Art and Information

When we talk about art, we can refer to it in the context of communication or in the context of materiality. Transmission is probably the essence of a culture, and culture is a form of communication which requires a medium. Treating the materiality merely as an information can lead to fake and kitsch, when bronze or marble are imitated by plastic (similar to the process of imitating a film by a stream of data in digital video, e.g. through special effects). I think that everyone would agree that the quality of architecture depends greatly on the quality of the material used. The difference is, however, visible on the grounds of communication and information as there is a difference between what the materiality communicates (and simulates) and what it actually is.

We can thus define the information as every, not only intentional sensory impulse: verbal, visual or aesthetic, which reaches us by a medium and triggers our thoughts and emotions, inscribing into the context of previously acquired knowledge, which subsequently blends with that impulse as its interpretation. The interpretation itself is also an information and, in the case of art, it circulates in the social tissue called artistic community. The art is a specific context of transmitting and receiving such impulses and the notion of aesthetic impulse can be extended to all grounds of social communication.

Art as Information

If we try to imagine a world without information technology, the world which no one of us remembers, without the radio, press, television, internet or mobile phones we will notice, that art used to be a sort of information source. The churches spoke about life after death, the palaces spoke about wordly life, castles, cities and mansions informed about political systems, whereas clothes revealed social and family background which determined the identity. Art appeared everywhere, on the basis of appropriateness, pointing to the essential elements of a man’s cultural anchor. His identity was heavy like a cathedral and attributed to him forever. Incidents of social advancement were so rare, that we can refer to them merely as to the individual cases. Today, these significant elements, signs and meanings have separated from its referents and are drifting in the postmodern, swift stream of games of chances which blend them into the structures of contemporary artworks.

The information flow used to be slow, burdened with distortion and subjectivity of transmission. Religion was prevailing, using art to evoke strictly determined states of mind. Art was thus in a service of religion, and states of mind skilfully triggered by artists were arranged in a coherent structure. Painting or sculpture communicated by means of senses, causing sensory fluctuation of semantic impulses in our bodies, just to attain the desired effect, according to the spirit of the particular age.

Information as Art

If we try to imagine the world which probably very few of us remember, we will see that together with the age of photography, press, first telegraphs, radio and so called paleo television information was very often transformed into art. Medialisation of the reality was interesting for artists because the reality itself was turning into information. Gallery, as in the case od ready-made, created a context for the reality, turning it into art by means of its institutional definition. Next, conceptual art turned the ideas into ready-made and almost totally eliminated object, giving primacy to the information. Artistic action, although happening in the material space, was only a piece of information, which appeared for the moment and dissolved into the waves of information noise. Art critics and artists themselves rejected previously imposed role of art, cherished freedom from mission and responsibility and had a the feeling of drift in the water, whose waves were created by the most active individuals. The art itself gained independence, became something defined by the artistic circles and started to have ephemeral and momentary character. The age of art as information was slowly falling into oblivion. Its fossils landed in the museums where they waited for the call of artists – social psychotherapists. Old art was a myth needing reinterpretation, was like Gioconda, not a mysterious one, but the one dreaming of a mustache. Ideas were resounding,  separated from the abandoned works, which had been used to preserve states of mind, to describe and to transmit something which should not be preserved, something which should go away so as not to lose its freshness. This “preservation process” became an object of irony for Katarzyna Kobro, who preserved a table by which she had breakfast with her friends (we can see it in the Museum of Art in Łódź). We can see that act as a sign of doubt in creating an institution which has impossible mission of preserving something which is not possible to preserve. Perhaps Kobro posed a question whether such institution would not turn into a dumpster full of souvenirs of something which was gone.

Art became a kind of self-ironic joke or tomfoolery, and although it addressed problems, the solutions given were intentionally absurd. Artists expected the viewers to appreciate their irony stemming from  the rejection of the one right way of interpretation. Art as information questioned the principles of appropriateness and coherence, wanted to lead to anarchic, utopian equality, abolish all exclusions and, by principle, derided all principles. The equality was no longer limited to the equality in front of the God, or the death. It embraced law, economy and social position which were also an object of a mockery. Art as information is impossible to own, understand or teach as a craftsmanship. Every information is subjective and the process of creating new works is individual and unique. Even pure reconstruction becomes always something new and different from the original.

The Breakthrough

The time of trends such as conceptual art, performance, land art or fluxus (defined here as information art) was also the age when the computers appeared and became popular. Computers created ready artefacts on the basis of information input. Art as information displaced the old definition of art and concentrated on the process. However, thanks to the computer, we had to rethink the language of our culture and design the process if its IT modifications. New programming languages, programming platforms and basis of operational systems were constructed. The executor of information was no longer a human, but a computer. The information about us and the world around started to dissolve into the cybernetic environment. Maybe that is why artists and viewers were looking for the means of dialogue with it. Magnetic tape, which used to be a medium preserving information and memory of people and for the people, quickly became only a source of data for the computer. The data were becoming more and more dense, but were always limited. Some interactive installations were created, but their design enabled interaction only limited by the predictability and countability of possible effects. Next, countability of permutations became less and less defined and the game was more and more similar to real life which is more complicated than the most complex system we can imagine. Art, together with the development of IT technology, was moving towards the infinity.

