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Post-media Aesthetics


Along with the arrival of mass media throughout the twentieth century, and the proliferation of new art forms beginning in the 1960s, another development that threatened the traditional idea of a medium was digital revolution of the 1980s-1990s. The shift of most means of production, storage and distribution of mass media to digital technology (or various combinations of electronic and digital technologies), and adoption of the same tools by individual artists disturbed both the traditional distinctions based on materials and conditions of perception and the new, more recent distinctions based on distribution model, method of reception/exhibition and payment scheme.

On the material level, the shift to digital representation and the common modification/editing tools which can be applied to most media (copy, paste, morph, interpolate, filter, composite, etc.) and which substitute traditional distinct artistic tools erased the differences between photography and painting (in the realm of still image) and between film and animation (in the realm of a moving image). On the level of aesthetics, the Web has established a multimedia document (i.e., something which combines and mixes different media of text, photography, video, graphics, sound) as a new communication standard. Digital technology has also made much easier to implement the already existing cultural practice of making different versions of the same project for different mediums, different distribution networks and different audiences. And if one can make radically different versions of the same art object (for instance, an interactive and non-interactive versions, or 35mm film version and Web version), the traditional strong link between the identity of an art object and its medium becomes broken. On the level of distribution, the Web has dissolved (at least in theory) the difference between mass distribution, previously associated with mass culture, and limited distribution previously reserved for small subcultures and the art system. (The same Web site can be accessed by one person, ten people, ten thousand people, ten million people, etc.)

These are just some examples of how traditional concept of medium does not work in relation to post-digital, post-net culture. And yet, despite the obvious inadequacy of the concept of medium to describe contemporary cultural and artistic reality, it persists. It persists through sheer inertia – and also because to put in place a better, more adequate conceptual system is easier said than done. So rather than getting rid of media typology altogether, we keep adding more and more categories: “new genres,” interactive installation, interactive art, net art. The problem with these new categories is that they follow the old tradition of identifying distinct art practices on the basis of the materials being used - only now we substitute different materials by different new technologies.

Article  2001