Conrad Gleber, PhD

Florida State University

2000 words, 17 jpegs

The Shape of Desire: Essential Ephemeral Qualities of Video and Sound Art

I.  This paper and the subsequent presentation stemmed from a conversation I had with myself trying to understand the inherent qualities of new media, in particular video and audio. “What shapes the desire to create artwork using entertainment technologies?”


In my background, I came to making art through doing all kinds of photography, from 35mm to 8 x 10 view camera. Eventually, when the only subject that interested me was making photographs of white drive-in theater screens, I moved from using a camera and began using an offset printing press to make artists’ books and sculptures made from photographs on large stacks of cut paper. Looking back, the media aspects of photography and printing were essential interests in making my art public.


My first books began as toy books— common ephemeral paperback books that were fun to play with… performances between covers. Closer to the multiple in concept, they tested the distribution of art outside art galleries. Lucy Lippard championed this aspect by suggesting they were an art form that could be distributed in a supermarket. I continued to focus on the new “public” that the distribution of artists’ books created, and researched the future of the book and all of the implications of a widely distributed art form.


Accepting the common intention and motivation of artists’ book publishing and looking forward at my trajectory into producing new media artworks, I view publishing as a prototype of new media artwork. Publishing artists’ books re-shaped our definition of who our public was and the place where our artwork could belong. It’s a complex challenging subject, full of social and cultural considerations where one question leads to more questions usually more provocative than any answers.


Many of the artists that combined words, pictures, movement and public distribution into artists’ books now create similar artwork using video and audio media and the work is motivated by the familiar attitude and interest that drove artists’ book publishing— using media to create art in the form of public intervention available both inside and outside the gallery.


For instance, new media artwork pushes further away from the aesthetics of creating objects of significance by shifting the discourse to process. It has led me to question ideas and definitions of public and place and wonder, “Who is our public and where is our sense of place for new media artwork?”


To maintain sanity, I moved the solitary conversation with myself to conversations with other new media artists and I’ve some of the observations we discussed.


II.  First of all, I am very grateful to the artists. They were very generous with their time and very open with their ideas. In some cases we talked in person over lunch or in a living room and with others, we talked on the telephone. I recorded the conversations to stay close to what they said. All of the artists have a connection to artists’ books and using publishing to expand the art distribution system beyond traditional galleries and museum spaces.  All of these artists currently produce new media artwork. The credit for any success or provocative conversation that comes from this talk goes to them and the blame for any boredom you suffer falls to me.


Frank Gillette teaches at the School of Visual Arts in New York. In 1969, he and Ira Schneider created “Wipe Cycle” a nine monitor time-delayed video installation presented at the Howard Wise Gallery and the Whitney Museum in New York. The concept for this work was based on the completely new unsuspecting awareness the public had about the medium of video outside from the conventional television they saw on the screens in their living rooms.  Viewers found themselves appearing live, by time delay images on television monitors in three places at one time.  The viewer experiencing these effects, instead of an viewing a “TV work of art”, became aware that art could be not just about “vision” but be an integration of all of the senses, both physical and metaphysical.  He currently exhibits at Universal Concepts Unlimited in Chelsea.


Margot Lovejoy is a professor of visual art at the State University of New York at Purchase and has received many honors for her media artwork including a Guggenheim fellowship. She has exhibited internationally, has had many solo exhibitions and is in several major collections.  Her website TURNS was featured in the 2002 Whitney Biennial. Apart from authoring numerous essays in various journals, and catalogs, she has published several visual books. Her most recent book, Digital Currents: Art in the Electronic Age is the third edition of her 1989 book that surveyed the impact of video and digital technologies on visual culture and artistic practice. Her most recent work, a net-art piece called Confess requires participation from the audience to become a complete work of art.


[insert jpeg photos from Lovejoy folder]


Martha Wilson is a performance artist and founder, director and inspiration for the Franklin Furnace archive. The archive, which “collected” avant-garde artworks, began as a bookstore, performance space and gallery. As media distribution began to envelop the avant-garde, Franklin Furnace developed a distribution program of net-casting for performance art. Today, it continues its role of making the world safe for the avant-garde in a newly renovated space near the Brooklyn Academy of Music. It features site specific performance art, manages the Art Spaces Archive Project, transfers early video works to stable formants for future generations to research and as part of the Conceptual and Inter-media Online Consortium is cataloging the terms used to describe ephemeral art practice.


