[I juried the new media exhibit at Murray State University Art Gallery, up now until Feb. 12. This is the foreword I wrote for the catalog.]
What is new media art? It’s almost easier to say what isn’t: traditional painting, sculpture printmaking, photography — emphasis on tradition. New media art is experimental. It uses new technologies — digital technology, video, the Internet, video games, cell phones and computer programming. And while I don’t want to say “I know it when I see it,” there’s not a whole lot that holds the loose category together. Here are a few characteristics of some, but not all, new media art: media manipulation; social critique; performance; playfulness; non-traditional beauty. Sometimes there is a political or anti-corporate message. Often the artist believes that art should be given away and that the audience should participate. The work in White Hot Gold shares a number of these characteristics.
Social critique and playfulness go together in Jong Kyu Kim’s monumental duels with pop culture icons Facebook and Keanu (in The Matrix). It’s Kim against the corporation, or Kim against Hollywood. In both cases, the artist deals with ideas of powerlessness at a time when we think we’re more in charge than ever. Elizabeth Leister, too, explores the desire to capture the movement and beauty of another’s performance via her art. Both artists keep trying even though their tasks are unwinnable. Marin Abell’s playful video has a similar quirky and forlorn appeal in a work that could be a parody of a survival tv show for machines.
Also beautiful, although not traditionally so, are Marsha Owett‘s color photo, whose digital mystery makes it somewhat terrifying; and Hernando Rico Sanchez’ color photo, which is so perfect you believe it to be a lie.
Embracing the idea of the beautiful sublime (which is often terrifying, verging on ugly) are Ryuta Nakajima‘s video with its odd juxtaposition of the ancient cuttlefish over a mélange of contemporary scenes; and Ava Blitz’ Photoshop manipulations of everyday suburban landscape, which are as enigmatic as the cuttlefish.
New media art is a young art form, but it’s fresh and engaging and, being experimental, it lacka the pomposity often attached to traditional art forms. As new media art attracts more practitioners, and as galleries show it more and collectors find ways to showcase it in their collections, the field of new media art will, I predict, live up to this show’s title.