Digital Arts and Cultures in a Postmodern Context


Level 1


Tutor: Dr Anna Notaro, Room  E 12.21; 024 631 1440;



We are living in a unique moment in history in which all forms of cultural production and distribution are becoming based on computer technologies. This increasing dependence on images for information and images as knowledge necessitates visual and digital literacy, as well as a technological, cultural literacy

We will examine the basic history of the computer and computing in the arts, theories and trends in media art and digital culture. We will study artists who use the computer as a medium, tool, or subject matter, screening work from the web, video and film. As we examine work in a variety of forms (net art, digital video and audio, interactive works, animation, hypertext documents, etc.), we will contextualize the concepts through readings available mostly on-line.


Course Aims:

By the end of this course it is expected that students will be able to:

-          demonstrate a critical understanding of the development of selected digital art forms in their historical, cultural and institutional contexts;

-          undertake close analysis of  a range of digital ‘texts’ and, where appropriate, to relate them to their contexts;

-          demonstrate a familiarity with some of the most important critical terms and concepts used in the discussion of the ‘new media’

Class time will be divided between discussions, screenings of artwork, movies and presentations of assignments. No computer expertise is required.  Although there will be frequent assignments requiring access to the World Wide Web. The language of the course is English, however the tutor will consider with some degree of flexibility any arising difficulties.



Readings: Students are expected to read the texts prior to class meetings and to participate actively in the discussions. Optional Readings, in print outs format, are available from tutor, please request 1 week in advance

Assignments: Students are to do ONE (or more if they wish to) of the assigned activities indicated for each session and to report to class by making use of the in-class computer. Students’ reports can be written in Dutch or English. Assignments count for 20% of the grade. It is strongly advised that students work in groups of 3-4.

Final Essay (2000/2500 words essay): The essay gives you the opportunity to explore a topic of your choice in depth among the ones addressed in the sessions, (due on June…, noon, in the Digital Culture box, located in the Department Office). The essay should be well written and coherently organized. Make sure to give sufficient support for your argument in the form of quotations or examples, do not “drop” quotes or images, and cite your references. It can be written in Dutch or in English. Please consult the tutor before deciding to write your final essay in English.  The essay counts for 80% of your final grade.
It is essential that all work is presented according to the conventions set out in the ‘Schrijfwijzer Algemene Cultuurwetenschappen’ (for English speakers see ‘
How to write good essays’  and ‘MLA Essay writing Guidelines’ )  Attention should be paid to these conventions because essays that are presented incorrectly might lose marks. Any essay returned after the deadline will be penalized (For essays returned 1-2 days after deadline 1 mark is detracted, from 3 to 5 days delay, 2 marks are detracted, essays handed in  5 days after deadline are not accepted)  unless medical evidence is presented to the tutor. To be granted an  extension students should contact the tutor by email at least 1 week before deadline.



For each class you are asked to read a theoretical article, to critically assess web sites, to do the weekly assignments, to do the optional reading, if you wish to know more about that topic. Don’t get discouraged, but try and come to terms with complex ideas. Please bring your questions to class, together we will make sense of complicated theories.


Tips on how to tackle difficult texts:

After reading the article once, take note of the concepts and / or foreign terms that you do not understand. Read a second time following the advice below:

  • Look up for words you don’t know in dictionaries and/or encyclopaedias
  • Summarize the text’s main argument in one sentence
  • Make a list of what, in your opinion, are the main characteristics of the text and explain why
  • Think about the elements that, in your opinion, constitute the cornerstone of Visual Culture
  • Try and discover the inter-textual references present in the text
  • Identify issues in the text with which you don’t agree and explain why
  • Consider carefully the style, tone and rhythm of some sentences that attract your attention take note of them and explain why they stand out from the rest of the text


Above all be proactive, creative, critical and open minded: try and establish connections among the diverse issues you come across and make explicit the reasons on which your evaluations are based. In matters of culture there are no easy answers, but that is no reason to stop asking questions!


This course outline is available at:


Week 1 Course Introduction

Course Overview + discussion of main aims & assignments


Week 1  What is Digital Culture?

