Lawrence Rinder was recently appointed head curator for the 2002 Whitney Biennial. Rinder and the Gotham Dispatch had the following exchange as he prepares for the much-anticipated "BitStreams," his curatorial debut at the museum, which opens Mar. 21, 2001.
Gotham Dispatch: There is in digital media a transience that mirrors the increased speed of change in postmillennial life. It seems that just when we have absorbed one technology another quickly comes to replace it.
Lawrence Rinder: I am not so interested in new technology for the sake of newness. In fact several of the artists in "Bitstreams" work with quite outmoded equipment. The point is not that it is new, but that it is digital and digital media provide unique effects that support new dimensions of artistic expression. In one case, Leah Gilliam's installation Apeshit V3, the artist intentionally uses archaic MACs in order to comment on our own future antiquity.
GD: How does the cost and installation logistics of the hardware effect planning a show such as "BitStreams?"
LR: this exhibition did not cost very much more than a non-tech show of the same size (over 50 artists). Needless to say, keeping the costs down required a great deal of ingenuity and some degree of pro bono donations (for which we are grateful).
The bottom line, for me, is that if you are going to present art that involves high tech (or even what is now low-tech, i.e., simply a video projection, let's say) it is imperative that you provide the best possible equipment. I have seen so many tech exhibitions fall flat not because the art was bad but because the presenting institution short-shrifted the equipment for presentation. I was very clear from the outset here that we had to have as high a standard as possible for the equipment.
GD: A lot of art, conceptual and otherwise, has been rather hermetic in terms of the viewer gaining an entry into its meaning. Do you feel digital media is breaking down the "fourth wall" between viewer and artist? Is it more accessible or less so?
LR: No, I don't feel that digital media makes art any more or less accessible. It depends on the piece.
GD: Is there a danger of an overemphasis on the gadgetry in digital media, at the cost of content?
LR: Yes, there is a danger, insofar as people tend to be wowed by the new and unusual. Nevertheless, digital technology has now saturated society to the point where there are countless digital devices that are as familiar as toothbrushes and toasters. I believe that this is a great time for an exhibition on the impact of digital technology precisely because I think we may have reached the point where people can see through the mechanisms to the content.
GD: With such a proliferation of "tech" art, who gets the nod as the leading innovator in the current pool of artists in relation to defining periods of art history? Or is there now a gap, a whole new history being invented?
LR: I think that much so-called digital art (i.e., art made with digital technology) actually represents a development of former modes as much as it does a break with them. One sees in "Bitstreams," for example, artworks that can be seen as continue the legacies of Pop, Surrealism, Minimalism, and Postminimalism.
A new medium is not in itself enough to launch a new mode of artistry. Of all the forms of digital practice, net art seems to offer the most innovative and unique formal possibilities. However, even there, many artists are extending earlier modes (especially Minimalist and Conceptual ones) rather than developing wholly new approaches.
GD: Is the division between media (meaning the separation of painting, sculpture, and video) becoming obsolete?
LR: Yes, in the sense that works made in different media (i.e. photo, sculpture, sound, etc.) may share the same underlying software. A single CAD file can be expressed as image, object or sound.
Someday, traditional museum departments based on media may be replaced by departments based on software (Photoshop, Illustrator, Form Z). However, this is not likely to happen for a while, if ever. The vast majority of artists continue to work in nondigital ways.
GD: How does the current digital zeitgeist point towards the next Whitney Biennial in terms of conceiving and planning?
LR: As much as "Bitstreams" heralds the arrival of an important new set of tools and reflects on the impact of digital technology on society at large, there are plenty of other strong currents at play in the world of contemporary American art, most of which do not involve digital technology. I believe that the most important influences on art are now and have always been not so much technical as they have been the aggregate of ideas and feelings of an age.