Necro-techno : examples from an archaeology of media

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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 archaeology" 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. Creative Research 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.
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