By Bethsheba Achitsa
Published July 7, 2009
Is life captured on screen the end of the “live” events? and Will technology and the potential of computer-enhanced television change our perspectives of how and what we view with pleasure? are some of the questions that Modes of Spectating, a 272-page book addresses. Co-edited by Alison Oddey and Christine White, Modes of Spectating attempts to disrupt our ideas of spectating besides challenging the notion that spectatorship is either passive or active. BETHSHEBA ACHITSA reviews this book.
Divided into four sections, the first segment examines the wave of interactive media and youth culture, where the writers argue that active spectatorship by young people in the age of new technology is best informed due to use of user generated content models that build on lessons from early works.
But as the impression of spectatorship continues to generate increasing interests as artists develop new works and manufacturers try to produce means for viewing such works, it is clear that the questions of absence or presence involved in spectating new forms of content production and performance are beginning to vex society.
According to the editors art reinforces stereotypes of behaviour and how we respond to our culture when we spectate it, in the twenty first century it is not the type of art that matters but the event itself.
But as if contradicting their own sentiments about society embracing the screen as the new way of spectating, in her chapter Christine White states that televisual is a dreamer stranded between cultures where the spectator is unable to enter or return. Even though the television images seem to bring the world closer to the spectator, the world never gets nearer as the images always maintain their untouchability, coolness and spatial abstraction. Thus televisual destroys the last vestiges of the innocent eye, of making everything that is seen a consequence of its designing.
In the second segment while looking at the active audience Gregory Sporton states that the distinctions between producer and consumer in the spectating relationship breakdown in the context of web presenting new challenges for creative practice.
While art or the graphic translation of a culture is shaped by the way space is perceived, writers in the third section of the book look at identity and the self conscious spectator, where Jeremy Mulvey puts men in the picture as performers and spectators.
Mulveyï’s chapter looks at how images can help us understand the nature of male identity and gives a variety of accounts of the key concepts of self and identity. The chapter ends with a call for artists to understand more about how images are understood and made use of by spectators.
In the mid 1990s, Mulvey began to explore masculinity along with other artists in and around London. This was important as it would be a good point for men to start thinking about how their identity as boys had been shaped by models of manhood and expectations. The visual arts thus seemed to have a key role in dealing with awareness, identity and image since spectating others and exhibiting oneself play such a big role in forming one’s identity.
While little attention is given to how men are primed from childhood, two overwhelming factors:”provider and warrior”,were identified from his exploration as shaping men’s lives which cut across class and nationality. Thus explaining why focus on fighting in entertainment was and is still targeted at boys.
Away from the identity and the self conscious spectator, Roma Patel looks at the city and performance where he notes that though street theatre is one of the oldest performance art forms with an increased interest in classical studies that affected staging and play-writing, these performances have moved from in yards and open air amphitheatres to the purpose -built indoor spaces. City streets have now become invisible to its citizens and are now mere backdrops to their lives felt rather than seen. Public art displayed in urban spaces have become a token disappearing into the fabric of the city taking a subordinate position.
Even though the revolutionary monuments of the 20th century spawned experimental theatre companies ushering in a new age in theatre, theatre in public spaces still remains a relatively rare phenomenon worldwide. And where the performing arts still subsist in public spaces the performance is often a reaction to the co modification of theatre and the desire for inclusivity. However these events are difficult to organise and negotiate because they are at one level inconvenient and challenge how public spaces are used. They are usually expensive to run.
Society is facing a future in which technologies of computation will play an increasingly important role, the mode of spectating in the twenty first century generation is simply beyond watching. It is all about substituting sensory kinetic and cinematographic experience which will become a standard feature of the society’s entertainment.