Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Indecipherable Matter(s) [Part Two]

In approaching the question in my previous post, i.e. "what's next? and who's gonna invent it?" - one back-up Q that immediately pops up is "does whatever comes next necessarily have to be new?"

Dick Higgins, who coined the phrase "intermedia" which - not surprisingly - is making something of a comeback, published a book of collected artist theory/writings called "A Dialectic of Centuries: Notes Toward A Theory of the New Arts" (1978) that I occasionally go back to for insights. In one piece, entitled "Innovation" - he starts off the essay by defining the term "neoteric" as basically meaning "new," "recently made," etc., but that can also mean "a taste for the new," "enjoyment of the modern," or even an enjoyment of the "hidden, obscure, or exotic." He then goes on to briefly develop what he calls the "neoteric fallacy" where he says -
...another implication of the neoteric fallacy - I can begin to call it that, by now - is that the "new" element in a work is of intrinsic value.


...the new manner - any new manner - finds its only actual value in whatever new meanings it makes possible. Thus if in each generation a new meaning is needed, an appropriate manner of expression will be found - and this may or may not be a particularly new one.


Innovation - the "new" in art - is, then, not one-track but dialectical, neither "good" nor "bad," but an aspect of a process, an interchange between form and content, artist and public, now and then. It is relative, not absolutist [...] What is new to me in some artwork, may not be new to somebody else, and vice versa...
There was one point in my own practice when something very old, writing, found itself eloping with a wild young thing called digital or new media technology, and the ensuing adventure led to the fruition of a series of network distributed art works that were eventually labeled net or Internet art. This was supposedly something new, and one would have to say that - given the nature of the Internet medium and the way it developed in the late 90s and early 00s, and the self-conscious meta-manipulations of the medium in question (always in question) - it did indeed fill the culture with new forms of art work never experienced before and that yes, for that moment in history, the innovative use of technology did assist the artists in making meaning out of their practice, just like collaged objects and electricity assisted in making meaning out of Rauschenberg's "combines."

But what is new in net art today that differentiates it from what is new in video art? And what is new in video art today that differentiates it from underground arthouse cinema? And what is new in underground arthouse cinema that differentiates it from what is old in underground arthouse cinema?

Higgins was right: "What is new to me in some artwork, may not be new to somebody else, and vice versa."

For someone who has never experienced Code Art - this show at the Whitney artport might be totally new.

Try reading Tristram Shandy (originally published in installments between 1759 and 1767) for the first time and that may seem new too. Although Michael Winterbottom's cinematic reading of Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, and the self-referential website that comes with it, may seem old hat by now (although I remember thinking it felt like a new work of net art).

Ezra Pound once said "make it new."

Maybe the "new" dictum for the emerging interdisciplinary artist working their way across various media platforms and processes should be: "make it now."

Whatever IT is.


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