandelbrot, William Latham) which required massive computing power and allowed us a rare glimpse at a human-computer creative duet in exploration of a joint subconscious. They used maths matter to sculpt generative 3D organic-looking forms that so inspired the rave aesthetics and went on to star in The Shamen’s chart-topping videos and in Visual Jockeying works from the period.
We noted the disrupting effect on the art scene of the low-bandwidth Web arriving in 1993 and forcing Virtual Reality, Mutator and many others to find new ways as creative outlets in Games (as gaming was not networked at that time and did not need to be concerned with low-bandwidth limitations. Instead, the new Net Art was initially text-based, using hypertext as a main tool of self-expression and was highly political, anti-corporate and had a lot in common with punk zines from the late 1970s in terms of contesting attitudes (Ivan Pope). The common themes from the UK-based Computer Art and Hypertext Art was that they were deeply rooted in contempt for the mainstream YBA movement and attacked the politics of the commercial art creation process in their own commentary. As bandwidth improved, artists experimented with Webcams and crowdsourcing, and new aesthetics emerged as a result of commercial new media practice, of Shockwave and Flash, dubbed ‘Shockwave Baroque’, influenced by Vector graphics.
Finally, many of the earlier ideas and themes are being revisited by Media artists. They now have the increased confidence of Web users and their sense of self-worth in terms of creativity, possibly as a result of experience with Twitter, Tumblr and similar tools, coupled with increased bandwidth and wider Net participation. New Media Art Practice has again shifted from an individual artist to a shared, collaborative process. It can be either with a key lead artist participation (Jeremy Baily piece) or just peer 2 peer, using a tool or a framework developed for the specific art event. An example of such work is Simon Sarginson’s Thea’s Aura (shown at Cybersalon Feb 2013), where the body of the dancer is acting as a brush for the canvas of a computer screen, the dancer being either a professional dancer or an audience member or a passer-by who wants to contribute to the piece. Other examples of such democratisation of New Media Art is the SnapChat series by Furtherfield.
A similar approach was present in Fabrica’s New Media Art pieces for Benetton under the creative leadership of the late Andy Cameron, Cybersalon co-founder, who was an early promoter of the new digital technologies offering a certain liberalisation of art creation from a narrow definition to something wider and more democratic.
Marc Garret from Futherfield summarised the discussion by predicting that New Media Art will continue to thrive in its many formats and surprises, commenting that the new wave and direction will not only come from ‘the left field’ when no one expects it, but probably will be developed by the young artists in the Cybersalon audience!
Event notes by Eva Pascoe & Niki Gomez
Cybersalon Selection of New Media Art from NOW
1. Fabio Lattanzi Antinori- Totem: this is a video of an installation in a gallery of his work.
2. Aaron Koblin:
Aaron is a creative technologist who now works for Google. Much of his work uses the wisdom and input of crowds.
Some highlights are:
The Wilderness Downtown
Bicycle built for 2000 (inspired by HAL and 2001, A Space Odyssey)
3. DNA Spoofing: DIY Counter-Surveillance
https://vimeo.com/60928966 (approx 3.40 mins)
This video is about genetic surveillance in the post-apocalyptic present.
By: Heather Dewey-Hagborg , Adam Harvey, Aurelia Moser , Allison Burtch
About the Speakers
– Artist William Latham showed and spoke about his early experimental work on digital sculptures, developing Mutator and its influence on the aesthetics of the London club scene of the 1990s.
– The Chair Ilze Black, currently completing her PhD at Queen Mary, University of London, co-founder of network media group Take2030 and seminal art initiative art bureau OPEN in 1990s post-Soviet Latvia.
– Ivan Pope the founder of ArtNet BBS and co-founder of Webmedia will show the thinking, creation and impact of his first Web artwork – The Last Words of Dutch Schultz – and its implication for today’s users of the Web.
– Sean Cubitt from Goldsmiths, University of London, built on more than twenty years of working with and writing about electronic artists and their technologies.
– Founders of Furtherfield , artists Ruth Catlow and Marc Garrett, shared their story of the Net art collective that was set up in 1997 and sustained by the work of its community as the Internet took shape as a new public space for internationally connected cultural production.