Archives for category: New Media

Media was an ancient empire which directly preceded the Persian Empire.  This area of northeastern Iran existed along the collective trails which would later be known as the silk road.  Media, as we now know and pronounce this word, was “madiya” or “madhya,” inherited from Proto-Indo-European (PIE) into their pre-Iranian languages such as Avestan, Old Persion, Sanskrit, and which means “middle.”  To name an empire based on its middle-ness (spatially, I presume) privileges the recognition of its central status, say, perhaps in mediating commerce along the silk road between China and the Mediterranean.  (Which is a conjecture on my part.)

The concept of “middle” came into Latin, also by inheritance from PIE, as “medius.”  Its related Latin forms are mediatorum (one who mediates), mediatus (to mediate), mediocris (middle quality), and so on.  English gets a lot of its Latin roots through French, so going from “medius” to “medium” or “intermediate” is not a difficult stretch.  As reported in the OED the phrase “intermediate agency” meant “channel of communication,” first recorded in 1605.  A nineteenth century “medium” could be one who communicates with the dead, or a splotch of oil paint on canvas, both arguably a channel of communication.

The phrase “mass media” was born about 1923 when used as a technical term in advertising, and applied to newspapers by about 1927.  By the 1960s, media in all its forms as “channel of communication” was further abstracted by media theorist Marshal McLuhan to mean “any technological extension of ourselves.”

Looking up “media” and “medium” in the OED will deluge you with a number of definitions perhaps exceeding 60.  How’s this one: “the middle layer of the wall of a blood vessel or lymphatic vessel,” or this one: “a voiced stop in ancient Greek”?

The common thread running through all of these seemingly wide and varied set of definitions is the concept of “intermediation between two things,” a form of being in the middle.  When the intermediation occurs between a human being and something else, we come back to a channel of communication, or a tool, or as McLuhan said, an extension of ourselves.

The past semester for me was a brutal one, in that it consumed all my available time in addition to displacing the nearly the rest of my life.  However, that was to be expected, taking a full-time graduate load while remaining at full-time status at my place of employment.  All that, and a family of four.

It was a good semester and the grades were decent.  Because of the Beijing Now photography class, I was introduced to the Chinese students from Beijing Film Academy, and their professor.  They visited us in Minneapolis in the first week of December, right before the snow hit the fan.  It seemed cold then, but that was only our introduction, as those early-season introductions are usually felt in their more extreme while we acclimate, albeit slowly, as this season progresses into the depths of darkness, snow and lower temperatures.  It was only within a week of their leaving that the snow came and with a petty vengeance.  It was late in coming this year, or shall I say ‘that’ year because now I am speaking of the other.  That petty vengeance was followed by the real one in the days leading up to the 25th, with well over another foot of snow layered on top of what had already accumulated before.   (I have photos, and will try to publish them as soon as I can.)

One of my big accomplishments of 2009 was finishing the book Finnegans Wake, by James Joyce.  I actually read the whole thing!  To anyone not familiar with this work, that accomplishment in our literate society might not sound like much.  I believe it was 628 pages which took Joyce 17 years to write, about half of his creative life.  The book is a fictional depiction of a dream.  Its language is twisted with double and triple meanings (maybe more), multiple and layered voices (often competing), and a highly disconnected flow (this sentence pales by comparison).  Finnegans Wake is psychedelic.

These mechanisms succeed in creating a dream like state.  But the book is a very slow read.  It crawls, and when I return to the bookmarked spot I end up re-reading the page I knew I read previously, only to reinterpret in yet another way.  The highly ambiguous text yields many interpretations.  The meanings are deeply layered.  All this is why I find this book so inspiring.

Of course there were many other accomplishments and highlights of 2009, other books finished (Name of the Rose, to name one other, and many text books and non-fiction which work like text books, such as Roland Barthes’ Semiotics), acceptance and entrance into graduate school, camping in the Porcupine Mountains last June, to list a few but not exhaustively.

What this reflection has to do with New Media or Photography is yet to be revealed.  Suffice it to say, the seeds of inspiration are about to germinate.

Last night, I attended a well-attended panel discussion at the Art Department (INFLUX) at the University of Minnesota.  On the panel were two artists from China, Li Shuan and Liu Xuguang.  Their show, the past re-configured, is at the Nash Gallery.

The works based on certain Chinese characters retain the idea of past Chinese art, but with new methods and materials.  Their thought process seemed very holistic to me.  I also couldn’t help wonder, in a McLuhan sort of way, the advantage these artists have, embodied in the Chinese pictographic writing system, the more directness of the imagery in the signs used, such as Li Shuan’s use of the Chinese character for person ( rén) in a visually repeated way to represent a sense of humanity; the  character itself resembling the outstretched arms of a human being.  I wish I knew Chinese; I would like to better understand the role this writing system plays in one’s thinking process–especially the visual thinking process–and the significance and type of impact it has.  McLuhan has a lot to say about the impact of typography on social structure and social roles, but I will keep this article short.

Liu Xuguang talked about his life’s influences in his art, especially of the Yellow River, and compared this great river to the Mississippi River on which the University campus rests.  This was Liu’s first visit to Minnesota.  Liu is professor of fine art at the Beijing Film Academy and his current work involves New Media, however the brief time I had talked with him after the panel discuss did not allow any in-depth discussion.

Also attending the panel was Wang Chunchen, curator for CAFA Art Museum (Central Academy of Fine Arts).  One theme discussed at length during the panel session was the rapid change that China, and Beijing itself, is going through, and the impact this has on artists, and on the people of China in general.