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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Nov. 29 Lecture Draws Links Between Familiar Art and Contemporary Electronic Art

November 23, 2011

Nov. 29 Lecture Draws Links Between Familiar Art and Contemporary Electronic Art

Discussion by Rensselaer Professor Michael Century offers an introduction for general audiences.

A new lecture series traces the path between contemporary electronic art and more established media arts. Michael Century, professor of new media and music in the Arts Department at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, will speak on “From Virtuality to Virtuosity” on Nov. 29, from noon – 1 p.m. in the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) Theater. The event is free and open to the public.

“For a lot of people, what you see when you go to a contemporary art museum or avant garde concert is often mystifying and difficult to grasp. In these lectures I try to provide a context for understanding contemporary advanced technological art that connects it to more familiar earlier 20th century art,” Century said.

Century said the lecture series is “the greatest hits” from three semester-long courses he teaches on The Multimedia Century, New Media Theory, and Electronic Arts Overview.  In preparing the lecture series, Century hoped to provide general audiences with set of knowledge and insights that connects the dots between familiar works of art and the avant garde.

In the realm of electronic arts, Rensselaer – as a technological school, and particularly with the development of EMPAC — “has a lot of skin in the game,” Century said. Through Rensselaer, local audiences have the opportunity to experience the power and purpose of contemporary electronic arts, and as an artist and professor, Century said he hopes to effect an introduction.

“I see myself as a communicator who can bring an insider’s view to media art while talking about how it fits into the world at large,” Century said. “Artists are sometimes seen as people who know how to do things with paint, pictures, and pianos, but, like dancing bears, don’t know how to talk about the things they make.  I try in these lectures to dispel that stereotype.”

As an example, Century cited the role of art in emerging technologies.

 “There’s a certain, understandable tendency to talk about art as one of the applications of technology: we say we can add some art to supercomputing, artificial intelligence, immersive displays,” Century said. “But art can have a role to play beyond just the idea of being a domain for technology, and I think that’s part of the role of EMPAC, which is so terrific. EMPAC has a crucial role as a venue for this kind of discussion.”

 “From Virtuality to Virtuosity” is the third in the lecture series “Extraordinary Freedom Machines: Vignettes in the History of a Multimedia Century.” The first two lectures are available for review on the EMPAC website, but Century said the third lecture can stand on its own as a valuable introduction to contemporary electronic arts. A condensed introduction to the “From Virtuality to Virtuosity,” is available on the Arts Department website.

Century has also provided the following abstract of the discussion:

“In this lecture I move beyond what some have termed the crisis of new media art today—its relegation to “cool obscurity” by the institutional art world, and its simultaneous co-option by the information industries—by sketching out an anti-anti-utopian view of the potential of experimental artworks as ‘extraordinary freedom machines.’  

“By framing the future of art and technology in terms of creative freedom, this concluding lecture weaves together and synthesizes strands from the first two. The argument unfolds in two parts, examining in turn the micro-temporality of specific media art works, and the macro-temporality of aesthetic systems designed to enable future creativity.   In the first part, virtuality’ is explained as an intensification of time; selected works by David Rokeby, Bill Viola, Steve Reich illustrate the potential in art to vitalize and open new horizons of experience. The second part embraces political philosopher Hannah Arendt’s notion of freedom as ‘virtuosity,’ entailing the creation of a sustainable public space for creative dialogue and collaboration.  Examples are drawn from video art in the 1970s (Dan Sandin’s Image Processor), computer music in the 1980s  (the invention of the MAX programming language), and recent new media art (Loops by the Open Ended Group).”

Contact: Mary L. Martialay
Phone: (518) 276-2146