Independent lecturer for Theatre and Media-Science, Martina Leeker was Professor for Theater and Media at the University of Bayreuth until Sept. 2010. Leeker studied Theatre-Science and Philosophy in Berlin and Paris. She completed a training for Theatre and Mime in Paris at Etienne Decroux and Jacques Lecoq as well as further education in dance and plays in Berlin. The focus of her scientific and artistic work is the relation between theatre, performance and digital media. Leeker is founder member of the transARTES, Akademie für Darstellende Kunst, Medien und Kultur, and chair of the first Bayreuth McLuhan conference (2007), of which she co-published ‘McLuhan neu lesen: Kritische Analysen zu Medien und Kultur im 21. Jahrhundert’.
RETOUCHING McLUHAN – THE MEDIUM IS THE MASSAGE Conference Lecture Abstract
In order to discuss the relevance of McLuhan’s media theory in understanding computing, the encounter between McLuhan and the Neo-Avantgarde of the 1960′s is an interesting starting point. This is because in this encounter it becomes obvious that McLuhan mostly (mis-)understood the computer as an analog, electrically resonant medium and not as a processor of information. In his well-known Playboy interview from 1969 he even described his global village, in which the electric and analog view of the computer plays an important role, as an “echo chamber” of psychedelic resonances and telepathy. Some artists of the Neo-Avantgarde followed McLuhan’s electric understanding of the computer and intended to construct the echo-chamber. In doing so they fell into a form of media spiritism. The analog re-definition of the computer could be seen as an attempt to overcome the dissolution of the human within the cybernetic realm, thus integrating the human actors beyond the technology of information. In other words, the rescue of the human was partly managed on the basis of psychedelism and spiritism, which may lead to an irrational relationship with media as part of the discoursive history of the computer.
So what relevance does McLuhan have in describing and understanding computing today? Looking at contemporary art dealing with media, McLuhan’s electric approach to the computer seems to be obsolete. Media aren’t seen as extensions of the human anymore, as McLuhan said, but they are conceptualized and used as auto-organized and generative data-processing agencies. What, if McLuhan’s idea of an irrational binding of the human with technology is passed on through this history of the computer? Whereas McLuhan and the 1960th Neo-Avantgarde succeeded in an electro-psychedelic techno-human merger, does an animism of objects emerge today?
Photo: Peter Rauchecker. Festspielhaus St. Pölten, Cyberlab 2010