Armin Medosch on Thu, 26 Oct 2006 10:13:48 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> waves as the material and medium of media art

dear nettimers

i do something unusual here. I post an article which has been 
published on the Metamute website, and a response to it which I 
have written using the comment function of their drupal. I am not 
posting this here for self-aggrandisement. I am taking this unusual 
step because the waves exhibition was discoursive and raises 
fundamental questions about a theory of media art which has not yet 
been written. RIXC and me, in doing this, were raising a research 
question. This research question we would like to have some 
feedback to. Rob van Kranenburgs article in Mute actually did not 
really deal with the exhibition and concept at all. I am not attacking 
Rob. he has his concerns which are legitimate. However, WAVES 
did pose some quite clear questions regarding media art. I love, well, 
like, nettime (not the recent male bonding thread, I am from the male 
feminist queerist international) but netime has not been particularly 
good in posing questions about art. there was a brief flare when david 
garcia and olia lialina discussed the relationship between net art and 
video art in 1997. BUt basically nettime has been doing something 
else, it has been about the net and society and technology and all 
that. This is important. I was also very attached to those questions in 
my work as an editor of Telepolis. However, in my life I felt the need 
to go back to the question of art, which is, where, in the end, I am 
coming from. With WAVES, RIXC and me posed that question about 
what is the nature and definition and essence (forgive me that word, I 
am not an essentialist, maybe the greek word eidos would be better 
wouldnt it have been occupied by a computer game company) of 
media art by making an exhibition. I continue to think that art is 
important and that it is distinct from creative industries and 
technological innovation. I also think that there is such a thing as 
media art (to which belongs net art, video art, computer art, software 
art, generative, locative ... in my definition media art is still the 
umbrella term, as empty as it is or may seem). One basic thesis is 
(which I will argue below) that the media art of old was quite 
successful in institution building but the discourse was built on false 
premises. I am talking about the ZKM/ArsElectronica/ sort of high-
tech alienating stuff. They did not manage to build the foundations of 
a discourse which would go on. The second sort of main thesis is 
that if we want to create a sound theory of media art (not a general 
media theory, thats another story) we need to base it on the 
materiality of the media involved. Lev Manovich has expressed this in 
his much acclaimed book with the phrase digital materialism. BUt 
Lev being Lev and living in South California, he did not really put his 
thesis through, he was not consequential (konsequent, in deutsch). 
In this sense WAVES was not just an exhibition but a discoursive 
attempt in raising such A question wether how it is possible to build 
up such a more konsequent discourse and after 40 years of tinkering 
and nobody really knowing what it is there may be finally one half of 
a materially based theory of media art (waves being one half, the 
other being code - yet largely unexplored, but i am saying too much 

So I am posting now Rob's article and my response. It's all a bit 
messy, but hopefully that will be understood. At the bottom of my 
response there is also the link to my introductory article for the 
exhibition. to open source fundamentalists I say sorry for the .doc 
format, but it all happened very quickly. And I think that teyt is 
worthy of reading too. My honestly heald hope is that we have really 
the chance of building foundations of a theory that lasts. In order to 
achieve that, I am looking forward to your constructive criticism - or 
you ripping me apart. I dont mind. But it is about feedback and 
something that can only evolve collectively.

 When Wireless Dreams Come True  Editorial content | Articles

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Submitted by mute on Thursday, 5 October, 2006 - 10:27

ByRob van Kranenburg

Waves, a recent exhibition and conference in Riga curated by RIXC 
and Armin Medosch, tuned in to artistic engagements with the 
electro-magnetic spectrum. By exploring the material, if 
imperceptible, base of the information sphere, this event attempted to 
escape the conventional fetishisation of message over medium. But 
here, Rob van Kranenburg argues for a less esoteric, more abrasive 
confrontation with the 'matrix'

0riginality is clearly ancestor worship gone wrong
- Konrad Becker
The Urgency: 

