Form over Content

By Sarah Cook, 10 September 2001

While reading the edited transcriptions of the Eyebeam Atelier Blast online forum, which ran for three months in 1998, I kept asking myself the same two questions: what is this book about and where is its critical edge?

It is a book filled with questions. There are those posed by artist, new media theorist, and list moderator Jordan Crandall (‘what is the difference between art work and “media practice”?’), and the 1000 questions that Eve André Laramée compiled from the posts written by the 700+ subscribers (number 770 asks: ‘Where can net technology intervene in deformalising, rendering transparent structured social morays that have rooted deep down into the modern social psyche?’).

The inclusion in the book of ‘commissioned works’ by artists such as Ken Goldberg, Ursula Biemann, and Critical Art Ensemble was a clue to discovering why I couldn’t find the answers. The need to include artistic practice after the fact betrays how the list generally failed to nail down any positions regarding artistic practice per se. The discussions around the recurrent question ˜what are the implications for artistic practice of the pervasive and (insert adjective here) new technologies?˜ were giddy, subjective and speculative. Very rarely did anyone say anything concrete about practice or ask ‘what remains to be done and how shall we do it?’

The postings have been usefully reshuffled from their original chronology into themed chapters: embodiment; networks; identity; institutions; language; disappearance; politics. They include engaging banter over the usefulness of Adorno’s writing as a possible model for new media art criticism, the physical ramifications of living in a digitally conditioned environment, as well as first hand accounts of otherness in disparate geographic locales. The posts about the obligations of the institution and of theory to artistic practice on the net, which are all well grounded in history, remain the most pertinant.

All told, the best ideas in this book are as easy to absorb through the book’s form as through its content. And given that Eyebeam is about to break into realworld architecture as a new all-digital media art museum in New York City sometime after 2003, perhaps form is what matters most at the minute.

Sarah Cook <sarah.e.cook AT> is currently completing a PhD and co-edits c.r.u.m.b, the ‘Curatorial Research for Upstart Media Bliss’ [].