New Media Art and the Zeitgeist
Résumé | Extrait
“Every work of art is the child of its age and, in many cases, the mother of our emotions. It follows that each period of culture produces an art of its own which can never be repeated.” Wassily Kandinsky1 In his book Concerning The Spiritual In Art, written in 1911, Wassily Kandinksy relates the spiritual, inner life of man to art and assigns to it a sense of slow but continuous progression: “The spiritual life, to which art belongs and of which she is one of the mightiest elements, is a complicated but definite and easily definable movement forwards and upwards. This movement is the movement of experience.”2 Graphically, the spiritual life is represented as an acute-angled triangle that is “moving slowly, almost invisibly forwards and upwards,” progressively acquiring knowledge and experience, from the most enlightened individuals to the rest of humanity: “Where the apex was today the second segment is tomorrow; what today can be understood only by the apex and to the rest of the triangle is an incomprehensible gibberish, forms tomorrow the true thought and feeling of the second segment.”3 This conception of art as a Promethean endeavour may seem anachronistic nowadays, but it does remind us of something that we still expect, to some degree, from a contemporary work of art: a reflection of the times we live in. The spiritual in Kandinsky’s text can therefore be related to a wider concept of the spirit in connection to the present time: the Zeitgeist, or “spirit of the age.” Art can be seen as a reflection of the Zeitgeist in the sense that it draws elements from its socio-political, cultural and intellectual climate and generates a response in a form that is not simply descriptive but metaphorical: it does not just provide information but promotes thought. According to historian Boris Groys, art even defines its contemporaneity in the extent to which it succeeds in portraying the spirit of its age: “art seems to be truly contemporary if it is authentic, if for instance, it captures and expresses the presence of the present in a way that is radically uncorrupted by past traditions or strategies aiming at success in the future.”4 Contemporary art thus becomes a link between the viewer and the Zeitgeist: free of the past, its liveliness is expressed in its direct relation to the present. Major events in the art world, such as biennales, international art fairs and large-scale group exhibitions are usually presented as meeting points of the current trends in art. Still, in these events one form of contemporary art is usually underrepresented or even ignored. New media art, which uses digital tools and reflects on the effects of technology in our culture, is paradoxically disregarded in the discourses of mainstream contemporary art, which usually address the connections between artistic creation and the world we live in.5 This contradiction can be stressed by asserting that, if contemporary art is conceived of as reflecting the spirit of our time, new media art has literally addressed the Zeitgeist in the form of data flows that traverse our global information networks. If the cultural, social and political climate of our era can be portrayed, surely one of the most adept means nowadays is by extracting real-time information from the Internet and giving it a form that can be perceived by a single viewer. A clear example of this can be found in Martin John Callanan’s artwork, I Wanted to See All of the News From Today (2007-),6 a net-based piece that collects the front pages of almost a thousand newspapers from all over the world and updates them continuously. The result is an overwhelming, contradictory image of the Zeitgeist as an overflow of information, a text so vast and detailed that it becomes unreadable.
|Auteur :||Pau Waelder|
|Titre :||New Media Art and the Zeitgeist|
|Revue :||ETC, Numéro 96, juin-octobre 2012, p. 50-53|
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