Katherine Liberovskaya is a Canadian-born professional multidisciplinary artist who has been working predominantly in experimental video and multimedia since the late eighties. Over the years, she has produced numerous single-channel videos and several installations among which: "A SCRATCH Y2K HUSH-SONG", "RUSSIAN SOUL-SEARCHING", "EPHEMERIS", "XXII", "LE BRUISSEMENT DES LANGUES", "SUPERMARKET STRATEGY: A SHOWCASE STORY", "GLISSEMENT DANS UN VIRAGE COMPLET", "HAPPINESS: A VIRTUAL SKETCH" as well as "FROZEN INK", a work that has won several awards and mentions in Europe and North America. Her works have been presented at various artistic events around the world and are included in the video art collections of The National Art Gallery of Canada and The Art Bank of The Canada Council as well as in several private collections. Since obtaining her diploma in "Composite Image" in 1990 from the Atelier d'Image Composite de l'Ecole des Beaux-Arts de Poitiers in France, she has held over a dozen grants and arts awards in Canada and in France. She currently lives and works in Montreal where, in addition to her artistic practice, she teaches television production and is pursuing graduate studies at the Communications Department of Concordia University. Her academic research is focused on the implications of the "New Media" for artistic practice. Moreover, she is active as an independent organizer and programmer of new media events.
Multimedia of the Machine Age
A genealogy of multimedia through avant garde movements in Western Art
In the present hype of "New Technologies" a most fashionable recent "buzzword" is multimedia. While "multimedia" is not yet listed in the dictionary, as I enter "multimedia and definition" into one of the search engines of my internet browser, I find that 'it is a new way to communicate. It involves creating synergy between sound, images and text'.
Such a definition leaves me most perplexed for the term "multi-media" (with a hyphen) as well as variations such as intermedia and mixed-media have been used, at least in the art world, for several decades, and, it can be argued that ideas of synergy between various art forms have been around since humans have walked the Earth. The digital "multimedia" of today, which can also be called hypermedia, is said to be about the multisensory convergence of visual, audio and textual material in an interactive computer-generated environment. It can take the form of any combination of some or all of the following: text, hypertext, imported or computer-generated two-dimensional graphics, three-dimensional computer graphics, computer animation, moving image (digitized video or film),
voice, music, sound effects. All these components are reputed to 'finally begin to merge together into a medium that better approximates real-life experience' that has no beginning or end and can be accessed randomly.
Being a long time practitioner of electronic art, gradually "going digital" and moving towards "multimedia", I was particularly interested in the origins of this so-called "new form" which is rapidly becoming extremely popular as much in the art world as in numerous corporate domains. To my surprise, it was no easy task to trace the historical evolution of multimedia. Indeed, though recent publications praising its virtues and predicting its future potential abound, and while some relate in detail the technological development of its current basic components, such as hypertext or the graphical user interface, none seem to address the derivation of the concept of multimedia per se - the intellectual heritage of this idea of fusion of several different art forms into a single form.
Thus, I turned to the history of Western art. There I found numerous possible theoretical and practical antecedents for the concept throughout tendencies and movements of various eras.
In this paper, I will therefore examine what I consider to be key developments in the history of the Western arts in an attempt to point out, if not their influence on the evolution of multimedia as we know it today, at least the parallelism of their ideas with the reputedly "revolutionary" technological concepts which are said to have shaped the form. Though the concept of multimedia can be traced back to antiquity with its very first models of fusion of different art forms (storytelling and music, music and dancing, and particularly the various amalgamations of theatrical models...), I have chosen to focus my attention on the extremely eventful period situated between the middle of the eighteenth and the middle of the nineteenth centuries, marked by the technological discoveries of the Industrial Revolution. This pre-digital and even pre-electronic era, comprising the end of the Enlightenment and the beginning of Modernism, is often referred to as the Machine Age. The subject being seemingly a vast, unexplored territory, this essay will merely outline a general overview and point to some possible areas of further investigation rather than providing a comprehensive survey.
I have chosen to begin my overview in Europe with Richard Wagner's Gesamtkunstwerk as well as with the Symbolist movement, both still built on Renaissance traditions. My investigation will continue with the radical shift in perspective of the Futurists, Cubists and Constructivists and of the unique approach of Wassily Kandinsky. I will proceed with the anti art tactics of the Dadaist and Surrealist movements as well as the singular ideas of Marcel Duchamp. I will then move on to the Bauhaus experiment's ideal of a new art/technology unity. I will conclude with the important influence of American composer John Cage on recent art and thought. By such a genealogical analysis I hope to shed some light on the genesis of the concept of multimedia and to show that the form we know today is, rather than being a product of the current "technological revolution", the digital incarnation of ideas which have been evolving in the arts, among other fields, for over a century.
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