Notes: September 6, 13
of the Artwork of the Future"
"Whereas the public, that representation
of daily life, forgets the confines of the auditorium, and lives and breathes
now only in the artwork which seems to it as Life itself, and on the stage
which seems the wide expanse of the whole World."
Wagner, the "Artwork of the Future" represented a rejection of lyric opera,
which the German composer considered hopelessly superficial, a tired showcase
for pompous divas. Yet the implications of this landmark publication go
well beyond the transformation of opera. Wagner believed that the future
of music, music theater, and all the arts, lay in an embrace of the "collective
art-work," a fusion of the arts that had not been attempted since the
classic Greeks. In this essay, we find the first comprehensive treatise
arguing for the synthesis of the arts, or as Wagner defines it, the Gesamtkunstwerk,
the total artwork.
was convinced that the separate branches of art -- music, architecture,
painting, poetry, and dance - would attain new poetic heights when put
to the service of the drama, which he viewed as the ideal medium for achieving
his vision. His totalizing approach to music theater also foreshadowed
the experience of virtual reality. Scenic painting, lighting effects,
and acoustical design were intended to render an entirely believable "virtual"
world , in which the proscenium arch becomes the interface to the stage
environment. In 1876, twenty-seven years after the "Artwork of the Future,"
Wagner took this approach even further when he opened the famous Festpielhaus
Theater in Bayreuth, Germany, where his theatrical innovations included:
darkening the house, surround-sound reverberance, the orchestra pit, and
the revitalization of the Greek amphitheatical seating to focus audience
attention on stage.
Wagner's hyper-romantic rhetoric may seem archaic today, there is acumen
and foresight in Wagner's approach to the integration of the arts, which
illuminates contemporary notions of interdisciplinary media art.
Wagner defined his vision of the artwork of the future as a new interdisciplinary
form, the integration of all the arts into a single form of expression.
This article divides Wagner's view of the arts into the following areas:
1. Drama - The idealized vehicle of Wagner's interdisciplinary vision.
All the arts serve the purpose of articulating the drama as the highest
level of human expression.
2. Architecture - The structure for staging the drama, the interface between
the theatrical work and the audience.
3. Painting / Scenery - The frame of the painting is dissolved and spills
out into the spatial configuration of the stage. The visual artist also
turns to light to achieve his effects, thus painting with light.
4. Dramatic Action - This integration of the arts must ultimately serve
the acting out of the story that takes place on stage. The live performance
is at the center of the dramatic form.
5. Artistic Man - The performer is the vehicle for the unfolding of the
narrative. The physical body is in its own sense an interdisciplinary
entity, the integration of movement, speech, and singing.
6. Music - The highest form of expression, the emotive vehicle that transports
the performer and in turn the audience. The orchestra is the "organ"
of the drama, besides the voice, the primary instrument of expression.
Wagner built his theater, the Festpielhuas
(Festival House), in Bayreuth Germany, opening in 1876 with the first
performance of The Ring cycle. The theater was constructed to immerse
the audience visually and sonically in the experience of music-theater.
Wagner was the first to turn the lights down in the theater, and the effect
was a forerunner of virtual reality, a theater that enveloped its audience
in the illusion of an imaginary world that unfolded on stage.
Moholy-Nagy (1874 - 1947)
reality of our century is technology: the invention, construction, and
maintenance of machines. To be a user of machines is to be of the spirit
of this century. Machines have replaced the transcendental spiritualism
of past eras." -- László Moholy-Nagy
Moholy-Nagy, "Theater, Circus, Variety," The Theater of the Bauhaus, 1929
Theater of Totality with its multifarious complexities of light, space,
plane, form, motion, sound, man – and with all the possibilities for varying
and combining these elements must be an ORGANISM."
-- László Moholy-Nagy
treatise arose from the ferment of the Bauhaus School, founded in Weimar,
Germany in 1919, where the very notion of art was being reconfigured according
to its function and integration with architecture and technology. Although
the Bauhaus is best known for its contribution to industrial design aesthetics,
artists which included László Moholy-Nagy, Paul Klee, and
Wassily Kandisnky used the school as a laboratory to further examine principles
of abstraction in such media as painting, photography and sculpture. This
foray led Moholy-Nagy, along with the sculptor Oskar Schlemmer, to formulate
a theater for the Bauhaus based on a reductive approach to the synthesis
of its primary elements: "space, form, motion, sound and light."
pursuit of a theater of abstraction, or Theater of Totality as Moholy-Nagy
called it, he denounced, like the Futurists, the primacy of the "logical-intellectual
" literary text. Here the written word, and by extension the physical
presence of the actor, was given equal footing in the larger interplay
and integration of lighting, music, and stage design. The influence of
machine technology, so prominent in Moholy-Nagy's work in painting, photography
and film, led to the concept of the "Mechanized Eccentric," in which the
centrality of the human body in traditional theater was ultimately subsumed
in a mechanical rendering and abstract play of stage action and movement.
writings on the Bauhaus theater established new formal groundrules for
the synthesis, organic unity and syntax of theater art. His ideas also
profoundly challenged the relationship between the viewer and the work.
He proposed that the new dynamic means of mechanized light, stagecraft,
film, electronic sound, and "an enhanced control over all formative media,"
be used to dissolve the sacred fourth wall between stage and spectator.
He envisioned fantastic mechanical devices moving across the multi-planed
stage, an architectonic reorganization of theatrical space that would
literally immerse spectators in 3-dimensional action. At this point of
interpenetration, The Theater of Totality called for an end to the passivity
of the audience, a theater which will "let them take hold and participate
– actually allow them to fuse with the action on the stage at the peak
of cathartic ecstasy."
Moholy-Nagy is considered to be the first major artist born before 1900
to be called an "electronic artist." Moholy-Nagy taught at the
Bauhaus during the 1920s where he developed his fascination for the integration
of art and technology, the poetics of the machine, stating, "my belief
is that mathematically harmonious shapes, executed precisely, are filled
with emotion quality, and that they represent the perfect balance between
feeling and intellect."
this he infused his works with a refined, dynamic energy, in which his
aim was to reveal movement through layering and spatial effects. Moholy-Nagy
was influenced by Russian Constructivisim and Dadaism, combining the highly
controlled geometric forms with a playful, improvised quality. Many of
the motifs in his early paintings were drawn from mechnical shapes, gears,
levers, and typographical characters, such as in this painting "Large
Emotion Wheel" (1921). His quest to find the emotive qualities of lines
and abstract shapes is revealed in the title of this painting as well
in the remark, "the drawings became a rhythically articulated network
of lines, showing not so much objects as my excitement about them."
achieve the illusion of space, in such works as "Composition Z VIII" (1924),
objects are foregrounded, backgrounded, transparent, opaque, light to
dark. His interest in 3-dimensionality was influenced by the cubists,
breaking away from the conventions of traditional perspective. Moholy-Nagy
stated, "Tearing apart the old visual conception, the cubist painters
originated a new means of rendering, as well as a space articulation.
The cubists hoped to develop a method to penetrate reality more thoroughly
than had been possible with perspective-illusion."
only a depth of space, but movement, floating without sense of gravity,
though anchored structurally through shape.With "Construction" (1932),
Moholy-Nagy had achieved what he referred to as 'vision in motion,' floating
objects in space, no longer grounded, but achieving a new “harmony in
a state of equilibrium."
kind of picture is most probably the passage between easel painting and
light display." Eventually Moholy-Nagy saw the limitation inherent in
pigment on canvas and worked towards the use of light as a means of achieving
new imagery and qualities of abstraction. Moholy-Nagy began working with
light-sensitive technique, the photogram, in the early twenties. Exposing
light to light sensitive paper, objects placed on paper were not exposed,
thus revealing a transluscent shape: thus literally "painting with
used the photogram in a non-represential way to achieve a sense of space
and floating that he strove for in the paintings, and to create even more
complex layered effects.
shades of light and transparency, a 3-dimensional virtual world made up
of the shadows of reality. Moholy-Nagy felt that the composition of light
was the future of painting, a prophesy come true with the advent of digital
became interested in painting with light, not on the surface of canvas,
but directly in space. The advancement towards space, light, vision in
motion was fully realized with the Light Space Modulator" (1930). Moholy-Nagy
worked on this throughout his years at the Bauhaus, finally completed
after he left his teaching position in the late 1920s.
mechanically driven rotating kaleidoscope projecting ever-changing patterns
of light, shadow and color in a darkened space or theater, the sculpture
is not the constuction per se but rather the play of light in the space.
