Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Pastoralism of New Media: A Rant About Contemporary Art

We live in a world where the implosion of meaning and the end of history Baudrillaud wrote about so dramatically in Simulacra and Simulation (and which accelerated in the internet era) have now been around for a while. Philosophy, art, literature, in fact, all of the humanities were sucked into a theoretical black hole (which we can blame largely on Wittgenstein and the way that media operates to render information meaningless): meta to the nth.

But here we still are, getting up and going to work (if you're lucky enough to have a job), people in a meaningless, ahistorical world.

But Science, as post-structuralism dismantled feminism, humanism, and all metanarratives, held its ground, upholding it's empirical reductionism like a politician upholding family values.
And in the debris of postmodernism, it remains. Science.

Science, and Science alone retains the subject and the object, the signifier and the signified, the Future and the noble goals of mankind. Science, and not philosophy, will tell us the Truth about ourselves, the world, and through fossils and conjecture about early humans, the Nature of Man.

...Oh, and artists remain, bewildered by the absolute meaninglessness of their art history educations.

And two major trends have emerged: relational art, which represents, produces, or prompts inter-human relations (check out Gabriel Orozco and Miranda July); and art that imitates or employs as its medium science and technology, creating abstracted data visualizations, substituting scientific approaches for aesthetic approaches, using the forms of science to imbue work with meaning. (Check out Gail Wight and the sound-memory neural networks of Debora Aschheim).

As these trends expand there seems to be a sentiment that a given project which is sort-of about science or is sort-of interactive is automatically art, even if it can't satisfy the questions "What does it mean?" or "Why should I care?"

But, back to Science. While some art that borrows from science and technology does so critically or works with the concepts creatively, some are just aesthetic objects inspired by science. And I love beautiful things, I do. I just don't want art discourse to be lost to the pastoralism of abstract, uncritical new media work.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Grad Programs

As I get closer and closer to my Studio Art degree, I think about what to do after graduating. What are worthwhile goals? How do I intend to participate in our complex culture and economy? In parallel to my art-focused goals I've been thinking about grad school, and post some token research last fall, I am looking into a lot more programs.

While my focus on the intersection of art and technology from an art perspective is intriguing and satisfying, I want more technical skills. Digital applications have so much potential for changing society. In a world where there is practically infinite information and computation there is so much room for innovation in applications and usability/accessibility. While I'm interested in computer science, I want to use it for data visualization, interaction design, and/or information systems design. I'm excited by the work of companies like Gesture Tek, Obscura Digital, and Snibbe Interactive.

Here's a list of programs I think look cool:

The Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU, with a self-designed emphasis on computer science and information systems.

The Media Lab at MIT definitely has some incredible-looking research groups: Affective Computing, Camera Culture, Computing Culture, Fluid Interfaces, Tangible Media...

Symbolic Systems Program at Stanford, which apparently combines artificial intelligence, computer science, cognitive psychology, linguistics, philosophy, and symbolic logic. The Stanford graduate Design program there also looks interesting.

Human-Computer Interaction at Georgia Tech is an interdisciplinary program which allows an emphasis in digital media.

U.C. Santa Barbara Media Arts and Technology: emergent media, computer science, engineering, and electronic music and digital art research, practice, production, and theory. (Emergent media, I like that) Option of MS in Multimedia Engineering or MA in Visual and Spatial Arts.

I'm also pretty intrigued by the U.C. Berkeley School of Information, which goes with my most recent art theory flirtation, Database Aesthetics.

My approach for figuring out what I want to study has largely been through looking at companies that are producing the applications for the sort of things I dream about with my art, and looking at the sort of qualifications their staff has and/or that they are seeking.

I definitely intend to take a year or two off and see how I can evolve what I do outside academia before going to grad school. I'd appreciate your thoughts and advice.