<< 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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>> Steve Mann, "MaybeCam"


WearCam concept: MaybeCam

The following are experiments that the writer has conducted and purposely taken to the extreme in order to (a) illustrate a point and (b) experience reactions and observations first hand. It is not likely that the average reader would go to these extremes but some more subtle variations of these experiments will still provide similar insight or reactions.
Maybe Camera
You cannot patent a mere "idea", but, rather, the idea must first be reduced to practice. Similarly, you cannot copyright an idea, it must first manifest itself as some tangible form. Conceptual art, however, provides us with a means where the idea itself is the contribution.
  • Take one piece 1/8 inch black or dark acrylic, cut to 3 by 4 inches.
  • Obtain a bulky sweatshirt in your size.
  • For your protection, a video record of you and your establishment may be transmitted and recorded at remote locations.


    Lay out the lettering so as to leave room for the acrylic between the words "locations" and "ALL" ("locations" to be at the end of one line of text, and "ALL" to begin the next line of text).
  • Affix the acrylic securely to the shirt.
  • Wear the completed shirt into a department store or other location where
    • video surveillance is used but
    • photography is prohibited (this criterion can be determined experimentally even before the shirt is made, by entering the proposed establishment with a 35mm camera or the like, and taking pictures within said establishment in a somewhat obvious manner).

The above piece is entitled "Maybe Camera --- Who's Paranoid?". Just as the customer doesn't know what's in the mysterious ceiling dome of wine-dark opacity, and must therefore be on his best behaviour at all times, so too, the shopkeeper doesn't know what's inside the customer's shirt, and likewise must be on his best behaviour at all times.
Probably Camera
Depending on the level of paranoia, if `Maybe-Camera...' is not "understood" by your audience, then perhaps the following conceptual/performance/reflectionist piece would be:
  • Obtain one miniature (12 inches in diameter or smaller) ceiling dome of wine-dark opacity, together with a camera and pan-tilt-zoom mechanism suitable for that dome.
  • Affix dome to backpack, facing backwards, cutting appropriate mounting hole in backback, leaving sufficient space, and installing appropriate housing for camera and pan-tilt-zoom mechanism. Leave the camera out for the time being.
  • Insert a small battery powered computer equipped with video capture hardware, and means of controlling the function of the pan-tilt-zoom controls automatically.
  • Insert into the pack, means of wireless communication to/from the Internet, or to/from an Internet gateway/server.
  • Prepare software to allow the function of the apparatus to be controlled remotely via a WWW page, with ability to capture and display images from the camera if the camera is present. Make this WWW page world-accessible and known to various people around the world.
  • Leave the work area and have someone else do the final assembly in your absence, according to the following instructions: Roll two dice, and:
    • If the total comes to two or three, insert into the dome a small light bulb, affixed to the pan-tilt-zoom sensor but connected to it in no way, together with sufficient ballast into the pack to make up the difference in weight between the bulb and the camera, so that the wearer could not determine this difference by weight.
    • If the dice total exceeds three, insert the camera, properly mounting it and connecting it to video digitizer. Verify its operation using a Web browser of your choice.
  • Wear backpack together with shirt (`Maybe Camera...'), into a record store, preferably Tower Records, where ceiling domes of wine-dark opacity are used. If asked if it is a camera, or what it is, indicate that you're not certain, but point out the domes upon their ceiling and indicate the similarity, so that perhaps it could be a light fixture. (Security guards at Tower records have informed the author that their ceiling domes of wine-dark opacity are "light fixtures")
The above piece is called `Probably Camera --- Who's Paranoid?'. Probably Camera and Maybe Camera can be worn together of course, since one uses the front of the body, while the other uses the back.
No Camera
Dan Graham uses video time delay together with mirrors, etc., to create a delay between cause and effect. His video feedback involves both senses of the word "feedback": (1) the cameras "sees" the screen which is displaying the output from the camera, and (2) the users who see themselves on the screen adjust their behaviour according to this psychological "feedback". A conceptual piece, involving time-delay, to symbolize the disjointness between cause and effect that video recording creates is now described:
  • Place pinhole camera and microphone into baseball cap, and record video from an establishment where photography, filming, and the like is strictly prohibited, but where video surveillance is used, and where there are documented cases of hidden cameras having been used. While recording video, talk to members of establishment, including manager. Ask whether or not they use video surveillance, and if so, why they are videotaping you without your permission. Ask what their "ceiling domes of wine-dark opacity" are, if any are present.
  • Leave this establishment, and return with the following, but without the camera:
    • Flat-panel television screen affixed to shirt.
    • Source of previously recorded video material.
    • Means of switching between previously recorded material and standard broadcast television channels.
  • Play the previously recorded video on the television screen, and if you are informed that photography, filming, or the like, is prohibited, indicate that there is NO CAMERA, and that what you are wearing is merely a television. Switch through the various channels, indicating that one of them (the one playing the previously recorded material) looks like it "must be a local channel --- a VERY local channel".
The piece is called `No Camera --- Who's Paranoid?'.
`My manager'
`My Manager', borrows from the Stellarc/Elsenaar tradition in performance art: not just that the author's `third eye' might be analogous to Stellarc's third hand, but, more importantly, that the body is controlled remotely. `My Manager' allows participants to, via Radio TeleTYpe (RTTY), become managers and remotely contribute to the creation of a documentary video in an environment under totalitarian surveillance (where photography, video, etc., other than by the totalitarian regime is prohibited). The artist is metaphorically a puppet on a "string" (to be precise, a puppet on a wireless data connection) who, for example, dutifully marches into the establishment in question, goes over to the stationery department, selects a pencil for purchase, and marches past the magazine rack without stopping to browse the magazines. In this example, he has been sent on an errand to purchase a pencil for a higher and unquestionable authority. When challenged by the department store's infrastructure, as to the purpose of the cameras he is wearing, the artist indicates that his manager requires him to wear the apparatus so that she can make sure that he does not stop and read magazines while he is performing errands on company time. Just as representatives in an organization absolve themselves of responsibility for their surveillance systems by blaming surveillance on managers or others higher up their official hierarchy, the artist absolves himself of responsibility for taking pictures of these representatives without their permission because it is the remote manager(s) together with the thousands of viewers on the World Wide Web who are taking the pictures. The subjects of the pictures, for example, department store managers, who had previously stated that "only criminals are afraid of video cameras", or that the use of video surveillance is beyond their control, either implicate themselves of their own accusations by showing fear in the face of a camera, or acknowledge the undesirable state of affairs that can arise from cameras that function as an extension of a higher and unquestionable authority. If their response is one of fear and paranoia, they are handed a form, entitled RFD (Request For Deletion) which they may use to make a request to have their pictures deleted from the artist's manager's database (they are informed the images have already been transmitted to the manager and cannot be deleted by the artist). The form asks them for name, social security number, and the reason for which they'd like to have their images deleted, and requests that they sign a section certifying that the reason is not one of concealing criminal activity, such as hiding the fact that their fire exits are illegally chained shut. Through `reflectionism' the department store attendant/representative sees himself/herself in the bureaucratic "mirror" created by the artist who is a puppet on a (wireless) "string". `My Manager' forces attendants/maintainers/supporters of the video `Surveillance Superhighway', with all of its rhetoric and bureaucracy, to realize or admit that they are "puppets" for a brief instant, and confront the reality of what their blind obedience leads to."

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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.