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Form Follows Format
Tensions, museums, media technology and media art
Rudolf Frieling


Economy of means and a reduction in terms of material were key elements of twentiethcentury modern art. The famous Bauhaus motto «Form follows function,» as for example embodied by Mies van der Rohe's architecture, is based on this specific understanding of material, from which functional qualities are developed for each particular case. Those artists who worked with industrial tools developed from their working materials and using certain tools an inherent form, and did this using minimal resources. Recall architect Adolf Loos's motto: «Ornament is crime.» Despite all the postmodern theories, this Modernist approach is still effective today. How does this legacy affect the history of the media arts? For the suspicion is well founded that artistic Modernism always introduced a crucial anti-technological component as well.

The use of media forms to reflect on technological matters is based on a political and economic history of the availability and distribution of these very technologies–as can be seen quite clearly in the differences between West and East, at least until the mid- 1990s. But the choice between a technological


euphoria and aversion differs according to the particular geopolitical point of view. But even in the microcosm of one individual's production, ideological premises have always been linked to a technological standard: In the 1980s, «Choosing U-matic means choosing capitalism»[1] was still a slogan of alternative media work. A whole series of entrenched battles and media and ideological conflicts could be added here: film or video, VHS or U-matic, but also some with more profound implications like analog or digital, right down to the current arguments about Microsoft vs. Open Source.

But putting aside all questions of technological format, does media art at all exist? Or is it rather an art of (industrial) media, the computer architectures of which are beautiful to look at because their form follows their function, as Friedrich Kittler explains?[2] Even though Kittler's position, which excludes other theoretical and social factors, has been much criticized,[3] he did provide some important stimuli. One of these is the question of ‹formatting› and the devices for recording, storage, distribution,

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