Digi-Pop: A Tale of Obsolescence and Nostalgia

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On October 10, 2013, Phillips Auction House presented PADDLES ON!: the world’s first major commercial auction of works by artists using digital technologies as their medium. The auction, in partnership with the virtual art auction house and marketplace Paddle8, marked a change in attitude toward the already vibrant and diverse digital art movement, endorsing the cultural significance of digital art for collectors.

The digital art movement is seemingly all-encompassing as digital technologies are vastly diverse and easily manipulated. In turn, complexities of definition arise quickly, the most considerable of which regards digital production versus visual display in terms of the qualities necessary for an artwork to be classified as digital art. Some critics argue that a work of digital art can not be defined as such unless the final product itself is digital: ”on screen.” Despite disputes between scholars, however, digital art has become an umbrella term for different contemporary, digitalized art movements, such as internet art, net art, or new media art. The differences between them are contingent upon the audience, for the defining lines have been blurred into obscurity. At its essence though, digital art is an artistic work in which digital technology is the foundation or fabric of the artwork. Beyond the technological medium, the thread that ties the diverging sectors together is the contemporary artists’ reactions to the new modes of expression and cultural phenomena that they and their audiences have intimately experienced in their everyday lives.

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With the rapid rise of the tech community, it is no surprise that the two worlds—both within the realm of creation and both culturally impactful—should begin to meld. Artists have always been some of the first to integrate new materials and technologies into their art, if not making such materials the central focus. As technology becomes increasingly influential, our lives have begun to shift towards a digital existence; intangible data empowered with new and physically disencumbered tools. Digital artists create works that are representative of this transformation. The range of art created by such artists is vast, spanning from mundane uses of a low-culture technology such as Google Image Search or Microsoft Paint to highly complex, interactive digital pieces that push the boundaries of technological innovation. Within this range, several artists have chosen to harness their experiences of our digitalized pop culture and day-to-day social interactions as a foundation for creation. They utilize digital technologies to reminisce on our fast-paced culture of technological obsolescence, their artworks infused with nostalgia for the constantly changing, digital pop-culture. This is Digi-Pop—the area of the larger digital art movement native to the computer and Internet that focuses on technology’s influence on communication, consumerism, entertainment, embodying the societal embrace of our digital metamorphosis.


In the 1990s, telecommunication exploded. During the end of the previous decade, personal computer development advanced to produce more powerful machines that were more capable and less expensive. As they became more common in the workplace and at home, it was not long before the Internet, previously used by the military and academic institutions, would infiltrate daily lives. The previous modes of communication like the telephone and TV have now been redefined by the Internet. Forms of personal interaction accelerated from face-to-face or phone conversations to Instant Messaging (IM) and social media networking. The birth of search engines allowed for libraries worth of knowledge to be almost instantly accessible, our constant “connectedness” a way to never be alone. Suddenly, a new, endless world existed to explore and excavate.

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For those who witnessed the dawn of the internet, who tied up the phone lines forwarding chain emails, who spent long car rides with their Gameboys on hand and learned HTML for their Xanga site before even entering teen-hood, there is a sense of closeness. Our experiences of the birth and blink-of-an-eye growth of digital technology has created a personal and profound relationship beyond convenience. Like a friend or family member, technology has been with us as we grew and changed, growing and changing as well, helping to shape our identities. Seemingly overnight, how people present themselves to the world is no longer just physical. An entire generation’s development from childhood to adulthood was paralleled by the digital-technology and internet evolution. There is a certain unique attachment to, and nostalgia for, the technologies that defined our surroundings, relationships and experiences during these critical growing years.

Our interactions with technology and the internet has changed our lives in the real world; the cultural context in which we are entangled has defined our perceptions. Digi-Pop stems from this melding of online, digital persona and reality, relying on the audience’s familiarity with the digital realm for its artistic significance to be recognized. As our culture becomes digitized, a new visual lexicon has emerged that is greatly exploited by Digi-Pop artists. Internet veterans who have the most expansive knowledge of this symbolic vocabulary have changed the way we communicate. Emojis and GIFs are part of everyday correspondence, a reversion to a symbolic language like Hieroglyphs, but updated. Paddy Johnson, founder and editor of Art F City, compared the use of GIFs and Emojis as a mode of communication to Haim Steinbach‘s curated shelves displaying pop culture relics, “but whereas Steinbach’s selections are carefully arranged and often inscrutable, these…use a similar generic format for a very different purpose: high-speed conversation.”

Digi-Pop is engrained with nostalgia, as technology moves so quickly that obsolescence is almost a constant. Much of the artworks feel sentimental as the artists look back at the early days of the Internet, the pixelated animations and kitsch pop-ups, as the Romantics of the late 18th century looked back to the days before the Industrial Revolution, glorifying and longing a recent past suddenly so distant. 

Digi-Pop also plays off of the inherent disjunction found within the experience of browsing the Web. There is a sense of safety and privacy while interacting with the Internet, one is physically closeness to a private screen. However, the content is “connected to the collective public commons of the Internet.” Digi-Pop is viewed in the same manner, it is a personal and private experience but of something immersive, a universal experience that is continuous with our daily interactions with the digital.

Utilizing the pop-cultural imagery and symbols from the digital age and using the internet as their foundation for presentation, here are ten artists that represent the Digi-Pop movement: Digi-Pop Part II: Who to Know


Digital technologies have given artists’ tools of creation whose capabilities seem infinite; artists write their own programs and algorithms and create digital, interactive, autonomous worlds, spaces. With such tools, digital art is growing at an exponential pace, matching the ever rapid development of technological innovation and further fueling Digi-Pop artists with a nostalgia for a not-so-distant past.

The collaboration between an online art market platform and an established auction house is only the start, it will not be long before cultural institutions begin to implement digital art into their collections, some, such as the New Museum, have already begun accommodating the rise in digital art by hosting online, digital exhibitions. With the Metropolitan announcing their mega-expansion and MoMA taking steps to reconfigure their space, one can assume they will be considering the proper infrastructure to house ever-more digitalized artworks and the multiple movements stemming from this new medium.

 

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  1. Brilliantly written. I love how the author is able to explain the dichotomy within Digi-Pop—revealing that it is both absolutely modern, yet almost instantly obsolete due to the internet and technological age. Moreover, how she’s able show that to be a successful artist in the Digi-Pop era, it’s not necessarily who can create the most advanced piece, but rather, who can properly harken upon, or break down their art well enough to satisfy the new-nostalgia of each moment. Very acute.

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