Masque In Real Time (1)
Occidental industrial man has defined himself into a shrinking niche of separateness, isolation, and
condescension vis-à- vis the natural world while believing he has conquered it. This belief, with its
accompanying myths and rationalizations, culminates in an unlimited exercise of private judgment linked
with an “advanced” technology positing itself against the “external” environment. Ecocide and extinction
are now authentic possibilities.
A nascent function (or role) of art, the artist, and aesthetic agencies lies in countering and reversing this
belief, these myths and rationalizations. Through the sensual embodiment of a select perceptual range, art, indirectly and directly, generates stratagems of purification and ecological world models. From the image of a stag painted on the walls of Lascaux some 15,000 years ago to the most recent electronic articulation in light, the unique value of artistic form derives from its “capacity to convey information that cannot be coded in any other way.”(2)
Any substantial body of work in art is an evolution of a private (emotive, subjective) yet somehow shared and accessible epistemology, or way of knowing. The artist's task, his stock in trade, is sustaining a coherent and dynamic equilibrium while creating an evolving variety of forms. Art is the sine qua non for developing informational contexts, or realms of discourse, through which discontinuous and novel synthesis integrates the heretofore unlinked. By breaking in fresh psychological or psychic space the artist, therefore, informs survival, which requires a constant “supply of uncommitted potentiality for change, i.e., flexibility.”(3)
Although any specific aesthetic process involves its embodiment in a medium, art is not restricted to any limited range of media and behaviors. The identification of art with certain historically sanctified media supports the same prevailing myth that characterizes art as essentially anti-environmental, and the aesthetic process as one that is exclusively isolative. Communication technologies provide a new continuum of media categorically different from and independent of the historicity of "prime objects."(4)
“Mind is eternal, insofar as it apprehends an object under the species of eternity.”(5) Thus art is here defined as, (a) the production of objects (or contexts) under the species of "eternity;” (b) as the medium for the transmission (or programming) of increasing degrees of discontinuous variance; (c) synergistically, as the best (optimum) possible combination of materials, events, systems, ideas; and (d) functionally, as the trace (mapping, recapitulation, metaphorization) of the flow of essences (processes) through their course of (probable, anticipated, potential) changes-in-direction (differences-in pattern, rate, paradigm) as experienced (perceived, intercepted) by the artist.
A deliberate deviation from a given body of rules that determine formal concerns governs germane aesthetic activity. Each case involves individual human beings behaving in characterological ways. Communications technology, on the other hand, has been programmed and deployed overwhelmingly by contrary means, i.e., with great emphasis on low variety, conformity, andrepetition. Since art provides the incentive to experience the unfamiliar, any event/object/concept utilizing contemporary communications technology as its medium is (a priori) a declarative statement, heuristic in spirit. This confluence of attitude-of- mind and technology represents an alternative course to the automatic, conforming influence of technological application.
Video systems are the most accessible and viable means to this conjunction of aesthetic process and technical sophistication. They materialize the potential link between the artist and the planetary exo-skeleton of communications systems: television, holography, protean computer networks, satellites, etc. Inasmuch as video is the first full materialization of this linkage principle, it exemplifies the proposition that art is environmental. This primacy will obtain until the subsequent displacement shift in communications technology.
Since video does not redefine established relations between viewer and prime object, but opens and develops new relations, its aesthetic capacities cannot be understood in the wake of prior models of interaction. Video is in itself an unprecedented channel of relation through which the artist evokes and transmits states of awareness, sensations, perceptions, compulsions, affects, and thoughts. Paradoxically, as the artist provides shape to this set of relationships, his role returns to revive the primordial functions of the shaman and the alchemist, since art becomes a record of a process and not the manipulation of passive materials. Within this view, the artist's subjective emotional state, i.e., his hybrid forms of introspection, and the technology that conveys them constitute parallel continuums.
Artistic media can be understood as extensions of the body. The video network, in this sense, is the extension of a neurophysiological channel; the connection between the world and the visual-perceptual system terminating in the prefrontal neocortex. Video can thus become a record of the resonance between that channel (eye-ear / prefrontal neocortex) and natural processes in time. The first criterion for a video aesthetic then is the economy of movement in the use of the camera as a record of mediation between the “eye-body,” taken as the symbol and substance of the entire viscera-somatic system in video art, and the processes being recorded. Through a kinesthetic signature which individuates the “loop" — eye-body, the technology itself, and the processes being recorded — the artist transmutes random information into an aesthetic pattern.
In the longer arcs of biological/genetic activity, continuity is the rule, while in the interstices of history (epochs, eras, generations, and individuals) continuity is the exception. The imposition of values derived from a perception of continuity, as history, upon the high variety and discontinuity of day-to- day living, results in a distortion of our expenditure of flexibility and capacity to adapt. A corollary effect of the increasing use of video systems is the alteration of our apprehension of both the historical record and daily existence. Since video is a medium of real time, i.e., it transmits the temporal quality of the process being recorded, it alters our experience of our own memory, of history, and of daily life. This alteration is always idiosyncratic to the artist's attitude, or orientation, toward his center of gravity as he steers the camera. The body-sense in relation to its environment by way of technology remains in impacted perception that the complex of eye-body/technology/ environment is itself recording. Thus, video is a primary ecological medium.
“The proliferation of resemblances extends an object.(6) Orthodox aesthetic hierarchies are rooted in systems in which value, in general, is measured by the rarity of prime objects. Within the context of the video medium, however, it is possible to produce masters which can be replicated indefinitely, each copy equal in fidelity to the other and all to the original. Since video is purely informational (conceptual) and provides one example of the dematerialization of art, it requires new criteria for choice of content — an original axiom of choice. The nature of recording in videotape, from this perspective, involves bringing previously undetected patterns above the threshold of perception. These include configurations of meaning and metaphysical relationships that are subject to exposure in real time as well as purely visual patterns and aural textures. Choice of subject/content/process in videotape presupposes an awareness of the distributive nature of the medium. Hence, the place of prime objects in hierarchical aesthetic systems is filled, in the electronic media, by the concept of network.
Change is commonly associated with the overthrow of hierarchies. Things change for the better or for the worse; they never merely change. The central obstruction to the full acceptance of the video network as an artistic medium in its own right is the fear that somehow or other prime objects will be devalued and traditional hierarchies, some of which have been accorded the status of guiding myth, will be replaced. In reality, the issue is one of expanding our expectations of the potential of art to move and effect the world. It requires an integrative, as opposed to a reductionist, attitude of mind that favors diversity, variety, and novelty as evolutionary ends in themselves. For “human consciousness is in perpetual pursuit of a language and style. To assume consciousness is at once to assume form. Even at levels far below the zone of definition and clarity, forms, measures, and relationships exist. The chief characteristic of the mind is to be constantly describing itself.”(7)
1975 / Moltrasio / East Hampton
1. This paper is a version of a presentation, given at the World, Man conference in Moltrasio, Italy,
September 1974. Edited with the assistance of Marco Vassi.
2. E. H. Gombrich, “The Visual Image,” Scientific American (September 1972).
3. Gregory Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind (Northvale, NJ and London: Jason Aronson, Inc.,
4. The term “prime object" is from George Kubler’s The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of
Things (New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press, 1962).
5. Spinoza, Ethics (V. prop. 31) Mens aetema est, quatenus res sub aetermitatis specie concipit.
6. Wallace Stevens, The Necessary Angel (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1951).
7. Henri Focillon, The Life of Forms in Art, trans. C. B. Hogan and George Kubler (New York: