MEDIA by Michael Archer from Installation Art
The colonization by artists of the dream and desiring spaces of the media has been of specific political significance. Think, for example, of Barbara Kruger's use of the language of advertising, of Krzysztof Wodiczko's projections or the video installations of Dara Birnbaum, Nam June Paik, Marie-Jo Lafontaine and Gary Hill, and of the words of the U.S. artist Jenny Holzer which you find stuck up in phone booths, flickering across LED displays and pumping out from spectacolor advertising boards:
PROTECT ME FROM WHAT I WANT.
GO WHERE PEOPLE SLEEP AND SEE IF THEY'RE SAFE.
IT TAKES AWHILE BEFORE YOU CAN STEP OVER INERT BODIES AND GO AHEAD WITH WHAT YOU WERE WANTING TO DO.
Although these sentences are not specific they never the less refer in a very direct way to some of the major issues of contemporary existence - AIDS, homelessness, hunger and so on. A key feature of an art like this is that as well as delivering its message, it does so in terms which draw upon the way in which such problems are represented in the media. It is the mode of experience that matters, as much as what it is an experience of.
In the 1920's Laszlo Moholy-Nagy recognized that photography provided us with something else besides its extraordinary ability to represent the world. The 'photogram' or 'camera-less record of forms produced by light' freed photographic technologies from its dependent, reproductive function and indicated that it was 'in a fair way to bringing (optically) something entirely new into the world.' What Moholy-Nagy's 'painting with light' revel is that the manipulation of a medium creates its own space which, unlike the perspectival space of post-Renaissance painting, does not refer to 'real' space but exists alongside it. By extension, many more such 'technological spaces' can be entered by for example, switching on a video monitor, TV set, turntable, slide projector or tape deck. All these media, in addition to possessing the capability to record and represent an event to a spectator in another time and place to that in which it occurred, engender a mode of experience which is quite particular to themselves.
We inhabit these technological environments as much physically as psychologically, a fact which media theorist Marshall McLuhan perceived clearly. Writing in the early sixties he considered how the possibilities opened up by these new spaces radically undercut the conventional tendency to evaluate the cultural experience along the avant garde/kitsch axis. It is the 'depth of experience' provided by the electronic media that erodes the importance of distinctions such as 'high' and 'low' because:
[A]nything that is approached in depth acquires as much interest as the greatest matters. Because 'depth' means 'in interrelation', not isolation. Depth means insght, not point of view; and insight is a kind of mental involvement in process that makes the content of the item seem quite secondary.
Some from the loose association of artists around George Maciunas, known as Fluxus and working both in Germany and the U.S., began to explore these media spaces from the late fifties onwards. Nam June Paik in his work, first with sound and subsequently with video, offered situations in which the audience could interact with the technology, constructing their own 'messages' and thereby challenging the impenetrable authority of the media. For Random Access he cut up a pool of recorded tape and stuck the strips haphazardly on a wall. Playback equipment was provided with a portable head so that one could draw it across the desired selections of tape. Similarly, later set-ups allowed viewers to manipulate magnetic fields or feed sound signals into a TV monitor in order to modify and distort the image on the screen. Wolf Vostell incorporated television screens into paintings.
The limit case of this opening up of new environments. or at least, the one which preoccupies us at present, is the computerized world of virtual reality. Writing of virtual reality or cyberspace technology in 1990, Regina Cornwell said: 'The media has already pounced on it as the psychedelia of the 90s, of the telepornograhy of the future.' We witness this when, for example, we are priveleged with a 'missile's eye view' of the destruction of Baghdad and the compturized target-location of the bomber pilots during the Gulf War. 'This Nintendo war', Aimee Morgana called it. In general, bearing witness to the workings of the mass media by, for example, watching a film or TV programme, or listening to a record, implicates the viewer/listener as a straightforward consumer of spectacle. The majority of the artists in this section, from Peter Fend's proposals for the reshaping of the geopolitical map through Antoni Muntadas's reflection on the phenomenon of television evangelism to Christian Marclay's irreverent treatment of long-playing records, use information technology and the conventions of mass communications to destabilize the authority and power of that spectacle."
from: Installation Art - by by Nicolas de Oliveira, Nicola Oxley, Michael Petry, Michael Archer (1994)
Labels: art, edu, FVNM, Media Practices, SAIC, video, video art