This is an archived version of some notes I quickly put together during the DevArt vs HackTheArtWorld debate. I keep it here for archive purposes.
Hi, I'm Cyril Diagne (kikko_fr), co-creator with Béatrice Lartigue, of the project 'Les Métamorphoses de Mr. Kalia', luckily displayed at the moment at the Barbican Centre as part of the DevArt exhibition.
What’s up ?
Last year, the Google Creative Lab UK has started a project called “DevArt - art made with code” with the help of the Barbican Centre. This project is basically a large commission by Google for 4 artists with a will of “inspiring a new generation of coders”. Each of the artists would create a new work for the Digital Revolution exhibition in London.
They picked 3 world renowned artists : Zachary Lieberman, Karsten Schmidt and artists duo Varvara & Mar.
Then they organised an open call for the 4th slot in the form of an online competition.
The 20 shortlisted entry would win a reward worth of about 1000£ while only 1 winning submission would be funded (25000£) and exhibited at the Barbican Center.
On the opening day, a virtual counter-exhibition called “Hack the Art World” has started as a protest to the DevArt exhibition, with a text showing some concerns about the DevArt project and especially its competition aspect.
It also denounce the name DevArt and its label “a new type of art” as a dismissal of digital art’s history and current activities.
After this project was launched, it triggered a big debate on twitter and mailing lists involving many artists and people of involved in so called “digital art”. As anything digital, it’s a little bit all over the place making it difficult to gather properly but recurrent topics were art funding, authenticity of the art produced and companies patronage.
As you can imagine, my opinion is certainly biased as I had the luck to see our submission succeed the process of the competition. I’ve also worked for some weeks with the super nice and open minded people of the Google Creative Lab UK so there might be bits of emotional reaction in my words.
Also, please acknowledge that these thoughts have been put together quickly, without any consent from the co-creator Beatrice Lartigue, nor Google/DevArt team, nor any of the other exhibiting artists.
I started writing an essay but then realized that I can’t write nor speak english so instead I will pick a few sentences and organise them in two lists. First the statements I agree with, because there are a few, and then the statements I disagree with because I think they are either exaggerated or malinformed.
HTAW statements I agree with
“Art made with code and computers has been around since the 1950s.”
History of digital art might not be very long but it’s very rich indeed and deserves to be given appropriate credits.
So let’s all give big props again to pioneers such as Frieder Nake, Lillian Schwartz, Vera Molnar, Charles Csuri and Manfred Mohr.
"there is no such thing as DevArt, there is only art"
I agree that “DevArt” is an artificial word and I don’t necessarily think its content needs to be promoted as a “new type of art”.
But that’s just the name of an initiative targeting a large audience. A room in a museum that follows “Digital Archeology” and is included itself in “State of Play”. This copy is intended to the large public as an educational and simplistic approach.
I would have had more worries if google had just added their logo to the “creative coding” label & communities.
“We like that you commissioned artists like Karsten Schmidt and Zach Lieberman to create art for your exhibition”
Indeed, seeing the early involvement of people I have endless respect for was an important motivation of my participation. They are people who have both developed a world renowned artistic practice while giving us the tools to do the same.
Nowadays, many brands shamelessly rip off the work of artists in disgusting marketing campaigns, and seeing the early and upfront involvement these artists felt like a good step towards Golan Levin’s “Partner with artists or fail”
“Exploiting artists is evil.”
Well, I couldn't agree more. Art is assumed due to many people, asking us to work for free work against exposure, downloading music and movies, ripping offs..etc. And it's a struggle of everyday for many of us to bring our work to existence. And sometimes also to get credits for it.
But I will explain later why I never felt exploited during my participation at the DevArt competition.
“we didn't do any physical breaking and entering”
In my opinion, showing alternative works without necessarily hacking or breaking things gives credit to the initiative.
HTAW statements I disagree with
"there is no such thing as DevArt, there is only art"
I consider myself both an artist and coder. I have no problem being called either but appreciate when my work is described as both.
“However, we can't afford to work on a piece of art for two months, only not to get the commission in the end.”
First, it’s worth noting that 3 out of 4 artists were commissioned without having to enter a competition.
The competition context is clearly not ideal, but also not “invented” by DevArt. I’ve been participating in institutional & private competitions for about 5 years. Lost every single time until DevArt. And I will lose again after DevArt.
Yet, I’ve always had something in exchange of the ‘loss’ (material compensations, free hardware, a working prototype..) To have this sustainable, you have to be very conscious on the work you produce and of its life outside the competition. Keep a few cards in your game..
“We have to pay the rent, and eat once in a while too.”
This one is tricky because as most creative coders, I’m far from rich, I have to watch very close all my expenses and struggle once in a while to pay rent on time.
But I have to say, I don’t think there is such thing as a starving creative coder. As of july 2014 anyway. Let’s be honest, our skillset is still very much appreciated and it’s fairly easy to make a correct living by selling a fraction of our time. I personally know many artists who envy this option we have.
I agree that artists require and deserve special care from the society (like thieves) but I also know a few names in the hacktheworld exhibiting artists who are well established freelance developers earning more than 90% of the rest of humanity. So the “eat once in a while” claim seems a bit exaggerated…?
“That's why we didn't enter the DevArt competition.”
That’s perfectly honorable and understandable. I decided to join because I managed to save some money after doing a few alimentary projects and it did fit perfectly with a will of making a new project with Beatrice Lartigue. The competition acted as a catalyst.
I never intended or actually thought about winning (it would have been silly). But I expected it to be a good way to promote our work by showing the wonders of its process while winning a free computer. For a not renowned artist (thus not selected in the first 3 slots), that was enough of a deal.
It’s also worth noting that a competition finalist got a 1st class spot for an exhibition in a prestigious art center in paris (La Gaité Lyrique) thanks to their DevArt submission. So, yes exposure doesn’t pay bills, but it sure helps finding gigs.
“Demanding artists to use some Google technologies to create art is also a bit awkward”
I felt the same at the start but then realized that it’s fairly common sense to ask that. Churches would ask artists to paint or sculpt saints, kings to paint their families. Google offers a substantial amount of money and facilities to a selection of artists and ask them to try produce a piece of art that uses their technology.
And that’s fine, we’re talking about tools here, not even themes. The competition winner main technology is a Microsoft Kinect. To me, that’s quite a clear statement on where they put their priorities.
Whether the resulting pieces are Art or not is then open to another debate. Spoiler alert: some will say yes, some will say no, and that’s for the best. As long as the discussion inspire or educate without hurting each other.
(And I would personally love to have long debates over a beer on why I consider Les Métamorphoses de Mr. Kalia to be a work of Art.)
“It's like asking a sculptor to use graffiti as a medium”
I don’t get that part. Google has tons of very interesting and valuable tools and interesting technologies. I’m not saying they are all absolutely perfect with 0 string attached, but in today’s field of APIs and technologies available to the artists, one shouldn’t just ignore these great tools, but make educated choices.
“Digital art can be collected too, so maybe you can point your wallets at the Paddles On! Auction organised by Phillips.”
Digital artists fancying traditional “art auction” and big numbers should definitely learn more about the back stories of them (required backers for phillips auction, stories of collectionners buying all the art of an upcoming artist and then giving 0 exhibition to speculate on the value). It’s probably one of the worst market of the planet and I’m very glad to be far away from any of it.
Also, my work being around interaction, I prefer to collaborate directly with art institutes and companies that will want to bring my work to people, instead of collecting it and speculate on its value.
I’m not particularly interested in selling usb keys or certificates either. I have bought some in the past to support financially, but I can’t help but feeling like I bought a certificate of a land property on the moon. So I don’t think it’s a solution either.
“the art world is still stuck in an era of paintings and sculptures”
This is dramatically wrong. Museums, public libraries, cultural institutes have a BIG interest in the crossing of art + technology.
Sure it won’t be big numbers or fancy cocktail parties, but it will surely be enough to produce some more honest work. (I’ve been doing that for years now through lab212 collective..)
A few words to warp up
Hacktheartworld is a legitimate instinctive allergic reaction of a community still figuring out its position in the art world. And it actually feels good to see that so many people care. And hopefully these discussions are easing the itch as I believe everyone did benefit from the DevArt initiative in the end.
In all case, if you have a chance to go to London until the 14th of september, please go to the Barbican and Visit both DevArt, and Hacktheartworld projects.
Also Remember to free the whole day to visit the rest of Digital Revolution which has tons of fascinating works and content including an interactive showing of CLOUDS by James Georges and Jonathan Minard, Treachery of Sanctuary by Chris Milk + many, Interactive laser forest by Marshmallow Laser Feast, Assemblance by Umbrellium, Escape by Neil Mendoza...etc and many other great work.