Tuesday, July 29, 2008


The artist is the medium is the message.

The human is the medium is the message.

The animal is the medium is the message.

But is this artist / human / animal aesthetically fit?

How would we even begin to measure our aesthetic fitness?

Is this something to be left open to the networked discourse of social relations that uses the semiotic machine as a medium to perform with/in?

If the answer is yes, then one might think our current Web incarnation, the so-called 2.0 version, is the end-all be-all of everything social and distributed.

But the emerging field of study that Tim Berners-Lee, in the new issue of Communications of the ACM, refers to as Web Science, suggests that we still have quite a long way to go.
Today's interactive applications are very early social machines, limited by the fact that they are largely isolated one from another.
Whereas Web 2.0 promises to open up the semiotic animal to the mediumistic potential of social networking, how can the digital arts inform the emerging field of Web Science so that we better understand how to intuit new forms of artistic communication between artistic co-producers? Berners-Lee and his co-authors suggest that social networking as such is very much in its infancy and that if the Web as "social machine" is to mature into a major instrument of socialization, we need to invent the new science of the Web.

What can contemporary digital artists (remixologists) learn from this quickening pace of turning the Web as an architecturally rich social/information environment into a mainstream field of study that grows out of computer science (Informatiks) but is also interdisciplinary in the sense that it is influenced by and in many ways co-dependent on sociology, semiotics, business theory, and the innovative aspects of the digital arts and humanities?

From the perspective of remixology, there is still this desire to investigate what it means to want to postproduce the present as part of a viral aesthetic practice formatted in performative othering. Some provocative cultural theorists like W. J. T. Mitchell, one of the initiators in the emerging field of Image Science, has articulated these "wants" from the perspective of, if you will, the images themselves, asking "What do pictures want?" Our response is that they want what the artists who co-create them want, that is, they want to be remixed (and in being remixed, they desire to be used in an aesthetic way, that is to say they want to be manipulated in love).

Algorithmic artists, like my colleague Frieder Nake who I have been jointly writing a paper with as part of my month-long sojourn as Visiting International Professor in the compART group inside the Department of Informatiks at the University of Bremen, sees this creative act of othering/remixing as a kind of mediumistic performance with the computer as a semiotic machine one plays with in order to generate images.

Berners-Lee and the other authors who use the ACM article to formally initiate a new interdisciplinary field of Web Science imagine a core group of scientists who will look inside the guts of the network protocols and architecture that are responsible for facilitating the development of the Semantic Web and who will then create future iterations of the Web that upgrade its condition as a powerful social machine. The general idea is for these Web scientists to conceive the network computer as a social machine with theoretical properties that are fundamentally determined by algorithmic invention. For those who are still convinced that (the digital) arts and humanities have a say in all of this, the computer-based World Wide Web as semiotic/social machine is an obvious place for experimental / creative / innovative curriculum development, a space where Web Science meets Rhythm Science meets Image Science meets Digital Art meets Electronic Literature. This is a large-scale interdisciplinary grant award waiting to happen (devil always being in the details).

Not surprisingly, at the end of my third visit to Europe this year, it's Marcel Duchamp's take on the "creative act" from a short speech he gave in Houston in 1957 that still resonates as we attempt to conceptualize the role of the remixologist in an age of aesthetics:
To all appearances, the artist acts like a mediumistic being who, from the labyrinth beyond time and space, seeks his way out to a clearing.


If we give the attributes of a medium to the artist, we must then deny him the state of consciousness on the esthetic plane about what he is doing or why he is doing it. All his decisions in the artistic execution of the work rest with pure intuition and cannot be translated into a self-analysis, spoken or written, or even thought out.


All in all, the creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualification and thus adds his contribution to the creative act. This becomes even more obvious when posterity gives a final verdict and sometimes rehabilitates forgotten artists.
The mp3 version of Duchamp's writing is located here.

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