[iDC] Bruns, Matuck, Schiesser-- videos and texts

Trebor Scholz trebor at thing.net
Fri Oct 21 06:52:27 EDT 2005

Dear all,

Over the last few weeks we welcomed three visitors who presented inspiring
lectures. Axel Bruns (Brisbane, Australia) discussed his idea of
"produsage." Artur Matuck (Sao Paolo, Brazil) addressed his 1972 concept of
the "Semion," essentially an early precursor to the notion of copyleft.
Giaco Schiesser (Zurich, Switzerland) delivered a lecture on obstinacy in
media, art, and education. The essay that follows below was the foundation
for Giaco Schiesser's lecture. You can view video conversations with all
three visitors at:




Working On and With Eigensinn, Media | Art | Education


Giaco Schiesser

Translated by Tom Morrison

The article focusses on a media and art education in pace with the times,
through a new approach: the conception of Eigensinn (approx.: wilful
obstinacy) of media and artists is developed in detail as the crucial
artistic and media productive force. Giving an insight in some central
influences / demarcations/ transformations of different art media in the
20th century it proposes that a forward-looking media art education in pace
with the times could rest on three pillars: 1. Training in individual,
collective and collaborative media authorship. 2. Working on and with the
Eigensinn of media (e.g. film, photography, computers / networks and the
fine arts). 3. Art as process, art as technique. These three pillars are
worked out and presented in detail.

In memory of Hans-Jürgen Bachorski (1950-2001) [2]

Since to talk about something inevitably means to keep silent about many
other subjects, I wish to begin by stating what I will not be talking about.

1. I will not discuss "broad" or "narrow" definitions of art, or indeed
propose a normative definition. You will hear nothing about notions of art
as a "Gesamtkunstwerk" along the lines first formulated by Richard Wagner,
then democratized by Joseph Beuys, and recently updated by artists like Roy
Ascott. Nor will you hear anything about Umberto Eco's definition of the
"open work" or about notions of art that attempt to establish a work's
character as art exclusively on the basis of its aesthetics by means of the
internal structure or of the semantic compression, and the resultant
"surplus value" of a picture, a novel or a film.

2. I will not discuss "broad" or "narrow" definitions of the concept of
media, either. That means you will hear nothing about the meaning and
implications of definitions that, in line with Herbert Marshall McLuhan,
count cars and trains alongside the media of literature, photography and
film, or about the even broader concepts that, following Niklas Luhmann,
include money and love as media. I will also keep silent about very specific
understandings of media such as are the basis, for instance, of Claude E.
Shannon's mathematical information models.

However, there are five things I do want to talk about:

1. that which I am attempting to describe with the notion of the "Eigensinn
of a medium";

2. the meaning of the terms "art as technique" and "art as method";

3. several historically recurring processes in the emergence of a new
medium, and the implications of these processes for the arts;

4. a few conclusions resulting for an art and media education in pace with
the times;

5. and finally, the prospective central importance of art and media in what
is problematically termed the "information society", the era now underway.

Eigensinn ­ Meaning and potential of a concept

At a time when the major narratives to which we had bid conclusively
farewell have become possible once more, I wish to begin with a small but
magnificent story:

"Once upon a time there was a child who was wilful, and would not do as her
mother wished. For this reason God had no pleasure in her, and let her
become ill, and no doctor could do her any good, and in a short time she lay
on her death-bed. When she had been lowered into her grave, and the earth
was spread over her, all at once her arm came out again, and stretched
upwards, and when they had put it in and spread fresh earth over it, it was
all to no purpose, for the arm always came out again. Then the mother
herself was obliged to go to the grave, and strike the arm with a rod, and
when she had done that, it was drawn in, and then at last the child had rest
beneath the ground."

This "tale" (no. 117) is by far the shortest of those included in the 1819
collection of fairytales by the Brothers Grimm. It is entitled Das
Eigensinnige Kind [3] ("The Wilful Child", Grimm 1884, p. 125).
More than 150 years later, that particular fairytale was the subject of a
lucid interpretation in Geschichte und Eigensinn, a book co-authored by the
renowned writer, filmmaker and television producer Alexander Kluge and the
sociologist Oskar Negt (Klege/Negt 1981, pp. 765-769). Kluge and Negt worked
out the rich lexical substance of the term "Eigensinn" (along with the
adjectival noun "Eigensinnigkeit" - a word and motif core existing solely in
the German-speaking countries - and made the extended, transformed term the
strategic pivot of their individual- and species-historical developmental
analysis. They define "Eigensinn" as 1) a focus in which history can be
comprehended as the centre of conditions of dialectic gravitation, 2) as a
result of dire distress ("bitterer Not"), 3) as a reaction to the duress of
a given context, 4) as the protest, condensed in one point, against the
expropriation of one's own senses leading to the external world, and 5) as
the further working of motifs expelled or retired from society at the place
where they have most protection, namely in the subject (see Kluge/Negt 1981,
p. 765ff.).

