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ThemesAesthetics of the DigitalAesthetic Paradigms
Aesthetic Paradigms of Media Art
Claudia Giannetti

Art beyond art

The definition of ‹art beyond art› amounts to a negation of an understanding of art that is based on accumulative and historically linear findings. Interest focuses no longer on the autonomy of a work of art, a subject much discussed during modernism (and already wholly assimilated into contemporary art), but on art’s emancipation from art itself. This shift implies that the modernist tendency to take issue with the arguments of a discourse within the discourse itself has been overcome. [1] It also signifies the demand for a ‹reconstruction of the area› on new foundations which place in question several of its basic theoretical generalizations and many of its methods.

The argument of the essays can be summarized as follows: explanations delivered by art are constitutively neither reductionist nor transcendental; the function of art consists in expanding realities, knowledge and experiences; this process can take its course dialogically or consensually (through seduction), or by means of canonization (through control or coercion). Further paradigm shifts specifically relevant to media art will be examined below.


Media art—in its diverse forms ranging from audiovisual installations to interactive systems, from hypermedia to artificial reality, from the net to cyberspace—reinforces the idea of ‹interdisciplinarity,› which reaches much further than the aforementioned considerations about the relationship of art and technology. In the context of interdisciplinarity, the intermeshing of art, technologies, and science refers to the process that brings about convergence, interference, appropriation, overlapping and interpenetration; a process successively leading to the generation of referential networks and reciprocal— non-hierarchic—influences.

Ubiquity and dematerialization

After the exodus of art from conventional presentation spaces such as museums or galleries and the conquest of public places, streets, towns, landscapes (e.g. Land Art, Performance, Happening), the fact that spatiotemporal expansion and the wider use of materials arrived at a deeper significance of ubiquity (the possibility of being present at all place at once or simultaneously), dematerialization (independence of the physical-material existence of the object) and participation (the use of interactive network resources) is without doubt brought about by the deployment of so-called new media—such as the telecommunications system.

All of the telecommunications projects developed from the 1970s onward, such as those of satellite art, [2] were basically attempts to transform the medium into a meta-medium permitting art spatial and temporal ubiquity. That was what gave Nam June Paik, for example, the idea that a work could be created in several different places at once, as outlined in the score «Do it yourself» in 1961. Paik’s efforts to accomplish meta-communication led to his most important contributions to satellite art, such as in 1977 «Nine Minutes Live,» his direct satellite telecast of performances in Europe and the USA for the opening of the Documenta 6 in Kassel, and in 1984 «Good Morning Mr. Orwell,» organized jointly by the Centre Pompidou and the broadcaster WNET-TV, with whichPaik succeeded in realizing a live satellite program that was participative as well as simultaneous. According to Paik, satellite art was destined to become the most important non-material work [3] in post-industrial society.

The formation of international projects in the 1970s was a crucial stimulus for art in conjunction with telecommunication as well as for the notion of ubiquity. The Brazilian Waldemar Cordeiro, [4] a pioneer of Computer Art, in 1971 identified the inadequacy of communications media as a form of information transmission and the inefficiency of information as language, thought, and action as being the causes of the crisis of contemporary art. [5] Cordeiro asserted in his Manifest Arteônica [6] that art whose main emphasis lies on the material object restricts audience access to the work and therefore meets the cultural standards of modern society neither qualitatively nor quantitatively. Cordeiro’s deliberations in regard to global networking and free, telecommunication-enabled audience access to a work of art anticipated the notion of ubiquity, participation, and net art. The main object of interest at the time was to examine the methodologies and strategies that might enable the visions of telecommunication and ubiquity to be implemented in practice. In Spain, one of the first experiments of the kind was Antoni Muntadas’ project «Cadaqués Canal Local» (1974). Establishing a live connection between various artists at the two remote locations of New York and San Francisco, the live satellite transmission of «Two Way-Demo» in 1977, an action organized by a group led by Willoughby Sharp, Liza Bear, Sharon Grace and Carl Loeffler, was another interesting example.