At the same time, Ichantowicz created computer driven, kinetic sculptures (in this case, moving metal constructions), but he did not concentrate on executing information which he entered into the computer. Instead, he let the viewers enter the information themselves and interfere in the inner structure of his work. His objects also reacted to the sounds from their surroundings. Using computer for interpretation of  data entered by users marked a transition from the kinetic art towards the IT art.

Art as Platform of Discourse

In the world of today not only new artistic qualities (pieces of information) are produced. Thanks to digital recording we can preserve them in an unchanged form and make them available to the general public (so far for free, and we have to fight for it, but not necessarily allowing breaking copyrights). Today, everything which consisted ephemerality of the old world of rarities: vinyl records, photocopied poetry volumes, unique vhs recordings, books offering cheap enlightenment, music and videos, so elusive and tempting, everything landed in realms such us youtube.com, vimeo.com, in countless different chomik.pl, or in computers joined in p2p networks. Private information became available to the general public and lost its intimate character. The process has been ongoing so far. Cameras monitoring streets, car parks, chops, malls, staircases or registers of entries to offices and houses – these are only temporarily separate  cyberspace fields. Sooner or later they will be joined or their users will want to integrate them into one network, which we will ask what to eat for breakfast in the morning. The archives of present-day intelligence services can answer that question even today. In such world the art cannot be just interactive and remain only a commodity. Art has become a continuous feedback, fluctuation of data, creation of living structure or organism, constructing a social network service or a platform similar to processing or even an institution animating artistic activities. Museum of Art in Łódź (a.r. group, mainly Strzemiński and Kobro) at its beginnings or Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie Karlsruhe (Weibel) are examples of such institutions. Today such collective works are usually internet projects, such as Perpetual Art Machine, Human Emotion Project, or Exquisite Corpse. These projects are created by their authors only at the very early stage, and are then developed  by other individuals, so the work has a collective character. The type and quality of such projects vary, depending on the level of development and interference of the artists, introducing such platforms into the cyberspace or social tissue. Most of them, however, move towards direction pointed by the Dadaists, later avant-guarde movements or different artists creating collective artworks. Moreover, art has opened to the subject not only as a viewer-consumer but also as a creator. Artist no longer offers ready, completed products but delivers creative platforms. We can thus say that the transition to the 2.0 culture has been made.

In other words, we have moved from art as objectively treated information  to art as objectively treated space. Life has become the final effect of art or maybe the art itself has become life-designing. Artists such as Ben Fry (creator of processing – platform used by Andre Sier) create complete works, giving unlimited opportunities of transforming into countless number of artworks, which are signed by names of other artists. These works form one organism, present in many places, which creates different algorithms or data processing structures. However, this organism is also a living environment, which we can organise, given the opportunity of introducing new elements and rules into the visual space. Thus, the art of today is a result of the dialogue between the computer and the living environments. The works of Andre Sier, who uses processing to generate his own worlds (through visualisation of the data of our presence in the gallery), become a rhizome of the dialogue. Entering such interactive structure, created by multiple authors, we become a part of his artwork. But are we its authors? The authors are the artists – creators of software basis or the programmers, such as Andre Sier, who presents his co-works, which do not exist without us. The art needs you!

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Michał Brzeziński artysta łączący w swoich działaniach biologiczna materię z systemami informatycznymi, futurolog kulturoznawca. W swoich pracach wykorzystuje interfejsy medyczne takie jak USG, GSR, czy EEG do analizowania afektów w celu poszukiwania międzygatunkowego języka dla kultury cyberorganicznej. Korzenie jego działań artystycznych tkwią w subkulturach muzycznych oraz w sztuce wideo którą animował na pułapie dyskursu teoretycznego w latach 2000 – 2010. Kurator współpracujący z galeriami takimi jak Muzeum Sztuki w Łodzi, czy Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej ŁAŹNIA w Gdańsku. Odwołując się do konceptualizmu i medialności sztuki która staje się englobe sztuką wideo, sformułował opisującą ten proces strategię Fake Art, wynikającą z teorii sztuki jako komunikatu.

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2 Responses

  1. A well written take on art! Thanks for the share!

  2. Throughout this grand scheme of things you actually get a B- just for effort. Where exactly you confused me was on all the facts. You know, it is said, the devil is in the details… And that could not be more accurate right here. Having said that, let me tell you just what exactly did deliver the results. The article (parts of it) can be quite convincing and this is possibly the reason why I am making the effort to opine. I do not make it a regular habit of doing that. Secondly, although I can certainly see a leaps in logic you come up with, I am not necessarily sure of exactly how you seem to unite the points which in turn make the final result. For now I will, no doubt yield to your position but wish in the future you link the dots much better.

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