For Negt and Kluge, the Eigensinn of individuals represents an intertwining
of two different processes: on the one hand, it is the place of repressed
desires that have not been lived (Ort der verdrängten, nicht gelebten
Wünsche) that accumulate in the course of an individual and social life. Of
something yet to be settled ("ein Unabgegoltenes"), which - because unable
to be stifled - insidiously and recurrently makes itself noticed (the hand
of the obstinate child that repeatedly emerges from the grave after the
child's death, because the child finds no rest). On the other hand,
Eigensinn is the point of departure of all social and individual processes
(Ausgangspunkt aller gesellschaftlichen und Individuellen Prozesse): social
starting point for every political and cultural project, individual starting
point for a self-determined life lived according to its own sense
(eigen-sinnig). Eigen-Sinn, "own sense, ownership of the five senses,
through that capability of perceiving what happens in the world around
oneself" (Kluge/Negt 1981, p. 766) is the place which must recurrently be
worked out in the course of an individual biography and from which a life of
one's own can and/or must develop under the given conditions of a historical
conjunction. In everyday life, people fulfil not only externally imposed
requirements but also pursue their own objects by evading - sometimes
consciously, sometimes unconsciously - with surprising, peculiar
("eigen-artig": of its own kind) and obstinate attitudes those things which
they are economically, politically or culturally required to do, undermine
them, ignore them, trample them underfoot, oppose and transverse them. [4]

The Eigensinn of individuals is best described by this
conscious-unconscious, sometimes bizarre and often contradictory will to do
that which they want to do, under whatever conditions, by their
self-determined actions, their mentalities and their recalcitrance, and by
the desires recurrently articulated in a form that goes against the grain.
[5] Due to the semantic richness of the words Eigensinn / Eigensinnigkeit, I
have proposed that they be adopted as loan words in English.

Excursus: The two paradigms of the concept Eigensinn / Eigensinnigkeit -
superbia vs. productive force

In German, the words Eigensinn / Eigensinnigkeit possess a lexical aurora
encompassing at least four layers of meaning:

1) in the most current everyday usage, with clearly negative connotations:
stubbornness, headstrongness, obstinacy, wilfulness, sometimes madness;

2) the literal meaning is "with the specific sense a person gives to him or
her self and with which he or she interprets/maps their environment";

3) again, literally: with one's own five senses, that is to say with one's
own sensibility/sensuality (in German, sense Sinn and sensibility
Sinnlichkeit share the same common etymological root), with the logic and/or
structure according to which a person behaves;

4) as positively connotated attributes, Eigensinn / Eigensinnigkeit mean
independence, originality, perseverance, self-confidence, an original way of
looking at things.

The subdominant, repressed and suppressed tradition of the conception of
Eigensinn as positive, as a productive force was disclosed only in the 19th
century, with the Grimm brothers' transcription of the tale of The Wilful
Child. The conception which appears here deserves to be worked out in more
detail - because of space limitation I can only mark the direction here - by
linking it to Sigmund Freud's conception of "extrusion" / "condensation"
(Verdrängung/ Verdichtung) (Freud 2001), to Jacques Lacan's conception of
the "split subject" (gespaltenes subjekt) (Lacan 1975, 1991) and to Antonio
Gramsci's concept of the "bizarre", highly contradictorily composed
"everyday mind" (Alltagsverstand) (Gramsci 1970, p. 130f.)

The predominant, opposite tradition which stresses the negative meaning of
the conception of Eigensinn goes back a long time and can be found very
early in the antique and the German languages. (For this and the overview up
to Rousseau, see, Fuchs 1972). Augustine's more ambivalent concept of
"voluntas propria", lat. "cosilium proprium" (a person's own will) becomes
definitely a negative concept under the influence of the neo-platonism. From
that time on "voluntas propria" became the origin of the original sin and
the concept has become a battle concept (Kampfbegriff) to fight for the
order willed by God. In the mysticism of the late middle ages the concept
was translated as "eigen meinunge" (a person's own opinion) by Meister
Eckehard and Tauler. Luther became the first to translate it with
"Eigensinn". For both, for Luther's Protestantism and for the Catholic
spirituality of the 16th and 17th century (e.g. Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa
of Avila), "voluntas propria" became the marking for the totality of
individual existence and was therefore to be rigorously fought against.
Rousseau takes this thread by secularising the term but still using it in a
negative way (volonté particulière vs. volonté génerale).

This secularised tradition is taken up, transformed and reformulated, in the
work of G.W.F. Hegel (see especially the Chapter "Lordship/Mastery and
Bondage/Servitude" in his "Phenomenology of Spirit"; Hegel 1977, pp. 178ff.)
which had a great impact on subsequent times. For Hegel Eigensinnigkeit is a
level of the Unhappy Consciousness of the servant, which has to be sublated
(aufgehoben). "Der eigene Sinn ist Eigensinn, eine Freiheit, die noch
innerhalb der Knechtschaft stehen bleibt". In the framework of her Theories
of Subjection Judith Butler has recently picked up the negatively connotated
concept of Eigensinnigkeit uncritically approving with direct references to
Hegel, (Butler 1997, Chapter 1): "Indeed self-feeling (of the servant,
G.S.)refers only and endlessly to itself (a transcendental form of
eigensinnigkeit), and so is unable to furnish knowledge of anything other
than itself und damit erbringt es keinerlei anderes Wissens als das über
sich selbst. (Butler, 1997, p. 47).

