Together with the growth of the Internet, the end of the 20th century brought us new forms of art that explore how technologies have changed our world and, more importantly, how a human being has changed. A human being who sits in front of the screen, choosing and transforming content that s/he is dealing with her/himself, thus creating new virtual reality. S/he suffers from digital noise, information overload, that her/his body and mind are not used to. It should come as no surprise that this new art could only exist in the digital sphere and deploy most experimental developments as its instruments. And it is just as logical that museums and galleries were not ready to deal with the artworks that did not exist anywhere but online with its basic terms being foreign to art critics.
MediaArtLab came to be as a platform that started to look for a way to communicate with such art, to explain it to the audience, to help professionals speak the same language with artists, who use radically different aesthetic criteria. Yet, twenty years later, it seems that this new media art got familiar to the viewer and that the artists’ enthusiasm faded, too, as those innovative technologies are not so innovative anymore. Now it is professors and bloggers who investigate their influence on the world, while daring visual art projects became part of commercial programs of Google and popular video games.
Then along came the year of 2020, and all of our lives went online. Everyone got interested again in the way the digital world has changed our mind. Total meltdown caused by an overwhelming amount of interesting content that you do not have time to consume (but certainly somebody else does) gets mixed with enthusiasm fueled by the museums that never close and festivals that never end. At the beginning of the year the main activities for museums were online-openings and virtual tours, by the end of it the shows are created especially for digital platforms. It turned out that it is even convenient to move from an artist’s studio in São Paulo to a site-specific project in Nairobi. So, maybe, let’s forget the exhibition halls? It is evident that nobody is going to give up those advantages and opportunities when everything is back open.
We feel that it is emblematic to celebrate the anniversary of MediaArtLab with a discussion on the subject that was topical the year it was born and became pretty much the most crucial for art today.
Questions for discussion: How does the media affect our ability to communicate without distorting meaning? What limitations can we never overcome neither in virtual reality nor in imaginative spaces? What is going to happen to the freedom of expression and creative will on the Internet of late capitalism in five or more years?
Moderators: Anna Bouali (Russia), curator, producer for MediaArtLab; Arjon Dunnewind (The Neterlands), artist, researcher, founde of the IMPAKT Festival.
The roundtable brings together those artists who were among the first ones to wrap words and artistic intuition in the forms of new media: Luchezar Boyadjiev (Bulgaria), Dmitry Bulatov (Russia), George Drivas (Greece), Marina Gržinić (Slovenia), Martin Honzik (Austria), JODI (Belgium/The Netherlands), Almagul Menlibayeva (Kazakhstan), Olga Shishko (Russia), Alexey Shulgin (Russia), Rasa Smite and Raitis Smits (Latvia), Andrey Velikanov (Russia).
Arjon Dunnewind (The Netherlands), a founder and director of the IMPAKT Festival (since 1988) and the IMPAKT Foundation (since 1993). In the early 2000s, he started the internet art platform IMPAKT Online, and in 2005, the IMPAKT Works residency program. He curated exhibitions and screening programs for the NCCA in Moscow, Russia, RURU Gallery in Jakarta, Indonesia, and Transmediale in Berlin, Germany, among others. He worked as an advisor for the Dutch Film Fund, the Dutch Mediafonds and Fonds BKVB. In 2016, he was appointed as a member of the advisory board “Visual Arts and Heritage” of the Mondriaan Fund. He lives and works in the Netherlands.
Luchezar Boyadjiev (Bulgaria), an artist, curator, lecturer, and a founding member of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Sofia. He works with installation, photography, drawing, objects, text, video, and performative lectures. His works were shown at MOMus Contemporary (Metropolitan Organization of Museums of Visual Arts of Thessaloniki) (2020), Sofia City Art Gallery (2018), Ludwig Museum (Budapest, 2016–17), Guangdong Museum of Art (Guangzhou, 2016–17), Zhejiang Art Museum (Hangzhou, 2016–17), Pera Museum (Istanbul, 2016), SALT (Istanbul, 2013), etc. He lives and works in Sofia, Bulgaria.
Dmitry Bulatov (Russia), an artist, art theorist, curator for the Baltic Branch of The State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts (NCCA Kaliningrad), organizer of multiple exhibition and editorial projects in the field of art&science and new media. His works were exhibited at different exhibitions and festivals around the world, including the Venice Biennale (2001, 2003), Ars Electronica festival (ORF, 2002) and others. He is a member of editorial boards of “DOC (K)S” (France) and “NOEMA” (Italy) magazines. He was awarded the Innovation Prize (Russia, 2008, 2013). In 2014, he was nominated for the Golden Nica of Ars Electronica festival (Austria) in the section “Visionary Pioneers of Media Art.” He lives and works in Kaliningrad, Russia.
