tobias ebsen [.dk] DIGITAL ART AND DESIGN

MATERIAL SCREEN – Intersections of media, art, and architecture


The screen has been employed in art since the 1960s by such prominent artists as Nam June Paik, Wolf Vostell, John Whitney, Shirley Clarke, Dara Birnbaum, and many others, but in recent years has also appeared in public installation art, and works that cross into the field of architecture, e.g. that of Jim Campbell, Daniel Rozin, Leo Villareal, and Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. These screen-based works present images, in a way similar to that which paintings have done for centuries, but they also present a different artistic approach that extend beyond the primary function of the medium. When, in 1965, Nam June Paik placed a large magnet on top of a television that consequently displayed strange patterns on its screen, the television was no longer just a matter of the image, but became a subject for material manipulations, as painted canvases and stone sculptures have been for millennia. Addressing the screen as a material artifact, instead of only an image, changes the way in which we have come to conventionally regard the screen as a flat, rectangular surface, placed before our eyes. We are no longer simply dealing with the screen-image, but the entire material screen.

This dissertation argues that the artistic practices behind many screen-based works may be described in terms of increased attention to the materiality of the screen. The concept of materiality is the central focal point that is explored theoretically through the perspectives of a number of thinkers and scholars in the fields of art and media. In particular, the ideas of Canadian media philosopher Marshall McLuhan form the basis for exploring the concepts and understandings presented here. His attention to the effects of media and their impact on perception addresses the same conceptual understandings of material media as have been addressed by many artists working with the screen. The concept of materiality is explored both theoretically and through the interpretation of artworks, as well as in its experimental application to the related phenomenon of media architecture. Furthermore, the dissertation describes and interprets a number of cases that were carried out prior to the development of this thesis. Involvement in these cases as a part of the PhD project has both informed the theoretical foundations and provided the opportunity to reflect on their development processes as practices involving attention to materiality.

Three major subjects are addressed in this dissertation. First is the application of materiality as an understanding of screen-based art and media art in general. This includes a theoretical foundation, mainly based on the work of Marshall McLuhan, which addresses material, formal, and ontological questions about media. By presenting new readings of McLuhan’s well-known theories, I present a rich understanding of materiality that may be extended to other areas of study. Second is the investigation of media architecture as an emerging field, and how it relates to the existing fields of screen-based art and architecture. This is one of the first attempts to interpret the implications of media architecture, and connect it to a history of experimental practices at the junction of media, art, and architecture. The third subject is the participation and deep involvement in a number of cases, from which the ideas of materials and materiality have emerged, evolved, and matured. 

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