Art and technology

Attempting a diagnosis of the present

Mladen Bizumić , exhibition view “Mladen Bizumić. Kodak: Reorganization Plan,” Georg Kargl BOX, Vienna, 2015, Courtesy Georg Kargl Fine Arts, Vienna

Leopold Museum curator Stephanie Damianitsch joins artists Mladen Bizumić and Anita Witek on a search for “Traces of Time.” On the occasion of their group exhibition, they discuss analytical image culture, changing media, events in the here and now and who owns the future.

Technologies developed in recent years have resulted in far-reaching social changes. Their transformative force permeates everyday life, work and art. What does the “Traces of Time” exhibition set out to explore, and what role does “transforming technology” play in it?
Stephanie Damianitsch: The exhibition focuses on documentarism. And yet it is not about recording facts and events, but about how visual culture crystallizes in the media. The main focus is on the particular media that are historically most closely associated with documentary, which is to say film and photography. “Transforming technology” plays a role in that the show examines the relationship between analogue and digital, as well as the effects of changing media on our perception and art itself.

Mladen Bizumić, your “Kodak: Reorganization Plan” series looks at the history of the Kodak company, which was founded in 1880. It went bankrupt in 2012 because it did not adapt to digital developments …
Mladen Bizumić: The first iPhone hit the market in 2006, and the sale of Kodak film dropped 15 to 20 percent every year after that. It was the end of an era for me when the company filed for bankruptcy. The change from analogue to digital is much more than just a question of aesthetic preference. Analogue photographs on paper are physical objects, whereas digital images are free-circulating pieces of data that occupy space, time, and our attention in different ways.

Anita Witek, your series “Best of …” employs print media from the 1970s. You remove motifs and protagonists, then you collage backgrounds, structures and spaces into medial reflections of time. What role do digital and analogue media play in your work?
Anita Witek: I use analogue techniques to slow down processes of reception and create a conscious event in the here and now. “Best of ...” is analogue through and through: the found photographic material, the act of cutting (into a book, for example), taking photographs with analogue film, the hand-made prints developed in a darkroom …

What impact do technological innovations have on contemporary art?
Anita Witek: Photography has ceased to exist in the traditional sense. A single image on its own means very little. Authorship and appropriation have taken on an entirely new meaning. I am interested in how and where art and commerce tie into one another, and in which places this conglomerate sneaks into our lives completely unbidden – on interfaces like Instagram and Pinterest, for example.

Mladen Bizumić, do you use social media like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and so on for your work?
Mladen Bizumić: My work deals with digital image culture, which results in a constant shifting of production means. The real question, for me, is whether we are capable of controlling these technical developments or if it is actually we, the users, who are being directed by them and the people who programmed them. In this context, I recommend the book “Who Owns the Future?” by Jaron Lanier.

Would you say your work reflects the consequences of advancing digitalization, virtual reality and industry 4.0 on society?
Mladen Bizumić: We have to look at these kinds of renewals in a historical context. As an artist, I find that any photographic tool can help make aspects of social reality visible, but it is also prone to deception, temptation and corruption.
Anita Witek: My expansive collages try to create places where visual and perceptual habits are re-questioned in the shadow of data and image streams. For my installation-based collages – which span walls, floors and structures and are specially adapted to whichever exhibition space they are shown in – I often use large-format pieces of paper from advertising campaigns and remove content from them.

Would you say contemporary art is vanishing more and more into the realm of the immaterial?
Stephanie Damianitsch: No, not really. Every piece of art, no matter how conceptual, has a material basis and develops a concrete space of experience. Art that deliberately deals with a media change can often offer an analysis of the social conditions at hand.

Text by Angela Stief:

Angela Stief is a free­- lance curator and journalist with degrees in art history and philosophy. She was a curator at Kunsthalle Wien from 2002 to 2013 and has lectured at various universities both in Austria and abroad since 2003. Regular publications and texts on contemporary art in exhibition catalogues and magazines.

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