in Art, 2nd Edition
Thames and Hudson, World of Art Series.
Thames and Hudson, London, UK, 2005
248 pp., illus.143 b/w, 124 col. Paper,
by John Knight
Birmingham Institute of Art and Design
has four main sections sandwiched around
an introduction and bibliography. The
content is highly visual and offers narrative
as well as illustrations and covers art
made with mechanical and electronic means.
It shows how such qualities as interactivity
and performance have precedents within
older traditions and the influence of
technology (e.g. Mass Media) on art practice.
Rush scopes the content to "the uses of
film and video in a variety of performance
contexts" (p. 036), video and video
installation art and computers. The focus
is on the avant-garde citing Gene Youngblood's
claim that "all art is experimental or
it isnt art" (p. 007). The author
links this experimentation to technological
developments, noting "[t]he final avant-garde
of the twentieth century was that art
engaged the most enduring revolution of
a century of revolutions; the technological
revolution" (p. 008).
The author notes in the introduction that
"art born of technology is the most ephemeral
of all: art of time" (p. 008). Citing
the influence of Bergsons "Matter
and Memory" the author notes how
photography created new connections between
time and memory and goes on to describe
how cinema further cemented links between
the avant-garde and technological
development. Starting with Muybridge and
the development of framing techniques,
links are made to the futurists and Fluxus.
Rush notes that cinema became a playground
for experimentation that "reached its
peak in the 1950s and 1960s" (p. 027).
Duchamp is seen as key precursor of the
digital in art. This is due to his disembodying
art from the artefact and "forcing the
question what is art" (p. 021). Duchamp
also exemplifies artists' growing preoccupation
with finding "[t]he best way of making
a personal statement in art". The author
notes that Duchamp pre-empted interactive
art by suggesting "that the work of art
depended on the viewer to complete the
concept" (p. 183).
Rush notes how the growth in multimedia
experiments (e.g. Cage) was spurred by
the publication of "important writings
[by] Dadaists including Duchamp" (p. 023)
and by Robert Motherwell in the 50s. In
addition, Rush argues that the shift from
object to concept encouraged a . . . "minimal
aesthetic [to develop] inherited from
concrete poetry, Dada manifestoes and
experimental music" (p. 025).
The Media and performance section shows
how "the painterly action took precedence
over the painted subject" (p. 036), but
being based in the studio spawned a genre
of "Studio Performance" that can be traced
in the work of Bruce Nauman, whose work
is covered in depth. His and Ken Feingolds
work are seen to have philosophical and
literary precedents in Wittgenstein and
Beckett. Fortunately, Rush widens the
scope of the survey beyond the US to take
in Japanese "Gutai" and Vienesse "Actionism"
(pp. 054-061). The section concludes by
looking at new media artists' exploration
of politics, postmodernism and the new
The next section reviews Video Art. It
is possible as Rush argues that "video
art has assumed a position of legitimacy"
and developed its own aesthetic (p. 091).
The unique qualities of video are noted
including immediacy and "intimacy" (p.
090) Rush, also notes two categories of
video work. Firstly "activist driven documentaries,"
such as "TVTV" and secondly "art videos"
(p. 084). The section is organised around
four themes. The first looks at sculptural
space and surveillance with subsequent
chapters exploring "the political, the
lyrical and identity".
The final chapter introduces computers.
Here a link is made to Walter Benjamin,
and Rush notes that it is "difficult to
exaggerate the effect of digital technology
on the production of art" (p. 180). "Digitally
Altered Photography" is considered as
well as the "Digital Cinematic". The next
section deals with "Computer Art," and
the author notes that early pioneers were
as often as not programmers rather than
artists. This meant that the computer-related
concerns, such as mathematics, influenced
early works, such as Michael Noll's "Gausans
Quadratic" (p. 204).
Rush suggests that after initial experimentation
and interest, the field "languished after
the first burst of energy in the early
1970s" (p. 205). "Interactive art: the
Internet " (p. 213) sees technology influencing
a new type of "non-linear narrative" (p.
231). The penultimate section deals with
"Interactive Art: Installation and Cinema"
with the final chapter focussing on Virtual
Reality. The focus is generally on large-scale
gallery-based work. As such this vivid
survey misses much of the challenging
work from outside the traditional art
world. This is unfortunate, as one of
the key aspects of interactive art is
the changed role of the viewer and artist
and the possibility of liberating aesthetics
from the physical object.