An increasing number of artists are resurrecting technologies considered practically
obsolete. Bygone processes and narratives (particularly those of the pre-cinematic
era) are being excavated in what Finnish writer Erkki Huhtamo has termed "media
Why are we witnessing the resurgence of these techniques in the context of
contemporary art, and what is their relevance today?
In this dissertation, the intentions and methods employed by contemporary artists
who enlist archaic technologies are discussed, and the effectiveness of their strategies
evaluated against a background of the history of VISion, technology and
contemporary commentaries on media. While all art Involves interaction between the viewer and the
artwork, the works discussed here provide a particular opportunity for active
engagement In perceptual experience Magic, humor, immediacy and play are
Invoked by the following artists as useful means for addressing the complexity
of Issues surrounding technological "progress"
I will consider the work of four prominent practitioners to exemplify crucial
themes and questions relating to the nexus of creativity and technologies
of representation. Ellen Zweig (USA) extends notions of performance and
history by enlisting phantasmagoric and camera obscura effects; Paul
DeMarinis (USA) invents ingenious optical-audio kinetic sculptures which honour
eccentric histories; Toshio Iwai (Japan) expands the vocabulary of pre-cinema
through his zoetropic and stroboscopic devices; and Jim Pomeroy (USA) presents
subversive three dimensional (3-D) performances and persistence-of-vision devices.
As the practice of these artists attests, technologies do not become obsolete;
they can resonate well past their commercially Viable use-by dates.
This thesis shows that by exhuming and extending the sometimes absurd objects
and stories surrounding former technologies, these artists are successfully
emphasizing the often overlooked role of human engagement and the cyclical
nature of technology, rather than fore-fronting the technical apparatus and its
lineage. Far from being dead or buried in nostalgia, archaic media are offered as
evidence of a lively continuity and multiplicity of both function and meaning.
In my own practice, I have been exploring Ihe sculptural, experiential and
sometimes humorous possibilities of light and optical phenomena in
installations that frequently feature obsolete technologies (such as camera obscuras,
phantasmagoria, periscopes and the photographic rifle), often in
combination with newer media technologies such as video, photography
and digital imaging.
These exhibitions have incorporated a machine for making rainbows, a
camera obscura/fibre-optic journey through the center of the earth,
paranoid dinner-table devices (Liquid Scrutiny was influenced by a
drawing of a 17th century Czech camera obscura goblet), an interactive
computer/video rifle (an installation entitled To Fall Standing
referenced French physiologist E.J Marey's photographic rifle of 1882),
and a periscope birdbath. In the spirit of 19th century chimeras,
I merged site-specific portable camera obscuras with garbage bins,
flowerpots, portable toilets, birdhouses, mobile homes, removalist
trucks, televisions and Tibetan cheese boxes
These works affirm that our fascination with surveillance and the
extension of human vision is not Just a recent preoccupation of
the electronic age, but part of a lively legacy that continues to
find application in the present. My intent is to engage viewers in
playful participation while considering historical narratives,
natural phenomena and the implications of current media practice.