Imagine a work of art…

Sometimes when I am daydreaming I dream of an artwork. An artwork that has not yet come into being. An artwork that at this point exists only in my mind, or maybe in yours too. Maybe you too have thought of it already. If not, and you continue reading, I might plant the idea of this artwork also in your mind, where it will grow and change, and take different shapes. And this would make sense, because the artwork I am daydreaming of is a process.

Imagine the place you live at–the house, the street, the neighbourhood, the city. You have lived there for a while. It’s all familiar to you. You know the place, and everyday you see some change happening. The security guard never stands at exactly the same spot, the plastic bag that got entangled in the branch of the tree in front of your house becomes more an more torn, the neighbour who hardly greeted you last Saturday, today looks at you with a quirky smile. But also bigger changes happen. One morning you wake up and there is this bulldozer blocking your street and you’ll learn that you have to live with noise and dust for the next six months. And on the billboard across the street they put up a shocking poster asking for donations to the victims of the earthquake and nuclear pollution in Japan.

All this is happening around you, and you are a part of it, because you change too. Everything is in constant motion, in development, at different speeds, directions and levels of complexity.

Imagine an artwork that shares these qualities. An artwork that like you is connected to what happens around it, that is part of your life just like the tree with the plastic bag. An artwork that is there every day, but that changes and moves, driven by what happens locally or far away. A public artwork even that you share with others, that has a meaning to them too. A piece of art that defines a place and gives it its identity as much as the people, events and things around. A process visible or audible or sensible and woven into the the fabric of the city, your home, your surroundings. A subtle thing that you can notice, if you feel like, or ignore if your mind is occupied with other things, something you can talk about with your neighbour, just like you talk with her about the ever changing weather.

It might take art another fifty years to produce this piece, and if it ever comes into being it will certainly be made with ‘new’ media, whatever this then may be: electronic and digital or organic and living or any other material enabling process, flux and change. Perhaps I am sentimental thinking that art can add something to life that is more than an intellectual challenge, a single emotional and sensory event, a self-contained story, a cathartic intervention or an beautiful object. In fact, it was this hope for ‘more’ that drew me into media art in the first place. This happened in the mid 1990s, when interactivity and net.art started to spread and there was a handful of festivals energized by experimentation, invention and the idea of a new culture and society.

Even if the digital revolution did not turn society around in the way idealists were hoping, it has had a massive impact on the way we live. Unnecessary to repeat what the computer and internet did to communication, the global spread of information, the grasp of time and space, the concept of authorship etc. The cultural change is so deep and ongoing, that we cannot extract ourselves from it to assert its consequences in its entire complexity and completeness.

To art, technology has brought among other things basis on time and process. The first describing the development of a narrative, a sequence of events in an artwork in relation to progressing time, the second referring to the openness of a time-based development, a certain degree of self-organization and performativity.

The next step–one that has not yet been taken in art–is the combination of duration and process, a concept that is intrinsic to living systems. This change without ceasing, the continuous transition from one state to the other, is what Henri Bergson describes as the the property of human existence in the first chapter of ‘Creative Evolution’.

Bergson, Henri, Creative Evolution. Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1911.

This article was published in INTER, art actuel 109, Les Editions Intervention, Quebec City, Canada, September 2011.