Beauty in the Age of Digital Art

Transcript by: Rosa Menkman (from now on referred to as Rosa).

Moderators: Maja Kuzmanovic (FoAM) & Michael Samyn (Tale of Tales)
24/5/2006. 3pm. round table debate.
Brussels. www.okno.be 

Four keynote speakers were invited to give a statement in 5 minutes to explain their interpretation and to take part in a panel discussion and a discussion with the audience.
  1. Auriea Harvey
Somewhere in the modern area we have lost the meaning of ‘beauty’ or ‘esthetics’. There is a lot of ‘prettiness’ as if the notion esthetics has become ‘shallow´.
Beauty is a language that communicates with communities, deeper than the visible surface. It gives opportunities for storytelling and architecting of interaction.
Auriea Harvey made her first works 5 years ago, for her lover. It was a self-portrait, titled ´Skin and skin and skin´ that elevated everybody by the feelings it evoked.
´Beauty´ is, according to Auriea Harvey, a language that communicates deeper than the surface and gives responses inside the head and the body. It’s not the beauty of the painting or artwork but of the evocative feelings.
These are her criteria for aesthetics; a work needs ´necessity and meaning´. Also her project Weather did give an answer to these criteria.

Maria Harvey illustrates her interpretation of aesthetics by showing the plan of the St. Pieter basilica. She states that inside you feel the two wings embracing you.
For the collaboration comes first and 'beauty' in experience and interaction grow on this basis. 
In the modern era 'beauty' has been lost and has changed into 'commodity'. But in interactive art, however it’s digital, it evokes emotional responses, loaded with meaning in the head as well as in the body.
  1. Guy van Bellen
Installation artist. He is especially interested in interaction between audio and visual data. He has a musical background. According to Van Bellen, there are different ways of looking at esthetics. He doesn’t agree with a lot of them. One of the approaches of Adorno, for instance, is that aesthetic means ´perception of visual arts, but put into an active component’.
Van Bellen also underlines other influences and approaches like Mukarowski’s esthetics in which sound, music and human language and called it signs. 
His statement is that ´beauty´ has to do with interaction and does not exist in the work itself. He also mentions Jacques Derrida’s viewpoint of ´network´ of production and consumption and continues that linguistics and politics give different meaning to aesthetics, like Chomsky, who could not bring in the structure as the meaning component of esthetics.
  1. Dick Paesmans (Jodi) 
Is introduced as: The most well known digital artist. Invited with the risk to be offended because he makes extremely beautiful work, although at first glance it looks like it’s build up from components that look ugly. 
He only growned but could not make a statement by words and just showed a part of some internet pages with sound, telling that it was a very old website. 
Dirk: Eeeeh... Zijn er hier mensen die alleen Engels verstaan of … You? … Ooh it feels strange to speak English in Brussels… haha the mussels of Brussels! I don’t know…
Proberen, we zullen proberen. 
ja… hmm 
Ik heb er... er is eigenlijk niks over te zeggen, dus dan doet het er ook niet toe of ik het in het Engels doe.. 
hmmm …nou dit is een heel oude website, o ja nee; 
It’s a very old website… it’s blue and… whatever this is yellow, this is yellow and mixed with other things... this is green… 
yeah? ohhh that’s about it. 
Aah ja ik weet het niet oh wacht ja ok. 
Eeehmmm haha ja, die kun je optellen hoeveel het er zijn. 
Ja eehm another very old website. Yes we get to there slowly. The problem is I don’t feel it’s necessary to explain it, it could be explained really fast... 
Ohhh hmhmmmm okay almost there... aaah ok, Ding... aaah wauwww! Okay jaa… Hm? Yeaah aaah well okay shit. Okay okay 
That’s what you have with these new browsers.. 
Yeah Woooww
Look at this, it’s black.
Auriea Harvey: Do you agree with me?
Dirk: No not really
Because curiosity, Curiosity is beautiful. 
En nu? 5 minuten om?
