As indicated in Section 1.1.3, the history of media art, whilst largely contained within the last fifty years, has roots that stretch back to the end of the nineteenth century. Today, media artists still apply film and photography technologies to create art, although now generally in a digital format, but whilst these art forms were not necessarily accepted within the mainstream art canons of the early twentieth century, they did form part of the avant-garde at this time.250 It was during the interwar period that the main shift in art attitudes took place, and by the 1960s, as technology began to infiltrate more elements of society, the Fluxus network emerged which, whilst remaining relatively undefined throughout its own history, introduced many of the practices that now exist within media art. Fluxus was a loosely defined group of international artists who saw the network as one of many means of presenting their work, and its relative longevity has been attributed by some writers to its experimental origins, although it was “little more than a name and a public face” for a practice that had long since existed.251 Along with other more mainstream art practices, these artists continued the move started by the Dadaists in the early twentieth century which pushed the boundaries of art away from production for commercial sale and, arguably, redefined what was meant by the concept of art. Dadaism introduced new techniques to art production, and made an overt statement that rejected the attitudes of the traditional art world, having been “born of a need for independence, of a distrust toward unity.”252


Manovich (2001), The Language of New Media, p.23; Pooke, G. (2011), Contemporary British Art: An Introduction, London and New York: Routledge, p.186

251 Higgins, H. (2002), Fluxus Experience, Berkeley: University of CA Press, p.1. See also Dezeuze 2006 252

One leading figure within Dadaism was artist Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968), and his

readymades contributed to the emergence of conceptual artists that could “turn their attention to the representational systems that classify objects, people and places”253 by using mixed media within their work.

Fig. 1.2.10 One ofMarcel Duchamp’s readymades, Fountain (1917)

His rejection of traditional aesthetic values can be seen as heavily influential in the development of media art practice,254 and through this, strong links were forged between art, innovation and technology. Duchamp also provided a bridge between Fluxus and its predecessors through his friendship with John Cage (1912-1992), an experimental composer who went on to work with many of Fluxus’ main protagonists.255 Although primarily a composer, Cage’s artistic work is considered to have had a profound effect on the emerging digital culture,256 and it was his musical composition class at the New School for Social Research in New York, alongside Karlheinz Stockhausen’s similar course in Darmstadt, Germany, that formed two centre-points of the Fluxus network.257 That the network originated in musical composition demonstrates the breadth of interest within


Elwes, C. (2005), Video Art: A Guided Tour, London: I.B.Tauris, p.23

254 ibid.; Pooke and Newall (2008), Art History: The Basics, p.175; Rush, M. (2005), New Media in Art, London: Thames and Hudson, p.82

255 Hopkins, D. (2006), “Re-Thinking the ‘Duchamp Effect’” in A Companion to Contemporary Art Since 1945, ed. A. Jones, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, pp.145-163 (p.147); Meigh-Andrews, C. (2006), A History of Video Art: The Development of Form and Function, Oxford and New York: Berg, p.99

256 Gere, C. (2002), Digital Culture, London: Reaktion Books, p.77 257

Fluxus, and the artists’ effectiveness can be seen as a consequence of their “accessibility, ad hoc attitudes, and ever-present humour.”258

Fig. 1.2.11 Marcel Duchamp and John Cage, Reunion (1968)

Defining the nature of the work produced by Fluxus artists, such as German performance artist Joseph Beuys (1921–1986), American artist Ken Friedman (b.1949) and avant-garde Japanese artist Yoko Ono (b.1933), is somewhat difficult as many had only a loose affiliation with the group, as well as long and diverse careers which transcended a range of different modes of expression. Fluxus was united by certain factors, however, and the artworks were often performance pieces which required interactivity from the viewer and situated the audience within the piece, and alongside the artist.259 This signalled a significant shift in the way that art consumption took place both at artistic performances and later in the gallery, and the network-like structure of Fluxus ensured that artists with similar ideas and aims were widely dispersed around the world when it was at its peak. This was aided by certain artists becoming internationally renowned, and one of Fluxus’ key members, Nam June Paik (1932–2006), was an early student of Stockhausen and went on to collaborate with Cage. He was, first and foremost, a composer before starting to work as a visual artist,260 and he began to use video in the late 1960s. He has been widely acknowledged as


Anderson, S. (1998), “Fluxus, Fluxion, Fluxshoe: The 1970s” in The Fluxus Reader, ed. K. Friedman, Chichester: Academy Editions, pp.22-30 (p.29)

259 Gere (2002), Digital Culture, p.86 260

a founding father of video art and, at a recent retrospective exhibition at Tate Liverpool and FACT, was described as “the inventor of media art.”261

Fig. 1.2.12 Nam June Paik, TV Buddha (1974)

Fluxus artists were working at a time of significant social change, with the Cold War (approx. 1945–1990) between Paik’s country of residence, the USA, and the USSR, and conflict in Vietnam (1955–1975), contributing to changing attitudes and technological innovation. Video technology had been developed by the US Military during the Vietnam War for surveillance purposes262 and, emerging as it did during the social and political upheaval that accompanied this military action,263 quickly established itself as a popular medium for the production of socially reactive artworks. Video artist Catherine Elwes writes that “video art was born at a time of high personal and political faith. Artists and activists alike believed that their actions could make a difference to society.”264 Although this statement could seem a little self-congratulatory, there is evidence to suggest that the component practices of media art were heavily influenced by societal changes caused by the social and sexual revolutions of the 1960s,265 which culminated in the unrest of May


The Nam June Paik retrospective was presented by Tate Liverpool and FACT from 17 December 2010 to 13 March 2011. (Tate Liverpool (2011), Past Exhibitions: Nam June Paik (Online))


Elwes (2005), Video Art: A Guided Tour, p.3

263 Dixon, S. (2007), Digital Performance: A History of New Media in Theatre, Dance, Performance Art, and Installation, Cambridge, Mass and London: MIT Press, p.88


Elwes (2005), Video Art: A Guided Tour, p.5 265

Dixon (2007), Digital Performance: A History of New Media in Theatre, Dance, Performance Art, and Installation, p.88; Meigh-Andrews (2006), A History of Video Art: The Development of Form and Function, p.59; Rush (2005), New Media in Art, p.36

1968.266 This occurred only three years after Sony had launched their portable PortaPak video camera onto the commercial market in 1965, with Paik importing one into the USA the same year.267

In document The art of regeneration: the establishment and development of the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology, 1985–2010 (Page 84-88)