An artist with a background in DJ-ing, electronic music, and visuals for clubs in Japan and now all over the world, Daito Manabe tends to make virtual things real, rather than vice versa. One of the things that I find most compelling in the work of Daito is the materiality, the viscerality of the means of transmitting his bits. As Mitchell Whitelaw points out we can aestheticize transmateriality, that is, the coolness of the not-there, of the purely momentary electric buzz, but there’s no getting around the fundamental essence of a physical entry point. For me to be aware, I must engage my body and the material of the world that lies right beyond it.
What’s so refreshing about Daitos work, particularly in contrast to many North American computational artists, is his willingness to engage the body as a canvas, as a site of action, rather than the engine of action. He might be one of the most interesting post-screen artists working today quite simple because of the canvas on which he’s chosen to work and the playfulness with which he approaches the body as a canvas. You can’t help but notice how for a time computational art seemed to focus on the digitalization and augmentation of space and physical properties. With a rash of compelling works that focus on the rematerialization of digital space, the reverse seems to be gaining momentum. Just as we were all once surprised by the digital mimicking the analog, familiar digital tropes now surprise when revealed in analogue form: real, actuated, physical stuff, moving around.
A projection is not just a projection onto a blank screen, instead, he paints the wall with phosphorescent paint and illuminates it with a laser to paint a transient image. To write a sentence or draw a hand, he arms a robotic arm with an automatic BB gun and shoots it through a sheet of paper.
It’s an interesting thing about the aesthetics of these surfaces: they’re really about not using the traditional screen even though I’m only aware of them because they are on a traditional screen. Without Youtube, I wouldn’t even know the name Daito Manabe, and in all likelihood neither would you. But his videos that he puts up are more than just documentation, more than a simple process video to demonstrate technical considerations, background, the specifics of a set-up, nor are they the slick depth-of-field heavy mini-advertisements of so many design agencies. There’s very little hidden magic or un-necessary polish in both his performances and his videos. An electrode to the face is rather difficult to miss, its effects are unmistakable, and that’s part of the point: if you’re at all empathetic, you can feel it too, even from the audience or from half a globe away in front of your computer.
There’s another un-mistakable reference floating around in Daitos work: the club. One could imagine a dance floor as a fluid particle simulation: forces inspire bodies, particles influence one another, density and energy increase and decrease in patterns. It’s the perfect territory for a computational artist. A crowd of women with miniaturized versions of club light displays walking around Tokyo looks like a club. The synchronized bodies of Particles At YCAM resemble nothing so much as either choreographed dancers or generated flocking fireflies. The music is absent but its pattern can almost be heard, synaesthetically. What’s interesting is that these objects could very well be virtual, but they simply aren’t. Their movement could be played out in a purely virtual plane, but it isn’t, and that’s what makes them so more interesting. What’s a wave without a medium? What’s a beat in a club without people to listen? His history of working as a DJ and VJ makes perfect sense: in few places is computational technology as visceral, as embodied, as in making music.
“from hardware hacking to modular LEDs and custom software, they participate in what might be called “expanded computing”, using the malleability of digital media to reactivate its presence – and thus our presence, too – in the world of things.” – Mitchell Whitelaw
In his excellent essay “After the Screen” Mitchell Whitelaw talks to as post-screen imaging: making images on things that remind us that they’re in a single place and that, despite our illusions to the contrary, in a material sense, we are too. In Daitos bodily works and his physical works the pixels are not simply pixels, they are automata that speak to one another. His physical pixels swarm and synchronize, his human computer interfaces play their people; as in Stelarc, though perhaps in a less frightening way, the machine drives the human. Much of the early cybernetic performance art emphasized the strangeness of a human and machine co-creating a being. It was scary and weird. The lightness of Daitos work comes from his playfulness. I always get the sense that it isn’t so much that cyborgs are weird, just that his cyborgs are a little weird. When he uses the face as a solenoid of sorts, an actuated surface, it’s very similar to things that architects and material engineers design for and dream of. Just made ever-so-slightly weird. Another word might be “quirky”. But that minimizes what I think is the importance and the curiosity of the things that Daito makes. More than anything else, his work reminds us that the promise of hyper-surfaces and hyper-actuated technological skins, is at the moment only delivered by us and our bodies with all the strange, funny, and sometimes uncomfortable corollaries that implies.
