the close of this century we are witnessing a major change in how value
is determined. The value of material wealth is giving way to the value
of information. In this time of transition, these apparently incongruous
value systems mix and form hybrid systems for determining value. Unique,
precious material objects still hold their value; some actually increase
in value in a relatively short time. Information that is useful but scarce
is also valuable. Scarcity, even in an era marked by an abundance of information,
is still a key factor in determining value. Those who hold valuable information
may still wish to maintain exclusive, proprietary control - to increase
the life of the information. Information is subject to decay or aging.
Information is not inexhaustible. It may revert to data, the raw material
from which it is formed. How and when information is maintained and released
is determined by those in control; those who initially recognize its value,
manage it and operate with it accordingly.
Contemporary art is part of an emerging sector of the economy called information
and knowledge. Knowledge-workers create information for others to use.
Worker in this case does not imply those who act only upon the instructions
of others, knowledge-workers think for themselves. They know things that
others do not know. They solve problems or help others solve problems.
Knowledge- workers produce information, they transform data into information-distinguishing
key aspects of disorder through the discovery and/or imposition of form.
Artists fit nicely into this description of knowledge-worker. Contemporary
artists, curators, critics and art historians are the knowledge- workers
who form the contemporary art domain of the new sector of the economy called
information and knowledge.
CONTEMPORARY ART MUST BE SEEN AS INFORMATION TO
BE OF VALUE
of the knowledge-worker is information. The product of the artist is art.
In an economy where value is determined by information and knowledge, art
must be seen as information to be of value. The process of creating information
requires a set of skills, methods developed through higher education and
experience. Creative processes, in their most basic forms, can be taught
and learned. Creative processes thus become products themselves. Although
these creative processes have universal characteristics, creative work
is messy, chaotic and mysterious. In art schools experienced artists attempt
to teach young, emerging artists how to work, how to create art.
for art (the consumers of art) have to be creative themselves to find the
products of artists valuable. If the work of art is an object, then an
audience has to be able to decode the object to extract information encoded
in it. This participatory investment is most commonly described as interpretation.
Interpretation, besides being an intellectual exercise, is an intuitive,
subjective process verging on psychic identification. Essentially, the
work of art is performed by the audience, who retrace the creative processes
of the artist through a kind of virtual creative process. Galleries and
museums focus the attention of audiences on objects of art in isolation:
the 'white cube' removes the art work from the world at large and permits
the work's aura to be witnessed in a quiet contemplative serenity; that
is, conducive to psychic identification. With contemporary art, curators
and critics offer their assistance in this information exchange. Dealers
and artists themselves also go to great lengths to help audiences find
ways of relating to objects of art. The dealer loves and respects his or
her artists; the artists display their personalities in public appearances,
offering clues for interpreting (identifying with) their works.
art object described above is a material manifestation of vision and thought;
the artist sees and thinks and completes the creative process by fixing
his or her perceptions and experience in material form.Traditional forms
- painting and sculpture - have been extended through photography and architectural
manipulations (installation), including attempts to integrate information
technology (video and computer-integrated media). Over time there have
been attempts to shake up the whole system of material, object-based art.
Ideas have become accepted as art (conceptual and neo-conceptual art) and
performance art and other kinds of 'live' events (some via telecommunications)
have been introduced to the world as art; performance art often centers
on the physical reality of the body itself. These conceptual and 'live'
forms have found more receptive audiences in public spaces not defined
as art spaces. When artists move into public spaces they find that audiences
in these neutral spaces invest in their work differently. They are not
interested in history, not even in recent history. They are interested
in today; the experience at the moment of exposure.
The problem with
the conceptual or live forms has been economic. How can one exchange art
to economic advantage if there is no adequate system of currency, an accepted
symbolic medium of exchange? Part of this economic problem is due to the
fleeting, immaterial and impermanent nature of conceptual and live forms.
The work does not manifest itself as a currency for exchange. There is
no accumulation of material history. This has led to an obsession with
documentation (catalogues, interviews, photography, video, CD's, CD-ROM's)
and the indirect commodification of live forms through mementos or souvenirs
(limited edition prints or drawings or other unique material objects deriving
from the production process).
An emerging solution
to problem is apparent in the recent proliferation of immaterial objects.
Open-ended, 'living objects', or more precisely 'living systems' are now
being produced under the generic description of software. Living systems,
such as expert systems or other manifestations of artificial intelligence/perception/experience,
while in their primitive stages of development, present a very serious
challenge to fixed or 'finished' art as we know it today. Artists working
in live forms will first collaborate with the experts who make immaterial
objects (multimedia programmers), then they will learn how to author these
living systems themselves.
THE LIVING ARTIST'S BODY OF WORK IS NEVER 'FINISHED'
Let us return
to what we understand fully. When we visit a museum or gallery and view
objects of art, an aspect of the interpretative process is based on knowing
when and where the object was made. Art works by living artists have to
be viewed differently than works by deceased artists. Curators, critics,
art historians, dealers and artists always point out the importance of
knowing the entire body of an artist's work when one is attempting to decode
a single, discrete object of art. When an artist dies, his or her body
of work is complete. Each object is then a fixed component of a body of
work, complete in and of itself. The living artist's body of work is an
open-ended, expanding work-in-progress and therefore each single, discrete
object of art is part of the body of the unfinished work-in-progress. An
audience interpreting such unfinished work must update the work with more
rigor than they update the 'finished' works of deceased artists.
The work of dead
artists can be decoded for information it provides about a specific period
of time (the past). While the works of certain deceased artists sustain
their value as information and therefore increase in value as material
objects, this value is based in their concreteness and ironically the fragility
of their finite material reality. A painting from the 17th century can
afford to look dated. Audiences are not so kind when viewing contemporary
art by living artists.
INFORMATION IS THE PERCEPTION AND EXPERIENCE OF
works of art are valued most if they appear to be up-to-date. The fresh
'new look' always has value. Hot new work by young artists, or brand new
twists in new works by established artists, have the look or appearance
of information. New technologies are great for achieving the 'new look'
and for creating the 'look of information', whether or not the work achieves
value as information. Contemporary artists, young and established, compete
for the most up-to-date look. Appearance is a territory. Curators, critics,
art historians, dealers, collectors and artists participate in this search
for contemporary artists who distinguish themselves as being hip (informed)
through the look of their work. Audiences are exposed to the newest, most
informed work, and they verify through their excitement and energy if the
work is charged with information value. The new look can never be predictable.
Information is always a perception and an experience of difference. It
must come as a surprise. The most unlikely things slam together to become
information. Often it is impossible to explain why specific works are so
information rich. All information is time sensitive and in a very short
time the new look becomes tired and old. A work by a living artist that
has gone out of fashion is practically lifeless (95% dead).
The 'new look'
can be easily dismissed as the primary attribute of superficial art or
shallow art that will quickly fall out of fashion. Surely an art work of
real depth will stand the test of time. Deep works are structured so their
information is released slowly, over the long run. Usually these deep works
are seen to function as universal knowledge structures. Universal works
of art defy identification with a specific time or place. But from another
perspective, perhaps the deepest works of art are constructed to be totally
devoid of information, thereby functioning as attractors of layer upon
layer of incomplete interpretation, an ongoing investment of intellect.
how a particular work of art will function in terms of information can
be addressed by asking three questions of any work of art:
1. Is the work of art loaded with information?
2. Is the work of art totally devoid of information?
3. Does the work of art transform data into
The first question asks if the audience is informed
by the work? Does the work offer a rich field of information and knowledge
to the viewer? Can the viewer learn and take something useful away from
the experience of the work? The second question asks if the work of art
defies those who would try to extract information from it? Such a work
could be labelled anti-information. It offers no information and literally
rejects all associations with information. The third question reintroduces
the term data, the raw substance from which information is created. Artists
as knowledge-workers distinguish aspects of disorder, previously indistinguishable
data, with form. They perceive difference, significant difference, and
construct situations (frequently in or through the use of material objects)
where information can be produced by the audience. Does the work of art
transform the data in the field around it, which is constantly changing,
into information? These three questions can be asked of both material and
IDENTITY IS ADDRESS IN THE TERRITORY OF APPEARANCE
critical problem emerges from this period of chaotic transition. How can
a work of art be updated so it does not lose its value in such a volatile
information environment? Information (and certainly art in an information
age) has a very short life. Contemporary art begins to fade immediately
after it is exposed to an audience. The living artist updates his or her
body of work through subsequent releases of new work. The living body of
work is continually updated through twists and turns, rather than reversals
in direction. The thread of consistency, aesthetic logic, must remain unbroken.
At the core of the living artist's evolving work there must be a redundancy
of form and a consistency in the method by which disorder is processed
into form. This redundancy of form and method creates a recognizable identity.
This identity is the address of the work - the site of information. An
evolving body of work has no fixed address except its recognizable appearance.
Identity is address in the territory of appearance.
created by one's own history (a body of finished art works) produces the
artist's address in the trans-spatial territory of appearance - his or
her identity. This address, while necessary for recognition, unfortunately
prescribes the parameters of new works. All mature artists with considerable
bodies of work eventually fall victim to the weight of their own history.
They must continuously update what they do while remaining consistent with
their past work. In fact a common strategy in the 20th century has been
to remain completely consistent - to repeat the same information as art
over and over and over. In a 21st century culture, value will be determined
increasingly by the freshness or newness of information, and this vitality
of information will be based on the timely, continuous introduction of
apparent new qualities. Stability, unless it is poetic ("poetry is
news that stays news", Ezra Pound), will not be a positive attribute
in an environment characterized by continuous change. The difference between
poetic stability and mundane redundancy is that poetic information is volatile
in its own way.
