Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Hippie Modernism, the ongoing Counter Currents series invites a range of individuals and collectives—from artist-archivist Josh MacPhee and artist Dread Scott to Are.na and Experimental Jetset—to share how countercultural artists and designers of the 1960s and ’70s have influenced their work and thinking today. Here Dimitri Nieuwenhuizen (LUST) discusses Marshall McLuhan
“All media are extensions of some human faculty—psychic or physical.” —Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is The Massage
In front of the Eiffel Tower the main attraction of the 1900 world’s fair in Paris was the Palais de l’Electricité. Lit with thousands of electrical lights, it presented electricity to a large consumer market and a new era took off. In the century to come, a form of energy nobody quite expected made mankind’s ideas of the ultimate extension of the human faculty lift off in record time. At the same time, the world went through several radical cycles in society, from bright moments of insight to dark periods to a multitude of fights for freedom. As one of the few students who used coding as a tool I was aware of Marshall McLuhan’s notion of the Mass Age when I graduated in 1997 from the Design Academy in The Netherlands.
Considering McLuhan’s notion that “the wheel is an extension of the foot, the book is an extension of the eye, clothing an extension of the skin, electric circuitry an extension of the central nervous system,” I made a small exhibition attempting to create awareness of the impact of these extensions to the mind at the moment the computer would become part of the extension. I needed five installations to cover all physical senses, seven to come as close as I could to the psychic, and all of them interactive, using Macromedia Director, to involve the visitor as much as possible. I was interested in the effect of cybernetics on our thinking, the way it would change how we see ourselves—just as, for instance, the camera did, in particular with the Earthrise photo taken by astronaut William Anders in 1968 and featured on the cover of Whole Earth Catalog a year later.
In the nearly 20 years since my graduation, technological developments have taken off even more. Looking back from now one could imagine that since the Palais de l’Electricité we’re about halfway to actually knowing where this evolution will truly lead us to. Along with the scientific progress, how will information and stories fluidly move from one medium to the next? What will we filter out along the way? Will we only share and like what can be bought, or also what is not for sale? What do we choose to see, or who is the one that makes that choice? And will borders between the digital and physical completely vanish when VR and AR are becoming consumer products in 2016? An Internet of Humans in between reality and delusion? Or would the extension eventually become the replacement of what is was supposed to extend?
As Cedric Price asked himself: “Technology is the answer, but what was the question?” Maybe it’s about time to formulate the question. We should use the hyperconnected knowledge as a find-engine to create a new human process of self-generated thoughts about the future. Let us use technology as a tool to take us from doubt to a curiosity driven by an idealistic observation. We have reached the point where a long series of smaller changes in cybernetics became significant enough to cause a larger, more important change. We are the tipping-point generation.
Data as an extension of the superorganism of all mankind’s thought.
Dimitri Nieuwenhuizen is a visual philosopher in art, design and technology. He studied at the Technical University of Delft and the Design Academy Eindhoven. Within his autonomous and applied work he researches from the perspective of several disciplines the affect and effect of digital culture with the aim of humanizing the unhuman and exploring the missing links between the digital and the physical. Besides giving talks at numerous places around the world, he teaches at several art academies including Sandberg Institute Amsterdam, curates and initiates exhibitions, symposia, thinktanks, and hackathons, and is one of the supervisors of the Sandberg@Mediafonds masterclass. He is co-director of the multidisciplinary design studio LUST and the research-based art and technology laboratory LUSTlab. Here new pathways for art and design are explored on the cutting edge where new media, information technologies, performance, architecture, urban systems, graphic and industrial design overlap.