Randall Packer - Course Information

History of New Media

Syllabus - Fall, 2003
Maryland Institute College of Art
Wednesday, 4:00 - 6:45 PM
Randall Packer, Instructor
office hours: by appointment
Website: http://www.zakros.com/
On-line Course Information: http://www.zakros.com/mica

Course Description

History of New Media is an overview of the pioneering artists and scientists who have brought about the dissolution of boundaries that have traditionally existed between the artistic and technological disciplines. The course will survey the work and ideas of artists who have explored new interactive and interdisciplinary forms, as well as engineers and mathematicians who have developed information technologies and influential scientific and philosophical ideologies that have influenced the arts. Seminal artistic movements and genres will be explored, such as: the Futurists, Bauhaus, kinetic sculpture, Happenings, video art, electronic theater, etc. There will also be study of the invention of information technologies and new human-machine paradigms that have come to define the medium of the personal computer, including: cybernetics, augmented intelligence, hypertext, human-computer symbiosis, graphical user interface, etc.

This broad historical analysis will help illuminate an understanding of the emerging digital arts and its aesthetics, strategies, trends, and socio-cultural aspirations. Central to this analysis will be an understanding of key concepts for the interpretation of evolving multimedia forms: including integration, interactivity, hypermedia, immersion, and narrativity. The course will reveal how these primary elements of contemporary media have roots in experimental electronic and performance art prior to the digital era.

Students will develop commentary in the form of critical projects through the in-depth analysis of historical trends and seminal work in the media arts and information sciences.

Week 1 Overture - 9/3

Review of course objectives, readings, assignments, projects, and grading.

Introduction to Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality through an overview of the interactive timeline, that covers 17,000 years of historical precedence and pioneering work and ideologies by artists and scientists, from the Caves of Lascaux to the present.

Assigned Reading

• Randall Packer and Ken Jordan, "Overture," Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality

Weeks 2 - 4 Integration - 9/12 through 9/26

Definition: Integration - The blurring of traditional boundaries between disciplines – such as the arts and science – or between discrete media.

We will discuss key 19th and 20th Century developments in the integration of the arts and technology, beginning with the work of composer Richard Wagner and his idealized notion of the Gesamtkunstwerk (Total Artwork), followed by Bauhaus artist László Moholy-Nagy, who began working with electronic and kinetic forms in the 1920s, and Bell Labs engineer Billy Klüver, who was a central figure in the New York art world during the 1960s with the formation of E.A.T. (Experiments in Art and Technology).

Assigned Reading

• Richard Wagner, "Outlines of the Artwork of the Future," The Artwork of the Future, 1849
• László Moholy-Nagy, "Theater, Circus, Variety," The Theater of the Bauhaus, 1929
• Billy Klüver, "Northeastern Power Failure" 1966

Notes on Wagner, Moholy-Nagy, Klüver

Notes on Futurists, Dada (photomontage, text works)

Assignment (due Oct 1)

Choose a contemporary artwork that uses two or more media and discuss how the artist integrates the work: what compositional devices are used? is there interplay between the media? do the media affect or alter one another? how do the media superimpose or combine? does the viewer have any control? etc. Your summary should be approximately 300 words and contains a url that points to information about the work on-line. Send to me by email (rpacker@zakros.com)

Weeks 5 - 7 Interactivity 10/1 through 10/15

Definition: Interactivity - Reciprocal exchange between the viewer and the artwork, the ability to manipulate media and objects intuitively and with immediacy.

This topic explores the evolution of the technical, aesthetic, and cognitive concepts behind human-computer interactions, and their influence on the art, design and application of interactive media. Beginning with the fundamentals of cybernetics as conceived by engineer Norbert Wiener in the late 1940s, we will discuss subsequent scientific breakthroughs in human-computer interaction including Douglas Engelbart's oNLine System and invention of the mouse. We will then explore parallel cybernetic and interactive tendencies emerging in the arts during the 1960s through the writings and work of John Cage and Roy Ascott.


Assigned Reading

• Norbert Wiener, "Cybernetics in History," Human Use of Human Beings : Cybernetics in Society, 1954
• Roy Ascott, "Behavioral Art and the Cybernetic Vision," 1967

Midterm Assignment: Due Oct. 29

Choose a work by a media artist and discuss it in the context of readings and discussion on interactivity. If Norbert Wiener has said that the quality of interaction and interface has a direct impact on the quality of life of the individual and the quality of social interaction, how has the artist engaged interactivity to deepen the viewer's experience of the artwork? If Roy Ascott has said that the future of art would be the exploration of two-way forms of communication being the artwork and the viewer, how has this idea also changed the way we experience art? Be sure and reference specific ideas / artworks from readings and discussion to support your argument.

Choose from the following list of artists:

* Kit Galloway & Sherrie Rabinowitz
* David Tudor
* Woody & Steina Vasulka
* Michael Naimark
* Jim Campbell
* Joel Slayton
* Jeffrey Shaw
* Char Davies
* Ken Goldberg
* Perry Hoberman
* Mark Napier
* Mark Amerika

Your essay should be a minimum 1000 words (4 pages). Please hand in via email (rpacker@zakros.com)

Weeks 8 - 9 Hypermedia - 10/29, 11/5

Definition: Hypermedia - The non-sequential linking of information, events, and discrete media.

We will discuss the evolution of hypermedia and the non-linear association of information resulting in the collapse of traditional spatial and temporal boundaries. We will begin with Vannevar Bush's seminal investigation into the concept of the hyperlink through his design of the Memex in 1945, the prototypical multimedia workstation. This will be followed by Ted Nelson's coining of the term hypertext in the early 1960s, in which non-linear associative thinking was applied to human-computer interaction, concluding with Alan Kay's creation of the graphical user interface and the first hypermedia system for a personal computer at Xerox PARC in the 1970s.

