Aesthetics and History of New Media

MW 2:00-3:45 pm
ATL Lab, 4th floor Walker Building

Instructor: Katrien Jacobs, Visual and Media Arts

Office, 1106, 180 Tremont
Office Hours: M 10 am-1 pm and by appt.
Telephone: 824 8828

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description & goals


student projects

texts & movies

week by week


This course gives an overview of ideas, movements, and technological/artistic practices which have guided new media aesthetics and art movements throughout the twentieth century. It is a questioning of art in/and/of technology. The course is concerned with both the incorporation of advanced media technologies into traditional art forms (painting, sculpture, language, performance, movement) and the aesthetic experimentation inherent in all products of multimedia, net communications, hypertext, and virtual environments.

Special attention will be given to technological visions of the early avant-garde period, and the 1960s/1970s art movements. We will be guided by concepts of performativity, the genre of performance art, and the pronouncements of artist visionaries such as Antonin Artaud who believed that the languages of new media would not be transparent but "written for idiots and analphabetes." Virtual reality becomes another kind of discourse, a most dizzying play-within-the-play and a critical enterprise for resistant cyborg artists such as Stelarc, Orland and David Cronenberg. Why did they cultivate a post-humanist consciousness?

We will develop a critique of commercialized digital domains and investigate how to locate small pockets of activism within cyberspace - multi-cultural languages, radical philosophical propositions, feminist and queer discourses, punk attitudes, languages of the body, student noise music and Internet experiments which will help us, speak and write, bark and click 2000.


Class Attendance is 100% mandatory. Your active participation in class discussions and in group projects will also be required. If you miss more than three class periods without a valid excuse, this may result in a failing grade.

Two page response papers to course texts, movies, web projects, field trips. Response papers have to be brought to class on the due date (without any exceptions). Students will be asked to provide short and coherent, critical and creative responses to certain questions. You are also encouraged to post your response papers on digital bulletin boards and mailing lists in order to get interesting responses and discussion materials.

Due dates are indicated on week-to-week outline below.

Seminar Paper & Independent research project around one of the artists and/or movements discussed in the class. Students produce an 8 page seminar paper about a topic of their choice

Due week Eight, October 31.

Production or Critical Analysis and in-class presentation of a contemporary digital art project. You can bring in any area of artistic production in a digital, plastic, or performative medium e.g. recording a 'live' music composition or play and rewriting the composition for hypertext, including new elements of graphic design, sound, interactivity.



Fall 1999 The Breasts of Tiresias

Fall 2000 Plastogasm

Fall 2000 Machinal

Fall 2001 Digital Art Collectives (MA 421)

Fall 2001 Digital Art Collectives (MA 547)

You can work individually, in pairs, or in groups of three. In-class presentations required in Week Thirteen or Fourteen.

Project Dossiers/Productions Due Week Thirteen, December 8.

Response papers 30%
Seminar paper 30%
Digital art project 30%
Attendance and Participation 10%

If you believe that you have a disability that may warrant accommodations in this class, I urge you to register with the Disability Service Coordinator, Dr. Anthony Bashir at 216 Tremont Street, 5th floor (824 –8828) so that together we can work to develop methods of addressing needed accommodations in this class.

A lot of the assigned readings will be available online (see detailed information below). Others will be supplied in a course reader and hand-outs throughout the semester.

EXistenZ, David Cronenberg, Alliance Atlantis Communications, 1999.
Ghost in the Shell, Mamory Oshii, Distributed by Manga Entertainment, 1996.



9/11 Introducing the course

Look at student website about Guillaume Appolinaire and Surrealism http://pages.

9/13 Art in Digital Environments

Simon Penny, "Consumer Culture and the Technological Imperative: The Artist in Dataspace' Pierre Levy, "The Art of Cyberspace"

First response paper due: Read the article by Penny. Describe and analyze the major idea(s) of the article argue using examples from your own experiences (2+pages; typewritten/double-spaced)

In Class Video: RTMark, Bringing it to You!


The Net as Museum

9/18 What is art in the Museum?

Fieldtrip to ICA

9/20 The Virtual Museum vs. Net.Art

Write a response to the ICA exhibit.

