Thanks to the fast technological developments made over recent years and following a gradual but ongoing understanding (social, aesthetic and cultural) of new technological media, so-called Digital Art is today subject to a dual process. If on the one hand, it is becoming the real artistic language of our time, the upshot of an age in which the criticism and destruction of social and political codes are mere conceptual utopia, on the other hand it is enjoying a moment of creative physiological reflux, after years of great digital indulgence.

Interviews curated by: Marco Mancuso and Claudia D’Alonzo

Texts in catalogue written by: Lev Manovich, Marco Mancuso and Claudia D’Alonzo

Interviews to: Gina Czarnecki, Agostino Di Scipio, Heinrich Gresbeck, Golan Levin, Chris Levine, Rafael Lozano Hammer, Takahiro Matsuo, Kenichi Okada, Tony Oursler, Andy Warhol, Jin-Yo Mok

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Direct Digital was a new media art event presented by the cultural association Artegenti, which took place in Modena and Carpi (Italy), in the Ex-Ospedale Sant’Agostino and in Palazzo Pio, under the conception and artistic direction of Gilberto Caleffi.

Digicult wrote the whole catalogue of the exhibition, with interviews to more than 15 artists exhibited, with the work of Marco Mancuso and Claudia D’Alonzo. Direct Digital proposed a thick calendar of five sections, Exhibition, Live Media, Workshop, Cinema, Contest in order to show a detailed perspective of the most recent developments of art and creativity linked to the use of digital technologies.

The title of the Exhibition is based on a verse by Walt Whitman, rearranged by Ray Bradbury, dedicated to the relationship between art and new technologies applied to the fields of animation, video, music and design. The “digital” wants to stimulate a language commixture which is shown in a selection of artworks divided into two major sections, video art and interactive art, hosting some of the most relevant names of the contemporary artistic experimentation: Nam June Paik, Bill Viola, Andy Warhol, Douglas Gordon, Philippe Parreno, Sam Taylor-Wood, Tony Oursler, Chris Levine, Julian Opie, Gina Czarnecki, Heinrich Gresbeck, Golan Levin, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Takahiro Matsuo, Jin-Yo Mok, Kenichi Okada, Agostino Di Scipio, Mimmo Rotella.

The video art section puts together authors that come from different periods and spheres, comparing them through their works in order to find a common interest in time, memory, perception and duplication, elaborated through the electronic languages. The exhibition also includes a section dedicated to the relationship between interactive art and pop culture. Interactive art analyses the relation between human beings and technology, studies the relationships among the available technologies, combining them with human necessities and desires in the contest of everyday experience.

Critical Text: “A shapeless future”
by Marco Mancuso

Thanks to the fast technological developments made over recent years and following a gradual but ongoing understanding (social, aesthetic and cultural) of new technological media, so-called Digital Art is today subject to a dual process. If on the one hand, it is becoming the real artistic language of our time, the upshot of an age in which the criticism and destruction of social and political codes are mere conceptual utopia, on the other hand it is enjoying a moment of creative physiological reflux, after years of great digital indulgence. The more digital instruments enter our daily lives, our homes, our work and expressive flows, in oblique and shared forms, the more softwares and hardwares become easy to understand and use. The more the Networks speed up exchange and knowledge, while softwares and codes offer never-before-experimented potential, the more one acknowledges today an over-production of digital works often naively recognised as “works of art”. Even though, the Art of course, they do not bear the marks of, but at most, the pro-dogmas of an hybrid somewhere aesthetic between creativity and design.

There can, furthermore, be no doubt that, looking at a small number of artists of international renown, contemporary artistic practice, said to be in the niche between digital technologies, analogue instruments and scientific research, represents a first point of arrival of a series of artistic experiences cast under the limelight of the media and the history of the Avant-garde movements of last century. And that this point of arrival, like many (but not all) points of arrival of the artistic currents in art history, is today starting to take the shape of what is a real and true market, a (Digital) Art system for the time being physiologically parallel to that of (Contemporary) Art. Overcoming therefore cultural barriers, generation gaps, linguistic misunderstandings and psychological blockages, the two worlds in question observe one another, wait for one another, court one another and sometimes despise one another. But to an increasing extent, they come closer, moved in that direction by a new generation of curators, critics and gallery owners, who are reshaping themselves into a new organisational, professional and economic model.

