Mediamatic Magazine vol 5#1+2 Adilkno 1 Jan 1990

The artiste and his media

The prophets of ancient times were the television sets of their epoch: they were charged with a hard, clear-cut, penetrating message. - Boeli van leeuwen


The artiste and his media -

Now that the 21st century is drawing to a close, and the duel between the arts and the exact sciences has lost its meaning, we can take a calm look back at what so many generations of the worlds population were up in arms about. Looking back at the media devices which were installed outside of the Self, we see the artiste, up until quite recently, engaged in a struggle with his relationship with the world of objects. In doing so, he drew upon the reservoir of a heritage of mythology, in order to solidify and clarify the hazy contours of his problem. With the disappearance of the separation of subject and object in recent decades, we have obtained the privilege of voyaging through the mythical past and supplying our ancestors with the images upon which they can continue to work.

Keeping to the conventional chronology, the impressionistic media at the end of the 20th century can be characterized as a set of 'devices’ with a secret. They derived their credibility from the fact that media-spectators themselves were not hooked up directly; rather, an Other looked, listened or talked in their sensorium. In those days, it was the contemporary version of the 19th century'sje est un autre. This electronically controlled alienation effect determined what ultimately would emerge from the artiste's inner world and crystallize in his work. The sense of unease pervading the media had its source in the disturbing sensation that it was always something alien fuelling one’s own authenticity. The media had an exhaustible reservoir of world information at its disposal. This hindered one in getting acquainted with the wellsprings of the imaginary: the pie tv - realm of one’s personal subconscious seemed to subside of its own accord, to become a multitude of scraps of items suspended in a state of entropy. In this never ending day of topicality, art lacked a mission of its own. The artiste was driven by a lack of protection to seek a maximum of exposure in the media market, in order to continue, by means of overexposure, to be able to call up a secret.

Around the year 2000, two strategies were developed which were to result in the expressionistic period in media. On the one hand, we see the flight into matter. Against the background of the antimedia mass movement, which was deserting the media for reality, the artiste engagê cultivated his dealings with his material until they became a solidity cult. He sought to return to the ‘essential, the ever-present’. The substance, which was worshipped within this culture, was held up by the artiste as a reaction to the virtual, the all-too-virtual in the world’s consciousness. The artistic school of Material Order saw the maintenance of the memory of nature as its social responsibility. Ecological realism placed its monuments amid modernity's powerful ruins in a furious attempt at future immortality. The movement marketed its works as the final chance to save human beings from the media, but, in so doing, entered into a corrupt conspiracy with the world government against the planet’s population. Thus, it called down the same fate upon itself as various folk art forms and social realism had in the totalitarian 20th century. When the anti-medials had to admit defeat, the movement's sculptures disappeared into the trash bins of art history, as well.

The media, on the other hand, sovereign at the beginning of the 21st century, were striving for complete dematerialisation of the world. In their transnational network, the multimediamatici had given them themselves over to the intoxication which they could bring about by short-circuiting various media forms. This school was the first to succeed in directly connecting media and sensorium. Under the influence of psychoactive drugs, Nietzsche, Burroughs, and Pynchon, they made ready for the journey of transcendence. To this movement's thinkers, the disturbing sensation of visitation by an Other, who forces his world on you and has no real use for beyond that, was a kind of static. Human subjectivity turned out to be a form of media-created refuse with no further charm or danger. The sovereign artistes were stars in the creation of artificial continents. In the entirety of their unnatural world resistance, they accepted a voyage through the innermost of worlds, which hinged on the neural networks and the biosoft. With the commercial psycho-consumers at their heels, they secluded themselves in media contemplation in which experimentation outside of the lab was gradually beginning to seem like something unattainable. Threatened with becoming imprisoned within their small, closed-of world, their answer was flight: a flight forward into research. In the beginning, they regarded the human brain, in which they had taken up abode, as a model capable of reflecting the open architecture of their hard- and software. With their neural networks and biochips, they carved a path through the think tank of Homo Sapiens. Until they made an astonishing discovery. Undaunted, they persisted and ultimately exposed the human spirit as a timeless media matrix open to immediate exploration. But this made all their former tricks seem mere child’s play, which had taken place in virtual reality, the cyberspace that had found its Jules Verne in William Gibson in 1985.

If art does not seek to represent its own era, it takes refuge in the classics. Eternal truths were said to be lying hidden in myth, truths to which access could be gained by using the most modern means. In our times, too, we see that this is an all but inexhaustible source of motifs and images. For centuries the anti-topicals have successfully invoked the perpetual topicality of mythology. According to them, it is out of natural propensity that human beings imitate Oedipus or Eurydice at the most inopportune moments. This Ewige Wiederkehr des Gleichen (Perpetual Return of the Same) which they put forth is subtle and multifaceted: our reason should not move in a circle, but in a spiral (Jiinger) or a gyro (Yeats). Through uninhibited use of mythology, the artiste can give us memorable moments in which we pause and regard the present through new eyes. Even the proponents of progress are not above employing myths to warn against regression to them. They are such tall tales that they are not easily cut down to size, and can be put to use virtually everywhere. The media age was the time par excellence for shaking the dust out of the old myths and democratizing them. They were part of the heritage of the poets and painters of the 19th century; in the 2.0th, they lost their hoary historical connotation of having been stories which had been passed down through the ages. They were introduced into the narrative framework of television and computer programs as pattern recognition, as opposed to the data classification of the Gutenbergian universe of linear reasoning (McLuhan). In the 21st century, stories which had originally served as the cement which held society together kept their status: as big box-office hits. They still provide employment for the artiste who is uninterested in the problem of immateriality. It is precisely the physical aspect of mythology, the openness of its relations with violence, with the deity and the beast, which constitutes the robust return of a physicality from which we had parted.

The explorer who had gone reconnoitring in the brains of human beings and computers were not in the least interested in this form of mythical entertainment. When they entered the timeless media-matrix of the mind, they gained direct access to the complex works produced by the imagination. This required no archeological excavation or prophetic gifts, either. It turned out that they did not have to be geniuses, or chosen, to stand face to face with human nature and its terrors. They had the right equipment, that was all. But that was shocking enough. After observing the cognitive functions of the brain, they penetrated deeper, into the geological strata underlying the sensorium. In this older ground they encountered the screens through which priests, mystics, poets and the founders of religions receive their revelations. The remarkable thing was that these heroic bearers of enlightenment took from this timeless arsenal ceaselessly, but never put anything back into it. The only ones who could supply the seers with their visions, were those who had access to these strata. To their amazement, these astronauts of the brain, having gone beyond cyberspace, were forced to the conclusion that it was up to them to create these mental images. They took up the invitation. After one and a half centuries, their scientific efforts had finally acquired a mission. Their preparatory schooling in the exact sciences inspired them with clear cut, hard messages. They were the creators of our present. But that also meant the end of the myth as eternal truth and the dialectics of art in opposition to the exact sciences.

Since then, the task of art has been to produce material with which to supply the past. From 2000 onwards, artistic effort is directed at the manufacturability of the world. The artiste produces images which will return endlessly, up to and including to his own times. While there are a few universal works which are popular everywhere and at all times, there are also countless local and regional studios producing archetypal images for the local market, from which fore-mothers and - fathers from before the Götterdammerung can extract once again their mythology.