Digital Dynamics in Nordic Contemporary Art: Discussion Paper

Tanya Toft Ag


Saara Ekström, Beacon, 2019


Digital Dynamics in Nordic Contemporary Art

This discussion paper introduces a panel and audience conversation at the Screen City Biennial 2019. The theme of the discussion departs from the book Digital Dynamics in Nordic Contemporary Art (Intellect, 2019) edited by Tanya Toft Ag. Based on testimonials collected from 78 artists, the book presents expressions and articles that examine how contemporary art changes with the digital. The book pays particular attention to the national and international Nordic socio-political context.


Digital Dynamics: Art’s New Making

Artists today are nomadic, globally visible beings, living and communicating within networked social structures and operating contingently with material and worldly ecologies. Stimulated by an existence of worldly synchronicity, global touch, instant response, and visible effects, artistic practice manifests beyond representation and making of objects for the world. Afforded and stimulated by digital dynamics, art evolves with ideas of making; temporally engaging, affecting, acting on, and sometimes even changing the world.[1] Artistic agency is therefore no longer (if it ever was) delimited to the visionary figure critically ‘seeing,’ communicating, representing, or revealing the world to us. It also evolves from a pursuit of both real and perceived capacities to ‘make’ the world. 

Certainly, what art makes today goes beyond object, beyond affections and ideas, and beyond the field of reception and circulation of the so-called ‘art world.’ This is no less the case when art moves still further into spaces, labs, and environments out of the modernist grip and when it enters real-world cycles of production. Yet concern has been raised about how artists produce ‘new’ tools or experiences and towards the ecological implications of what art makes. This is a concern with what is realized and aided by art, not least considering the growing interest in art’s making from industries offering residencies, technology, and resources for art’s production (and co-production of industrial products), while inviting artistic creativity to feed dominant narratives—narratives of who we are, how we live, and what we aspire towards. Critical accounts on art’s expanded field of making stress the art as an operative program entangled with precarious dynamics of the digital and its industries. Art’s new making has launched both excitement and concern with art’s ecologies of making the ‘new.’

There seems to be no escape for especially media-based art but to contribute to capitalist ecologies of production cycles, technical systems, and logics of cause and effect cued by dynamics of temporal optimization, growth, and exploitation. This conclusion however seems to suspend art in an ideal dependent on the past.

In continuation of how a temporal, processual trajectory in artistic agency has expanded art as research, system, activity, intervention, social situation, and program, art has become operative. Especially as science and technical domains expand the artistic toolbox and nurture skills in crafting with code and digital material, the artist is cast as a figure of extended agency—as (co)-producer, creator, craftsperson, social or collective facilitator, investigator, advocate, scientist, and ‘world-maker.’ In various compositions of expanded reality, artists alter and make versions of worlds for us to experience that we embrace and assess as the ‘object’—or making—of art. 

As the artistic genius becomes an inventor, artistic invention becomes a force of innovation. Some art today seizes the moment to finally impact the world as the pragmatists, the constructivists, the futurists, and the system aestheticians dreamed about. They see the invitation from the world beyond art as an opening to enter the inner production room, write the blueprint, engineer the black box. Art’s new making concerns the invention of new roles for art.

Aristotle declared that ‘not one product of art has the source of its own production within itself.’[2] The source of the alteration, movement, or state of change that art brings about is not in the object of art but in the ‘movement’ of the human being—the artist. Hence the question about art’s new making is less about the tool or object and more about the motivation and anticipation of the artist. It concerns a multi-temporal web of interconnected or entangled ecologies that fuse into the artistic invention and that is engaged, confirmed, and perhaps altered. It begins with a sense of who we are, our origins, histories, centers and peripheries, and it continues in our co-evolution with technics. This we see in themes evolving around ideas of the cyborg, cyberfeminism, transhumanism, technoanimalism and avatars, artificial life and intelligence in relation to human consciousness, synthetic computational consciousness and nature.[3]

We invent ourselves in the technical—by inventing tools, infrastructures, communications systems and memory aids and structures. We invent ourselves in art. Through our inventions, we pass down cultural codes and programs to the next moment of invention—the next epoch, generation, or cycle of artistic production. 

While artists ‘make’ from a sense of contingent existence with their contemporaneity, art naturally takes on new forms and behaviors and enters new domains to exist and operate. Questioning in more detail what is at stake with art’s ‘new’ making:

What drives artistic pursuits of inventing today? How might we—in perspective of the arts—grasp the dynamics between invention and innovation? How can we account for art’s ecologies when making the ‘new’? What might the pursuit of art’s new making promise, demonstrate, and feed forward?

These questions will be discussed in the panel and public meeting Digital Dynamics: Art’s New Making during the Screen City Biennial 2019.

Follow responses to the conversation at:



[1] The survey of artist testimonials collected for the book Digital Dynamics in Nordic Contemporary Art (Intellect, 2019) reveals how artists explore a mode of subjectivity rooted in their own embeddedness in digital conditions in society.

[2] Aristotle 1984, Physics, Book 2, §I: 329.

[3] These themes emerge from the artist testimonials collected for Digital Dynamics in Nordic Contemporary Art (Intellect, 2019).



DR. TANYA TOFT AG is a curator, researcher, writer and lecturer examining trajectories of media art(s) and urban change. In 2017, she gained her doctoral degree from Copenhagen University with a critical perspective on urban media art as temporal, contemporary matter in perspective of conditions of intensity, intelligence and immersion in urban media aesthetics. Her curatorial practice evolves with media art and media architecture in urban environments, as curator of the Screen City Biennial 2017 (Stavanger) and head of the Biennial artistic research program, and associated with the Streaming Museum (NYC) since 2011 and Verve Cultural/SP Urban Digital Festival (São Paulo) since 2012. Independent exhibitions include Voyage to the Virtual (Scandinavia House, NYC, 2015) and Here All Alone (Copenhagen, 2015). Toft is editor of Digital Dynamics in Nordic Contemporary Art (Intellect, 2018/2019) and co-editor of What Urban Media Art Can Do—Why, When, Where, and How? (av edition, 2016). In 2017, she co-initiated the globally networked Urban Media Art Academy.