Ik weet het ook niet…
  1. Lawrence Malstaf
Installation artist. His background is on the one hand industrial design on the other dance ‘xenographer’ and performance installation artist. He starts with the issue of the escape to a virtual world as so many artists seem to be inspired by the virtual reality. He states that the physical conditions influence us enormously and that is very much underrated. 
Next question was about the interest of confronting the human audience with certain technology in such a physical way.
How do you think your work relates to certain narratives and the beauty in your work and do you consider yourself and how do you think about the premodern uplifting art, art that makes feel the spectator feel good about being human. He describes the attitude of the pre modern artist and postmodernists in which feel good and critical questions are opposed. He shows his work and states that he tries to help the spectator to handle his physical personality in changing and industrial times. 

The president opened the discussion with the audience as follows: 
This part is from the chat:
I would like to ask Dirk, although he doesn’t talk about his ‘esthetics’ whether he thinks there are certain elements in his work, like interactivity for example, that constitute an esthetic for the viewer (or contributor?) 
Rosa: interactivity as an esthetic element?
I think so (but that’s my opinion, -> it contributes to the way of perceiving). What does he (Dirk) think about this?
I have a question of the chat from Rosa (Rosa Menkman), from Amsterdam. She is writing her master thesis on one of Jodi’s works Untitled Game and she would like to ask Dirk if he thinks that there are certain elements of esthetics in his work? She has an opinion of interactivity; like interactivity being an esthetic element by itself but she would like Jodi to speak about this
Dirk: Can she hear me? 
Well it’s like… 
….Untitled Game, een oud spelletje, it’s Quake in disguise, it’s an erased version of Quake. Most of our works have opponents; our work is always against something, how childish that may be. This work, Untitled Game, was against Quake. We made 12 versions. One is totally white, in this one Quake is literally erased. In the way the corridors and walls are white. And you can still play it. And you can verify that with the dashboard. And there are versions that have black and white lines, like moiré patters, so they look a bit like Op-art if you want, but it’s Op-art with a gore soundtrack, because the sounds are original. We did not erase the original sounds. Because otherwise... It would be just something beautiful. 
We wanted to make a statement, and gradually we decided to leave this ugly, this gore, totally gothic sounds, fitting with the older graphics, the Quake graphics. That the user probably knows. We wanted these sounds as a contrast because we thought they would make a good mix. But we want, like anyone who makes things, to try to make something that looks good. 
But to go and search for beauty, that’s not our agenda, we don’t do that, but we try to make works that look good, that’s for sure, one by one. Like maybe the last one. Many works have the same goal or concept and we spend a lot of time on it and in the end we decide it is a failure. 
We don’t know exactly why, but probably it is because it doesn’t look good. We fail a lot lately. I don’t know… We look a lot in history, things that have been made; you can always prove its quality by other things. We also look at work of others. You also can proof that it’s good by comparing it to other things. There is always something very next to what you do, unfortunately. Because you have all those ten thousands people who are making works. Perhaps that’s also a very good thing, it comforts you. 
Who is do you think close to you?
O, jaaa, Not personal, not of an artist, no we do it more like ´work by work´. Untitled Game is an erased work and there have been other erased works in art history like Rauschenberg erased a drawing of Willem de Kooning because he thought it looked bad. Probably De Kooning made on purpose ugly drawings and Rauschenberg bought the drawing or got it and therefore (maybe) had the right to erase it, but anyway, by minimizing the forms, is a trick from modernism …. Simplifying the forms... But this work op art is close to the effects. Op Art is close to the effects and is also moving image… we don’t like to compare our things to graphical things... graphical things. Joan (my wife) has studied photography and photography needed to grow. I was working on a lot of moving images, of the eighties that’s interesting for input. So in this work Op Art is close to moving image actually something we don’t look like in general to compare our work. ‘It looks like’, still doing… our work.
Joan has studied photography, a medium that needed to grow and me, I am interested in moving image, film, video, art.
I am of the video of the eighties; you know the video was big. There is a lot of moving image making and video which are interesting for the net. 
So, do you have a special interest in modern art, specifically…? 