Screening: extracts from The Net (1995) more on this movie at

Reading: D. Trend ed. ‘Introduction’ in Reading Digital Culture, pp.1-6 at

- Run the following tutorial: ‘Searching the World Wide Web: a basic tutorial’



1) Visit the ‘what is a computer’ section of the Cyberworld online exhibition at (view also the ‘related web sites’ at the bottom of page); report to class

2) Visit the ‘Digital Culture’ section of the Cyberworlds online exhibition at, (also the ‘related web sites’) report to the class.

3) View the following on the history of the Web and report to class

4) Read ‘A Short History of the Internet’ at, report.



Week 2   From Modernism to Postmodernism

Reading: M. Klages, ‘Postmodernism’

(optional) Defining Postmodernism

(optional) F. Jameson, Synopsis of his   ''Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism''



1) On the basis of Klages’ reading, compile a list of ‘key words’ which characterize Postmodernism/postmodernity and bring it to class for collective discussion.

2) Visit the ‘Everything Postmodern’ page at   Evaluate the web site critically: is it helpful in order to better understand what postmodernism is? If any, which pages/links in the web site you find most useful? Is really ‘Everything’ postmodern today, as the web site’s name would lead us to believe?

3) Can you think of any examples of ‘postmodern texts’, either in written of visual form, i.e. a novel, a movie etc? Try and explain, in writing, what it is that makes them postmodern. Report to class.


Week 2    Virtual Communities

Reading: D. Bell, ‘Community and Cyberculture’ in An Introduction to Cybercultures, pp.92-113

(optional) Howard Rheingold, ‘Daily Life in Cyberspace’ in The Virtual Community. Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier, 1993 available online at



1) Formulate a question regarding any of today’s readings. This question should address a central issue and should be phrased in such a way as to encourage class discussion. Post your questions on Blackboard, a few will be selected for class discussion

2) Find out more about one of the most popular chat programs on the web, icq, by visiting its web site at  Download the program and join if you wish. (alternatively, use msn messenger or yahoo messenger).Write a short account and report to class.


Week3   Online Identities

Reading: D. Bell ‘Identities in Cyberculture’ in An Introduction to Cyberculture, pp.113-137

(optional) Sherry Turkle, ‘Constructions and Reconstructions of the Self in Virtual Reality, 1996, available online at



1) Formulate a question regarding any of today’s readings. This question should address a central issue and should be phrased in such a way as to encourage class discussion. Post your questions on Blackboard, a few will be selected for class discussion

2) Look at online dating site (or search in Google for ‘online dating’). Think about what are the qualities that personal descriptions and photos are meant to represent. Are they truthful representations of people’s ‘real’ identities?

2) Visit the personal web page of Julian Dibbell at (click on ‘This Boy’s Life’). Assess the page: which are the elements that you find particularly significant? Think about how your own personal web page could look like, which hyperlinks would you include, what kind of information would you like a reader/viewer to know about your/Self? You might like to try and build your own personal home page,  the following could be useful


Week 3 Virtual Reality

Screening: extracts from BBC Documentary on Cyberspace

Extracts from ‘The Animatrix (2003) more on this at

Reading: Philip Hayward, ‘Situating Cyberspace: The Popularisation of Virtual Reality’

(optional) Michael Heim, The Essence of VR’ in The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality, 1993




1) Formulate a question regarding today’s reading. This question should address a central issue and should be phrased in such a way as to encourage class discussion. Post your questions on Blackboard, a few will be selected for class discussion

2) Visit the ‘simulation and visualisation’ section of the Cyberworld online exhibition at (visit also related links, bottom page). Report to class.

3) Visit the following website and choose a topic of your choice among the ‘Application’ list to know more about the practical applications of Virtual Reality in that field. Report to the class.


Week 4   Literature in the Digital Age

Reading: J.D. Bolter, Degrees of Freedom, at

Read the following sections: Introduction, The Hypertextual and the Virtual, Modes of Representation, Hypertext and The Future of the book.

(optional) K. Phelps, ‘Story Shapes for Digital Media’ at


View:  Nick Montfort, The Girl and the Woolf

Ana Maria Uribe,



1) Choose any of the following examples of hypertext fiction/digital narratives, write a short, critical account of the piece you have considered and report to the whole classroom

2) Having read Phelp’s ‘Story Shapes for different Media’, answer, in writing, the following questions:  which of her story shapes do you find most attractive and why? Does her own narrative fall within any of the ‘shapes’ she has identified? Report to class.

