The paradoxes of the digital world

0001110011001 Life without the advantages of the digital world, such as a smartphone or tablet, will soon be almost unimaginable for everyone, and in some cases even life-saving. This is currently the case, for example, for many well-organised refugees who, with the help of free WLAN hotspots, use their mobile phones via Skype, WhatsApp or Viber to immediately contact their family who have stayed behind or to orient themselves in their new place.

"The medium is the message," said media theorist Marshall McLuhan a good half century ago, foreseeing how digital technologies - especially in the field of mass communication - will change our everyday lives. For today, many of our experiences are already more or less digitally controlled. The "bit rush" is changing our society, culture and brain in the long term. Or as McLuhan knew: "We shape our tool, and afterwards our tool shapes us."

The shift from analogue to digital culture has been rapid for my generation, and yet it represents a generational turning point. While some nostalgic digital immigrants (people who, like me, were born in the analogue age) still judge the benefits of the digital world as artificial, alien and anti-social, for the digital native generation (people who grew up in the digital world) the digital richness feels natural. They are too young to actually perceive the revolutionary transition from analogue to digital. Much of the analogue world is brought home to them today in history books and it is not uncommon for them to interpret analogue relics (such as a floppy disk) as "medieval". 

Today, the mobile phone not only replaces the bank branch, computers or landline telephones, it navigates us through the world and of course it also offers advantages for art.


For art mediators, digital possibilities mean unlimited accessibility and marketing opportunities, i.e. the offer of a 24-hour service independent of location.The homepages provide more detailed information. A constant flood of emails reaches the recipients with information on the next exhibition, trade fair or auction programme. Price databases provide more transparency. Purchases are concluded via email or on online portals. Sharing portals like increase the sales potential. 

True art is created through the respective time and society, thus always in the present. The internet and new technologies open up new possibilities of artistic potential. And from this point of view, I would even claim that art production influenced by new technologies is one of the most credible responses to the changing times. At the same time, digital art has to face new challenges because it is ephemeral and based on transient technology. The constant evolution of technology, requires constant improvements. Challenges that this generation is not deterred by. On the contrary: the monthly abundance of events on digital art proves a lively interest in it. 

Furthermore, the public, real exhibition space has spread into the global, virtual data space and, as already indicated, offers the permanent reception of art. 
Microscopically enlarged images in online galleries such as Google Art Project make it possible to grasp even museum works in greater detail than in situ.

The ability to learn about new approaches to digital fast-moving culture is equally rapid. For digital natives, however, the analysis and perception of art is much faster. Moreover, they will take digital art as it is created today for granted, especially if that art is designed to be participatory and interactive. The extent of how the art business will change even further is not yet imaginable for many. What is certain is that it will become even more digital.

Art History

The rapid technological change and the social changes associated with it are forcing a reassessment of previous art historical considerations. Previous theories and practices must be questioned, because the reception of digital art is also different.

New terminologies must be found. The term digital art is still controversial today and experts argue about the currently hyped "post-internet art". Is the internet already obsolete? Art-theoretical analyses must be redefined, because much that was previously explicable on the surface is now hidden behind codes. The same applies to good or bad criticism, because only a few art journalists are really familiar with digital art. The circle of insiders is manageable and well networked among themselves.

For collectors, it means rethinking previously valid collection criteria. Issues such as longevity, authenticity and intrinsic value no longer apply to many works. The new art demands a general rethinking of the preservation and presentation of art. The collector's responsibility over the preservation of his digital products is great and a guarantor of the continuity of time. It is not uncommon for him to buy a contract, a licence and a set of devices that will allow the works to be experienced in the future.

Net art by Olia Lialina or Rafaël Rozendaal is generally dependent on hardware (computers, hard drives, interfaces, sensors, monitors, projectors, etc.) and on software. But how long will hardware be around? The future points to more and more hardwarelessness. What makes for improvements in digital culture research on the one hand, leads to decay on the other. Documentation of these works will become more important than ever.

But there is one thing that "good old" and "new" art have in common: interaction! For what would a work of art be without a recipient and vice versa. Whether in front of a screen or a canvas is irrelevant for the reception.

How collectors, artists and art mediators deal with the new possibilities of art and what else is in store for us is the subject of the following blog posts.