The New Conformists, at Eyebeam

After finally seeing "The New Romantics" show at Eyebeam (a closing reception was last night) I read Paddy Johnson's Artnet interview with Nicholas O'Brien, one of the three curators. Her questions drip with understandable skepticism and the answers are not satisfactory. Johnson asked if technology was making us lose our sense of awe, and O'Brien replied with an observation about his college-level digital art students:

They not only feel overwhelmed by access to our history, but I think they are overwhelmed by the amount of things that need to be considered and the amount of things that should be considered when being a responsible artist in the 21st century.

"Responsible artist in the 21st century" -- there's the problem right there. Can you be a romantic and be that? It suggests a better title and concept for the show than "The New Romantics." This is a show of up-and-coming new media artists who aren't overwhelmed by choice, aren't opposed to using the tools and algorithms of consumer society they're told they must use to exist responsibly in the modern world (Apple computers, Samsung screens, 3D printers), and are all looking for validation within an academic system that expects them to work and teach responsibly. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you The New Conformists.

Some of the work was good and would have been better if viewed through a non-Romantic lens. I particularly enjoyed Jonathan Monaghan's baroque decoration flying apart and slowly drifting through a virtual cubicle environment, Krist Wood's collection of physics-modeling demos by one- or two-time users culled from YouTube and elsewhere, Katie Torn's Tanguy-esque collages, and other non-romantic works.

Completely missing from the show was the lo-fi or DIY trend in new media that's as close as the field gets to a Romantic impulse, in the sense of the Arts & Crafts Movement's response to industrialization or William Blake's contention that Isaac Newton killed the cosmos. This rebel, self-help tendency has been manifested in the past with the Bent Festival (circuit bending), Blipfest (chiptunes made with "obsolete" gear) or anyone trying to make their own computers or an alternate, non-corporate/government Internet. At Eyebeam it was Apple gear as far as the eye could see. Sorry, Steve Jobs was not romantic.