Artists, Personas, Mediums, Instruments: Envisioning the Visionary

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

In his artist essay "Steps Into Performance (And Out)," Vito Acconci writes: "...if I specialize in a medium, then I would be fixing a ground for myself, a ground I would have to be digging myself out of, constantly, as one medium was substituted for another - so, then instead of turning toward 'ground' I would shift my attention and turn to 'instrument,' I would focus on myself as the instrument that acted on whatever ground was available." 

Is it true that the artist is the visionary medium or instrument best positioned to transform the cultural landscape and that the tools we use, the theories that justify it all, and the outcomes that all too often play into the preconceived agendas and methods of the academic research community as well as the corporate R&D divisions should have very little to do with the way an artist or collaborative network of artists bring their creative compositions into society? 

Artists working with new media technologies are developing hybridized art practices that are meant to play out their performances-to-be on whatever compositional playing field they happen to be on at any given time. That playing field would be the ground of the moment, not one they would have to dig themselves out of continuously, but one that they would act on as a digital persona circulating in the networked space of flows. 

"I had a marvelous art-making machine," artist/writer Eleanor Antin once said, "my personas. I never knew where it would go." Many interdisciplinary media artists are following Antin's lead. Consider DJ Spooky aka That Subliminal Kid. Are you familiar with his constructed persona? His art-making machine? "Creating this identity," says DJ Spooky aka Paul Miller, "allowed me to spin narratives on several fronts at the same time and produce persona as shareware." 

There is no sure-fire way of constructing the "right" set of digital personas so that you can spin your narratives, remix your realities, and build your own one-person "art-making machine." What does it take to locate your own visionary track? Is the visionary inseparable from the technological? 

One of the early visionary media artists, Nam June Paik, was circumspect in his view of what he called the cybernated life. In his artist notes entitled "Cybernated Art," Paik wrote: "Cybernated art is very important, but art for cybernated life is more important, and the latter need not be cybernated." 

Does producing "persona as shareware" in digital cultures open up the possibility of creating an "art-making machine" that leads to visionary experience? How does this relate to what Allan Kaprow referred to as the blurring of art and life, research and performance, writing and envisioning? 

In his book Process and Reality, Alfred North Whitehead writes: "Creativity is the principle of novelty." One of the cruel ironies of being a living, breathing postproduction artist-medium in an age of super-late turbocharged capitalism is that the environment that produces innovation is also the environment that kills creativity. 

Is envisioning the visionary still even possible?

(Source: Author's abstract, 2008 ELO Conference)

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Scott Rettberg