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NorthWest CyberArtists

Einar's articles from the NWCA Newsletter.

August 1994

NWCA August 1994

What's in a name?

I've been a "musician" for years. I've been labeled Industrial, Techno, Experimental, New Wave and sometimes Electronic Musician. I prefer the latter because it doesn't restrict my product to a particular style.

Recently I've been creating visual art and now I'm going through the same labeling process. I hope I continue to be called an Electronic Artist. I like that. It seems all encompassing. A generic name.

For your own reference, call me whatever you like, but I'm worried about being called Cyber.

Interactive Art or a new toy? The other night at the Belltown Pub I had three pieces set up for public viewing and interaction. In creating the "Dreaming Head" series I called up things I had learned in art classes all the way back to grade school. Balance, Texture, Color, Materials - all were important considerations in the visual aspect of the pieces. I wanted them to be interesting to look at, thought provoking, fun, mysterious and I wanted people to be drawn closer. They had to draw people closer because each of the three Dreaming Heads was interactive.

Because all the pieces were electronic in one way or another (they all had motors and lights) there was a lot of hardware that we in the know could look at and figure out. I was hoping that they would be just complicated enough to make them enjoyable to the average NWCA member. But I overheard some discussions about the pieces that at first made me laugh, and then later on made me realize a caveat of electronic art.

Mostly water, really.

My art was being described in cold, emperical facts and statistics. "This piece has a 2" LCD TV, a motor, a microphone, LED lights on a blinking circuit powered by 9V alkaline batteries, etc..." I was startled to hear something so close to my heart described sort of like a "bunch of wires." I had been thinking of it as art, not an empirically measured or described object.

It's like giving a tour at the Munch Museum and stopping before "The Scream" and describing it to your group as "some wood that is cut into four pieces, nailed together forming a frame, then covered by a piece of canvas. The artist then takes a stick with camel hair on it and applies a pigmented substance..."

Or it's like describing my wife as being "mostly water, really". It's a true statement, but it can't describe my own perception of who she is "inside" or her emotional value to me.

Ignore the man behind the curtain.

I have a suspicion that CyberArt might be having this problem all over the world as more of you build interesting, thought provoking reflective pieces for and about our new digital society. If the art is to be invisible even to some in our midst, will it be apparent to people who don't know the magic behind it? My particular art is designed for folks with no technical background who might get that childlike grin on their face as they slip on a magic glove and touch the dreaming head.

So I'm back to magic again. Having friends who are far beyond me in technical proficiency describing my "art" to others was amusingly like having someone explain to a fascinated kid that the quarter did not really come out of his ear - it was in the magician's hand all along.

We can describe the wires, lights, switches and other hardware in the context of the piece as a whole and how it ties in to a perceived message that the artist intends, but we should be careful no to describe the art object as merely some hardware. It robs the viewer of any chance of viewing the art as a mysterious puzzle, and thus might remove or alter the desired mood of the piece.

The Emperor's Clothes

I know that a lot of us - including me - like the technological stuff about CyberArt, (In Red Dwarf terms, it's like the cat and his love for "shiny things") but if you're looking for hi-tech in my stuff I issue a warning that disappointment is a distinct possibility.

I enjoy spending nothing, or as close to that as possible on very low grade technology and then throwing elements together in a previously unheard of way in order to make my artistic point. Still, I noticed that even insiders tended to see way more technology in my Dreaming Heads than there really was. Instead of realizing that that what was set out for inspection was about $5.00 worth of Radio Shack and thrift store parts, some viewers thought there was some invisible high technology inside. This is a success in one way because it is causing the viewer to imagine, but I even heard people describing to each other what it was that they couldn't see. This leads me to believe that when you present "Cyber" Art to a crowd you run a risk that they stop looking for art in the BIG PICTURE and start looking for something with a remote control and a wow factor of about 9.

I know this happens on different levels with other forms of art. I used to take my own black & white photographs, and do weird things in the darkroom that got some fascinating comments from people, and in that situation people would see intention behind the result that I had not intended. It's a common thing with art. It's subjective. I do it all the time when I read things into poetry and get a completely different message than the poet intended.

But with this electronic art, I don't find the missed communication to be the same. People who are specifically looking for "CyberArt" seem to be naturally focused on material, technology and basic hardware. I'm having trouble getting past form, and into content. Are there any other visual electronic artists who might be having similar experiences? Can you offer me some advice? I think what I'm experiencing is a result of tremendous hype about this whole "Cyber" thing.

And so, therefore, I am uncomfortable with the term "CyberArtist" and prefer "Electronic Artist" and "Electronic Musician".

Location, location, and humorous conclusion.

Perhaps if we can ever find a place to house "CyberArt" for the public to view regularly we should have two rooms. One for art, and one for a science and technology fair. With tongue in cheek, I suggest that maybe we could locate it where our intended audience might be - next to "The Future Shop" or "Plato's Pocket". ;)

BTW, I read the CyberArtists list so you wired types can respond to this there.

See ya ,

Enough! Back to!

Einar Ask /