Crypto-dividuals: Theory, Historiography, and Case Studies of Postdigital Participartory Art


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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Awarding Institution
  • Linda Chiu-han Lai (Supervisor)
Award date21 Jun 2022


Traditional notions of the artist have been challenged in various ways with the advent of the new forms of materiality, relationality, and ontological perception that digitality has unleashed. The advanced participatory apparatuses available online have strengthened and diversified the delegation of the authorship of art that post-studio practices have made possible since the 1960s. Paradoxically, however, as giant online companies have harnessed the participatory architecture of the Internet for the purpose of exploiting unpaid labor, the participants in the making of art are in danger of becoming alienated workers trapped in a black box with unknown logic and intentions. The aim of this study is to theorize, historicize, exemplify, and forge new agendas for an experimental digital art form that responds to these circumstances from the perspective of Critical Theory.

I refer to a form of digitally-mediated social relations that combines “postdigital” (Taffel 2016) and “participatory art” (Bishop 2006, 2013). In exploring “postdigital participatory art,” I focus on the radical possibilities of a unique creative subject that embraces an infinite range of anonymous but networked participants mass-produced on networks. I point out that the new material variability in digital art, by reframing the subject-object relationship, converts the traditional notion of author-subject into that of “participant-superject.” The concept of superject (Whitehead 1978; Deleuze 1993; Savat 2010) here refers to “power by modulation.” Thus, I argue that the fluid power (Savat 2013) of multiple subjectivities, as opposed to the solid power of individuals, exerts a latent force of resistance by building new social relationships outside the logic of the black box.

Next, I conduct more concrete investigations into postdigital participatory art by reviewing the historical, discursive, and institutional dimensions of the Korean art scene. Through revisionist historiography, I elaborate a new genealogy of unique collective subjects by excavating and linking technical activities before and after the introduction of modern technologies into the production of Korean art. This genealogy, which takes into account copy-makers, craftsmen, and members of the Art Tech Group, helps to conceptualize a new assemblage of art, collectivity, and technology that postdigital participatory art has the potential to bring about. I then analyze critically the examples of postdigital participatory art presented at the Seoul Mediacity Biennale, documenting the increasing focus on the role of art in society since 2010. My analysis indicates that postdigital participatory art can play a pivotal role in fostering the emergence of an alternative system within the context of a large-scale digital art festival.

Lastly, I introduce experimental digital art projects intended to “deblackbox” the techno-capital-state integration in Korea. I distinguish three types of projects according to their deciphering strategies of either redesigning algorithms, critical making, or repurposing social media. I refer to the participants in this collective deblackboxing as “crypto-dividuals,” that is, as digitally-mediated “dividuals” (Deleuze 1992) who share certain codes and are equipped with “technical activity” (Simondon 1989) and “critical literacy” (Stiegler 2010).

My overarching claim in this study is that experimental digital artists must decipher the capital-state-technology logic of the black box by reinventing social relations in the language of art. In this respect, postdigital participatory art has the potential to deblackbox the paradoxical loop of digital labor by reconnecting individuals (or dividuals) and, ideally, making use of spaces outside the control of state or commercial interests. Beyond the modernist model of individual creation, such participants in postdigital art are expected to dismantle the current techno-power conspiracy, realize fluid politics, and implement new agendas. The agendas that I propose include computation-level participation, experiments in new forms of co-individuation among dividuals, the humanitarian use of algorithms, and changing the role of the individual artist. My hope is that this study will help to document the avant-garde in digital art in Korea and worldwide and explain its historiography.