Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Artist, Medium, Instrument

Friday morning is when I open the conference on Buddhism and New Media in Seoul with an artist presentation entitled "Artist, Medium, Instrument":
"...if I specialize in a medium, then I would be fixing a ground for myself, a ground I would have to be digging myself out of, constantly, as one medium was substituted for another - so, then instead of turning toward 'ground' I would shift my attention and turn to 'instrument,' I would focus on myself as the instrument that acted on whatever ground was available." "Steps Into Performance (And Out)" -- Vito Acconci

Is it true that it's the artist that is the medium or instrument that is most capable of conducting radical experiments in subjective thought and experience, and that the tools we use, the theories that justify it all, and the outcomes that play into the preconceived agendas and methods of the academic research community as well as the corporate R&D divisions, should have very little to do with the way an artist or collaborative network of artists bring their creative compositions into society? Artists working with new media technologies are developing new and integrated daily practices that are meant to play out their performances-to-be on whatever compositional playing field they happen to be on at any given time. That playing field would be the ground of the moment, not one they would have to dig themselves out of continuously, but one that they would act on as part of their constructed persona(s) as they move through time – what Manuel Castells calls a "timeless time" on the "edge of forever" – one that takes place in the networked "space of flows".

The idea of constructing personas that distribute themselves in the networked "space of flows" relates to the interdisciplinary artist Eleanor Antin who, now in her 60s, said that when she started making visual art, she began constructing new personas to step into and out of as a way to develop new work. These personas helped her produce what, in another context, she called "an art-making machine."

One cannot be taught how to become Acconci's "instrument" nor Antin's "art-making machine." That fiction has to be generated by the human artist en route to becoming an artist-medium, one who trains themselves to tap into their unconscious creative potential, one who is deftly aware of the fact that these constructed personas need not be construed as alien alter-egos set in opposition to the prefabricated realities of a "normal" consuming self, but in a more positive sense, that these constructed personas are dependent on a network of causes and conditions that inform the experiential quality of the struggle that persists throughout an artist-medium's life as they continually fine-tune their body (what I call their body-image) as instrument.

Each artist has to figure out their own unique creative path for themselves. There is no sure-fire way of constructing the "right" set of digital personas so that you can build your own one-person "art-making machine." The ways are endless and yet the destiny seems to be the same. This creates an unusual opportunity for new media artists to develop alternative paths in the construction of their flux personas and to focus on the "cybernated life."

Korean media artist Nam June Paik was circumspect in his view of the cybernated life. In his artist writing "Cybernated Art," Paik wrote: "Cybernated art is very important, but art for cybernated life is more important, and the latter need not be cybernated."

An essay Paik wrote in the early 60s called "Experimental Television" – that's what he must have called video art in those days – begins to develop this electronically-infused, experimental persona who comes "out of nowhere" – as when he says, referring to the word (in quotes) "ecstasy"
* to go out of oneself...

* completely filled time

* the presence of eternal presence

* unconscious, or super-conscious

* -- some mystic forgets himself (go out of oneself)

* abnormal

* the world stops for three minutes!
How does one use new media technologies "to go out of oneself…the way a mystic forgets himself"? Perhaps, as Acconci suggests, we would need to shift our attention and "turn to 'instrument,'" to focus on becoming the instrument that acts on whatever ground is available.
The event is sponsored by the Korean Buddhist Research Institute and takes place at Dongguk University.

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