Friday, 27 February 2009

Experiments as Art

Experiment: a test, trial, or tentative procedure; an act or operation for the purpose of discovering something unknown or of testing a principle, supposition, etc.

Experimentation is at the very heart of artistic activity. The physical processes of putting ideas to the test through formal and material interaction lead to new discoveries and greater understanding. This is a major reason why creative makers “make” (Homo Faber). It also distinguishes what artists do from the solely cognitive processes of pure philosophical enquiry. Our theories are tested in “Fact” and new facts further inform our theories.

However, experimentation alone does not necessarily produce art (otherwise, of course, all experiments would be art). As with all experiments the outcome, its context and above all how this is interpreted is of primary importance. The results of the experiment or the actual apparatus of the experiment (take for example the work of Steven Pippin) need to be seen to reflect on other areas of experience ie they need to be able to be interpreted and understood in a wider context than that of the experiment itself.

Experiments performed with the intention of “observing a reaction” may lead to conclusions but these outcomes and the facts or observations which arise do not necessarily in themselves constitute art (in fact they are more likely to be interpreted as anthropological or psychological data). For example, setting up a experiment with the intention of observing viewers reactions to an event may well lead to varied and interesting reactions, but the process needs to articulate something beyond the pure facts of the process to be interesting as an artwork.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Data Art

Saw a new media exhibition at CCA in Glasgow the other day. Very frustrating. I tend to be a real sucker for technology but I must admit that I’m getting really tired of seeing vague gatherings of “data” being uploaded and “manipulated” and then downloaded and transformed into sound and played back in the same space. The relationships between source and destination seem so tenuous and untraceable/inaccessible that the work looses all potential to engage the viewer in discursive/productive or even poetic thought. It was beautiful in an electronic-aesthetic kind of way but it simply didn’t take me anywhere - even with some explanation from the artist. It might be argued, of course, that I was at fault because I didn’t think it through thoroughly enough but I think that would miss the point. What I think defines good work is it’s ability to begin some kind of discourse, dialogue or thought process which I can take up and further pursue and explore. In other words I expect work to stimulate intellectual (and perhaps to some extent emotional) activity. There’s a contradiction here, which comes from the realisation that the work DID in fact stimulate intellectual activity in me but this has nothing to do with the articulacy of the work – quite the reverse.