by Miguel Cortez
(published in Contratiempo, October 2011)
"Skin has become inadequate in interfacing with reality. Technology has become the body's new membrane of existence." - Nam June Paik
This article is by no means a history of New Media Art, but will focus on a few artists using new technologies in Chicago.
New Media Art's roots can be traced back as far as to the mid to late 1800s with the invention of animation projectors such as the "zoetrope" and the "praxinoscope" and continued on to the use of experimental sound instruments called "intonarumori" by the Italian Futurists in 1913.
It evolved and expanded as new technologies came about such as the invention of video and affordable video cameras such as the Sony Portapak introduced in 1967. Nam June Paik is considered to be the first artist to use this technology. Although early computers were mostly used by engineers, scientists and computer programmers in universities, artists also found this technology as a new tool for expression. The origins of computer art dates back to 1960 with the invention of the Henry Drawing Machine by Desmond Paul Henry. This led to him having a solo show in London in 1962.
Nowadays artists use 3D virtual social environments to create sculptures or interactive performances. One such artist, Patrick Lichty uses Second Life as a virtual performance space with his group Second Front. They explain on their web site: "Second Front creates theatres of the absurd that challenge notions of virtual embodiment, online performance and the formation of virtual narrative." In a separate art piece Lichty recreated in Second Life the sculpture titled Spindle by the artist Dustin Shuler which existed in Berwyn, Illinois from 1989 until its demolition in May of 2008. It consisted of eight cars impaled on a 50 foot spike. The sculpture was removed to make way for a Walgreen's drive-thru window but now thanks to Lichty, it exists in a virtual world.
A local group called I Love Presets consisting of Jon Sartrom, Rob Ray and Jason Soliday create physical(not virtual) multimedia performances consisting of digital video, circuit bent electronics, custom video games and audio software. A review of a performance at the Gene Siskel Film Center explains, "The trio chops up and recontextualizes bits of digital ephemera into new processes, sounds, and even games; it may sound a bit techy, but one look at Ray's ultra-provocative Guilty Party installation or ILP's labyrinthine website, and it becomes clear that the gadgetry's impressive, but the concepts are just as fully formed."
In 2009 Ben Chang did an installation of two virtual characters doing a performance using telegraph machines and video projectors. Each computer generated character is seen tapping on their virtual telegraphs while next to the two projections a real antique telegraph equipment produces the sound. It is a love performance between two virtual characters that uses old antiquated instruments alongside the new and in my opinion gives an homage to the origins of technology.
The use of the internet has also been used by artists. Earlier this year artists Adam Trowbridge and Jessica Westbrook organized a one night show of web performances at Antena in Pilsen called Daisy Chain. Using multiple projectors and computers they filled the space with a continuous array of moving images, pictures, sound and text. This also included a gallery performance by Jeff Kolar manipulating the sound of Hallmark sound greeting cards.
We are not limited to the media that I listed before. We live in a time period were technology is evolving at a rapid scale. Computer chips are becoming smaller and holding more memory which in turn give us access to faster computers, tablets and smartphones. Pretty soon we may be able to create nanobots which will help heal and repair the human body at the cellular level or we may create life-size holodeck simulated virtual environments. As all these developments occur I am sure artists will find a way to use them for experimentation.
Patrick Lichty: http://www.voyd.com/
Second Front: http://www.secondfront.org
I Love Presets: http://ilovepresets.net/
Ben Chang: http://www.bcchang.com/art/sounderandrelay/index.php
Daisy Chain by Adam Trowbridge and Jessica Westbrook: http://antenapilsen.com/exhibit28.html