<< preface

this blog is nina wenhart's collection of resources on the various histories of new media art. it consists mainly of non or very little edited material i found flaneuring on the net, sometimes with my own annotations and comments, sometimes it's also textparts i retyped from books that are out of print.

it is also meant to be an additional resource of information and recommended reading for my students of the prehystories of new media class that i teach at the school of the art institute of chicago in fall 2008.

the focus is on the time period from the beginning of the 20th century up to today.

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2008-07-01

>> It's important that you attend

The advertising flyer for 9 Evenings presented the event as follows: "You will hear the body broadcast its sounds. You will see without light. You will witness a deaf-mute interview. You will see dancers floating on air. Those of the audience who are willing will become more than spectators. You too can actually float. It's art and engineering and a little theatrics. It's important that you attend." (1) This emphasizes viewer participation, a common enough practice within the context of happenings, and the unusual — or a priori impossible — character of the proposed experiences. The alliance of art and technology would make it possible to upset perceptual codes, as if technology fostered an extension of viewers' ordinary sensory apparatus and enhanced their perception. The performances presented novel situations in the form of experiments in which viewers were invited to take part: infrared cameras revealed the presence of a crowd of 500 people in total darkness (Open Score); the audience heard, amplified, sounds emitted by the muscles and the brain (Grass Field), or sounds considered inaudible (Variations VII); visual and audio sources were simultaneously multiplied (Two Holes of Water — 3); viewers were plunged into a labyrinth of transparent polyethylene (Physical Things), and so on. Speakers placed at selected points throughout the space of the stage and auditorium reinforced the viewer's feeling of immersion, and destabilized the frontal viewpoint instituted by the stage and its equipment. 9 Evenings constituted an example of "environmental theatre," as defined by Michael Kirby, a critic who took part in Rainer's performance: "It is only when the presentational field and/or performance elements move around, over, or under the spectator that we may call the performance 'environmental'." (2) This concept of environment was hardly foreign to 9 Evenings, since the TEEM system was based on it.

Another critic of the time, Richard Kostelanetz, was of the opinion that 9 Evenings belonged to what he called the "theatre of mixed means." This type of theatre does without a script, combines elements like music, dance, film, lighting, sculpture, and painting, and incorporates "new technologies."

On several occasions, Kostelanetz underscored the change in perception implied by this type of theatre: "Each piece demands of the spectator an actively engaged and highly personal perception." Further on, he says, "It employs various media of communication to create a field of activity that appeals to the total sensorium." (3) The importance attributed to perception, then, put the body back at the centre of the debate. Technology did not therefore dispense with the body, but suggested another approach to it, incorporating it into each of the 10 performances. There was, for example, Fahlström's robot body, machine body and marionnette, Alex Hay's enhanced body, Childs' and Rauschenberg's moving body in a dialogue with its environment, Paxton's immersed body, Whitman's deformed and fragmented body, Yvonne Rainer's and Deborah Hay's "remote-controlled" body, and Tudor's and Cage's body grappling with machines.

Whether visible or not, the various interfaces designed for the performers in 9 Evenings made the body into a sort of bridge between the stage and the technological environment. It is in this sense that we can use the expressions "interfaced actor" or "subjectile" to describe the body of the actor confronted with such interfaces. The Latin root of subjectile, subjectus, designates the surface that serves as a support. My line of thinking here derives from a text by Jacques Derrida, "Forcener le subjectile," (4) which deals with drawings by Antonin Artaud and the texts that accompany them. On several occasions, Artaud uses the term "subjectile" to designate the paper on which he draws, pointing out, among other things, that it betrays him. Taking Artaud's use of this term as his point of departure, Derrida wonders about the element of the subject that remains in the subjectile. The bridge that gets constructed between subjectus and subjectum, or subjectile and subject, seems to me to be a good way of designating the interfaced body, ambiguous, grappling with machines, like some operator who is alternately of a piece with and distinct from the object he or she operates.

In short, these concerns with the body and perception converge in a crucial way with those of the engineers and industrialists of the period, who were interested in the kind of changes in the user's perception produced by the new technologies developed in the 1950s and 1960s. Indeed, studies of perception were at the heart of the research then being conducted at the Bell Laboratories, whether it dealt with sound or with analog or digital imagery. 9 Evenings made it possible to indirectly explore certain aspects of these questions.

C.B. © 2006 FDL

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... is a Media Art historian and independent researcher. She is currently writing on "speculative archiving && experimental preservation of Media Art" and graduated from Prof. Oliver Grau's Media Art Histories program at the Danube University in Krems, Austria with a Master Thesis on Descriptive Metadata for Media Arts. For many years, she has been working in the field of archiving/documenting Media Art, recently at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Media.Art.Research and before as the head of the Ars Electronica Futurelab's videostudio, where she created their archives and primarily worked with the archival material. She was teaching the Prehystories of New Media Class at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and in the Media Art Histories program at the Danube University Krems.