Many Telecommunication Art experiments were concerned less with purely aesthetic results than with making innovative proposals for the development of different creative and social forms in handling new media. That was the objective of «The World in 24 Hours,» a project devised by Robert Adrian X for the 1982 Ars Electronica Festival in Linz. In the view of Robert Adrian X such works surrendered their object character through being telecast, and so became «documentary traces of an action.» Other projects, such as «Electronic Cafe International,» developed byKit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz for the Olympic Arts Festival of Los Angeles in 1984, or «Piazza Virtuale» by the Gruppe Ponton/Van Gogh TV, attempted to intensify the idea of meeting and dialogue with and between the audience. Thus it is the audience that fluidly and interactively generates the ‹content› of the works. The lack of guidelines and instructions, of presenters and commentators, of completed scripts and concepts produced extremely dynamic effects. The intention of Van Gogh TV is to generate precisely these effects of non-linear and non-discursive production of information in order to create non-commercial, interactive television that is wholly separate from corporate systems of power or control. Thus, several functions are fulfilled by the users: they are simultaneously audience, contributors, and actors. This implies a double role as observer of the ‹spectacle› that is underway and as co-creator of the information. They are at once users and generators of the networks.

A representative number of telematic projects take into consideration the net-specific character of user participation, which largely likewise determines their conceptual and aesthetic development. [7] An important basic feature of web-art works is a hypertextual, non-linear network structure that determines the user’s manner of movement (navigation) into the project by clicking links and by scrolling. Thus, direct viewer intervention in the work is not permitted, since skipping pages triggers programmed changes—a process that is usually less experimental in regard to the mode of expression, and trivial in regard to surfing, or leads to formal, aestheticist tendencies (web formalism). In contrast to these works, net art or network projects are technically, conceptually and functionally dependent on the network apparatus and on user participation which by technical means can effect changes in, and so actively contribute to, the system and process alike.

The version of the work «Z» produced in 2003 by Antoni Abad attempts to create a communication network that spreads independently of a central server. Every fly is at once receiver and transmitter. At the end of the project the source code is distributed to horizontal communities interested in creating communication networks and distributed information.The novel aspect of such projects is the idea that artist or work are no longer the sole nucleation points of reception and transmission; instead, the dissemination of codes in the form of an agent turns the users into the nodal points of reciprocal relationships and multiplicators. Thus, the existence of the agents and the users as nexus depends on their reciprocal communication. This raises new and specific questions about the network and the system, as well as about the latter’s aesthetics, which is shaped into self-organized community awareness through the re-organization of the model of sociality based on individualism within a network. In order to obtain this effect, the artist deliberately surrenders control of his work and passes it on to the user as far as action and intervention for the performance and enhancement of the system is concerned. On the other hand, the continuity of the work is dependent on the intercommunication between users and the progressive generation of a flexible, network-like architecture of contacts that disseminates the platform and constantly produces new communities.

This complex process and the experience of mobility and variability directly influence the notions of reality and materiality, which become equally flexible, variable, and capable of virtualization. The Internet provides clear examples of the different realities and of the tendency toward transformation or simulation of the real in virtual space (‹virtual› here in the sense of suspending reality). The fluidity and playfulness of the experience in this space intensifies the feeling of timelessness and immateriality. A consideration of the various artistic Internet projects reveals that subverting the notion of reality is one of the subjects most frequently tackled by artists. Chat rooms and MUDs as well as virtual cities can similarly be regarded as platforms for the creation of artificial realities.

However divergent the views reflected in the most recent treatises on the ‹aesthetics of dematerialization,› and here specifically the ‹aesthetics of vanishing›—for example, in the writings of Jean-François Lyotard, Jean Baudrillard, Johannes Birringer, Paul Virilio, Peter Weibel, Vilém Flusser and Peter Zec—there are unanimous references to the «chronochratic process» (Peter Weibel) underway in contemporary society and its effects on humanperception, artificial acceleration, physical and material disintegration, and spatial simulation.

