[-empyre-] old media cycles to new: Signal Culture and Jason Bernagozzi

B. Bogart ben at ekran.org
Tue Feb 10 12:51:24 AEDT 2015

This is a very compelling and relevant response Jason.

I'd like to pull out a few comments inline...

On 15-02-09 06:18 AM, Jason Bernagozzi wrote
> In regards to your second question, I don't think there is really
> that much of a rift between tools and concept. The tool itself
> inhabits so much conceptual material, it is a well from which a
> number of ideas can be generated. <snip> The big difference is when
> the maker is relying on the tool to be the concept without their own
> ideas pushing up against it. We see this happening often in VJ
> culture, pop music and hollywood filmmaking, but it is not the
> technology that is without concept, it is the makers who want the
> technology to "speak" for them.

I think of tools as embedding a particular cultural emphasis; in the 
case of cameras it's the illusionary reproduction of reality. The 
underlying values are that objectivity is possible (at least in an 
illusionary sense) and that there can be meaning in an image even when 
extracted from context. This all seems related to the concept of an 
unbiased and objective gaze.

Beyond this culturally valued baggage there is also the set of practices
that is associated with a tool, e.g. the camera industry, dark-rooms
(photo-shop included) and printing services. Eventually the set of
practices ends up stabilizing which results in 'normal' (or at
least dominant) ways of using cameras and photographic images. So a 
traditionally framed photographer internalizes all this normality of the 
media and thus may not reflect on it, but rather only exploit it. There 
could still be some conceptual contribution occurring in the content of 
the images, or the way they are used, even if the media itself is not 
"pushed against".

I think there is a base internalization of concepts and values that is 
what turns a technological system into a media. This seems to happen 
naturally when any technology gains enough dominance through many users 
and stabilizes enough to be supported by an industry. Perhaps one of the 
difficulties of electronic media is that the stability is often rejected 
or subverted (exploited outside of the dominant use), and thus perhaps 
it never really attains status as media. Instead it holds onto its 
status as a technological system that can be more flexibly imbued with a 
greater diversity of concepts (and values) by nature of the lack of 
industrial and cultural dominance and normality.

This points back into the issues around an artist exploiting a 
technology (like a proprietary software app) while being in conflict 
with the dominant system of practices around it. With the dominance you 
get potential access to a broader audience, a potentially easier path to 
preservation, and even the opportunity to pose as the dominant media 
while simultaneously subverting its dominant practices.

I consider myself a conceptual artist, but a conceptual
artist where concepts are necessarily formalized sufficiently for 
computational or linguistic implementation. I certainly have a base 
conceptual intention (i.e. make a machine dream, or explore the nature 
of "grounded meaning"), but there is always this dialogue with the tools 
being used. I tend to abuse the machine learning (ML) algorithms in ways 
that keep them from performing very well (in the sense of empirical 
validation). Part of this is simply because many ML methods have a 
learning phase, and then an exploitation phase. The system is fed a 
finite set of training data that stands in for the real world, and then 
that learning is used in deployment without changing much. I'm more 
interested in continuous learning, where there is no finite input set to 
validate the model against.

I'm not very interested how a tool is meant to work (i.e. considering 
it's place as a media and the dominant system of practices surrounding 
it) beyond base literacy. I'm also not very interested in how my own 
concepts exist independent of formal realization. For me, the really 
interesting place is at the intersection of the two where my intentions 
and cultural values mix with the assumptions of the tools and contrast 
with the dominant media practices. Unimplemented ideas and exploiting 
existing media practices are not very interesting to me. The Dreaming 
Machine is not meant to create a perfect illusionary representation of 
the world, nor is it supposed to project a prescribed structure into the
world; its meant to find a place in between the two. There is some 
discussion of this in Chapter 6 of my Masters thesis 

> For example, I think Gary Hill in his book "Art of Limina" hits it
> right on the head when he describes himself as a "principle-based"
> artist and not a conceptual artist. This does not mean his projects
> themselves have no concept, but a conceptual artist has an idea that
>  is applied to various media. There has been some great works
> springing from conceptual art, and it is the premier model for
> postmodern art practice and pedagogy. That being said, this is also a
> very presumptuous model that does not always play well with new
> technological forms. Being a principle based artist, according to
> Gary, is to have principle concepts that are ever present in the
> work, but he is willing to also listen to how to tool responds to his
> ideas. Form this he can synthesize a new kind of syntax from which
> his concepts from the non technological world can translate to the
> technological. This is not a modernist or essentialist approach, but
> rather this model gets away from singular ideas and deals with new
> art forms that are more consistent with post-structural tendencies.

Could you elaborate on the disconnection between technology and 
conceptual art? It seems I would agree with Gary Hill, but I'm not sure 
how contemporary technical tools are any different than traditional 
artistic tools (paints, canvas, pencil, chisel, etc.).

Signal Culture looks very interesting and quite relevant to my practice.


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