The history and development of the dominant conceptions Eigensinn /
Eigensinnigkeit make clear that the individuality of a person that is rooted
in his or her sensibility (Sinnlichkeit) - his or her own senses (Sinnen) -
and in his or her own, developed meaning (Sinn) of being in the world has
been excluded first under the verdict of the pregiven order willed by God
and then subjugated to the majestic-dignity of the (world-)mind. End of the

Eigensinn of the Media as Productive Force

I have proposed that the notions of Eigensinn and Eigensinnigkeit be used in
analyzing media and the arts, as well as in producing art (Schiesser 2002,
2003a,b, 2004). In other words: I propose to consider the Eigensinn /
Eigensinnigkeit of media as a productive force of its own.

It is this collision of the Eigensinn of the media with the Eigensinnigkeit
of creators that initiates and perpetuates a significant and paradoxical
process. The artist is subjugated to the Eigensinn inscribed in the media,
yet as a creator who is himself eigen-sinnig, the artist also incessantly
tries to make the Eigensinn of media yield to his own will. Art has always
derived its subjects, aesthetics and future from this process which, because
it cannot be resolved, is interminable. I am proposing, in other words, that
we talk about the Eigensinn of the media as a productive force.

Everything we are able to say, apprehend and know about the world is
presented, recognized and known with the help of media. Ever since the
half-blind Friedrich Nietzsche clear-sightedly found that the typewriter was
"also working on our thoughts" (an understatement, from the contemporary
stance), or at the latest since Herbert Marshall McLuhan's much-quoted
aperçu that "the medium is the message", we have known that media do not
merely serve to convey messages but are - somehow - involved in the
substance of the message. It is therefore necessary to ascribe to media the
power of co-producing, and not just transporting meaning, if not to join
Roman Jakobson in declaring meaning to be product of the material (sensory)
attributes of the medium itself. In other words, media (by which, in the
present context, I mean merely those media which have historically earned
special significance for art production, that is to say: literature, music,
theatre, photography, film, video, television, computer and networks)
possess a meaning of their own (einen eigenen Sinn) -- Eigensinn.[6]

The talk of the specific Eigensinn of different media initially makes it
clear that media and their codification are never neutral tools for
transporting ideas, images and sounds, especially when these media and codes
are being used for academic or artistic purposes. They are inscribed with
material, semantic, syntactic, structural, historical, technological,
economical and political Eigensinningkeiten and their history (one need only
think of what we have learned about the Eigensinn of language from writers
like Saussure, Nietzsche, Freud, Marshall Mc Luhan, Lacan and Laclau), of
which their users have only partial conscious command. In every contemporary
medium being used for artistic purposes, then, its entire cultural history
is inscribed, sometimes as "dead labour", sometimes as "living labour"
(Alexander Kluge). Every medium possesses a specific materiality, specific
technological prerequisites, specific structural attributes, different
traditions, semantic charging, and requires different techniques and modes
of proceeding of which the artist is only partially aware. Therefore, every
medium contains different potentialities and boundaries, and is furthermore
defined in its type and effect by economic, political and cultural factors.
That which is able to be written in a literary work differs from that able
to be shown in a film. That which photography records or places in scene is
different from that expressed by a piece of music.

Each of these mediums is unique and irreplaceable. The history of each
medium saw the development of an ongoing repertoire of aesthetics often
strictly separated from, or in contradiction to, those of the others. In
film, for instance, this repertoire ranges from the silent-film aesthetic of
somebody like Georges Méliès over the first and second French avant-garde
movements and Italian Neo-Realism to the contemporary splatter movie. In
literature it stretches from the aventure novel of Walther von der
Vogelweide (or, in the Anglo-Saxon context, from Beowulf) over Dadaism and
the écriture automatique of the Surrealists to the collaboratively authored
Net literature of the present. In music it ranges from medieval pentatonics
and Italian opera over twelve-tone music and jazz up to punk, hiphop and
ambient - to name but a few examples.

Let me specify a few aspects of the Eigensinn of a medium on the basis of
three mediums subject to extensive artistic usage, and using the examples of
literature, Net art, and painting. The basic material processed by
literature is language. Language is a time-based, mono-aesthetic medium.
Whatever literature wishes to express must be presented in linear,
sequential form. As a general rule, the reader reads literature in the form
of a book, linearly, from top left to bottom right, page for page. A very
different situation applies in the case of works of Net art: they too are
time-based media, but they are synaesthetic as opposed to mono-aesthetic,
since text, image and sound can be present in equal measure. Second, works
of Net art are a polyphonic medium: text, image and sound may also occur
simultaneously. And, third, Net artworks are fundamentally non-linear in
design. Therefore, they demand from the spectator what I call "structural
interaction", which may differ in quite a number of ways from the
"interaction" of somebody who is reading a book or looking at a painting.
Imagine, as the third example, that you enter the Louvre armed with a
paintpot and brush, place yourself in front of the painting entitled Mona
Lisa and attempt to actively alter the painting with your brush and paint.
At the very least, you would have to reckon with legal proceedings and a
psychiatric assessment.

