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New Media in Art, 2nd Edition

by Michael Rush
Thames and Hudson, World of Art Series. Thames and Hudson, London, UK, 2005
248 pp., illus.143 b/w, 124 col. Paper, 8.95
ISBN: 0-500-20378-4.

Reviewed by John Knight
Birmingham Institute of Art and Design


This book 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 isn’t 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 Bergson’s "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 Feingold’s 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 spectacle.

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 "Gausan’s 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.



Updated 1st February 2006

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