Dzhimova, Mariya: Integrating Sociology of Art with Science and Technology Studies: An Ethnographic study on the Production of Virtual Reality Art

In recent years, artists started experimenting with the new medium Virtual Reality (VR) and producing immersive, computer-generated worlds. Further, many museums, festivals and galleries worldwide have already exhibited Virtual Reality artworks. However, despite this very fast and successful entry of VR-works into the art world, it seems that this art form is still very new and unestablished. Thus, Virtual Reality is challenging the everyday practices of many actors within the art world including the artists themselves, who are trying to figure out how this new medium could work as an artistic medium. Based on ethnographic research done in the studio of the Berlin artists Banz & Bowinkel, this paper attempts to understand how one specific VR-work called “Palo Alto” is translated into an art work by examining the very process of its production. In contrast to classical approaches in sociology of art, for instance Bourdieu’s theory of the field of cultural production or Becker’s works on art worlds, research on art done in the tradition of Science and Technology Studies (STS) examines the artistic production process itself, rather than a logic of the field, or particular conventions determining this process. In this manner, STS on art has shown that artistic production is a form of practice that emerges and unfolds through an engagement with the material world and which, as such, cannot be understood as the result of specific conventions or a logic of the field. However, by emphasizing that art is a material practice like any other social activity, STS research on art neglects the specificity of the artistic production process. In other words, it does not shed much light on how problems and solutions which unfold through the process of working with materiality and which lead artists to design artworks in one particular way rather than another, are also framed by specific field logics. By focusing on the artistic practice itself and by investigating how materiality and specific field logics are defining and influencing each other through the practice, this paper attempts to combine the perspectives of two different research approaches, namely the sociology of art and STS on art, and thereby elaborate on how they could complement each other.