- On simulation, aesthetics and play: Artifactual Playground In 1958, the American physicist William Higinbotham created what is one of the first instances of what we would today call a modern "video game". The game, named Tennis For Two, was built at the Brookhaven National Laboratory for their yearly open-house presentations of the lab's activities. The game was built using an oscilloscope and a programmable analog computer, the Donner Model 30. It simulated a simple tennis match between two players, with a sideways perspective of the net and a ball bouncing back and forth, controlled by two player-manipulated inputs. _ William Higinbotham, Tennis For Two, Brookhaven National Laboratory, 1958 Although it would take a few more years, namely 1962 and the game "Spacewar", before we could see the emergence of a true modern form of "gameplay", "Tennis for Two" nevertheless contains enough basic elements of interactive play to connect it to more contemporary descendants, for example the iconic Nintendo hit, "Wii Tennis". While there are a few missing details here and there, such as avatars, scoring and the various forms invented to interact with the machine, fundamentally there is very little that has changed since "Tennis for Two". It contains all the modern tropes of animated algorithmic representation, namely a highly kinetic visual form that emerges in real-time from within the game via its gameplay. From this perspective, it is one of the forebears for "arcade" style games. The game is fast and dynamic, and only by interacting with the system does the image emerge. But perhaps most importantly, "Tennis for Two" is significant in that it is not only a representation of playable interactive visual forms, but that these forms represent something greater than their graphical output: the game is in fact a physics simulator of a ball moving through space and interacting with objects in its path. Watch how the ball bounces against the net and then try to imagine what it would take to program such a movement, even today; then remember that Higinbotham was working back in 1958. For its time, this is a sophisticated simulator of physical interactions: "The 'brain' of Tennis for Two was a small analog computer. The computer's instruction book described how to generate various curves on the cathode-ray tube of an oscilloscope, using resistors, capacitors and relays. Among the examples given in the book were the trajectories of a bullet, missile, and bouncing ball, all of which were subject to gravity and wind resistance. While reading the instruction book, the bouncing ball reminded Higinbotham of a tennis game and the idea of Tennis for Two was born." — Brookhaven National Laboratory, The First Video Game?, p.2. In other words, Tennis for Two was not only the first "Pong" game, but also the first physics game, à la Box2D and its shameless re-branding in the infinitely more popular form, Angry Birds. And like Angry Birds' relation to Box2d, the underpinnings for the game "Tennis for Two" were already inscribed in the routines of the machine itself, the Donner Model 30. These routines were then re-contextualized using what we would today call "joysticks" and voilà: a modern arcade game. Wii Dog vs Wii Cat & Angry Birds Live, T-Mobile Given the historical context, there is nothing surprising in this idea of a computer simulating a physical phenomenon such as a bullet or a missile. In the 1950's, computers were still emerging from World War II era cybernetic formulations of "telelogical" or "self-regulating" machines, precipitated in large part by the acceleration of faster and faster flying weapons that required new techniques for shooting them out of the sky (cf. V-2 Countermeasures). The history of interactivity is traversed by this question of simulation, i.e. by the idea of adaptive mathematical and physical models that could allow machines to regulate themselves in real-time, based on constantly evolving conditions. So while it might be considered a historical curiosity that post-war cybernetic machines would produce the modern video game, it is unsurprising that such a game would be constructed out of a physical simulator of bouncing balls or flying bullets and missiles. Aesthetics, Simulation, Play The historical relationship between aesthetics and play has always been a complex one. There is much overlap and interpenetration, but they are in no way interchangeable terms. Most performative art forms, such as theatre or music, oscillate constantly between the ludic and aesthetic realms. In the work of art-game pioneer Eddo Stern — for example his work with C-Level, or his newer Wizard Takes All — we can see these two domains interact with one another in a contstant back-and-forth that suggests perhaps