For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 11, 2004

Secretary Delivers "Artistic Convergence" Speech

Secretary Unveils Initiative for Securing the
Role of the Artist in the Corporate Sector
Remarks by the Secretary at the Seoul Digital Forum
Seoul, S. Korea

WASHINGTON, DC - On May 6, 8:32 PM (UTC/GMT +9 hours) Secretary Randall M. Packer of the US Department of Art & Technology completed his first tour of Asia at the Seoul Digital Forum to deliver the "Artistic Convergence" speech, announcing a bold new initiative intended to embed revolutionary artistic strategies for social transformation into the heart of global information and communication industries.

The following is the transcript:

Speech by Randall M. Packer
Secretary, US Department of Art & Technology
Presented by the Seoul Broadcasting System
at the Seoul Digital Forum
Grand Hilton Hotel
May 6, 2004

****

THE SECRETARY: Thank you Soh-Yeong Roh of Art Center Nabi for the warm introduction. Thanks to the Seoul Digital Forum for letting me come by and share some thoughts. You picked a great place to have a conference. What a great city Seoul is. (Applause.)

I want to thank Seyoung Yoon, the Chairman and CEO of the Seoul Broadcasting System for hosting the US Department of Art & Technology at the Seoul Digital Forum. And I want to thank those of you here who are leaders in the information and media industries around the world. I want to thank you for your dedication; I want to thank you for your spirit; I want to thank you for your vision; and I'm here to say "thanks" on behalf of all of America. (Applause.)

Not only do I want to talk about the role of artists in our society today, but I want to talk about ‘artistic convergence’ as we promote a new generation of artists engaged in 21st century survival techniques of artistic mediation.

For as Marshall McLuhan declared, “The artist picks up the message of cultural and technological challenge decades before its transforming impact occurs. He, then, builds models or Noah’s arks for facing the change that is at hand.”

* * *

You know, the artists closest to the situation at hand are those who can best devise a strategy: tactical methodologies for social change through experimental acts of artistic expression for all citizens. This is the rallying cry of the Department, formed by artists seeking to reclaim America’s Government.

It was just three years ago, shortly after 9-11, that I proposed the idea to President George W. Bush to form a new government agency to revitalize utopian ideologies in America. We faced a crisis. And those were tough times, obviously, for the nation.

The President issued an Executive Order to form the US Department of Art & Technology and named me as its first Secretary.

I was sworn into office at an official ceremony pre-sided by Alice Denney, founder of the Washington Project for the Arts.

Here in the nation's capital, and all around Washington, DC, are emerging signs of the artistic achievements of the US Department of Art & Technology.

We now have the strength of the artist helping to guide our nation’s policy. And that is -- it's an amazing statement, when you think about what this country and the world have been through for the past three years. And the reason I bring that up is because I know how important the artistic spirit is; I know how important art is to the future. And I believe it is the spirit of the artist, in part, that will help us overcome the challenges we face.

* * *

In the past century it has come to be generally acknowledged that, in the famous words of the late Billy Klüver, “The artists have to create with technology because technology is becoming inseparable from our lives.” Knowledge of this simple fact is now needed for human survival. The ability of the artist to develop immunity to the extensions of new technology of any age, and to parry such extensions with full awareness, is age-old.

Let me give you some examples:

The “paroxysm of junk in motion" to the fluidity of human locomotion is apparent in Jean Tinguely’s Homage to New York, which self-destructed in the Sculpture Garden of the New York Museum of Modern Art in March of 1960, in front of a well-dressed audience. Here, during 27 minutes of cataclysmic motion, smoke, and explosions, Tinguely awakens machine parts from their dreams and makes them come alive. Anything brought back to life in this way is frightful and menacing; the term intelligent-machine would have been an oxymoron; the artist seeks a rapprochement between art and science, between the human and technology; He endeavors to get people to interact with his art, to entrance them while simultaneously freeing their minds.

Nam June Paik's 1974 TV Buddha was created with a strange twist of television technology combined with the ancient statue of the symbol of Asian Buddhism. The Buddha sits in front of a television set and contemplates its own image. A question of origin. The Buddha, who traditionally wishes to keep himself free of all external matters, now sits in deep contemplation confronted by his own image via closed-circuit television.

Decades later, Paik reinterpreted this theme by placing the Buddha sculpture in front of a computer monitor in Buddha Re-Incarnated. The connection is not made through a contemplative gaze, but rather mediated by a telephone receiver teleconferencing the Buddha figure to a computer monitor.

