introducing Media Art — jonCates (2019)

Aug 21 · 7 min read
from the on the — jonCates (2019)

over the last 15 years of my full-time teaching, i’ve collected, compiled, and processed a number of different ways and approaches for introducing students to Media Art in terms of the aestheticonceptechniques and the theorypractices. what follows are notes towards explaining and inspiring folks on the possibilities and potential of experimental Media Art.

  • in an introduction to Media Art, excitement should be the goal, not ‘mastery’. students will enter the class(es) and artists will enter the field(s) from many different backgrounds with numerous varied skill sets, hopes, and intentions. producing enthusiasms and inspiring them to sustain initial and long-term curiosities is always far more viable then attempts to ‘master’ materials, concepts, and concerns.
  • related to the above, modulating expectations is crucial to understanding the artistic fields of experimental Media Art as being the areas in which artists individually and collaboratively create personal media on achievable scales of production. the scale that they work at should be presented as both reasonable and challenging. as i say in the context of Art Games and Indie Games: independent, personally expressive, and artistic projects are, of course, always in the “Shadow of the Colossus”, meaning that games are always perceived (to some extent) in the context created by the AAA Games Industry. similarly, Film Art is understood in the context of mainstream Cinemas, despite being radically different in form and content. Video Art famously positioned itself in (an often antagonistic or adversarial) relation to Television. Internet Art, at least initially, questioned assumptions of Contemporary Art especially in terms of the economics, access, and methods of distribution. in other words, there are media cultures that Media Art must contend with. students being introduced to making experimental Media Art need to learn and unlearn expectations relative to these contexts.
  • key writings to discuss, to build engaged dynamic understandings of, and to critically address together include, in chronological order of their authorship:
    Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkei — Walter Benjamin (1935 / 1936)
    Expanded Cinema — Gene Youngblood (1970)
    Radical Software — Raindance Corporation (1970 - 1974)
    Computer Lib / Dream Machines — Ted Nelson (1974)
    Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema — Laura Mulvey (1975)
    Video: the Aesthetics of Narcissism — Rosalind Krauss (1976)
    Personal Dynamic Media — Adele Goldberg and Alan Kay (1977)
    Video: Shedding the Utopian Moment — Martha Rosler (1985–1986)
    Overcoming white supremacy: a comment — bell hooks (1988)
    Oppositional Gaze — bell hooks (1992)
    Utopian Plagiarism, Hypertextuality and Electronic Cultural Production — Critical Art Ensemble (1993)
    In Defense of the Poor Image — Hito Steyerl (2009)
    Creating Critical Play — Mary Flanagan (2010)
    Rise of the Videogame Zinesters: How Freaks, Normals, Amateurs, Artists, Dreamers, Drop-outs,Queers, Housewives, and People Like You Are Taking Back an Art Form Paperback — Anna Anthropy(2012)
  • key works to watch and interact with include, in chronological order of their authorship:
    Sortie de l’usine Lumière de Lyon (Workers Leaving the Lumiere Factory)- Auguste and Louis Lumière (1895)
    Repas de bébé (Baby’s Dinner or Feeding the Baby) — Auguste and Louis Lumière (1895)
    L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat (The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station) — Auguste and Louis Lumière (1896)
    Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon) — Georges Méliès (1902)
    The Great Train Robbery — Edwin S. Porter (1903)
    Battleship Potemkin — Sergei Eisenstein (1925)
    Anémic Cinéma — Rrose Sélavy (Marcel Duchamp) (1926)
    La coquille et le clergyman — Germaine Dulac (1928)
    Un Chien Andalou — Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí (1929)
    Man with a Movie Camera — Vertov Dziga (1929)
    Meshes of the Afternoon — Maya Deren (1943)
    Towers Open Fire — Anthony Balch with William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin (1963)
    Zen for Film — Nam June Paik (1964)
    Screen Tests — Andy Warhol (1964–1966)
    Magnet TV — Nam June Paik (1965)
    Sky TV — Yoko Ono (1966)
    Wavelength — Michael Snow (1967)
    The Mother of All Demos — Douglas Engelbart / Stanford Research Institute (1968)
    Fred Hampton Interview — Videofreex (1969)
    Calligrams — Steina and Woody Vasulka (1970)
    Violin Power — Steina (1970 — present)
    (nostalgia) — Hollis Frampton (1971)
    Space Is The Place — Sun Ra (1972)
    Enigma — Lillian Schwartz (1972)
    Line Describing a Cone — Anthony McCall (1973)
    Take the 5:10 to Dreamland — Bruce Conner (1976)
    General Motors — Phil Morton (1976)
    Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman — Dara Birnbaum (1978)
    Digital TV Dinner — Jamie Fenton, Raul Zaritsky and Dick Ainsworth (1979)
    Lorna and Deep Contact — Lynn Hershman (1979–1989)
