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Reviewed by:
  • Art, Time, and Technology
  • Jan Baetens
Art, Time, and Technology by Charlie Gere. Berg, Oxford, U.K. 2006. 138 pp., illus. ISBN: 1-84520-135-2.

I read Art, Time, and Technology with permanent and increasing admiration, pleasure and excitement. Charlie Gere's book is without any doubt a major contribution to the field of "art and technology" (and sometimes even "art and science") studies, which it innovates in very stimulating ways. Moreover, the author has a straightforward yet elegant and well-timed style, with a perfect balance between historical precision, social relevance and critical reflection.

The starting point of the book is a triple statement borrowed mainly from the anthropologist Leroi-Gourhan and its further readings by Georges Bataille and Jacques Derrida (although Charlie Gere makes a cautious and therefore very clever use of deconstruction): 1) It was not man who invented technology, but technology that created man; 2) This creation of mankind has meant also the birth of history, i.e. of culture, the basic issue being the impossibility of ever bridging human finitude and time's infinity. The notion of speed and the perception of a permanent speeding-up of history is just one of the symptoms of this gap, whereas the notion of the gap is of course highlighted and theorized, but never in a dogmatic manner, within the Derri-dean framework of différance; 3) Art is not an ornament but rather a social and cultural necessity, which man is using as a way to come to terms with the problem of time.

In a certain sense Art, Time, and Technology tells a great narrative, that of the attempts in modern Western culture—from Morse's telegraph (an acceptable "alpha" for a study on the intersections of art and technology) to the visual aftermath of 9/11 (an even more acceptable "omega" of a sometimes wildly utopian, sometimes grimly apocalyptic history)—to achieve a coincidence ("time") between culture ("art") and media infrastructure ("technology"). Real-time artistic expressions are thus seen as the horizon of such a craving, which aims at blurring the very boundaries between the various dimensions of the cultural, technological and temporal.

Yet the major quality of Gere's work is not only to give a well-structured and concise historical survey of some of the landmark events, works, artists and thinkers of the period under scrutiny, but also to do so in a very special way, which opens room to discussing time in two different ways. Firstly, Gere is a wonderful storyteller, able to situate his objects in the density of their historical environment without suffocating the reader with an excess of archival material: Gere's evocations are both "thick" descriptions and "light" narrations, and I do not know many other examples of authors who are able to tell so many things in so few words becoming either pedantic or formulaic. Secondly, the author follows a double interdisciplinary thread throughout the book: On the one hand, the examples chosen make us travel from one domain to another (although Art, Time, and Technology is limited to the field of visual culture, each chapter succeeds in revealing a completely new aspect of it); on the other hand, the discussion of each subfield gathers material from very different horizons (Gere is not afraid of relying heavily on biographical data that may seem anecdotal at first sight but whose pertinence is always made perfectly clear).

After an extremely useful and illuminating introductory chapter in which Gere sketches the global intellectual and cultural background of the artistic and communicative phenomena he plans to tackle, Art, Time, and Technology proposes seven chapters that each look at a key issue of the relationship between the artistic and the technological from the viewpoint of their longed for but impossible reconciliation in a unified culture. Gere analyzes the invention of the telegraph as one of the most surprising consequences of Morse's ambition to become a history painter (his failure as a traditional artist pushed him into this alternative direction more appropriate to the dissemination of his quite conservative message in contemporary life). He looks at the career of Van Gogh as the first artist of a technological era...


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pp. 100-101
Launched on MUSE
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