Michał Brzeziński, Art as a platform for discourse

On the one hand we may talk about culture and art in the context of communication, and on the other hand – in the context of material nature of pieces of art. Message, communication and information are the basic ceiling for culture which is a form of communication requiring a medium – a matter.  Art is a specific context for sending and receiving sensual impulses, with the help of a variety of media, and the notion of aesthetic impulse may now be expanded to all fields of social communication. One such communication field is now the blog sphere, which is the part of the Internet which has been marked off from the entire cyberspace by blog platforms – public journals. Artists dump their ideas before their realisation to a public journal called “a waste bin”. Artists opening themselves to creations of their artist colleagues are actually creators of a new type of art. Let us investigate one case study after a short reconnaissance of art history.

 Art as Information

 If we try to imagine the world without information technology, the world which none of us really remembers, deprived of radio, press, television, the Internet or mobile phones, we can understand that art used to be in the old days a certain source of information. The churches told about life after death; palaces told about earthly life; castles, towns and courts gave political information; and clothes told about one’s origins, which determined one’s identity. Art was present everywhere as appropriate, revealing essential cultural elements showing man’s firm place in the world. Human identity was heavy as a cathedral and assigned once and forever. Single cases of social advancement were exceptional and very few. At present, the significant elements, signs and senses have broken free from their designata and wander in a free, post-modernistic stream of game of chance, mixed in the structures of the contemporary pieces of art.

 The flow of information used to be slow, doomed to distortions and subjectivity of message. Religion was in focus as well as strictly defined states of mind which were targeted by art. Art was in the service of religion, and states of mind, skilfully evoked by artists, were organised in a coherent structure. A picture or a sculpture reached us in a sensual form, after which it evoked sensual fluctuation of semantic impulses in our body, in order to meet the objective as required by the spirit of the time. 

 Information as Art or “Art of Information”

 If we now try to imagine the world as very few remember, we will notice that together in the epoch of photography, daily press, the first telegraphs, radio and so-called paleo-television information was often transformed into art. Medialisation of reality made artists interested in this process, because reality itself was changed into information. The gallery, as in the case of the ready-made, established a context for reality and thus transformed it into art, thanks to adoption of an institutionalised definition of art. In turn, conceptualism transformed ideas into a kind of ready-made and almost completely eliminated the subject, giving primacy to information. Artistic activity, although it took place in a materialistic space, was nothing but information which showed up for a short moment of time to disappear in the waves of information noise which it produced. Critics and artists rejected the previously imposed role of art, indulged in the freedom from its mission and responsibility, with the feeling of drifting in waters whose waves were generated by active individuals. Art itself changed into something auto-telling, defined in its own circle; it had a transitory and incidental nature. The epoch of art perceived as information was gradually fading away, and the fossils ended in museums and were there waiting to be recalled by artists – social psychotherapists. Former art was a myth requiring re-interpreting, was a Gioconda, not that much of a mystery but dreaming about a moustache, while the ideas were expressed out of touch with abandoned pieces of art. The pieces of art were used in an attempt to conserve the state of mind, to describe and to hand down something which was impossible to maintain, which should go away in order not to lose its freshness. This process of “conservation” was the target of Katarzyna Kobro’s irony when she commemorated the table where she and her friends had breakfast (we may still see the table in the Łódź Museum of Art). The act may be read as an expression of doubt in the sense of creating an institution which has an impossible mission and which seeks to keep something which is impossible to be stopped. Maybe Kobro raised a question whether this type of institution will transform into a dump site full of souvenirs after something which is all gone.

 Art changed into a self-ironic joke, tomfoolery, and although it took up issues it provided absurd solutions. Artists were waiting for a glimpse of understanding of their irony, deriving from agreement on doubt in the only right order, which object should subordinate the interpretation. Art of information questioned the rule of appropriateness and compatibility, it wanted to lead to anarchic, utopian equality, it abolished all exclusions and its one rule was to mock all the rules. Equality was not to be perceived as equality before God or death only, but also in law, market or social position, which were a laughing stock . Information as art may not be possessed, understood or thought as you may teach handcraft. All information is subjective and the process of creation of new pieces of art is single and unique, because in repeating the process it is not the same process any more.