These examples must suffice as demonstration of the fundamental differences
in materiality, authorship, status of the artwork and the necessary
behaviour of recipients in such cases. In one case we have an individual
authorship, a finished work of art, and a recipient who, in order to enjoy
the art, must read a book or view a picture, while in the other case we
often have in front of us a collective, sometimes collaborative, authorship,
an "artwork in movement" (Umberto Eco), along with, ideally, recipients who
- translocally distributed and synaesthetically solicited - must actively
first co-create the work of art as actual co-authors, for if they do not act
interactively, nothing happens: no work of art comes into being. And the
converse holds true: If the artwork comes to a standstill, if there is
nobody interactively manipulating it, then it might be "completed", but is
dead at the same time.

I must immediately stress the fact that from the historical perspective the
Eigensinn specific to a particular medium - which was always a central theme
of artistic production - has always emerged in a process of disassociation
combined with reciprocal influence. The separation of established media from
new mediums always entailed the transformation of the former. After the
invention of photography, for example, the until then important genre of
portrait painting receded into the background. Photography was now the
medium of portraiture - until, after a renewed transformation, portrait
painting became current once more in an innovative form, as for example in
Cindy Sherman's untitled photo-portrait series in the 1980s. As a second
example I would point to montage, a technique filmmakers adopted from
literature and, having further developed it in the film medium,
differentiated and transformed to produce a process of reciprocal
interaction which has endured up to the present day. [7]

Influences | Demarcations | Transformations - On the History of the Media
and the Arts

The varied history of the media and the arts makes more clearly discernible,
at least since photography was invented, the following processes:

1. Artists working in and with the newly emergent medium must initially take
recourse to established aesthetics and the methods of old media. [8] They
try out, experiment, and only gradually work out the potentialities of the
new medium. In some cases - like literature -the development of adequate,
media-authentic aesthetics takes centuries, whereas in other cases - like
film - it takes merely a few decades. In the early days of film, for
instance, the medium as a matter of course took up established aesthetic
elements of literature (such as the narrative structure of the story or the
figure of the hero), of theatre (actors, dialogue, set), of dance
(choreography, rhythm), and of fine art (panorama, close-up, long shot). [9]

2. "Old", that is to say established, media are plunged into crisis by the
emergence of a new medium, and are required to alter their focus and
differentiate their strongpoints and unique attributes in a new way within
the dispositif of their particular, historically different media and art
productions. [10] I have pointed out the altered focuses in the case of
portrait painting in the field of fine art. Since the mid-1990s, it has been
possible to witness a clear demonstration of the same process in the case of
the theatre.

Due to the rise of the new media, the theatre has been in crisis for several
years, and has recognized this situation. What answers has it found so far?
On the one hand, we have seen the emergence of theatre that radically
returns to and brings into focus one of its specific attributes, its
physicality (as in the work of the Catalonian group La Fura dels Baus, or in
contemporary post-dramatic theatre). On the other hand, theatre has emerged
that attempts to reflect upon the new media (computer, networks), and to
deploy them not merely as tools but as mediums for renewed, transformed
theatre forms (for instance, the Japanese group Dumb Type, the Canadian
director Robert Lepage, the Swiss director Stefan Pucher, or the German
playwright Ulrike Syha or, within the last few years, also Fura dels
baus).[11] In art-historical terms, the alternatives grasped are recurrently
either to recall and focus upon a specific attribute of the old medium, or
to reflectively integrate the medium which is new at a particular time. Even
if the consequences of either method differ, they both bring about a
transformation of the established medium.

3. If the Eigensinn of a new medium has to some degree been recognized,
tried out and developed, the new artistic methods and possibilities have an
effect on the old media. Soon after the invention of photography and film,
for instance, these media began to exercise a strong influence on
literature, and since very recently we can witness a similar influence being
exercised by the new media: The attempt to explode the linearity of the
language defining the literary work in its four-hundred year tradition can
be traced from Dadaism over the montage novel and écriture automatique up to
Concrete Poetry and the contemporary attempts to make useful for printed
literature the non-linear link structure which is fundamental to the

4. Hybrid forms emerge that co-exist with the mono-media art forms.
Historical examples would be ready-mades, experimental films, Happenings,
art interviews, film essays, video installations.

"Art as Technique" | "Art as Method"

As I will demonstrate, art as technique and art as method are two different
aspects of one and the same process. I will begin with "art as technique".

It would be possible to connect up the following considerations to current
art discourse by referring to somebody like the French philosopher Jacques
Rancière, a recognized authority on literature and film, who articulated his
view on art as follows: "Like knowledge, art (...) creates fictions, i.e.
material redistributions of signs and images of the relationships between
what one sees and what one says, and also between what one does and what one
can do"(cited after David 2001, p. 195). Or by referring to Jean-François
Lyotard's thesis that the work of art "tries to present the fact that there
is an unpresentable" (Lyotard 1984, p. 101). This attempt - the ultimate
driving force in art - is a "task of derealization" (Lyotard 1986, p. 79) of
the images, the representations, the ordering frame of reference. However, I
wish to go back further in time and deploy the historical formula of "art as
technique", which is rhizomatically linked to the analyses of Rancière and
Lyotard. The hugely influential notion of "art as technique" dates back to
the Russian literary theorist Viktor Shklovsky. In his 1916 essay "Art as
Technique" (Shklovsky 1994) [12] he attempted to comprehend the objective of
art, and in particular the objective of the image, while at the same time
establishing a clear distinction from the aesthetic of mimesis predominant
at the time of writing."

'If the whole complex lives of many people go on unconsciously, then such
lives are as if they had never been.' And art exists that one may recover
the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things [and not, like in
science, to recognize them, G.S.], to make the stone stony. The purpose of
art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as
they are known. The technique of art is to make objects "unfamiliar"
["ostranie": making strange, G.S.[13], to make forms difficult, to increase
the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is
an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged. Art is a way of
experiencing the artfulness of an object; the object is not important.
(Shklovsky 1994, emphasis G.S.)

Shklovsky is essentially concerned with two things. First, by means of
abbreviated (stunted), automated perceptions - "habitual associations"
(Brecht) - people rapidly and transiently reduce the wealth of objects and
facts in their everyday lives to recognizable schemata (cf. Shklovsky 1994).
Art, by contrast, destroys these automatic mechanisms. By various
techniques, objects and circumstances are abruptly severed from their
customary associations, decontextualized, "made strange", so that the
process of perception is prolonged and/or made more difficult, and the
object is not merely recognized, but "felt" and, as if for the first time,
"seen". The core concept in Shklovsky's considerations is that of the
necessity to break through the "automatism of perception" by "various means"
(Shklovsky 1994).

The technique of art stressed by Shklovsky has consequences in regards to
the aesthetics both of production and reception; in the present context, the
production-aesthetic consequences are especially interesting: If the "making
of a thing itself" and the "form made difficult", that is to say the "making
strange" by "various means", become the central focus of art, then
immediately the question about the medium, about its Eigensinn, is on the
agenda: about the undiscovered possibilities and obstinacies sketched out
above. For the "form made difficult" and the "various means" are directly
dependent on the materiality, structure, and technology specific to the
chosen medium.

On the second aspect: art as method.

Art as method means to place the experimental in the foreground. But in
contrast to the natural sciences, in which falsification and verifiability
are the decisive criteria leading to proofs and verifiable results, the
ultimate target towards which artistic practice is oriented is not the
fixation on results but the process-based character of creative activity.
Artistic experimentation is concerned explicitly with the "conditions of
what is possible" (Philippe Lacoue-Labarthes, cit. after David 2001, p.
185), not with the foundations of the feasible. As a procedure of artistic
practice, experimentation means to develop strategies of innovation. This,
however, this presupposes something that might be described as an attitude
of inner productivity. This attitude - which any academic media and art
education must play an essential role in co-conveying to its students - is
expressed in curiosity, willingness to take risks and refusal to compromise
in regard to one's own subjects and interests and in regard to the work on
and with the Eigensinn of the media. Admittedly, it is possible to
theoretically reflect upon the possibilities of a specific medium and also,
in the case of media whose histories are as long as those of literature,
theatre, dance and music, to analytically define them more precisely.
However, in order to investigate, try out, test to the limit and transform a
medium, in order to undermine it, hybridize it, to go against its grain, in
order to make it sensorially experiencable as an artefact, it is necessary
to practice art on and with the particular medium.
Let me illustrate the above on the basis of two examples from film history.
In the 1960s, the filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard withdrew to Lyon and for several
years (as a member of the groupe dziga vertov) was almost exclusively
preoccupied with video, at that time a new and exciting medium. The result
was a series of videos (Six fois deux, British Sounds, Pravda et al.), in
which the video medium is investigated experimentally, and new contents, new
techniques, new methods and modes of perception are tried out. Finally,
Godard put to use in film the experience thus gained by integrating the
investigated formats, methods and findings (non-linear dramatic structure,
splitting up one large screen into several small ones, aesthetic of the
image) into films such as his Numéro 2 (1975), and so expanded the
possibilities of film by transforming the medium. Or take the writer,
filmmaker and TV maker Alexander Kluge, who attempts to make the television
medium go against the grain, to wrestle from it new possibilities, and in
this way enable the viewers to have new experiences, experiences that
simultaneously presuppose and promote intense sensorial activity on the part
of the audience (of broadcasts such as News and Stories, 10 vor 11,
Bekanntmachung! et al.). Kluge accomplishes this by using a number of
different aesthetic procedures, techniques and structural elements adopted
from the rich history of film, music and literature and adapted for
television: minute-long close-ups, original sound, slowness, inserted text
panels, or the mounting of "classical lenses" on electronic cameras. "We
use," states Kluge, "a Debrie camera from 1923, for instance, and program
the electronic computers to obey the rules that long-dead cameramen fed to
this Debrie camera. In this way, we recall a piece of dead work from film
history, and program it into the broadcast." (Cit. after Schiesser/Deuber
2000, p. 363f.) [14]