After finishing the sculpture, Moholy-Nagy created the film "Light Display
Machine: Black, White, Grey" (1932) to integrate film media achieving
an even more complex, layered perspective."When the 'light-prop' was set
in motion for the first time in a small mechanics shop in 1930, I felt
like the sorcerer's apprentice. The mobile was so startling in its coordinated
motions and space articulations of light and shadow sequences that I almost
believed in magic."
Great Northeastern Failure
by Billy Klüver
new interface I will define is one in which the artist makes active use
of the inventiveness and skills of an engineer to achieve his purpose
The artist could not complete his intentions without the help of an engineer.
The artist incorporates the work of the engineer in the painting or the
sculpture or the performance."
late 1950s, the Swedish-born engineer Billy Klüver worked on laser
systems for Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey. His interest
though was not satisfied by purely scientifc pursuit, rather, it lie in
the exploding artistic milieu that gave rise to pop art, minimalism, and
Happenings a short drive away in New York City. Klüver quickly befriended
the leading exponents of the "new arts," as Higgins described it, that
grew into lifelong friendships and collaborations with such key figures
as Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Claus Oldbenberg, and John Cage.
Klüver became the self-proclaimed spokesman and chief catalyst for the
art and technology movement that was launched most dramatically in the
spring of 1960 at the Museum of Modern Art with Jean Tinguely's infamous
self-destructing kinetic sculpture, "Hommage to New York." Klüver's participation
in this work, with its paint bombs, chemical stinks, noisemakers, and
fragments of scrap metal, inspired a whole generation of artists to imagine
the possibilities of technology, as the machine destroyed itself "in one
glorious act of mechanical suicide."
more than anyone foresaw the potential for the integration of art and
technology. In this article written just six years after his collaboration
with Tinguely, he cites Aristotle and his notion of Techne as belonging
nostalgically to a time when there was no differentiation between the
practice of art and science. As a result, Klüver proposed for the first
time in modern culture the active and equal participation of the artist
and engineer. He also believed that the contemporary artist, in the spirit
of Rauschenberg's famous credo "to close the gap between art and life,"
had an obligation to incorporate technological materials such that "the
artist can’t ignore technology because technology has become inseparable
from our lives." Klüver also held the conviction that engineers required
participation with the artist, who as a "visionary about life" and an
active agent of social change, would free the engineer from enslavement
in the corporate-economic machine, involving him in meaningful cultural
after this article was authored, Klüver and Rauschenberg founded
the now legendary E.A.T. (Experiments in Art and Technology), encouraging
the collaboration of artists and engineers across the country in interdisciplinary
technology-based art projects. Klüver's work thus takes on greater
significance when considering the extent to which this notion of collaboration
and the synthesis of art and technology has been assimilated into the
contemporary media arts. Over thirty years ago Klüver proclaimed
that "technology has become part of our lives," suggesting that in order
to bridge the divide between science and culture, artistic creation –
as in Aristotlian times – must become reunited with scientic discovery.
Klüver: Artists, Engineers, and Collaboration
Kluver (1927 - ) Collaboration Between Artists and Engineers
Klüver is a Swedish physicist and former researcher at Bell Labs
who collaborated with such noted artists as Jean Tinguely, Robert Rauschenberg,
Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol during the 1960s. Klüver was the prime
catalyst for the art and technology movement that grew out of the New
York art world during a period of disenchantment with traditional painting
techniques. He would commute into NY every evening after finishing his
work at Bell Labs in NJ and mingle with the arts comuunity.
was a strong proponent of interdisciplinary collaboration between artists
and scientists, he felt that contemporary artists no longer had a need
to create “luxury” objects but rather create art that had a greater involvement
with society. He also felt that engineers, typically the "servants" of
corporate America, could become social revolutionaries in their own right
through their collaboration with artists. He found parallels between art
and science, read Marhall McLuhan, Buckminister Fuller and felt that since
the new electronic technology would come to touch everyone’s life, that
artists needed to incorporate it.