    Home of the Brave — Laurie Anderson (1986)
    True Stories — David Byrne (1986)
    Spy in the House that Ruth Built — Vanalyne Green (1989)
    If Every Girl Had a Diary — Sadie Benning (1990)
    Wanting for Bridge — Joan Stanley (1991)
    A Place Called Lovely — Sadie Benning (1991)
    Get Down! — Emergency Broadcast Network (1991–1998)
    Daughters of the Dust — Julie Dash (1991)
    Passage à l’acte — Martin Arnold (1993)
    Myst — Robyn and Rand Miller (1993)
    Selbstlos im Lavabad (Selfless in the Bath of Lava) — Pipilotti Rist (1994)
    The Golden Calf — Jeffery Shaw (1994)
    Last Angel of History — Black Audio Film Collective (1995)
    My Boyfriend Came Back From the War — Olia Lialina (1996)
    Female Extension — Cornelia Sollfrank (1997)
    The Intruder — Natalie Bookchin (1998–1999)
    nato.0+55 + 3D modular 242 — Netochka Nezvanova (1998)
    Spectres of the Spectrum — Craig Baldwin (1999)
    Mario Battle №1 — Myfanwy Ashmore (2000)
    %WRONG Browser — JODI (2001)
    She Puppet — Peggy Ahwesh (2001)
    Tale of Tales (Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn) (2002–2015)
    GI Joe PSAs — Eric Fensler (2003)
    Das Netz -​ Lutz Dammbeck (2003)
    IMA fiction: portrait #2 06: Rebekah Wilson aka Netochka Nezvanova — Elisabeth Schimana (2006)
    Best…flame war ..Ever — Eddo Stern (2007)
    RMB City — Cao Fei (2007–2009)
    ZEE — Kurt Hentschlager (2008)
    Ponytail — Barry Doupé (2008)
    Reel Injun — Neil Diamond, Catherine Bainbridge and Jeremiah Hayes (2009)
    Art Thoughtz with Hennessy Youngman — Jayson Musson (2010–2012)
    Meek’s Cutoff — Kelly Reichardt (2010)
    Tightrope — Janelle Monáe (2010)
    Ceibas Cycle — Evan Meany (2011)
    The External World — David O’Reilly (2011)
    Datamosh — Yung Jake (2011)
    Dys4ia — Anna Anthropy (2012)
    How Not To Be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File — Hito Steyerl (2013)
    Kentucky Route Zero — Cardboard Computers (Jake Elliott, Tamas Kemenczy and Ben Babbitt) (2013 -Present)
    Uterus Man — Lu Yang (2013)
    Mountain — David O’Reilly (2014)
    Browsing — LaTurbo Avedon (2015)
    Sunset — Tale of Tales (Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn) (2015)
    Four Faces of the Moon — Amanda Strong (2016)
    INAATE/SE/ [it shines a certain way. to a certain place/it flies. falls./] — Adam Khalil and Zack Khalil (2016)
    Efficiency Prototype #1 (working title) — Sondra Perry (2016)
    Zama — Lucrecia Martel (2017)
    Ugly — Nikita Diakur (2017)
    Everything is going to be OK — Nathalie Lawhead (2018)
    Dreams Of The Jaguar’s Daughter — Alfredo Salazar-Caro (2019)
  • key concepts to unpack and process include:
    The Duchampian Era, DADA, and Surrealism;
    Lens-based camera capture;
    Originality, influence, inspiration, interpretation, media cultures, remix, retelling, and appropriation;
    Analog to digital differences;
    Economies and marketplaces;
    Methods of distribution ie channels and platforms such as the Internet, festivals, galleries, museums, etc;
    Cinema Studies;
    Feminist Film Theories;
    Indigenous Futurism;
    Indigenizing and decolonizing;
    Activist Strategies;
    Experimental documentary and creative non-fiction;
    National Cinemas;
    The Language of Film and cinematic conventions ie continuity editing, jump-cuts, The Kuleshov Effect, 3 point lighting, the 180 degree rule, pulling focus, mise-en-scene, diagetic vs non-diagetic, composition;
    Character and character development ie suture, identification, emplotment, narrativity, and suspension of disbelief;
    Auto-Ethnography, constructions of identity and the self onscreen, video diaries, webcams, livestreams, and the hyperconfessional;
    Avant Garde Film and Underground Film;
    Animation ie frame by frame, handcrafted (drawings and puppets), computer assisted, and fully 3D digital authoring ie also in games, Virtual Reality, and Augmented Reality;
    Military­-Industrial-­Academic­-Entertainment­ complexes;
    The Surveillance State;
    Media Art Hystories and Genealogies;
    The Language of New Media ie computer processing, rendering, realisms and simulations, Object Orientation and instantiation; Software Art, Artware and creative coding;
    Glitch Art.

of course all of the above is partial, open, and ongoing. this is always already a work in progress. still, these are approaches i have and continue to work with in order to introduce experimental Media Art to students, exciting them to the possibilities of the field. staying open to the students’ feedback and being responsive to their contributions is the next step in maintaining, updating, and adapting these educational resources.

Associate Professor
School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC)
Department of Film, Video, New Media and Animation (FVNMA)
and Art History, Theory and Criticism Department
Faculty and Alum
Donau-Universität Krems (Krems, Austria)


Written by


School of the Art Institute of Chicago; Film, Video, New Media and Animation dept; Art History, Theory and Criticism dept.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade