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Automatic Update Essay

In regards to the upcoming "Automatic Update" exhibition at the MoMA NY, there seems to be a great deal of question about a number of issues. These are; the re-writing of history,the relevance of net-based art, the perception of popular culture, and the role of the New Media movement/ Genre in the contemporary scene. What seems to be a key dialectic about the state of New Media as force in contemporary art derives from two poles; one from the MoMA colophon about the Automatic Update show; The dot-com era infused media art with a heady energy. Hackers,programmers, and tinkerer-revisionists from North America, Europe, and Asia developed a vision of art drawn from the technology of recent decades. Robotic pets, PDAs, and the virtual worlds on the Internet provoked artists to make works with user-activated components and lo-res, game-boy screens. Now that "new media" excitement has waned, an exhibition that illuminates the period is timely. Automatic Update is the first reassessment of its kind, reflecting the artists ambivalence to art, revealed through the ludicrous, comical, and absurd use of the latest technologies. [1]

The other comes from the near-historical perception of the New Media community as art ghetto, residing in festivals/enclaves such as DEAF, ISEA, Ars Electronica, SIGGRAPH [2], and others. As an aside, this writer would like to remind the MoMA that there have been other retrospectives of New Media [3], but not of this profile. What is ironic about Automatic Update is that it suggests that New Media's time has all but gone, and that New Media artists have ambivalence to art in general. Perhaps this is evident from Roland Penrose's assertion of Rauschenberg's heritage to Dada [4],and Rauschenberg / Kluver's role in constructing key discursive threads in contemporary technological art through Experiments in Art and Technology (EAT) [5] that would spawn many tech/art event/sites, including New Media.

The questions posed by Automatic Update are many. First, is New Media a genre that is quickly being assimilated/deconstructed by the contemporary, or is its death, to paraphrase Twain's commentary on his obituary in the NY Times, "highly exaggerated"? Secondly,does this body or work aptly represent the "waning" dot-com/New Media era,and does it represent the material/info culture that is reflected in the work? What are the linkages between the assertions of interactivity and response as absurdist reactions through technological art?

Before continuing this analysis of the exhibition, I want to frame the argument of this essay more explicitly. On the CRUMB New Media discussion list, Christiane Paul noted that most of the works in
this exhibition are from internal collections [6], which is a point well taken. Even with this taken into account, there seems to be a dys-connection between the absurdist practices of the artists in
context with how they fit with other contemporary threads, the role of interactivity in the exhibition, and the locating of curatorial focus in context of the conceptual grounding of the show in terms of Automatic Update being representative of the "" era, which apparently is congruent with that of the historical framing of New Media. Lengthy sentences aside (which, by the way, coincide with early New Media works like Amerika's Grammatron [7] and Davis' world's first collaborative sentence[8]), my analysis is not so much a critique, but query into the dialogue between the contemporary and New Media worlds and how their memetic trends translate.

First of all, let us look at some dates where we may frame some of the considerations of art terminology and economic trends. The crash can be located in March/April 2000, when the tech-heavy NASDAQ stock exchange dropped from the 4300's to the 1400's [9].Conversely, the beginning locates somewhere in the mid-90's, with the 1995 IPO of companies like Netscape. This coincides with the rise of the Web in 1994, and the founding of in 1996 by Tribe & Galloway [10], which also follows with the online publishing of many of Lev Manovich's essays that would become The Language of New Media [11] in 2001. If Automatic Update is loosely suggesting the era of New Media to be approximately, then it may also be ironic that Manovich's book may be an encapsulation of the time, being released the year after the genre's implied apex. However, pre-Web, (let's say, 1995) there was the era of Cyberarts, as this was the common parlance for digital/computational art. For example, Compu-Serve Magazine published an issue in 1994 on the subject [12], and the creation of Mondo 2000 in 1989 [13] to the staff's proclaimed "end of cyberpunk" in 1993 with the release of the Billy Idol album (or possibly the founding of WIRED Magazine). The pattern that emerges is one from '89-'94 of a bohemian cyberpunk culture and related
arts based on digital technology to one that became more mass-cultural and linked to capital with the creation of the Web and its cooptation by business. What seems to be evident within the decade of the 90's and the emergence of the implied era of New Media is the shift from Cyber to Wired. If Automatic Update is truly a reflection on the era of New Media and its cultural issues, then perhaps the greatest singular driving force of the boom is unquestionably the rise of the World Wide Web, and not robotic pets(the Sony Aibo robotic dog was introduced in 1999 and Furby in December 1998),the cultural context for New Media must be heavily tied to the Web. In the years stated here, there were shows like net.condition (ZKM, 1999), Art Entertainment Network(Walker Art Center, 2000), and the Whitney Biennial 2000 for which web-based art figured prominently. In addition, during the renovation of the Smithsonian American Art Museum's galleries in,they hosted a partially net-based gallery during that time. Therefore,from a formal perspective, at least three or four years of the "New Media" art era of the boom saw some of the greatestactivity in web-based art. What is ironic in the online exhibition is that there are no web-based works online, only some net-based networking through,and the only piece that seems to directly acknowledge the browser is the video by PaperRad, Welcome to my Home Page. For that matter, 23 of the 25 works featured in the online documentation are largely video-based. If one considers events like the "Sins of Change: Media Arts in Transition" New Media summit (2000), which was the successor of a similar video art summit nearly a decade and a half prior, a key irony is the expression of waning media/media becoming canonized in terms of a canonized, or stable, medium (video). As an aside, the Automatic Update page borrows stylistically from late 90's Walker Art Center Gallery 9 New Media exhibitions,
including Art Entertainment Network, which was launched in conjunction with the Sins of Change summit. From this, the question arises as to whether institutional expression of media art forms can only come through the translation into now-canonical media, such as video. It reinforces the New Media community's dialogue as to whether museums will be able to support Web-based or otherwise more"formal" types of work from the genre, or whether the equivalent of video documentation will be de rigeur for the time being. While vaguely disappointing, it is not far from this author's contention that,due to the ephemerality of technology and technical upkeep required maintain most New Media works, the key archive of New Media art will probably be the book.

