Mystic Media: A Historical Account of Technological Transcendentalism within the Immersive Multimedia Environments of the 1960-70s
AuthorLovell, Jonathan Paul
AffiliationArchitecture, Building and Planning
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusThis item is embargoed and will be available on 2021-11-21.
© 2019 Jonathan Paul Lovell
Throughout history, there has been a recurring impulse for artists to create Immersive Multimedia Environments (IMEs), which through the combined force of multiple artistic and communicative mediums, surround and suffuse the entire sensory field of their audience with the aesthetic stimuli required to construct an alternate reality. The first declarations of this impulse were often found in religious architecture; however, echoes of this ideal are heard throughout the last two centuries, from Richard Wagner’s demands for the Gesamtkunstwerk to the rhetoric of cyberspace that occurred at the turn of the millennium. This dissertation argues that many of these total works of art are designed with the intentions of implicating embodied and environmental phenomena, as a means of generating transcendental experiences within their audiences. To elaborate upon this contention within a detailed context, this thesis focuses on the Expanded Cinema movement of the 1960s and 70s. The ambitions of this movement were to invent a new cinematic language by deconstructing and reconstructing media technologies (film, video, computer graphics), live performances (theatre, dance, music) and the architecture of their presentation, so that audiences may become an integral part of the art. However, according to Gene Youngblood’s influential account of the movement called Expanded Cinema (1970), this scene of aesthetic inquiry had quickly accrued the transcendentalist rhetoric of the era, such as that espoused by the counterculture and Marshall McLuhan. To these artists, Expanded Cinema used the combined power of the psychedelic and cybernetic as means of experimenting with the embodied and environmental methods of expanding consciousness. To highlight the architectural contribution to this movement, this research conducts a cross-sectional and comparative study on how three IMEs of the Expanded Cinema movement employed different spatial strategies to curate the phenomenological and epistemological conditions that can evoke transcendental experiences within their audiences. Specifically, it explores the Labyrinth (1967), Cerebrum (1968), and the works of Pulsa (1966-73), by interviewing the people involved with these projects and investigating archival materials. These accounts are measured against the technological-mysticism found within Marshall McLuhan’s influential media theory, and against the psychological, sociological and anthropological discourse that best explain transcendental phenomena.
KeywordsImmersive Multimedia Environments; Expanded Cinema; Labyrinth; Cerebrum; Pulsa; Marshall McLuhan; Gene Youngblood; Media Theory; Counterculture; Transcendentalism; Psychedelia; Cybernetics; Architecture; Media Art; Performance Art; Total Work of Art
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