Peter Donebauer (in his own words)
and the Definition of Transmedia
Through the 60′s and 80′s there were a number of perplexing, challenging artists from whose work can be seen as leading-up to and helping make transmedia possible. These artists often employed technological innovation, or innovative uses of technology, which made the technology central to the piece of art or story. They also often combined different disciplines within a single piece or performance.
These characteristics are part of transmedia as it is today, yet I maintain that these artists cannot be considered transmedia artists proper. In order to frame this discussion let us take for an example the video-artist (although he disliked the term), Peter Donebauer, who is perhaps most well known for creating the live video-music piece Entering, in collaboration with composer Simon Desorgher. Entering was broadcast on the BBC in 1974, marking the first time that the UK’s legendary broadcasting operation was involved in the production and distribution of ‘video art.’
A transmedia story unfolds across multiple media platforms.
At first glance it’s a little hard to see why this definition excludes artists like Donebauer; after all they were shaking things up big time through the use of multiple media within performance. This push to confuse and blend different media is a hallmark of avant-garde practices and is closely aligned to transmedia thinking today. So what is the difference?
This tension brings us to one of the difficulties in defining transmedia—for all this talk of new methods and new practices there is also a sense that transmedia is simply an extension of strategies that have been in place for a long time. Sure, transmedia work blurs boundaries between media—but artists have been doing that forever. So have marketers for that matter. Take Batman for example. This is a brand that was multi platform—existing in comics, movies, tv, amusement park rides, games and knick-knacks—way before ‘transmedia’ was part of anyone’s vocabulary.
So, where is the difference? One answer is the technology, specifically the internet, which is the glue binding these different platforms into a ‘coherent’ whole. Digital cross-platform communication—from this facebook to that twitter to your blog to her tumblr and back again and again—helps to generate the levels of complexity and difference that power transmedia narratives. Forums, coding and photoshop allow for the interactivity and involvement that transforms the fan from periphery to center of branding strategies and world creation. When we talk about the transition from passive to active consumption, we are primarily talking about the experiences made possible by, on, and through the web.
But this emphasis on technology is not what keep artists such as Donebauer from passing through the gate into transmedia. As noted before, his practices helped pave the way for technologies and strategies of their use that are still common today. Technology is actually one of the things we have in common.
The differentiating factor is the way transmedia splinters the product.
Implicit in the definition cited above is the fact that all of these different platforms are telling different stories. Now that the franchising concept has been remolded by transmedia beyond the purely economic, we are living in a world that has moved past the single, bounded art-product.
You cannot experience transmedia art in one sitting. There is no definitive document, they’re all relative. There isn’t even a set order to start, no chapters laid out in a table of contents. You experience the parts that you experience in the order you experience them. Each person does so differently, and there is no way that is necessarily right or wrong.
This last point is the real reason Donebauer cannot be considered a transmedia artist. While he shares many important similarities, and could—I would argue—be considered a forerunner of transmedia, the fact remains that he was creating single products. You only have to watch once. Donebauer is not alone. This is true for many of the pre-internet artists who were similarly involved in the development of technology and alternative performance methods. Their worlds were complex, and their technologies impressive, but at the end of the day, for all of their innovation, they were still making single, bounded works.
This is the gap separating the past from the contemporary.
Jenkins, Henry. Searching for the Origami Unicorn: The Matrix and Transmedia Storytelling. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York University Press, New York. 2006. 97-98.
All right justified text written by Peter Donebauer and taken directly from his website: www.donebauer.net.