Before the advent of the Internet television and radios were all the rage. But just like memes, videos, blogs and articles are used to question the role of mass media in today’s society, individuals have been using television and radio broadcasts to do the same for over 50 years. Ruth Kohn Goldsen was one such critic. Once a Professor of Sociology at Cornell, she used her radio show, ‘The Show and Tell Machine: How Television Works and Works You Over’ to critique the culture of mass media.
Named in her honour and featuring artwork that explores such critiques, ‘The Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art’ was founded by Prof. Timothy Murray, comparative literature and english, in 2002. Over 60 of these pieces are now on showcase at an exhibition, ‘From Signal to Code’ at the Hirshland Gallery in Carl A. Kroch Library at Cornell University.
“This archive is one of the world’s most substantial research archives in video art, electronic art, and digital art,”Murray said. “The exhibition explores how these different traditions intersect and influence each other over fifty years of development.”
Murray discussed the attractions of the exhibition, and invited reflection.
“David Jones’ interactive video display provides viewers with the opportunity to alter their image with analogue video signals as they are captured on screen by a surveillance camera,” Murray said. “Indicative of interactive art, the piece invites users to ‘make it work’ while prompting them to reflect on their personal relation to the culture of video.”
Just like David Jones’ video, other works are also designed to force some form of reflection. One such piece is the graphic novel, ‘Book from the Ground’ by Goldsen Archive’s A.D White Professor-at-large and renowned artist, Xu Bing. It is an account of a typical day of the urban white-collar worker. What makes it unique is that it does not contain a single word and instead relates the story using universal pictograms. Bing’s inspiration is said to have come from a pack of chewing gum, which used symbols to demonstrate how to wrap a piece of gum in paper and throw it in a trash can. The aim was to write a book that transcended language barriers and demonstrated how we’ve been geared to read visual symbols as a result of the marketing images we are exposed to.
“Xu Bing became fascinated by the graphic symbols of computing and digital culture, such as how young generations sometimes communicate solely via embodies and keystrokes,” Murray said. “So he developed a novel whose language is strictly figural and symbolic.”
The exhibition also provides a glimpse into the difficulties artists faced procuring and using digital tools to create their works. A letter written by Joan Jonas to Ralph Hocking in 1972, details the high rental fees of digital equipment and the resulting creative vacuum that this created.
“We hope that Signal to Code will provide visitors with an appreciation of the complex artistic history of electronic and digital art. Particularly, we hope everyone will notice the artists’ emphasis on the complex relation between technology and human existence, whether as a framer or empowerer of gender, race, and sexual difference or as social tool of surveillance,” Murray said.
The exhibition is open to the public until October 14th.