Immersed in the single channel: experimental media from theater to gallery.

Contemporary artists are producing an abundance of experimental media art that is linear, or single-channel; work that suits well to theatrical screenings. But many experimental media artists are shifting their attention from the screening/distribution circuit to the gallery/museum circuit. I argue that economic reasons have forced artists to make work for “installation,” whether that is aesthetically justified or not, and examine the fees that artists may hope to earn in various scenarios. Aesthetic concerns are secondary, I argue: the central issue should be, how can artists best show their work and get paid for it?

Interviews with several experimental media artists and distributors document these assertions and chart the mercurially changing scene of distribution and exhibition. Notions that installation is more “material,” critical, or social than theatrical screenings of experimental media do not hold up under my examination, though it is useful to examine the philosophical grounds for such claims.

However, two aesthetic issues of interest arise with regard to installation art. Negatively, installation tends to replace an immersive experience with a conceptual one. Positively, installation can experiment with duration in ways single-channel exhibition can’t, by playing with distraction and open-endedness.

Dr. Laura U. Marks is a theorist and curator of media art, and the author of The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses (Duke, 2000), Touch: Sensuous Theory and Multisensory Media (Minnesota, 2002), Enfoldment and Infinity: An Islamic Genealogy of New Media Art (MIT, 2010), and many essays. She has curated over 40 programs of experimental media art for venues around the world. She teaches at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada.