[iDC] interesting article on new media scene in LA

Christiane Robbins at Jetztzeit cpr at mindspring.com
Mon Oct 31 15:37:38 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

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


-----Original Message-----
From: Judith Rodenbeck <jrodenbe at slc.edu>
Sent: Oct 30, 2005 10:29 AM
To: 'idc' <idc at bbs.thing.net>
Subject: RE: [iDC] interesting article on new media scene in LA

I don't think anybody is saying "Southern California is so homogenous." The
article, which come from an LA-based and -focused publication, presents a
discursively specific picture of new media, which I think is what is being
responded to. It isn't unreasonable to ask, though, whether and on what
terms that picture is "reality-based" as they say in Washington, i.e. what
reality that might be and how it might be constructed. Perhaps one part of
that construction is precisely the presentation of a unified view for what
is really, considered geographically, a radically diverse field with some
pockets of consistency. For my part what I found interesting about the
article was its breezy opening, which swirled up these guys as if they were
on the red carpet to the Oscars (REFRESH!? How did a conference like that
become the Oscars?) and then, given the very different projects of each of
them (and of the artists cited further down), suggested that there was some
kind of synergistic meta-project happening in Southern California perhaps a
la culture industry/studio system. Quite frankly it sounds like, well, there
might kind of be something like that taking place, whether or not it's as
globally important as this particular article might make it sound and
whether or not everyone involved in new media in LA believes in, is involved
with, or supports it. (Funny, isn't part of the new media self-hype that so
much discussion and exchange and networking and connectivity etc. is not
based on physical location but rather takes place in the aether?)

Although I don't completely subscribe to the views others have posted about
the evil triumvirate of academia-military-industry (I think this "research
triangle" involves much more complex negotiations and if anything is more
like the Bermuda Triangle; for many artists academia is one of the few
places they can go and make a living so they can actually put food on the
table without necessarily having to sell their stuff to NORAD or whoever) I
do think sources of funding, support, hype, and materiel bear examination.
Even puff pieces like this one from LA Weekly produce not just perceptions
but, over time, realities.

Just my 2 cents.


-----Original Message-----
From: idc-bounces at bbs.thing.net [mailto:idc-bounces at bbs.thing.net] On Behalf
Of Eduardo Navas
Sent: Sunday, October 30, 2005 11:14 AM
To: c.e.b. reas / reas.com
Cc: idc
Subject: Re: [iDC] interesting article on new media scene in LA

I agree with Casey.

I live in Los Angeles and San Diego.  Please be more critical and don't
sweep over community[ies] from a place that is known for its heterogeneity.


Eduardo Navas

On 10/30/05 12:01 AM, "c.e.b. reas / reas.com" <ceb at reas.com> wrote:

> I think it's unfair to critique Los Angeles media artists,
> galleries, and university programs on the basis of this
> article. It expresses only one point of view, that of the
> journalist. Yes, please critique the article, but don't pass
> judgment on the artists and institutions based in Los Angeles
> with this text as your principle source of information.
> Regards
> Casey
> John Hopkins wrote:
>>> On Oct 29, 2005, at 9:47 AM, Judith Rodenbeck wrote:
>>>> I find the current unproblematized adoption and valorization of the
>>>> business-model model very disturbing--and it's present not only in
>>>> new media
>>>> circles but also in the theorizing of "relational aesthetics" as in MFA
>>>> programs. This business-model discourse has a history too--see Allan
>>>> Kaprow's "Should the Artist be a Man of the World" as well as his
>>>> "Education
>>>> of the Un-Artist"--and I worry that with the piecemeal dismissal of
>>>> history
>>>> the nuances--historical, ethical, "aesthetic"--of its implications
>>>> may get
>>>> lost. Certainly that's what's happened in Bourriaud. But then again
>>>> maybe
>>>> critical vanguardism is hopelessly retardataire.
>>> The military/education/entertainment complex that exists in So Cal is
>>> where the money is because of the economic trajectory of the Pacific
>>> Rim. I'm not sure how much any of this has to do with art but I do
>>> find it interesting that they've lured so many "new media artists"
>>> from New York, just as Cal Arts did with conceptual artists in the
>>> 'eighties. I like to think we sent them the riff-raff.
>> I agree with Robbin -- this article is, for me, one of those "look what
>> we (socal media) invented -- another reason to posit our physical
>> location as the center of all things new."
>> I felt immediately that the article was about a decade past the curve.
>> And indeed illustrates the social process of academic/institutional
>> adsorbtion of the elite that floated frothily to the top of "new media"
>> by authoring hard-copy texts.  Back to the Literate Hegemony of
>> universities that was previously discussed.
>> The process could be compared to Finland's prominence (to a greater
>> degree than its size) in New Media in the last decade -- where there was
>> a convergence of Gov't funding policy and new media 'research'
>> (prominently powered by a collusion of Nokia and government policy
>> wonks).  That situation generated a substantial "Cultural Industry
>> Sector" which helped to drive European discourses and practices around
>> new media.  EU funding policies also were part of this.  And Geroge
>> Soros would figure prominently in any discussion as well.  It would be
>> interesting, in retrospect, to see exactly where funds came from for all
>> the many new media festivals, meetings, colloquia, and such over the
>> last 10-12 years in Europe..
>> I would suggest that while there is always something new happening,
>> thinking of SoCal as a center for innovation is a bit much unless you
>> have a complete amnesia as to what was happening in Europe since the
>> early 90's.
>> And I do vividly recall lively and heated discussions on the
>> newly-birthed nettime about the 'California Ideology" (of new media).
>> Perhaps we are seeing the pendulum swinging the other way.  I'll forward
>> the article to nettime to see what happens ;-}
>> 2 cents
>> John
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