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(Re-)Imagining New Media in Art & Popular Culture at the End of the 20th Century

Workshop DFG-Research Project »Van Gogh-TV. Cataloguing, Multimedia Documentation and Analysis of their Legacy« (Hochschule Mainz, Unversity of Applied Sciences & Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-University Bonn)

Friday & Saturday 11/12. October 2019
Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-University Bonn
Department for Media Studies
Lennéstraße 6, Raum 4.001

The workshop (Re-)Imagining New Media Cultures in Art and Popular Culture at the End of the 20th Century deals with the interdependence between social imaginaries and new media technologies in the 1980s and 1990s. 
The era at the end of the 20th century was characterized by the simultaneity between traditional mass media such as newspapers, radio and television and the development of digital media and their integration in all areas of daily life. By the beginning of the 1980s, discussions on the possibilities of using the »computer as a medium« became a central topic of social imagination. Postmodern discussions about »digital images«, »hypertext«, »interactivity« or »multimedia« are emblematic for the emergence of new media practices in those years. Keywords like »virtual reality«, »simulation«, »network« or »cyberspace« marked a transformation of the public sphere. In connection with political events like the end of the Cold War and the Gulf War in 1991 new ways of thinking about the effects on media on society emerged. This thinking was decisively influenced by computer-based media technologies and found its expression in terms such as »post-industrial society«, »information society« or »network society«.
Of particular importance in these contexts are discourses in popular culture and media art, which were a primary context for negotiating the effects of digital technologies on society. Not well known – yet historically very important – is e. g. the project Piazza Virtuale by the media artist group Van Gogh TV, which will be given special consideration as a case study during the workshop. Piazza Virtuale was the attempt to develop an interactive television, thus re-shaping relation between television and the public sphere. Realized on Documenta IX (1992) in Kassel, it was the largest experiment ever undertaken to implement interactive television on a global scale. Unique in the history of television, the project is an excellent example to discuss and analyze the question how artistic and performative aspects of media practices (in this case practices of »doing television«) are intertwined not only with various ideas about the future of the public sphere but also with opposing concepts and agencies of media use, the factual realities of available technologies and different facets of (media-)theoretical reflections on the possibilities of »old« and »new« media.
On the basis of examples like this, the workshop will ask how the social imaginaries that developed around »new« media developed and how this development can be theoretically grasped. Different concepts of imagination and imaginaries may serve in this context as theoretical reference points. Media technologies can be viewed e. g. from the perspective of Sheila Jasanoff's and Sang-Hyun Kim's concept of »sociotechnical imaginaries« or Patrice Flichy’s work on imaginaries of the internet. References to other concepts of social and political imagination, such as Cornelius Castoriadis or Charles Taylor, Marc Augé or Arjun Appadurai, may need some translation but are very welcomed as well. Theoreti-cal approaches towards imagination from other disciplines such as e. g. Wolfgang Iser's famous concept of literary imagination or the media-philosophical concept of »techno-imagination«, as it was coined by Vilém Flusser, may also provide interesting insights.
The goal of the workshop is to make the relation between new media and social imaginaries theoretically comprehensible and to ask how a historical reconstruction of the corresponding imaginative practices and discourses can succeed.


Friday, 11 October 

09:15 Introduction
Session 1: Sociotechnical Imaginaries and the Question of New Media
09:30-10:20 Sally Wyatt: Past and present metaphors and imaginaries of the internet. What they mean for future research and policy
10:20-11:10 Simone Natale: Of Things and Thoughts: Imagining New Media through Artefacts and Discourse
Coffee break 
11:30-12:20 Eric Kluitenberg: Travellers between the imaginary and the actual
Lunch break
Session 2: Imagining New Media in Media Art and Popular Culture of the 1980s & 1990s
14:00-14:50 Oliver Fahle: TV 1990s. Imagination and Virtuality
14:50-15:40 Till Heilmann: Computer images and imaginations – CGI in the early 1990s
Coffee break
16:00-16:50 Christoph Ernst & Jens Schröter: Imagination via Performance – Practices of Demonstrating New Media in the 1980s and 1990s

Saturday, 12 October 

Session 3: Interactive Television? – The Case of ›Van Gogh-TV‹
10:00-12:00 Discussion with members of Van Gogh-TV 
(Karel Dudesek, Benjamin Heidersberger, Mike Hentz, Salvatore Vanasco) on their project »Piazza Virtuale« and the media culture of the early 1990s.
Coffee break
12:20-12:50 Final discussion & concluding remarks


