History of New Media Art -Historical Artifacts 1 – lecture notes

This lecture is based on the reading ‘The Machine Age and Modernism’ by Margo Lovejoy.

Lovejoy uses the 1920’s as a starting point for this chapter. She then introduces us to new philosophical models such as Karl Marx and Sigmund Feud to try to explain these new experiences that new media art brings us.

‘Freud’s theories emphasized the importance of the instinctual subconscious side of human behavior and asserted that emotions and urges are more important that rational thought.’ (Pg 1)
‘Marxist economic and political models of thinking gave rise to new criteria of value which promoted criticism of the most basic social forms, including the influence of technology in relation to the formation of culture.’ (pg 1)

The machine is used to incorporate art but it is seen in more of a political way. What artist’s did was is they moved from artistic aesthetic to find a new meaning of art (an anti aesthetic) and a new way of creating. It was impossible for artist to ignore the new technology, they had to respond to it


Modernity was a historical era that is set apart from Modernism which was a type of aesthetic.

What is Modernity?

  • Mass Mechanisation from the industrial revolution. With this came mass production with factories that became the birth of consumer society. Seen within Marx’s bass and superstructure model.
  • Mass of urbanisation which resulted in new architecture as well as education
  • Railway – new forms of transport for both transport people and factory products such as steel
  • Progress – The Period of Enlightenment –  Science and technology have a cyclic relationship – Thus creating Positivism – how to make sense of reality – singular truths – grand narratives – God
  • Nation State
  • The ‘Rational Subject’

The Industrial Revolution

The industrial revolution began in the 1760’s, 100 years before modernity was created and became widespread. It is associated with shifts in textile production and the development of steam power, and ability to make iron-based products. It also amounted in the birth of capitalism and consumer culture; trains; railways; urbanisation; mass production; increasing mechanisation; and a shift in experience of society and self, with also a large expansion in new architecture.

Machines and human handiwork became closer. The machine became part of the human life. It became mechanised to change experience of the human body – mechanising human functions. – related to Robert Pepperel and Metzinger.


Photography was in invented in 1839, in both London and Paris, and was a ‘reliable’ representation of reality.

The Pencil of Nature

The camera obscura – didn’t need the machine of a camera just a piece of photographic paper. photographic image now drew itself. Didn’t require human intervention – There was no need for an artist to engage in the image of reality or have an artist manipulate the image. Actual representation

Photographic Vision

The Horse in Motion - Muybridge

This then led to the camera gun which was able to take photographs of something that the eye cannot see.Something that is too fast for the eye to register. An example of this is Muybridge’s ‘The Horse in Action’. There was now no longer trust in the eye, it was important that the camera stepped in as it could see things the eye could not. Technology vision – mechanisation vision – Physiognomy.

The Mechanisation of Labour

There was an exacerbation by birth of Taylorism (EU) and Fordism (US). This idea of a conveyor belt production line; modes of production becoming mechanised led to the term standardisation. Which can be seen in a Charlie Chaplin Movie that shows this idea of human/body as machine

The Kodak Brownie allowed the Amateur to become the photographer. The mechanisation of the process of the development was the technological change.

This all questioned what it meant to be human. Human became bound up with production. The machine replacing human was hard to ignore.

Disrupting The Space/Time Continuum

There were rapid shift in how time (and a result space/time as well) was being experienced and therefore conceptualised.

Turner -Rain, Steam and SpeedRain, Steam and Speed (1844)

In Turners painting Rain, Steam and Speed the representation of reality is not clear. There are no perfect lines. This is because the picture represents an observation from a moving train. When people started to travel by train the landscape was seen differently and moving much more quickly. There is a sense of speed within the painting where time becomes messy.

In film we see that it starts to manipulate time/space.


Pablo Picasso

pablo picasso

Pablo Picasso’s 1912 Still-Life with Chair Caning draws on the cafe culture in Paris and the capitalistic culture of the time. The painting looks at different perspectives at the same time as well as looking at the productivity of technological production. Canning chairs and glass tables would have been everywhere in Paris – this is what is called the Cafe Culture.