[insert jpeg photos from Wilson folder]


Mat Rappaport lives in Milwaukee and teaches at the University of Wisconsin. He began making art as a printmaker and created installations using books to define the space. Currently, his personal work has primarily taken the form of video installation to create immersive poetic environments. He is also collaborating with artists in the UK to investigate how media can intervene in built environments and is organizing an exhibition of video work to be projected in four sites in the south loop of Chicago this summer.


[insert jpeg photos from Rappaport folder]


Lane Hall is from Milwaukee and collaborates with Lisa Moline. Their current work focuses on large-scale print and media installations that respond to interior and exterior spaces. They present their work in a range of public venues from galleries, to outdoor advertising to websites. They have made videos, billboards, flash animations. Their work can be seen on two active websites, Bad Science and Criminal Animal.


[insert jpeg photos from Hall folder]


Paul Forte is an artist living in Kingston, Rhode Island. His earliest artists’ books, published in the 1970’s, impressed me for their ephemeral albeit unforgettable quality. They were among the first books I can remember that defined artists’ books as more about media than object. His latest work “High Speed Collision Of Two Royals” is a re-enactment of Ed Ruscha’s “Royal Road Test” using Ruscha’s book in place of a typewriter.


[insert jpeg photos from Forte folder]


Paul Zelevansky is an artist living in Los Angeles. He has been active in media artwork for over 30 years—publishing artists’ books, creating interactive computer programs and maintaining a website called “A Great Blankness That Inspires Awe.” He recently organized an exhibition of new media artwork in Los Angeles at Post gallery titled index@post.


[insert jpeg photos from Zelevansky folder]


In conversation with these artists, I discovered overlapping histories, all with a common thread: a change in the perception of place that coincides with a need to distribute beyond traditional space to a wider public that anticipates and seems anxious to experience non-traditional art forms. Martha Wilson said she migrated from an endearing view of artists’ books to viewing these books as a broadcast medium that could be put into the service of her own activism to address contemporary political, cultural and social issues. As she puts it… “Intervention is a good word” to describe the direction that book media was taking.



The conversations with the artists focused on what they expected of new media, in particular audio and video, and how these media enabled them to extend their range of activity, and questioned how they deal with constraints such as ephemera, obsolescence, and ubiquity.


In other words, we talked about, what we give up for what we expect and how the anticipation shapes the desire. And what is it that facilitates artists’ intentions and requires them to use new media technology to achieve their purposes?


We began by looking at how new media behaves in the social and cultural environment and drew these observations.

  1. New media art emerges out of technologies intended to shape vernacular practice.

New media conditions the environment in which it flourishes as the commonly understood method for cultural development.

  1. Media technologies are malleable, adaptable and are capable of being altered and controlled.

Media technologies are developing in flux and are continually being shaped by the culture in which they operate.

  1. New media production is diffusing at an exponential rate becoming more available and an essential practice of contemporary lifestyle.


The spread of media tools recalls the early history of photography, which spread by contact, as it became an essential practice for everything from accurate reportage to investigating the natural world to preserving family heritage.


We considered what new media are beyond their current facilitating technologies.

Is the use of new media simply an expansion of materials and methods or does it represent a more complex shift in the relationships that support our conceptual framework of artist and art? Given these observations, it is apparent that new media is situated in a socio-cultural dynamic of constant emergence, dependent upon the proximal relationship of artists and audience, always in flux and always new.

 It is likely that there is a shift, one that expands the recursive role shared by artist and audience alike. It affects how art is seen, how it is valued and how it is taught—experience, appreciation and pedagogy.


A close look at patterns of historical precedence suggests that we are committed to a familiar purpose—shaping the affective experience—albeit through the immersive means of 4-dimensional design using multiple streams of media. But media offers another level of engagement—participation.


Participation creates a situation where the relationships that emerge become the perceivable, appreciable and provocative content of the art. The viewer, complicit in the signification of objects i.e. art critic, collector, and museum visitor takes on the additional role. The complicity becomes essential to connecting the ephemeral relationships that make the participating embodied experience the art (interactive player, content contributor, network node).


The attraction of developing artwork that transforms the attention of a public into an audience of participants shapes new media artists’ desire to create art using ephemeral entertainment media. The traditions and trajectories they belong to are reminiscent of earlier conceptual art practitioners who declared the object irrelevant and the concept the art. Conceptual artists attempted to create arenas of social discourse based on establishing a field of relationships rather than collectible objects. Their work functioned as a catalyst for the subsequent entwinement of previously hierarchical relationships that shifted the discourse object from product to process.


Further conclusions were drawn from the conversations and led to the following qualitative observations:







And so my conversations began with a few questions about new media art, led to some answers, and more importantly even better questions and a conviction that new media artworks reflect our current cultural identity that our public longs to engage and enjoy.