Another aspect of New Media that is often at odds with the sensibilities of the American museum patron is that of Interactivity. It is no surprise that of the 25 works documented, only 2 are
interactive. While it is not surprise, it is at odds with the curatorial vision's emphasis on interactivity, and with thepervasiveness of interactivity in much, if not most, New Media. This stems from two factors; one, the traditional gallery practice of not touching' the work, which is a known issue, but acomplex one that is beyond a full discussion in this essay. Secondly, and this is an issue I intend to write about more fully at another time, are the issues of time and engagement, what I call the"time-function". What I mean by this is that for different venues,audiences expect different slippages in time-based work for different contexts and genres. In the case of the video festival, work must have the rhythm and span more attuned for entertainment, i.e. shorter form, quicker pace, etc. There are, of course, exceptions where the framing of festival screenings specifically include experimental formats, but his commentary is aimed at broader contexts. Moving on, the gallery permits slower slippages. The time flow can be slower than the festival, as the patron can engage with partial attention, contrasted with that of the “captive†in the theater seat. As long as there is the perception of change between glances, conversational pauses, or sips of Chardonnay at the occasional vernissage, the temporal contract is fulfilled. What is more problematic is the context of the Museum, where the role of the time-based screen/projection work must fulfill the dual role of Sublime/Static and Cinematic/Kinetic. It must be read as a single image in Gladwellian "blink-time", but then withstand the engagement of longer time frames.A key example of this effect is Viola's "The Passions", where the figurative high-definition video reads as late Renaissance painting, but also as protracted cinema. he challenge of the time-function in the museum context is where much New Media fails to engage Contemporary Art audiences. Interactive New Media, by and large, do not convey their intent iconically in a blink. Much interactive New Media requires the direct dialogue with the viewer through touch or motion over numbers of minutes in order for the intent/content to reveal itself to the viewer. Interactivity in the museum is often restricted to gesture. Therefore, because of the "attendance" of interactor and support personnel to much New Media work of the , as well as its modes of
representation, it would not be surprising to see little truly interactive New Media in a larger museum context, even for a show reflecting on the genre. In addition to the matters of time in the gallery, the issue of cultural location in terms of time as era in context of Automatic Update is an issue. Of interest is the inclusion of only 9 of 25 pieces from the era, with Laurie Anderson's 1986
video, "What You Mean, We?" As part of the exhibition, Anderson's piece, although seminal, is curious because it neither takes place within the implied New Media era nor reflects upon the specifics of the rise of computational media art,as Anderson's piece is clearly about the 80's art milieu and late-stage analog video technologies. That leaves 15 of 25 works from the post boom era, given the framing of reflection on the role of technology in contemporary art,which is appropriate for the exhibition.

What may be revealed in the works of Automatic Update is not a reflection upon the "New Media era", but a filtration of technological artworks through US Contemporary Art agendas. This interface between art genres/communities is important to understand the translation of works under differing institutional contexts (museum/market/festival/academia) that are more specific to the given bodies of work. For example, many of the artists in the show (Arcangel, Lucas, July, PaperRad, Rist) at the time of the works' creation is a juxtaposition of the creation time of the work with the early 2000's obsession with youth/young artists. The obsession with young artists is rife in the art fairs, with personal experience at the 2007 BridgeArt Chicago, Basel, and others, and has been shown in recent years with the apparent doubling of Boomer geriatric anxiety, the rise of Millennial youth artists, and the denial of acknowledging mortality in the US through mass culture.

