What is New Media Art?

Joel Kuennen

New media art has come to describe an open-ended genre of artistic practice that utilizes newly developed media technology to produce works of art. Media is a key term here in that it implies that technology is not exterior to human experience, but is used as a tool for human communication and connection. This genre of work includes, among others, digital art, net art, videogame art and bio art, representations of each of these subcategories are included in this exhibition on how data mediates our experience of ourselves.

 New technologies come with a blank set of moral imperatives and therefore beg a self-reflexive and self-critical approach to define the technology’s cultural potential and limitations. As a result, new media work often takes its own technological systems as the object of inquiry. In her book, New Media in the White Cube and Beyond: Curatorial Models for Digital Art, Adjunct Curator of New Media Arts at the Whitney Museum, Christiane Paul succinctly lays out the difficulty and features of new media art within an institutional context: “Like other art forms before it, new media art has shifted the focus from object to process: as an inherently time-based, dynamic, interactive, collaborative, customizable, and variable art form, new media art resists "objectification" and challenges traditional notions of the art object.”

In the late 1960s, media theorist Marshall Mcluhan’s famous edict, “the medium is the message” helped frame what would become one of the most experimental and affective forms of contemporary artistic practice. Video art flourished in the field of conceptual media art. Critical work like Valie Export’s Facing a Family (1971) effectively used the medium of television to carry its own critique. The work, which consisted of a TV broadcast in Austria of a family eating dinner while watching television, effectively mirrored the practices of many middle-class families at that time. In addition to self-critical works, video art provided an environment where artists could make work while also experimenting with the medium itself. The video artist Dan Sandin built the first video image processor from 1971 and 1974 to interrogate the potential of the technology. This processor, as recently as the last decade, was still being rebuilt by a class of students each year at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where Sandin built his first version, as a means to introduce new students into a process-based approach to art and technology.

The idea for this exhibition arose from the notion that data is a media unto itself. We relate to our heart by how many beats a minute it makes. We understand our social value through currency holdings. When it comes to our relationship to companies, we are easily abstracted into data points through our buying habits, political and cultural affinities, websites we browse.

The world around us is increasingly made meaningful through the data we accumulate and use to describe ourselves. New media art allows us to better see our changing world and our changing selves.