Electronic Visions

Publication TypeBook
AuthorsMinkowsky, John
SourceThe Hudson River Museum, Yonkers, NY (1984)

The Hudson River Museum. Electronic Visions. The exhibition artists include Steina and Woody Vasulka, Ralph Hocking, Sherry Miller, Gary Hill, and Dan Sandin.

Hudson River Museum
Hudson River Museum
Minkowsky, John
Exhibition Dates:
Vasulka, Steina and Woody
Hocking and Miller, Ralph and Sherry
Hill, Gary
Full Text: 

Electronic Visions (catalog).

Introduction - John Minkowsky

Modern electronic technology offers us a means of perception never before possible with the human eye, and has inspired a social and artistic revolution the end result of which no one can adequately predict. Beginning in the mid 1940's, commercial television co-opted the models, forms, and talents of commercial radio and soon enjoyed unchallenged dominance in the field of home entertainment. Two decades later a variety of circumstances also brought television into the hands of artists and into the art gallery.

Among the factors which contributed to the growth of television as an artist's medium were the introduction of small-format, inexpensive, portable video equipment that was the forerunner of today's home BETA or VHS machine; a general upheavel in the art world which tended to devalue the "unique" art object and to focus instead on artmaking as process; and a renewed emphasis on the sort of innovation for which artists have traditionally been valued. Many creative individuals embraced video as a new form with which they could reorganize and resensitize our perceptions of the commonplace and create heretofore inconceivable new visions and ways of interacting with the world.

Like television, the digital computer is for the most part a post-war phenomenon. At first, the sheer speed with which it was capable of complex calculations emphasized its value as an efficient means of eliminating countless hours of human drudgery. Soon, however, the digital computer became much more. As the video camera mimics the human eye, so does the computer the human brain and, in the hands of artists, the human imagination. A machine originally conceived largely as a labor-saving device also became a powerful tool for controlling the arts of sound and image making.

Sonic and visual artists grappled with this electronic monster even at its earliest stages, when the most powerful computers literally filled large rooms in laboratories and universities. But as computer technology grew more powerful, it also became more compact; as a result, the popular awareness of the vast capabilities computers offered for changing our notions of communications, art, and culture in general became more commonplace. The home computing system which often fulfills utilitarian and entertainment needs simultaneously - has grown increasingly smaller, cheaper, and more accessible. The day may well arrive when, as theorist Gene Youngblood has suggested, "our major task as a global society will not be to create new tools but, rather, new desires which increasingly sophisticated electronic communication systems can help us to realize." As we move rapidly into a society in which the transmission of information is ever more prominent, imagination - the very thing for which we prize our best artists become the major "commodity."

Video and the computer to date have shared a sublime, yet troublesome relationship. By virtue of their access to and understanding of computer technology, many designed/technicians have produced graphic works for which they have been heralded as artists. Often their visions have focused largely on the large capacities of the machine in question. Needless to say, the resultant products have been more demonstrative of a playful naivete with new, albeit powerful and engaging toys than of important works of art. By the same token, many visionary artists in other media have failed in their attempts to use the computer and other new technologies as a result either of skepticsm or an impatience with learning the skills required to attain the abilities for a free and natural expression with these new tools.

The media of video and computer technology are still sufficiently new to enable an interesting failure to constitute a milestone. Yet there are many artists who have accomplished much in the short time given them. The fusion between art and technology, when guided by a sensitivity to both, is the art of the future, near and far.