[rohrpost] Bericht über die REFRESH!-Konferenz

Florian Cramer cantsin at zedat.fu-berlin.de
Don Okt 6 00:54:03 CEST 2005

Ich weiß leider nicht, wer den untenstehenden Bericht verfaßt hat
(mez/netwurker at hotkey.net.au scheidet aus), und er gehört eigentlich
auch nicht in eine deutschsprachige Liste. Dennoch fand ich ihn
interessant zu lesen und absolut nachvollziehbar in seiner Kritik
gewisser schlechter Angewohnheiten im sog. "Medienkunst"-Diskurs.
Vielleicht war jemand, der/die hier mitliest, bei der Konferenz und kann
eigene Eindrücke schildern?


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To: arc.hive at anart.no, "webartery at egroups.com" <webartery at egroups.com>,
From: "_dream.thick[ener]_" <netwurker at hotkey.net.au>
Reply-To: arc.hive at anart.no
Subject: [_arc.hive_] Fwd:REFRESH! conference, some impressions

     I’ve just come back from “REFRESH! The First International Conference
     on the Histories of Media Art, Science and Technology” in Banff.
     Herewith some brief
     impressions of the conference.
     I am an art historian (and ex-performance/video artist, from the
     Studio for Interrelated Media at Mass Art) with a longstanding but
     hitherto relatively untapped interest in new media. My own field of
     expertise is performance of the late 1950s and early 1960s, including
     Fluxus projects, but I also teach on the early part of the 20th
     century and am currently leading an advanced seminar on what I call
     “mechanical transcriptions of the real”­that is, following Kittler,
     those analog copying technologies that have so defined 20th century
     experience and inflected much of its art. I attended the conference
     as an observer, trying to learn more about the subject. What follows
     is merely a report, but it comes filtered through that complex of
     interests & preoccupations.
     The first thing to be said is that this was an enormously ambitious
     conference: its four days were packed from morning to evening with
     panels and events the overall distribution of which, in terms of
     topics and time, I thought was pretty good, given the mission.
     Sessions ranged from “media histories” to a session on “collaborative
     practice/networking” to “history of institutions”; there were 3
     keynote addresses­Edmond Couchot, Sarat Maharaj, and Lucia Santaella;
     a poster session; an optional hike (Banff is in the stunning Canadian
     Rockies); a walk-through of the media labs; und so weiter. Meals were
     had communally in the Banff Centre’s dining room, and at least for
     me, since I knew not a soul at the conference AND felt like what one
     snooty panelist called a “clueless newbie,” these became interesting
     moments of social anxiety and unexpected social pleasure. While
     things did tend to split out into the old pros and the young
     nothings, they did get a bit more productively mixed up on occasion.
     Before I launch into the problems with the conference, the feeling I
     got from those I spoke with was that it was a mixed success but a
     success overall. I do think the conference provided a very good
     starting point for something, and this seemed especially true after
     the final session.
     High points of the conference, in no particular order:
         * Mario Carpo’s paper on architecture in the age of digital
           reproducibility, which dealt with the shift from a simply
           additive to an algorithmic modularity in architecture. This was
           probably the most professionally delivered paper at the
           conference, as well as the most intelligently amusing, and what
           Carpo presented as a paradigmatic slide was fascinating,
           provocative. I learned something.
Philip Thurtle and Claudia Valdes showing footage of Alvin Lucier doing solo
for brainwaves. I’ve forgotten what the paper was about, but was thrilled to
see the footage and to have the piece presented.
Chris Salter on a history of performance with media, beginning with a
fantastically forceful evocation of Russian Constructivis plays. I teach this
material, but Salter’s presentation was vigorous and made a very strong case
for its inclusion in a “new media” history.
Christiane Paul on curatorial issues with new media. This was also a very
professional (by which I mean good, clear, to the point) presentation and very
usefully laid out the difficulties involved, from curators having to rebuild
settings to house work to problems of bitrot to audience development.
Impressive and useful.
Machiko Kusahara on “device art” discussed Japanese aesthetics. This was an art
historically thin paper­no discussion of Fluxus, very loose mention of Gutai
and then Tanaka’s electric dress but not the “painting machines” of her
husband­but the presentation of a different value-system for Japanese “device
art” (gizmos whose “art coefficient” is activated by their use) was pretty
convincing as well as very thought-provoking.
tour of the labs AND, surprisingly, the poster session, which was cluttered and
weird but also the one moment in the conference when people really talked to
each other’s ideas
Tim Druckrey’s screening of apocalyptic Virilio. He gave a very lazy but
passionate paper, basically asking why on earth new media would want to be
included in an old canon, and noting that a far bigger problem is present in
Nicholas Bourriaud’s blythe “relational aesthetics” than in the October cabal’s
control of high theory.
Michael Naimark’s corporatist but useful analysis of the sustainability of new
media institutions.
Johannes Goebel’s passionate and pragmatic overview of two such institutions.
the final, quasi-impromptu “crit, self-crit” session led by Sara Diamond. This
was where most of the lingering meta-issues were put on the table, and it was
done in such a way that those in the room I think felt it was really a high
point and a great note on which to finish. Left the feeling that while there is
work to be done it will be done.
I didn’t go to everything, needless to say, and doubtless there were good
things on other panels. I heard that Claus Pias’s paper on cybernetics was
excellent, for instance.
That said, the conference overall suffered greatly from what Trebor Scholz and
Geert Lovink have dubbed “panelism”: a territorial structure in which
moderators also delivered papers within the format of a way over-tight schedule
and with virtually no time for questions; a few speakers went beyond their
alotted minutes in the first sessions and then panels were policed to an almost