Wireless is increasingly pulling in all kinds of applications, platforms, 
services and objects (RFID) into networks. Many people 
communicate through mobiles, Blackberries, digital organisers and 
palmtops. Cars have become information spaces with navigational 
systems, and consoles like Nintendo DS have wireless capabilities 
and Linux kernels installed. We are witnessing a move towards 
pervasive computing as technology vanishes into intelligent clothing 
(wearables), smart environments (which know where and who we are) 
and pervasive games. We will see doors opening for some and 
closing for others. Mimicry and camouflage will become part of 
application design. iPods will display colours and produce sounds 
that correspond to your surroundings. Yet there is an intrinsic 
autonomous trajectory in this hybrid space that needs to be explored 
and evidenced not in applications, but in programming and design 
principles. For me this is what the Waves Conference ? part of the 
8th Art + Communication new media art festival, which took place in 
Riga, Latvia this August ? brought out. The coming to consciousness 
of an intuitive knowing that we are at a crossroads where artists 
should take control of the very principles and materiality of the 
'network waves'. Artists become, in the words of Waves co-curator 
Armin Medosch, 'political engineers'.

Opportunistic networking vs citizen design networks

In terms of spectrum policies, our enemy is not the military. 
Corporate commercial broadcasters are
- John Wilson

This movement of digital technology towards our everyday life and our 
daily encounters in the streets, which are themselves becoming a 
digital territory, a hybrid space made up of services and 
communication protocols, is currently being negotiated by the 
logistics, retail, telecommunications and security industries. But as 
the Waves conference showed us, the convergence of highend EU 
projects like Haggle and citizen designed networks like Hivenetworks 
is becoming real in its technological and scaling aspects. (an open source programming language and 
environment for images, animation, and sound), for example started 
out as a programming environment for visuals, and is now moving 
away from the screen to produce the conceptually sound and 
working Arduino board. As the site explains: 'Arduino is an open-
source physical computing platform based on a simple I/O board and 
a development environment that implements the Processing/Wiring 
language.' Meanwhile, Jaromil ( is fitting up Nintendo DS (a 
handheld games console with wireless capabilities) with Linux to 
create small, cheap computers for rural environments.
Images: "Sensor_Sonics_Sights", Gas of Latvia & Oskar Poikans, 
"Electromagnetic Moments"

Usman Haque, Bengt Sjolen and Adam Somlai Fisher - architects 
and programmers shaping both locative media theory and practice - 
are working on Asus(brand) Wl-Hdd, wireless hard disk boxes to 
make up as Linux computers in order to disperse them, like smart 
dust, into our streets. A forebear of these citizen designed networks 
is the i3 sponsored project LiMe that predicted all this connectivity in 
daily settings. According to Alexei Blinov ( whose 
project is to liberate embedded computers for artistic use, we can 
now see the network as a content structure, 'no longer only a 
connectivity structure through which access to the global internet is 
facilitated'. In this respect it is interesting to see EU sponsored 
academic lab projects such as Haggle trying to achieve the same 
objectives as Hivenetworks.

Citizens become professional managers of their own lives
Symphathetic resonance is another word for artistic investigations 
into materials and properties, where in reverse engineering, ?almost 
by accident? information occurs/evidences itself.
- Joyce Hinterding 

The coming decade will see the European nation states' monopoly of 
knowledge-power crumble; the digitally literate middle class will 
script its own forms of solidarity (with its nationally non-affiliated 
community), breaking with the 19th century democratic institutions 
(starting with the health, education and security systems), and 
triggering new class wars between the disempowered majority of non-
cognitariat unemployed and the cognitariat which abandons national 

The middle class - backbone of what once was democracy - is 
deciding it has had enough of shoddy organisation, bad return on its 
investment ( taxes) and suddenly believes itself to be Nietzsche's 
Ubermensch: all this connectivity! And it seems free! Look what 
happened from the first visual browser Mosaic 1993: First phase: 
personal gain: online medication, travel, health information, banking. 
Second phase: interpersonal gain: sharing, ebay, peer groups, 
gaming avatars. The coming decade will see the third phase: 
institutional gain: organising parallel structures. The rich have always 
done this, now the middle class in the Western European countries 
is going to do it too. This withdrawal from responsibility for the 
commons, public space, public facilities and sense of solidarity will 
be the end of the democratic state at an organisational level. This 
stems from the logic of techné, outsourcing memory and agency to 
an ever more seemingly controllable environment on an individual 
level. The fact that this scenario is hastened by the great cultural and 
racial tensions in Western European cities and countryside ( where 
extreme right wing parties keep growing) is secondary. Waves 
showed us where we are now: moving to the outskirts, leaving the 
centre wide open for reactionary, wild capitalist forces and the threat 
of a barren commons.

