(Im)possibility of Translation

Irena Borić

More often than not, thanks to the visual, audio and textual data clutter on the Internet, to access it, one only has to be online, while, in the past, to do research relevant institutions and their archives had to be visited in person. Also, to access certain pieces of data, one had to put in a lot of effort and this is perhaps why this was done by scientists as part of their job, while today almost anyone who is online can search and initiate a sort of research. In a similar vein, the phenomenon of the artist as a researcher has fully been expressed in the last twenty years or so and indirectly enabled by new technologies. Furthermore, surfing around the Internet wasteland is a legitimate start of artistic or some other type of research. Viewing widely accessible and/or obscure textual and visual documents usually ends with selecting whatever can be put to further use. The selected documents are saved in a newly created folder as raw material that can be used one day to produce something new. This kind of strategy in the process of creating a work of art is conditioned by new media technologies. Regardless of whether the artwork will be executed online or as a gallery installation, the language of new technologies defines contemporary art strategies. What does the relation between technology and art mean today and how much is the technological frame of art relevant for its evaluation?

New Media Revolution

According to Lev Manovich “Today, we live in a new media revolution – in a time of complete cultural overhaul towards computer-mediated forms of production, distribution and communication.” This observation is stated in the Language of New Media, published in 2001, at a time when Internet was becoming available on a massive scale, and net.art was affirming itself as an artistic practice that grappled with popular media through parody and appropriation, scepticism towards commoditized media information and a feeling for interplay between art and life.[1] At the time, there was a relatively small community of Internet enthusiasts, hackers, programmers and artists. Key online platforms were also being established, such as, rhizome.org. It is worth pointing out that rhizome.org was founded in 1996 as a mailing list and is currently one of the most visible artistic and technological internet-based organizations; in 2003, it joined forces with the New Museum in New York. Moreover, apart from supporting contemporary art in making critical digital culture online, it also sets up a series of offline programmes. Perhaps the example of rhizome.org and how it developed could answer the question posed by Manovich of how current the new media revolution is, at least to a degree. How hyper has Sleep the Internet reality become and how much does it affect today’s ways of acting, socializing and thinking? On the one hand, the rise of rhizome.org speaks about digital practices which have far superseded the initial mailing list, both in terms of active members and random visitors. On the other hand, their activity is related to the offline space at the New Museum, as well as offline activities, such as, exhibitions, conferences and similar public events.

Digital Divide

The issue of the relation between contemporary art and the influence of digital technologies is prominent in what is now a well-known text by Clare Bishop Digital Divide, published in September 2012 in the Artforum magazine.[2] The author explains how in the late 1990’s art operated as if it was going to become digital, which, much to its dismay, it did not happen. However, the fact remains that digital media only infiltrates contemporary art. The text focuses on the dominant tendency of the art world and it’s response to digital, but the dominant tendency is sometimes imprecisely referred to as contemporary art. Therefore, she asks why she feels that contemporary art in its manifestation and content has not had an adequate response to the enormous shift caused by the digital revolution which has been reflected in our work and how we spend our free time. Many artists use digital technologies, but how many actually face the issue of what it means to think, see and filter digital influences? According to the author, there are very few artists with a critical response to the digital.

Clare Bishop’s text caused quite a stir, especially among the practitioners of new media art. Curator and art critic Domenico Quaranta suggested replacing the question: Contemporary art should respond to the digital age – why it doesn’t? by asking: “Why the mainstream art world, the small niche I belong to and I’m talking hereby, doesn’t respond to the digital age?” [3]

Some of the harsher critics were Lauren Cornell, a curator at the New Museum and Brian Droitcour in Technical Difficulties [4], also published in the Artforum magazine, declaring Bishop as completely ignorant of the contemporary art scene which can in no way be reduced to a closed niche. Moreover, they claim “Digital art is no longer confined to “cyberspace”. Concernes about networked technologies have been absorbed by artists who absorbed their knowledge of painting, sculpture, performance and installation as well as an interest in computers and code.” In addition, Paul Teasdale speaks about the contradictions of transplanting the digital into a physical space. He believes that for most of the online art, it is impossible to translate it into the offline world of art shows without a certain loss in quality, regarding format, context and meaning. Nevertheless, the act of transplantation from one space to another opens up new possibilities in representing artworks and designing art shows.[5]

Internet in the Expanded Field

A common denominator in Lauren Cornell’s and Brian Droitcour’s criticism, as well as Paul Teasdale’s is their refusal to limit new media art practices only to the digital medium, although some of them exist only online. They are aware that online or offline context surely defines the character of the work, but that is not a crucial aspect of the discussion about new media art. To paraphrase the notion of the sculpture in an expanded field defined by Rosalind Krauss, it is possible to talk about an expanded field of internet art which cannot be limited only by the medium of the Internet. The influence of the Internet on contemporary art practices is just as relevant, regardless of the medium they use. In that sense, Clare Bishop may have had slightly conservative expectations about digital art by limiting it to the medium itself and expecting the critical reflection to go on as before.


Another issue that illustrates the relation between contemporary art and new technologies is the awkwardly constructed notion of Post-internet art. It was first used by Marisa Olson in 2006 and pointed out by Brian Droitcour in Why I Hate Post-Internet Art [6] as an inadequately coined term because the post- suggests art after the Internet, when in fact it relates to the Internet. Even today, the views on how to use the term are divided, and in lack of a better one, it determines contemporary art practices inspired by existing online networks and phenomena, reflecting on their concept, production, understanding and reception. It is also important to mention that post-Internet art is regularly represented in galleries and museums. Therefore, some of the criticism is directed at its relation to the market because through gallery representation there is an attempt to capture Internet culture inside gallery culture.

Regardless of whether the whole phenomenon is related to market visibility or has the potential to offer new perspectives, apart from being part of contemporary art practices, the influence of the Internet has been reflected in writing about art, ranging from popular blogs about current art events to using non-standard formats to write reviews, such as, yelp. In a recently published article, Post-Internet Art Criticism [7] by Andreas Schlaegel, the author points out that online writing has limitless possibilities of feedback, which adds many layers of meaning. This way of writing and reading requires developing new skills.


Finally, perhaps it is not at all important where exactly in the representational hierarchy and visibility new media art stands, the fact is that the new media revolution has left a mark in all spheres of artistic endeavours. Similarly, due to the mass consumption of the Internet, constantly evolving technologies and social networking, forms of communication are rapidly changing and creating gaps for entirely new enterprises. To predict the direction in which this relation will go is practically impossible, but it is definitely interesting to follow what is going on, for instance, what will be the new chapter when the DIS collective curate the Berlin Biennale? Can the Berlin Biennale as an institution which ensures visibility and value within the contemporary art scene adequately express the activities of the virtual platform of DIS magazine, whose primary role is to explore the tension between popular culture and institutional criticism, while implementing its projects online? How much of it, if any, will be lost in translation?

[1] Greene,Rachel. Internet art, Thames & Hudson, 2004.

[2] Bishop, Clare. Digital Divide.

[3] A discussion related to the September 2012 In Print article: Digital Divide: Contemporary Art and New Media.

[4] Cornell, Lauren i Droitcour, Brian. Technical Dificulties.

[5] Teasdale, Paul. Net Gains.

[6] Droitcour, Brian. Why I Hate Post-Internet Art.

[7] Schlaegel, Andreas. Post-Internet Art Criticism.