Interview with Michel van Dartel on the New Aesthetic
A short interview with Michel van Dartel on the New Aesthetic and the booksprint at V2_ (June 2012).
Michel van Dartel is curator and project manager at V2_ and holds a PhD in Artificial Intelligence and an MSc in Cognitive Psychology. This week he participates in the booksprint Fiddling While Rome Burns.
JvB: Can you say something about the text you are writing for the book?
MvD: The chapter I am working on now will go back to the root of the New Aesthetic, the Tumblr-site of James Bridle. I wonder if the observations that people post there belong in the same 'conceptual bucket' as the artworks that are also posted. Basically the New Aesthetic-Tumblr is a collection of 'stuff' which shows how online digital culture has burst out into the physical realm. It is a very varied mix of stuff. There are things that people have stumbled upon in their urban environment, like advertisements whose graphic designs feature digital glitches or pixelated-images, but also examples of military camouflage that looks like pixels. These observations sit next to (new media) artworks that intentionally make a point about the difference between the online and offline realm, and how these sometimes seem to clash or have a problematic relation. I think that the artworks that make such a point, that intentionally make a statement about the relation between the virtual and the physical realm, are very different from much of the other 'stuff' posted on the New Aesthetic Tumblr, like things that people accidentally happened to stumbled upon. I am still in the phase of structuring the chapter and sharpening the argument though, so I can't explain my exact argument in great detail yet. In general lines I am trying to put to words what I thought and felt when I first looked at the New Aesthetics Tumblr: do these artworks really belong here?
The group is quite diverse. You are one of the curators, others have an academic background. How is it to write as a curator amidst such a group?
We are definitely facing a big challenge in bringing together the theoretical and the practical perspectives, both represented in the group. But it's a positive challenge, and a great way to exchange ideas between the two domains. In this stage of the booksprint it begins to look like the theorists will frame the problem and the different theoretical positions, while the practitioners (all curators) connect these positions to concrete projects. So the theorists are focussing on the introduction and the concluding chapters right now, while the curators on the other hand fill the middle chapters of the book with examples of and discussions on specific artworks and exhibitions. Among these discussions we do a close reading of the New Aesthtic-tumblr and blog, by looking at it as an online exhibition.
What for you is the New Aesthetic? And why is it not the New Aesthetics?
Well, the New Aesthetics (plural) movement is actually a bit older than the New Aesthetic (singular) initiated by James Bridle's Tumblr. That is something which I, by the way, only found out in the course of this project.
Yesterday Nat Muller stated that according to her it is already radical to be able to talk about aesthetics in the context of new media art at all ...
She is right. Look at our recent DEAF2012 exhibition for instance. In response to that, some critics claimed that it was ridiculous to have a discussion on such a fundamental aspect of the world as beauty in these times of crises. I don't agree with that view; in my opinion this is the ultimate moment to have discussions on fundamental aspects of the physical world and see a huge role there for new media art. Till quite recently new media art was almost exclusively about 'things on a screen', ignoring that new media technology is actually out there in the world, or at least has its impact there. In that sense, I am very excited about the New Aesthetic movement, as it underlines that technology is 'in the world' and has moved 'out of the screen'. The question then however, is whether or not the New Aesthetic is doing a good job at critically assesses this move. Or is it just a new label for things that new media art has been addressing for a long time already?
Joris van Ballegooijen