Image: Arduino: an open-source physical computing platform
Susanne Ackers describes how McLuhan saw satellite 
communication systems both as an extension of the human nervous 
system and as a point of no return. The satellite infrastructure 
creates connectivity from above. The RFID infrastructure creates 
connectivity from below. Once you could say: 'And we are in the 
middle'. Currently, however, there is no we as in 'we human beings', 
the 'we' is an information space like any other. It no longer relates to 
an analogue human conciousness. There is no longer a need for a 
human interpretation of these data. Smart cameras have software 
that decides whether a movement is illegal or not. RFID is tied to 
biometrics and how the stages of biometric development consist of 
several steps: firstly, the securing of authentication and verification of 
identities in documents, and secondly the implementation of 
biometric access points in the entire communicational chain, from 
mobile phones to computers and PDAs, thus securing the fears of 
business (IP, patent business models) and governments (vested 
interests of families looking out for their future generations).

Isn't this full out war on free minds? What else is it? The Matrix is 
being build in front of our eyes and off we go to do what? Mapping? I 
really don't get all this mapping stuff. Why do it again, on your own, 
when all terrains are mapped already? Theorising? Theorising what? 
Theory is a 19th century pastime. All this talking. What does it 
build? Games? Kids play games.

Image: Living Memory: connecting the community

The problem with the avant garde is that it is always somewhere 
else. That is its function, yes, no quarrel with that. Yet the 
Conference clearly showed how two key figures of the locative 
movement are taking this too literally. Marko Peljhan is doing 
projects at the Poles, on global warming and Julian Priest is losing 
himself ( as he himself exclaimed) in spectrum politics. At this very 
moment in time when technology has become cheap, malleable and 
potent enough to wire up our own streets, who cares about this 
bunch of people drawing neat nice lines on worthless paper? How 
productive it could be to get all this conceptual power focused on 
real, concrete, discrete objectives.

This is not about alerting the public any more. There is no more 
public. People just go from one scandal to another and could not 
care less if 12 cameras were installed in one afternoon. This is about 
us. Saving us a place - a space - where we can breathe, discuss, 
think and dream manic dreams. We have two options: either we 
assist policy to ensure that at least some public space survives, or 
we build our own parallel systems. We start Mixed Reality 
Corporation with about 200 locative artists and become the new 
Microsoft of the 21th century ourselves instead of helping - through 
all our wonderful unscalable stuff - IP become wiser and feeding the 
machine with all our lovely ideas. Things are serious. This is not a 
game. Time to organise.

Waves, Exhibition Hall Arsenals, Latvian National Museum of Art, 
Riga, Latvia.
Conference: August 25 - 26; exhibition: August 25 - September 17, 

subject: Art | Conferences | Free Software | Network | New Media | 
RFID | Society | Technology

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Some added information and clarifications
Armin Medosch - Sat, 07/10/2006 - 3:05pm

I find it unfortunate that this text is presented as if it were a review of 
the WAVES exhibition and conference. It certainly isn't. This is an 
opinionated text about things the author is currently interested in but 
completely ignores the themes of WAVES and the work that has 
been shown in the exhibition. Most of the examples that he 
mentions, such as Processing or Jaromil's dynebolic, which both are 
great projects in themselves, have not been on show in the exhibition 
nor would they have fitted the theme. The author is entitled to have 
his opinions and research interests. However, the WAVES 
exhibition, conference, and film and performance program was about 
other things.

Marc Tuters has written up his impressions from Waves on his 
research blog with more detailed descriptions of some of the works 
and the exhibition in general.

In addition to this text I would like to clarify a few things about the 
intentions behind the exhibition and event.

The misperception starts with the first word already -- 'Wireless' this 
commercial catch all term for wireless technologies. WAVES instead 
was an art exhibition which instisted to use an alltogether different 
language and had nothing to do with commercial interpretations of 
New Media. This can be criticised, but the fundamentally different 
approach needs to be made clear as a position statement. The 
practice and theoretic reflection of media art is not only legitimate but 
also necessary and this practice is distinct from technological 
development per se or creative industry applications of new 
technologies. Full Stop.

