Message or Massage?
Playing with Images from Marshall McLuhan’s books
Curators Paolo Granata e Elena Lamberti
20-23 aprile 2011, Bologna, Piazza del Nettuno
This new photo-documentary exhibition Message or Massage? Playing with Images from Marshall McLuhan’s Books (Paolo Granata & Elena Lamberti curators) has been designed to accompany the 2011 edition of the FutureFilmFestival. It presents a mosaic of images from some of the less known books by Marshall McLuhan; these books were all published between 1967 and 1969, at a time when the Canadian scholar was already world-renowned and celebrated as ‘the high priest of pop-culture,’ as well as ‘the metaphysician of media.’ These books pivot on the idea of a ‘mobile point of view’ which translates into a narrative collage juxtaposing icons of the time and provocative and paradoxical comments on old and new media; through this process these icons are reconfigured in a sort of visual writing, powerful and evocative at once. McLuhan had adopted a mobile point of view since his very first published volume, The Mechanical Bride. Folklore of the Industrial Man, which appeared in 1954 when he was a young Professor of English Literature at the University of Toronto. The Mechanical Brideprovides ‘typical visual imagery of our environment and dislocates it into meaning by inspection.’
Following this idea, the exhibition proposes a photographic itinerary which pays homage to McLuhan’s own intellectual and iconographic search, and bears witness to his unique modus operandi and playful challenge. The idea is to counter-display visual symbols previously “employed in an effort to paralyze the mind” as “means of energizing it.” In volumes such as The Medium is the Massage (1967), War and Peace in the Global Village (1968), Counterblast (1969), as well as in the Dew-Line Deck card game, the imagery used to massage our minds is de-contextualised and juxtaposed so as to break the hypnotic mechanism, therefore suggesting new approaches to the understanding of our society. McLuhan himself provocatively warned us that: “The future of the book is in the blurb”. He himself challenged the traditional writing paradigms, at the same time inviting us to appreciate the potential of the post-typographic forms of expression.
Following this idea, the exhibition proposes a selection of images taken from these volumes with the intent of turning them into iconic probes. The visual effect, the overall effect, as well as each fragment, are traces of a funding idea of McLuhan’s ‘vision’: to apply ‘the method of art analysis to the critical evaluation of society.’ This technique is what turns each of us into an artist, into an individual of ‘integral awareness’: the core of the image is represented by viewers, and observation is an inclusive practice of action involving everybody. Viewers are invited to play with the images and figure out their own (cognitive) message through the (perceptive) massage.
Each new technology is a reprogramming of the sensory life (Marshall McLuhan)