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Ghetto or Avant-garde?


1. 2013, the digital Spring

1.1. How to use a miracle ?

On Spring 2013, along a series of shows in Paris, Brussels and Basel, digital art has managed to find its market. The standard has been held by Galerie Charlot, but now not alone, but followed by the prestigious Denise René gallery and some others.

It is a sort of miracle, after a periode where digital art, failing to be recognized by the "World of Art" generally speaking, and the failures of many attempts to bridge the "digital gap" in art. And the miracle has two major specific features:

- it is really digital, and demanding form of digital art, with artists at ease with programming and sometimes with electronics,
- it is essentially a French achievement.

Hence, to keep up on progress and success, arise two questions:
- is it good to talk explicity of digital art, in a period where the buzzword is "media", combined with a a lot of prefixes or adjectives (multi-, hyper-, cross-, trans-, spreadable...), with a risk of "ghettoization" and restraining to niche markets?
- is it good to herald the "French touch", with the risk to tease a World always prone to "France bashing" and, worse, to cut us from major artists in many countries, and the United States natural leadership?

The question matters for many operators, curators, mediators, critics and the press.

1.2. Miracle: the facts.

At Scope, the "off" exposition of Art Basel, the stand of Galerie Charlot was a clear success. We felt it upon arrival, and kept on the following dayx, with a crowded space, good sales, and the interested visit of the other exhibitors. That concluded a series of satisfying shows.

How to explain that? No doubt the dynamis personnality of Valérie Hasson-Benillouche played the major role. She has
- a flair to detect promising digital artists; she is not a computer geek; she chooses her hosts on feeling, human and artistic at the same time; and it happens that those she chooses have a real practice of the computer, and are not simply users of graphic tools;
- an architect education, which has driven the design of her Parisian site (small, but efficient) as well as each booth in the expositions; not an easy task since digital art demands frequently dark environments (screens, projectors), not easily compatible with the "white cubes" of galleries and public shows;
- a dialogue with the artists to choose the material presenation of their works (for example, the frames around the Perconte's "landscapes");
- the management talents required to drive the well-known as not easy, artist temperaments.

Some technical reasons conjure also to explain this success. They are not specific to Charlot's hosts.

One key of the success is a proper combination of screen/projectors with appropriate material objects. Charlot is not alone to do that, of course. It appplies to Margolis, Verlinde, Schmitt (recently), Israël, Zajega, Paré, Le Meur, but also to artists in other galleries such as Marion Lachaise, Alain Le Boucher, Labau... This evolution was an important key. Reduced to a screen or projector, digital art is pure software. Not only it lacks "substance", but it prevents to enter in the art economy, based on "works" of which the materiality guarantees the unicity as well as the fiscal status.

Another key is a progressive gain in substanc of the presented works, even from a stricly software standpoint.
Take the example of Torres. The first of his works we saw at René's where quite poor. Basic geometric shapes and flat colors on a screen. Then, in Brussels, gradations added softness. And, lastly (July, in Paris), a transparent fabric, at some 50cm in front of the screen added some texture and fluidity.

Two other digital "miracles" took place in this period:
- the Daft Punk successes, with a new album (emblematic of the French touch, and with the technological "discourse" of their masks;
- the Paris ACM Siggraph, now the one only really active Siggraph chapter in Europe, and has made constant efforts to create links with the Art world (as well as with research); this effort started in 2001 and is still in progress, for example by its cooperation with Galerie Charlot;
- the come-back into technological art of Galerie Denise René, with a new management; this gallery brings two useful assets to the French digital spring: a rather important exposition surface, with spaces on the two banks of the Sine, and a continuity with the kinetic advances of the 1960's;
- the DaVinci app by Yves de Ponsay (Cité des Sciences).

It came after other Parisian moves:
- Cap Digital, more oriented to the technical markets than to art, but with attention to transmedia, for instance; and important for the French world image due to a prestigious presence in Siggraph;
- La Gaité lyrique and le Centquatre, with a clear mission to promote digital art (not exclusively);
- Digitalarti, a private media corporatin, but with strong public support.
- Different actions by Dominique Moulon, Florent Aziosmanoff

And some failures
- Les Algoristes. Typical of this sort or Renaissance, after the Américan informal group Algorists
- The attempt by Me Cornette de Saint-Cyr and Fred Forest to open the art market to the digital production, with the help of the auctioneer Drouot.

One could sum up: at a time where digital art seemed to dissolve itself in a rather vague "new media", a new life for digital art is borne in Paris, and extends its success beyond the Hexagon, notably in Brussels.

Should we, digital artists or digital art critics and curators accept to dissolve us into a new space, a postmedia contemporary art, or take the risk to claim our specificity and remain a "ghetto" ?


Differente countries.
rance, Malraux
US. Mainstream, market.

IBM no longer brings this kind of support.

Apple : appes
Google ? art ?

Heavy tech goes to games, cinema. Siggrpah.

Study relation with "media".
New kinds of structure.

Geographical distance, space distance.
The 2 meanings of media in Quaranta.
Quaternary sector.
Since digital is in constant progress, any digital work of art may thought as susceptible of beteter tools, progress.


They do not progress because
-artists wok alone
- with limited budgets
- No systematical recording ana analysis
-artists do not publish or wite thei repxeirne
- Cooperation.
exampels : Pike, Chevalier
Casas- Processing
university labs
Couples/Studios. Sommerer Mignonneau
Music, theater, circus
On the net. Auger
Tempoprary : Schoeffer/Verlinde.
Transmedia. UGC

- technical
- legal
- psy. leader, charisma
- numbers, quantity
- finance, investment

Difficutlies /
- uncertainties of art (specially now ? )
- strong egos of artists



2. Arguments for merging

Many competent people think that it would be better to let drop the term "digital art", or at least to use it only in technical communication between artists and some specialists.

Hugo Verlinde quotes (out of memory) some curators met recently.

Olivier Michelon, directeur des abattoirs, centre d’art contemporain à Toulouse (Tarn) : "C'est très bien ce que vous faites mais ne vous trompez pas de discours. En tant que discipline, l’art numérique n’existe pas. Seul compte les œuvres, les artistes et leurs démarches. Ce sont les œuvres, les artistes et les démarches les plus originales que nous soutenons aujourd’hui. Parler d’émergence d’un nouveau langage et d’un nouveau médium n’a guère de sens aujourd'hui. En voulant définir un domaine, vous (les artistes qui se revendiquent d'un art dit numérique) allez vous placer dans un ghetto. Vous serez et resterez à contre courant de la modernité."

A manager of LAIT (Albi, Tarn") : "Ah les frontières entre les disciplines... Quelle bêtise... Tout est possible bien sur ! Ce qui compte ce sont les œuvres et les propositions des artistes. Nulle barrière entre les disciplines… Tout se vaut entre la peinture, la sculpture et votre art… Comment dites-vous déjà…? Ah oui c’est ça… numérique, les artistes ont le droit de faire ce qu'ils veulent quelles que soient les moyens utilisés. Par contre ça me rappelle que pour l’exposition consacrée à Fred Forest, c’est la première fois que lors du vernissage la moitié des installations ne marchaient pas. Quelle honte ce fut pour nous. Le vernissage tout de même ! Alors oui... Tout est possible mais bon ces œuvres avec l’ordinateur c’est quand même très délicat… »

Then we should merge the art forms, no longer use the terms "digital art" (or "numeric" in France). Technical aspects matter only for computer peopel or tehcnicians. Art is emotions, feelings. The medium does not matter.

Valérie Hasson-Benillouche : " Il y a un lien qui nous unit tous artistes, spectateurs, galeristes....mais chacun le perçoit de façon diverse et cela reste de l'Art en général. Le ghetto digital dont parle Hugo est lié à la façon dont les artistes et galeristes présentent ou parlent de l'Oeuvre... Le coté technique doit reste dans l'ombre de la créativité....

Domenico Quaranta tends to the same conclusion in his book Beyond New Media Art (Link Editions, Brescia, 2013, downloadable full text. Indicated by Valentina Peri). And Nick Lambert, in his Phd Thesis, reached similar conclusions.

Briefly, this book takes us to go beyond "New Media Art", and still more from "Digital Art", and to play convergence and hybridization, aiming to "Postmedia Art".

The document is of great value for the lot of information it provides, and for an history of New Media Art from the 1990's through the 2000's.

feu de paille, ghetto
advices of Lambert, Quaranta
the transmedia move.
the universal presence of digital
interaction is general

the opposition amateur/mainstream
Nyeki. je prends cette posture; M'intéresse pas que la machine prenne la main. Tout se ressemle. Avec ... herbier. E l'époque 3D
Pierre Hénon. Amargo... The "photoshop" art.

everything is digital
curators prefer to keep their undisputable decision power
Digital art marries two very different terms, each one with rich features, as well in theory as in practice and social relationships.
nuts and bolts
Xenakis, Berger-Lioret, Lambert, Quaranta, people seen by Verlinde
Market failure, divide. Siggraph etc.
But music.

Theoretical arguments, political arguments.
Everything digital. No specificity then.

The succession of concepts (Quaranta)
"... any attempt to import on the contemporary art platform the idea of art and the system of values on which the New Media world is grounded.. has failed miserably. ... In the contemporary art arena New Media Art is only allowed to exis if it abandons its technocentric autlook and the very term that identifies it".

Transmedia age, everybody an artist.

De Verlinde, July 5, 2013

Exposition "spectaculaire aléatoire" à Fiac (Tarn). J'y présentais Altaïr et le Carré Magique. Très fort retour du public et rencontre avec quelques officiels de l'art contemporain en région séduits par la pièce mais très distants sur l'idée d'un "art numérique". Beaucoup aimé ces discussions.

Morceaux choisis...


Nick Lambert thinks that it must merge. online

4. The digital divide. Artist, public. Hence the ghetto

On a the social plan, its basic abstraction and technicality draws a divide between those who are familiar with it (professionals or amateurs geeks) and the lay public.
Besides, people like it or not.

3. Arguments for bearing the digital standard

31. The tension art/digital

We plead here the case for a specific role of digital art. Not of "new media", which seems us too vague.

"Digital" is whatever pushes its fragmentation/organization processes to its logical limit, the bit. It has been a long quest, with important steps with Descartes, Saussure, the Impressionists, Cubists, mathematiciens, Shannon, with an apex around John Neumann, and after him with a generalization and an acceleration still exponential in the 2010's.

Everything, every art becomes digital today. But digital properly implies that the computer is not taken only as a tool, but something more : a "second self", a partner, even something as a child. Artists are properly digital if they are able to drill down to the bit, in general through programming, for some of them including material components and the solder iron. It's a specific form of talent, and taste (if not of addiction). A particularly deep form of digital art is the generative one.

Digital art is of crucial importance today, with the exponential rise of machines and robots, and the threat of the "singularity.

In this environment, digital artists marry the liberty and creativity of art with an understanding in depth of the powerful digital tide. Around them, galleries, mediators, researchers and critics bring a necessary, and no less specific, contribution, to reach the public and private markets and to bring out the conceptual substrates.

Then, all of us, we must not underrate our responsibilities and accept their dissolution into a "postmedia world". That should not prevent us to remain open to the other forms of art and to cooperate with (realistic) ambitions in the general world of art.

Actually, as says Quaranta himself, postmedia at present is "not a point of arrival, but a point of departure"... in other words, a terra incognita for everybody. Let us take our full part of the exploration. Not raising our competence as the walls of a ghetto, but promoting them as a spearhead. With open minds but not without pride

Art, classical: humans doing art for other humans.
More and more, machines doing art for other machines. (CMS Vs browsers, stock exchange).
Man "outside" a growing sphere.
But more mediated does not imply a greater distance.
In the media space, distance is not related to mass (as quantity of bits). See pressuer.

Our best artists (Schmitt, Verlinde) do not use very advanced computer systems, technologies? Far from Watson
Remain stuck on traditional. Not transmedai
Charlot art: luxury gadgets? like sport c

Art Static, post-modern, human based.

Digital, machine based

Man, eternal, singular/universal; and not willing to evolve, fearing any substantial evolution
technologies. with an oriented history toward complexity

Compare to other arts. The situation is different in music, architecture. ey


Question majeure : Un crayonné sous Photoshop est il différent d'un crayonné au crayon, dans son mode de création ?
- not very much in the artist's mind. Hockney
- pixelisation, richness of pixels
- a tool is necessary
- reproductible file
infinite palette. Layers ?
crayon: possible pressure. pigment richess, but limited number or pencils

Question conjointe : un Programme sous Processing peut il trouver son équivalent en art traditionnel (sans ordinateur) ?

Molnar/Mohr/Schillinger. Apply manually an algorithm.
only if sufficiently simple, and not too small pixels
Opalka (or a similar name)


digital, genetic, major moves
unemployment, singularity issues


32. The digital saga

Art, humain. Link on human.
Technically, it can be described (sometimes completely), evaluated, ranked.
Originality lies in the work, not the author.

Man: animal rationale.
Art. the human mind/body. Then hear and see.
Machines : not constrained by that; can sense UV and infrareds

Art as exploration/reflection on what is to come, the machine world
- autonomy (generative)
- connectivity (surveillance)

The mediation mass is growing. distance, Google, NSA
The "medias" are not organized as are animal bodies, nor even societies


Critic : any (living) arist is question : where will he go now ? Their place in space/time. (more globally, feature space)

What is essentiel is life.
Ever changing, autonomous.
The code is somewhere hidden, like the DNA. We do not show it. Il may be dirty.
It may be racist too.
Give life to children. Create life. Man may sin. Unpredictible.

direct reproduction/capture

the magic of something you don't know how it works; a sort of miracle

3. The long progress of fragmentation/organisation, and its future

Digital calls for technique. With a history, an economy and a sociology.
Historically, digitization is in constant progress, from the predigital phases of logic, mathematics and technologies (mechanics and electricity, then electronics) to the a future framed by the Moore's law. Henc it is philophically "modern" by iself.

Eisenstein, Impressionists; Deleuze, Blanc/Viollet-le-Duc, Cubism, collages,
The pixel. Sampling, programming, procedural
Sample, Midi, synthesis

Then with Von Neumann : converence with autonomy, communication, infinity.

Digital is not another toolbox.
Maths, logics, science
Common, shared, disputable.

33. Emotion

A specific emotion of the digital artist
unexpected, pleasant, life/autonomy, never the same
But they cannot share this kind of emotion with the public. The message is NOT the code

expression of emotion. Kismet robot
Face detection
emotion as a kind of gesture. Voluntary for a part

emotion as a kind of meaning.
emotion artificially created. Hentail film, love dolls
emotion is the meaning itself (the meaning of a message), or no meaning at all

A specific emotion of the digital artist
unexpected, pleasant, life/autonomy, never the same
But they cannot share this kind of emotion with the public. The message is NOT the code

expression of emotion. Kismet robot
Face detection
emotion as a kind of gesture. Voluntary for a part

emotion as a kind of meaning.
emotion artificially created. Hentail film, love dolls
emotion is the meaning itself (the meaning of a message), or no meaning at all

Generative : love, parenthood

Verlinde Lotus
The same as with a box of colors ?
My comic.

The infinite tools and spareparts box. Le Meur

Generative : love, parenthood

Verlinde Lotus
The same as with a box of colors ?
My comic.

The infinite tools and spareparts box. Le Meur

Art calls for human emotion.
Historically, it transcends evolution. Palaeolithic paintings cannot be considered "inferior" to Michelangelo's or Litchenstein's woks.

Technically, it can be described and commented but never completely nor indiscutably. Kant.

On a social plan, it is at the same time strictly personal (tastes) as well as universal (human nature).

But : emotion of the author, emotion of the spectator
Evolution by originality. Art, digital or not, progresses by culture, data bases, critis, collections. Malraux.
Search for one'es singularity.

Traditional painting. A sort of magic. Montsaugeon.

4. Concrete strategies

Two cases : digital as a tool. Then kitchen recipes and practices.
digital as entral in the project. OK, but it remains research, or gets substance enough to convince.

A multiplex strategy
my personal choices
galleries, artists

.Discourse, nothing meaninful in the fairs.
The art world has well accepted poore discourse, purely technical, of Albers. More recently Cruz Diez ?
Villa Empain.

Have differente discourses

Different discourses, for general public and world of art, and for the community.
Impressionists or cubists were not ghettos
Symposium generative art

But we must have something to say. And to show.... substance...;

Study the different discoures. Artists who talk: Delacroix, Kandinsky, Léger.

The specific digital discourse, even for the large public.

Risk of ghettoisation.
What about the market
Specification by the medium ?
Special commission at Scam
Valérie as a miracle.

Art/Digital/Reference (message, representation).

My experiences with Roxame. I was considered acceptable as an approach.
I was not able to hide the computer origines.
Ane with my exernal picture (photos, etc.) import, I could add meaning and messagye by combination, typically, Magritte

Cooperation, (reciprocal) imitaiton, remix
Common move : divisionnism of impressionists, sculpture combined with video.
Margolis, Lachaise, Paré
Schmitt, Verlinde, Torres

Strategies for artists, galleries, critics, collectors...
Just a discourse issue ?

Public authorities attitude. Market attitude.

How to unite all theses forces and gain in powe.
- in France (examples)
- in the world
the cultural mediation
different actors/ motivations

refrain to create new structures, intitutions, even sites, even words.
How to help artists ?


- Artists as individuals, a a group/school

$ 5. References Annexes and Complements

- Schmitt Interview
- Benayoun interview





Paris ACM Siggraph, the French chapter of ACM Siggraph, worldwide non-profit organization of computer graphics.




Les Algoristes, an association of artists using their own algorithms in their work.





Galerie Charlot An important supporter of digital art.