In the past 25 years an international movement has appeared within the art world which has
been designated with terms like “electronic art,” “unstable media,” “digital art,” “interactive art,”
“media art” and “tech-based art.” A percursor of this art form enjoyed a brief heyday at the beginning
of the 1970s in the United States, in the form of the Art and Technology Movement. While
in the 1980s most work involved radio, video and robots, in the last fifteen years digital media
and network technologies have moved increasingly into the foreground. This new field of art
ranges over a heterogeneous collection of artistic, technological and scientific disciplines and is
characterized by inter- and transdisciplinary collaborations. Exploration, research and experimentation
into new technological opportunities for artists, as well as research into the social and cultural
implications of new technologies and development of technologically innovative applications,
are the lowest common denominators among the contributions artists, technicians and
scientists are making in the field.
Electronic art proved troublesome to fit into existing art institutions, because the artistic
experiences it generates are difficult to place within existing aesthetic categories, which mainly
concern art made with stable media, such as painting and sculpture. For this reason, artists in the
new field have entered into collaborations with scientists and technicians. Electronic art’s lack of
a language and place of its own within the traditional artistic sphere has prompted the establishment
of new institutes for electronic art and the development of a new body of theory. New
methods of financing relatively expensive electronic media projects also had to be found. An
accompanying problem was that such art projects are process-oriented and do not aim at a clearly
defined and durable end product per se. Special art labs have arisen around the world, where
electronic and digital art is made and studied using financial assistance from governments, arts
funds, companies, scientific programs and the like.
In the past few decades, a large number of artists have made their own way in this new specialty.
Because the process of developing ideas and technologies is so important in electronic art
and the result of the research is itself also a process – that is, an interactive installation – the
research and development that lie at the basis of such art provide a good point of entry to the
field. The art labs occupy an important place in “aRt&D”; other parts of the research take place
in scientific, technological and commercial institutions. Individual artists also carry out research
in their private studios for the purposes of their own work – research which often cuts across as
many different disciplines as that done in labs and other established institutions, for electronic
artists in practice prove a versatile bunch. Somewhere between culture, science, industry and
design practice, an active interdisciplinary field has thus arisen, out of which work comes forth
that addresses itself on the one hand to activating the audience, and on the other to experimenting
with human-machine interactions. Since the rise of the Internet and the World Wide Web, a
whole new range of digital art forms has arisen which takes advantage of the cultural shifts that
have been a consequence of the flourishing of these networks and the globalization associated
with them. Computers have not only produced different work – different in terms of media use
and content – but also facilitated a new way of working, that is, by collaborative groups of artists,
designers, technicians and scientists.
The project descriptions and essays collected in this book will make this apparent. What is
striking here is the great diversity of the collaborations, working methods, art pieces, design
strategies and uses of technology, but also the diversity of the functions fulfilled by the art labs.
It is true that technology always plays an important role in this kind of research, which tests and
develops its potential, but in fact the same was also true in the traditional painters’ ateliers,
where new pigments and paints were tested and improved. What distinguishes electronic art is,
on the one hand, that it works mainly with mechanical, electronic and digital technologies and
means of communication, and, on the other, that it is always made in collaborations in which the
contributions of scientists and technicians (hard- and software engineers) are as great as those
of the artists who supply the ideas, concepts and in particular the motivations. Artists generally
use technologies of which standardized, commercial versions exist, but they also investigate how
these technologies can be used, distorted and shifted in original ways in order to further artistic
research. Artistic research is distinguished from scientific and technological research by the fact
that it is not a means of reflection and theory formation (like scientific research) nor of problemsolving
and product development (like technological research), but is itself a form of reflection.
The process is the artwork, and the interaction between human and machine or computer is the
meaning of that artwork.
In aRt&D: Artistic Research and Development a number of thought-provoking examples of art
projects that have come out of this kind of artistic research are presented, and a theoretical
framework for placing and evaluating these projects is developed. The goal is to develop a method
for coming to grips with the various forms of artistic research and development and their results.
Diversity, rather than the agreements within the field of research or the unity behind it, is central
here. The projects have been selected on the recommendations of the art labs. The essays
have been written by theorists and art researchers who have emerged in the past few years as
authorities in the area. Yet aRt&D must be regarded as a pioneering work. It is one of the first
broadly conceived studies of research and development in electronic art, and of the role of the
art labs – and one of the first attempts at theorizing this important new development.
Joke Brouwer, Sandra Fauconier, Arjen Mulder, Anne Nigten
© 2005 V2_