You mentioned recent artists
Yes, many Belgian artists. I prefer Breughel. What can you do? It’s more a form of sympathy, not that it’s beautiful or whatever. My history, we had that books at home, but I prefer Breughel above Rubens for example. I don’t know, there are reasons for it. I like the landscape, the life of everyday, the man of the field, farmers, the men of the street…
(Question from panel member)
Two things that Dirk says…When…it’s not a secret and nobody is upset when I say ‘it’s not a good piece… Ah…  So people talk about it and I think the most of the people have the same quotes and some work out and specially when you experiment, you don’t make copies of the previous things what would also fail, it’s given already in an experiment  that you can go for something that’s a total disaster.
Second, very strange that you take the aesthetics apart from perception. So it is nothing but perception. Beauty and the whole aesthetical thinking and thinking about aesthetics. You can deal with it very abstractly, but you can also, in the end, decide, well in the end it was a failure. But it’s only perception. It’s not that…I was never in the obsession with the Belgium landscape…is the obsession with physical they cannot think of anything else as the physical reference to it. And I happened to make interaction between machines an I think that’s the physical part. I think it’s not a parameter of any value…

How’s perception not physical? For me is perception something that the body does. We often talk about beauty as something physical and I think as you say it’s something broader than that. I think to answer your question, when one machine enters to the other….
(Question from the audience) 
What do you mean by perception? When one machine can listen to the other and has an idea of what the other can do. So it’s not typical human, I believe, it can be anything…
If we perceive something, we perceive it with our physicality just like some hardware because they need some hardware to perceive things. I forgot my…. You said something about ’not having to do with perception’ and I believe you cannot separate perception from physicality. 
(Question from the audience)
I am a little surprised that Jodi talks about visual appearance: I found the beauty of the work in the construction of the work… Beauty is not in the eye it is a construction… 
Dirk: but graphics is a construction also. The decision to use a black pixel and a white pixel is a construction also… 
[…]Yeah it is the relation between a few elements; the code, the graphics the sound and than eventually space for interaction, if it is still interactive or not. In the case of Untitled Game the games yes they are all playable.
I consider them good works, because their construction is good... But how would this construction be with bad graphics? The whole thing would be ugly, uninteresting. I could put a brown pixel there, or erase it to brown, would you like the work still?
Rosa would like Dirk to respond a little bit more on interaction. 
Dirk: Ok.
Yes, because she points out that aesthetics can’t be taken apart from perception. 
So within this interaction dynamics, interaction would be evolving as well. 
If it is about the games, I mean, our idea to make this type minimal graphics, is maybe different from some abstract digital work. A lot of this work is kind of abstract, If you see these things installed here, (except yours, yours is lucky) because it gets boring really fast I mean abstraction, just for the case of making it look good or just for the case of abstraction whatever… 
But our purpose with the games, or what we thought was a justification to make these simple elements is that you can see the interaction working. Like when you are running Quake for example, a monster… there is only three or four things I mean the disguise it’s very graphically like they make some shadows before it opens its mouth and the tongue comes out, that’s a third graphic, and than the fire comes out and that is for example four graphics but you think while you are playing it, you are thinking it is some natural thing, I mean whatever.. You don’t think it’s real but you don’t ….ehm Stop? How do you say… you don’t believe it but you think it is some complicated thing happening. While when we put for example a black graphic a white graphic again a black and a white you can see well when I move when this monster comes up. There is only four things happening. It is just like animation. In animation art…
There is no way you could know the game. It’s otherwise… 
Dirk: yes yes... 
Dirk: Well the soundtrack is there to help you of course. I mean not that is important that it is exactly Quake. But the choice of a game stands a little bit for the whole genre. I mean... yeah… the visualization is more clearly seen with more simple graphics and that demystifies the believe space of the game. So it’s a bit like also old kinetic art where even the wheel... yeah the one you showed... with clear markers what this thing can do instead of hiding the limits that there is only four steps with the graphical steps
Is that more beautiful?