Sally Wyatt (Maastricht)
Past and present metaphors and imaginaries of the internet. What they mean for future research and policy
Since its very early days, metaphors have been used by more and less powerful social actors to try to convey what the internet is and what it can or should be used for in the present and in the future. In the mid-1990s, when the internet went public and the World Wide Web became available, manydifferent metaphors were in use as people tried to make sense of the possibilities of this amazing new medium, capable of transmitting data and information around the world, more or less instantly. Twenty-five years later, the internet has become widely diffused in rich countries, and the digital infrastructure underpinning many everyday transactions and interactions is taken for granted (until it breaks down). In this lecture, I will review this rich metaphorical past and argue that language remains important as it shapes understandings of the present and hopes for the future. And, remembering the metaphors used in the past can be a salutary reminder of forgotten dreams and nightmares. I will contrast ‘metaphors’ with ‘sociotechnical imaginary’ and other terms for capturing our imaginations of the future. I return to metaphors such as ‘cloud computing’ and ‘data flow’ to illustrate why it remains important to focus on metaphors.
Simone Natale (Loughborough)
Of Things and Thoughts: Imagining New Media through Artefacts and Discourse  
As scholars such as James W. Carey and Carolyn Marvin have shown us, media are not only material things, but also imagined constructs that inform our visions and understandings of the world. Studying the media at the level of imaginary, however, entails facing a complicated question: what is the relationship between the material and the discursive sphere? Avoiding this question may lead to what Karen Barad has criticised as a “representationalist perspective,” whereas the chain of connections between the material and the discursive follows a purely metaphorical approach. In fact, if we want to challenge the idea that words and ideas are strictly separated from the world of matter, Barad and others contend, we need to look at the engagement between such dimensions in a way that is not limited to the metaphorical level. Taking up the case of perceptions of Artificial Intelligence between the 1960s and the 1980s, this talk aims both to unveil an episode in the history of perceptions of new media and to present a potential way to counteract representationalist perspectives in the study of the media imaginary. Taking into account how a piece of software became conveyer of specific visions of new media, and how the development of new technologies such as personal computers and computer networks changed attitudes towards intelligent machines, the talk will illuminate the close connections between material changes and changes in how users perceive the distinctions between humans and machines.
Eric Kluitenberg (Utrecht)
Travellers between the imaginary and the actual
In part the topos of imaginary media is also a patchwork of singular personalities, in some curious way travellers between the imaginary and the actual. Without wanting to create a false heroism, it might be insightful to investigate the role of these singular personalities in shaping the phenomena that we have begun to identify as 'imaginary media’, in the ‘deep-time’ of the arts, sciences, and technology.  Roland Barthes suggested in Camera Lucida that the study of photography should be approach as a ‘mathesis singularis’ – a science of the particular. The consideration of the singular personalities that shaped certain moments of particular intensity within he topos of imaginary could offer a way to extend this idea of the mathesis singularis to the topos-study of imaginary media. 
Oliver Fahle (Bochum)
TV 1990s. Imagination and Virtuality
The paper focuses on imagined media in art/television/media production in the 1980s and 1990s. This period is characterized by a lot of ideas imaging the future of technology and media development. Due to changes in television (from paléo- to néo-télévision according to Umberto Eco, later adopted by Francesco Casetti and Roger Odin) into a more interactive and picture-making media and the formation of the digital image, a new field of the thinking of virtuality emerged .The presentation draws attention to the upcoming of virtuality as a gesture of imagination (i.e Pierre Lévy: Qu’est-ce que le virtuel, Paris 1995 ou Jean-Clet Martin: L’image virtuelle. Autour de la construction du monde, Paris 1996). The concept of virtuality, being part of the upcoming digital age, will be confronted to the thinking of television of the 1990s. At the same time virtuality serves as a meta-concept of thinking an emerging media imaginary.
Till Heilmann (Bonn)
Computer images and imaginations – CGI in the early 1990s
The early 1990s saw rapid technological progress in computer generated image-ry (CGI). New media technologies for professionals and amateurs alike brought digital images to the masses and changed visual culture: Adobe Photoshop (1990) revolutionized image processing and, subsequently, digital photography; NewTek’s Video Toaster (1990) democratized high-quality graphics and anima-tions in TV productions; CGI in movies like Terminator 2 (1992) and Jurassic Park (1993) blurred the boundaries between reality and fantasy; Windows 3.1 (1992) made the graphical user interface the standard on PCs; 3D games like Ultima Underworld and Doom (1992 and 1993) created unforeseen immersive environments; and the Mosaic browser (1993) made the World Wide Web accessible in graphic form. The talk will discuss the relationship between the new media of CGI and the imaginations of new media articulated and transported by CGI in popular visual culture. It will focus on digital images and imaginations in GUIs, games and movies.
Christoph Ernst & Jens Schröter (Bonn)
Imagination via Performance – Demonstrating New Media in the 1980s and 1990s
Public demonstrations of digital media are an integral part in the shaping of »sociotechnical imaginaries« (S. Jasanoff) accompanying new media technologies. This is particularly true for computer-based digital technologies. Douglas Engelbarts »Mother of all Demos« (1968) set the standard for public demonstra-tions of digital media. Since then, demonstrations and presentations like e. g. Steve Jobs introduction of the iPhone (2007) became iconic landmarks of media culture. But the various practices of publicly presenting digital media are not limited to the specific contexts such as development or marketing. »Presentation« and »demonstration« implies always already a certain »performative« aspect of digital media. This is highlighted by the role of presentations and demonstrations of new digital media (and its respective prototypes) in fields like popular culture and media art. Using the case of German media art collective Van Gogh-TV and their project Piazza Virtuale (1992) as a backdrop, the aim of the talk is to sketch a history of demonstrations of digital media with regard to the relation between performativity and imagination.


Christoph Ernst ([Email protection active, please enable JavaScript.]) & Jens Schröter ([Email protection active, please enable JavaScript.])
Department for Media Studies / Univ. Bonn (Germany)