proposing that the Dynabook be a "meta-medium" that unifies
all media within a single interactive interface, Alan Kay had
glimpsed into the future. But he may not have realized that
his proposal had roots in the theories of the19th century German
opera composer, Richard Wagner.
In 1849, Wagner introduced the concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk,
or Total Artwork, in an essay called "The Artwork of the Future."
It would be difficult to overstate the power of this idea, or
its influence. Wagner's description of the Gesamtkunstwerk is
one of the first attempts in modern art to establish a practical,
theoretical system for the comprehensive integration of the
arts. Wagner sought the idealized union of all the arts through
the "totalizing," or synthesizing, effect of music drama Ð the
unification of music, song, dance, poetry, visual arts, and
stagecraft. His drive to embrace the full range of human experience,
and to reflect it in his operas, led him to give equal attention
to every aspect of the final production. He was convinced that
only through this integration could he attain the expressive
powers he desired to transform music drama into a vehicle capable
of affecting German culture.
century artists have continued the effort to heighten the viewer's
experience of art by integrating traditionally separate disciplines
into single works. Modern experience, many of these artists
believed, could only be evoked through an art that contained
within itself the complete range of perception. "Old-fashioned"
forms limited to words on a page, paint on a canvas, or music
from an instrument, were considered inadequate for capturing
the speed, energy and contradictions of contemporary life. In
their 1916 manifesto "The Futurist Cinema," F.T.
Marinetti and his revolutionary cohorts declared film to
be the supreme art because it embraced all other art forms through
the use of (then) new media technology. Only cinema, they claimed,
had a "totalizing" effect on human consciousness.
than a decade later, in his 1924 essay describing the theater
of the Bauhaus, "Theater, Circus, Variety," László
Moholy-Nagy called for a theater of abstraction that shifted
the emphasis away from the actor and the written text, and brought
to the fore every other aspect of the theatrical experience.
Moholy-Nagy declared that only the synthesis of the theater's
essential formal components Ð space, composition, motion, sound,
movement, and light Ð into an organic whole could give expression
to the full range of human experience.
performance work of John Cage
was a significant catalyst in the continuing breakdown of traditional
boundaries between artistic disciplines after World War II.
In the late 1940s, during a residency at Black Mountain College
in North Carolina, Cage organized a series of events that combined
his interest in collaborative performance with his use of indeterminacy
and chance operations in musical composition. Together with
choreographer Merce Cunningham and artists Robert Rauschenberg
and Jasper Johns, Cage devised theatrical experiments that furthered
the dissolution of borders between the arts. He was particularly
attracted to aesthetic methods that opened the door to greater
participation of the audience, especially if these methods encouraged
a heightened awareness of subjective experience. Cage's use
of indeterminacy and chance-related technique shifted responsibility
for the outcome of the work away from the artist, and weakened
yet another traditional boundary, the divide between artwork
Cage's work proved to be extremely
influential on the generation of artists that came of age in
the late 1950s. Allan Kaprow,
Dick Higgins and Nam
June Paik were among the most prominent of the artists who,
inspired by Cage, developed non-traditional performance techniques
that challenged accepted notions of form, categorization, and
composition, leading to the emergence of genres such as the
Happenings, electronic theater, performance art, and interactive
Kaprow, who coined the term "Happening," was particularly
interested in blurring the distinction between artwork and audience.
The ultimate integrated art, he reasoned, would be without an
audience, because every participant would be an integral part
of the work. As he wrote in his 1966 primer, "Untitled Guidelines
for Happenings," "The line between art and life should be kept
as fluid, and perhaps indistinct, as possible." This approach
led to a performance style that pioneered deliberate, aesthetically
conceived group interactivity in a composed environment. Happenings
artists devised formal elements that allowed participants the
freedom to make personal choices and collective decisions that
would affect the performance.
this climate, artists became increasingly interested in integrating
technology into their work. While technology clearly played
a significant role in 20th century arts (such as photography,
film, and video, as well as various fine arts genres), it was
not until Bell Labs scientist Billy
Klüver placed the potential of advanced engineering
into the hands of artists in New York that integrated works
of art and technology began to flourish. Klüver conceived
the notion of equal collaboration between artist and engineer.
He pioneered forms of art and technology that would have been
unimaginable to the artist without the engineer's cooperation
and creative involvement. With Robert Rauschenberg, Klüver
created several of the earliest artworks to integrate electronic
media and to encourage a participatory role for the audience,
(1963-65) and Soundings
In 1966 Klüver co-founded E.A.T.
(Experiments in Art and Technology) to bring artists and engineers
together to create new works. E.A.T.'s most ambitious production
was the Pepsi-Pavilion,
designed for the Osaka Expo '70 in Japan Ð a tremendously ambitious
collaborative, multimedia project that involved over 75 artists
and engineers. As Klüver explained, audience participation
was at the heart of their interests: "The initial concern of
the artists who designed the Pavilion was that the quality of
the experience of the visitor should involve choice, responsibility,
freedom, and participation. The Pavilion would not tell a story
or guide the visitor through a didactic, authoritarian experience.
The visitor would be encouraged as an individual to explore
the environment and compose his own experience."
this period, the British artist and theorist Roy
Ascott began to explore the use of computers in artistic
expression. One of the first theoretical attempts to integrate
the emerging fields of human-computer interactivity and cybernetics
with artistic practice is Ascott's article, "Behavioral Art
and the Cybernetic Vision," from 1966-67. Ascott noted that
the computer was "the supreme tool that... technology has produced.
Used in conjunction with synthetic materials it can be expected
to open up paths of radical change in art." Ascott saw that
human-computer interaction would profoundly affect aesthetics,
leading artists to embrace collaborative and interactive modes
Alan Kay arrived in Xerox
PARC in 1970, the foundation was in place for a multimedia that
synthesized all the existing art forms, and presented them in
an environment that allowed for meaningful interactivity. With
the interactive Gesamkunstwerk was brought into the digital
realm, and put on-line.