This Month at ArtForum: The Message is the Message

by Art Fag City on September 2, 2008 · 2 comments Events

Opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Games, Beijing, August 8, 2008. Photo: Doug Mills/New York Times/Redux. (via artforum) ArtForum’s Editor in Chief Tim Griffin offers up more art speak and over quoted scholarship in the first paragraph of this Month’s Editor’s Letter, than should ever be necessary in a 1000 word summary of what’s in the magazine. “A corollary of Marshall McLuhan's famous adage that art is a “radar environment” uniquely suited for making clear the effects of media in culture” Griffin begins, “is his lesser known analogy between those effects and the sound waves that become visible along an airplane's wings just before it breaks the sound barrier.”1

In other words McLuhan cited a physical phenomena that parallels mechanical and artistic methods of visualizing, tracking, and decoding the unseen, all of which he deems particularly effective in the field of media criticism. Art as a tool for effective media critique, is of course, only as powerful as the skills of those who use it, which makes a lot of McCluhan’s thoughts on the subject fairly idealized. But as Griffin notes, they are not without relevance. To the editor’s credit, he builds upon the original reference, even if he does fall into overwrought prose.

…Seen through the eye of the television camera, [The Beijing Olympics] was a sphere where image assumed dimensionality, and where bodies achieved mirage-like weightlessness, and yet the sheer scale (and epic telling of five thousand years of Chinese history) still forced some awareness of its root source—of its production and purpose being possible only at the grandest intersection of government and global capital. Indeed, even the weather was at service of this image. During the ceremony, 1,104 “rain dispersal rockets” were fired into the sky to move a storm front away from the stadium and toward the city's southern sections, which prompts the question: For art, what are the waves along a plane's wings when there is now not merely the desire, but also the ability, to orchestrate the very clouds above?

Oooh, the weight of it all. But the fact that our physical environment can be manipulated to convey national strength isn’t exactly without precedent within the field of art and whatever other non-art hierarchy Griffin cares to put forth. Technology has transformed much over the last twenty years, but at least the potential function and effectiveness of art as a political tool remains more or less in tact. Regardless of all this however, this month at ArtForum look forward to discussion on the South Korean biennial, large scale exhibitions in Asia, and the art work of Michael Clark.

As a side note, although this is pure speculation, one might trace McCluhan’s engagement in Canadian life and politics to his thoughts on aviation. After all, McCluhan moved to Toronto in 1946, during which time, the development of the most advanced flight technology in the world Avro Arrow and Iroquois engines had began in the nearby town of Malton. My father, who grew up there, often spoke of the great physical presence this industry had on the town and the imagination of the Canadian people; for several years each morning he awoke to the sound of engine testing. In 1959, the program was not only canceled but all the research destroyed due to bitter political debate and fears that a Soviet mole had infiltrated the company.

  1. Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964. Page Link []


Jill September 29, 2008 at 1:50 pm

I still haven’t had a chance to READ through the September issue of AF, and the October issue arrived over the weekend!!

Jill September 29, 2008 at 8:50 am

I still haven’t had a chance to READ through the September issue of AF, and the October issue arrived over the weekend!!

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