Navigating the new territory: art, avatars, and the contemporary mediascape – David Joselit

Navigating the new territory: art, avatars, and the contemporary mediascape

Artforum (summer, 2005) pp. 276-9

from Joselit : Mixed Reality로 인해서 결국 disembodimentㅏ 된다. 이게 어떻게 현상학을 이어질 수 있을까. Navigational art. 이 글에서 저자는 Navigational art 라고 이야기하면서 이것이 diembodiment를 불러온다고 주장한다. 이것이 내 포인트. 최근의 디지털 세계에서는 physical and virtual world가 increasingly disembodied된다. 

These are the symptoms of a new spatial order: a space in which the virtual and the physical are absolutely coextensive, allowing a person to travel in one direction through sound or image while proceeding elsewhere physically.

What makes our presnet moment distinctive is the degree to which devices such as … allow our bodies to occupy two places at once while, conversely, our physical environments function more and more as mediascapes. (276)

but virtuality suggests the sensation of inhabiting such projections bodily. What makes our present moment distinctive is the degree to which devices such as the iPod, the cell phone, and the personal computer allow our bodies to occupy two places at once while, conversely, our physical environments function more and more as mediascapes composed not only of surfaces of print and electronic signage but also of the inhabitable three-dimensional signs of architectural branding.

James Meyer, Miwon Kwon, and Hal Foster have developed a compelling reading of those site-specific art practices of the 1980s and ’90s that many have understood as a return of Land art’s concerns in the context of identity politics. it is the artist’s activity that brings a discursive landscape into visibility.

Kwon has argued that the itinerant or nomadic artist-ethnographer (this latter term is more Foster’s than hers) operates as a presence within the virtual site of discourse. 즉, 노마딕한 아티스트의 존재 자체가 site로서 기능하게 된다.

it is the artist’s physical actions or manipulations that constitute discursive site specificity: It is literally a kind of performance art.

Belonging to a period of unprecedented media expansion (the television era), both sets of practices center on the mutual delimitation of virtuality and presence. In Land art presence is associated with remote territories, while virtuality inheres in mechanically reproduced documentation. In site-specific art, it is the artist as diagnostician or itinerant consultant who signifies presence in materializing a hitherto-virtual discursive site. 

In navigational art, whose technological or media analogue is cyberspace, the line between representation and actuality (as marked by a territory or a body) is rendered indiscernible. Here, the opposition between virtuality and presence is restaged as a conjunction of virtuality and presence, as in works like Janet Cardiff’s “Walks,” where a viewer is immersed in an auditory world that contradicts r phantasmatically augments her physical perambulations.

Navigational art emerges when the two guarantors of presence found in Land and site-specific art cease to convince.


In cyberspace an avatar is a movable icon representing a person, a virtual-presence capable of navigating mediascapes. More the index of a location than a traditional form of subjectivity, an avatar does not possess an identity but rather exercises one (or many) provisionally in order to chart a particular path: As a fictional character controlled by an actual body, it is defined by where it goes rather than what it is.

Despite its dangers, the potential of the avatar is considerable: By injecting a powerful ingredient of fantasy into the delineation of identity, the avatar makes possible an imaginary/real mobility that the artist’s physical presence in site-specific art could hardly allow. It is as avatars that I understand the quasi-mythical characters that populate Matthew Barney’s most recent work.

In his Cremaster cycle, 1994-2002, Barney’s cast of fictional characters traveled simultaneously in exotic physical locations, phantasmic mythological terrains, and microscopic biological worlds beneath the threshold of human perception.

the hallucinatory, almost myopic concentration on indecipherable tasks that Barney’s films are known for. The juxtaposition of these contradictory cinematic idioms enables what the artist has referred to as the positioning of one mythology within another, or the refashioning of a place through its mythological transformation.

The mutability of an icon in cyberspace is here actualized through its simultaneous occupation of the communicating worlds of myth and cinema verite. Barney’s method for evoking such figures tends toward the fictional.

Silvia Kolbowski offers a second, “nonfiction” model.  a video projection in a separate room showing close-up the hand gestures of the interviewed artists.

did not remain in sync. In other words, the mnemonic journey of the audio script is explicitly severed from the body’s agency, marked in vestigial form by the video images where out-of-context hand gestures suggest a puppeteer who has lost his grip on the strings. If Barney articulates the freedom of the avatar, Kolbowski dwells on the consequences of that freedom. The loss of the body she represents is further registered as a purposeful evasion of naming: Interviewees were asked not to identify themselves or the author and title of the work they described, leaving the vertiginous impression of identities unhinged.

Since the elision of document and fiction is a prominent characteristic of navigational art, and since the document is typically aligned with politics while fiction connotes quietism or escape, the confusion of these terms leads one to question whether a politics of the mediascape and the avatar is even possible. My own answer is affirmative. First, as in recent theories of the posthuman, such a politics could build coalitions across balkanized identities: It would construct new avatars for particular purposes, drawing its limbs from as far afield as the Greenman and Julia Butterfly Hill. And second, it would be truly navigational, committed to opening new paths inside existing closed circuits like broadcast television. It would focus less on diagnosis and more on action.


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