The exhibition's theme is summed up in the sub-heading 
"electromagnetism as material and medium of art". For me this 
was/is part of a wider investigation into principles or foundations of 
media art. My thesis is that the media art of old (Ars Electronica, the 
large scale interactive computer installation, Weibel/Shaw et al - see 
my MA dissertation
rt) has not managed to build sound foundations of media art. This is 
why we have to start afresh. In discussions with Franz Xaver of 
Medienkunstlabor Graz, sponsor of my current theoretic work and 
pioneer and 'mentor', came to the conclusion that any theoretic work 
needs to build from the bottom up and start with the materiality. We 
identified two principle materials of media art, waves and code. Code 
haveing been already done by Ars Electronica, albeit badly, this 
exhibition focused on waves. The second sort of main thesis behind 
the exhibition is that in the 20th century the focus has always been 
on the signal transported by waves, radio and tv. Yet there are many 
artists who have engaged with waves in a much more direct way, 
working with the properties of waves directly. Usually these works 
are part of shows which have other themes, they appear in 
camouflage of locative or sound art or video art. Yet the great 
response of artists showed that artists themselves understood and 
shared our interest in engagement with waves on a deeper physical 
layer. This was one of the first big museum shows emphasising 
waves as such and how they function and what can be done with 
them apart from transporting sound and images in the traditional 
radio/tv format. Here kicks in a third thesis. As we do not have 
senses for most parts of the electromagnetic spectrum - only light 
and heat - we need antennae to get access to this part of reality. The 
antenna as a physical object has, on one hand, sculptural properties -
 consisting of certain materials which must be arranged in certain 
proportions in order to send/receive specific frequencies - and on the 
other hand allows us to gain access to Hertzian space. This means 
that the traditional notion of the sculpture is expanded into the 
formless world of electromagnetism - the electromagnetic sculpture. 
In other words, it looks good AND it also does something.

The work which exemplified this approach most in the WAVES 
exhibition was the work of Joyce Hinterding. In her own words she 
does Aeriology - a subjective 'science' of the waves.

She makes different types of antennae, for instance for receiving very 
low frenquencies by creating a large copper coil which is a 
fantastically aesthetic object but also creates electricity through 
induction. For the Waves exhibition we settled for another piece, 
PURPLE RAIN, which she co-produced with David Haines. Here, 
they use tv antennae to receive massively powerful tv frequencies - 
although we dont feel it tv still sends radiation tens of thousends of 
watts strong through the world. On a screen they show a 'romantic' 
image of high mountains with an avalanche coming down -- the 
unstoppable avalanche being a metaphor for the sheer force of the 
waves generated by tv. Depending on the strength of tv waves 
received this image is interrupted by white noise, the occasional 
systems breakdown and the face of an 'anchor woman' tv presenter. 
Yet the main things that happens is that the avalanche is going on 
and on and on. This work is an exception insofar as it uses metaphor 
- her other works are more direct without employing metaphor at all, 
but it is a good one which works well as a critique of the 
contaminating force of mass media.

Similar, in a certain regard, the work by Franz Xaver. He has built his 
own radio telescope which is positioned somewhere far from any city 
in a region in Upper Austria and it is oriented at the sky to receive 
the frequency emitted by the atomic element H (Hydrogen) - thus he 
receives the radiation from the birth of the universe. This radiation is 
transformed directly/electronically into sound - )not through any 
digitization and thereby 'interpretational' process, you can actually 
hear the background radiation of the universe. He says, quite 
polemically, ten years of WWW versus million years of radio history - 
the radiation which he receives is not oly coming from very far away 
but also from the deep past. Such works make us aware of times 
and dimensions which we are usually not thinking in and thereby 
they are powerful political statements opening up a completely 
different horizont against which to discuss current developments. I 
am convinced that there is nothing 'esoteric' about this. Those waves 
exist, they are very real and artists are developing ways of making us 
experience that reality.

