Histories of Post Digital by Ekmel Ertan

Post-Digital does not refer to a paradigm that follows the digital. On the contrary post-digital refers to the present time when digital technologies have become ordinary and embedded, indeed normalized within our everyday life and culture. It refers to the fact the digital has completed its revolution and became ordinary. In the last thirty years we have lived through the digital transformation of our lives with great participation and enthusiasm and yet we have also tried to take account of this process by producing critical artworks and theories. However all that we have criticized and accepted, even what we failed to capture has now become everyday reality.

This exhibition aims to explore the histories in becoming after the real and seemingly permanent entry of the digital into our lives. It begins from the beginning and looks at the first attempts, first artistic products of the 1960s and 70s. It attempts to read from the present perspective the histories that were written with each event, each research and artwork and that are part of the paradigm we live in now.

The history of media art in Turkey does not go very far back. This history has certainly got into motion in the second half of the 1990s with the entry of the Internet in Turkey and the concomitant interest in media art. The opening of visual design departments in universities in in turn fueled this process and the institutionalization of media art has thus begun. There were of course pioneers who predated this history and used digital technology in their work. We can cite Teoman Madra who first used computers to produce visuals and identified himself with the intellectual currents of his time; İlhan Mimaroğlu, who was one of the first names in electronic music in Turkey as well as Bülent Arel. Even though these artists did not continue their careers in what we now call media arts, they are the first people to notice the emerging field of art and technology. Madra continued his work using photography and computer to produce digital visuals. Mimaroğlu and Arel continue their career in the US and went on to become pioneers of electronic music. Up until the 1990s, we see no other artist working in this field. In the second half 1990s Nil Yalter who was internationally recognized as a video artist, developed the first multimedia applications that utilised the medium for her own artistic purposes. Yalter continues her career as a video and performance artist who uses the computer in her production.

Artists who specifically follow a career in the media arts in Turkey are a younger generation who began their production in the 2000s. Media art originated in avant-garde artworks and critical exhibitions of the 1960s that sought to explore the far-reaching effects of technology. Its popularity increased parallel to the development of computer technology in the 1980s and it became a mature field of artistic expression. This field entered the Turkish arts agenda in the 2000s with a delay of some twenty or thirty years.

By their nature, communication and computing technologies focus on the present. What we get from the fast developing and changing channels that open up to the world is the latest information, shared and reproduced by the entire world. Processing, the software known by everyone working, studying or interested in this field came out in 2001; the hardware interface Ardunio came out in 2005. Therefore the times in the West when research bore its first fruits and became available to the wider public corresponded to the beginning of interest in media art in Turkey. The Internet has been maturing quickly and becoming the younger generations’ main source of information. New tools are relentlessly being developed and existing ones updated and as the perspective continuously shifts through ever more creative applications, the young generation in Turkey did not fail to keep up with the tempo. They have come to learn about the media art (and design) of their choice through the latest information available and added to it through their own knowledge and skills.The everyday agenda was always very fast and busy and there was no time to look back. Therefore in design as well as in art, as producers or audiences, we have neglected to look back as we tried to grasp the present. One of the objectives of this exhibition is to throw light on this gap.

Media Art may be the only field that keeps pace with the wild transformation we are going through, making it visible, critiquing and pointing out its perils all the while celebrating it. Therefore the history of media art is a critical history of technology. More than ever we need such a critical stance today in order to imagine a pathway for the future. In today’s world, technology is reordering all aspects and dimensions of our everyday lives, surveillance has become an international political matter and the right to information is under serious threat. All the dystopian novels of this world have moved to the forefront of bookstore windows and our everyday lives are injected with a series of ethical injunctions that aim to tame us. Therefore time is ripe to create the gap that will allow us to cast a critical glance at the technologies that made this possible. Such critical thinking is one our most urgent needs.

This exhibition aims to take up and display this witnessing of media arts since the 1960s. On the one hand, it hopes to open a discussion in Turkey on how media art is to be situated. Against the rampant commercialization of media art in the mainstream art market, it takes up the historical background of such art and by reminding us of the questioning spirit, the critical edge that was there in its very inception, it argues that the discussions initiated by early media art are still open.

The exhibition has two main axes. The first one, 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering is about a legendary series of performances that took place at the Regiment Armory building in New York in 1966. The event was the co-product of an artist and an engineer –Robert Rauschenberg and Bill Klüver. With performances by 10 artists and many engineers, 9 Evenings is a milestone in the field of art and technology, an event where many of this field’s firsts originated. It shows the potential of technology as an artistic tool of expression and sets up the principles of the cooperation of engineers and artists. It lays the foundation of the mentality that was to guide media art ever since.

The second axis is about the 4th and 5th exhibitions of the New Tendencies movement, organized in Zagreb in 1968-69 and 1973. These two vanguard events that took place in the relative periphery of Europe at an early date and inspired a discussion meant that the computer has come of age as an artistic medium. In this section, you will see works that were in the original 4th and 5th exhibitions as well as works by artists who were not in these exhibitions but were part of the New Tendencies movement and produced some of the first visual works, the first installations in media art. You will witness how the newness of media arts transformed the conventional arts scene and how its critical edge gave way to a manifesto.

There are two additional events in the exhibition: Off-Line Media Corner and Saturday seminars. These aim to complement the archival mission of the exhibition by offering additional material. The Off-Line Media corner awaits artists, researchers, art lovers and all students (arts, engineering, design, sociology, politics) for collective work and conversation.

An important event that will take place in the frame of the exhibition is a collective effort to enrich the Turkish resources on media art by collectively translating artelectronicmedia.com, one of the few available media art archives that is growing steadily. We invite all art lovers to partake in this endeavor by coming and working at the 3 computer stations that will await your participation in the Off-Line Media Corner.

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