As most of this year’s events, the current sixth edition of the competition for the Best Diploma in New Media Art is being held in circumstances different than the ones we have encountered so far. The difficulties experienced by the organisers, the conference accompanying the competition, and the condition of new media art. These are the issues I am discussing with Piotr Krajewski – chief curator at the WRO Art Center and art director of Biennale WRO, and Jakub Jernaszczyk – artist and dean of doctoral school at the Eugeniusz Geppert Academy of Art and Design in Wrocław.
Anna Dziuba: New media art seems to be a general term because everyone can understand it differently. Of course, there is an issue of generation change and ageing of some methods used in new media. Let us begin by characterising the notion, as you understand it, or perhaps you have an idea for another name for this field of art?
Piotr Krajewski: The indefinite nature of new media is not a problem to me; it can be an asset. It demonstrates its energy and multidimensionality. The area of new media is not limited by time frames, and even there was some research conducted on the earliest manifestations of new media. Currently new media are shaped by new areas which have replaced older domains, building mutual interrelations. It is not an area for those who expect clear classifications, on the contrary – it is a process. Maybe because in my extensive experience there is space for video, (post)internet, big data, world of programming, body in digital relationships, and algorithms as a substance of culture. I believe that its strength lies in the internal relations merging the domain, while at the same time retains its diversity. In short, my intention is not to develop a new definition but rather to identify the rhizomatic relations between various activities.
A.D.: Can the experience and knowledge you have gained, and your observations on your students’ works, allow you to define a potential direction for the development of new media art? Would you be willing to try to predict what new media art are we going to create in the future, or will this genre disappear altogether?”
Jakub Jernajczyk: New media art is a very comprehensive term, entailing a wide spectrum of artistic activities. It is one of the most rapidly developing area of contemporary art. It is difficult to identify one direction of its development – the structure of this evolution is not linear but rather resembles a tree or a network.
Without doubt, one of the most significant trends, more and more present in the works of our students and graduates, includes activities using artificial intelligence algorithms and commenting on the increasing presence of AI in our lives. Thinking about the future, we can consider to what extent we will be creating new art, and to what extent we will be just observing its autonomous development. These are just some of the issues we will discuss during the upcoming edition of the Polish Media Art Conference which leitmotif is “Artificial Intelligence – Intelligent Art?”
P.K.: The Biennale WRO Programme is a huge testing ground in this subject-matter, and although we present current art works in both cases (Biennale WRO and the Best Diploma in New Media Art), the emphasis is placed on different issues. If we take into account all the previous editions of the competition, the similarities resulting from the collaborative programming process would be significant. There is focus on specific works and individual potentials of their authors. The goal of the competition is not to express our own programme vision or to impose the anticipated future of art. The competition has other assets. The very choice of works for the exhibition is made as a result of juxtaposing, or even objectifying, various visions during meetings attended by teams appointed in every city, where a university runs its operations. Independent experts, not related to the universities or WRO, have a substantial share in the meetings. They are curators and practitioners engaged in the world of art. If we think about the future, this process, in its most important part, mostly concerns the future which is ahead of these young artists. The defence of the diploma project is a unique moment which marks the shift between university education, independent development, and the future our graduates which they are about to enter. It is difficult to talk only about art and its development here because in my view the question is whether, and to what extent, contemporary societies still produce cultural and civilization conceptions of development. 20th-century art believed in the future, at times in progress which was not only an argument or a purpose for the avant-garde but also a conviction substantiating transformation.
A.D.: The world is changing rapidly. Each year brings us new advancements or new fascinating technologies. Could you give us an example of an interesting project reaching for novelties, an innovative technology which you would be happy to see being used for the benefit of art.
P.K.: I would enjoy seeing great works of art created in harmony with technology. We can see how new technologies are instantly taken over by culture. However, this rapid process is taking place in a makeshift manner. On the one hand, it is intriguing enough to develop our conception of the future. On the other hand it is so superficial that such ideas of the future lack significance.
Let us take a closer look on the issue of three-dimensionality. It was adopted many times in the last 150 years, for example: in 19th century photography, in 20th century holographs, in films and in digital media, as virtual reality of the 1990s and again in the 21st century. In each of these forms, three-dimensionality attracted huge attention and was the basis for developing conceptions of its future significance. And yet there is still a flaw in a three-dimensional image which is difficult to grasp, and which makes all the previous attempts generate only short-term significance. Perhaps in further development art, optics, psychology of perception, neurobiology, cognitive science in conjunction with imaging technology, they will address, or at least explain, the nature of this barrier.
