The 10th of October 2016 at the Lentos Museum in Linz took place the Media Art and Art Market symposium. This event aimed to discuss the current situation of the art market segment which focuses on the Media Art. The organization of the symposium has been led by Christa Sommerer, artist and pioneer of Interactive Art togheter with Laurent Mignonneau. Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau After working, researching and teaching in the US and Japan for 10 years, have set up the department for Interface Cultures at the University of Art and Design in Linz, Austria, where they are both professors. Sommerer is also an Obel Guest Professor at Aalborg University, Denmark, and Mignoneau was Chaire International Guest Professor at the Université Paris 8 in Paris, France.
Togheter, they have developed around 30 seminal works which combined interaction and artificial life, that gave them numerous international recognitions like: ARCO BEEP Award, Wu Guanzhong Art and Science Innovation Prize, the Golden Nica Prix Ars Electronica Award, the Ovation Award of the Interactive Media Festival in Los Angeles, the Multi Media Award of the Multimedia Association Japan, the World Technology Award of the World Technology Network in London and the PRIZE 2008 – uni:invent Award, among others.
Christa Sommerer is active in the in the art market with several galleries worldwide, she gained a special expertise in this sector, which also influenced her artistic production. A remarkable example comes from the work “The Value of Art”, that she made with Laurent Mignonneau. An interactive installation in which the time spent by its audience, is transformed into the economical value of the piece.
Alessio Chierico: On the 10th of October, 2016, you organized the symposium “Media Art and the Art Market” at the Lentos Museum in Linz, Austria. For this event, you invited prominent scholars, curators and gallerists come and discuss about the current state of the art market in relation to the Media Art sector. Do you think that the relationship between that market and that sector will finally be able to flourish in our contemporary period?
Christa Sommerer: The media art market is now slowly starting to evolve. In the last five to eight years, we have seen media art begin to appear in art galleries, art fairs, and at different art-market related events. There is now a great deal of momentum for efforts aimed at enabling media art to finally reach the more mainstream, contemporary art market; not only artists, but also gallerists and organizers are interested in making this happen. I think this is a very good development, because artists need to consider what will happen to their artworks after they have been created; how they can be distributed and where they can be placed in the public and private sector. There is an increasing awareness that the art market is not a bad thing, but that, quite to the contrary, it can sustainably enable media art to present itself, to distribute itself and to create more value.
Alessio Chierico: Do you think that the limited impact that Media Art has on the art market could hinder the merger of contemporary art and Media Art?
Christa Sommerer: In the past, I think that there has been a great deal of distance between Media Art and the market, because of the materiality of Media Art. We often see this when we show Media Art at market- related events, and people say: “I like this a lot, but how can I keep it? How can I collect it? What will happens to the work if the technology it is based on becomes obsolete?” Their wariness has nothing to do with the content of the work; people like the format, but they are not used to having to be concerned about the durability and maintenance of these types of works. Media Art is more complicated to collect than paintings, sculptures, and other more traditional formats. That is why we need more education and more services, for examples from organizations such as the ZKM, the Ars Electronica Center, the Daniel Langlois Foundation, and other institutions. They can provide good examples of how this kind of art can be collected and preserved. If we have more expertise on how to collect and maintain these systems, the fears related to the collecting of media art will slowly disappear. I deeply believe that it is also up to the artists to come up with new models on how to conserve media art.
Alessio Chierico: Nowadays there is a great deal of discussion about how it is possible to conserve works of Media Art; a certain general impression exists, that they are fragile. Do you think that this can also be one of the reasons that has made the market wary of dealing with Media Art?
Christa Sommerer: Yes, this is certainly one of the problems. The durability of media art is one of the issues, and another one is the new types of concepts that media art is presenting. For this reason, the audience has to be educated. That can be done by presenting this type of works in art contexts, so that people will get more accustomed to it, and will come to accept the fact that art can be made with computers. We have been exhibiting media art quite extensively for 25 years, and I now see an increasing interest in this art form. People are willing to accept it; they acknowledge the existence of this open, participative art form. We can say that the education of the public has been very successful. People now like media art; they want to possess it, and they want to preserve it. It is now up to us as artists and scholars to present better formats and improved infrastructures and networks for it.
Alessio Chierico: The ephemeral nature of Media Art, which is due to the fact that it is difficult to conserve, was one of the inspirations for the work you did with Laurent Mignonneau, “Portrait on the Fly” (http://www.interface.ufg.ac.at/christa-laurent/WORKS/FRAMES/FrameSet.html). Do you think that this “weakness” can be also, in certain respects, be seen as a “strength”?