Whether it is a matter of writing a code, hacking a system, designing a patch software, teaching an hardware component, working with instruments typical of the net, of sound, of code, of image, of video, of design or of space, Digital Art is gradually losing this “ghetto” definition to become more and more “art of our time”, child as it is of that historical hybrid which from the roots of the conceptual and abstract has now become contaminated by (hyper) computational, (multi) media and (over) computerized branches. Digital Art thus appears ready to tackle the market and the market seems ready to tackle it. Even the problems relating to its presumed immateriality, reproducibility, sharing, exhibition appear today to be partially overcome, thanks to a series of solutions, such as high-resolution prints, flat screens, video support and interactive installation, which make the digital work fatally unique, fetish, a selling object and collection simulacrum.

Ways and processes are still deliberately going on today in order to create icons and idols out of digital creativity and production; “objects” that can be contained in a very small space, to fall within specific exhibition, and market, logics. Of course, the risk certainly exists of a loss of conceptual and design identity; does a work created for the virtual worlds of the Internet, for software logics, for an audio-visual environment, for the times of a performance, still make sense when conveyed into the “concrete” reality of the modern world? And this materialization of the digital work, how far does it shift the production axis from the world of art towards the universe of design? And again, what are the distinctive criteria between the digital work of art and its equivalent in terms of design and communication?

Materiality and information

There can be no doubt at all, that the processes of digitalization of the creative doing , interact with art and design in an increasingly more exact and mature way. What are not easy to classify are the relations that come to be established between the two disciplines, nor the mutual changes and interpenetrations which we see in this precise historical period. When we speak of digital works, we no longer only mean the form or system of forms generated by a software or by a code, even though this remains an important aspect of contemporary expression, but also a system of data representing the very architecture of the system and the gradual sedimentation of a world that re-determines its own identity in terms of physicality and non-physicality.

No biunivocal correspondence exists today between design and creative process on the one hand and the development of the contemporary media and of digital instruments on the other. One possible form of interaction between expression and instrument of investigation, which has developed over recent years and which represents a direction followed by a growing number of artists and designers in the world, consists in the transformation of artistic and design production into “form of communication”. It is communication, which perhaps we should more rightly call “information flow”, that represents the major driving force behind contemporary mutation.

Contemporary art and design, use this flow of information and transform themselves: so it is that artistic products, objects, materiality, when they maintain their physicality, change shape and appearance, and become themselves centres of information, visual and non-visual, real computational and multimedia bodies. In some cases, the information is provided by the object itself, which, though remaining a bodily entity, becomes interactive and shows a complex system of communications, or else communicates directly on its own account; its use therefore stretches beyond its present physicality.

The logic of modern creativity and communication is therefore different compared to the past, but not because of this, less rigid and structured: the intellective approach simply requires a small change of perspective. While one is born an artist, one becomes a communicator; perhaps this is the best perspective in which to position the new hybrid artist-designer figures who dictate the codes of contemporary expression. Communicators, intelligent and careful observers of subtle human interactions in the Great Computer age. Theirs is the task of ferrying a generation which is still not completely familiar with digital technology and its positive and negative impacts, across that space-time that still does not exist but which is already taking shape.

Today’s art and design thus translate new technologies into an understandable, emotional language, trying to create harmony rather than rifts between the parties, helping society to interpret the impact of technological and scientific development on itself. Visual compositions for example are shaped or simply controlled by specific softwares, both generative and non-generative, by mathematical formulas or random processes. At the same time, space presents itself in two-dimensional form, animated through video or graphic works or else in three-dimensional form, through design and architectural installations or works. Or again, in “sensorial” form through music and sound. Today, all these elements move in subtle, almost homeopathic fashion, creating reactions, emotions or provocations, bringing people closer to the largely unknown digital universe.

The technological weapons in circulation being equal, the value inevitably reappears of ideas, the message behind a work, its capacity to convey emotions and create a bridge between man and machine…between physical and immaterial…as well as between people by means of machines, for a future that has no shape as yet, but which looks all set to be very fascinating indeed.

Critical text: “The video: between art, technology and mass comunication”
by Claudia D’Alonzo

Talk about art and contemporary culture abounds with references, analyses and criticism on the innovative scope of new technologies, especially digital technologies, on the directions taken by present art and creativity. Art’s relationship with its own instruments has always been a crucial factor of change, both of actual practice and of theoretical instruments, useful for analysing the works produced and the research done by artists. The importance of the innovation of medium in the artistic practice is not in fact a fundamental hub of technological art only.

In painting too, the most classical art form, the innovations introduced by new materials and instruments have inaugurated fields of experimentation and new ways of conceiving images and the artistic act. Just think at the changes introduced by oriental printing techniques into European art at the end of the Nineteenth century or of the use of industrial paints in Abstract Expressionism.

What radically distinguishes the relationship between art and technique in the switch from history to the contemporary, is not only the change from the concept of technique to that of technology, but above all the contamination between art and mass communication. While in fact art and artists have always made use of the tools which technical innovation put at their disposal, with the birth of the world of technology, the artist not only has to cope with technique, or better, technology, but also with that complex system of relations, cultures and powers represented by massified communication. In the long and ever-changing relationship between art, technology and communication, the possibility of reproducing, replicating, disseminating and serializing the artistic product is part of the potential provided by communication means and systems and that which most revolutionises the concept of work and artist in contemporary art.

At the beginning of Twentieth century, the paths, practices and languages of art, communication and technology started to cross one another. The birth of the Cinema, the first among technological arts, created the first important link between massified communication and artistic avant-garde. Film language did in fact see the light as a spurious, contaminated and open language, available both for the experiments of the futurist and surrealist avant-gardes and for the birth of the first entertainment industry. But it was not only cinema that joined the media used by the avant-garde movements of the early Twentieth century. The artist’s intent is to bring the world and life back into art and to do this they steals instruments, materials and techniques from daily life using them and mixing them in the work of art through collages, happenings, photographs, performances, laying the foundations for the concept of multimediality which lies behind much new media art.

A crucial stage in the history of relations between art and mass culture was represented, in the post war period, by the advent of the video. The birth of television and means for recording and reproducing reality at reasonable costs represented a revolution both in the communication and social fields and in that of art. The second part of the Sixties in fact saw the appearance of a phenomenon, that of video art, which made the instruments of this revolution its own and took up the challenges associated with mass communication technologies and media.

For many people the birth of videoart dates back to 1963, the year of the exhibition at the Parnasse gallery in Wuppertal, during which Nam June Paik and Wolf Vostell were the first to intervene on the television medium. For others, the first appearance of the video as a creative instrument occurred in 1965, the year the first Sony Portpack was marketed.

This disagreement as to dates exemplifies the many identities associated with the video ever since it first saw the light. A difficult art to define and focalize, the video is both an instrument and a series of extremely heterogeneous practices. When it first appeared, the artists saw the video as a means of free interpretation, through which to open up the frontiers between art and society and redefine artistic experience. Since the Sixties, the places of art creation have changed, but so have the ways, the methods and the instruments. If art must reproduce life, it must also reproduce its kaleidoscopic multiplicity of stimulations, sensations and perceptions. Ever since it first saw the light therefore, the video has stimulated a propensity to mix and put in communication means, instruments, materials, orchestrated in performances, events, happenings, to be lived among and with the public. The space of the work becomes a space to be shared and participated: a contamination between languages that are fundamental for the success of the subsequent multimedia art concept.

Video artists were the first to raise the problem of mechanisms and individual relations with systems of mass communication. This trend arose in the Sixties and is still a fundamental characteristic of many artists who use the video and experience this dual relationship with the world of communication. On the one hand in fact, video-artists absorb and include communication techniques and methods in their work, pillaging materials, in methods such as found footage, using strategies and imaginaries typical of the mass media and advertising. At the same time, they deconstruct the instruments and the technologies, demolish the automated ways of relating with the media, causing us to reflect on the reality created by the media and on our role as spectators and potential players of global communication.

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