This is Marshall McLuhan

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This is Marshall McLuhan is the transcript of Alex Kitnick's opening remarks preceding the screening of This Is Marshall McLuhan: The Medium Is the Massage, that took place at the New Museum as part of Rhizome's New Silent Series.


Anthony McCall, Long Film for Ambient Light, 1975

Tonight we’re going to look at a 16mm print of This is Marshall McLuhan: The Medium is the Massage, which begins with a brief shot of a light bulb. A few weeks ago as part of its programming at Dia, Light Industry presented Anthony McCall’s Long Film for Ambient Light (1975), which consists of a lone, if rather large light bulb, hanging in an otherwise empty room, with a wall of windows covered over in scrim on one side to modulate the light coming in and out. Over a 24 hour span, reaching from noon one day to noon the next, the natural light of the sun and the artificial luminescence of the bulb were put in constant tête-à-tête, projecting forwards and back, contrasting and comparing and facing off with one another. In this play of light and shadows, various social interactions took place, different at different times of the day and night. Occasionally, the bulb was the center of attention—literally highlighted—with people clustering around it, while at other moments its light seemed to match the daylight and not draw much interest at all. Alone and isolated in a cool white space, the bulb’s plain power, usually used as an aid to display, was itself illuminated.

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, 1964

The light bulb was always McLuhan’s first example when explaining what he meant by his famous mantra “the medium is the message” since it communicates no information itself but rather facilitates a range of behavioral possibilities: “The electric light is pure information,” McLuhan wrote in 1964’s Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. “It is a medium without a message…

 

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(Recent) History Class: Paul Ryan Interviews for Grey Room

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“Cybernetic Guerrilla Warfare Revisited: From Klein Worms to Relational Circuits” In an interview by Felicity D. Scott and Mark Wasiuta for the Summer 2011 issue of GreyRoom, artist and writer Paul Ryan talks about the time he spent working with Marshall McLuhan, the early days of video art, and his work.


“At that moment [1967] I thought of myself as a writer. I was holed up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan with my typewriter, trying to write, and I heard McLuhan on the raso saying, ‘of course, in this electronic age of computers, satellites, radio, and television, the writer is no longer somebody holed up in his garret pounding a typewriter!’ It stopped me cold. I had to find out what this guy was about.”


Ryan gives a fascinating account of video art in the 1960s, from the Howard Wise Gallery, to securing money from the New York State Council for the Arts for video art at a time when no such funding was readily available, and tells the story of meeting the heir to the IBM fortune who admired McLuhan and wanted to give him two Sony Portapaks that both ended in Ryan’s hands to “experiment” with.

 

Artist book based on the Triadic Tapes, 1976 (via the Smithsonian Archives of American Art)


Ryan wrote extensively about video art, cybernetics, and technology; his work was then featured in some seminal exhibitions, such as “TV as a Creative Medium” at the Howard Wise Gallery (1969) and “Primitivism in Twentieth Century Art” at MoMA (1984). (Here's a 1969 letter by Ryan to Howard Wise.) 

“I would avoid the term visual to describe video. You can see a bottle of perfume, but sight is not the sense it really affects. You can see video images but their effect is primarily kinesthetic or proprioceptive when you see yourself. Video is about perceiving events with the nervous system, not visualizing in a pictorial way.”

 

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