Day 2, Stream 5



Histories and Futures of Electronic Art


Chris Salter: Hexagram Concordia Institute for Research-Creation in Media Arts and Technology, Canada


Brogan Bunt: Faculty of Law, Humanities and Arts, University of Wollongong, Australia

Janis Jefferies: Goldsmiths Digital Studios, University of London, UK

Jane Prophet: School of Creative Media, City University, Hong Kong

Helen Pritchard: High Wire DTC, Lancaster University, UK

Lucas Ihlein: Faculty of Law, Humanities and Arts, University of Wollongong, Australia



Despite Claire Bishop’s claims of a continuing ‘disavowal’ of digital media within contemporary art (2012), it is apparent that the various lines of cultural resistance are becoming more permeable and uncertain. It is not simply that all kinds of shared lineages have been traced (in the history of the avant-garde and in traditions of conceptualism particularly), or that all manner of forms of digital media have become pervasive in contemporary art, but more significantly that artists themselves, in their practices, have begun to move fluidly between paradigms. Since at least the 1990s, contemporary art has explicitly thematised issues of communication and social interaction, while media artists have shifted away from a relentless focus on dimensions of technology per se. The question of mediation has been posed in a much broader context – a context that intersects with the contemporary interest in socially engaged art. In this manner, media art is becoming a less strictly determinable genre; its lingering sense of difference and cultural isolation is beginning to appear quaint and untenable.

This panel is concerned with the creative implications of this shift beyond the technological paradigm, and explores a reversal of the standard pattern of influence; rather than media art struggling to establish its proper place within contemporary art, the focus is upon considering contemporary art through the lens of media art. More specifically, it considers the implications for artistic practice. What does it mean for artists who have had a primary interest in species of electronic and computational practice to produce work that does not employ these means? How does the experience of digital processes inflect work produced in the broader social field? How are issues of concept, process, event, participation and interaction remediated through intimate experience of digital media?


Jane Prophet & Helen Pritchard: A Diffractive Reading of the Messy Entanglements Between Mainstream Contemporary Art, Sci-Art and New Media Art

We engage with Karen Barad’s notion of diffraction to re-evaluate the relations between Mainstream Contemporary Art (MCA), New Media Art (NMA) and SciArt. Our diffractive reading highlights small but consequential differences between these art practices. We do not smooth over the tensions highlighted in earlier discussions of  NMA, MCA and SciArt in Prophet’s paper The Artist in the Laboratory: Co-operating (T)reasonably. Instead we suggest that there are entanglements, as well as productive differences between these practices, and we extend the debate by considering which differences matter, for whom (artists, gallerists, scientists) and how these differences emerge through material-discursive intra-actions.


Helen Pritchard & Jane Prophet: Diffractive Art Practices: Ecologies of Intra-actions and Difference

In this paper we walk through examples of what we refer to as ‘diffractive art practices’, focusing on works made using digital processes. Computation is presented as an ecology of intra-actions rather than the ‘idea’ or the ‘technological process’ or the ‘material’ in these works. We emphasize that  ‘diffractive art practices’ and the artworks that arise from them bring attention to the role, impact and function of computation. We suggest that such art practices move beyond the bifurcation of New Media Art and Mainstream Contemporary Art and partially reconfigure the ecologies of practices between art, science and humanities.


Brogan Bunt: Beyond the Technological Paradigm: Walking as Mediation

Although the notion of media is at one level associated with the death of medium specificity within modern and contemporary art, it also, contradictorily, takes shape as a range of specific fields of practice – new media art, media art, electronic art, etc.  This paper argues that the latter tendency represents a reification of more fundamental issues and questions that the notions of media, technology and electronics pointedly represent, but can never entirely encompass.  Media are signs of more general processes of mediation that are not restricted to technological media per se.  This shift in perception enables media art to move beyond the technological paradigm and to discover all kinds of points of affinity and practical association with forms of contemporary art practice that explore issues, for instance, of materiality, performance, interaction and communication. Instead of remaining a somehow separate and marginal concern, the problem of mediation, conceived more generally, becomes a lens for engaging with wider frameworks of experience and practice.  As an example, this paper considers how notions of mediation inform currents of contemporary walking based art.


Janis Jefferies: The Material Turn:  Vibrant matter and the matter of vibrancy

In recent times there have been many ‘turns’, from the curatorial to the conceptual, the linguistic to the bodily. The arts and humanities too are undergoing a critical reappraisal of the sciences (particularly in light of the ‘affective turn’). What then is the ‘material turn’? Following Andrew Pickering, how does the agency of  vibrant matter, matter? How does the nature of artistic practice and the notion of ‘truth to materials’ affect what we understand as the ‘new materialism’? How do we transform our sense of care in relation to the world of humans, machines, non-human life, and things? Is there a new democracy, a new ‘parliament of things’ rather than an ‘internet of things’ or ‘objects of conspicuous consumption’?

