21st century education
Ron Hays -electromedia artist

Ron Hays -electromedia artist

Today’s large scale projections, whether they are the massive projection mapping projects onto entire buildings (or in some cases multiple buildings) has evolved from a number of projections beginning with the shadows cast by campfires by early humankind. These were the beginnings of using technology (in this case a campfire) as an illumination source for the projection of manipulated manmade imagery.

Over time, many variations of these shadow plays were experimented with by cultures throughout the world.

In investigating the DNA of contemporary art-forms, it often becomes difficult to take into account all the major contributors involved. Those who have fallen through the cracks are, for me, every bit as interesting as those who benefitted from the promotional industrial power of academia, and its world-wide multi-generational publicity capabilities.

As part of ONE Night: EZTV, LA ACM SIGGRAPH and Digital Art in West Hollywood, last May 31st, Academy Award winning sound artists Frank Serafine, performed live music to accompany a tribute to the imagery of one of his collaborators, a pioneering digital and medi artist, Ron Hays died of complcations from AIDS in 1991.

Ron Hays is among the intellectual as well as producing authors of today’s electronic projection arts.  His resume is so expansive that it seems difficult to put him into a ‘sound bite’. He was an Emmy award-winning director.  He was an early student at the M.I.T. Media Lab. He worked, alongside acclaimed artists as Nam June Paik at WNET’s Television lab. He collaborated with artists as diverse as architect Frank Gehry, pop star Madonna, and the LA Philharmonic.

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(Ron Hays in his studio in the early 1980s)

He also collaborated with choreographer/actor/multimedia pioneer Zina Bethune.  When he was diagnosed with AIDS and was getting sicker, both he, and Zina’s Assoc. Dir. Laura Feder (aka Laura Behr) both recommended me to replace him as Zina’s video art collaborator.  Ron and I had been friendly ‘competitors’ in the LA club scene, providing imagery for the explosion of video projectors being purchased to accompany DJs in what would ultimately evolve into rave culture.

Ron was always very nice to me, supportive and encouraging, even though we were, technically, in competition. Neither of us really ever felt competitive with each other, however, and actually since there were only a few of us working in the field back then, there was plenty of work for both of us.. We somehow both felt a comradery, that we were both part of a very small club of people explores new mediums and new ways of expression. We both loved the notion of scale, and projections inherent ability to be ‘saleable’.  Each exhibition of the same work was, for us, actually a new and unique presentation, directed by the site specifics of the venue.

The term ‘visual music’ has been around for many decades, and is a useful label to identify a certain type of art which is as informed form the musical fundamentals of rhythm, tonality, tempo, timbre, and pitch as it is by shape, color, texture, hue, or framing. In many ways, the catalog of works created by Ron Hays would easily be comfortably contained within the label of visual music.

In addition to the Serafine tribvute at ONE Night on May 31st Hays was acknowledged the previous month at a realted event Computer Love.

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(image of Ron Hays, circa 1985, as part of the panel ‘Computer Love; Digital Art in West Hollywood)

Hays was among those working artists who found the artificial barrier between so called ‘fine-art’ and so-called ‘pop-art’ was not a useful construct.  He worked with every conceivable genre, and type of artist (including myself).  For example, music videos were beginning to become seen as an art form in their own right, and Hays worked with a number of mainstream recording artist, for example;  Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Let’s Groove” (1981):

Hays preferred the term ‘electromedia’, to such terms such as ‘computer graphics’,’ digital art’ or’ media art’, terms he was aware of, but though inadequate. I knew what he meant. Somehow the term computer graphics has been wholly insufficient to encompass the convergence of key tools, technologies and applications. The common denominator is, in fact, not the computer, but one of humankind’s greatest advances, the widespread  use of electricity.


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