George Drivas (Greece), a video artist and photographer. He participated in the Contemporary Art Biennial Sesc_Videobrasil (São Paulo, 2019–20), documenta 14 (Kassel) and represented Greece at the Venice Biennale (2017). His works were shown at such venues as MAXXI (Rome), the National Museum of Contemporary Art (Athens), Centre Pompidou (Paris) and such festivals as Athens International Film Festival, Transmediale Festival (Berlin), FILE Festival (São Paulo) and more, where he received multiple awards, including awards of the London Greek Film Festival (2010), the Moscow International Film Festival (2006). He lives and works in Athens, Greece, and Berlin, Germany.
Marina Gržinić (Slovenia), an artist, media theorist, art critic and curator. Since 1982, Gržinić has collaborated with Aina Šmid. Together they produced over 40 videos, various artworks and documentaries, productions, and media installations which were presented in more than 100 video festivals in the world and have received several major awards for their video productions. She was an artistic director of the 4th International Video Biennale, Cankarjev Dom, Ljubljana (1989). She is a doctor of philosophy, a researcher at the Institute of Philosophy of the ZRC SAZU (Scientific and Research Center, Slovenian Academy of Science and Arts) in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, Austria. She lives and works in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and Vienna, Austria.
Martin Honzik (Austria), an artist and director of Ars Electronica’s Festival, Prix and Exhibitions divisions. In 1998–2001, he was a member of the production team at the OK Center for Contemporary Art, an experimental laboratory for research in contemporary art, then he worked at the Ars Electronica Futurelab (2001–05). Since 2006, Martin Honzik has been director of the Ars Electronica Festival and the Prix Ars Electronica and in charge of the exhibitions in the Ars Electronica Center as well as Ars Electronica’s international exhibition projects. He lives and works in Linz, Austria.
JODI (Belgium/The Netherlands) is the duo of the artist collective – Joan Heemskerk and Dirk Paesmans who are pioneers of web art. JODI’s work is featured in most art historical volumes about electronic and media art and has been exhibited widely at venues such as documenta X (Kassel), Stedelijk Museum (Amsterdam), ZKM Center for Art and Media (Karlsruhe), NTT InterCommunication Center (Tokyo), Centre Pompidou (Paris), Center for Contemporary Arts (Glasgow), Guggenheim Museum (New York) and Museum of the Moving Image (New York) among many others. They received a 1999 Webby Award. In 2014, JODI was awarded the inaugural Prix Net Art Award by Rhizome. Both Heemskerk and Paesmans live and work out of the Netherlands.
Almagul Menlibayeva (Kazakhstan), an artist who works mostly with multi-channel video, photography and mixed media installation. She has been exhibited widely at venues such as Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst – M HKA (Antwerp), Queens Museum (New York), Stenersen Museum (Oslo), ZKM Center for Art and Media (Karlsruhe), University of California (San Diego), Center of Contemporary Art – Zamok Ujazdowskie (Warsaw), Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma (Helsinki), Museo Universitario del Chopo (Mexico City), Kulturzentrum bei den Minoriten (Graz), Queensland Art Gallery (Brisbane). She lives and works in Germany and Kazakhstan.
Alexey Shulgin (Russia), an artist, pioneer of interactive art in Russia, musician, photographer, curator and web designer. He works with video and media art. He is one of the founders of the Electroboutique gallery. He performs in 386dx duo, where his partner is a computer. In 2002–05, he was a curator for an international festival “software art Read_Me” (Moscow-Helsinki-Aarhus-Dortmund). He is a laureate of the Kandinsky Prize in the nomination “Media Art” (2009). Since 2009, he has been teaching media art at the Rodchenko Art School. He lives and works in Moscow, Russia.
Rasa Šmite and Raitis Šmits (Latvia), artists and researchers working at the intersection of art, science and emerging technologies since the mid-1990s. They are key founders of RIXC Center for New Media Culture in Riga, curators of RIXC Gallery, organizers of RIXC Art and Science festival, and chief editors of Acoustic Space. Rasa Šmite, PhD, is Professor in the New Media Art programme at Liepaja University and Senior Researcher at Art Research Lab (MPLab.lv). Raitis Šmits, PhD, is Associate Professor in the Art Academy of Latvia (2015). Their artworks were shown in Ars Electronica Center (Linz), HeK (Basel), Van Abbe Museum (Eindhoven) and others. They received Prix Ars Electronica (1998), National Award of Excellence in Culture (2016). They live and work in Riga, Latvia.
Andrey Velikanov (Russia), a philosopher, art theorist, artist, laureate of multiple video and net art festivals. He had solo shows in the galleries of Berlin and Moscow. He was awarded prizes of international media art competitions: Ostranenie (Germany), DADANET (Russia), Art on the Net (Japan), TrashArt (Russia), Southwest Interactive Festival (USA), Split (Croatia). He designed a series of lectures and seminars on philosophy of art that were presented at National Research University Higher School of Economics (Moscow), Russian State University for the Humanities (Moscow), MediaArtLab (Moscow), Garage Museum of Contemporary Art (Moscow) and more. He lives and works in Moscow, Russia.