A Media and Art Education in Pace with the Times

Eigensinn of the mediums, art as technique / art as method - these are the
focal themes on which I trained my sights in the foregoing. I chose these
aspects of the wide "media and art" field because I consider them to be the
strategic factors or problematics in a model of media and art education on a
level with the times. Individual, collective and collaborative authorship is
the third, and equivalent, factor that joins the two stated already. What
would the Eigensinn of the mediums amount to without the Eigensinningkeit
and the Scharfsinnigkeit (the acumen) of artistic authorship!
A media and art education in pace with the times, an education thought out
in terms of the future and at the same time taking seriously and working
through traditional experience, will place territories of experimentation at
the disposal of students. In these territories students will be expected and
encouraged to carry out curious, radical and uncompromising work -- both
individually and collectively, and eigensinnig at all events -- on
self-chosen or biographically inscribed interests, contents and subjects, as
well on and with the Eigensinn of various single and hybrid mediums.

Today, transmedia education is part of media training. Transmedia education
means that the students are empowered to work simultaneously in and with one
medium, and at the same time to learn how to devise and use artistically the
interface to other media. In a media- and technology-based age like the
post-industrial present, authorship means not only individual or collective
authorship to which everybody contributes his specific components, but
collaborative authorship in which everyone is capable of networking his/her
specific skills with those of the others, and over and over again emerges
from this process having been fundamentally transformed. However, alongside
the development of social, communicative and, in increasing measure,
analytic competence, this requires in-depth knowledge of one's own medium
and knowledge of the other media. I see the significance of an education
that intensifies this mindfulness of the nature of media and simultaneously
encourages transmedia networking - and such an education must inevitably
extend beyond the subjects offered by an art and media academy - as lying in
the fact that it enables the students to make their way as artists on a
level with their times or as flexible and versatile media authors of the
type increasingly and urgently required by the "information society". In
either case, they will be capable as individuals and as members of a team of
assuming the responsibility for content, conception, implementation,
production processes and budgeting.

If it is true to say that a new medium exercises a dual influence on old
media insofar as it forces the latter to re-assess their possibilities in
the light of new conditions, and at the same time transforms them, then an
important challenge and chance for media and art education lies also, and
particularly, in the enabling and furtherance of hybrid or cross-over
artworks, be they interactive audio installations, video essays, media
architecture, transmedia interfaces in urban spaces, DJ events, digital
poetry, new aesthetics of the performative, SMS visuals for clubs, parties,
intercity streams of DJ events, Net TV, cultural software, radio concerts
for mobile phones - or, or, or. Transmedia or hybrid art demands - and in
the mid-term that is the central challenge for art education - the working
out, communication and usage of a series of complex specialist areas like
neurophysiology, cognitive sciences, architecture, nanotechnology, theories
of information, aesthetics, cognitive and perception theory, life sciences.
At present, these subjects are taught at not one, but several different,
universities - a situation essentially due to the striking leap forward
taken by the media as a result of digitalization, even if they had become
increasingly technology-based from the invention of photography onward.
Thus, for art too, the dispositif has changed fundamentally and
dramatically. [15] Some years ago, Hans-Peter Schwarz, the former director
of the Media Museum at ZKM Karlsruhe, published a richly informative article
in which he reconstructed the changing history of the various arts and of
technology since the eighteenth century, and established the inescapable
significance of technologies for contemporary and future media arts (Schwarz
1997, p. 11ff.). The linkage of the arts, technologies and sciences - a
linkage that during the brief, historic epoch of the Renaissance took place
as a matter of course - has today undeniably become a prerequisite for
future art and media work, and for that reason also for adequate training in
that field.

Art Subjects | Immaterial Labour | Post-Postmodernism

"Postmodernism", "Hi-Tech Capitalism", "Postfordism", "Information Age",
"Cyber Society", "Network Society" or even "Post-Information Age" - so
probing, boldy assertive or normatively defining as these current concepts
variously are, and however divergent their implications, they all point to
the fact that a transition is taking place from one era to another. Among
all the differing viewpoints in the specialist literature, there is
agreement on one aspect: that digitalization and the concomitant
computeratization and networking will fundamentally change all areas of
society, politics, economics and culture, and in part have done so already.
At the same time, it is becoming increasingly clear that what for some time
now has been discussed under the rubric "immaterial labour" is gaining
strategic importance. (See Negri et al. 1998 for an introduction.) Whereas
"Fordism" or, as the case may be, "industrialized society" required working
subjects who, in line with the principle of division of labour and
integrated in a regular working day within a system of vertical hierarchy,
went about their specific duties and clearly separated their working time
from their leisure time, Postfordism demands working subjects of a wholly
new order. At least in the fields in which graduates of an art and media
academy will work, Postfordism already requires extremely creative subjects,
subjects who are active, have multifarious interests, and are "rich in
knowledge" (as the Italian social theorist and Postoperaist Toni Negri puts
it), and preferably can demonstrate "hybrid CVs" (as Josef Brauner, former
CEO of Sony Deutschland, put it already in the mid-1990s). Or, in the words
of Maurizio Lazzarato, a leading theorist of "immaterial labour": subjects
who are capable of combining "intellectual capabilities, craft skills,
creativity, imagination, technical expertise and manual dexterity," of
making "entrepreneurial decisions, of intervening within the framework of
the social conditions, and of organizing social co-operation" (Lazzarato
1998, p. 46) - in other words, subjects who have taken to heart the
principle of art as method.

