Wednesday, August 6, 2008

P R O C E S S I N G N O V E L T Y a transdisciplinary intermedia symposium on event-related potential, Julainne Sumich

The focus is on a transdisciplinary approach that can enlarge the research base for study and practice in Intermedia & The Timebased Arts. The interactions of different media, different systems, involve and evolve different kinds of movement and as such intermedia activities exist in connection with time. Consideration of the idea of novelty as an intermedia process presented from the perspective of different disciplines in relation to the event of this symposium has the potential give rise to new orientations in art theory and practice.

The orienting response is an involuntary shift of attention that appears to be a fundamental biological mechanism necessary for survival. Orienting is a rapid response to new (never experienced before), unexpected (out of context) or unpredictable stimuli, which essentially functions as a �what-is-it� detector�The detection of the event precedes orienting and, if it is sufficiently deviant, engenders the involuntary capture of attention, enabling the event to enter consciousness, thus permitting an evaluation of the stimulus. This could lead, if the event is deemed significant, to behavioural action. 1

The title draws on the language of neuroscience and biobehaviour and questions concerning what attracts attention; how that attraction or stimulus is processed, oriented, how it affects action; what the potential of its affect might become.

Keyterms: affect, attention; attraction; current source density map; event-related potential; environment; galvanic skin response; mismatch negativity; novelty; oddball event response; raw voltage map; world.

These terms have much in common with the event-making process art and technology of the 1960s in the U.S.A., Europe, and the U.K. stemming from diversely assembled collectives of artists, engineers, behavioural scientists, architects, writers, theorists such as USCO; the Intermedia Systems Corporation; E.A.T. Experimental Art and Technology; the Experimental Intermedia Foundation; Fluxus. Gene Youngblood gives an account of the thinking and action behind these Happenings in his book �Expanded Cinema� [1970] which begins with an introduction by the architect and engineer, Richard Buckminster Fuller. 2 Their events were a response to that decade�s psychedelia (the human mind or soul made visible) and the affect of new potential offered by computer technologies; events that took the interaction of art and technology beyond the art object into expanded fields of process or post-object art, where boundaries between distinct media art forms became increasingly blurred and practices increasingly intermedia. 3

In New Zealand at the University of Auckland Philip Dadson initiated the setting-up of a new section of Intermedia and the Time-based Arts within the Elam School of Fine Arts in 1982. Dadson had already established an innovative approach to making art from sound, amongst which was his combination of experimental instruments, constructed from readymade industrial and natural materials, inspired by experiences of Scratch orchestra, Fluxus, contemporary and world music. It was during sabbatical leave in New York where he had visited and performed at the Experimental Intermedia Foundation that Dadson became intrigued by the practice of intermedia and the novelty of the name, and saw it as fitting the program he envisioned for the time-based arts on his return to Elam. Course-work embraced the moving image, sound art, performance and installation art as both individual and collaborative practices, and with interdisciplinary potential in association with other art forms such sculpture, kinetics, music. With an experimental emphasis the program�s research base is the exploration and development of the synergistic potential between the processes of media. Aspects of Intermedia some of which are described below form the theoretical component of the course.

Intermedia is not an art discipline in the traditional sense. Its attention is on the sensorial and conceptual processes between media that orient themselves according to event-related potential. Fluxus, the international group of artists whose punning name mirrors their nonconformist attitude, exemplified the �oddball� events in process art and were �noted for their Happenings, actions, publishing, and mailing activities" 4 Alongside the critical sense of humour that often permeates the diverse range of process art was a serious intention to merge art and life, the possibility of an art-making autonomous in its movement. Process artists also identified with the Surrealists� alliance to �psychic automatism� often expressing this refusal of conscious control by working collaboratively. For some this characteristic meant that once its elements were assembled whatever happened from their convergence whether or not aesthetically appealing was accepted as the work � the claim being that their combined affect was synonomous with a natural process. 5 As such, the process can be compared to events occurring naturally in the brain in response to whatever stimuli, or to put it another way its affect can be related to an event-related potential sign of the brain�s evaluation of novelty. Historical precedents for such event-related potential in art and technology are the �noise-makers� of Futurism and Dada in the early 20th century as well as processes such as Sergei Eisenstein�s �montage of attractions� and �intellectual montage� in film, Dziga Vertov�s Kino-Eye, and the �readymade� conceptual art and �gap music�of Marcel Duchamps; the intention of all being to attract attention, to animate questions on perception.

In light of current ways of imaging the world the question concerning art and technology is how do we make the working of the human mind visible now? How do we process novelty in our own time?

Julainne Sumich
February 2004

Additional note

Re: The use of Neuroscience terminology

The speakers are free to interpret the key terms from the language of neuroscience according to their own take on 'processing novelty' within their own research field. So I expect some will refer to them in a scientific manner and others in a more metaphorical way. The affect of this in the transdisciplinary context might lead to novel outcomes that can also influence the personal research of all participants.

1 Friedman, David et al, The novelty P3: an event-related brain potential (ERP) sign of the brain's evaluation of novelty, Neuroscience and Behavioural Reviews 25 (2001) 356.

3 For a recent definition of Intermedia art see Polli, Andrea et al . Erasing Boundaries: Intermedia Art in the Digital Age . SIGGRAPPH 2001 (June 2003)

4 Walker, John A. Art Since Pop . (London, Thames and Hudson, 1975), 49-50

5 Ibid, 34-35.

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