Whether we are scientists, artists,  designers, architects … / we always engage in some kind of interaction with a vibrant world and that world transforms us as we transform it… / it is a reciprocal process… / we develop another way of knowing and doing than we would otherwise ‘know’ in isolation.

This position paper will explore some of these questions in response to the work of Andrew Pickering and the writings of Estelle Barrett (Editor), Barbara Bolt (Editor) and their work on Carnal Knowledge: Towards a “New Materialism” through the Arts.


Christopher Salter: Alien Agencies: the unstable dance between art, techno-science and new matter

The recent ‘new materialist’ shift that Janis Jeffries refers to in this panel that is taking place in the arts, humanities and social sciences seems at first radical: a new kind of “ontological theatre” in a world of continual becoming (Pickering) ; a universe in which self-sufficient objects “withdraw from us” and our “correlationist” bent of defining the world in relation to human subjects (Harman and Meillasoux); and finally, the confrontation with “vibrant matter” and the “politics of thingness” (Bennet) seems poised to remedy the longstanding obsession with discourse, language and theory without grounding that has long plagued the humanities (and indeed, with conceptualism, the arts). Indeed, if the recent discourse of Documenta 13 is any indication (a focus on ‘artistic research,’ the objectless of objects and the nonhuman), it seems we have entered a new world. But this new world may be deceiving for, as  Tim Ingold writes, “the growing world of literature that deals explicitly with the subjects of materiality and material culture seems to have hardly anything to say about materials.” Moreover, discussions about the discourse of materiality are not the same as dealing with what curator and historian of science Thomas Soderqvist calls “the bony materiality of things themselves.” When looked at more closely, the new materialism is indeed a misnomer: a conglomeration of different intellectual traditions that have little to do with each other and have radically different political and epistemological stakes, yet seem to be called forth as a new kind of turn. This intervention will briefly pick up a current ethnographic project entitled Alien Agency which examines how it is that artists actually work with unstable ‘nonhuman’ materials embroiled within techno-scientific practices – tissues, sound and the technological registers of the sensorium. Is materiality really what is at the centre of artists working with techno-scientifically stamped instruments, techniques, procedures and institutional settings? What levels of reflexivity occur when dealing with the material agency of things and processes in artistic practice? Finally, and perhaps most importantly, what are the stakes (if any)  for the new materialist and, indeed, sensorial turn from the perspective of artists and makers themselves, particularly if we view artistic acts, as Guattari argued, as the ability to “generate far off balances from everyday life.”


Lucas Ihlein: Mediating Experience in Performance Re-enactment

I take a pragmatic approach to questions of media and mediation in contemporary art. This presentation will use examples from my own experiences of re-enacting Expanded Cinema to discuss the materiality of particular performances which use analogue and digital media.

As an artist who is fascinated by ephemeral and performative works from the 1970s, I am driven by a coupled anxiety and desire. I’m anxious that the pieces which I’ve heard about (or read about, or observed via small archival documents) will one day – due to material degradation, or software/hardware obsolescence, not to mention the death of the artists – be completely unavailable; and despite temporal, technological or geographical distance, I’m also driven to experience the ‘original’ works for myself, in the flesh if possible. This desire has led me (in collaboration with Louise Curham, as Teaching and Learning Cinema) to re-enact several Expanded Cinema performances from the seventies. I often find myself challenged and tickled by the kinds of dilemmas that arise from this process.

For example, in re-enacting Guy Sherwin’s Man with Mirror (1976), we are forced to make some tricky choices. Do we use Super 8 film, as Guy’s original does, or do we attempt to migrate or transpose the work to a digital format? What are our motivations for choosing one format over the other? And even if we choose to stick with celluloid, does this guarantee a more ‘authentic’ experience of the work? Super 8, in 2013, can only be experienced through the lens of contemporary digital culture – meaning that our re-enactment is necessarily imbued with a techno-nostalgia, which was absent in 1976 when Super 8 was a ‘current’ medium.

Surely then, reaching for authenticity is a futile endeavour? The approach taken by Teaching and Learning Cinema involves cheerfully working through these sorts of problems – problems which allow us to see media culture in our own time – and that of 40 years ago – with fresh eyes. We employ an open-source learning method, consulting the originating artists with respect (in the spirit of inter-generational oral history), but also taking informed ‘artistic licence’ where needed. The underlying pragmatic goal is to create the conditions for an experience of the work in our own times and places, and to allow the decisions we have made en route to be available for discussion.