Technology and Difference

"Difference is the articulation of space and time" [1]

We are at the periphery, looking at the centre. And yet things happen at the periphery which might inform the centre. Is it too much to imagine that this is the case?

The différence, the delay, in the articulation of space and time, leads to new perceptions, new articulations. What is this other history, 'Science and Technology in the arts'? How does it coexist with The History of Art? It is this very articulation which conveys the difference.

Why is art made using new technologies seen as other, classified as 'new media', not part of The History of Art? Perhaps it has something to do with its peripheral articulation. Even at the centre it is peripheral. And yet what could be more urgent than art made using new technologies and networking, given the contemporary use of computing and now social media? There is simultaneously a concern with audience, and with ideas. How do these ideas relate to the current thinking in art practice? There is perhaps a certain 'geek' quality about contemporary art, which might be made of small plastic figures, tents or food. The geek quality usually emphasises the seriousness of the work. Spartacus Chetwynd says of her work : "I guess it is like 'trainspotting' but I like following up the historical context of art or material culture." [2]

There is a sense that being at the periphery no longer matters, in quite the way it once did. After all, computing has something specific to offer in terms of spatiality and temporality, and its ubiquitous nature is affecting how people see culture and cultural production. This peripheral location allows for the articulation of difference.

Just as women artists have historically been linked to an interest in particular subjects due to limitations on their freedoms, and how contemporarily they have taken an interest in subjects that reflect their mobility throughout society, do artists who use computers and other electronic media reflect new concerns which then categorise our expectations of art made using new technologies?

There is a growing international conciousness, existing as we do as nodes in space and time.This awareness has led to a growing international 'mobility', a mobility enhanced by communication technologies. At the same time there is a concern with essential structures of media, which often delimit the areas of practice rather than expanding the languages of computing and other media into the environment of the art world.

There are a lot of 'geeks' and programmers around, and with the seemingly inconsequential nature of their interests and concerns, their work, at best, causes an uncontextualised media interest, in terms of 'what are they doing?' approaches to journalistic enquiry.

This parallel historicity, if indeed it exists as a history, is inevitably viewed as other. And yet there are multiple histories of computing and art for example, which reflect different practices. There is, algorthmic art, evolutionary art, generative art, open source, live programming, sound art, to name a few areas that have more or less nascent histories.

For some, it is this nascency in specific terms which classifys these practices as other, for others it is the inherent suspicion of art made using technology. Perhaps it is viewed as not as elegant as art made using the idea or concept. For Roy Ascot, art made with computers is 'noetic', based on pure thought. This though, doesn't address the materiality of programming, and its attendant collaborative necessities and practices. The Italian curator and critic Domenico Quaranta writes : "...the virtual is replacing the physical, but it's doing it... physically." [3] He is concerned that the digital is not seen as immaterial, "...if saying that new media art is immaterial can create a lot of misunderstandings, often dangerous for the work of the artists; saying that the increasing presence of software, networks and interfaces in our relation with culture is making the latter more and more intangible and fluid is absolutely true." [4]

I have questions, like is a micro art movement? Are the Algorists important in art historical terms? The 'limitation' for this work appears simply to be in terms of its translatability into a gallery context. After all this is not 'pure thought' but a reality materially and socially of cultural production.

The materialism of programming or of the interplay with technological devices as a pragmatic reality, and perhaps the employment of site specificity as the location of difference, creates simultaneously an ontology of technological difference, one that explores a different reality, one that is perhaps more analogous to the way the mind perceives this exploration of space and time.

Claire Hope's films mix live performance with a poetic film making style. In this way there is an overlap in spatial and temporal terms between film and performance art. Her work can, in this way, extend beyond the gallery, beyond the centre, as a projection from the centre on, an online archive and exhibition space for experimental film. This makes the work very fluid in terms of reception and appreciation. In the film 'Your Task Will Fail to be Realised (I'll Do What I Can)', the gaze of the camera, the person behind the camera, is addressed as part of the performance. The 'reach' of this work, in terms of audience would not be possible without the camera and the net.

In 'Looking Glass', by Lizzie Sykes, with choreographer Cathy Seago, two dancers look at one another through the floor length glass windows of the gallery. They mirror each other, copying gestures and movements. It is narcissm denied, the gaze is returned, but whom is mirroring whom? This play on interiority and exteriority is extended to include the gallery space. The camera, Syke's camera, is positioned on a trolley, which one of the dancers pushes, as it captures the other dancer on the exterior of the building. This recognition of self extended through technology, incorporates otherness literally into the body of the performance.

For both Claire Hope and Lizzie Sykes the moving image is integrated into the art context by the incorporation of performance.

That this otherness of technology and art produce a difference, which can be potentially integrated, at the same time that it threatens to effect a change on art historical practices themselves, relates to important areas of perception and expression.

Thomson and Craighead are interesting here, in terms of their 'use' of net based film footage, which they 'found' online and mixed with other data, which they then projected in the gallery space as 'Short Films About Flying'. "Each 'movie'... combines a live video feed from Logan Airport in Boston with randomly loaded net radio sourced from elsewhere in the world." [5] Thus the work is suitable for both the internet and the gallery.They say about their subsequent project 'Short Films About Nothing', "The result is a coherent yet evocative combination of elements that produce an endlessly mutating edition of low-tech mini-movies that we call Template Cinema." [6] The important point about these works when exhibited in a gallery is that the are produced in real time.

This unease with the limitations of the gallery space as the most appropriate context for viewing the work, can be apprehended through looking at programmed moving image works by four artists: Adam Chodzko, Lev Manovich, Andreas Kratky and Grégory Chatonsky.

Adam Chodzko's work, 'Plan for a Spell', 2001, was exhibited at Tate St Ives in 2008. "The DVD is encoded to randomly assemble the sound, images and text so that every time it is played it will play differently." [7] This work was comfortably included in this retrospective of Chodzko's work, as part of his concern with connections, borders, systems and concepts. He uses whatever materials are appropriate to achieve his ideas and to realise his perceptions.

Lev Manovich and Andreas Kratky call their work 'Soft Cinema', and the DVD of their films, 'Mission to Earth', 'Absences' and 'Texas', is available from the MIT press, to watch in the comfort of your own home/computer. The work has also been exhibited in a gallery context, "When they are shown as installations, each of the films is assembled by the Soft Cinema software in real time."[8] This extends the quality of the performance by making it 'live', rather than a selection of pre-recorded versions. Like Thomson and Craighead the 'liveness' of the performance is important.

Grégory Chatonsky's 'L Attente',(The Waiting), was exhibited online as part of the exhibition 'Tags, Ties and Affective Spies', 2009. Because of its online status, the work could be returned to, and unlike the Soft Cinema films it didn't matter how long it was watched for. Like Chodzko's 'Plan for a Spell', it had more of an overall, immersive aesthetic, which was also about connectedness.

Simultaneously, it is this aura of 'event' that helps to translate computing into the gallery space. It is an aura not so much of individual creativity, as collective apprehension of the work at a certain time.


Sarah Thompson 5th November 2009

[1] Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference, p275

[2] Spartacus Chetwynd interview in Altermodern, Tate Britain, p58

[3] Domenico Quaranta,

[4] ibid

[5] Thomson and Craighead,

[6] Thomson and Craighead,

[7] Tate St Ives brochure, 2008

[8] Lev Manovich, Soft Cinema, Mit press, 2005