In his emblematic 1985 exhibition [8] in the Centre Pompidou in Paris, Jean-François Lyotard intensively analyzed this process which leads to what he calls «immaterials.» The show «Les Immatériaux» attempted to demonstrate the kind of transformation undergone by the relationship between human and material, beginning with the Modern tradition—itself heir to the Cartesian tradition—and continuing up to Postmodernism with its ‹new materials› above all in the areas of the techno-sciences, computer science, and electronics. According to Lyotard, in the process of interaction material vanishes as an independent unit (electronic waves, sound waves, light waves, elementary particles). Thus, the principle of the operational structure is based not on a stable ‹substance,› but on a series of unstable interactions. These immaterials are joined by new processes of interaction that change the way one acts in the world, and thus at the same time the human projects, too (art, philosophy, sociology, science).

Paul Virilio and Peter Weibel describe this process of dematerialization as an ‹era of absence› that brings forth an aesthetics based on the ‹absum,› [9] in its meaning of remoteness and spatial distance, as well as on lack, loss, and dematerialization. Media artists took up the experiences conveyed in the first discernible artistic signs of an aesthetics of absence [10] —particularly since 1945 (Fontana, Manzoni, Klein, Cage and others already mentioned)—as well as the tendency to dematerialize the artistic object, along with other strategies of immateriality that dominated the art and theory of the 1960s and ’70s (as analyzed by Frank Popper in his book «Le déclin de l'objet» of 1975, which already pointed out the process of dematerialization and the dissolution of the art object). If one considers the changes driven forward by the technologies, then these experiences are expressed even more clearly.

That messages circulate without message carriers—codified and by means of electromagnetic waves—or that signs and information travel the globe in disembodied form at speeds allowing them to be practically ubiquitously and simultaneously present are, according to Peter Weibel, the reasons that the worldand the human being are experiencing a process of relativization in consequence of which the state of things is changing of its own volition. If the duplication of time and space by simulation is turning real time and natural space into interchangeable quantities, then this, according to Weibel, also places in question the body itself. Telematics, for instance, allows the body ubiquitous telepresence as long as physical absence is guaranteed. Through technological transformation and artificial prosthesis the body, as the central element for understanding reality, is gradually moving away from its historical representation. Even if the body is characterized on the net by its absence, it can still be symbolically or imaginatively very much ‹present.› So-called »Telepresence Art« [11] exemplifies this process. [12] It examines the possibilities of telematic media and telerobotic [13] technologies in regard to developing forms of co-existence in the real and virtual space of actions carried out synchronously by artists and users and characterized by the duality of physical and immaterial presence. One example is «Rara Avis» (1996) by Eduardo Kac, a telepresence installation that exists both physically at the exhibition site as well as on the Internet. This implies two modes of participation: locally with data spectacles, remotely over the net.

The net-art work «Bodyscan» (1997) by Eva Wohlgemuth is an other example of the loss of significance of (biological) material as a paradigm of reality. It consists of the image of the artist’s digitized body, which begins to ‹live› through the visitor’s gaining access to its interior. The body’s transformation into a virtual-topographic zone, a field of research, is furthermore congruent with the post-biological ideas held by various artists.

The artist Stelarc proposes a transition from the biological individual to «cyber system» by means of a new project of the body, i.e. a new project of the human. In his view, the application of bio-compatible microtechnology to and in the human body makes it possible to break through biological boundaries. The deeper technology penetrates the body, the more invisible it becomes. While in the «surgical performances» of the French artist Orlan the assault on physical integrity by microsurgery molds the ‹surface› of the body and attacks the identification ofsubject with body, of appearance with identity, in Stelarc’s case the assault is launched by the extension of the limb and organ functions by technical instruments. His «metaformances» [14] inevitably imply the performance (in the literal sense) of the technical prostheses he employs. In works like «Ping Body» (1995–1998), the body vanishes as an instrument of action: the (virtual) phantom body, the user participating in physical absence, and the machine realize the «metaformance» over the Internet. «Ping Body» is a good example of extreme absence insofar as the body becomes a hollow object, a host offering itself for the projections and interventions of remote assistants. By creating a body on the network that Internet users can ‹inhabit› and manipulate, Stelarc is ultimately drafting a new conception of identity and awareness of one’s own reality: the body is at once subject and object; it is no longer a closed functional system but a reception medium and interface between subject and observer, subject and context, subject and machine.

These processes of dematerialization (of the body, of the subject) affect the concepts of reality and truth from another perspective. In regard to art the restructuring and redefinition of these three basic concepts—subject (body), reality and truth—are the premises for an aesthetic reflection on media art. Originality versus multiplicity and simulation The profound changes which digital technology brought about in art affect the production and transmission form of information. Every pixel is computable and transformable, meaning images and sounds can be modified as desired. Thus, the documentary and/or truth content of the image is lost due to the possibilities of digital manipulation, rendering it necessary to reformulate the questions regarding the authenticity and referentiality of digital images. The decisive break with the western cultural models characterized by the sequentiality and originality (or non-reproducibility) of the work of art can be regarded as inherent to the technological process, and here to digitization in particular.

The placing in question of originality inherent to this process leads to a change in the notion of author and authorship. The formation of the myth of the original was closely linked with the usage of terms likeintellectual property, genius, individuality or uniqueness in relation to artistic creation. In consequence of, among other things, Kant and his confirmation of the direct relationship between originality and genius, the ‹superstition› of the century—as Nietzsche described the ‹superstition of genius›—was adopted by an aesthetic discourse that has remained partially intact up to the present day. From the new focus on digital creation one becomes aware that the issue of originality makes use of utopian concepts in order to avoid a formulation of the problem. Such notions made themselves noticed throughout the twentieth century, as for instance in Walter Benjamin’s often cited auratic theory, [15] in which he uses the term ‹aura› as an aesthetic metaphor in order to support his thesis of the process of artistic decline in the age of mechanical reproduction. The loss of the aura due to the process of socialization thus means the end of an elitist aesthetics, leading—as Benjamin put it—to the liquidation of the traditional value of cultural heritage. [16] The lament about the loss of the aura is equivalent to the lament about the loss of the mythical-Romantic value of authenticity in connection with the individual (manual, direct and genius-inspired) creation, an attitude strongly rooted in bourgeois-intellectual tradition.

If one considers Benjamin’s argument that the mechanical reproduction of a work is responsible for the ‹decline› of the aura, one recognizes the contradiction in his hypothesis. The ‹aura› is a category of perception, and can therefore only arise during the process of reception; it is not inherent to the originality or authenticity or uniqueness of the work’s creation, i.e. it is not bound to the material or the object, but is observer-dependent. Within the process of reception the uniqueness or multifariousness of the object is a practical question in relation to accessing the work of art. And Benjamin’s critique concerns precisely this access. Asserting that mass reproduction is conducive to the reproduction of masses, [17] he points to two-fold consequences: the erosion of the myth of the intellectual ‹exclusivity› of art, and the fear of cultural products being exploited by authoritarian regimes as a means of controlling the masses.

The objections to thinking in terms of originality become even more explicit with the introduction of new technologies to simulate the process of creation, paradigmatically exemplified by the AI program «Aaron,» with which the British artist Harold Cohen delivered a practical argument pointing out a different problem in connection with authorship and authenticity. His art-expert program is specialized in producing works with a ‹style› of their own. [18] By asking «Can machines think?»—a polemical question which practically launched the philosophy of Artificial Intelligence—Alan Turing attempted to investigate the relationship between simulation and real action. In addition, he opened the discussion about the possibility of working out a theoretical experiment that could serve as a criterion for deciding whether a computer is capable of thinking or not (the Turing Theorem). Since then the interest of researchers into Artificial Intelligence might be said, put briefly, to have centered on the question of the simulacrum. The issue divides into two fundamental themes: simulation as a phenomenon whose attributes merely approximate those of what is being simulated—in which case the term ‹pseudosimulation› would be applicable—and simulation as an exact copy of what is being simulated, with the only difference being the fact of the artificial production. The starting point for examinations in the field of AI is the question whether the technical reproduction of human thinking can be a simulation, and thus more than a pseudo-simulation. In the case of «Aaron» the question would accordingly be whether the program could be regarded as a simulacrum of the artist, just as Cohen could be regarded as the author of the works. If the question were answered in the affirmative, the next question would be: Can a computer simulate creative capability in the sense of aesthetics? From the 1960s onward this was a central point of discussion among computer artists and theorists (Frieder Nake, Abraham A. Moles, and others). Even if from the historical perspective the debate is not current, it is at present receiving new impetus from the growing possibilities of the AI systems as well as from their ever-more frequent employment in works of media art.

In recent years the AI specialist Margaret A. Boden has examined the relationship between informaticsand creativity, and also addressed the question of the extent to which a computer program might be able to generate creative ideas. One must begin, she says, by clarifying the meaning of the term creativity, which in her view consists in the ability of people to produce creative—that is, new, surprising and significant—ideas. AI systems such as «Aaron» can easily fulfil the parameters ‹new› and ‹surprising,› since the program’s activities are based on aesthetic parameters and random, unexpected transformations. The question of whether such systems comply with the criterion of significance is more difficult, she states, due to the dilemma that ideas can be described as meaningful or meaningless for any number of reasons in either case, and these reasons are dependent on place and time. [19] The question, therefore, would be whether a computer itself could recognize the value of its production. Two formulations of the problem are conceivable for Boden: one could deliberate whether evaluation criteria (deemed to be adequate) could be built into a program, which would then automatically apply these criteria to its own new ideas; or one could deliberate whether a program could itself be capable of authentically and independently assessing the value of a production. [20]

There exist, as we know, artistic computer programs which possess specific evaluation criteria, and can even develop new values in dependence on the success of the works they produce (as for instance in systems of artificial life or in programs equipped with heuristic methods of altering conceptual areas or capable even of changing their own heuristics). Thus, analysis would be concentrated on intentionality and awareness, i.e. on the question whether computers can really know what they are doing when they evaluate their output. There is no doubt that the program «Aaron» neither is able to think about production quality, nor possesses any real or virtual causal relationship to the external world. However, just as programs are able to apply heuristic, specialized, or general methods and examine and modify their own processing modes, it would not be outlandish to assume that a program of this kind would be capable of producing art.

It is not yet possible to answer all these questions unequivocally, and many other questions have still tobe clearly formulated in the first place. The interest of the debate, however, lies in the placing in question of terms like artist, authorship, originality, work of art, creativity and awareness in relation to the value of creation and its artistic significance, and no less so in the critical examination of cognitive processes which are factors in artistic creation and realization.

Author and recipient

Postmodern thought queries the sense of the notions of author and recipient, yet the interest granted to this subject is neither as contemporary nor as postmodern as its form of presentation usually suggests. The ‹death of the author› announced by the youngest heirs of Hegelian thought may be polemical, but their approach can be understood only if considered in the wider context of twentieth-century research into the function of author and recipient. Especially important in this connection is the Russian literary theorist and philosopher of language Mikhail M. Bakhtin (1895–1975) who, ignored until the 1970s, is now considered to be one of the representative theorists of literature. A keen critic of Formalism, he argues that the author and recipient of a work are equally important, and advocates a much broader conception of the aesthetic dimension which, deeming it to be a dialogical practice, he places within the overall context of cultural, philosophical and historical practice. His only partially surviving essay on the problem of the author was written probably in the first half of the 1920s, but first published in 1975 in Russian. However, the fragments that are available throw some light on his basic ideas, and although his deliberations refer to literature they can be applied to other areas of art. Bakhtin initially questions the significance usually conceded to the ‹material› with which the author works, namely language. He puts it that a writer does not create within the world of language, but merely makes use of language. In regard to the means, the artistic work determined by a writer’s main concern might be described as a transgression of the material. [21] This approach bears some resemblance to two other previously described positions that break with tradition: first, the critical view of the central importance of object and material in aesthetic discourse; second, information theory and its excessiveinterest in the sign.

