The New Surrealism: Radio Art & the Poetics of Electricity – A Lecture by R. Bruce Elder


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The New Surrealism: Radio Art and the Poetics of Electricity

A public talk by R. Bruce Elder

As part of the 2019 – 2020 Faculty Lecture Series
October 3, 2019 at 6:30pm in IMA 307, School of Image Arts, Ryerson University, 122 Bond Street, Toronto
(Note: R. Bruce Elder will also be presenting his retirement lecture on November 14) 

Marshall McLuhan claimed that electrotechnics—the human use of electromagnetic phenomena to intervene in nature—inaugurated a new era in cultural history. It gave rise to a new conceptual regime that transformed how we think about nature, the environment, the order of the cosmos, social relations, beauty and goodness. Art itself was transformed, as it adopted electromorphic forms: artists began talking about being guided in their artmaking by energies that course through the cosmos. The poets Allen Ginsberg, Michael McClure, and Robert Duncan began speaking of radio and television as transmitting energies, steering minds towards good or evil. The writer Jack Spicer staked the claim that his poems were transmitted to him on radio signals from Mars, while the collage artist and filmmaker Wallace Berman produced a series of Verifax collages, centred on images of a hand holding a transistor radio and inspired by one of his favourite books, Henry Smith Williams’s Radio-mastery of the Ether. The filmmaker Stan Brakhage spoke of his desire to convey to viewers equivalents to the electrical discharges at the synapses that constitute the primal activity underlying all sensation.

The new art of the electric age sought to convey energy, events and processes, rather than the appearance of objects in space. The first—the urgent—task of the new art became that of developing new forms—often abstract forms—that could convey this new sense of reality.  Because this new art sought to convey processes, not the appearance of things, it would have to be both kinetic and active—it would have to transmit the actual energies of the cosmos/reality to us, and stir us.

 R. Bruce Elder

R. Bruce Elder’s recent book, Cubism and Futurism: Spiritual Machines and the Cinematic Effect (WLU Press, 2018), outlines the electromorphic features of Cubist and Futurist painting, poetry, collage, and film. In the lecture, he will track the development of electromorphic art into the visual and media art of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Special attention will be given to the influence the radio had on visual aesthetics.

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