There is an Edited fragment of reality.

Marey’s 1884 chronographic geometric – observing and recording movement to fast for the eye



Fruit Dish, Ace of Clubs (1913)

Collapse in space and time


dynamism dog on a leash balla

 Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash (1912)

Exploring multiple exposure within a painting form


Russollo and Serverini

Futurists broke up static forces into lines. In Russollo and Serverni’s work you see new artifacts.Severini was inerested in the first mechanised war – Armoured Train in Action (1915)

Revolution – Russian Constructivists

In 1917 the Russian Revolution began to overthrow the Czars. This is where Lovejoy moves from saying that media moves to technology, creating a new social system.

Constructavists joint science and art and created the red army. Art needed to political as for the constructivists this was important for the government destroyed political artwork before then to stop the spread of the works. The government also had power on stopping materials for artist.

Vladimir Tatlin

‘Art was going out into technology’

“art has a social purpose – it is the product of social life, and that consequently the artist must subordinate his individuality to the common good.”

A result of that was technological advances resulting in things for the common good.  Malevich who argued that art is primarily a personal rather than public experience and that its highest results are independent of political or social considerations.

Alexander Rodchenko

Pure Red, Pure Blue, Pure Yellow

Pure Red, Pure Blue, Pure Yellow (1912)

Marked a closing point where artists had to make a decision.


  • Using are as a critical means of achieving social development
  • Merging of creative and daily work
  • Circulated political discourses thought art – Technology provided means for them to do this



The Monument to the Third International (1919-20)

Lovejoy now focuses on Tatlins work saying that The Monument to the Third International, commonly known as Tatlins Tower, was a new way of using technology materials such as glass and iron. It was supposed to be used, a perceived function. Here we see that art isn’t about the fundamental aesthetic behind the object/painting but the function.

The building would house social and functional events. The first floor would take a year to rotate – a conference every year. The next level a month – meetings. And the top would take a day where the info centre would be. The whole structure would show the mechanistion to show how it all worked.

El Lissitzsky

(1919) Beat the Whites, the Red Wedge.

  • Propaganda work within posters
  • New art for a new society
  • Geometric forms
  • Used mechanical tools of handiwork of the human instead of showing the technology within the piece.

(1923) For The Voice – Book Illustrations

  • Used poems that were famous and important in the 20th century and turned them into pictorial signs
  • A visualisation of the poems
  • Designed so that  you wouldn’t have to read the words to understand what it is saying

(1924) The New Man

  • Depict man in a mechanisation

(1924) The Conductor

  • Insertion of different media
  • Photography
  • Overlay of hand
  • Mechanical use of his trade

Alexander Rodchenko

(1924) Books

  • Russian Propaganda Posters
  • Graphic design and Media
  • There is no flourish of the artists hand – this is how it is showing the technology

Naum Gabo

Naum Gabo was part of the Constructivists Movement.

  • Negotiating between science and aesthetic
  • Kinetics
  • Was in real time – creating a wave
  • Early example of new media and virtuality because of its illusion of space

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy

Moholy-Nagy was Hungarian and was a prominent member of the Bauhaus. Using mixed media. He was interested in optical and our perception and visualization of it, thus creating the Photogram – exploration in light.

This technological device was made to change our perspective. We may see it in a more politically progressed and meaningful way.

(1926 photograph of the artist)

Using the image of the hand – using technologies that take away handiwork. The hand is blurred showing the blurriness of the line between technology and handiwork. It also could be the further removal of the artist at work where the artist can come to the front of image instead of being behind the camera.

(1922-30) Light Space Modulator

Maholy-Nagy saw light as an essential to art and structure of form. Creating a new type of of kinetic sculpture that explored new types of optical illusion. It lay between the movement of film and optical illusion – boarder line cinema.

The boundaries of time and space – trying to capture space and time. For Maholy-Nagy the art resided in the atmosphere it created.

It created this question of where does the art work lie? Within the device or within the performative work.

(1922) Telephone Picture


Abstraced artwork by telephone – we may be able to explore more aesthetic or conception.

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