 Turning point

 Simultaneously with the conceptual art movement, performance, land art or Fluxus (defined here as the art of information) computers emerged and became popular. Computers themselves created artefacts based on the input of information. Art of information pushed away the former definition of a piece of art and focussed on the process instead. However, with computers we had to revisit the language of our culture and design the process of its information transformations. New programming languages, programming platforms and the first foundations for the contemporary operating systems were constructed. Man ceased to be an executioner of information as he was replaced by a computer, and information about us and about our world started to permeate to the information environment. Artists and art recipients were looking for ways how to communicate with the information environment. A magnetic band was quickly transformed from a medium carrying information and memories about people and for people into a band storing data for computers only. The data was becoming denser but it always remained limited. Interactive installations and games were produced where interaction was limited by complete predictability and countability of possible results. The countability of permutations then became less defined and the game started to resemble life, which is far more complicated than the most complex set-up we can possibly imagine. Art, together with the development of information technology, was heading to infinity.

 Art as a Discourse

 Today we live in a world where not only new artistic qualities – information – is produced. Thanks to digital recording the information produced may be stored in an unchanged form and be provided for public access (on a free basis and we should fight to keep it this way, although not necessarily at the cost of piracy). Today everything which used to be ephemeral in the world of rare editions – vinyl records, copied poetry books, unique VHS tapes, books providing cheap enlightenment, music or video clips – once volatile and tempting, all of it has found its place in the land of youtube.com, vimeo.com, in innumerable hiding places on servers for sites such as chomik.pl or in computers linked in the p2p network. Private information is publicly available and has lost its private character. The process is ongoing. Cameras monitoring streets, car parks, shops, shopping centres, staircases, as well as registers of entries and exits from offices or homes, all of it is only temporarily a separate field of information. Sooner or later it will be linked or the users will demand integration of the information in a network which we will ask every morning what we want to have for breakfast. Archives of the contemporary intelligence services of China, Russia or the USA already today may answer this question. Art in the contemporary world may no longer continue to be just interactive and must not continue to be a commodity. Art is constant feedback, data fluctuation; art is creation of a living structure, creation of a living organism, building a social network service, or a platform similar to processing or even an institution animating artistic activities, such as in its very beginning was Łódź Art Museum (a.r. group, mainly Strzemiński and Kobro), and also Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie Karlsruhe (Weibel). Today the collective pieces of art of this kind are mainly Internet projects, such as “Perpetual Art Machine”, “Human Emotion Project”, or “Exquisite Corpse”. After every project there are artists who are authors of concepts which are later developed by other people. These are activities of a collective nature. The projects differ greatly in their artistic level but also in their advancement and intervention of the artists who have introduced the platforms into the cyberspace or social tissue. The majority of them however follow in the direction set out earlier by the Dada art and later avant-garde movements or other artists creating joint, collective pieces of art. Apart from that, art opened itself to a subject not only as a recipient/consumer, but also as a creator. An artist doesn’t provide ready, completed products but creative platforms. We may therefore say that culture has moved up to the 2.0 version, where no clear idea alone is the most important element but rather what it is going to transform into after it has penetrated the social tissue. An idea, orders, a series of orders called a program, or inspiring text, ironic confession or diagnosis – all of these are types of communication, the fundamental process of culture creation.

 Speaking from a different perspective: we have evolved from art as an object of information to art as a subject space for dialogue. Life has become the final effect of art, or art has become life projection. Artists such as Maurice Benayoun create definite pieces of art, giving indefinite possibilities of transforming it into an indefinite number of pieces of art which in their final shape are signed by names of other artists. The artistic works form one organism present in many places. And also the organism is a living environment which may become integrated by the platform provided by the primary piece of art (the artist’s blog in this case). And thus art as we know it today results from a network of dialogue in which everybody, irrespective of their intention, is an artist and is assessed against the same criteria. Art needs You!

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