Transcription of Lecture by David Ross, San Jose State University, 2 March 1999, netcast on Switch, Switch Interview Issue, Vol. 5, No 1.

In class Look at Walker Art Collection/ Franklin Furnace/Claudio Prati's net dance archive


Cronenberg and the Matrix

In Class Screening Existenz, David Cronenberg, Alliance Atlantis Communications,

Assignment: Write a response paper to Existenz, contrasting the movie with The Matrix, answering three of the following questions:

-What is your most spontaneous reaction to the movie ExistenZ?
-Which one is the more intelligent movie – The Matrix or ExistenZ?
-Which movie offers a more liberating vision of digital technologies?
-Would you like to be "fitted" in order to play VR games such as 'ExistenZ' or would you be part of the 'realist underground'?
-How does VR role –playing compare to MUD/MOO role-playing?
-Are you familiar with webcam characters such as the protagonist of THE TRUMAN SHOW?

Allucquere Rosanne Stone, "In the Language of Vampire Speak."


Early Avant-Garde Stagings (1)

10/2 Futurism

Reading: F. T. Marinetti: "The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism"

Assignment: Write a response paper to the Futurist Manifesto.

10/4 Digital Noise - Sampling

Reading: Joel Schalit and Joel Stern, "Sample My Privates: the Politics of New Media and Copyright Law."

In-Class: Look at MA 545 Sampling Sound Projects. Discussion about copyright legislation and digital sampling.


Early Avant-Garde Stagings (2)


Reading: Sophie Treadwell, Machinal

10/15 Machinal in digital environments

Assignment: Response paper: Write a contemporary adaptation of one of the scenes of Machinal using cyborgs as characters

Assignment: One page Proposal for midterm paper due. Think of an artist or artist movement which in your opinion has been influential to digital aesthetics: webdesign, web based art, streaming audio/video, 3D animation, net activism, chatrooms, webcams etc. Argue how and why the chosen artworks are relevant to the study of contemporary art in digital environments.


The Cyborg as Artist

10/16 Stelarc

Assignment: Look at the homepage of Stelarc:

Reading; 'Extended-Body: An Interview with Stelarc"

10/18 Orlan

Reading: Anne Balsamo, "On the Cutting Edge"

Assignment: Write a response paper to the work of either Stelarc or Orlan.


Video Art

10/23 Historical Video Art

John G. Hanhardt: "De-Collage/Collage: Notes Toward a Reeaxamination of the Origins of Video Art"

In Class Screening: Nam June Paik GuadalCanal requiem: A Tribute To John Cage

10/25 Case Study Peter Callas

Scott McGuire "Electrical storms: High Speed Historiography in the Video Art of Peter Callas."

In Class Screening: video art by Peter Callas



10/31 Cyberfeminist art

Reading: Rosi Braidotti, "Cyberfeminism with a Difference".


11/1 Francesca Da Rimini

In Class: Read responses to Digital Davis Conference+ Show Rana's Cyborg art site)


Performance art/Ethnography

11/6 The 1960s/1970s Artists

In Class Video: Joseph Beuys and the Coyote Reading: Heiner Stachelhaus: 'The Expanded Concept of Art"


In Class Video: Guillermo Gomez-Pena A Couple in the Cage: A Guatinaui Odyssey, Coco Fusco and Paula Heredia Readings: Coco Fusco: "The Other History of Intercultural Performance" Gilles Deleuze and

Assignment: Write a response paper to the work of either Joseph Beuys or Guillermo Gomez-Pena.


Digital Photography

11/13 Digital vs. Darkroom photography
Reading Don Slater, "Domestic Photography and Digital Culture"

11/15 In-Class Workshop Digital Photography


Web Aesthetics

11/20 Web Aesthetics Discussion



Digital Art and Copyright/censorship

Reading: John Perry Barlow "Censorship 2000"

Assignment: Write a response paper to Barlow's article

11/29 Cybersex and pornography debates


In Class presentations

12/4 Beta Presentation Group A

12/6 Beta Presentation group B


In Class Presentations

12/11 Presentations Group A

12/13 Presentaions Group B

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