In this research project funded by Montreal's Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science, and Technology, artist, researcher and academic Caroline Langill selected pioneering examples of electronic and new media art produced by Canadian artists from 1970 to 1991. The introductory statement expresses a need to write this report in order to construct an understanding of the greater trajectory of Canadian new media art, whose history has remained under-documented. Langill chose artworks according to their exhibition history, larger recognition in terms of precedence for later artworks and innovation in audience interaction, and their technological contribution. I know little about this subject myself, and I found Langill's series of artist interviews, accompanying essay, and image library quite instructive. I was also impressed by the fact that at least half of the artists discussed here are women, which arguably was not the case in other contexts. See below for a few works from the project, click the link to access Shifting Polarities.
"Shifting Polarities: Exemplary Works of Canadian Electronic Media Art Produced Between 1970 and 1991" by Caroline Langill
In the early seventies Gerald O'Grady, a professor of English Literature at the State University of New York in Buffalo, was asked to become director of the euphemistically titled "Educational Communications Center." The division was to provide technical support for the entire campus. Sensing a thankless administrative appointment he agreed, but only if he could simultaneously create and direct a department dedicated to the study of emerging media, one that would provide artists and filmmakers access to these technologies and a theoretical basis from which to explore it fully. Thus, the Center for Media Studies (MediaStudy/Buffalo) was formed. Groundbreaking in its scope and focus, the faculty included filmmakers Hollis Frampton, Tony Conrad, Paul Sharits, and James Blue, video artists Steina and Woody Vasulka, and Peter Weibel. The book Buffalo Heads: Media Study, Media Practice, Media Pioneers, 1973-1990, edited by Woody Vasulka and Peter Weibel, thoroughly documents the people and activities that were a part of this highly influential center. Part exhibition catalog (a similarly titled exhibition "Mind Frames: Media Study at Buffalo 1973-1990" was mounted at ZKM in 2007), part catalog raisonné, and part coffee table book, and coming in at 837 pages and almost 10 lbs, it could be called the definitive text on this place and period.
Long before flash mobs, liveblogging, and file-sharing were part of the vernacular, artists were creating social sculptures and elaborate systems for public collaboration. The upcoming SFMOMA exhibition, "The Art of Participation: 1950 to Now" takes a sweeping look at work that addresses co-authorship, exchange, and rapidity--all themes we associate with life in a digital society, but which the show traces back within a post-war art historical context. Organized by the museum's new media curator, Rudolf Frieling, the show includes works ranging from groundbreaking projects by Vito Acconci, John Baldessari, John Cage, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Dan Graham, Hans Haacke, Lynn Hershman, Yoko Ono, Nam June Paik, and Andy Warhol, to contemporary work by Jonah Brucker-Cohen, Janet Cardiff, Minerva Cuevas, Antoni Muntadas, the Raqs Media Collective, Warren Sack, and Erwin Wurm. The show also casts a glance at the ways in which the title's theme has evolved with communicative media. Take, for instance, the old-fashioned gesture of audience participation. Tom Marioni's legendary public project The Act of Drinking Beer With Friends Is the Highest Form of Art offers an intoxicating stance on the act, while MTAA's Automatic for the People: ( ) allows you to vote on the theme, props, and even subtitle of a performance they'll publicly enact at the museum on November 7th. If you can't make it to San Francisco to see the show and participate live, you can, of course, get in on the act with the online works. Because, really, the show's nothing without you. - Marisa Olson
Image: Lygia Clark, Diálogo:
In the recent work of Ken Jacobs, showcased this month in an exhibit on tank.tv curated by Mark Webber, the beginning and end of the 20th century ingest one another in a technological uroboros. A central name in American experimental film since the century's middle, Jacobs has now virtually abandoned shooting and editing celluloid in favor of digital production. In works like Capitalism: Child Labor (2006) and New York Ghetto Fishmarket 1903 (2006), Jacobs mines images from near 1900, taking delight in twisting and strobing them using digital editing, creating new works that revive the visual novelty of pre-cinematic optical toys and explore the hidden three-dimensionality of their source materials. The effects mimic similar patterns that Jacobs has executed live for years in his Nervous System performances, using altered projection devices of his own making; some of these epic events he has recreated in fixed form, including Ontic Antics Starring Laurel and Hardy (2005) and Two Wrenching Departures (2006). For tank.tv's exhibit, Jacobs has wisely excerpted ten minutes or less from these and other longer works, which in their originals can run into triple-digit minutes. It's a wisely pragmatic decision to offer only samples online rather than the whole shebang, given the challenged attention span available to the typical internet surfer, but this does mean that the grandly symphonic nature of Jacobs's work is barely conveyed; users are granted but a taste. Jacobs's sampler is rounded out with a selection of early film work, which range from downtown Beatnik romps featuring Jack Smith to the canonical structural film Tom, Tom the Piper's Son (1969-71), a rigorous investigation of Edison's composition, to his exquisite exercise in "found cinema," Perfect Film (1985), which reprints enigmatic lost local TV news fragments from the day ...
Stan VanDerBeek (1927-1984) shares with artists like Josef Albers, Aldous Huxley, John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, and Buckminster Fuller the legacy of having developed their practice at Black Mountain College, the creative mecca where these and other thinkers pushed the edges of visual art, music, literature, technology, and consciousness. His experimental films of the 1950s blurred dada collage and science fiction, and he was an early adopter of both analog processes and computer animation, establishing for him a godfather-like position in the origin-narratives surrounding new media. His often rough aesthetic anticipated glitch-fetishism by several decades and drove the surrealist aesthetic into new territory; yet this is not to say that his works didn't go down smoothly. (The internet is full of video evidence of his colorfully dreamy proliferations.) The artist is currently the subject of an exhibition at New York's Guild & Greyshkul gallery, where one can see VanDerBeek's contribution to the proto-history of digital copy-and-paste stylistics in the form of real copy-and-paste collages and his own reworkings of his early films. Much of the work in the show, including a "faux mural" he transmitted electronically to international venues, in 1970, was made in his days at MIT, where his immersion among scientists and engineers had a clear impact on his art. VanDerBeek had a futurist and almost cosmological approach to his work and was one of those artists known for spouting beautiful witticisms about finding universal modes of expression that transcended media and the confinement of traditional forms. At the end of the day, he also reminded us that "Art is the artifact of reality (not taken for granted)." - Marisa Olson
Digital Arts and New Media (DANM) Technical Coordinator