Christa Sommerer: Yes, definitely, the idea of ephemerality is also one of its strong points, because it makes the artwork more precious. If you know that it will cease to exist after a short period of time, you think: ”I have to be there, I have to experience it now, because later it will be gone”. Artists are now looking for some clever ways to turn this preciousness into something that can also become tangible. Many are experimenting with formats in which they turn interactive pieces into artifacts that result from the interactions with them. These can, for example, assume the form of prints, tapes, objects or any kind of material that provides a snapshot of a particular interaction. In that way, the original installation is converted into something else. This experimentation is done without belittling the idea of Interactive Art, where everything is on the fly and is based on only one precious moment. The movement we see now is not so different from what happened in performance art. If you look at the performances of Marina Abramović from the 1970s and the following years, you see that she turned certain key scenes into photographs or video documentations. These subsequently became artworks in their own right; ones that referred to her performative acts. In the same manner, media artists are looking for different ways to preserve particular moments of interactive situations and transform these frozen instants into separate art works.
Alessio Chierico: Should the durability of the artworks , always be accorded priority?
Christa Sommerer: I would not say that the main concern of an artwork should be its durability. Let’s take the example of the Piero Manzoni’s can that contained his own excrements. We don’t know if the excrements are still there, or if they have already decomposed. What is important is the statement that there is something that has come from the artist’s body in the box, that might or might not have disappeared. If you are a collector or a museum, you definitely need artifacts, even if these start to dissolve at some point. Another example is the works of Daniel Spoerri. He made artworks by taking the leftovers of meals he organized for his friends, and glued them onto a table that he later fixed to the wall. If you look carefully at these compositions, you see that many of the different food items in them have already dissolved and decomposed. They are not the same artifacts as they were fifty years ago, but still we can say that these are original Daniel Spoerri artworks that have undergone some form of decomposition. I am sure that Spoerri’s concept included the transformation of the art work over time. Of course, it will be difficult to resell a completely decomposed artwork. But even here, there are some examples from Fluxus or Happening artists, who sell scores or instructions. If we think about media art, a work should include some kind of collectible item. Currently, the big challenge is to determine what it should be and what it should look like.
Alessio Chierico: With the work “The Value of Art” (http://www.interface.ufg.ac.at/christa-laurent/WORKS/FRAMES/FrameSet.html) that you did with Laurent Mignonneau, you related the economy of art to the economy of attention. How do you think that both of these can be correlated? Do you have any examples that are related to your work? Do you think that this mechanism plays an important role in the art market?
Christa Sommerer: What fascinated us in “The Value of Art” is the relationship between interactive art and more traditional art. In interactive art we create a situation in which the audience and the artwork can interact, but after the exhibition is over, it ceases to exist. The interaction is confined to that one particular moment, as it is in a performance, or a theatrical play. In “The Value of Art” we talk about people’s involvement and the time they spend with artworks. When an interactive artwork is well designed, they usually remain with it for quite a lot of time. When visitors devote time to an artwork, we can regard that as adding value to it. In the system we have designed, 10 seconds of a person’s attention increases the value of our installation “The Value of Art” by one Euro. Of course, we intended this work to be a critical comment about the attention economy and value creation in the art field; the value of people’s time is thereby converted into a fictional amount of money, and that quantity is printed out on the art work. When we showed this work, most of the visitors said: “That’s interesting, it’s true, my time does have a value”. Everybody knows that time is money.
If we look at more traditional art by famous artists such as Monet or Picasso, we have to consider that these works are so famous and so expensive because experts, museums and the art market have devoted a lot of effort and energy, time and money, to their appreciation. And of course, if you think about blockbuster exhibitions of these canonical art works, the attention the public pays to them helps to increase their value even more. Thus, in designing “The Value of Art”, we thought about converting the time that people spend looking at and interacting with an artwork into a fictional monetary value. Strangely enough, this fictional price became a real one, because we sold few “The Value of Art” works. That shows, that the people have accepted the fact that you can create value out of their time. It was a very interesting experiment for us, and it has actually been proven that you can turn people’s span of attention into money – you can use it to enhance the value of an art work.
Alessio Chierico: In an educational context, there is an increasing demand for New Media Art. Considering your long experience in education, how do you think that students might be able to professionally benefit from an educational background in New Media Art? Do you think that it might in the near future become possible for students in this field to access the art market ?
Christa Sommerer: Yes, I hope so, I certainly hope so, because artists who have completed studies at art academies and art universities need to find ways to make money and support themselves. Certainly, a few of them will be able to survive as completely independent freelance artists, but many of them will need an environment where they can sell or trade with their works. I really hope that media art will gain greater acceptance in the art market. That was one of the reasons for organizing this kind of a symposium. We wanted to analyze who the players currently are, ask ourselves what direction the trend is taking, find out whether it is working and whether it is arousing interest in the art community. From what we saw at the symposium at the Lentos Museum on 10. October, considerable interest does, in fact, exist, and besides, similar conferences are currently being held all over the world. There is definitely momentum right now, and I think we should contribute to shaping it, work on it, and do everything that is necessary to reach our goals.