Saturday, March 14, 2009

Feeling the Reality of Relation

Hi everybody,

One of the questions that Susan asks is: "Is it necessary to cross, mix and blend disciplines in order to be truly relevant in our practice?"

I guess I see the crossing, mixing, and blending of disciplines, styles, etc. as a means, not as an end. And I think that as a means, hybridity is extremely relevant to issues that are shaping conversations in Art + Environment.

Mixing Chris's and Susan's postings :-), I'll try to explain why I think so:

It seems to me that you can use the term "hybridity" to talk about "mixing" materials, genres, even perspectives. But you can also use it to emphasize the growing recognition that no categories, materials, identities, or perspectives are ever purely themselves: every thing is deeply interconnected with everything else--all there is is "mutual contamination" and "co-shaping." (I think Chris is talking about this in his first post in week 2.) Wherever we, as humans and as artists, draw lines that separate this from that, juxtapose this to that, compare and contrast this to that--we are temporarily, and purposefully, "punctuating" the otherwise continuous flow of the world's unfolding. It's what we do in order to act and make things in the world.

So for me, the idea of hybridity and the works called "hybrid" speak to more than mixing things already defined as things (media, materials, styles). Hybrid works are also saying something about the impossibility of hermetically sealed boundaries and the ways that categories leak and spill over. They draw our attention to what Chris says is his "first step" as an artist: "an instinctive connection with no labels"-- a dipping into that continuous, uncategorized flow of the world's becoming.

At their best, I think, hybrid works create zones of contact between things that are usually kept apart (because of habits of thinking, seeing, or acting). They activate spaces between and make them available for making something else than the same old categories. Hybrid works can do what Chris says is such a marvel: they can help us NOT to miss what we mostly miss, namely, how stuff is interrelated.

For someone like me who is working in media studies--hybridity is a hot topic. Media scholars are pointing out that "new" media are never wholly new because they "re-mediate" old media. Digital cameras re-mediate film cameras re-media camera obscuras, etc. Each new medium comments on, replaces, or reproduces earlier ones by borrowing, repurposing, refashioning (encyclopedias on the internet, art museums on CD-ROMs, digital scans of polaroids).

I've been making digital camera obscura photographs by taking digital photos of images that appear on the screen inside a homemade camera obscura. It's a hybrid camera--part camera obscura, part canon coolpix. It creates a hybrid image: part analog projection of light's passage-through the world and part digital record of that passage.

Here's an artist statement about the results:

"Digital camera obscuras depict a world in which every thing is shaped and reshaped by all that surrounds it. Subjects appear as “in-relation” rather than as “in-themselves.”

Here are a couple of digital camera obscuras that I took of Chris Dury's installation at the Nevada Museum of Art last October/November.

What I hope for with this experiment--and what I think might be the power and relevance of hybridity--is that instead of just being additive (digital + analogue, or old camera + new camera, or smoke + video) --hybrid practices can generate entirely new, previously unexperienced sensations (and actions) of interrelatedness. The desire, to quote one media studies philosopher, is "the felt reality of relation."

Would love to hear what you think!!

1 comment:

Colin Robertson said...

I love this digital camera obscura thing. Really! The artist statement about them is lucid and smart and I think you're onto something with the idea of them being something new altogether that is more than the sums of their digital and analogue parts. I think the most powerful art experiences I have had are of works that share similar characteristics.