draconian degree, making the entire assembly tense. Discussions were notably
truncated. In fact, to this art historian it seemed weird that people would
gather for a conference on something as shifting and relatively openly defined
as “new media” (how many papers in fact began with loose attempts to list the
salient features of new media) and then sit and hear something they could have
read already
 for though the organizers had posted quite a number of papers on
their official website beforehand, it was clear that most attendees hadn’t read
those papers
 and then not discuss what they had heard.
What surfaced in the tension around (non) discussion was a big mess of
anxieties. Topped by the anxiety over having “new media art” categorized as
“art” or as “new media,” these inflected many of the panel presentations and
discussions, and not in a productive way. Part of the problem, as Andreas
Broeckman pointed out in the final crit session, was that the mission of the
conference was probably too broadly and vaguely defined. But what I heard over
and over again was “traditional art history” can’t deal with new media. The
first thing I’d want to know is, what precisely is “traditional art history”?
>From Simon Penny’s castigation of art history as racist, imperialist, classist,
etc., it sounded to me like what was meant was Berensonian connoisseurship;
this seemed overwrought, but his excursus was only the most vigorous and
politically thought-through of a frequent plaint. Yet while he was quite right
to note that cultural studies wasn’t mentioned once at the conference his
characterization of art history is way behind the times. Art history and new
media share Walter Benjamin and, for better or worse, Rudolf Arnheim; new media
people would do well to read Panofsky and Warburg, just as I and at least some
of my colleagues read Weiner and Kittler. Art history may not yet be able to
deal with new media, but perhaps it is also the case that new media doesn’t
know how to deal with art history.
On this score a truly low moment was struck on the first day by Mark Hansen,
whose hatchet job on Rosalind Krauss was so lame that even the new media
theorists were bugged. Instead of new media bemoaning its lack of recognition
by art history and then its savaging of same (“we want to be with you; we hate
you” or “I love you; go away”) it might be more productive to stage a genuine
encounter. Leaving aside Andreas Broeckman, who gave a very nice but grossly
amputated (ran out of time) presentation on aesthetics and new media, and the
truly awful presentation comparing the websites of the Louvre and the
Hermitage, the art historians who were at the conference were either working
with medieval Islamic art or with the visual culture of science. That is, there
were no art historians dealing with contemporary art who were not already part
of the inner circle of new media people; yet this is precisely the encounter
that needs to be staged. Meanwhile Mark Tribe, not an art historian, gave an
extremely art historically lame presentation on appropriation, and while the
broader point was, well, okay, his presentation of the historical material was
painful and for at least this listener undermined his credibility. (On the
other hand, Cornelius Borck, a historian of medicine, gave a terrific
presentation­historically nuanced, intelligently read, and carefully
researched­on the optophone of Raoul Hausman and Hausman’s complicated
relationship to prosthesis.) From my perspective this suggests a serious
problem of disciplinarity: surely just as new media artists/theorists expect a
sophisticated treatment from art historians (Simon Penny again: art historians
should learn engineering, cognitive science, neuroscience before they discuss
new media
) so new media artists and theorists should treat the work that comes
before­both art and media­with the historical complexity (without going to
Pennyian excess) art history at its best demonstrates.
Other issues that came up:
    * Problems of storage & retrieval of new media work. From an historical
      point of view this demonstrates a remarkable degree of self-consciousness
      on the part of new new media­something new, incidentally, in the longer
      history of media, and interesting as a phenomenon.
Huge anxiety about the “art” status of new media, alongside a subthematic of
the relation to science and to scientific models of research.
Adulatory fetishizing of cognitive science, engineering, and neuroscience (in
marked contrast to the dissing of art history).
Lack of a fixed definition of new media, with repeated nods to hybridization,
bodily engagement, non-hierarchical structure, networking, and so on.
Disconnect of the keynote speakers. Couchot had difficulty with English and
seemed, while emphasizing hybridity, to be speaking from another time. Sarat
Maharaj rambled for nearly 2 hours about Rudolf Arnheim and the Other; I found
this talk excruciating, though I later spoke with someone (media artist, go
figure) for whom it had been a high point. And Lucia Santaella’s beautifully
delivered, rigorously near-hallucinatory and religious but to me quasi-
apocalyptic vision of the “semiotic” and “post-human” present/future of the
“exo-brain” was a chilling picture of species-death.
Ongoing problem of gender and geographic distribution. While non-Western topics
cropped up here and there at the conference, the one panel that dealt in any
extended way with non-Western paradigms was also the one panel that was almost
all female­and also the panel that got the most flak in its few minutes of
discussion, in part because most of those dealing with non-Western paradigms
were Western. This relegation of dealing with the Other to the women is
typical. There was also some grumbling that many of the non-Western projects
had been tucked into the poster session rather than elevated to panel status.
It would have been good to have some representation from Africa, or even a
panel on doing new media in less media-rich environments than Euro-Ameri-
Comical reliance on and then debate about Powerpoint
. And then, as one member
of the audience pointed out, nearly all of the people at the conference in
their ppt-critical right-thinking wisdom had little glowing apples at their
desks. No sign of Linux.
That’s a sketch, replete with opinion. I’d encourage anyone interested in more
specific information about the conference to check the website at
www.mediaarthistory.org, which has some papers up as well as abstracts.

_intricate mirror mem[e_st]ories_


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