Wei Hu: From Medium to Milieu: Notes on Embodying the Digital

Advisor/tutor: Marina Vishmidt

Arnhem, June 2016


This thesis presents a discussion around the phenomenon of digitalization in contemporary art, in particular through an analysis of problematics like the function of digital affect, the materiality of the digital and the labor concealed by it. I project uses of the medium in contemporary art making onto debates about technology in sociopolitical and socioeconomic dimensions. I assemble case studies of contemporary artworks, fiction, media and political theories to develop a perspective on the complexity of digitalized reality. When this reality becomes intricate, ambiguous and multi-layered, whether we are looking at artistic or social conditions, I propose three stages that can be used to distinguish "the real" from the "idealized real." These three stages are the demystification of a "digital sublime" which transforms digital art; the exposure of materials and labor in abstract and less transparent processes of socioeconomic exchange; and a reconsideration of the relationship between the artificial and the real by locating the digital in fundamentally new contextual shifts and social relations, rather than seeing it simply as a manipulative medium in artistic practice. "From Medium to Milieu: Notes on Embodying the Digital" takes a critical viewpoint on the thriving currency of digitalization in contemporary art and tries to explore the mediation between human conditions (human subjectivity and agency in general) and digital technology in art and society.