In this 1972 documentary, The Computer Generation, by John Musilli, artist Stan Vanderbeek talks about the possibility of computers as an artist tool. My aim with drawing on this documentary is to compare the current state of transmedia with previous significant changes in media history, to illustrate how the current state of transmedia is quite diverse.
Vanderbeek begins by explaining he is “an artist who started as a painter, got interested in filmmaking, and realised that the computer, like a new tool, is there for the artist to use”. Likewise, creators from filmmaking, broadcast, gaming, theatre, art and new media have been “transitioning” to transmedia. But unlike instances where a creator simply adds another artform to their repertoire, transmedia creation involves using more than one artform to create a new artform cluster if you like. Over the past couple of years we’ve seen many mono-medium creators move into transmedia. This is a common occurrence, where their presence somehow legitimises the new artform. Beyond what may be called these “recently converted creators” though, are those that have been either working in transmedia for a while, or even began their creative career with transmedia. All of these practitioners have varying degrees of experience and expertise in the area, and all of them are progressing the state of transmedia. Why? Experienced practitioners can push the envelope of what is possible by exploring new problems and coming up with solutions to problems they’ve already discovered; while newcomers often have an ahistorical innocence that lends itself to unshackled experimentation.
Like Vanderbeek’s observation about computers, transmedia involves “new languages, new structures of thought, and a new approach”. Departments are shifting, roles are being created, and numerous commentators are stoking the engines with paradigmatic thought. But the shifts happening now are complicated by two peculiar phenomena. One, transmedia by definition involves multiple media, which involves multiple industries and cultures. There are therefore multiple transmedia cultures emerging (a transmedia broadcast culture is different to a transmedia gaming culture), and transmedia is not replacing the existing mono-medium cultures. Two, transmedia is now a popular buzz word. This means it becomes the term newcomers use to explain whatever activity they do which is new to them. In other words, it is beginning to lose meaning.
Vanderbeek also speaks of the importance of collaboration, how he needs to work with a programmer. So too, transmedia practitioners rarely work alone. Some do. But many at this stage have to work with others who have the skills and “other media” knowledge they do not. While large-scale projects will always involve collaboration, I also see practitioners who have multiple artform skills themselves, rather than a team providing that complexity.
There are, in other words, many states of transmedia. There is no single now. Some people see transmedia like Vanderbeek saw in computers in 1972, as a potential new artist tool, while others don't see it as art, and others are already using transmedia as art in advanced ways. At the time of the documentary, Vanderbeek is unsure where computers as art will go. We know he was right that it is “an extremely important idea”. Let’s meet in twenty years in the same time and place to see what happens with transmedia. Indeed, to be more accurate, lets meet in many times and places to see what our "nows" looks like...including the contributions from the co-curators this week...