Dirk: No Not necessarily our point was to erase and make this other version of Quake and than denying it the name so that was also kind of important so just to call it Untitled Game that is was just a prototype any of this games with this kind of standard ways of construction and elements and things you can do as a user.
And for you is that criticism of how these kinds of games are made, or is it a tribute?
Dirk: If you base something on something it is always a tribute I mean it means you give attention to it I mean otherwise you would not bother. 
I mean it’s a way but we suddenly, at that time we worked a lot with the code and the code became free and after a while Joan could understand how the code worked and we got positive of the kind of code that the code could do a lot of things but it can be dressed in many many ways. So we tried to show it at his functional minimum. 
So it’s like you undressed the code. 
Dirk: Yes... You should do that I mean it’s the first step to learn getting into game art. It’s not….whatever-- constructive it doesn’t give a solution. You want people to be there ... You already state al these things But we actually don’t care what happens with someone we are already finished when we have already dealt with three or four elements. And then we stop
Do you make it for the beauty? 
Dirk: No please, no, most beauty is already there. It’s always there. It’s there by definition.
* Now talking in #okno
Rosa is now Rosa, on IRC chat:)
* Rosa has quit IRC (Quit: CGI:IRC (Ping timeout))
now Guy Van Belle is speaking
aah, zuper, has been a while
now Dirk from JODI
now Dirk from JODI
come on dirk
***///**&^%# I give him some aesthetics
he is funny
please if you have questions we can ask at the end
it would be nice to have interaction with the pannel, so questions, comments. etcetera, please keep them  in mind
can I type then?
but I will ask them when they finish the round of statements
your questions will be seen on the screen anyway
Pragmatic question: please an expression of intimacy towards maya/lina/annemie
I would like to ask Dirk, although he doesn't talk about his 'aesthetics’ if he thinks there are certain elements in his work
certain aesthetics elements in his work?
like interactivity for example that constitute an aesthetic for the viewer/ (or contributor?)
Rosa: interactivity as an aesthetic element?
I think so (but that's my opinion, -> it contributes to the way of perceiving) what does he think about this?
Rosa can you tell me more about yourself so I can personalise your question?
I think perceiving has changed and is no longer only sensory but activates and makes you use your eyes and ears different because u can interact. That is how I perceive 
currently they are speaking of the way industrialization and its processes affects our perception in daily life
in unconscious ways
I am writing my master thesis on one of Jodi s works, Untitled Game. and the creating of a different aesthetics because of new ways in which the new media are perceived/used
thanks Rosa
I know Dirk doesn't want to comment on this. But I want to ask anyways
Maybe he says something interesting. You never know
I am a she;)
Great isn't this
I will correct
tell me if you want to ask more
if your question is answered
I am first listening
if u don't mind
no no perfect
I think he doesn't speak about interaction
currently a debate on beauty in a digital age
He is still talking, but not really on interaction
not really on interaction, no
Rosa do you want me to insist? (I would love to)
If aesthetics can't be taken apart from perception don't you think interaction, dynamics (like the moiré) 
yes I want to persist if U want certainly
now he speaks of interaction
If aesthetics can't be taken apart from perception don't you think interaction, dynamics (like the moiré thing) navigating  
participating in constructing the perceived aesthetics
the human browser
can they repeat audience questions in the mic
we missed last one
NO I do not agree! There is interaction in the work of Jodi
I think I missed the part where you din' agree Rosa
Guy said There is no interaction in the work of Jodi, but he was talking about Max Payne I think. But there are a lot of works for instance Untitled Game, that are interactive. 
because the viewer constructs his perception by interacting with the work
ok Rosa
for u
:) yeeey  
graphics and interaction?
it s hard isn’t it. 
it seems its hard to conceptualise on this
but he speaks further 'the inner space of a game' 
i think since a hundred years there has been a shift in art from beauty to conceptual. 
now conceptual art, i think, has another aesthetics
does that mean a shift also from physicality?
