Always Already Just

innovative combinatorics and invention in new media art


In this chapter I explore the creative aspects of combinatorial inventiveness in new media art, and point to some of the conceptual parallels, shared methodologies and common issues in digital humanities. The introduction provides a conceptual framework of combinatorial inventiveness, and an overview of its roles in the arts and culture, leading to its applications in new media art practices. With regard to diverse production in new media art, I focus on combinatorial inventiveness in generative artworks created primarily by processing the material from cinema, television and the Internet. These artworks blend procedural thinking with bricolage, leverage complex technical infrastructures, foster curiosity and encourage vigilance in our critical appreciation of the arts, technology, culture, society and human nature. I discuss them in three sections which exemplify the effects and consequences of computational paradigm: quantification, statistical abstraction and database logic. Throughout each section, I outline the theoretical considerations that can be educed from the examples, and expand on them in the final section which examines the cultural circumstances and the artists’ motives for analogizing, generating ideas and meaning making in relation to the cognitive and ethical implications of artefactual creativity. I show that combinatorial inventiveness in new media art encourages both innovation and invention by intelligently demonstrating the artists’ background thinking processes. Empowered by keen awareness of our sociotechnical contexts and informed by our cultural dynamics, the artists consciously interface their ideas, knowledge and skills with uncontrollability and uncertainty, and share this interplay with the audience playfully and engagingly. They deftly apply the intellectual and emotional energy of ludic cognitive drive which comes before scientific or artistic method, and can effectuate original—often surprising—new mental configurations.

Keywords: Abstraction, Algorithm, Analogy, Animation, Artificial Intelligence, Code, Cognition, Creativity, Database, Digital Art, Digital Culture, Error, Film, Generative Art, Imaging, Infographics, Innovation, Intuition, Invention, Language, Learning, Machine Learning, New Media Art, Photography, Procedure, Programming, (Re)creativity, Semantics, Software, Statistics, Transcoding, Visualization.

Publication: Eduardo Navas, Owen Gallagher and xtine burrough, eds. 2021. The Handbook of Remix Studies and Digital Humanities. New York, NY: Routledge.