Excerpt from From Image to Interaction
An excerpt from Arjen Mulder's book 'From Image to Interaction' (2011), as used in the Blowup Reader 'We Are All Crew'.
Television remediates the technical image media of photography and film – they can still be seen on the small screen every day – though it is not itself photographic but electronic and, more recently, digital.
The electronic image is constructed in real time by an electromagnet guiding a bundle of electrons over the fluorescent interior of a vacuum cathode ray tube, moving from the upper left to the lower right, like an eye over lines of type in a book. The image one sees on the monitor is constructed of lines, but they do not follow the contours of a body or object or even an abstract logic of their own within the image plane. They move in one direction only, always along the same route, fixed in a single geometry. The electronic image is not composed but written. Of all the possibilities contained in drawing and painting, only horizontal lines – the ones Mondrian called “feminine” – remain in the light-written image. An electronic image does consist of active points, lines and planes, but they form not a sketch, composition and representation but a raster. A photograph evokes an illusion of stillness, a film one of movement; a screen evokes the illusion of an image. The electronic image is much more flexible than the photographic image and many times more abstract than the most abstract painting. The colors and intensities of the points of light in the picture lines determine the pattern the viewer will see, and this is often interpreted in a photographic way. Yet photogenicity, the unique quality of the photographic image, does not occur on the screen; instead, there is telegenicity, which lasts much longer. A popular TV personality can live on telegenicity for years. A representation can be fascinating on the screen but make a boring printed image. Stills from a performance by a telegenic personality always lack the sparkle that was present during the broadcast. The electronic image is a newcomer to the empire of images and is neither traditional nor technical but unstable in nature (however illusory the continuous movement in a projected film is, the images on the celluloid are stable). In the early 1950s, Marshall McLuhan expressed surprise that people considered the small, streaky, gray television image, then viewed mainly in bars, more captivating than the vivid, crystal-clear Technicolor films projected on the enormous screens of the movie Transformation and Play – 185 palaces.
In 1948, ninety million Americans went to the movies each week; by 1951, just 54 million did, out of a population of 160 million. McLuhan’s explanation was that television was a “cool” medium and Technicolor was a “hot” one. Since there was so little to see on the TV screen, you had to pay close attention to make it out. Viewers actively constructed the image in their imaginations, and this led to the audience’s intense identification with and internalization of the electronic image. Some movie stars who were dazzling on the silver screen turned out to be unimpressive on television; others were at their best there. The same was and is true of politicians, commentators and other public figures. The hazier the message, the stronger the reception. The clearer the image, the less closely it is watched. The Technicolor film image does not heat up the imagination: the excess of visual information makes us keep our distance and reflect. Hot media keep attention cool; cool ones warm the emotions.
McLuhan described and analyzed the essential televisual experience: the image activated the viewer, stimulated his or her imagination. What an electronic illusion of an image has that an actually existing traditional or technical image lacks is that it does not take a roundabout route via meaning to reach the viewer; he or she must actively absorb and process it, in a form of agency photography and film can only evoke through artificial vagueness or unusual perspectives. Films and photographs create suspense through what happens outside the image; TV, through what is seen. A television image is not an icon, an index or a symbol but a mirror. It is not aimed at something behind or within itself but at what lies before it: the viewers. The goal is not to make something visible but to achieve an effect. And this worked amazingly well in the 1950s and 1960s. First it caused a revolution in Hollywood, and then in society as a whole. The ’60s were pure early TV experience, from the Vietnam War protests to ecological awareness and familiarity with homegrown youth cultures. Because of its internalizing power, the television image is suited to breaking through hierarchical thought frameworks but also to disciplining the population into identifiable, accessible target groups and political preferences. Because the TV image was cool, it was democratic, in the sense that anyone who controlled the electronic image could determine the political agenda.
That control was itself democratized in the early 1970s with the introduction of video cameras and editing equipment. Video art was originally a political movement, a takeover of a medium, partly for the purpose of making oppositional images and critical journalism and partly to explore the medium itself and supply it with new possibilities. Allan Kaprow’s distinction between lifelike art and artlike art applies perfectly to video art. Documentary video art showed the viewer the world outside, and before long most of it was being shot in concrete office buildings and conference rooms: every activist video art tape had a political aim, even if it is sometimes hard to spot from a contemporary perspective. Artlike video art was politically activist as well, but its focus from the start was on changing the art of the day. “Closed video circuits” comprised of cameras and monitors made it possible for the viewer to appear in the image; this was yet another democratization, but it also sparked debate over “artistic content.” Nam June Paik’s classic Video Buddha (1974), later renamed TV Buddha, sums up this kind of video art. A Buddha statue watches a live video image of itself on a monitor. The most fleeting of things – a television image constructed fifty times a second – communicates with the least fleeting, the eternal Buddha. Each is enlightened, one technically, the other spiritually. Their light comes from within, and each looks inward. The Buddha statue does not see the video any more than the video sees the Buddha. They transmit each other’s image, but the ones watching are us, the viewers, the outsiders. And the joke of the piece is that we can stand behind the Buddha and wave at the camera, rupturing the Zen compulsion of the closed circuit. Much of the video art of the electronic and early digital image was devoted to showing the opposition or distinction between technology and nature, between hard screens and soft flows. In this constellation, video art represents the cultural factor connecting nature and technology. All the murmuring water and swaying foliage in early video art was meant as a statement about the video image itself. Video art responds to the outside world by holding the world’s medial character up to the light. Artists became interested in Buddhism when they discovered that for centuries monks in Kyoto had been raking their gardens in picture lines. After Zen (“The sound of one line scanning”), numerous other mystics followed. San Juan de la Cruz, Meister Eckhart, Rumi and the visionary nuns, but also scientists and opera directors, helped build the mental space of the video medium. Video art unlocked a world of stillness and emotional precision, of attention and overwhelmingness. Bruce Naumann’s spiralling neon text “The true artist helps the world by revealing mystic truths” looks like a joke, but he meant it completely seriously. There is nothing to see in the world but oneself; true being lies within.
Countless films and installations represent the video sense of life by zooming in on an eye and diving into the black pupil and the dark unknown world beyond. The video eye is a portal to another territory, an inland sea of infinite metamorphosis, what Deleuze and Guattari called “the body without organs.”
 Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extension of Man
 Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 1: The Movement-Image (trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam) (London: Continuum 2005) and Cinema 2: The Time-Image (trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta) (London: Athlone, 1989).
 Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time-Image. Pg 18
 Louis Delluc, “Photogénie” (1920) in Philip Simpson et al. (eds.) Film Theory: Critical Concepts in Media and Cultural Studies (New York: Routledge, 2003).
 Jean Epstein, “On Certain Characteristics of Photogénie”, in Richard Abel, French Film Theory and Criticism (Princeton: Princeton University Press 1993).