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By the «New Economy» boom in the 1990s at the latest, the media in general had «infected» large areas of society. «Bookmarking,» that is the storing of Internet addresses in our browser, is now a daily activity. But how often does a bookmark remain just that, never again to be retrieved from the depths of the file folder? Our handling of digital content often promotes forgetting. Perhaps we do need material supports for our media experience. We know the book to the film or the film to the book, why not finally ‹a book to the Net› as well? This volume would like to promote the link between the media worlds of the Net and the book, not least in order to strengthen the quality of the bookmark www.mediaartnet.org.
In the area of art and culture, academic-cultural competence is still lacking in compatibility with the media-networked world of information. While the natural sciences and the business world by now take the Internet for granted as a platform, in large areas of art history or cultural studies the book or the journal remain the dominant media. Up until now, a long outdated skepticism that ‹genuine› knowledge is only to be found in books and that the Internet onlycontains largely superficial and unreliable information has continued to hold its ground.
No area of art suffers more from this discrepancy between «media literacy» and cultural competence than media art. Text and print-based forms of representation alone only offer inadequate ways of communicating media art, for without experiencing their particular character as multimedia works the significance of media art cannot be grasped. This leads to a paradox: precisely those multimedia art forms that emerge with and in the digital technologies hardly participate in the potential of popularization offered by these media technologies. Although the mainstream of a still print-based art history and cultural transmission cannot adequately represent the specific character of multimedia art, a platform with widespread resonance has not yet been established in the Net.
Traditional media of distribution like the book or television have proven unsuitable or incapable of providing a lasting or even adequate form for projects in media art, which in turn would make possible a broader reception. For their part, the media arts have
often cultivated an anti-institutional stance in relation to the mass media, creating their own forums and sites for insiders. But there is an ever-increasing need for concrete material on art that works in and with the media. Questions of an audiovisual aesthetic can only be treated in a more concrete way if the relevant materials are available beyond a few specialized archives and temporary festivals. That a discussion in art studies and art history about the aesthetic foundations of media art is only taking place so late in the day can be termed the paradox of media art's mediation.
In response to this situation, the project «Media Art Net» (in German «Medien Kunst Netz») has been installed for purposes of self-instruction. Combining various forms of representation, this simultaneously audiovisual and theoretical structure not only offers interested ‹surfers› a succinct, attractively designed Internet presentation, it also provides profound and comprehensively documented information andcontextualization for those researchers with a more specific focus. The consistently bilingual presentation on the website (German/English) pays tribute to the international character of the project. The goal is a new form of the synthesis of theorization and scientific ‹visualization› in cultural studies and art history that can support tele-learning catered to the realm of art. Preference is given neither to pure quantity, nor to the detailed case study, but to presenting judiciously-selected, meaningful connections that make it possible to grasp the material in both an intuitive and an intellectual way and methodically offer a number of different perspectives in terms of content. Contextualization, a key concept of art of the 1990s, is carried out here in quite a concrete fashion, but does not merely serve to illustrate a specific theoretical approach. One danger that lurks behind such a project is an overgrown machine that links everything to everything. We have also consciously tried to avoid this by developing a careful selection of semantically rich links not only supported by a database, but also shaped by editorial decisions.
«Media Art Net,» the third collaboration between the Goethe Institute and the Center for Art and Media Technology Karlsruhe, indicates networking in two senses. In terms of content, it is the result of a collaboration of the editor with various authors; in a formal sense, it emerged and will continue to emerge as a networking of the expertise of various institutions and persons in the context of media and art studies.
While the theory and texts were separated from the audiovisual material in the previous publications, with the former in book form and the latter on CD-ROM, here they are both placed on the web-platform. This results in a clear linkage of critical reflection with the context of audiovisual documentation. But does this justify the additional production of a book with texts that are also all available online? The undeniable practical qualities of the book medium make this step sensible. The thorough reading of academic texts requires, as it were, the book in the hand. The search for references and cross-references, working with audiovisual as well as textual materials is nevertheless situated in media terms in the hypertextual medium of the Internet. Cross-references from the book to thewebsite with the help of ‹soft links› serve to guide and simplify access to the materials in the Net and amplify the linkage of various media experiences. This can result in a great variety of synergetic effects.
This «Overview» is the first module published in the Net and is accompanied by this volume of text. This module will serve as a foundation for all later modules, and reacts at the same time to an additional paradox of mediation in the media: even those relevant websites that deal with media art still lacked up until now a comprehensive introduction to this subject. We thus see in the exemplary selection of materials and source texts as well the semantic links made by both authors as well as the database an important prerequisite for developing approaches to a curriculum on media art. Free access to these materials is a central aspect of the project. In terms of subject matter, ten introductory essays dedicated both to historical developments as well as interlinking references in terms of content are collected to an «overview.» The spectrum ranges here from the utopian media
conceptions from the 1910s and 1920s and classical subjects like television, audio art, and performance, and readings that concentrate on socio-political aspects or proceed in terms of communication aesthetics, perception aesthetics, as well as a classical art-historical perspective, each try to illuminate the field from a different perspective. Intersections are unavoidable and are thus also a welcome expression of the multiple perspectives. Finally, this survey is completed by two essays that focus on the particular form of virtual narration as well as the relationship between media-art and institutions.
As an introduction to media art, «Media Art Net 1» lays the foundation for Volume 2 (Fall 2004), which will deal with specific issues in the context of media art. These emphases will explore discourses in a more extensive way, allowing for a more in-depth discussion, and explore connections to other areas, like the historyand theory of science, film history and cultural studies. With this, we hope to make possible a field of discourse that strengthens lines of association, instead of remaining imprisoned in media or genrespecific categories. Finally, the networking of the participating academics, curators, as well as the respective institutions and most importantly also the concrete commissioning of artists to program their own perspectives on the contexts and questions of the project and the Internet, encourages a multi-disciplinary approach to communication. These art projects-so far Daniela Plewe «ArtAbstracts,» Blank & Jeron, «Making Sense of it all,» and Ismael Celis, «Intermaps»-are only available on the Internet; in order to preserve the complementary relationship between Net and book, it thus needs to be pointed out that the original field of discourse is to be found on the web under www.mediaartnet.org.
Translation by Brian Currid