The dichotomy of innovation
On the status quo of new technology and contemporary art
The Open Studio Day of VIENNA ART WEEK 2017 is curated by Harald Krejci, Vanessa Joan Müller and Isin Önol. They spoke to Angela Stief about artworks that reflect the relationship between culture and technology, about milestones of artistic innovation, and how today’s artists deal with new means of production, accelerated work processes and the threat posed by digital surveillance devices.
The connection of art and technology, of people and machines is an old one. It has inspired visionary experiments both in art and science. Is there a particular artwork that plays a seminal role in this regard?
Harald Krejci: Nicolas Schöffer’s “CYSP 1” of 1956 is the first space-consuming cybernetic kinetic sculpture of the 20th century that achieved complete autonomy of movement and reacted intelligently to its surroundings. The essential point, however, is that it was used in dance and provided a key impetus for transdisciplinary work between science and art.
Vanessa Joan Müller: The invention of central perspective in the Italian Renaissance is without doubt a milestone in the interplay between art and science. Virtual reality is actually only a logical extension of what was invented back then: two-dimensional spatial depth that has a three-dimensional effect.
What impact have the technological innovations of recent years had on contemporary art?
Harald Krejci: Art constantly requires a critical examination of technologies in terms of their political and social use or abuse. In art, technology is the experimental challenge of the tools of artistic production. Even a paintbrush is technology … Vanessa Joan Müller: There have been huge changes in the field of video and digital image creation. Production costs have been reduced significantly, just as production has become increasingly complex. Formats are changing; sometimes videos are available on online platforms, while at the same time galleries or institutions show an installative presentation of these works. I think that in the coming decades the viewing of art will increasingly break away from the need to be physically standing in front of an artwork.
Isin Önol: On the one hand, the fascination of new technical opportunities has had a great influence on contemporary art; on the other hand, we are experiencing a critical examination of these technologies. A number of works today aim to open up a space for reflection and a critique of technology, science, and also art.
New technologies have found their way into our everyday life. On the one hand, accelerated communication processes and international networking introduce new possibilities, but on the other hand they pose a threat to our private sphere and personal rights. Which artist reflects this in a particularly powerful way?
Isin Önol: The New York-based artist Burak Arikan has worked comprehensively on complex networks and used digital technologies to reveal invisible ties between power structures. The Mexican-Canadian artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer has been focusing on technology and the meaning of surveillance, data collection and telematic networks for three decades. Steve Mann from Canada coined the term “Sousveillance” – inverse surveillance – and also investigates digital surveillance in his artistic research and technological articles.
Harald Krejci: As a philosopher and writer, Herbert W. Franke provided from early on a vital impetus for Internet art, dealing with scenarios of an organized society controlled by digital data.
Vanessa Joan Müller: Within this context, Trevor Paglen is an important artist who also sees himself as an activist and who researches various forms of espionage. His photographs and films often resemble idealized landscape pictures, and yet on their edges one can make out signs of hidden government activity. Paglen operates within the limits of the law when he approaches military bases in the desert that do no exist on maps, or photographs systems that tap intercontinental undersea cables for data transmission. His works show how little the private sphere matters in the digitized present, and they never appear overly blatant or didactic despite their explicitly educational intent.