The other art-meme evident in the Automatic Update exhibition is that of the prevalent nature of the Neo-Pop/Superflat movement created in part by Murakami and his KaiKai Kiki stable (Nara, Mr.,
Aishima, Takano, and others). Huyghe et al's "No Ghost, Just a Shell" demonstrates the Western/Eastern dialogue in technological art, as
Murakami employed digital techniques to update Warhol's Factory concept through contemporary Japanese terms. Conversely, Huyghe's project juxtaposes virtual identity, intellectual property, and the post-millennial abjection through Murakami's "poku" (pop/otaku) lens of the "Kawaii" (cute) character of Annli. Anime, as a prevalently youth culture, although it does span well into late Boomer- aged culture in the States, and far beyond that in Japan) reiterates the desire for endless youth or even childhood in both cultures. Murata's "Melter" video also shows similar motifs in color and form to Murakami's flowers, without anthropomorphizing them, but the influences/concurrence of styles is clear.

Some of the more interesting intersections of US and Japanese Neo-Pop,youth, and techno-cultures are in the area of 8-Bit culture (like New Media, another oddly named genre). Ramocki'sdocumentary, 8-Bit, along with PaperRad's 414-3-RAVE-95 that show at least the Gen Y nostalgia for 80's digital video game culture. The nostalgia mentioned here relates to the fact that many of the artists working in 8-Bit genres (Arcangel, Neill, Slocum) are just old enough to have taken part in the first wave of the Nintendo culture. Nintendo is probably the key term here, as while PaperRad mentions their intent of using machines that they can have complete control over so that artists' intents override any external programmers[], the cultural resonances of 8-Bit override technical formalism. G4 television is releasing an animated series for young adult demographics entitled "Code Monkeys", along with mass-media influences in design from both the 8-Bitand Neo-Pop influences. And lastly, with Arcangel's Nintendo Duck Hunt hack,I Shot Andy Warhol, the historical linkages are made explicit, from Pop to US 8-Bit Neo Pop, and thus through color styles and linkage to a gaming"poku" mentality back to an intertextual conversation with Murakami & KaiKai Kiki.

The importance of these linkages is that my assertion that Automatic Update is only superficially about New Media, but actually it illustrates the art

world's ambivalence to the ongoing procession of technological forms and methods, as opposed to New Media artists' ambivalence to art.This ambivalence, not by the artists as much as the curators, is part of the ongoing dialogue to understand the role of digital technology and its intricacies in a contemporary scene still dominated by Pop/Neo-Pop and the Sublime. The fractured dialogue between cultural clades is well illustrated through a personal experience. is encapsulated in a personal experience. In Fall of 1999, I was given a Best in Show in a regional exhibition in Northeast Ohio for a large mixed-media digital print based on recontextualized Japanese pornography. When awards were given, and I stepped down, the curator proclaimed to the audience, "By the way, the Best in Show was done with a computer!" For the next three hours, almost every conversation entailed analogies of programs and oil paints, and little about the content at all. But this is a relatively universal experience for the digital, let alone New Media artist, and endemic of the era. What is evident in Automatic Update is a quirky show on "artists and computers", and one that does not engage the issues and genres related to new media, despite its linkage through the mention of the "waning" of the era. The idiosyncratic Walker-esque design, combined with ironic, Neo-Pop/ 8-Bit sensibilities with the focus on'younger artists' is in line with contemporary culture's Nintendo nostalgia. Automatic Update does try to address a desire to understand how artists could make use computers to make contemporary art,and address that to an audience (MoMA) who (apologetically) has a large non/pre-digital audience. The mass audience is wrestling with contemporary art/entertainment issues in the mass culture, and are still unreconciled with Duchamp, let alone Lippard,and how that could possibly relate to technology or even personal computers. As mentioned earlier, Automatic Update is a Contemporary Art show,and not one that addresses the New Media art movement, its cultural specificities and formalist concerns. The issues here are ones that stem from Duchamp. Paik, Rauschenberg, and include Anderson. Actually, they seem to be more akin to Murakami, Warhol, and Nauman. as opposed to Manovich, Csuri, Kluver, Ascott, Davies, Verostko, Cosic, Schwartz, et al. Again, as part of this conversation, Furthermore, Whitney New Media curator Christiane Paul noted on the CRUMB New Media Curating list that Automatic Update appears to be a show compiled from the collection works from the MoMA. This may be just the case, and as such, presents an interesting set of works in an odd juxtaposition that illustrates the uneasy cultural dialogue about art and technology, whether New Media has reached an apex, and what the perceptual difference between practitioners, public, and institutions regarding tech and art might be.