not based on image but on concept
many times
performance art, digital art 
but other forms of physicality emerge
perhaps a conceptual physicality
there is since many years neither beauty neither conceptual
art is already dead indeed
and now new elements are important in a work of art, not the construction of visual elements per se. But also as I said (in digital art but also in performance like E.A.T. and Fluxus) interactions
could we say: creation?
but I still think concepts are very stuck with visual perception
art refer to elite 
art refer to built culture
occidental built culture
and not really with other senses like proprioceptive senses
yes but not in the way it is usually (traditionally) constructed
it's an ideological term
used by museum & colonialist of the 1_e century
art is by essence colonialist
18e century
I think ART is a prison, and the new modes of production reveal it even more : it was produced as a social category at the beginning of the Renaissance... The question would be : what is interesting in art to be kept. According to me it the idea of "liberation of sensitivity"...
I agree completely but still the discussion on interaction and aesthetics is interesting I think
to what refer aesthetic then?
interaction is very vague term
to politics for example
but if we speak of interaction we speak also of interfaces
is the inter which is interesting
and about interacting subjects
and so what?
I agree it is very vague. but in digital art I use in a way that the viewer can construct an experience 
interfaces & subjects... then?
and therefore construct his own meaning
that perhaps to speak about ART is limitating but if we see these aspect of digital practice, media practice
but still in science experimentation term
we test the subject
if we try to understand them perhaps we can see much more than art
how it will interact with an object
who is them?
i mean more subject in terms of social subjectivity
something shared
don't you think interaction is now a cliché of digital art...?
a pot pourri!
I think is something that still has to be discussed
because is not solved
in games
There is maybe a contradiction between aesthetics and inter-action : the second one refers to an active "subject" related to a situation and other "subjects" while the concept of aesthetics refers to contemplation... Developing interaction means going out of aesthetics and entering a regime of production of practice...
I thin interaction in itself constructs so many possibilities it seems to be a shame to say it is a cliché
but aesthetics can be seen from another point of view
from our computer based practices
as said cliché in digital art
so far from contemplation
inter-action is not cliché in street action for example
but don’t you think we have developed very little on this subject?
could explain aesthetic in hackers practices then?
I see what you mean with aesthetics being a contradiction but I don’t agree completely yet
sure, http://runme.org/ aesthetics and hacker practices I meant
the aesthetics of our anger
I think it is not completely different things now
when we speak about our practice we never speak about aesthetics, but more about "poietic", which refers to the production of forms through technique and to the practice of the production
the power of your oppression is the aesthetics of our anger, full version
nice, thanks sophie, guy is speaking about this now
ah ok, guy was talking about poetics
poietic not poetics
Actually, I don't refer directly to the linguistic tradition of definition of poietic, nether to Aristotle, but more to the use that Certeau makes of it in his book "the invention of everyday life"
is not the same concept actually
we didn’t have more time for questions
what's the point with the chat inter-action.?
no is not at all
we made some questions dear
but then everybody was
doing it at the same time
but this is projected on the screen
remind me the subject...then?
interaction & aesthetic?
Sophie, can you expand a bit more on De Certau and poietic?
ok the subject was beauty in the age of digital art
ok the subject was beauty in the age of digital art
beauty in the age of digital art
yes right
And soon we will start on Trans disciplinary Practices
where is the venue
we are all at okno
have you been here u-soon?
oh I see u in the vid
oops typing English as I speak Spanish
he speaks about poetic to qualify the tactical practices developed in everyday life against the proliferation of disciplinary micro-techniques of power (Foucault) : poetics is in a way hijacking and playing the the micro-techniques of power
ok but then it is the concept of poetics
question : beauty from which point of view?
I think in this panel from media art related practices
so, games, net-art, performance, sound art, interactive forms etc
yes from the panel... but the concept of beauty is a general term to named our sensibility.?
sensibility reception
from human senses to psycho-interpretation
well like Rosa mentioned perception entangled with aesthetics
what about beauty in factory workers
or office secretary?
Constant (Peter) says hi apo33
what do you think of the beauty of cars?
Hi peter!!!
cars is beautiful from a certain point of view 

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