3) Visit the digital pages of the British Library at

Click on ‘Leonardo’s notebook and reflect, in writing, upon the significance of making available on the web such great books. Report to class.

4) Visit the Het Geheugen van Nederland at

And reflect, in writing, upon the significance of preserving national cultural memory by using the web. Report to class.


Week 5   Photography in the Digital Age

Presentation by the digital photographer Eric Kellerman, more about Eric’s work at

Reading: Lev Manovich, ‘Paradoxes of Digital Photography’ 1995 available online at

(optional) Jos de Mul ‘The virtualization of the world view: The end of photography and the return of the aura’ (available from tutor, request a week in advance)



1) Formulate a question regarding today’s readings. This question should address a central issue and should be phrased in such a way as to encourage class discussion. Post your questions on Blackboard, a few will be selected for class discussion following the presentation by the photographer Eric Kellerman

2) If you own a digital camera, take 2 pictures of your best friend and/or fellow student, one should be truthful to the ‘original’ the second   ‘re-touched’ it. What are his/her reactions to your manipulation of his/her image? Report to the class by showing us the 2 pictures.

3) Read about the new SenseCam  at

and reflect, writing, about the consequences of wearing a similar camera 24 hours a day!


Week 6 Computer Games

Screening: extract from Tom Raider (2001) more on this movie at

Reading: T. Friedman ‘ Making Sense of Software: Computer Games and interactive Textuality




1) read M. Ward, ‘Being Lara Croft, or, We Are All Sci Fi try and sum up the author’s main argument about the Lara Croft phenomenon in the movie and in the video game. Report to class.

2) read about the pacaman phenomenon at

And at

What is the significance of playing a video game in the street? Report to class.

3) download and play the following

And reflect on the significance of producing a video game for a ‘good cause’. Report to class.

4) Check out the latest video games releases at Read a few reviews and then try and write a review of your favorite video game. Report to class.


Week 6   Cinema & Special Effects

Screening: extracts from  S1mOne (2001) more on this movie at

Reading: A. Ndalianis and C. Henry eds. ‘Digital Stars’ in Our Eyes: The Star Phenomenon in the Contemporary Era’ (available from tutor)



1) Hollywood is moving onto the World Wide Web.  Movies currently playing include URLs (Website addresses) in their print advertising. Also it is possible to view trailers; check out the following sites:  Does the availability of longer trailers on the internet help the cinema industry? Would you be more encouraged to go to the cinema? Express in 300-400 words your thoughts and report to class.

2) Provide an answer to the following questions and share it with the whole class: What effect does the proliferation of special effects have upon contemporary cinema? In what ways has it hurt or improved films? What are your favorite special effects in films? It might be helpful to visit the ‘Digital Visual’ page Report to class.

3) Discuss some of the implications arising from the birth of the ‘digital star’ as discussed in A. Ndalianis articles, refer to the Tomb Raider movie screened in previous session and to the Lara Croft’s home page Report to class.

4) Find out more about the phenomenon of (short) movies (or music videos) based on video games by visiting the following web sites. Report your findings to class.

-  (click on video archive to watch old clips)

- (music video by rapper  Chuck D created using software of the video game Quake II, click on ‘watch film’)

- (to know more about how to create your own ‘machinima  (machine-cinema, i.e. cinema generated by video games). Also you can view the machinima film festival 2003 at


Week 6   Cyber-bodies

Screening:  extracts from Blade Runner (1992)

Reading: D. Bell, An Introduction to Cybercultures, section ‘the cyborg’ pp. 148-156



1) Visit to know more about the movie, but is it just a movie or there is more to it than that? Report to class.

