Digital Mediation of Art – A Software Studies Perspective

Lightning Talk
Florian Wiencek, Germany

This talk introduces the concept of „Digital Mediation of Art“, which I am developing in my PhD-research as well as in my digital media and educational practice. “Digital mediation of Art” builds up on two mediation concepts and explores the innovative employment of digital media towards their goals:

a) „Critical Mediation of Art“ [Kritische Kunstvermittlung] (Mörsch, 2011), which focuses on the production of knowledge together with the visitors of an exhibition as well as on fostering the engagement of the visitor with the item on display and his/her own interpretation.
b) Nina Simon’s concept of the „The Participatory Museum“ (2010), where she regards the museum space as a space for social experience, facilitator for meaningful interaction with the artistic projects and with other visitors. The focus of participatory design is again the people.

Mediation of art is about the in-between between art / culture and the audience. It is about interfaces and the interaction they enable with the art and culture. With the concept of Web 2.0 (cf. O’Reilly & Battelle, 2009; O’Reilly, 2005) and our data-driven and participatory culture (Jenkins, Clinton, Purushotma, Robison, & Weigel, 2009), the idea of the network – be it of information, people, places, etc. – is central, the database becomes an important cultural form of our time (Manovich, 2001) and software becomes an evermore important agent in the mediation process (cf. Manovich, 2012; Uricchio, 2011). Digital media with their qualities – which Lev Manovich (2001) defined as numerical representation, modularity, automation, variability and transcoding – and their resulting affordances offer new modes of interaction with art and culture but also transform established interfaces. These transformations affect all areas of mediation of art: display, discussion, thinking and learning. But in what way does digitality enhance traditional mediation of art and gallery education? How can it support collaboration in meaning-making, foster multiple points of view and the own interpretation of the audience and facilitate their engagement with art and culture as well as with other visitors or users? And how does it affect their experience on site (for example in a museum, at a historic place) as well as off-site (for example before or after their museum visit or a purely virtual cultural experience)?

The presentation reflects on the strengths and weaknesses as well as the challenges of applying digital media with their software-determined qualities and intrinsic interface grammars (Manovich, 2001) for the mediation of art and culture on-site as well as online. It does so by discussing examples of the use of digital media for the re-mediation (Bolter & Grusin, 1999) of art and culture as well as co-creative knowledge generation with and about art from a Software Studies perspective (Manovich, 2008).