Haacke, Rhinewater Purification Plant, 1972.
Haus Lange, Krefeld, Germany © VGBild-Kunst
moves through our contemporary culture in a very exploratory and
interdisciplinary way. And from a personal point of view I have
found my own interchange with scientists, poets, musicians and
writers has had a profound stimulus on the development of my work.
of the artists I have know likewise had interests beyond the art
proper, interests for example, in anthropology, mythology, astronomy
and, even law.
was because of this that I established the "Transmedia"
curriculum in the Department of Art and Art History at the University
of Texas at Austin. The basic premise of Transmedia was that these
courses should be founded on concepts and ideas rather than particular
media or technologies. It the 20 years of existence of the program
our emphasis has focused on "time-based art"
video, audio art and performance. And naturally, the primary tool
in this type of research is the computer.
is a basic fact today that the digital technology being used in
every aspect of society has become also a major tool in art making.
This is important in that certain media used by artists (film
and video) can connect to society through their familiar technologies.
But what is more important is the fact that a large number of
contemporary artists do not see art as self-referential, or for
the purpose of producing aesthetic experiences, but as a special
way of connecting to and intuiting themes and ideas found in other
disciplines and culture at large.
of all, visual artists are often inspired by the works of poets
and musicians. The outstanding example is the monumental influence
and profound effect that the musical and performance theories
of John Cage had on so many artists
Nam June Paik, On Kawara and Stan Brakhage to name a few. During
the seventies many people who had trained for other careers, engineering,
medicine and science became artists and brought an entirely different
the practice and history of art-making. The principle example
was Joseph Beuys, who studied biology before pursuing art studies
and whose thinking evolved to the point where he understood art
as "social sculpture."
many modern artists the "idea" is the starting point
for a work rather than the media. That is to say, the idea is
the motivation that leads to the choice of media or expressive
method. This approach to art making began in the early 20th century
and developed as an aesthetic sensibility that diverged in significant
ways from traditional painting and sculpture. It led to the adoption
-by artists-of public media (film, video, photography, computing)
as art media. So it was that artists of the 1920s -Duchamp,
Dali, Leger, Picabia, Man Ray, Hans Richter, experimented with
film and with the idea of the art work as an "event"
rather than a "thing."
practice of beginning with a formative idea that may or may not
reference art or aesthetics is critical to contemporary art making.
To choose among thousands of examples of this approach we could
site Hans Haackes "Rhine Water Purification Plant,
" installed at the Museum Hans Lange, in Krefeld Germany
in 1972. This early ecological work that called attention to water
pollution through a practical construction for water filtration
presented as a work of art. Haackes subsequent works developed
from research and study making use of a scholarly approach to
express an ethical and moral convictions. His vision of the artists
role in society was similar to Beuys, who saw the artist as a
healer committed to the improvement of societys aesthetic,
political and ecological condition.
interesting example of a cross-discipline approach to art from
the 1980s were the works of Wolfgang Laib. His vibrant rectangles
of pollen, which while being highly visual and, one might say
minimalist, made a poetic statement about fertility and biology,
as much as art.
artists today look for ideas and thinking in diverse fields of
human knowledge. This is a natural response to our changing social
environment and to our increasing knowledge of the world and our
universe of experience.