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Introducing Theory: Contextualising Net-Based Art

Dieter Daniels, Olia Lialina, Christiane Paul, Claus Pias, Felix Stalder

In conjunction with the Prix Ars Electronica, the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Media.Art.Research has initiated an award for outstanding studies. With this new annual award for theoretical works, due recognition will be given to research on media art conducted within the context of art history and media theory, which over the past two decades has emerged as a broad and innovative discipline in its own right. The diversity and topicality of artistic production related to the media (such as displayed in the varying categories of the Prix Ars Electronica since 1987) calls for theoretical reflection on the historical position, current mediation and future preservation of such art.

Since 2005, this has been the mission of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Media.Art.Research established in Linz. The Media.Art.Research Award has been conceived to promote international discourse on the theories, methods and standards of media art. The need to formulate theories and define concepts is central, as too is a pluralism resistant to any kind of final categorization of these art forms. Hence the award will focus on a different topic each year. The theme “Net-Based Art Forms” was selected for 2007. And in the coming years, the Media.Art.Research Award will also dedicate itself to the development of media art forms that have not yet established themselves in museological and/or commercial contexts: art forms that evolve through processual, conceptual, interactive as well as subversive, situational and committed means at the interface of art technology and society.

The spectrum of relevant research fields for the Media.Art.Research Award correlates to the pluralism of artistic practices: art history, media theory, cultural studies, visual studies, history of technology as well as media-specific aspects of literary studies, film theory and musicology. The 40 entries in this competition illustrate the range of methodological approaches that may be applied to any single topic – and in this case to “Net-Based Art Forms”.

The Media.Art.Research Award focuses primarily on fundamental theoretical research, though only within the context of contemporary thought as it relates to topical social and artistic issues. Or to formulate it in terms of this year’s theme: instead of the hype of the new, which characterized net euphoria in the 1990s, long-term cultural perspectives have become essential, both with respect to the past as to a potential future. Decisive for the award is how a work contributes to current research, not the author’s historical merit. This emphasis also meets the Boltzmann Society’s overriding objective of promoting academic careers.

The jury debated three different types of theoretical production on this year’s theme: first, fundamental theoretical research that explores the specifics of media art within the context of the above mentioned fields of study; second, network criticism that analyzes the societal, social and discursive significance of the Internet from the standpoint of contemporaneity; third, themespecific art mediation that aims at being able to connect to current and past art events. The three winning entries – by Florian Cramer, Geert Lovink and Thomas Dreher – were selected for meeting these diverse aspirations. In addition, these works embody three different forms of publication: a final academic paper, a journalistic book and netbased art theory.

Media.Art.Research Award

This year’s main award goes to Florian Cramer for his work Exe.cut[up]able statements – Poetische Kalküle und Phantasmen des selbstausführenden Texts (“Exe.cutYupZable Statements – Poetic Computations and Phantasms of Self-Executing Texts”) (dissertation, 2006). The jury’s unanimous decision to select this work, which conducts fundamental research at the interface of net art, literary history and computer linguistics, sets a high standard for the prize in the future as well. Cramer’s study investigates everything from ancient algorithmic literature to present-day software and net-based poetry. By doing so, it broadens the horizons of media art within the context of the humanities far beyond the customary. Moreover, instead of furthering an oftenrampant sense of zeitgeist, it advocates a theoretical sustainability. Nevertheless, this new interpretation of code as a component of literary history is only possible from today’s perspective, for it is in looking back from digitized society that we recognize the past history of linguistic algorithmics as a cultural constant. And it is in this spirit that Florian Cramer succeeds in developing a new understanding of history, one that has emerged from the present.

This highly specialized topic is not light reading, and may be seen as exemplary for the little explored significance of media art as an epistemic model that transcends what is happening in art at the moment. He deliberately avoids the term “media”, which he views as too vague and redundant. Instead his methodological approach presents the “executability” of a text as a basic principle of all literature. The imagination of self-executing texts are not dependent on their technical implementation. Contrary to all scenarios of a post-human cyber world that would leave humans behind as relics, Cramer demonstrates the elemental nature of the relation between the fantastic and algorithmic, and how it is at all times dependent on people and not necessarily on machines.

Acknowledgments of a Contribution to the Field 2007

The first Acknowledgment of a Contribution to the Field goes to Geert Lovink’s Zero Comments (book manuscript, 2006) for its critical analysis of the current situation, one that oscillates between Web 2.0 euphoria and the disappointments of media art. Based on his experience of net culture since the early 1990s, Lovink presents a state-of-the-art analysis, while also considering the importance of the Internet in the non-Western world. He provides forceful arguments that are especially effective for a broad discussion certain to attract interest not only among experts.

The second Acknowledgment of a Contribution to the Field goes to Thomas Dreher, IASLonline Lektionen / Lessons in NetArt (online publication 2000 – 2006), for his committed mediation of net art via the net, and an overview of the entire field of net-based art, which to date has been little explored by art historians. Individual studies, packed with facts, interact with interdisciplinary essays in a productive dialogue. Extensive links to primary and secondary sources also make the topic accessible to readers lacking previous knowledge of the field.


 
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