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MARCH 2013

New Media Art Showcase in NYC
By Sybil Maimin

We have all seen 24-hour video installations in department store windows, been mesmerized by bright dancing snowflakes on building facades and experienced surround-sound and four-wall film projections in dark rooms in museums. Meet new media art! Initially viewed as “other,” or “outside the boundaries,” this rapidly growing field that frequently involves technology is increasingly being accepted as legitimate artistic expression. Tellingly, the New Media Caucus (NMC), a ten-year old international association that promotes the development and understanding of new media art, including digital, electronic, mobile, virtual, and emergent, recently held its fourth annual showcase of work at the National Academy Museum and School, a venerable institution founded in 1825 and long associated with traditional art, that now has a New Media Department and courses such as digital photography, video storytelling, and mixed media including new technologies and materials.

At the showcase, member artists presented and talked about their work. Projects ranged from political and provocative to entertaining. Some focused on a finished product while others were about process. Much of the work was computer generated, and many artists used video to capture a process or explore an idea. Margaret Dolinsky, who teaches at Indiana University, projects colorful, whimsical virtual realities onto screens. Viewers are encouraged to interact with pieces such as “Poke Holes in My Thoughts” and “Walk Into My Photo” by moving their hands and arms in front of the works to produce movement and change. Arthur Liou, also of Indiana University, uses very high definition equipment to film current conditions in Tibet. Intended for four facing walls in museums, the footage is blended by six projectors to “capture the grandeur” and “highlight political conditions.” Liou works with composers because “sound is an important dimension of my work.” An associate professor of art at the University of California at Santa Cruz, Dee Hibbert-Jones is typical of many educators in the field as she crosses and blends disciplines; she teaches sculpture, public art, and art new media. She uses her art to explore social connectedness, trauma, memory, and politics. At the Caucus, she presented a very effective animated film project that explores the feelings of three families of death row inmates. Ed Osborn, who teaches at Brown University, showed an audio installation of a series of flexible moving poles topped by speakers. The work is active, responding to sounds, all controlled by computer. Explains Osborn, “You have to hang out with the piece for a while to fully experience it.” Other works involved motion studies of choreography, creation of robot-like “hybrids” by adding animal and mechanical parts to humans, filming a performance piece involving a trip by horse from Chicago to California, celebrating the control of space in digital game virtual environments, and studying the blurring of boundaries between disciplines in new media and the altered practices and roles that result.

Paul Catanese, a widely exhibited “hybrid media artist” and associate chair of the Department of Interdisciplinary Arts at Columbia College in Chicago, is president of the New Media Caucus. Noting that the group has grown to 910 members in ten years, he proclaims, “This is contemporary art. This is how it is being practiced … There are more practitioners than ever. It is now more interdisciplinary with dancers, painters, performers all using new media.” He emphasizes that new media practitioners are “artists,” saying, “It takes an artist to create on a computer.  Not all people in front of a computer can create art.” New media art is not a rejection of past practices, he explains. “It is a hybrid of traditional and post-digital processes. It is about finding the best qualities of both old and new materials and working fluidly with them.” The practice does not always involve technology. Traditional work that questions the new culture would be considered new media art. Depending on how materials are used, the work can come out as art or as process.
The New Media Caucus is an affiliate of the CAA (College Art Association); the showcase was part of the CAA’s annual conference. Last year, for the first time, the National Academy included artists working in video, photography, and installation art in its annual election of outstanding artists and architects to membership in its prestigious group of Academicians. #

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