2) Try and answer any of the questions about Blade Runner included at

3) Find out more about the history of cyborgs and report to class

4) Visit the home page of Prof. Kevin Warwick

The first academic to have a silicon chip implanted in his arm! Browse and report to class your findings


Week 7 Digital Art

Reading: J.A. Labadie, The New Media Soup: Some thoughts on newer technologies and the visual arts


- Visit click on ‘classic web works’ view

Molissa Fenley

- Click on  ‘Links to New Works’ and view the following: Tracey Benson, Stuart Bailey and Estelle Ihasz

view J. Loseby’s sketchbook, click on ‘textual tango’, ‘cyberfish’ and  ‘deathoftheself’

1)"Visit" any two of the world's major museums, select from the following list:

compare and contrast it  with  the Digital Art museum at Be sure to indicate, as specifically as you can, which sections of each museum would be most useful to your fellow students in their studies for this course.

2) View Stelarc ‘Prosthetic Head’ Exhibition and read article+ Artist’s bio at  and Stelarc’s home page Try and answer the following question: What is Carnal Art? (a few clues at  Can you establish any links with the idea of the ‘Cyborg?

Week 7 Music sharing & copyrights issues


Reading: JD Jarvis ‘Digital Art in Focus: An Overview, Past, Present and Future’

(optional) For the Napster  phenomenon see E. Moglen,  Liberation Musicology’ at and  D. J. Carr, ‘Ripped, Mixed-Up and Burned’ at

(optional) to know more about the latest examples of electronic music check out the following web sites:



1) Check out the following two websites for the contemporary debate about legal file sharing. What, in your view, are their main differences about music sharing and copyrights on the internet? Write down your conclusions and report to the class.

2) Check out the following two web sites and share with the class your reflections on the political uses of internet

3) Check out the following, especially the ‘video ,‘visual’ and one of your choice from the ‘articles’ section at  What is this web site’s position on the issue of making art available on the internet and copyright law? Report to class.




Course Text Book:

D. Bell, An Introduction to Cybercultures, London, Routledge, 2001

Further Readings/Viewing

What follows below is just an indication of some of the books and electronic texts that might be helpful in writing your essays.


Digital Culture (general)

Bell, D. and B. Kennedy, The Cyberculture .Reader, Routledge, London, 2000

Bolter, J.D. ‘Degrees of Freedom’ at

Comolli, J‑L. (1980) "Machines of the Visible" in T. de Lauretis and S. Heath (eds), The Cinematic Apparatus, New York, St Martin's Press, pp. 121‑42.

Doezema, M. "The Clean Machine: Technology in American Magazine Illustration", Journal of American Culture, 11, Winter 1988, pp. 73‑92.

Darley A.ed. Visual Digital Culture, London, Routledge, 2000

Druckrey T. ed. Electronic Culture: Technology and Visual Representation, NY, Aperture 1996

Feldman, T. An Introduction to Digital Media, London, Routledge, 1997

Hershman, L. (ed.) Clicking In: Hot Links to Digital Culture

Kantaris, G. ‘Avant-gard/Modernism/Postmodernism’ 1997 at

Lovejoy, M. Postmodern Currents: Art and Artists in the Age of Electronic Media, Upper Saddle River, NY: Prentice Hall. Lovink, G. (2002).

Lunenfeld, P. Snap-to-Grid: A User's Guide to Digital Arts, Media, and Cultures, MIT Press, 2000

Manovich, L.The Language of New Media, MIT Press, 2001

Morse, M. Virtualities, Indiana UP, 1998

Moser, M.A. (ed.) Immersed in Technology , MIT, 1996

Mul, J. de, De draadloze verbeelding: een virtuele blik in de toekomst van de beeldende kunsten. In: Zijderveld, A. (red.), Kleine geschiedenis van de toekomst, Kampen 1994 (

Murphie A. & J. Potts, Culture and Technology, Macmillan, 2003

Odin  Jaishree K. ‘Computers and Cultural Transformation’ at

Odin Jaishree K. ‘Electronic Revolution’ at

Poster, M. ‘Postmodern virtualities’

(This essay appears as Chapter 2 in his book The Second Media Age (Blackwell 1995)

Rush, M. New Media in Late 20th-Century Art D. Trend ed. Reading Digital Culture, London, Blackwell 2001

Sanford, C.S. ‘The Roots of Nonlinearity: Toward a Theory of Web Specific Art-Writing’ at

Sarup, M. & T. Raja eds. Identity Culture and the Postmodern World 1996

Trend D. ed. Reading Digital Culture, London, Blackwell, 2001



Barthes, `The Photographic Message' in Image, Music, Text, London: Fontana, 1977.

