20 Digital Years Plus
"Twenty Digital Years Plus" is a softback book that presents and contextualises the art of Station Rose (Elisa Rose and Gary Danner) from 1988 to the present. Its gatefold cover conceals both a CD and a DVD which provide audio and video to complement the static images and texts, and carries an endorsement from Bruce Sterling on the back cover.
The book starts with a series of essays before presenting an illustrated history of Station Rose. Those essays approach Station Rose from some refreshing and unexpected angles to make a convincing claim for their art historical interest.
Peter Noever writes in the book's preface that "Media art is both an art form and a way of life for Station Rose", a claim that the evidence of the book more than supports and that I think is key to why Station Rose's art is so interesting. The book functions as a mid-career retrospective, and Noever suitably sets the themes of achievement and continuity.
Vitus H. Weh's essay explains how Station Rose got their name and puts their LoginCabin project into the context of German post-cold-war architecture and the sociology of the Wild West. We are a long way from the early 90s view of the Internet as a new frontier, but despite its critics that view was not uniquely tied to American society and provided a liberating impetus to individuals who didn't always subscribe to the Californian Ideology.
Hans Diebner's critique of net art and activism brings a thought-provoking scientific, techno-art historical and philosophical critical literacy to bear on Station Rose and the artists and activists that he contrasts them with. Diebner weaves together diverse conceptual strands into a coherent critical case without any resort to jargon, and it's worth thinking through how his case affects our view of net art in general as well as Station Rose's position within its history.
Didi Neidhart's interview with Rose and Danner provides context for and insights into how the pair create and conceptualise their work, and how their art and music relate. Station Rose emerge as the product of cultural engagement and lived history rather than academic fashion.
Gabriel Horn writes from a curator's point of view about the future shock of working with Station Rose in 1991, in contrast to working with them in 1999 when they are part of an intermedia exhibition.
The bulk of the book is an illustrated history of Station Rose. They started out in 1988 as a multimedia lab in Vienna complete with 16-bit Amiga computer. In November 1988 they went online for the first time at the Sampling conference they held in Vienna, having already adopted the technology and concepts of sampling into their art and performance. Since then their work has taken the form of CD-ROMs, live streaming media, live multimedia performance, Internet homepages, CDs and vinyl with Sony records, books, TV shows, multimedia installation, webcasting, lecturing, teaching, and a shed.
Station Rose also create memes, or language, such as the statement quoted by Bruce Sterling on the back cover that "Cyberspace is Our Land", the much needed identification of the "Digital Bohemian Lifestyle" and the increasingly paradigmatic condition of being "private://public". Even in an age when the concept of multimedia has largely been absorbed by the Internet their work crosses and assembles different media.
Much of Station Rose's digital art has the not quite glitch aesthetic of overlayed pixellated form in shallow depth that any serious history of digital art needs to account for. But the cubicles, huts, pillows and panels of their installation work have the same aesthetic. Station Rose's work is in itself a history of digital art over the last two decades. And this digital art is always in dialogue with physical performance and physical structures, the virtual in dialog with the real to illuminate each other.
In Neidhardt's interview, Danner says of Station Rose that "We are quickly bored with things as soon as they become mainstream." Boredom with the content and products of digital media is the friend of the scheduled obsolescence and cultural amnesia of market mass media. But boredom with the form of and the means of creating digital media can also serve to motivate the creation of successive alternatives to it.
Over the last 20 years the Internet and digital media have gone from being a novelty to being socially and economically pervasive. This rate of change, and the constant promotion of different visions of what the Internet is for by different institutions, mean that our relationship with the Internet has come to be in plain sight. Artists can usefully depict and help us conceptualise that relationship, particularly those artists who can use the digital media that has been drawn into the Internet and become no small part of its operation.
Station Rose are such artists. Their art has the quality of being both the product and producer of lived experience in the age of digital media. It refracts the logistics and glitches of the Internet through the prism of contemporary art's deceptively low-fi rummage sale aesthetics to present them as objects of contemplation. When digital media was new this served to make them accessible to an unfamiliar public. Now that digital media are pervasive to the point of invisibility, this serves to make them visible again as objects of contemplation and to afford the viewer a critical distance from them.
20 Digital Years Plus is an engrossing, thought-provoking presentation of the ongoing development of Station Rose that makes clear the value of their constantly enquiring relationship to ever changing technology.
(With thanks to @MarkRHancock)
The text of this review is licenced under the Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0 Licence.