Book Review: Crossover, Liesbeth Huybrechts (red.)

On: September 14, 2008
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Crossover, crosses over the boundaries of art and technology within very safe limits. 

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ISBN 978 90 209 7850 6
Crossover, Kunst Media en Technologie in Vlaanderen
Liesbeth Huybrechts (ed.), 2008, BAM, Belgium.
 
Crossover is a catalogue edited by Liesbeth Huybrechts and  issued by BAM (institute for fine and audiovisual media-art, Belgium). Liesbeth Huybrechts has a background in Cultural Studies and Communication Studies, her PhD will be on the intermediation between art, technology and society. She collected several articles on this matter in this catalogue. The art works used as examples by the authors in their articles are represented in the catalogue with a short description, photographs and referential website addresses. A short CV of the authors can be found in the back of the catalogue and the articles are introduced with a title and punch line.
 
The targeted audience for the catalogue is ‘everybody’ interested in art and culture and how these fields change influenced by media and technology in our knowledge- and information society. This maybe why most texts hover between being either too professional or too educational. So when you’re interested in art and culture there’s a big chance that you don’t understand some of the articles on new media technology and when you’re interested in media and technology there’s a big chance that you won’t read anything new on this field and miss out on a critical discussion about the value of new media art within the art world.
 
When it comes to make up a balance of new media art and the general discourse about art, new media technology and society, I think this is a very useful book. It is a starting point by introducing key new media theorists and key new media artists in Belgium and Holland and stimulate further reading. The articles refer to recognisable tools in our everyday new media surroundings and the artworks are presented in a very conventional easygoing way.
 
In the preface Liesbeth Huybrechts focuses on the way new media artists reflect on every day media use. In art works critical questions can be posed about ubiquitous computing and the ‘black boxes’ of software and hardware. In that sense our consciousness about new media technologies can be raised by good artworks. Particularly Huybrechts refers to interesting people and works that are worth investigating further.
 
Caroline Nevejan starts of to talk about identity and identity play on the internet and touches on almost every possible use of new media in art to end up with the need for good art education and platforms for showing new media art. This is an example of giving a lot of information without taking time to elaborate on a specific issue.
 
In an interview Femke Snelting poses questions about open source within media art. She introduces the term ‘a cultural ecosystem’ and talks about it with members of open source collectives. Interesting enough she doesn’t talk to or even refer to media theorists or artists opposed to or critical about the idea of open source (Mark Deuze for example). So this article ends up being a little prejudiced.
 
Elke van Campenhout takes on the identity issue again and sticks to it by giving some useful examples of artists dealing with it. Dora Garcia for instance toys with the confusion between fiction and reality in her work ‘The Glass Wall’, by introducing safety agents with walkie talkies giving each other ‘weird orders’. Van Campenhout also raises some interesting questions about the safety of a museum setting versus the public space where most media artists are operating in.
 
Interaction is a term much abused and used by theorists when it comes to new media art works. I think this is one of the most interesting subjects to talk about because it discusses the entertainment value of art pieces as well as the possibilities to activate an audience that has been too passive for too long. Arie Altena doesn’t really take a stance but does open the door to a deeper discussion.
 
Within film- and theatre studies the terms ‘immersion’ and ‘narration’ have been used much in debates. Now these terms apply to debates about games and more specifically to the ‘first person shooters’ where you can simultaneously be immersed in the narrative of the game as well as consciously involved in the command panel of the game (so: outside the narrative). Kurt Vanhoutte gives us an interesting insight in this debate with a useful example within the art world: CREW.
 
The question ‘How Media art can be presented’ is tackled by Karen Verschooren by telling us what to do and what not to do. She is quite outspoken and ambitious: “Distribute or die”…
 
The most interesting article in this catalogue most be the one from Stoffel Debuysere on how we must learn to ‘let go’. Our world will exist in mash ups, temporal memory, wrong information, lost information, information built on existing information and association (to be seen in the works of Jodi). We can not deconstruct meaning by taking our route backwards, there will be no logic. So his device is: go forward, build on and let go. He refers to Rumfeld by saying: “Hey, shit happens”.
 
Ive Stevenheydens pleads for less ‘sérieux’ in the art world. A lot of artists today (as Johan Grimonprez) don’t really care whether they are being perceived as journalists, documentary makers, filmmakers, entertainers or artists. They just go one and make their work.
 
David Garcia goes back to Snelting when he investigates the ecology of ‘labculture’, the synergy within collectives operating in the art world. He draws interesting parallels between Warhol’s factory and the new media collectives nowadays.
 
Then a few pages are filled with data from BAM databases, graphically displayed in various ways, some of them interesting (the tagcloud with names) others incomprehensible (flowcharts) or merely fashionable (Vlaanderen international).
 
Dirk de Wit concludes with an advise on ‘how to establish and develop an experimental new media technology biotope’. This title sounds really neo-hippy-like, but in fact he sums up some concrete advises for artists, government, companies and universities. I may be to cynical but I sincerely hope that the ones with the money he addresses actually read this, but I’m afraid that only the ones without the money (the artists or funded institutes) read this and they already know this and worse, cannot do anything about it.
Even though I understand why the tenure of the catalogue is positive on the influence of new media art on society (because of the broad audience and to promote a relatively obscure art practice), nevertheless I miss some critiques you can have on new media art. This is an informative catalogue without a real debat on the status of new media art within the total art field, which therefore stays on the safe side of promotion rather than discussion.

 

 

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