first major collaboration, "Homage to New York" (1960), a kinetic sculpture
by Jean Tinguely, self-destructed in the sculpture garden at the New York
Museum of Modern Art in March in 1960. Art critic Calvin Tomkins wrote,
"There, in the freezing slush, the Swiss kinetic sculptor Jean Tinguely
is still hard at work on his magnum opus, a huge construction whose sole
purpose is to destroy itself in one glorious act of mechanical suicide.
the piece is composed of scrap metal, bicycle parts, a washing
machine drum, an upright piano, a radio, several electric fans, an old
Addressograph, a baby's bassinet, three dozen bicycle and baby carriage
wheels, uncounted small motors and fan belts, two Tinguely "meta-matics"
(motor-driven devices that produce instant abstract paintings by the yard),
several bottles of chemical stinks, an apparatus to make smoke, bells
and Klaxons and other noisemakers, and yards and yards of metal tubing,
the entire apparatus painted white and topped by an inflated orange meteorological
balloon. It is call Homage to New York."
the early 1960s, after his collaboration with Jean Tinguely, Klüver
began a long association with Roberg Rauschenberg. Their first collaboration
was a work entitled, Dry Cell (1963). Dry Cell combined silkscreens, ink,
and paint on plexiglass, as well as metal, string, sound transmitter,
wire, circuit board, motor and batteries. An interactive work, Dry Cell
engaged the audience in an exchange, a dialog between human and machine,
in which the viewers are invited to talk or make other sounds into a microphone
on the face of the work. In response, a small propellerlike piece of metal
begins to rotate.
next collaboration with Rauschenberg resulted in the 1965 work, "Oracle"
(1965). In Klüver's words, "Oracle was shown at Leo Castelli Gallery on
77th Street in May 1965. A sound environment using 5 AM radios from a
central control unit, the audience varies the volume and the rate at which
AM band is scanned. Sound was retransmitted on FM to receivers and speakers.
The radios were then placed in five sculptures made up of found objects
taken from the streets of NY and the viewer could freely walk among them.
Oracle becomes an animated cityscape. The sound too can be "rearranged"
in ever changing bits of music, talk, and noise, loud, soft, clear or
full of static. The sound from the five radios comes to you as it would
on the streets of a city neighborhood. The work is now in the collection
of the Centre Georges Pompidou with updated technology, electronic scanning
and infrared transmission. After thirty years the technology has caught
up with the artist, and Oracle is performed as it was conceived."
next year, KlüverKlüver collaborated with Andy Warhol on the
work, "Silver Clouds" (1966), and described the process of developing
the piece in the following way, "another colleague found a material called
Scotchpak...which the United States Army used to vacuum-pack sandwiches.
Andy wanted to use the material to make clouds. While we were experimenting
with how to heat-seal curves, Andy took the material, folded it over,
and made his Silver Clouds.
the same year, a number of artists expressed an interest in staging large
scale performance works, and thus the infamous Nine Evenings was born.
Nine evenings was performed at the 169th St. Regiment Armory in New New
York that launched E.A.T (Experiments in Art and Technology).
including John Cage, Lucinda Childs, Robert Rauschenberg, and others participated
in these collaborative works with more than 30 engineers. One of the works
included "Open Score" by Robert Rauschenberg, in which two tennis players
hit electronically modified racquets that triggered a bong sound and gradually
turned the lights out in the auditorium. The piece concluded when the
audience was in complete darkness. More than 10,000 people attended the
of 1966, after the enormous excitement surround Nine Evenings, a meeting
was held in which hundreds of artists showed up to request technical help
for projects. Thus E.A.T. (Experiments in Art and Technology) was born.