That the above does not automatically lead to an affirmation of the social
status quo, as some of you may fear and others may hope, becomes clear if
you remind yourself that critique of society, not to mention its
transformation, never originates from one location (there is no Archimedean
point), but takes place in several places simultaneously. It needs artists
who, with their aesthetic works, their sensory artefacts, offer us new modes
of perceiving and thinking, new models of experience, place in our hands new
instruments for drawing up maps and navigating. And in equal measure it
needs media workers who - because they have developed their powers of
authorship and throughout their studies battled against the Eigensinn of one
or more medium - as filmmakers are capable of making television better than
the programmes we see every day, as photographers are capable of deploying
their medium in innovative fashion in newspapers, magazines, books and
advertising, or as new-media specialists are capable of trying out and
implementing cultures of playing other than the conventional shooter games,
as well as new learning environments or the machinic platforms whose
potential has so far hardly been fathomed.

The obstinate, wilful (eigensinnigen) members of society will perhaps not
thank the graduates or the art colleges, but they will certainly need
artists and media products of this kind, and will know how to use them for
the greatest of all the arts: the art of their own life.

1) This article was revised and enlarged for the English translation. The
original version ("Medien | Kunst | Ausbildung. Über den Eigensinn als
Künstlerische Produktivkraft") will appear in spring 2004 in the forthcoming
book Schnittstellen, eds. Georg Christoph Tholen et al., Basler Beiträge zur
Medienwissenschaft, Bd. 1, Basel: Schwabe. My thanks go to Matthew Fuller
and the Piet Zwart Institute of the Willem de Kooning Academy, Rotterdam,
for making possible this publication in English.

2) An Old German scholar and professor based in Berlin and Potsdam, with
whom I started thinking and talking about the problematic of Eigensinn of
men and the media in the 1980s.

3) The celebrated Brothers Grimm (Jakob and Wilhelm) collected a wide range
of German fairy tales in the early nineteenth century, and published them
under the title of "Grimms Märchen". The collection immediately became
famous, and has since been a standard on the bookshelves of every
German-speaking household. Just as most British children will have heard
episodes from "Alice in Wonderland" over and over again, children in
Germany, Switzerland and Austria are familiar with "Grimms' Fairy Tales".

4) Eigensinn / Eigensinnigkeit is one if not the main focus of the whole
work of Alexander Kluge. See e.g. his early works Lebensläufe (Kluge 1962)
and der Luftangriff auf Halberstadt (Kluge 1977) as well as his recent works
Chronik der Gefühle (Kluge 2000) und Die Lücke, die der Teufel hinterlässt
(Kluge 2003).

5) The concept of Eigen (one¹s own) and its compounds is mostly understood ­
even with Negt / Kluge - in an essentialistic way. In this understanding
Eigensinn becomes the archimedic point of the unquestionable authenticity of
individuality. I propose to think of the notion of Eigen and its compounds
in a non-essentialistic way: The Eigene, Eigensinnigkeit of a person are
effects of conscious and unconscious agencies and experiences. A person has
to work off his agencies and experiences again and again, she or he has to
construct and organize his/her Eigensinn again and again in a new way ­ in
the sense of Michel Foucault's ³aesthetics of existence².

6) Sibylle Krämer gives us an impressive analysis of these facts in Das
Medium als Spur und Apparat (Krämer 2000). In opposition to Marshall McLuhan
("the medium is the message") and to positions referring to Niklas Luhmann
("the medium is nothing, it does not inform, it contains nothing") she
argues that "the medium is not simply the message; rather the message keeps
the trace (die Spur) of the medium (Krämer 2000, p. 81, my translation).
This trace, which in everyday life we perceive only in the case of
disturbances, is a crucial part of every artistic production - facts that
amazingly Krämer is not aware of.
A thoroughgoing theoretical connection of the conception of Eigensinnigkeit
of media (rooted in the framework of Cultural Studies, media and discourse
analysis) with the conception of the Trace (rooted in linguistics and
psychoanalysis), as a ³present absence² in the sense of Derrida, has yet be

7) See, in terms of literature, the work of writers so dissimilar as Alfred
Döblin, John Dos Passos, Alfred Andersch, Alexander Kluge, as well as the
books of Marshall McLuhan, which by all means can be regarded as literature,
and in terms of filmmakers for instance the work of Sergei M. Eisenstein,
Dziga Vertov, Jean-Luc Godard or Alexander Kluge.

