Art and Technology: A Crucial Marriage in a Post-Digital Society

By Paola Perrin de Brichambaut

Art and technology. At first these disciplines may seem distant, their link dubious, and yet they share a rich history and today are increasingly intertwined. An example of the intricate relationship between the two would be the invention of photography at the beginning of the nineteenth century, a defining moment in the history of fine arts, which provided the impetus that pushed painting beyond figuration and would eventually become an art canon in its own right. Nowadays, various technological ventures are considered artworks. From light installations to websites, technology has established itself as both a diverse artistic medium and the subject of numerous works of art, and has come to enormously enrich the art world.

A quick look at the beginning of relationship between art and tech emphasises the general positive aspects that have arisen from the union. The 1968 show Cybernetic Serendipity, first held at the Institute for Contemporary Art (ICA) in London, was a pioneer in the symbiosis of technology and art. An exhibition dedicated to cybernetic art, it highlighted the opportunities computers opened up for creative production, ranging from music to writing and the visual arts.

Art works both generated by computers and the cybernetic machines themselves were included. They often encouraged the audience to participate: take Nam June Paik’s piece ‘Participation TV’ that the audience played with by distorting television images using magnets. Generative works such as Jean Tinguely’s Métamatic painting-machines were also displayed: the kinetic sculptures produced drawings in line with abstract expressionist works of the time. The flaws in the machine created irregularities and thus allowed for the uniqueness of each piece and an expressive effect similar to that of its human counterparts. Cybernetic Serendipity paved the way for an art practice more open to collaborations with scientific and technological disciplines.

*Images by Jasmine Pradissitto

As science and technology continue to evolve, so do the possibilities for artistic production. The newest innovations in engineering can be found in art: the collective ‘Random International’ made waves in the art world with their interactive Rain Room installation that exhibited in London, New York, Los Angeles and Shanghai. Rain Room enabled visitors to walk through torrential rain whilst staying completely dry thanks to an elaborate tracking system that prompted the installation to respond to the visitor’s movement.

“Engineering is a process—or sometimes a tool—that helps us to be more precise in our artistic expression. And it’s a fantastic one at that!” answered Hannes Koch and Flo Ortkrass, founders of Random International, when asked how they combine art and engineering.

Technological art requires an intricate collaboration between the logistics of engineering and creative thinking. This can be a tricky yet rewarding process, as Sci-artist Jasmine Pradissitto describes: “The good thing about using technology is that you have to master certain processes, and in the mastering comes the time for illumination and new ideas.” The artist points to her scientific background (she has a PhD in the Quantum behaviour of silicon) as crucial in her explorations of light through sculpture. When asked about the benefits of a collaboration between the disciplines, she answered: “Ultimately, they are both creative subjects which change how we think”, and this she believes can help “turn seemingly insurmountable global problems, into opportunities”. Similarly, Random International also considered that “the union of art and technology allows us to respond artistically to current developments in the world we live in”. In a post-digital age, artists are thus reaching towards new technologies as the preferred tool to reflect upon and make sense of our society.

*Images by Liat Segal

Over the past few years, even social media has become an important platform for works. Amalia Ulman’s now famous piece ‘Excellences & Perfections’ consisted of a three-month-long performance on Instagram. The performance had a narrative – it portrayed the everyday life of an archetypal social media ‘it-girl’, following a repetitive ‘selfie and fashion-posts’ regime.

The work is a commentary on social media’s impact on visual culture: it has given individuals the power to carefully curate their lifestyle, often leading to the creation of consumerist fantasies that increase social pressure to look, eat and live a certain way. This not only demonstrates how technology has changed the material creation and the distribution of art, it also proves how it has become an important subject matter in itself.

Contemporary artists both use new media in their artistic production and simultaneously tackle questions that arise with new technologies and a digital-driven world. This is a point the artist Liat Segal makes when asked about the possibilities born out of the unison of technology and art “We cannot ignore the new technologies that are rapidly entering our lives. Whether we like it or not, technology today is not only the media, but often it is also the contents (of artworks) or at least it influences them. It is impossible to predict what current art-tech interactions will bring. It is our responsibility as humans that create to make meaningful connections”.

The increasingly complex and close relationship between the disciplines of art and technology reflect our rapidly changing post-digital society and allow a deeper understanding of it.

Rain Room: