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Coming to Terms with the Digital Avant-Garde PDF Print E-mail
Transvergence Papers
Written by Kuniko Vroman   
Apr 14, 2006 at 02:38 PM

Steve Anderson

digital, avant-garde, design, music video, commercial art, new media, convergence

This paper maps two divergent trajectories within a narrowly defined sphere of short-form, time-based, digital media - specifically music videos, design-oriented short films and motion graphics - of the past ten years. I am particularly interested in considering this work's potential for understanding emergent relations to the perception and construction of space, time and bodies; the status of narrative; relations between technology and material culture; and shifting conceptions of the roles played by producers and consumers.


Should we, as Lev Manovich implies in his book The Languages of New Media, dismiss the "Digital Avant-Garde"? Should nostalgia for past media forms - constructivist cinema, photomontage, modernist literature - and social revolutions that go hand-in-hand with art movements overshadow our examination of contemporary digital art practices? Or is it possible to look past the contradictions and commerciality of much digital art to discern evidence of more substantive patterns of interest, development of new ways of seeing, and exploration of cultural obsessions?

This paper examines the work of selected digital "auteurs" including London-based animator Tim Hope, music video directors Floria Sigismondi and Michel Gondry, the French design firm H5, and the LA-based motion graphics collective Logan, finding in their recent work a revitalization of fundamental questions of vision, phenomenology and representation explored through the capabilities of both high- and low-tech digital media. In particular, I will argue that this work constitutes a sustained effort to come to terms with digital media's impact on our changing relationship to conceptions of space, time and the body.

As lines between categories of digital art making continue to blur, it is time to re-examine outmoded distinctions between the practices and tools of cinema, video, music, animation, architecture, graphic design and motion graphics. Just as digital practitioners move fluidly across these boundaries, theorists and critics of new media must develop similarly mobile strategies of critical practice unencumbered by the burden of past media and analytical paradigms.

While much in the field of new media studies has been written on the impact of interactivity and digital networks on emerging media practices, the hybrid experimental sphere of digital shorts, experimental music videos and motion graphics has been largely ignored and unseen outside of festivals and trade publications such as the US's RES/fest the UK's onedotzero and Japan's Gas. This paper seeks to bring a critical perspective to this prolific but neglected sphere of commercial-experimental practice and suggest alternatives to longstanding binaries and prejudices of avant-garde media scholarship.

Last Updated ( May 21, 2006 at 01:56 PM )
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