Technology Intervenes in Art (I)
New opportunities and challenges in cultural development: A throwback to technological development and artistic creation
Art and technology could change the world. When technology is applied to artworks, it challenges the limitation of sensory cognition. Beyond our sensibility and knowledge, this is the power of creativity and technology.
Location: Theatre
Excerpt from the research report 'Technology Intervenes in Art – New Technology and Urban Life: New Opportunities and Challenges in Cultural Development' published by Mathias Woo and Liu Si from Zuni Icosahedron in City-to-City Cultural Exchange Conference 2019. The report will be published on the website in three parts, this article is the first part. Click here to read the second part. View the full text in Chinese.

Both technology and the arts are viewed as tools to change the world. Technology applied in the arts challenges the limits of our senses, common cognition and reasons. Together, creativity and technology yield great possibilities.

What is the relationship between technology and culture? What opportunities and challenges do new technology bring for cultural development? Is technology a mere tool, or an extension of humanity itself? Similar discussions have occurred in the past. The difference is the level of technological development we now have. Today, we face a new watershed where technology and culture merges. At this juncture, we have to build a new knowledge framework and encourage the young generation to become cross-disciplinary practitioners. From now on, culture and technology do not only serve individuals. Together, they become a means to realise one’s care for humanity as a whole.

Technology and artistic creation
Artistic creation relies on materials, tools, medium and skills. Technology has provided ground-breaking options of creative means. As technology develops, artists can choose from an array of means to realise their creative vision. They have access to the latest medium, material and technology. Artists care about topics like cultural history and religion. They also share the inquisitive mind of scientists regarding medium and materials. They seek to transform their findings into artistic works, challenging the limits of creative means and viewing methods.

Da Vinci was an outstanding artist, also renowned for his scientific inventions.
The picture shows his concept sketch of tanks. Image/wikimedia commons

From the moment oil paintings came into existence in the 15th century, to the invention of paint in tube in 1836, it took 200 years. Nowadays, new technological products came into being every day. Artists’ creativity as well as their means of creativity, technology and format also change in unprecedented speed.

Technology Inspiring Development in Theatre Arts
Theatre is an integrated art form. It incorporates space, light, sound, performing arts, and is a cross-disciplinary cultural laboratory. New technology and science have tremendous effect on theatre arts. Looking back on the history of theatre, new stage technology has emerged due to two main reasons, the changing form of theatre and advancement of technology.

The Form of Theatre
In ancient Greece, a theatre was formed by a hill and the flat land at its foot, which later developed into the semi-circular Roman theatre. The form of theatre leapt greatly during the Renaissance and the Victorian period, when the prototype of the modern theatre came to light. In the 1920’s and 30’s, small-scaled theatre originated in the US was performed in various spaces, escaping the boundaries of theatre. The form of theatre has diversified since then.

A Roman theatre in Amman, Jordan built in the 2nd century.
Image/wikimedia commons

Contemporary stage rigging system. Image/JR Clancy
Stage Mechanics
In order to illustrate gods descending from the heavens in Greek theatre, cranes were set up on top of changing quarters, allowing actors playing the gods to move upwards and downwards. In the Renaissance, the proscenium-arch stage became mainstream and brought about continuous progress in stage technology. A good number of mechanical devices were designed to work with the curtain, such as rigging and devices to change sets and demonstrate ocean waves. Since the invention of the proscenium-arch stage in the Renaissance, rapid development in technology in the past century has made new engineering techniques and materials possible, speeding up the advancement in stage technology even more.
Stage Lighting and Projection
Gas lamps were invented in the 19th century to generate even white light. It replaced oil lamps and candles used before the 18th century, but was soon superseded by electric light bulbs invented by Thomas Edison. In the 20th century, the theories and practice of Adolphe Appia enriched the use of theatrical lighting. Apart from providing source of light, stage lighting could now also highlight the actors’ performances and create certain atmosphere to suit plot development.

Stage lighting could create different atmosphere with color and shadows.
Image from the Architecture of the City (2018)/Zuni Icosahedron

After the Second World War, theatre artists took lighting further to create form, expanding its meaning. It was no longer just a tool to provide light, eventually evolving into slide and film projectors. Projection technology devised by Josef Svoboda has significant contribution to performances using media, and has provided the audience, directors and playwrights new visions for theatre.

Projection has opened up endless possibilities in a theatre performance.
Image from the Rite of Spring (2016)/ Zuni Icosahedron
Sound Design for Theatre
Before the invention of video and audio recording equipment in the 1930’s, there was only live music in theatre. The invention of computer technology in 1980’s has tremendously changed the production and presentation of stage sounds and visuals. Sounds made outside of the present were brought into the theatre. As the quality of audio systems improves, the audience’s sensory experience is enriched with sounds.

The appearance of recording devices brought outside sounds into the theatre.
Image/Zuni Icosahedron

Stage technology is a technicolour melting pot, complete with mechanics, materials, tools and various equipment. For each different play and performing environment, suitable techniques were employed for the desired artistic effects. The ultimate goal of the intervention of technology, is putting technology in the service of performance.
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