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[Nettime-ro] FW: RHIZOME DIGEST: 4.7.02
Alexandru Patatics on Mon, 8 Apr 2002 18:38:08 +0200 (CEST)

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[Nettime-ro] FW: RHIZOME DIGEST: 4.7.02

Date: 4.7.02
From: Lars Hubrich (l-hubrich {AT} northwestern.edu)
Subject: book review--"Media Art Interaction"

"Media Art Interaction: The 1980s and 1990s in Germany"
Rudolf Frieling / Dieter Daniels, editors
(Vienna: Springer, 2000)

The speed of technical innovation and its integration into artistic
practice puts media art theory in an awkward position. Its object of
study moves so fast that the media art theorist might wait too long for
the "right" historical distance and, as a result, come up with obsolete
observations. There is also the danger of making prophetic statements
and predictions that turn out to be off the mark only shortly
thereafter. Reading texts about media art from only a couple of years
ago thus often feels like reading old computer manuals: interesting, but
outdated. That is why this book is such a pleasant surprise: like any
good anthology, it manages to present a multi-faceted picture without
claiming to be complete. Rudolf Frieling and Dieter Daniels are
interested in starting a debate rather than coming up with definite

The book contains numerous essays, most of which are hard to access or
find, both from theorists and practitioners of (mostly German) media
art. All of the essays are printed in both German and English; the
English translations occasionally have added footnotes, explaining
specifically German terms. This anthology is the sequel to another book
on media art, "Media Art Action - The 1960s and '70s in Germany." Like
the first volume, this book includes a CD-ROM with numerous audiovisual
examples of media art. The CD-ROM is an important component of this
publication since it illustrates many of the references made in the
essays. The material collected on the CD can be accessed through
chronological as well as thematic menus, thus highlighting the many
different links between individual works and artists.

The book is divided into four sections: "Video/Concepts,"
"Action/Music/Crossculture," "Interaction/Art," and
"Networking/Strategy." The first two sections deal mostly with video
based art, the last two sections focus on interactive media (internet,
installations). The two longest essays are written by the editors
themselves. Rudolf Frieling's essay opens the book by outlining the
socio-historical context of media art in Germany in the '80s and '90s.
This short survey is a lucid general introduction to the more specific
individual essays collected in this book.

However, Frieling does not merely come up with a chronology of events.
He also points out that media art is inherently multifaceted. "There is
nothing that copy-and-paste cannot transpose to a different context."
Media art exists in many different formats and is exhibited in both
traditional (museums, galleries) and non-traditional settings. Daniel
Pflumm's video work, for example, was exhibited in clubs and bars.
Therefore, writes Frieling, when approaching media art "it is advisable
to pursue simple strategies against being fixated in any way on
institutional, formal or interpretational hegemonies."

The first essay to follow Frieling's introduction seems to illustrate
this disclaimer. The essay, written by Marcel Odenbach in 1989, talks
about the difficulty of making definite statements about art in the
1980s. Odenbach is attempting to define the 1980s but has to concede
that "there was hardly a more diverse, confusing and short-lived time."

One of the most interesting essays in the first section is "The Video
Pioneer," written by Gerd Conradt. Conradt describes the artistic
implications of video (a medium he also labels as being the "instant
image") which he says seemed to "guarantee the independence in
production that was so much what I was looking for." He also relates
details from his work process, such as finding financing and having to
deal with decaying video tape, which offer a glimpse into the practice
of artistic video production in Germany in the early 1980s.

With the introduction of more affordable video cameras and equipment,
new outlets for video art in Germany came into being. Two essays discuss
examples of such efforts: "Media Centres and Video Groups in the FRG"
was originally published as the foreword to a video catalogue in 1984.
It documents the way video groups understood themselves as being a
counter-media, an antidote to the mainstream offerings on TV. Regina
Wyrwoll's article describes an anomaly: video art on mainstream TV.
"Kunstkanal" was a short-lived video experiment broadcast on one of
Germany's first private TV stations, RTL, which attracted such artists
as Sigmar Polke and Jenny Holzer.

Both essays talk about the fact that the high end video equipment needed
for the production of broadcast quality videos in the 1980s was very
expensive and thus often had to be shared by a number of people. The
community-building effect of this seems to be a thing of the past, now
that desktop digital editing and digital cameras have become much more

Another interesting contribution is Lutz Dammbeck's "alone into the
battle with the beast!" Lutz Dammbeck, who lived and worked as a
filmmaker in East Germany before he emigrated to West Germany in 1986,
describes how many of his artistic decisions for his "Hercules" project
were born out of necessity; the decision to work in mixed media
performances, for example, was due to the rejection from the East German
Film Association, DEFA, who decided not to finance Dammbeck's project.

Dieter Daniels's "Strategies of Interactivity" marks the halfway point
of the book and a shift from the historical essays on video based work
to other kinds of media art. Daniels discusses the concept of
interactivity by focusing on the question: "Is interactivity an ideology
or a technology?" Daniels's essay ends on a rather pessimistic note:
"The posited liberating potential of media can be put into effect only
in closely demarcated, culturally screened-off niches but.will not
survive against market forces."

In contrast to this summary, some of the following (older) texts were
written by artists who believe in the possibility of creating socially
and politically relevant art, specifically with new media. Ingo
GŁnther's "The Artist as Informant" (1993) is a passionate call for
political art that uses new media as its platform. GŁnther envisions a
global artistic and political network that works outside of both the
traditional art and media realm, not unlike his own internet project
"Refugee Republic."

Valie Export hopes that female artists will shape their own tradition in
new media in a way that challenges "social and political consicousness."
By taking control over not only the content but also the production of
media, women will be in charge of writing their own history, says

Also included in this anthology are interviews with Wolfgang Staehle who
founded the internet art forum "The Thing" in 1991 and two of the
founders (Diana McCarty, Pit Schulz) of "nettime", a mailing list for
Net criticism. These two interviews are interesting mostly for their
historical value. Forums and mailing lists are hardly a novum, but it's
worthwhile reading about early successful examples like these two.

Peter Dittmer's essay about his installation, "The Wet Nurse" is a
playful meditation on the idea of interactive communication. "The Wet
Nurse" is an installation piece in which users communicate with a
computer in order to convince it to knock over a glass of milk.

The last essay in this collection stands in opposition to the the
resigned tone of Daniels's introductory remarks. It is a pamphlet
published by artist/activist/director Christoph Schlingensief for the
election campaign of his party "Chance 2000." Certainly, by ending the
anthology with this particular text which might be described best as
"political art in practice", Frieling and Daniels wanted to express
their hope for socially relevant media art to be produced in the future.

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