E.A.T. spread like wildfire across the country, spawning chapters that
not even its founder Billy Klüver knew about. E.A.T. solicited members
from both the engineering and art sectors and began publishing a newsletter,
E.A.T. News, whose second issue reported that over three hundred artists
had expressed interest in the program. The newsletter also included a
coauthored statement by Kluver and Rauschenberg announcing their goal
"to catalyze the invenitable active involvement of industry, technology,
and the arts."
more importantly though, as a result of Klüver's influence on artist
Robert Rauschenberg, one of the key figures in 20th Century art, together
they conspired to bring about a new interactive relationship between the
viewer, the artist, and the art object. In Rauschenberg's installation
"Soundings," (1968), a 36-foot long mirror-sculpture is responsive to
the voice of the viewer, as well as other extraneous sounds including
weather and traffic noise. The mirror's imagery is revealed by means of
sound-activated rear lighting, exposing its luminous mural of rotating
chairs. Rauschenberg's goal was "to make the viewer responsible for the
artwork that he or she sees… Earlier I was the artist. Now the viewer
will make the image, not I."
the Museum of Modern Art, along with the curator Pontus Hulten, embarked
on one of the most important exhibitions of art and technology in this
century, "The Machine as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age." At MOMA,
Hulten put together a historical chronology of works that embodied the
relationship between artist and technology since the time of Leonardo,
including Futurist paintings and the Light Space Modulator of László Moholy-Nagy.
In conjunction with the MOMA exhibition, E.A.T. also collaborated by staging
an exhibition at the Brooklyn Art Museum of works by contemporary artists.
in 1968, Pepsi Cola approached E.A.T. with the idea of creating a pavilion
for the Expo '70 in Osaka, Japan. Sixty-three artists, including Robert
Breer, Robert Whitman, Frosty Myers, and David Tudor participated in the
ambitious event. Built of plastics and lined with the reflective material
mylar, the dome constituted an early form of virtual reality in which
holographic reflections of the visitors were reflected.
to Klüver, "the visitor entered the pavilion through a tunnel and
descended into a dark clam-shaped room, lit only by moving patterns of
laser light from a sound-activiated laser display system display. The
path continued upstairs into the main space of the pavilion, a ninety-foot
diameter, 210-degree spherical mirror made of aluminized mylar. The floor
and the people moving on it were all reflected upside down as "real" images
in the mirror. A "real" image produced in a spherical mirror resembles
a hologram." The sound component was also 3D, "sounds could be moved from
speaker to speaker at varying speeds linearly across the dome and in circles
around the dome." Way ahead of its time, this was one of the first immersive
installations created with electronic and high-tech materials.
the Pavillion, perpetual fog banks crept over the dome and a krypton laser
rainbow light showered the World Expo. Robert Breer's Kinetic sculptures,
mysterious domed objects emitting sound, floated around the dome in random
trajectories. Three million people visited the pavilion during the summer
outside of the Pavilion's geodesic dome, with floats on left side
and the entrance tube on the right. Light towers illuminate the
in Clam Room
entering the Pavilion, the visitor is showered in rapidly moving
laser beams in the Clam Room, directly beneath the Dome Room.
girl with flag stands in the dome room, where the mirror is situated,
in a performance work by Remy Charlip. Her reflected "real"
image hangs upside down above her, the "virtual" image
is in the background where the spherical mirror is located.
draped with cloth reflects "real" image in mirror. Note
the "winch" light hanging from the center of the dome.
Blossoming Reflected Images
Additional images of the work by Remy Charlip, in
which cloth material blossoms in the mirror, due to the "winch"
light which projects from below the center of the dome.
"expertise" that artists bring to the collaboration comes directly from
their experience in making art. the artist deals with materials and physical
situations in a straightforward manner with the limits of generally accepted
functions of an object or situation, and without assigning a value hierarchy
to any material. The artist makes the most efficient use of materials, and
achieves the maximum effect with minimum means. The artists is sensitive
to scale and how it affects the human being.
of course, brought to these collaborations technical expertise and an
interest in problem solving. While the technology needed by the artists
might often be "trivial" from the engineer's point of view, its application
in a new environment for a new use provided difficulty and challenge.
us in the technical community in the early sixties who were worried about
the direction of technological change believed that artist' ideas, approaches,
and concerns could influence the way engineers approach technological or
day-today social problems. Our collaborations, we hoped, could lead technological
development in directions more beneficial to the needs, desires, and pleasures
of the individual.