This type of engagement with waves - another good example would 
be the works by Erich Berger and Bob Adrian, were central themes 
that guided us when we made this exhibition and all that is 
completely ignored by Rob van Kranenburg with his trendish interest 
in ubiquituous wireless. Also, it seems he did not go into the 
exhibition because the few examples he mentions are all from the 
conference. While the exhibition was puristic and coherent in its 
focus on waves, the conf was a bit more open to other themes, which 
is where hive networks and such things came in, which seems to 
have confused Rob about the intentions of the exhibition and events, I 
must assume.

Rob wrote:
"This movement of digital technology towards our everyday life and 
our daily encounters in the streets, which are themselves becoming 
a digital territory, a hybrid space made up of services and 
communication protocols, is currently being negotiated by the 
logistics, retail, telecommunications and security industries."

It seems we are being criticised here for not engaging with the 
dominant powers behind and direction of development of technology. 
Absolutely right, we didn't. We dared to make an exhibition which 
was NOT about what interests RvK currently. We did not engage with 
the mainstream of ICT development, or, maybe only insofar as we 
were showing the radical 'other' of those industry developments. We 
stepped OUT of the mainstream and tried to find a position -- which 
is what I think artists need to do. Otherwise we could all join the 
Microsoft or Sony research lab or the EU tech development boards or 
whatever. Sorry, but we were having our own little investigation here. 
Because of that Waves allowed us to take a breath of fresh air, 
getting out of the overcrowded discourse zone.

By making WAVES we tried to make a point that it is still possible 
to make a curated media art exhibition with a strong theme, which is 
coherently interpreted and which functions outside the utilitarian 
paradigm which government funding policies want to impose on the 
arts and specifically on media art. This was not about 'new media' or 
creative industries, or technological innovation. More importantly, 
there was no outside agenda behind Waves, this exhibition was done 
because RIXC and me shared an interest in the proposed theme, and 
this was the one and only reason. For RIXC it also was the 10th 
anniversary of their Art & Communication festival and they used this 
opportunity to make a big exhibition for the first time. It was a risk 
and getting the funding together was maybe the hardest part. As 
there was no single main sponsor who would probably also have had 
an influence on the agenda, funding was sourced from many different 
funding agencies, which was difficult but also allowed us to have that 
thematic independence. Funding or other institutional/structural 
restraints and oppressive tendencies had no impact on the content. 
This was maybe the most beautiful thing for me.

Apart from that, it was in a sense a traditional exhibition, housed in 
the major exhibition space in Riga, it was not alternative or activist, 
but yes, a grown up, beautiful and large exhibition with about 40 
works. The show was about art but also political in that sense that it 
showed alternative uses and a sort of pragmatic utopianism - not the 
utopianism of never-never land but things which can be done and 
work although maybe society cares currently little about them. Thus, 
it was neither esoteric nor escapist in the way some 'art & science' 
shows are. As an exhibition it spoke through the works themselves 
in a way we cannot experience often these days, providing an 
intellectually and aesthetically stimulating type of engagement.

On top of that we also had a conference, films and performances. 
We invited Erwin Van'Hart from DeBalie cinema who curated an 
evening programme of projections of some early classics of waves 
film and video art. This was part of an overall strategy of working 
against the usual short term memory of creative new media 
confusion. We also had a number of more senior artists in the show, 
for instance Anthony McCall or the Russian artist Bulat Galeev. It 
was important to bridge those 35 - 40 years to put current practice 
into perspective and highlight that there is not one media art history 
but that there are histories, different local histories of media art. We 
also had Paul DeMarinis, this years Golden Nica winner, who 
deployed a 100 year old 'forgotten' radio technology.

The artists generally seemed to feel very positive about the project 
because it provided a context for their work which is normally not 
recognised. It was in that sense also an artist's axhibition - not only 
by but also for artists. But the public also came in great numbers. At 
the opening we had 'tout Riga', about 400 - 500 people and on the 
following days the exhibition hall was always busy with people, 
families with children, old people, all kinds of people. So I can say, 
as a kind of resumme, sorry Rob, but beat us up a little bit more for 
being the Avantgarde.

Please note:
The text WAVES - An Introduction, written for the WAVES 
catalogue, has now been published in Mute Magazine's Public 

At the same time the RIXC team and me are working on making 
available more documentation but this could still take some time.    

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