INTERACTION: Steve Durie and Geri Wittig

Public Art for a New Audience

Art in its public mask is changing as the temporal, dynamic, and decentralized qualities of electronic art bring forth new expectations between artist, art and audience. Traditional public art institutions, for all their awkwardness in presenting new forms like are still seen as authoritative bodies of critical evaluation. This relationship, once seen as adversarial, is increasingly moving in a more interdependent direction. This movement is reflected in the changing balance between established public art forms and a growing e-public audience.

For example, the public art scene’s desire for promoting work that reflects our "hi tech" and emerging virtual communities must face compromising conditions when bringing these new art modes into the contentious forum created wherever art meets politics.

The advantage of marble park sculptures is both their literal and symbolic properties of strength, wholeness, and permanence. Giant forms of indestructible concrete and bronze typify what we have come to expect of public art.

In contrast, the maintenance issues and dateable nature of electronic art makes it a difficult choice when seeking to make something last for 50 years. But electronic art, whose creative kernel can be contained in software, is much better adapted to continuous interaction and change.

Unlike most public art where collaboration if it exists, happens during the creation and installation phase, electronic art's dynamic and interactive nature can evolve with the community, reflecting their collective identity, concerns, etc. Ongoing collaboration and accessibility gives electronic art a unique advantage in the civic public art domain.

Just as processing power breaks free of desktops and private networks, so must its artistic destiny transcend the private domain in search of a more public and collective platform.

Of course, the kind of fluidity offered by electronic art can be a point of contention. Participation and interaction with the audience means that the work is never set or consensus is never reached. This leaves issues of control and intent up to the community to reconsider on an ongoing basis. This ephemeral form switches how one approaches planning "permanent "art projects towards models of other more temporal media forms (i.e. television, radio and theater).

In the "public" realm of the Internet, art is facing new complexities of artist, audience, sponsor, and institution. The interplay of top/down - bottom/up and interiority/exteriority are in flux.

Hopes for egalitarianism and bottom/up communication models migrated over to the Internet, along with the public, beginning in the early '90's. But from the beginning, these ideals have been in conflict with prevailing hierarchical tendencies. 1993 was a watershed year for, with the release of graphical browsers into the Internet mix, but it was 1996 that the movement grew explosively, when networked communities, such as Rhizome (, nettime (, and 7-11 (, emerged. It was in these networked communities, that was able to reach a critical mass - creating an online, global community where interactive experimentation could be witnessed and recorded for a geographically displaced audience/community.

As David Ross, director of SFMOMA, stated at a CADRE lecture, in the Age of Digital Reproduction ( - "Authority shifts between reader and writer… an artist can generate a work where not only the nature of where an audience disperses and reassembles, but also how that critical line of being a writer and being a reader is blurred, eliminated." is now moving into a new stage of its evolution, as those such as Ross, from the art world establishment begin to take notice and point to it with the authority of their curatorial stature. The Walker Art Center's Steve Dietz, has taken a curatorial lead in the arena and for the first time, the Whitney will include Internet art in its Biennial 2000 exhibition. There are those in the networked community who would bemoan such an institutionalization of what has been a thriving grassroots scene, but the introduction of the established players doesn't signal the demise of the rhizomatic phenomenon, simply a new perturbation in the symbiosis of these two systems. Both systems have an interiority and exteriority that is unique and often diametrically opposed, but the qualities of their various dynamics are also beneficial to the ongoing development of either's respective evolution, which will ultimately open up the artist/ audience/ institution amalgamation into domains otherwise untapped.

The fast, mutable qualities of electronic art assure that any present developments will quickly educe a new systemic interaction, in both the physical and networked public arenas.

Steve Durie is an artist, consultant, and research-theorist at C5 (http:/ He can be reached at <>.

Geri Wittig is a new media artist, research-theorist at C5 and Senior Web producer at Adobe Systems Inc. She can be reached at <>.


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