In the last two decades, the term “new media art” has been successful enough to become the official label for a wide range of high-tech artistic practices. It can be thought of as an umbrella term under which we find a multitude of creative experiences that share a common denominator: the fact that they are made with emerging technologies.
New media art…time for a new name?
If we’re completely honest, “new media art” is a relatively deceptive term in the 2020s. After all, it came into use in the mid-1990s, when a series of technological innovations made it possible for throngs of creators without any specialized knowledge or skills to hop on their computers and browse the internet (innovations that are taken for granted today).
Yet almost 30 years later, new media art is still one of the most frequently used terms in relation to certain types of hi-tech art. According to some electronic art scholars, it’s still valid for one simple reason: new media art is closely linked to the technological developments of the time, whether hardware or software, and is thus always correct. And will continue to be so, at least as long as there are artists who use advanced technology instead of more traditional forms of expression.
Art and technology and media art
In New Media Art, Mark Tribe and Reena Jana state that, at least in its initial phase, new media art is a subset of two distinct phenomena: art and technology (electronic art, robotic art, genomic art, etc.) and media art (video art, transmission art, etc.). Other unique qualities of new media art, according to the book’s two authors, were and are collaboration, appropriation, identity, open sourcing, telepresence, surveillance, corporate parody, intervention and hacktivism.
Globalization and the World Wide Web
Regardless, what can be said with a reasonable degree of certainty is that new media art is a spontaneous, irregular, varied and anti-systemic phenomenon born in the wake of two closely connected worldwide events: the explosion of market globalization in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and the launch of the World Wide Web on August 6, 1991 (the exact day in which English computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee published the first website in history).
In other words, the globalization of cultures and economies was both the cause and effect of the widespread use of the internet, computers and smartphones, and a good part of similar devices, such as tablet, VR headsets, online videogames, GPS trackers, and digital cameras for remote video surveillance. Those same objects just so happen to be the “industry tools” used by many new media artists, yesterday and today.