ETHERIAL CULTURE IS GROUNDED, MADE CONCRETE, IN
In a digital
era immaterial 'objects' are increasingly prevalent, but their function
will initially differ little from their material predecessors. They are
carriers or rejectors of information, or transformers of data into information.
As immaterial objects of art, they function best in virtual spaces. Where
museums and galleries are physical architectural sites best suited for
the public presentation of material objects of art, immaterial objects
function best on networks - virtual public spaces that connect private
spaces. At the turn of the century, there will be an increasingly more
complete synthesis of material and immaterial objects, of physical and
virtual architectures, of value systems based on dichotomies of scarcity
and abundance, material wealth and information wealth. Mixed economies,
perceptions and experience will countervail to produce radical new hybrids.
The stable, poetic
information structure of an ambiguous artwork yields information through
the creative efforts of its audience. The audience interprets (participates,
interacts with) the work to create information. The chief edge that immaterial
objects have over material objects is their potential for direct, active
participation and interactive manipulation by audiences. Immaterial objects
fly back and forth across networks at the speed of light into private spaces
where audiences can manipulate and modify identical, digital copies of
original art works, updating these works as their information is consumed,
or more correctly, processed. This is why interactivity is such an obsession
in computer-integrated media. The whole digital arts sector is completely
chaotic and volatile except for the potential of societal integration via
networks and connectivity.
is grounded, made concrete, in its audience. Works of art in the immaterial
domain are never finished, they are simply introduced (initialized) and
placed (contextualized) for participation and interaction: the audience
may add to, alter, customize, pass on, subtract from the work, etc. The
identity or address of the work is therefore shared by the artist and the
audience. The artist, of course, may choose to revisit any or all of his
or her own works for revision in such an interactive environment.
process - where the artist sends instructions for transforming his or her
entire existing body of work by adding, subtracting...emphasizing, amplifying...twisting,
tweaking, reversing, transposing...recontextualizing, destroying...(you
name it)--is how attractiveness, vitality and ultimately value will be
maintained and recreated in the new information economy. The artist will
no longer simply be as good as his or her latest work. Instead, the artist's
work will only be as valuable as it is up-to-date. Works of art previously
valued because they represented concretely the perception and experience
of a particular, fixed period of time will have to be updated and at least
partially reformed to maintain their value as information. The artist,
while living, will participate in this updating process with his or her
audience: curators, critics, art historians and anyone else with access
to the work.
RADIO AND TELEVISION AND TELECOMMUNICATIONS-BASED
MULTIMEDIA CONTINUE TO UNDERMINE 'FINISHED' ART
roughly seventy years that art has coexisted with instantaneously updatable
electronic media (radio, then television and most recently telecommunications-based
multimedia), artists have functioned primarily as reactionary figures,
producing material history valued largely because of its stability and
strong ties to the past. Things are far more complex in the 1990's. Today
artists are moving in two completely opposite directions, determining and
fulfilling the criteria of two incongruous value systems. For some, value
is determined by establishing and dating 'finished' works of art - setting
up stable structures designed to hold and perhaps increase their value
as they recede into the past. For others, art is valuable only if it is
current - existing as a living system, characteristically fluid or 'liquid'
in nature. Building in mechanisms for updating works of art, such as interactive
mechanisms, is a strategy for maintaining and recreating the value of art
as information. In such interactive works the potential interval frequency
of revision will become the primary factor for determining value.
In between these
divergent value systems there is a broad spectrum of hybrids. Paradoxically
these include traditional material objects that function as highly sophisticated
information generators and immaterial objects structured as 'poetry' which
stand rock solid against the swirling, chaotic patterns of change. Art
that produces information, transforming data into information in its relationship
with audience, is always a living system (whether concrete and solid, fluid
and liquid, or fleeting and etherial). The contemporary artist and his
or her audience breathe life into such systems, or more precisely each
distinct 'species' of living system. The evolving living works of a living
artists naturally defy completion and stasis and death (and ultimately
extinction - being discarded and forgotten). One emerging strategy for
survival is to build in mechanisms for updating. Making interactive works
that are updated as they are used certainly has potential as a survival
is all about the potential for sustaining the life of the work; making
updatable art invites the audience (including the artist) to participate
in creating the future of the work. This contrasts with the usual abandonment
of the 'finished' work of art. As we look back at 'finished' works of art,
left behind to sustain themselves (in special vaults, the 'white cubes')
against the ravages of time, it is clear that the 'finished' work of art
is a thing of the past.
is an artist and theorist currently teaching at Syracuse University in
Syracuse, New York, USA.