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Evolving Traditions, Artists Working in New Media

Author: Seth Thompson
Publisher: Akron: Wigged Productions, 2002
Review Published: February 2003

 REVIEW 1: Janine Johnson

New media artist, Tennessee Rice Dixon comments that reactions in the assembly of an artwork inform and build space. This is also the strength of media artist and educator, Seth Thompson’s new video documentary, Evolving Traditions, Artists Working in New Media. It allows room to assemble conversations about new media. Thompson’s work has been exhibited internationally and shown on PBS. He is currently the editor/producer of webzine, Wigged.net, a showcase for short films, animations, and new media, and a part-time faculty member at the University of Akron. The video’s structure facilitates in-depth discussions of aspects of artistic methodology, concepts, and issues. More than documentation, it presents questions about how we are thinking of new media. The profiles of four artists’ practices use excerpts of artwork integrated with observations from the artist and new media commentators. Each profile is conveniently organized in a 15-minute segment, which for classroom purposes is very helpful.

This video documentary extends popular discussions of concepts associated with new media. Toni Dove discusses "intelligent choices" in terms of interaction. Mark Amerika seeks to liberate the viewer from linear readings, while Tennessee Rice Dixon’s work flexes the linearity of cultural narratives. Troika Ranch asks if old narratives can be re-imaged in a technological process. Concepts such as non-linear narrative, interactivity, virtual spaces, and technological utopias are opened for re-examination. Moreover, the video’s use of multiple perspectives lends a sense of discursive space. Structurally, the documentary complements its profile of Tennessee Rice Dixon’s approach to new media. The sense of a ‘time to view’ is juxtaposed with the contemporary notion that use of technology should be fast-paced. This strategy unsettles the viewing process. There is a sense of the video medium manipulating the viewer’s habits of consuming technological artworks. Several of my students, for example, commented that they enjoyed the documentary’s variety of artistic approaches for this reason.

The artists’ comments connect their traditional methods of working with applications of these methodologies to new media technologies. Toni Dove’s exploration of the temporal shape of an artist’s interaction with a surface extends conversations about painting and transcribable languages. Mark Amerika’s investigation of new forms of writing opens up processes of production and distribution. Tennessee Rice Dixon explores the potential of new media montage to "read" our vast cultural databases of visual language. Her generation of space through collage provides a sense of walking in and out of virtual cinematic spaces, while giving a sense of how our "censoring affects the results." Troika Ranch researches the possibilities of a new compositional tool for performance. Previous structures and methodologies are opened up for examination through the use of new technological mediums.

Each artist presents theoretical possibilities for the future integration of art with technology. In contrast to the static narrative of many commercial virtual reality models, these new media artworks are engaging because of the open-ended nature of their virtual spaces. The experience is not, as Toni Dove comments, just about the number of choices. It is not just sophisticated architectures of virtual space. Personal experience of these new media artworks enjoys a sense of movement as one draws on past and present experiences to identity with multiple senses of time. This becomes the speed factor that supercedes the technological experience.

New media reconfigures production and distribution of art. Issues of collaboration and network are engaged with in conversations about how new media is changing working methods for these artists. The artists’ historical comparisons of their different stages of new media work help to dispel much of the earlier writing about new media art. The hype of "artistic exploration" is deflated and instead considers a hands-on approach to the mechanisms and processes of the technology itself. Mark Amerika refers to the process as "surf, sample and manipulate." The documentary rewrites notions of the artist’s studio, as seen in Toni Dove’s new media production lab, Rice Dixon’s shelves of archived type, and Troika Ranch’s dancing "instruments." Different contexts for delivery of the artwork are also presented. This is especially encouraging considering discussions that the Internet is becoming more like television. Whether web-based, performance, or transcribed to CD, DVD, or video, this documentary leaves the viewer with a sense that the possibilities have only begun to be explored.

Instead of discussion about whether the technological processes are informing the content or vice versa, the conversations in this documentary encourage trust that the artistic process is capable of balancing the two. This is evident in the demise of the term "new media" and the repeated predictions of seamless interaction between artistic disciplines with the use of technology. Past and present contexts for discussing artistic mediums are opened for future configurations. As new media commentator Kathy Brew remarks, new media doesn’t always offer narrative cues for continuity. While we currently lack stable processes for visioning futures for these technological mediums, it is evident that for each of these artists, this is the playful attraction that informs their work.

Janine Johnson:
Janine Johnson teaches on the Masters Programme, School of Art and Design at Auckland University of Technology in Auckland, New Zealand. She has a BA in Fine Arts and Art Education from South Dakota State University and an MA Honors in Art History from University of Auckland, New Zealand. Her research interests include neurocomputing, knowledge systems, net.art, and cyberstudies.   <janine.johnson@aut.ac.nz>

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