Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Medium Extremely Specific

Midway through the 20th century, in the age of MacLuhan and Greenberg, modern media industries like film and the press seemed stable, technically and institutionally. Theories of medium-specificity, based on the stability of film run on sprockets or of painting as a practice involving pigment on canvas, made sense then. Rosalind Krauss's attack on this conjuncture, and her proposal of a 'postmedium condition', is understandable: the era when print, paint and film were utterly separate is over. The kind of binary oppositions between analog and digital that are voiced in film studies are a naive reworking of the Greenberg-MacLuhan theses. Krauss would be right - if she did not ignore the critical feature of new media formations, especially in artistic practices: that media are remade in more and more specific constellations, in order to be used in unique ensembles. If on the one hand there is a tendency towards software standardisation, on the other there is radical divergence in technique, and radical innovation in technologies and their assemblage into new apparatuses. These developments must drive us to pay far more detailed attention to the materiality of artworks now than in the recent past, when what a work was made of scarcely signified, since most works were made of the same things as all the others.

1 comment:

Carl Looper said...

The physical material attributes of painting have often been observed as a characteristic of painting, and more increasingly so, following the invention of photography, cinema, television. What is the difference between a Chuck Close painting and a photograph? On a simple level there is no difference at all. Automatic photon graphing. But the work operates at the level of a play between this non-difference and something else (materialism for want of a better word). One can not properly appreciate Close's work through a photograph of such. Or photography of his work must zoom in, to expose the material, the paint, the process, in order to impart some suggestion of what the work is doing. This is not some recent invention, or requirement - the distinction of art in terms of materials. For example, it is institutionalised in art schools! (Bauhaus) Now the digital media has trouble fitting into this paradigm but it's not as if the paradigm is something we are lacking.