It is similar with the internet, surrounding us, and yet still waiting for its grandeur in art, and for the use of its inclusiveness potential in a qualitative way.
A.D.: In your opinion, does any of the techniques, used as part of new media art, still hold some untapped potential?
P.K.: Maybe all of them have untapped potential? It is not only the web that is not powerful in the art world. Only few artists deal with the web as a fundamental part of their work. Internet activity is informational and affective, and art is often a prompt reaction to the web and its phenomenon. It is similar with other aspects. We know art works based on programming, artificial intelligence, biofeedback, genetics, neural networks, exploration of the interrelation between the digital sphere and the body, reality and simulation, sound, image, space, and interaction. However, in each of these domains, there is still a disturbing impression of only preliminary control over them, and even phenomenal revelation followed by reaching the boundaries of major difficulties which are necessary to overcome. So perhaps the future lies most of all in the transgression of the boundaries for the further development of those techniques.
A.D.: New media art is very often based on interaction with the viewers, as it invites them to be the co-creators. Does this aspect of new media art make it more accessible to the recipients? Are we, as visitors, used to admire a work of art from a distance, afraid to respond to such an invitation?
P.K.: I think interactivity is obvious to the viewers, it is inscribed in the rules of conduct, common not only in art but across the entire culture as well. What was once an experiment performed in media art, today it is a cultural technique, fundamental for arranging our relations with the surrounding world. It is hard to imagine art without interactivity, which is not the purpose of a given work itself, but one of its dimensions, which, once applied, does not exhaust the underlying issues. The message is vital because we attract attention through it.
A.D.: It is an unusual year when it comes to events happening around us. Natural disasters, global pandemic, a complex political situation. How has it affected this year’s edition of the exhibition, the artists and their works?
P.K.: We will need to wait for the next edition to see how this has affected the artists themselves. The concepts for their diploma projects were developed before the pandemic, and the situation impacted on the exhibition itself, by delaying its opening, which had been planned for April. The pandemic started as we were in the middle of an advanced preparation stage, which we had to suspend. The final part of the work selection procedure at universities had to be carried out on-line. We are currently preparing an exhibition unsure whether we will be able to show it to our viewers, therefore we have planned its end in February, hoping that the restrictions then will be lifted. We want to showcase the exhibition in a gallery space, but of course we are also planning an on-line strategy.
A.D.: The topic of on-line strategy will be also discussed during a conference titled “With a Distance”, which accompanies this year’s competition. It refers directly to the current situation, in which both educational activities and artistic practice are performed remotely. What possibilities do new media bring to art education and dissemination of culture?
J.J.: I am sure that if such pandemic had hit us 20 years earlier, it would have been much more difficult for us – artists, curators, and university teachers – to find ourselves in a new situation. Thanks to new media, in many ways we were prepared for what happened, we only needed an external stimulus to implement the existing solutions. Such a mass process of digitalising education (at various levels) which took place over a period of only a few months, would not have a chance for success under normal circumstances, even if we had a few years. The slogan “With a Distance” clearly refers to the forced social distancing rules, which are a nuisance to all of us. This slogan can also bring to mind to maintain a reasonable distance in a given situation and suggest an indulgent outlook on the domain that we are dealing with. As Walter Jackson Ong wrote, analysing the outcomes of the emergence of an old medium – writing: “Alienation from a natural milieu can be good for us… To live and to understand fully, we need not only proximity but also distance.”1
A.D.: In your opinion, is transferring art and exhibitions to the internet a positive thing, or does it rather result in the impoverishment of stimuli reaching the viewers?
J.J.: It is hard to provide a definite answer. On the one hand, we are dealing with an immense mobilisation on the part of artists, which proves the great adaptive abilities of human beings. On the other hand, we are narrowing down the range of our sensations to the rigid frames imposed by the matrix of the digital sphere. It is obvious that once the pandemic ends, we will be happy to return to galleries, museums, concert halls, and theatres that we miss so much. However I believe that we will not depart from virtual, widely available exhibition spaces.
A.D.: Thank you for talking to me.
1. W.J. Ong, Pismo – technologia przekształcająca myśl [original title: Writing is a Technology that Restructures Thought], [in:] Idem, Osoba, świadomość, komunikacja. Antologia, translated by J. Japola, Warsaw 2009, p. 152.