The text presented below is the result of a roundtable discussion originated by Montabonel & Partners and held on the 19th of February 2015 between academics, artists and curators about the uses of technology in contemporary art practices.
Science and technology multiply around us. To an increasing extent they dictate the languages in which we speak and think. Either we use those languages, or we remain mute
J.G Ballard in Crash, 1973
Media in the expanded field
Artists today are critically engaging with the way that technology has become inherent to their environment and to their work. Not only practices associated with new media, but also traditional modes of practices, are currently informed by technological advances: technology has become embedded within art practices to the extent that it is an integral part of the significance of the work. In the same way that medium-specificity was understood in the past, current art practices are rooted in – and informed by – technology in such a direct way that it is shifting the site of meaning towards the technological process. As a result, in order to fully understand what an artwork means, it is vital for curators and museum professionals to develop an understanding of fast-changing technologies and the ways in which these are participating in the creation of meaning in a growing number of artworks.
If new media curators, media historians, conservators, technicians and artists have addressed such concerns, it remains largely external to wider curatorial practices within museums and cultural institutions. ‘Media in the expanded field’ is a research initiative calling attention to the challenges brought about by the complex task curators and museum professionals are now faced with and by the increasing necessity to resolve the divide between specialized and non-specialized levels of understanding of technologies. How does one shift the importance of technology for art from being a specialized area of study (operating in parallel with its own institutional context) to becoming a central question within curatorial, collecting and educational strategies?
Some of the key questions that arise for curators and museum professionals when faced with an artwork informed by or relying on technology are highlighted below – it is by no means an exhaustive list and is intended solely for the purpose of instigating debate and further research:
– How are the processes inherent to photography, drawing, painting, sculpture informed by digital technologies today? And to what extent is the significance of an artwork reliant on the understanding of our perception of the world through technology?
– Following the use of electronic photocopying, computer graphics, digital photography and rapid prototyping, how are digital technologies being used today to generate forms and expand the possibilities for artistic production and reproduction?
– Since the early twentieth-century, ‘found objects’ came to be used as raw material for the creation of artworks. Today, how can curators engage with conceptual art practices that use ‘found digital data’?
– Digital photographs, videos, software, operating systems, and web content are constructed from computer programming languages and yet those languages are made invisible by the interface they support. How are artists acknowledging and exposing those invisible systems?
– Artworks using digital technologies rely increasingly on the production of meaning through interactive contexts and exchanges. How can curators facilitate the interaction on the part of the museum’s audience?
– How are the production, circulation and collecting frameworks of technology-embedded art practices addressed today?
– How can curators and conservators understand and optimize the life span and longevity of artworks that rely on technology?
Montabonel & Partners