[iDC] interesting article on new media scene in LA

Christiane Robbins at Jetztzeit cpr at mindspring.com
Mon Oct 31 13:41:45 EST 2005

Flooring it ... while all the time staring in the rear view mirror ... 

I’m throwing my hat in the ring on this discussion as I admit to being stunned by Willis’s article in the LA Weekly.  In doing so I need a disclaimer as to identify myself as a Professor at USC in Digital Media since 1999 and am a CalArts graduate 
 with all of its’ implications.

This discussion has been fascinating to me and I have been heartened by the exchange.   Let me state outright that I found Willis’s article providing a needed overview of the “Digital Arts.”  albeit written for the Weeklies audience to be sure.   The fact that the LA Weekly recognized this subject as “worthy” of  inclusion in its annual arts overview speaks to its growing significance in the cultural landscape.   I do take Willis’s article seriously as she is not known as a hack journalist.  In addition to her columns in the Weekly, she is also the editor of RES magazine, I believe is both a graduate of USC’s School of Cinema and the European Graduate School, regularly writes for Visual Art and Media publications, is a media programmer and for years has taught the histories of Digital Arts, New Media and Video Art in significant programs at USC, Art Center, CalArts, etc.  As was mentioned earlier in this discussion, the danger here is the reification of this specific inscription of history – as the only history – in print/web as well as in the classroom.

I believe this piece of journalism to be one of the few explications of the history of new media/ digital media/ whatever in Southern California – inscribing "brilliance" and historical significance to a remarkably select cabal of academic technocrats recently arriving in Los Angeles – ostensibly to save it from itself.  In doing so, Willis’s article drew an uncomfortable parallel to the rather fawning approach of Harriet Meiers to George W. Bush.  Perhaps this is simply the function of such an article but I am left with a quesiness that won't leave.

What has been left out of the article is precisely what many of you have noted – the pre-eminence of the military entertainment cultural complex, which has substantively increased University funding for this area since the late 1990‘s in both the public and private universities.  Couple this with the flight that accompanied the de-funding of Interval Labs and similar corporate research entities, as well as corporate R& D (tax deductible) funding, the decimated arena of public funding and you have what many refer to as the exclusionary prominence of post-critical agency in digital art practices throughout Southern California.  Not to mention the aftermath of 9/11.  No surprises here
. and I suspect elsewhere.

But getting back to the article itself.  What I found problematic was the excision of specific histories of “Digital Arts” in Southern California.  Willis presents her readers with the select grouping of respected individuals (without doubt) but they seem to represent the SAFE and circumscribed.  There are other digital histories existing throughout Southern California which do not adhere to the militaristic and corporate funding imperatives.  Significant efforts have been made by numerous individuals in LA such as Natalie Bookchin (Net.Net), Tara McPherson, Janet Owen (both my colleagues in AIM and Race in Digital Space), and Anne Bray (LA Freewaves) which have laid a solid foundation from which Digital Arts have evolved since the 1990’s.  Analagous to many other international and national initiatives, these efforts presented critical inquiries into digital art practices and culture, the trajectories of the idioms of "informatization" "globalization", and our fascination with the spectacular.  It was our hope that the insights generated by these lectures, symposium addressed framings of cultural consciousness, pleasure, artistic practice, entertainment value, corporate culture, the militarization of the global psyche, and critical inquiry within the processed realm of digital media and technologies.   Questions such as what is the role (s) of tactical media and art in networking environments within this corporate and militarized zone? What is the relationship of entertainment value and digital art/media practice in creating imaginary layers of subjectivity mirrored in the dynamics of a post-industrial society? 

These collective efforts brought together a widely divergent group of artists, theorists, scholars and writers to converse and debate various issues engendered by various cultural practices, the advance of digital technologies, and entertainment systems; and the fact that telematics and globalization have emerged as fundamental forces reshaping the organization of cultural space.

The fact that these efforts were excised by Willis’s article is more than curious.  Their absence signals the triumph of the historization of a SAFE, “pettified” digital art/media practice in a world progressively dominated by an economic logic of profit and loss and militarized vision(s).  This is not to say that these cultural products are without significance.  Indeed, my respect for these individuals, their practices and the import of their contributions is without question.  As with several of you, many are my friends and colleagues.  In a field as small as this, the glare of nepotism is always present but, one hopes, not blinding.  

However, it is Willis’s construct of a curious exclusivity and elite rendering that I find problematic.  Perhaps this harkens back to the cultural divides of the history of technology and the net itself.  However, as distribution and ubiquitous computing has become so pervasive the need for these questions to be adeptly addressed and bandied about is paramount

As several of you have noted, our challenge is to recognize and accurately evaluate the art and media practices of the Present.  This is visited upon not just critics, but all those who serve its cause:  historians, theorists, educators, curators/programmers and of course, its audiences. It is probably true to say that since the decline of postmodernism in the late 80s (perhaps the last unifying ism), this inherently difficult task of mapping the contemporary has increased exponentially for all concerned. There are a number of well-documented causes of this – this article being the latest. The most obvious is the increasing globalization of the contemporary culture --a corollary, no doubt, of the insidious spread of global capital into each and every 'national/state' economy.  On a more positive note, it is also the result of highly critical centrifugal forces working to expand our thinking beyond the legacy and traditions of the West 
 and specifically to the regional narcissism of Southern California.

I could go on but I have to run 
thanks so much for this discussion .


" ... the space between zero and one ... "
                 Walter Benjamin

        Los Angeles _ San Francisco

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