08 June 2008

An Engaging Text

New Media & Society
2008, vol. 10, pp. 357-360.

The Future of Art in a Digital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness
(Intellect Books/University of Chicago Press, 2006,
paperback edition 2008)

From book review by Dr. Vince Dzekkan,
Monash University, Australia

Early in Mel Alexenberg’s The Future of Art in a Digital Age, the reader encounters a passage that describes the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright and Frank Gehry, reflected in their respective Guggenheim Museums, as expressions of form giving shape to content. The author goes on to describe the prevalence of the spiral form, traversing natural and symbolic readings identified with the Jewish cultural tradition (referring to biblical writings found in the Torah, Kabbalah and Sephirot). This fusion of perspectives, drawn from Hebraic cultural and religious sources is, in itself, an indication of a familiar and repeated pattern that operates throughout the remainder of this engaging text.

The book’s central theme establishes the ‘contemporary confluence of Hebraic consciousness and postmodern art in a digital age’ (p. 9).This premise builds out from Alexenberg’s perception that the transition from modernism to technologically-mediated postmodernism represents a paradigm shift which can be understood by recognizing parallels between each ‘-ism’s’ contrasting allegiance with Hellenistic versus Hebraic cultural perspectives. Alexenberg’s distinction between analogue and digital creative processes develops (spirals out) from this dichotomy. For example, postmodernism – like the Hebraic worldview – is dynamic, action-centred and based upon lived experience, whereas the values of modernism – which acts as the culmination of two centuries of western or Hellenistic influence – are primarily expressed in static, passive object form.

Alexenberg summarizes this perceived relationship, noting that ‘Hebraic consciousness shares with postmodernism a dynamic, creative, playful consciousness that promotes the interplay between multiple perspectives and alternating viewpoints from inside and outside’ (p. 13).This observation is built into the book’s structure, with chapters dedicated to ‘outside’ perspectives offered by semiotics and morphological approaches to the analysis of art forms that are complemented by ‘insider’ perspectives linked directly to the author’s Jewish heritage. These sections present ‘Kabbalistic’ and ‘Halakhic’ perspectives as background to discussion of the author/artist’s own creative investigations, which respond directly to the production of art in a digital age.

Alexenberg’s dynamic interplay of insider/outsider methodologies and exploration of the multiple relationships that exist between, art, technology, and culture today is the highlight of this text. His combination of practice-based outcomes with scholarly negotiation of the topic presents a distinctive character to this research.