According to Bakhtin it is necessary to understand not the technical apparatus of creation, but its immanent logic; the context in which the creative act is carried out must always be taken into consideration. In other words, Bakhtin says that the predominance awarded to material and/or form reduces artistic work to a secondary and determined stage.

After the ‹transgression of the material› it is equally necessary to redefine the role of author and recipient. Bakhtin introduces the question of the ‹crisis of authorship›, and argues that it is not to be viewed exclusively in connection with the individual and his creative area, but implies a redefinition of the actual ‹place› of art within culture. The objective of the artist should have been not to surpass other artists but art itself. As Bakhtin sees it, this crisis is related to the rejection of cultural determinism; and in this manner a bridge could be set up between his thinking and the idea of ‹art beyond art.›The author is viewed as a component inherent to the work of art, a component reflected in the audience’s process of reception. With the work coming into being as the point of departure, the recipient must consequently be seen primarily as a contributor.

In his writings of 1970–1971 Bakhtin more explicitly examines the idea of the active recipient who has a share in the work coming about. Following Bakhtin, the process of reading and recording a work cannot be understood as a simple translation of another’s language into one’s own language, since the reader’s understanding consists in his ability to complete the work. The activity by which the understanding recipient approaches the work is thus active and creative, with its starting point being the recipient’s own viewpoint, world-view and personal attitudes. According to Bakhtin, therefore, the act of reading becomes one of ‹creative collaboration.› Once again, Bakhtin’s anticipation of later theories is remarkable: seeing the recipient not only as a participant in the creative act, he evaluates the procedure itself as ‹interaction.› Art, in his view, reveals itself to the recipient by means of an interactive process that takes on shape during the co-creative process of the reception of a work.

Iván Marino’s streaming-video-based online work« »In Death’s Dream Kingdom» (2003) deals with several points of this theory. The author creates an audiovisual hypertext that develops through a complex plot of videographic elements. The work establishes a dichotomy, addressed in the content of the videos, between the narrative construction on the user’s part and the deconstruction of language and perception. The attempt to impose order on the chaos does not create a new narrative but instead brings about navigation accidents of a kind which allow the user to link new forms of the contents. For instance, Marino structures the audiovisual information on various levels, and makes all the users active in the network visible over the interface. Most theories concerned with the concepts of author and recipient are based on two, shared, assumptions: first, the assumed central importance of the discourse about the defined object; second, the assumption that the object is a carrier of meaning or, as applicable, that the recipient can concede to it a specific meaning. Both of these basic assumptions are placed in question by new interpretations which have come about specifically in the interactive and telematic areas in the course of the development of media art.

Meta-author and interactor

Participative works of art do not grant the viewer access to the creative experience solely over the cognitive path—as reception aesthetics suggests— but explicitly via action, too. Cybernetic art proposes that the viewer’s ‹passive› attitude toward the work be redefined on the basis of bi-directional communication theories. Participative art primarily endeavors to open up the work to the intervention of the viewer. Interactive digital systems are still more radical in this regard: in these complex, open and pluri-dimensional systems the recipient, here termed ‹interactor,› [22] is not only mentally active within the realm of the work of art, but also takes on a fundamental and practical role in activating the work. The process of integrating the viewer and the peculiarities of the interactive digital system lead to new questions in regard to aesthetic paradigms, and also encourage a theoretical examination of the relationship between creation and reception as well as of the function of the recipient and the significance of the author.

