Thinking out Loud

Interpretation of Beyond Pong-Why Digital Art Matters

The article ‘Beyond Pong- Why Digital Art Matters’ has been rightly named with respect to the powerful message and the introspective questions it raises while you are going through it. By the end of the article it got me thinking about fundamental questions about technology, the use of technology and where I can place myself in this industry. It invoked an even larger question in me- “How do I want to use technology? ”

James Bridle has broadly divided this article into three sections based on the use of technology and showcase of technology over the years through a chronological historical evidence of how and where it all started and how it has progressed so far. Its funny to see how times have changed and the how technology has shaped its way through the years. Technology has occupied a very important role in our lives, considering how it is now available to every single person on this planet. Due to this, there has never been a more pressing need to identify the critical role technology plays in the society and who defines this role? This question has seen both the sides of the coins where there are a lot of people who believe in the wonders of the advent of this powerful tool, while there are also others who believe that it has lead to decreased personal privacy, diluted professional journalism and made separating between personal and professional life more difficult. This has been very interestingly portrayed by Kurt Vonnegut in his fictional novel Piano Player which is based on computing machines using electronic tubes, not integrated circuits, reading like the dystopian literature seen in today’s academic and popular press. In the world Vonnegut envisioned, work was a privilege, and, except for a privileged few who ran the system, jobs for the masses consisted of works -like infrastructure repair and the military. This eventually leads to the bigger question of what the future holds with intelligent tools.
Very indirectly, James Bridle cues us to think about this question through his article. The first section is about Digital Revolution-an immersive exhibition of art, design, film, music and video games. This exhibition exposes the audience to the transformation of art through digital technology since the 1970s.

The show consisted of four sections each of which clearly shows how fluid the definition of creativity and art can be. The first section — ‘We Create’ includes works like Johny Cash Project by Chris Milk and Aaron Koblin, which allowed millions of people all across the world to submit a drawing piece of a frame of the video which eventually got put together to form the entire video, Type Case by Martin Beischer, which displayed news in the traditional font using 125 LED lights, 1990s website Geocities, which enabled users to make their own webpages, the virtual world building game Minecraft and games like Broken Age which were all possible only because of effective crowd sourcing, documentation and early access to feedback and critique. Through these examples, the show curator, Conrad Bodman explains the fluidity of process and practice and difficulty of assigning credit which he feels is fundamental to digital work.

The next section-‘Creative Spaces’ exhibits new forms of storytelling and focuses on the cultural effect of the works. These include the folding cities from the move Inception, Alfonso Cuarón’s face being the only real thing in the movie Gravity. It includes a very powerful work called Dronestagram which uses social media to disseminate satellite images of real landscapes of drone attack in Pakistan and Afghanistan. This takes us back to the primary question of the role technology plays in the society.

The third section- ‘Digital Archeology’ exhibits games and websites on the hardware on which they originally ran which is very important to preserve the the original experience of interacting with them. These include the first icons on Macintosh paint by Susan Kare, Lialina’s webpage-My Boyfriend is back from the War and Jodi’s crazy which when looked closely is actually is a blueprint of a nuclear bomb again questioning the role and impact of technology in the society.

The final section encompasses the more recent age of developers turned artists using code called “DevArt”. It includes work of Karsten Schmidt, Zach Lieberman and many others.

There have been some skeptic comments of how the name of the show doesn’t do justice to the primary question again of how technology has impacted the society when most of the work presented has been commissioned by advertising agencies, international publishing companies and Hollywood studios.

This leads us to the second section of Bridle’s article of a contrasting approach to presenting the impact of technology. A London based institution- V&A which dedicated a gallery exhibition to a program called “rapid response collection”. Initial works included a pair of “fast fashion” Primark jeans made in a building in Bangladesh, whose collapse last year claimed some 1,130 lives, and a set of Katy Perry-branded false eyelashes, handmade by impoverished villagers in central Java for a penny a pair. More recently, the collection has expanded to include objects that tell more explicitly digital stories: Defence Distributed’s now-notorious 3D-printed handgun, and a Motorola wearable computer used by Tesco to monitor the activities of its warehouse workers. At this point a new question came to my mind of where is the morality? And where do we draw the line. When we are talking about defining the role of technology who has the authority to control the use of technology? This opens the discussion of the many factors interconnected in a system which has financial, political and social intentions.

I believe that it is important to understand the relationship we share with technology and the numerous consequences of any of our actions. It reminds me of a saying-“ Something on the internet can never be erased” because in the end the data just sits there in the cloud forever. So its very important to be mindful about our actions and how we decide to use technology and impact the society.
This very aptly coincides which the last section of the article where Bridle talks about the famous architect and artist- Usman Haque. In 2007, he founded Pachube, a global data-sharing network that anticipated by years the current buzz around big data and the internet of things. In 2011, Pachube enabled hundreds of Japanese civilians to quickly and easily share weather and radiation data in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, boosting monitoring and relief efforts.

His installation Assemblance however throws a whole new light on how he wishes people to see “the digital” not as a medium, but as a context from where new social, political and artistic forms arise. It is a very abstract concept but I feel what he is trying to communicate is that, technology in any form is the starting point of creating or destroying a point of view. It is the seed to a bigger change to come. And it becomes each of our responsibility of how to sow the seed and eventually take care of the growing sapling to impact the world and thus again leading to the primary question but defining it more deeply — What kind of impact would you want to create using technology and what kind of role would you like it to adapt.

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