What is Media Art? Visualising Blog Tags on Rhizome.org

04Dec10

An experiment for a short project brief called Mapping a Medium.

Rhizome is dedicated to the creation, presentation, preservation, and critique of emerging artistic practices that engage technology. Through open platforms for exchange and collaboration, our website serves to encourage and expand the communities around these practices. Our programs, many of which happen online, include commissions, exhibitions, events, discussion, archives and portfolios. We support artists working at the furthest reaches of technological experimentation as well as those responding to the broader aesthetic and political implications of new tools and media. Our organizational voice draws attention to artists, their work, their perspectives and the complex interrelationships between technology, art and culture.

For this project I wrote a Processing sketch that reads a .txt document containing all the keywords Rhizome tagged their blogposts with for the month of November. The sketch counts the number of times an individual tag appears – the more appearances a given tag makes, the higher it appears on the visualisation. The result is a kind of retro-aesthetic grid, reminiscent of early computer graphics.


The point of the piece is to begin to examine the question “What is New Media Art?” Of course media can be any method we use to communicate a message or concept, so understanding it by these terms leaves us with a vague and problematic definition. It is not an art movement – the term has not arisen from an organised group of artists operating under common ideologies or an agreed manifesto. Instead, New Media Art becomes a catch-all term for artists in the last few decades of the 20th century and up until the present who directly engage with technology, or comment on the use of technology as culture, in their art. Even by this definition, as vague as it is, one can find inconsistencies and irrelevancies.

This piece uses the collated tags of one month of Rhizome’s posts to begin to understand how we define New Media Art. Rhizome updates their blog numerous times a day with various artworks that could be described as being New Media, despite the great diversity the blogged artworks. Each post is tagged with keywords relevant to the post’s content. In gathering this data over a longer period (in this case one month) we can begin to see how patterns develop with frequent keywords, and build up an image of what can be a work of New Media Art. This media-map is testament to the many associations New Media Art has – with some tags being perhaps surprisingly popular.

I’ve enjoyed working on this project, so I will probably tweak it some more over the coming weeks, using bigger datasets from Rhizome and other websites. The piece is best as a 3d model, so I’ll upload it to openprocessing when it’s fully stable.

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