8) An example that speaks for itself is the title of Walter Ruttmann's
effective article Malerei mit Zeit (Painting with Time) of 1919, in which he
tried to catch the new of the new art form film through an impressive
formula (see Goergen 1989, p. 74.)

9) Photography furnishes a further example. "In early photography, the shots
were often composed like paintings (...); the 'random' appearance of the
snapshot, the caught moment, were not yet used." (Bell 2001, p. 116).

10) Impressive evidence for that thesis is yielded by the catalogue Autour
du Symbolisme (2004) where the interplay between the art of painting and
photography in the early days of photography is worked out in detail. The
interplay expands from the legendary reaction of the painter Paul Delaroche
in light of photography, ³La peinture est morte², to the poignant similarity
of Gustave Courbet¹s Origine du Monde and the stereoscopic photography of
Auguste Belloc.
Furthermore, every given historical cycle is characterized by articulation
through media with a dominant factor or dominant factors. At present,
television remains the dominant factor.

11) Fura dels baus have started to discover the net as new platform for
their interactive street theatre. See e.g. their interactive audio-net
project F at ust 0.3 of 1998. (Further information and links concerning this
project can be found on:
The example of Furas dels Baus shows that a realisation of the two
possibilities of dealing with a crisis of an art media does not mean an
either ­ or. Both possibilities may be chosen by the same authors.

12) Shklovsky, Viktor Borisovic, "Art as Technique" in Russian Formalist
Criticism: Four Essays, ed. Lee T. Lemon and Marion J. Reis, Lincoln:
University of Nebraska Press, 1965, pp. 3-24.

13) Here I follow Renate Lachmann's rendering of the Russian term "ostranie"
as "making strange". See Lachmann 1970, pp. 226-249.

14) The history of film, like that of all technology-based mediums, is rich
in artists who worked not only on but explicitly with the Eigensinn of the
Just some of the many other deserving names not mentioned so far are, with
respect to film: Georges Méliès, the filmmakers of the first and second
French avant-garde (like Germaine Dulac, Elie Faures), the exponents of the
³Absolute film² (Walter Ruttmann, Viking Eggeling, Hans Richter), Guy
Debord, the ³documentary filmmaker² Chris Marker, as well as Stan Brakhage,
the American filmmaker who died in 2002. Concerning music remember, among
others, such different artists as Kurt Weill with his ³Absolute Music², John
Cage, Frank Zappa, Prince, Eugene Chadbourne or Fred Frith; for literature,
e.g. James Joyce, the Dadaists, the exponents of the ³Concrete poetry², Arno
Schmidt, William Burroughs or Thomas Pynchon; for video art, Nam June Paik,
Isidor Isou or Karl Gerstner, just to mention some of the first generation;
for computer and networks as art media, among others, Jodi, I/O/D,
Margarethe Jahrmann, Knowbotic Research or the Chaos Computer Club.
Television is the only media which hardly became an art format. ³Television
is indeed the most hopeless medium of all for the arts. (Š) There was
scarcely a phase, when everything was open, allowing creative investigation
to define the medium.² (Daniels 2004, p. 58). In spite of the experiments of
Otto Piene / Aldo Tambellini, Gerry Schum, Peter Weibel, Valy Export and the
WHGB-TV station in Boston it remains a ³medium without art² (ibid., p. 59) ­
with the exception of music video clips, which, though, were developed for
different purposes.
An impressive insight, rich in its material, in the development of the tight
interplay of media and the arts since the invention of the photography in
1939 to the present is given by the german-english omnibus volume
Frieling/Daniels 2004.

15) Here it is necessary to recall something "remaining to be settled" ("ein
Unabgegoltenes") in "materials aesthetics", which made strong "art as a
specific mode of production". And, in doing so, simultaneously referred art
to the fact that it is dependent on the general development of productive
forces and would have to reflect upon these for the sake of its own
development. A comprehensive insight into the history and projects of
material aesthetics is offered by Mittenzwei 1977, pp. 695-730.

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Giaco Schiesser is a professor for the theory and history of the media and
culture with a focus on as well as head of the department Media and Art at
the University of Art and Design, Zurich (Hochschule für Gestaltung und
Kunst Zürich, HGKZ). http://www.hgkz.ch/
Giaco Schiesser studied philosophy and German literature studies at the
Freie Universität (FU) in Berlin. From 1997 to 2002 he conceptualised and
realized the establishment of the university department with the focus on
digital agency, connective interfaces and collaborative environments at the
University of Art and Design Zurich as head of that department. From 1999 to
2002 he was a member of the direction of the department (together with
Knowbotic Research and Margarete Jahrmann).
Giaco Schiesser has lectured as a guest professor at various universities in
Switzerland, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands. (Including, in 2003, at
Piet Zwart Institute for the Slave / Master Engine project.) His work
focuses on the culture, aesthetics and eigensinn of media, ideology, and
democracy, and on the constitution of the subject and everyday life.


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