On-line artworks

File Room, Antonio Muntadas

My Boyfriend came back from the War, Olia Lialina

Desktop Is, Alexis Shulgin

Please Change Beliefs, Jenny Holzer

Shredder, Mark Napier

Assigned Reading

• Vannevar Bush, "As We May Think," Atlantic Monthly, 1945

(due 11/5)

• Alan Kay and Adele Goldberg, "Personal Dynamic Media," 1977

(due 11/12)

Assignment (due 11/12)

The pioneers of hypermedia (Bush, Engelbart, Nelson, Kay) have all stated that we need systems to cope with an increasingly complex world brought about through information technology. Foremost is the need to extend human memory to embrace and make use of an abundance of information and knowledge now available in our growing repositories.

As artists, how can we apply this notion to creative activity? If hypermedia transcends traditional notions of time and space (collapsing boundaries of distance, compressing temporal demarcation [time zones don’t exist on the Internet], how can this capability be applied in new ways to the creation of art. How does hypermedia facilitate and enhance possibilities for narrative and viewer interaction?

Based on the readings and artworks discussed in class, write a 500 statement. Please hand in via email.

Weeks 10 - 12 Immersion, 11-12, 11-19

Definition: Immersion - The experience of entering a multi-sensory representation of three-dimensional space.

We will explore the evolution of virtual reality and 3D virtual space: multimedia as an immersive experience that engages all the senses. We will overview the research of artists and scientists dating back to the 1950s, including Morton Heilig, Ivan Sutherland, Scott Fisher, Jenny Holzer, Jeffrey Shaw, and Char Davies, who have pioneered the tools and aesthetics of virtual reality, stereoscopic imaging, and telepresence, leading to the creation of digital, immersive environments.


Assigned Reading

• Ivan Sutherland, "The Ultimate Display," 1966
• Scott Fisher, "Virtual Environments," 1989

due 11/19

• Lynn Hershman, "The Fantasy Beyond Control," Art and Technology, 1990
• Pierre Lévy, "The Art and Architecture of Cyberspace," 1997

due 12/3

Weeks 13 Narrativity 12/3

Definition: Narrativity - Interactive, branching forms that lend the user control over the narrative, diminishing the traditional primacy of the author's voice.

This final investigation focuses on the reshaping of narrative with new nonlinear, interactive, and electronic forms of media and communication. We will discuss the pioneering interactive media art of Lynn Hershman, as well as video artist Bill Viola's and media theorist Pierre Lévy's critique of emerging new possibilities for artistic creation in the context of interactive, immersive, and hypermediated forms.

Final Project

"The Future is Under Construction"

Definition: Future of multimedia - A telematic society collectively producing an expanded intelligence and knowledge through new forms of art and social engagement through digital technologies.

"Human intelligence? Its space is dispersion. Its time, the eclipse. Its knowledge, the fragment. Collective intelligence realizes its reintegration... Through the intermediary of virtual worlds, we can not only exchange information but think together, share our memories and our plans to produce a cooperative brain." -- Pierre Lévy, from Collective Intelligence

The final paper brings togetherour perception and understanding of new media, its socio-cultural impact, its technical possibilities, its artistic implications. Contemporary artists and theorists agree that through the pervasive assimilation of networked media, there will be new potential for aesthetic, scientific and social transformation.

Some of the projects (both artistic and technological) we have discussed embrace this ideal (artistic: File Room, Please Change Beliefs, US DAT, Shredder, Pavilion, Sensorama, etc.; technological: Memex, NLS, Ultimate Display, VIEW, World Wide Web, etc.)

Invent a new project that embraces this idea. Support the viability of your project by referring to readings and artworks discussed in class, concepts we have explored, to describe how the medium has become a powerful means for staging events, situations, processes, that bring the viewer into a participatory role with the artwork, and with other participants.

Write a 1000 word description for a project that looks to the future of computer-based multimedia and telematics, and their impact on society and culture. Describe the content of your interactive artwork, its embrace of integration, interactivity, hypermedia, immersion, and the narrative possibilities of combing these concepts to enable the artist and the viewer to engage in the larger social context, perhaps even reshape that context. In order words, how does new media bring about the age-old desire of the artist to extend aesthetic inquiry into the outer world where ideas can bring about a new understanding of the contemporary social condition and possibly even become real social action?

During the final two classes, December 10, 17th, we will have class presentations, approx. 10 minutes per person, 5 minute overview of project, 5 minute class discussion critiquing the work. You can use the Web to illustrate your project with images, diagrams, examples, etc.

Weeks 14, 15 12/10 - 12/17, Final Project Presentations
Assignments and Grading

Weekly assignments (20%)

Weekly assignments will consist of summaries of readings, artworks and discussions.

Midterm Project (20%)

Each student will write an essay and give a presentaton introducing a contemporary media artist.

Final Project (50%)

Each student will do original research and present the results of a paper or hyperessay exploring the future of computer-based multimedia and its impact on the arts and culture.

Attendance and Class Discussion (10%)

Everyone is required to participate in class discussion.


Assigned reading

All reading will be from the instructor's "Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality," (co-edited by Randall Packer and Ken Jordan), as well as the companion Website located at artmuseum.net. The book is available at Amazon.com. Be sure and purchase the paperback expanded edition.

ADA Compliance

In MICA's efforts to provide the highest possible quality educational experience for every student, MICA maintains compliance with the requirements of the ADA and Section 504. Any student who has, or suspects he or she may have, a disability and wants to request academic accommodations should contact Dr. Kathryn Smith at the Learning Resource Center (443) 695-1384, (410) 225-2422, or e-mail ksmith@mica.edu immediately.