The radical expansion of the conceptual framework demanded by media art implies that the form of perception triggered by the products of this kind of art will undergo significant alterations likewise. The North American artist Myron Krueger, a forerunner of interactive art, began his work in the field with the intention of examining those changes which interactive systems could bring about in viewer perception. Krueger’s interest focused on investigating the relationship between human and computer—a phenomenon which is, in his view, among the most significant for the contemporary world. After studying computer science, he discovered that research into the possibilities of the human-machine interface must be based on methods which are aesthetic rather than strictly technical or scientific.

His first reactive environment «Glowflow» (developed in 1969 together with a group of artists and engineers) offered visitors the possibility of modifying visual and sound parameters by means of pressure-sensitive sensors. Due to the crowds of visitors in the exhibition space the system was permanently activated, meaning that nobody noticed that the presence of the individual was what triggered its reactions. This flaw brought it home to Krueger that the objective, strictly speaking, is not to create interactive art, but to give the interactive computer system an artistic form accessible and comprehensible to the audience. It is therefore necessary to subordinate traditional, purely aesthetic, interests to the creation of an interactive relationship between work and interactor. At the same time this requires a redefinition of the three fundamental areas: perception, mode of presentation, and structure.

A confrontation with perception is fundamental in the case of such a reactive installation, since the work must react to human behavior and therefore correctly ‹interpret› what the interactor does; it is also important that the audience, in order to be able to properly accept a work’s invitation to dialogue, becomes aware of the work’s reactive possibilities. Thus, a new dimension is added to the system and the recipient: the computer technology deployed in the work must record, ‹perceive,› process and appropriately reciprocate the messages communicated by the audience. The viewer enters into directcontact with the work of art and modifies it with his actions. Decisive is the fact that it is a matter of direct, often intuitive and functional, intervention—in contrast to the intellectual dimension of the aforementioned ‹model› or ‹implicit› recipient. A flexible work enabling the audience to be integrated needs to possess an open structure that permits this access. This makes it necessary to move away from the defined and completed structural model of the ‹traditional› work of art. Interactive art breaks with the stable, object-like system brought to conclusion by the artist (see Margarita Schultz, »Instabilität, eine Ästhetik der digitalen Produktionen«), a system that predominates in western culture and its forms of artistic expression. It is ultimately a matter of creating a channel for the exchange of information among work of art, viewer, and context. This channel must be able to build up a dialogic network that is open enough to enable communication, and not just the circulation of data.

The example of the nexus between Harald Cohen and «Aaron» illustrates this complex situation of the creator of a work in connection with technological production processes which in turn directly or indirectly influence the mode in which the work is received. The question of ‹who› is the author of the work leads inevitably to an expanded notion of the author. Various theoreticians , among them Douglas Hofstadter, speak of a ‹meta-author› as the author of the author of the result. In Cohen’s case the program «Aaron» is the author of the result; the program can therefore be described as the author of the generated works, and Cohen, who created «Aaron,» as the meta-author. According to Hofstadter, the human being deserves credit for having invented the program, but not for having brought forth those ideas developed by the program. [23]

A similar development is discernible likewise in interactive works in which the active participation of the interactor is a constitutive element in the actual process of generating the work. In such a case the interactor could become a ‹co-author› (depending on the specific degree of participation permitted or offered by the work), while the artist would be transformed into a ‹meta-author.› It would be erroneous, however, to interpret these categorieshierarchically or to attach to them different degrees of significance; it is important to view them as complementary components of the work.

The examples and considerations discussed above lead to a fundamental finding: contemporary art based on digital media and tools not only constantly questions its own status, but also queries the role of the artist, the position of the recipient in regard to the work of art, the function of the work, the function of the machine, and—very importantly—the relationship obtaining among artist, work, and recipient. The frequency with which these questions arise, along with the diversity of perspectives possible and angles adopted, makes clear the futility of attempts—such as those by exponents of information or cybernetic aesthetics—to draw up universal definitions and/or rigid and homogeneous models for the ‹entirety› of contemporary art production, because the art triggers the continuous renewal and reformulation of these concepts and relationships.

© Media Art Net 2004