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From Stills to Motion, from Canvas to Body: The Art of Moving Images

 

Moving images are everywhere; we are bombarded with a plethora of images, digital advertisements, Gifs, videos and sounds through digital sources and gadgets each second. Artists, one of the receivers of these information, digital images, and sounds create their works of art around it in today’s world. There has been a shift in the art medium for these artists throughout history. An art medium refers to the tools and materials that an artist uses to create his/her narratives. Video art, installation art, land art, performance art, sound art, animation art and site-specific art are various kinds of art mediums or the moving images. The significance of these changing art mediums in the interpretation of artwork is debatable. However, before investigating its effect on the interpreter and spectator, it is pertinent to inspect the likely changes in art mediums. The association between art and medium is imperative before delving into discussing the nuances of the art of moving images. Hence this essay is an attempt to explore and tease out the shift in the relationship between art and its traditional medium of painting to moving images.

 

Historically, artists, philosophers, architects, writers, and musicians have tried to produce canonical works, which set them apart from their predecessors as they surpassed the conventional and hierarchical rules of creating a particular kind of work. The construction of Eiffel tower in the 19th century offended classical critics and architects in Paris who ridiculed it as ugly and atrocious. Soon this temporary industrial symbol designed by an engineer would become an iconic signifier of Paris. Breaking away from an existing tradition of style is a jarring process. Impressionist painters received severe criticism and resistance when they presented a unique narrative in society by painting unconventional landscapes. Initially, their artworks were either shocking or appalling to the spectator because the artworks were impressions of a scene rather than realist, but later the same works or expressions were recognized as avant-garde or revolutionary. In his essay in The Shock of the New, Robert Hughes argues how construction, changing cityscapes, industrialization and mechanical inventions, like cars, affected the perspective of the people of viewing the city, who experienced speed and motion first hand. This shift in the society was experienced and received, and famous artists such as Umberto Boccioni painted ‘The City Rises’ in 1910, Marc Chagall and Robert Delaunay juxtaposed geometry and colours, representing a visual commentary on the changing light and structure of Paris.

 

Transformation to a modern society, World War I and mechanical advances happening in the early 20th century shaped the art narratives and most significantly the dichotomy between arts as an aesthetic. High and low art, a distinction that was central in Paris and England Art Academies and influenced the fate of the nascent artists, because of the rapid change in the European society, blurred. Exploration of colours, emotions, subconsciousness and expressions not just through paintings but through other mediums was becoming central for artists.

 

 

The relationship between art and object reversed. The objects that were inside a two- dimensional canvas got a life of its own and appeared as art objects having an intrinsic value of its own. Marcel Duchamp used common everyday objects; ordinary manufactured objects and repositioned them in a particular setting calling them ‘ready-mades.’ These ‘ready-mades’ were not received positively; he appropriated a urinal and gave it the title of Fountain, which offended gallery owners. However, aware of the resistance he argued that he selected those objects by “visual indifference and “it was always the idea that came first, not the visual example”. He further said, “a form of denying the possibility of defining art.” This change – one from ‘appearance’ to ‘conception’ – was the beginning of ‘modern’ art and the beginning of ‘conceptual’ art. All art (after Duchamp) is conceptual (in nature) because art only exists conceptually. Artists question the nature of art by presenting new propositions as to art’s nature.

 

Hence a foundation to both appropriation and conceptual art that would inspire and affect the future upcoming artists who would experience World War II and the transformation of art and society from modern to Postmodern. Art movements like Futurist, Dada, Automatism, and Fluxes also influenced conceptual art including, performance art, video and installations, which became a narrative of visual arts. David Hopkins in his essay Re-Thinking the Duchamp Effect rightfully argues that the conceptualist tradition can just as easily be understood as a broad-based reaction originating in the later 1950s and 1960s to the formalist emphasis on visuality in the criticism of Clement Greenberg and Michael Fried.

 

Conceptual art had many facets, installation art being one of the most significant and powerful ones. German artist and performer Joseph Beuys influenced by the Fluxes, in his installation Fat Chair (1964-1985) utilised mundane objects and materials of daily usage, organic fat, and wood component, into a composed and obvious metaphor for the human body and its temporary condition. For twenty years the elements of Fat Chair underwent a gradual and slow process of dilapidation eventually wholly vanishing. Installations such as Fat Chair are the liaison between the space and the viewer who becomes a vital receiver of the display. The spectator engages fully with the work of art where he/she can view it and participate with it from various vantage points, reciprocating. Installations can be both permanent and temporary but what differentiate it from a formal medium are its subjective meaning rather than the aesthetics and form.

