When mediawork was first founded it was, in many ways, the only game in town for those who wanted a public space to discuss the changes that digital technologies were having on society. The astonishing growth of academic programs in the region since 1994 has seen a proliferation of conferences, seminars, residencies and symposia on all facets of this transformation. In 2001, mediawork moved on to become a publishing initiative and the planned spontaneity of its meetings has been put to the side, at least for the foreseeable future.
Peter Lunenfeld’s media work: The Southern California New Media Working Group brought a cerebral glamour to the digital community forming in Southern California in the early 1990’s. He was the philosopher and theorist at the centre table in the cafe, speaking in perfectly formed footnotes and making connections and links, both social and intellectual, long before it was really apparent that society itself, the internet reinforcing real world communities, was going to be the outcome of so much experimentation with digital tools. Peter’s gatherings always had the quality of being at a cool Parisian cafe in an avant garde movie. The gatherings were alive: one was an art happening at a Hollywood nightclub, another a dusk party at the Schindler House on Kings Road, most were on Saturday afternoons at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, where he’s on the core faculty of the graduate Media Design Program.
He’s in the position of thinking about and critiquing tools and the works of art they produce, and the commercial implications of the tools and the art, while everything is forming, and in flux. The lifelong student of myth, Joseph Campbell, said that taking symbols at face value, giving them a literal meaning rather than grasping for what they suggested metaphorically, was like going into a restaurant and eating the menu instead of the meal. Peter is a theorist in a symbolic environment in a time when the menu, now, may literally be the meal.
I approach criticism as a way to elucidate that which I admire about art rather than simply trying to fit it into a preconceived straightjacket. I’d like to think that I’ve been able to explore that ferocious pluralism ... which so characterizes our era. This is disconcerting to those who pine for the certainties of movements, schools, or avant-gardes that marched in lockstep, one after the other. These days, you’re on your own, it’s up to the individual user to craft his or her own frameworks. Part of the job of the critic is to offer models for this process.
...I’m fascinated by the post-utopian periods of aesthetics and technology. The utopian moment of a medium or field is intoxicating, of course—when the cinema or AI, rock’n'roll or robotics, the portapak or the Web, is going to change the world that very instant. But no one movement or technology can support that level of hype. Often, it’s after the general public’s attention has been raised and then dashed that artists, technologists, and yes, even entrepreneurs, can go back into the wreckage and make interesting, even lasting interventions.
Peter Lunenfeld, interviewed at Frontwheel Drive
Peter conceived of the mediawork pamphlets as “theoretical fetish objects for the 21st century. Because, what is a fetish, after all, but an object imbued with fantasy, a thing that links outside itself to powerful imaginary realms. It’s no wonder that one of the chief fetishes our society has produced is the book.” Writing Machines by N. Katherine Hayles, designed by Anne Burdick, discusses writing online and the nature of hypertext. Bruce Sterling, the science fiction writer and columnist, who recently explained in Wired magazine why he isn’t a futurist has written Shaping Things “created objects and the environment, which is to say, it’s a book about everything”. It’s designed by Lorraine Wild.