Eelco Wagenaar: The Artist as User

Mentor: Alena Alexandrova

Independent reviewer: John Byrne

Arnhem, June 2011


In this thesis I focus on the question - how to maintain or regain a sustainable and autonomous position as an artist? The research stems from the realm of media art, dealing with interactivity, and is the written result of a research that I have been doing the last two years. It represents my current view on the topic.
I am myself an artist in the realm of media art and to support my practice I have a part time job in the field of engineering. Rethinking this combination made me question how to maintain an autonomous position as an artist in the current climate of neo-liberalism, where budgets and funding are cut rigorously. The issue of loss of autonomy seems to be urgent especially in the field of media art where the struggle of survival is even harder then in most other art forms. At the current the art world tends to be seen as having a parasitical connection to society.
The research is based on theory from various fields. The range of fields is from art and media theory, system dynamics in specific to science in general. A connection is made between the different theories from different fields. These connections are supported by examples from the art world.
As (media) art is a practice of relations, the practice of art should be used to engage science and society. This role of the artist seems to be currently unclear. It would be in the benefit of art, science and society to have a balanced relational dependency between these three autonomies. The research shows that it is possible to see art as a multifaceted practice simultaneously at work in several different registers partly in the domain of art, partly in the field of sciences, and humanities, and still be part of the social construct of everyday life and also having influence on this social construct.


A very interesting and highly insightful essay on the possibility of artistic autonomy within contemporary society. Wagenaar experiences taken from working in technological based industrial development to outline a very personal take on the relationship of artists to technology, interactivity and social intervention. Waganaar's first chapter, on the possibilities and conditions of interactivity in media art lays a very clear grounds for the development of ideas concerning the shifting/changing roles of artworks to audiences in contemporary society. This then allows Waganaar to analyse the shifting and changing roles of art's relationships to a developing technological culture and society in his second Chapter. Issues of commodification, crossdisciplinarity and long term strategy (as opposed to more tactical solutions) are evaluated here. In the final Chapter, Waganaar deploys a personal knowledge of systems dynamic analysis, feedback loops and response diagrams to build up a beautifully illustrated argument that art/artists should
position themselves as the link between a double helix like co-dependence of science and society. One of the key strengths of this essay is its continual illustration through a wide range of visual and critical sources – from Dan
Graham, Warhol and the Artist Placement Group to Sven Lutticken's 'Three Autonomies' and Deleuze's 'Society of Control. If there is a weakness in this essay it resides in the over use of this material to illustrate/back up a set of
arguments which teleologically arrive at the final conclusion. The helix conclusion could have been arrived at much earlier in the essay, perhaps forming an initial proposition, which could then have been tested and evaluated more rigorously against the evidence deployed. J.B.


John Byrne is currently Co-Director of Static Gallery and Programme Leader of the BA (Hons) Fine Art Course at Liverpool School of Art and Design.
Over the last fifteen years Byrne has published internationally on issues of art, technology and popular culture.