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Tony Conrad, diagram for Film Feedback, 1974.

Tony Conrad

Tony Conrad, diagram for Film Feedback, 1974.

I'M BEING TRUE HERE, even if I’m often drawn to being false about my own past.

Technology engenders an illusion that you can be in the right place at the right time, no matter where you really are. Sure, I can live in Buffalo and still play the high-stakes art game, as long as I stay connected with New York City. If I have some good ideas, I can make a difference while living up there now, just as well as when I was hanging out in SoHo in the ’60s, or if I were in Bed-Stuy today, I suppose.

It was pure luck that I began programming computers in 1960, because nobody knew then what a huge change computers would bring about. In 1961 (just before Artforum launched) I was solicited to make an experimental animated film on the IBM 704 computer printer—I was completely uninterested. But then I ran into Jack Smith’s no-tech films, and I had no idea what was going on at all; my bewilderment had nothing to do with the technology of cinema, I was just shocked that film could transpose my consciousness into places it had never been.

By about 1970 nobody could still take seriously that art-world dogma about the technical “essence” of painting, writing, or film; and by the mid-’70s I was so “over” medium specificity that I had painted the “Yellow Movies” (1972–73), cooked 16-mm films (by boiling, deep-frying, roasting, and pickling), and performed the cybernetically structured Film Feedback in 1974 (instantaneous image feedback was then seen as video’s “essence,” but this was film being team-developed and reshot in real time).

In the ’80s I (re)programmed my film The Flicker (1966) to play on an Amiga computer. I figured work that was transportable between technologies could shatter gizmo prudery. But instead it turned out that technologies were boundaries, curtains of invisibility—at least until around 1995, when everything converged in a digital soup.

If you were into technology in 1999, you’ve probably quit film and video and stopped using a desktop by now, because those things are dead today. What has “materialized” is online social media, which is compressing time and stretching cultural space. I think my calling now will be playing with microcultures, even if that fails to make any difference at all.