Next Slide Please: The Magical, Scientific, and Corporate Discourses of Visual Projection Technologies

Article excerpt

This article examines the cultural history of slide projection technologies by focusing upon how such technologies acquire cultural meaning. The meanings acquired by these technologies emerge in areas as diverse as public and domestic entertainment, religion, science, and education. I identify three important discursive shifts impacting the complex cultural meaning of slide projection technologies: magic vision, scientific vision, and corporate vision. I argue that such divergent meanings are not simply located in technological advancement and narratives of progress, but rather are discursively constituted within a complex intersection of dominant understandings of vision, knowledge, and subjectivity.

Introduction: Technologies, Discourse, and Meaning

The technologically mediated projection of images in art education forms a backdrop through which teachers and students experience and understand the visual. From the twin-slide projection and disembodied lecturer's voice characteristic of the darkened art history lecture hall, to current montage-like juxtapositions of text, image, video, and sound evident in sequential digital "slide" presentation programs, slide projection technologies are a commonplace interface constructing relationships between viewers and the objects viewed within the art classroom.

Recent research regarding technology and art education has explored such issues as the use of computer-based technologies in the classroom (Carpenter & Taylor, 2003; Colman, 2004; Krug, 2004), teachers' perceptions about technology (Delacruz, 2004), and the changing boundaries of classroom environments evident in online courses (Akins, Check & Riley, 2004; Lai & Ball, 2004). Likewise, other authors explore new theoretical frameworks for understanding the visual (Taylor, 2004) and the interrelationship of digital culture, subjectivity, and embodiment (Garoian & Gaudelius, 2001, 2004). Recurring throughout this important body of research is an interrogation of contemporary technologies and the art classroom. However, in this article I engage questions regarding the intersections of technology, vision, knowledge, and subjectivity that extend beyond the implicit definition of technology as that which is contemporary and new. The article begins with the idea that technologies' meanings are not located in the machine, the tool, and/or the object, but rather within the discourses produced by technology. Understanding technology as discursively constituted refers to the idea that technology acquires meaning through a complex series of relations rather than having an innate, prc-determined, or fixed meaning (Foucault, 1968/1994; Powers, 2001). Technology is not simply framed as a machine, but also as an idea and metaphor (Garoian & Gaudelius, 2004; Preziosi, 1989).

In a moment in which digital images become more accessible and affordable, the slide projector would seem to be on the verge of being declared an outmoded technology in the context of the art classroom. To this regard, one function of this article is an historical analysis of a technology that has been greatly used, but rarely critically reflected upon in the context of discussions of technology and art education. However, this analysis extends beyond the boundaries of what has come to be identified as a slide projector by framing this particular machine as part of a larger discourse of projection technologies. Likewise, this is a discourse that is not solely situated in the context of art education. In its earliest uses, the slide projector, called the magic lantern, served largely as a magician's tool and form of entertainment. In the latter half of the 19th century, the magic lantern, renamed the optical lantern, emerged as a scientific instrument and was only subsequently adopted by the emerging discipline of art history. Current digital slideware programs initially emerged in the corporate boardroom and were later appropriated within educational contexts. …