 

Aesthetics and the idea of beauty that had always been central in art and its medium became an antithesis of post-war. Yves Klein juxtaposed his performance and illustrations in the 1960s by making three nude models drenched in blue paint roll over a crisp white sheet of paper. He was not the only one who began to use performance as a repertoire. Dennis Oppenheim, Robert Morris, and Bruce Nauman also used performance art as a narrative central to their artistic practices. Why did the body become a site of performance? How did it defy the painting medium and formulated as an idea of centrality in Post-war world and future postmodern world? Many would argue that the body of the artist transcended and became both a site and a medium.

 

Furthermore, the relation of the performer and the spectator became so vital in the performance because the spectator could directly interact with the medium; he/she could engage with the artist as a spectator. The 1960s marked a significant change in performance art where women explored the relationship of the body as a medium and performance art. Carolee Schneeman in 1963 wrote in her notes:

 

“That the body is in the eye; sensations received visually take hold on the total organism. The perception moves the overall personality in excitation… My visual dramas provide for an intensification of all faculties simultaneously- apprehensions are called forth in wild juxtaposition. My eye creates, searches out an expressive form in the materials I choose; such forms corresponding to a visual kinaesthetic dimensionality; a physical necessity drawn by the senses to the fingers of the eye … a mobile, tactile event into which the eyes leads to the body.”

 

In Schneeman’s eroticised Eye Body performance, she covered her body in grease, chalk, ropes plastic through which she established her body as a visual territory by making it as ‘an integral material.’ Amelia Jones in her book Body Art/ Performing The Subject states that Schneeman’s performance was ahead of its time; it was performed years before a cohesive feminist movement and formulated a narrative. Performance replaced painting, and the moving image (artist’s sexualised body) challenged and questioned the masculine assumptions of abstract expressionism (reference). Her later performance Interior Scroll in 1975 challenged the fetishist notion of the ‘male gaze.’ Performance art and body art were signifiers of postmodernism because both of these mediums undermine modernism by rejecting fixed and formal structures of the artworks.
Accessibility of television in houses in the 1960s played a crucial role in fostering a new narrative for installation and modern media art. A relatively small electronic box known as TV, a symbol for an average middle-class family, provided information, news, and advertisements. The emerging consumer society inspired a new generation of artists who would be experimenting with media and installation art. Television’s transnational capacity inspired artists such as Nam June Paik, a Korean visual artist and the founder of video art who used electronic media to engage in performance art, installation art, and conceptual art. His moving from Japan to New York in 1964 impacted his work tremendously. Paik’s most significant artistic legacy is the expansion and extension of the definition and language of art that he has provided through his video art. By juxtaposing concept and installation by displaying multiple monitors, as in TV Garden (1974), he added a new layer to the plausibility of sculpture and installation art. He is also an artist who was already experimenting with interactive art, which reflected in his pieces Magnet TV (1965) and Participation TV (1963).

 

However, using television or the new medium of media as artwork to some extent exaggerates the perplexity in the viewers. Chris Burden, an artist from the 1970s, pushed himself to the limits in the name of art. Through the Night Softly was a video performance by the artist in which his naked body was struggling to crawl on a shattered piece of glass reflecting his suffering. A profoundly disturbing yet gripping piece of video art was created during the Vietnam war as a social critique on the infiltration of the American media and how it misinforms the people providing them with bias information. Chris Burden, therefore, is an artist who performs and investigates postmodern dystopian ideas, chaotic pastiche mind-sets, and mini-narratives. Artists such as him were examining a provocative trail of the relationship between conceptual art and new media. He was critiquing the changing society along with transforming their ideas by experimenting with moving images that would eventually socially and culturally engulf the nation in a few years.

 

In the age of television, the artists hijacked the vision of TV and used it as a medium of its own. Christian Jankowski in 2011 convinced Vatican officials to become a part of a reality show to cast models who can act like Jesus in his video Casting Jesus, and the act was a critique to the concept of reality shows, beauty pageants, and religion, a debate existing in a more globalised world. Exploration of the relationship between reality and fiction, humour and satire, art and commerce, art production and popular culture are central to his artistic practice because he belongs to a generation of artists who grew up by being influenced by television, consumerism, and moving images.

 

Works of art are analytical propositions. In the contemporary fast pacing world, artists provocatively use new mediums of art to resonate deeper penetrated social and political issues. The moving images and mediums are still in flux, and it would not be wrong to expect that moving images will keep on formulating and deconstructing for both the viewers and the artists.

 

 

 

 

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