New Media is a Problem We Need

Never failing to catch me unawares, there are instances in my marriage when the trivial quickly becomes profound – when an argument about wiping the ketchup bottle top transforms into a token of my fundamental nature as a person.  While at times these may be unfair extrapolations, admittedly, they often can be dead on.

Artie Vierkant, Image Objects, 2011

Artie Vierkant, Image Objects, 2011

Art World: I’m giving you the forewarning I would like to be given.  The conversation on New Media is about much more than just New Media.

Said conversation gained some volume with Claire Bishop’s article Digital Divide in last September’s Artforum.  The article along with its resulting firestorm (or as much of one that art bloggers can muster) revealed a lot about the state of New Media in relation to the larger art world.  Regardless if you think Digital Divide betrayed a Bishop’s personal ignorance or a collective one, it’s clear New Media has some challenges yet to work through.

The difficulties and questions surrounding the medium are easy to infer:  (1) How is New Media best exhibited and (2) how is it best ‘collected’ and/or ensured artists are paid for their work?

Bring Your Own Beamer events and exclusively New Media galleries such as Fach & Asendorf are definitely a start at addressing those two challenges.  Perhaps even more promising, though, is New Media artists’ near hyper-awareness of the challenges they face.  Though from from being resolved, the way issues such as gender inequality are being addressed, for example, give reason to be optimistic.  Art F City recently reported on Charlie Sofo, an artist that withdrew from an Australian BYOB show due to a “lack of gender diversity”.  I like to think that it illustrates a tempered progress toward larger art world recognition.

Petra Cortright, Sickhair & Sickhands, 2011, Video Stills from petracortright.com

Petra Cortright, Sickhair & Sickhands, 2011, Video Stills from petracortright.com

This all may seem like the unremarkable rites of a young medium – similar growing pains perhaps last endured by performance or video art.  However, reconsider those two challenges mentioned above: contemporary art as a whole has never entirely met them.  Rather than being peculiar to New Media, they’ve really been some of contemporary art’s primary concerns for the past several decades.

Conceptual Art, the surge of alternative spaces in the 1970’s and 80’s, groups such as Occupy Museums and W.A.G.E., the current backlash against mega-art-fairs (and the art market in general) – these are only small samples of contemporary art working through the challenges of how best to exhibit art and ensure artists are paid fairly.  What does make New Media peculiar, though, is that it actually seems poised to meet those challenges.

I don’t want to presume exactly how this will happen (or that it will at all).  However, there seems to be a general feeling of inevitability within the New Media community to resolving the challenges of exhibiting and compensation.

The basic thought is this: The content of New Media’s dialogue and the way it works through these issues is relevant to more than just the artists and curators working in the medium.  For instance, if New Media can find a way to fairly compensate artists independent of physical art objects it would be wise for the general art community to take note.  The way this new(ish) medium works through its peculiar set of challenges may lead the way for the contemporary art to face some of its unresolved issues.  The smaller scope and fresh eyes of net art and digital art may uncover sought after solutions that have other wise eluded the art world.

More than a medium, it is an experiment  in building a responsible, ethical, and progressive art community.

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