Mapping of Artists and Their Visions around the Digital Transformation

Ana Alacovska, Peter Booth, Christian Fieseler, Ida Schyum

Publikation: Bog/antologi/afhandling/rapportRapportForskning


This report is a part of Artsformation’s efforts to map existing European arts initiatives and interventions that operate at the intersection of artistic expression and digital transformations with a view to outlining the basic mechanisms of interdependence between the arts and digital technologies. In the face of the wide variety of artistic genres and media that tackle digital transformations (Gansing and Luchs, 2020; Graham and Cook, 2010), the great geographical distribution of artistic initiatives as well as the rapidly proliferating diversity of digital technologies (Lambert, 2003), all of which may frustrate efforts at rigorous reviews, we have opted to conduct a scoping, rather than systematic mapping of the intersection between the arts and technologies in Europe. Mapping a field through a scoping review of evidence allows for an in-depth assessment of the scope and quality of connections between discrete elements of investigation rather than a quantitative and sweeping overview of the general state of affairs (Munn et al. 2018). At the same time, a scoping study allows for focusing on the investigation of more substantive connections such as ‘what’, ‘how’ and ‘why’ rather than on elucidating ‘who’, ‘how many’ or ‘how frequently’ (O’Flaherty and Phillips, 2015). The goal of the scoping review is thus to summarize qualitative evidence of the interrelationship between the arts and digital technologies, and in this way reliably identify relevant research case studies that would merit further systematic investigation (O’Flaherty and Phillips, 2015). Accordingly, our scoping study has focused on the ways in which digital technologies and the arts have co-evolved as a separate complex field of art-tech practice, expression, commentary on and even intervention in social, cultural, and political issues relating to digital transformations of European societies. The questions that propelled the scoping study were: What are the historical trajectories of the art-tech crossover?
What are the concrete examples of the crossover of arts and technology? Can the arts make subtle but meaningful interventions to advance conventional knowledge about the effects, impacts and effects of digital transformations? How do the arts engage technological issues? How are technological issues expressed in the arts? For the purpose of our scoping mapping study, we have identified the transmediale festival s one of the oldest and most influential arts-tech festival in Europe, and one that represents a key public platform for distributing art engaged with the digital condition and technologies. We have thus treated the transmediale Festival as a field-configuring event. Field-configuring events such as festivals, fairs, trade conferences not only represent a microcosm of larger organizational, institutional, and cultural fields but they also have the power to solidify such fields by gelling together diverse agendas, actors, views, ideas and disparate developments (Moeran and Strandgaard, 2011). As Anand and Jones (2008: 1037) have argued, festivals function as field-configuring events because they ‘allow disparate constituents to become aware of their common concerns, join together, share information, coordinate their actions, shape or subvert agendas, and mutually influence field structuration’. Members of the field, by participating in spatiotemporal events, such as festivals or trade ceremonies, invest intellectual, economic, philosophical resources into building cognitive representations of the salient operational mechanisms of the field alongside the construction of an evolving idea about their own positions in such institutional entities, all of which establishes and perpetuates the perceived legitimacy and credibility of the field (Lampel and Mayer, 2011).
In this scoping study, we thus approach the transmediale festival as a miniature version of the larger arts-tech field in Europe where it not merely reflects the art-tech dynamics but also plays an active configurative role. As suchs it plays a role in maintaining, establishing and solidifying, that is con-figuring, the art-tech field by impinging on the actual relationships between artists, intellectuals, technologists and arts educators in Europe and their views, definitions of and approaches to the interplay between the arts and technologies.
Initially founded as VideoFilmFest thirty-three years ago, transmediale festival has become an annual event focusing on art and digital culture. As such transmediale has bought together international artists, researchers, activists, and thinkers with the goal of developing new outlooks on our technological era through the entanglement of different genres and curatorial approaches that span both the arts and digital technologies. As the curatorial visions are the main driving force that holds the festival’s different actors together via the provision of discursive, material, and visual artefacts, we have analysed the curatorial statements of each year’s theme with the goal of studying the scope of the festival in providing the frames of reference, legitimacy and credibility of an emerging art-tech field poised at the intersection of the arts, technology, and society.
The curatorial statements have been thus treated as manifestos, that is discursive artifacts that are geared towards adding meaning to emerging institutional formations and delineating the meaningful boundaries of a field in its infancy. The boundary defining quality of the language and labelling has been noted in the development of other emerging fields, such as ‘new Nordic cuisine’ (Byrkjeflot, Strangaard Pedersen and Svejenova, 2013). We have thus approached the curatorial statements as annual discursive and material efforts at negotiating, establishing, maintaining, and dissolving the boundaries between arts, technologies and society. Empirically, we have thus examined in detail of each of the curatorial statements, including the introductory texts to the exhibitions, symposiums, and film programs, that underpinned the annual edition of transmediale from the inception of the festival in 1988 to its latest occurrence in 2021. We have also taken into consideration the changing self-definition of the festival which is also indicative of the flux and uncertainties of the art-tech field. We do not analyse though the particular artworks, talks, or films at the festival, since this is a study of how the festival provides an overall framework for the discourses on art, technology, and society. Thereby, our scoping study represents a textual analysis of the curatorial written statements – not the total curatorial work. We have thus summarized the main textual patterns of the festival over its thirty-three-year-long history, including evolving definitions of art-tech, different artistic modes of approaching technologies, significant artistic discussions about the role of the arts in solving societal challenges arising from digital transformations, and emerging arts-based criticism about the societal, cultural and economic impact of new technologies. In so doing we have identified the main patterns of the interrelationships between the arts and technology that were observable throughout the festival’s history. We have consequently clustered the different ways in which we could trace the changing relationship between the arts, digital technologies and society as contained in the microcosm of the transmediale festival. On the basis of our scoping study, we present a detailed overview of the art-tech interrelationship and identify three basic mechanisms of interrelation which have actively piggybacked on general and popular tech optimistic or tech pessimistic discourses about technologies and have performatively shaped the art-tech field and its main trajectories of discussion around art and digital technology.
We first give an overview on the protracted definitional struggles to delineate an art-tech field as distinctive from yet cognate to, the contemporary artworld; we proceed to elaborate on the ways in which an art-tech festivals can be approached as field-configuring events that predominantly orients the definitions of art-tech field in Europe and shapes the understanding of the intersection between the arts and technologies. Subsequently, based on the analysis of the curatorial statements accompanying each edition of transmediale (1988-2021), we identify three mechanisms in which the arts, technologies and societies are entangled in a web of interdependence that gives rise to accepted definitions of and approaches to studying, thinking and enacting the intersection between the arts and technologies, which in turn consolidates the emerging art-tech field. We thus elucidate the following three principles of the ever-shifting relationship between the arts and technologies:
1. From technology as a medium of artistic expression to the arts as a transversal reflection on tech development
2. From tech optimism, via utopianism to full-blown art-tech criticism
3. From ignorance to self-reflexivity about art-tech exclusions
At the end of the report, we present a detailed analysis of transmediale’s thirty three curatorial statements.
Antal sider68
StatusUdgivet - 2022
NavnArtsformation Report Series