NEW TECHNOLOGY, OLD VISION
If new technology is a threat, then we domesticate it by remaking it in the form of a previous model, or at least using words that make the new seem more comfortable.
At one point people talked about the "iron horse," or "horseless carriage" to refer to trains and automobiles respectively. In the arts as well, people are often attracted to the new technical means but offer only recapitulation of an old idea. Some of the earliest computer graphic work escaped into the realm of the decorative or surreal creating playful images but stripped of any social content or relevancy beyond fantasy. Many noted artists have been attracted the new imaging technology offered by computers. Peter Max does ads for Silicon Graphics Inc., David Hockney experiments with still video cameras and early computer artists like David Em continue to create surrealist tableaux, but too many people are attracted to the technology like a moth to a flame with equally disastrous results. Today, many photographers employing the computer frequently recapitulate 1970s posterization mimicking bad silk-screen prints, in other cases, a new pictorialism seems to be emerging. In the hands of less sophisticated picture makers, computer graphic applications lend themselves to creating pattern that overwhelms thoughtful content.
To investigate new terrain, one must overcome the limitations suggested by the previous media model. One can see early challenges to new imaging technologies in the work of Georges Melies in film animation at the turn of the century and Ernie Kovacs working within the business constraints of broadcast TV in the 1950s. Melies' work pioneered the syntax of film using fast cuts, dissolves, and inventing other complex effects to create fantastic illusions. Kovacs explored the grammar of live transmission and created works that anticipated video art two decades later. Similarly, Thomas Edison filmed the mundane gesture of "Fred Ott's sneeze" because it hadn't been done before just as William Wegman had no trouble placing a video camera on the floor and letting his dog Man Ray follow a trail of tasty treats right up to the camera. From Melies to Kovacs to Wegman, there was the recognition that new technologies demand new graphic or narrative solutions. 11
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11 Georges Melies (1861-1938) Les pioneers du cinema francais Volume one. [Tujunga, Calif. : Foothill Video Home Entertainment, 198-?]. 1 videocasstte (56 min.)
Ernie Kovacs (1919-1962) The Vision of Ernie Kovacs : [exhibition] May 30-September 4, 1986. [New York] : Museum of Broadcasting, [1986?].
The Best of Ernie Kovacs, Classic Television, c1965, videocassette (55 min.)
William Wegman (1942 - ) Selected works by William Wegman 1970-78 / an Electronic Arts Intermix presentation. Toronto, Ontario, Canada : Art Metropole, 1988. videocassette (VHS) (20 min.)