Barthes, R. (1993) Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, trans. R. Howard, London: Vintage (1980)

Burgin, V. Thinking Photography,London, Macmillan, 1982

Crimp, D. (1980) "On the Photographic Activity of Postmodernism", October, 15, Winter

Jay, M. "Photo‑unrealism: The Contribution of the Camera to the Crisis of Ocularcentrism" in S. Galassi, P. Before Photography: Painting and the Invention of Photography, exh. cat. NY: MoMA, 1981Hammond, J.L. (1981) The Camera Obscura: A Chronicle, Bristol

Krauss, R. (1982) "Photography's Discursive Spaces: Landscape/View", Art Journal, Winter, pp. 311‑319

Lister, M. (1995) The Photographic Image in Digital Culture, Routledge

Lury, Celia, Prosthetic Culture: Photography, Memory and Identity, London, Routledge, 1998

Mitchell, W.J.T. (1992) The Reconfigured Eye: Visual Truth in the Post-Photographic Era,

Manovich Lev  ‘Postmodernism and Photoshop’

Petro, Patrice ed. Fugitive Images: From Photography to Video, Bloomington, Indiana UP, 1995

Mul, J. de,’ Naar een modale fotografie’. In: FotoNet nr. 3, 1995

Pinney, C. (1992) "The Parallel Histories of Anthropology and Photography" in E. Edwards, ed., Anthropology and Photography 1860‑1920, New Haven: Yale UP

Price, M. The Photograph: A Strange, Confined Space CUP

Scharf, A. (1974) Art and Photography

Sontag Susan, On Photography, London, Penguin, 1979
Szasz, F. M. and Bogardus, R. F. "The Camera and the American Social Conscience: The Documentary Photography of Jacob A. Riis", New York History, 55, Oct. 1974, 409‑36

Wartofsky, M. W. (1980) "Cameras Can't See: Representation, Photography and Human Vision", Afterimage, 7, 9.

Wells, L. (1996) Photography: A Critical Introduction, Routledge

check out the following article at and bibliography at:
See also the Smithsonian American Art Museum Photography links at and



Brooker, Peter & Will Brooker (eds), Postmodern After-Images. A Reader in Film, Television and Video. London: Arnold, 1997

Docherty, Thomas (ed), Postmodernism. A Reader. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993

Downing D. and S. Bazargan (eds.) Image and Ideology in Modern/Postmodern Discourse (Albany: SUNY Press, 1991),

Erwin, T. `Modern Iconology, Postmodern Iconologies' in David Downing and Susan Bazargan (eds.) Image and Ideology in Modern/Postmodern Discourse (Albany: SUNY Press, 1991)

Friedberg A. Window Shopping: Cinema and the Postmodern, U of California Press, 1993

Harvey, D. "Modernity and Modernism" and "Postmodernism"

Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism Verso, 1991; 2 sections from Chapter 1 available online at

Levin, D. M. (1988) The Opening of Vision: Nihilism and the Postmodern Situation, New York

McRobbie A. Postmodernism and Popular Culture, Routledge, 1994

Sarup, M. & T. Raja eds. Identity Culture and the Postmodern World 1996

Sim, Stuart (ed.), The Icon Critical Dictionary of Postmodern Thought, Cambridge: Icon Books, 1998

Smelik, Anneke, ‘Carrousel der seksen; gender benders in videoclips. In: R. Braidotti (red.) Een beeld van een vrouw. De visualisering van het vrouwelijke in een postmoderne cultuur. Kampen: Kok Agora, 1993: 19-49. Nederlandse versie:

English version (article on gender bending in videoclips)

Woods, Tim, Beginning Postmodernism, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999


More on Video Games

Williams, D. ‘The Video Game Lightning Rod: Construction of a new media technology, 1970-2000’ at

See the ‘publications’ sub-page in   Joost Raessens  personal web site at


More on Digital Art

Museums and online exhibitions

Mark Amerika

Click on his project ‘Grammatron’

Read comment on Grammatron by R. Packer  ‘Net Art as Theatre of the Senses’ at

View the Digital Art museum at

History of Internet Art: Fictions and Factions Web Site at