We find human bodies merged with technological cyborgian attributes here in Lynn Hershman’s Phantom Limbs, pointing out our reliance on electronics and media, and how it permeates our physical and psychological collective selves. Media infiltrates the body and in doing so gives birth to our virtual selves.

Ken Goldberg’s tele-robotic installation, Telegarden, allows World Wide Web users to view and interact with a remote garden filled with living plants. Participants can plant, water, and monitor the progress of seedlings via the tender movements of an industrial robot arm. Internet behavior might be characterized as ``hunting and gathering''; the purpose here is to consider the ``post-nomadic'' community, where survival favors those who work together; the Telegarden projects a techno-utopian society where the individual’s relationship to nature and to one another is supplanted by virtual means and technological extension.

Alba is a very special animal, but I want to be clear that her formal and genetic uniqueness are but one component of the "GFP Bunny" artwork. The "GFP Bunny" project of Eduardo Kac is a complex social event that starts with the creation of a chimerical animal that does not exist in nature. It also includes at its core an ongoing dialogue between professionals of several disciplines (art, science, philosophy, law, communications, literature, social sciences), as well as the public, on the cultural and ethical implications of genetic engineering.

And finallly, if you're going to ask the media to take responsibility for your view of reality, you should be willing to take responsibility for your own. The Media Deconstruction Kit is an information service, news and media project of the US Department of Art & Technology, serving viewers around the world. The Media Deconstruction Kit has forged a unique position within the media arts through an unparalleled combination of appropriation, theory, collage and real-time processing tools.

By providing instantaneous access to broadcast media - and the ability to act upon it - the Media Deconstruction Kit seeks to transform the one-way paradigm of broadcast media into many-to-many forms of interaction by leveling the playing field between medium and viewer.

In today's media, events, information, ideas, and images are packaged, and delivered to our television screens as soundbytes, slogans, ads, logos, and banners. This state of affairs is only compounded in times of crisis such as we have experienced since 9/11: the media and the manipulation of its content must be understood as a breakdown between credible, meaningful communication and the distortion of reality that confronts us today; The Media Deconstruction Kit amplifies and subverts this condition by reconfiguring and disorienting live broadcast media into an immersive, sensorial, multimedia experience.

* * *

Technology can be construed dystopically, but one must also recall Martin Heidegger's claim that where technology's danger lies, so does its saving power, a saving power not merely secondary to its danger. Underscoring the ambiguous nature of technology – Heidegger reminds us that in ancient Greece "the poiésis of the fine arts was also called techné" – he says any decisive confrontation with technology "must happen in a realm that is, on the one hand, akin to the essence of technology and, on the other, fundamentally different from it. Such a realm is art."

And that’s precisely why we must not isolate the work of the artist from the rest of the world. We’ve got to reject artistic isolationism and embrace, rather, its total convergence. And in turn we must redefine the role of the artist as a mediator whose reflections, ideas, sensibilities, and abilities can take significant action on the world stage.

And in turn, the artist must move into action by undergoing aesthetic operation as a form of magic, as a mediation between our strange hostile world and the human spirit. Again, quoting Marshall McLuhan, “To prevent undue wreckage in society, the artist tends now move from the ivory tower to the control tower of society.”

* * *

And so, the artist is indispensable in the shaping and analysis and understanding of the life forms, and structures created by digital technology.

Now as we encourage innovation and change it is always important to remember the vital role the artist plays in our society. Technologies change, but the spirit of art never changes.

If we are to be convinced that art is precise, advanced knowledge of how to cope with the psychic and social consequences of the next technology, would we all become artists? Would we begin a careful translation of new art forms into social navigation charts?

The Government and industry can help this effort by embracing the artist. One of the things we’ve got to recognize is that if you want to be competitive in the future, you’ve got to encourage art and technology.

To quote the great Korean artist Nam June Paik, “Cybernated art is very important, but art for cybernated life is more important, and the latter need not be cybernated.”

Paik also said, "there is no rewind button on the betamax of life."

The US Department of Art & Technology will continue to promote the convergence of art in all aspects of society as an integral part of that strategy. That's what I'm here to tell you. It's an integral part so long as you're willing to listen to the needs of the artist. Art and technology is the cornerstone of good economic policy. It's a cornerstone of sound business policy. And it's one of the reasons why I'm optimistic that the artist will continue to lead the world when it comes to innovation and change. And that will be good for all people. That will be good for the revitalization of what I call “The Artistic Spirit.”

I want to thank you for what you do. I appreciate your compassion. I appreciate your interest in the future of digital media.

And I am confident in those principles of virtualization that will unite and lead us forward. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

Contact: Press Secretary of the US Department of Art & Technology
press@usdept-arttech.net

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