Monday, February 11, 2008

Media and Stage: Media Amplifiers

«Media and stage: Media amplifiers
In the mid-1960s it was scarcely conceivable that only a few decades later people would be purchasing electronic tools at their local discount supermarket. Nevertheless, awareness was growing that it was impossible to investigate the links between art and technology while wholly ignoring the electronics industry. While on the one hand a development towards critical, political activism influenced art in the wake of the Situationists ( Jean- Jacques Lebel's rededication of the Parisian May of 1968 as a unique and superlative happening may be seen as a typical example),[29] at the same time one of the most


influential initiatives for investigating possible cooperation between artists and engineers was originating in the USA under the name of «Experimentsin Art and Technology» (E.A.T.). Billy Klüver was the group's technological expert, while Robert Rauschenberg took the artistic lead. In terms of media art, the group staged one of its most trailblazing events in 1966: «9 Evenings: Theater and Engineering.» The title made it clear that it was a matter of further developing prior experiments with theater. Yet neither a theater nor a museum could have offered space sufficient for an experiment of that nature. The chosen venue, the vast and empty New York Armory, presaged the unusual new sites or abandoned old spaces that would be favored for media events and temporary festivals in later years.
Due to the overlapping approaches of expanded cinema and pop art, but equally—and tellingly—to cooperation with corporate sponsors, there was a boom in media-based theater productions. As if Guy Debord had never articulated his annihilating critique of the society of the spectacle,[30] a line can be traced from underground events such as those of theEventstructure Research Group (with Jeffrey Shaw and others) over the first corporate occupation of audiovisual immersive space at the Osaka World's Fair, 1970 Expo (where the Pepsi Pavilion was created by artists associated with E.A.T.) to the mega-multimedia performances staged as pop events ( Jeffrey Shaw and Genesis, Mark Boyle and Soft Machine, Pink Floyd and others) in the 1970s. Kinetic art structures—pneumatic objects inviting participation, diverse projection techniques—were seamlessly integrated into the pop industry's ever more perfect spectacles and light shows. Any talk of consciousness- raising was now limited to the pharmaceutical aspect, and collective, collaborative events became happenings for the masses, the body a mass media icon on the stage.
Proof that mass media pop events could evolve from the performance tradition was delivered by Laurie Anderson—«I am in my body as other people are in their cars»[31]— and her paradigmatic rise from street performance artist to intellectual's pop icon after the release of «United States I–IV» in the early 1980s. Her unique stage show made up of personal narrative, a technologically altered voice, electronic body


scanning, and a pool of freely associated images was based on the mass media literacy of a generation for whom the pop industry and television were equally formative influences.
This essay can merely touch upon the more contradictory and conflict-ridden process of integrating stage performance and mediatization in Europe. Throughout the 1980s the Catalonian theater troupe La Fura dels Baus toured with a series of body-centered spectacles employing mechanical and electronic equipment and repeatedly centering on the viewer as the target of the performer's disinhibited actions.[32] In the meantime, the group is back on the same classical stage it originally tried to avoid, playing in large theaters. No survey of theatrical performances[33] would be complete without mentioning the technologically advanced troupe Dumb Type.[34] Composed of Japanese multimedia artists, the group's elaborate stage performances were based not on extreme physical feats, but rather precisely on the mediatization of the body.
A distinct line leads from the theatrical experiments of E.A.T.'s «9 Evenings» in 1966 to the latermultimedia spectacles mounted by rock bands or by directors and ensembles on the international theater scene (William Forsythe, Robert Lepage, Robert Wilson, Wooster Group). The technical and logistic complications experienced in the course of the «9 Evenings» were an early demonstration of the problems of live electronics that even today make many directors reluctant to risk the imponderables of hi-tech sets, not to mention interactive performances. It was hence not only an ideological but also a pragmatic issue to stress the importance of the process as opposed to the result of these experiments. That the curiosity about new territory was not confined to classical theater venues was demonstrated by artists like Alex Hay, who as early as 1966 said: «I want to pick up faint body sounds like brain waves, cardiac sounds, muscle sounds, and to amplify activity, its changing tempo and value.»[35] His words illustrate the degree in which utopian visions were connected specifically with the permeation and amplification of the body and its linkage with media. Many performance artists subsequently worked on the question in different ways and in opposition to the mass media and theatrical


venues. While globally televised information continued to gain importance for the formation of society, artists were increasingly placing their stakes on the most direct point of local reference, namely their own bodies.»

Above copied from:
Rudolf Frieling (2004): «Reality/Mediality Hybrid Processes Between Art and Life». . Rev. 2008-02-11.

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