Art and Activism in Digital Age II

Media art as social and political influence by Byul Shin/ Publicness, Pervasive Technologies and a History of Shit by Geoff Cox/ Art of Decision by Fionnuala Conway and Linda Doyle/ Pleasure and Sacrifice: Aesthetic Experience and Collectivist Action by Susan Elizabeth Ryan/ Electrical, Political, Social and Cultural Resistance by Ricardo Lobo/ Big Bird is Watching You: Art, Activism and Technology in the Public Arena by Denitsa Petrova
Monday, 19 September, 2011 - 14:45 - 16:45
Chair Person: 
Bill Balaskas
Byul Shin
Geoff Cox
Fionnuala Conway
Susan Elizabeth Ryan
Ricardo Lobo
Denitsa Petrova
Linda Doyle

Media art as social and political influence

Byul Shin

Recent communication technology has encouraged public social and political engagement allowing them to share ideas, communicate, collaborate with each other, and sometimes act together more easily. Artists have paid attention to the potential of communication technologies through adopting the technology into their artistic representations and practices not only for cultural but also for social and political expression. Artists have used communication technology to express and share their social and political ideas and opinions. Furthermore, they have tried to encourage public awareness about social and political issues and public participation and engagement in social and political issues using the technology.

It is obvious that media technology, especially its participatory structure, have had a huge influence in cultural discourse and practice. Media have helped artists actively engage with everyday life and close the distance between art, art work and audience. Media technology has been a useful tool to make audiences participate in art work, and make them an important part of art work as cultural and artistic producers.

However, it is controversial how influential artists’ practices about social and political issues have been in our society and social and political discourse even though artists’ creative and critical perspectives and attitudes are necessary. In this paper, I will examine the potential and limitation of media art practices on social and political discourse. Specifically, I will look at how the artistic practices are related with social and political activities, how the practices can be understood in social and political contexts, and whether their cultural and artistic activity exert a practical influence on public’s social and political life by analyzing media art practices and their effect on society.

Media art as social and political influence by Byul Shin/ Publicness, Pervasive Technologies and a History of Shit

by Geoff Cox

In the work of Hannah Arendt, the political realm arises out of acting together, in the sharing of speech and action. There has been much recent interest in revisiting Arendt’s ideas, in relation to a reconceptualisation of publicness. In Virno’s work, for instance, this is emphasized because of the relative ineffectiveness of political action today. Proprietary technologies arguably play a significant role here in distancing speech from affect in a situation where action and words have lost their power (to echo Arendt). But what of software more specifically, in as much as it both expression as in speech or writing but also something that performs actions? For Kelty, again referring to Arendt, the free software movement is an example of what he calls a “recursive pubic”, to draw attention to emergent and self-organizing public actions. Moreover, publicness is constituted not simply by speaking, writing, and protesting, but also through modification of the domain or platform through which these practices are enacted. And ordure? The quirky intervention of Dominique Laporte, in History of Shit (first published in French in 1978) verifies that modern power is founded on the aesthetics of the public sphere and in the agency of its subjects but that these are conditions of the management of human waste. The issue is that in parallel to the cleansing of the streets of Paris from shit (as it became privatized), the French language was similarly cleansed of foreign words. Can we say the same of software: that the kinds of software that are found on the streets (installed in mobile devices and such-like) are similarly cleansed? This issue is crucial for a fuller understanding of political expression in the public realm and the ways in which social intellect is ever more privatised through the use of pervasive technologies.

Art of Decision: an interdisciplinary approach to raising awareness of Active Citizenship

by Fionnuala Conway and Linda Doyle

In recent years, developments in Irish society have made clear that the health and stability of Irish democracy is of growing concern to politicians and citizens alike. As in other countries, Ireland experiences significant levels of voter apathy, increasing immigration and increasing diversity around moral, religious and ethical perspectives. This concern has led to a need to address what it means to be a citizen in Ireland and in 2006, the Taskforce on Active Citizenship was established to look at the current state of citizenship and ways to facilitate greater engagement of citizens in all aspects of life. Among other recommendations, the Taskforce suggested that innovative projects to raise awareness and interest in Active Citizenship should be supported and promoted, projects in which community development and Active Citizenship are presented as something attractive, real and personal and that could spark public debate and interest.

The Art of Decision, a research project and interactive multimedia exhibition designed to raise awareness of Active Citizenship, explores the possibilities that creative applications of multimedia and technology, in combination with an artistic approach and aesthetic sensibilities, offer for the development of new innovative approaches and responses to the Taskforce recommendation. In order to explore citizenship, it draws from citizenship theory and social research methods, in combination with multimedia and technology and used in an artistic way, to create a novel mixed-method interdisciplinary approach to art creation and offer new ways to engage citizens. Multimedia, used in an artistic way offers new ways to enliven the presentation of factual information and in combination with social research methods, is used to present participant-authored content on Active Citizenship.

The exhibition offers visitors an opportunity to travel through 9 interactive multimedia rooms that present opinions and ideas about power and decision-making from a variety of research participants in an engaging, theatrical way. Contributors’ ideas are presented alongside statistical information in a meaningful and innovative fashion using sound, film and interactive installations. The technology also facilitates visitors to contribute their ideas to Art of Decision as it evolves in the space and in future research.

Pleasure and Sacrifice: Aesthetic Experience and Collectivist Action

by Susan Elizabeth Ryan

Many have suggested that the public demonstrations of the late 1990s and early 2000s have given way to other, more culturally embedded activist practices. In a recent Youtube video, Eric Cantona, calling for a bank boycott in France, said, “Nowadays, what does it mean to be on the street?  What does it mean to demonstrate? . . . that’s not the way anymore.”  Groups that formerly targeted government or corporate entities with marches and demonstrations now clone or infiltrate financial and media practices that support systems of capital. Documentation is disseminated via art media (blogs like E-Flux), mock websites, and social networking.

Today, the line between politics and art is difficult to ascertain. Has art split in two?  Is off-grid tactical activity criticizing, or courting, institutional support?  What is the cultural and aesthetic value of collectivist, interventionist actions in public space?

This paper considers the implications of creative actions such as the Serpico Naro (San Precario) media hoax during Milan’s Fashion Week in 2005 and 0100101110101101.ORG Nikeplatz “mock-stitutional” event in Vienna in 2003, and considers the notion of the “aesthetic” in the context of cultural actions both online and off.  Are these works purely political? Does some new notion of “anti-art” still apply? Are we witnessing the final climax of institutional critique?  Or a new creative paradigm?

Gregory Sholette gives credence to uninstitutionalized creative activity, which he calls culture’s dark matter, implying that there is something inherently creative in autonomous action. Such actions set to work what Negt and Kluge have called “fantasies of automony”—the legitimacy of undiscovered or practical creativity.

Two writers have proposed theories that shed further light on this idea. Jacques Rancière demands the emancipation of the spectator, implying that cultural acts produce aesthetic emancipation. However, Alain Badiou speaks of the artwork as still a concrete creation “in relation to the trace of the event”—something that provides “a new entry," and finally a “new subjective paradigm” that saves us from a death from pure pleasure, on the one hand, and a death from pure sacrifice, on the other: a “question of war and peace.”

Electrical, Political, Social and Cultural Resistance

by Ricardo Lobo

Audiência Zero is a Portuguese cultural association that coordinates three digital labs around the country, namely, in Matosinhos (, Coimbra ( and Lisbon ( These labs are autonomous structures that promote educational and creative initiatives, especially in the fields of digital art and multimedia. Each of these labs supports a community of artists and creators that are in charge of all the local activity. Through the national initiatives that it manages, which bring together members from all over the country, Audiência Zero is fostering a national network of creators, resources and knowledge.

All over the world similar projects exist, and go under the name of hackerspaces, hacklabs, medialabs, makerspaces, etc... In this paper no effort is made to propose a model that fits all these distinct realities; that is not to say there are no common features, there are. Our intention is rather to focus on a case study in an effort to identify the extent to which such projects agree or disagree with the mainstream political, social and cultural values shared by democratic and pluralistic societies with market economies.

The paper presents the concept behind the az labs network, explaining the ongoing process, it's objectives, values and challenges faced. Our contention is that these labs can be viewed as centers of political, social and cultural resistance, even when not in a conscious and outright way, being based, as they are, on an open community where resources such as time, space, knowledge, contacts and tools are shared as common goods. The paper ends with the analyses of the relationship between the resources used in these labs, mostly digital technologies, with the proposed function of resistance.

Big Bird is Watching You: Art, Activism and Technology in the Public Arena

by Denitsa Petrova

‘Think of yourself as the Permanent Resistance.Things don’t change without activism. Ars longa, but so is activism.’

Guerrilla Girls (2008) Letters to a Young Artist, New York, Darte Publishing LLC

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Many contemporary artists working in the public arena have recognised the potential that the rapid development of digital media technologies presents. As a result new categories of artists have emerged – artists-developers, artists-engineers and artists-scientists. Analysing a number of activist artworks, this paper discusses the potential of art and technology collaborations stimulated by the continuous transformation of our cities. It explores the intersection between art, activism and technology as a new art practice used as a tool for creating situations prompting cultural change.

In the past decade art activists have been actively using various digital tools to realize their projects. Breakthroughs in technology have had a vast impact on the way activist art projects are initiated and developed. Furthermore, the internet, as a virtual public space, has presented the artists with an opportunity to organize and promote their practices.

Presenting a variety of case studies, this paper examines the works of contemporary artists and art collectives who use the power of technology to publically engage with political, social and community issues. From Google Map ‘mash-ups‘, to guerrilla interventions and site-specific installations, this essay investigates interventionist art projects which compel audiences to think about their environment in new ways, and aims to highlight the existence of a critical special practice where public artworks can be seen as a critique of the increasing marginalization of public space.