a more fundamental genealogy connecting the two. But despite the deeply connected roots, they are nevertheless two expressive forms that cannot be conflated, all the calls for games-as-art be damned. But whatever the relationship between aesthetics and play, it is further complicated by this introduction of the principle of simulation in play, made all the more acute in the context of video games. Simulation questions the mimetic tendencies of representation, which might explain in part the constantly recurring uproar over violence in video games (and all the ire over provocative gamer-artists that apparently "hate freedom" ;-). But no matter how small-minded the complaints, people nevertheless understand that these games are not merely mimetically presenting us with representations of violence; instead, they are directly modeling the violence itself of the scene. The resulting image flows from the model; it is a "rendering" of the underlying scene. This is the specificity of simulation: the ability to represent the dynamics of a situation as itself a form of representation. The representation needs to be played in order to take form. This is the historical twist of simulation: the image has shifted from a predominantly mimetic function of re-presentation to that of rendering complex interactions visible through playability. In fact, simulations can take place through other mediums and channels of perception. The American far-west simulator, The Oregon Trail (1971), for example, was a simulator that originally used only textual communication to represent the state of the game. Although modern variants of The Oregon Trail, such as Red Dead Redemption now use sophisticated graphics to represent the game state, the game is nevertheless animated by a simulation engine that cannot be be reduced merely to the artifacts displayed on-screen. The Oregon Trail (Apple II edition), 1971/1984 & Red Dead Redemption, 2010 A Poor Man’s Simulator The quality of the simulated movements of the Higinbotham/Model-30 ball and its interactions with the net are impressive, especially when compared to the clunky, almost weightless movements of Pong, designed some fifteen years later. If there were so many games about space in the 70s and 80s, it might be because earthbound physical simulations are hard to design and certainly hard to calculate in real-time, especially when you've moved from analog computers to digital ones. Physics are a mostly logarithmic, analog realm, and are hard, or long, to calculate using digital circuitry. Although many games with bouncing balls and gravity would appear throughout the next few decades of digital gaming, it would truly take Erin Catto's Box2D and accelerometer-based controllers like the Wiimote and the iPhone for the form to emerge as a fundamental gameplay mechanic. Why so early then our first variant on what would later become Angry Birds? The prophetic nature of Tennis for Two can somewhat be explained by context: Higinbotham was a physicist, whereas Pong’s inventors — Ralph Baer (Magnavox) and Allan Alcorn (Atari) — were engineers. Higinbotham was working with scientific instrumentation that did not adhere to the economic constraints or objectives of Baer who was for his part trying to design mass-producible circuitry that could be plugged into to millions of customers’ televisions. But it is precisely this poor-man's quality of video game's simulators that helped emerge the ludic qualities of gaming. Tennis for Two is frankly a little boring next to Pong, whereas Pong remains one of the best-designed games of all time, giving birth to an infinitely expanding field of variants all the way from Breakout to Bit.Trip Beat. Ralph Baer and Bill Harrison Play Ping-Pong Video Game, 1969 & Bit.Trip Beat, Gaijin Games, 2009 One of the ironies of video game history relates to this desire to simulate infinitely complex interactions, but with access to only the most mediocre means of calculation. This contradiction has led to what might in some senses be considered an historical anomaly: an in-between period in which computer games’ desire for "realism" would have to wait for the technological means to catch up. A Poor Man's Renderer This anomaly relates not only to the simulation itself, but also to the manner in which it is rendered to the screen. In this in-between period of video game design, situated somewhere between the late 1960s and Box2D (circ. 2006), a cornucopia of visual forms emerged from video games that have given games their distinctive identity as an aesthetic form. We now identify video games as much by their visual artifacts, as by their particular form of gameplay. A truly innovative game will in fact design a specific form of visual artifact, in order to better match the gameplay, outside of any criteria of realism. This approach will often go on to trump the simulation itself and become the central mechanism of gameplay. It is precisely because of the technological limitations of early gaming technology that gaming eventually found its singular language of representation where the graphical artifacts would themselves become the playable form. Artistic Playgrounds This playable visual language has even circled back around to influence various forms of visual communication, in order to make them more "playful". And artists for their part have used this visual language of computer game artifacts to transform less electronic contexts into playable forms. The list could go on almost forever of artists working in this space: Mary Flanagan, Aram Bartholl, Damien Aspe, etc. In the well-known work of French artist Invader, the city landscape becomes a platformer to be traversed literally, leaving behind physical pixels: Invader Sneakers & Space Invader in Shoreditch, London In the aforementioned Eddo Stern’s "portal" sculptures, gaming logics of representation and interaction are re-projected back onto traditional spaces of representation (gallery, public square, etc) in the form of sculpture: Eddo Stern, Fake Portal, 2012 While neither of these examples are even playable as games, they communicate nevertheless with the video game medium through this imperfect, unrealistic video game form of visual rendering. They look and feel like classical electronic forms of play. The artifactual visual language of video games is sometimes constructed out of a patchwork of various historical forms that have been redefined through the filter of gaming. Sometimes video games skeuomorphically imitate previous technologies and mediums, for example by flashing television-style signal noise to signify a weak connection, or imitating hand-written messages and drawings strewn about a 3d world (cf. Myst, Resident Evil). But video games have also introduced their own domain of visual logic based on the specific contours of the technological limitations that animate them. Often a closer reading is required in order to reveal the nature of these contours. Raster-Scan A strange by-product of the historical anomaly can be seen in the role of the pixel in video games. Originally, as was the case with Tennis For Two, games were built with vectors, as were many related visual technologies such as Ivan Sutherland's Sketchpad. In fact, Tennis for Two used vectors for both the simulated phenomena (force, velocity, etc), as well as the physical image constructed within the oscilloscope. This is completely logical if you're looking to construct a physics simulator. This vector-based approach is also the case today, where games are often built out of polygons which — assembled together — construct the playable scene. But somewhere in between Tennis for Two and our modern-day graphics pipeline, came the pixel. And this anomaly, the pixel, continues to this day to influence profoundly the manner in which even vector-based images are rendered to our eyes. Alan Kay, The Early History of Smalltalk, 1993 Like many of the computing concepts we take for granted today, the pixel concept was perfected in the late 60's and early 70's somewhere between Douglas Engelbart's Stanford Research Institute and the Xerox PARC in neighboring Palo Alto: "The TX-2 display that Ivan Sutherland used for Sketchpad [...] would project a single bright spot on a dark screen and then electronically move that spot around to trace out a circle, say, or the letter A. By tracing and retracing the pattern very, very fast, [it] could create the illusion of a solid outline. [...] The problem was that the more complicated the drawing, the faster you had to wiggle that spot. [...] Then there were the "raster-scan" displays that Bill English had developed for the "PARC Online Office System", POLOS. [...] The POLOS displays used digital electronics that were better suited to the binary world of computing: in effect, they would divide their screens into a fine grid of "pixels" and then make a picture by turning each pixel either on or off, as appropriate, with no shades in between. [...] The programmers would have a much easier time devising graphics software to generate those images, because all they had to do was define a chunk of computer memory to be a map of the screen, one bit per pixel, and then drop the appropriate bit into each memory location: 1 for white and 0 for black. [...] Unfortunately, that use of the computer's memory was also the major difficulty with bit-mapped graphics: memory was very, very expensive in those days." — The Dream Machine. J.C.R. Licklider and the Revolution that Made Computing Personal, W. Mitchell Waldrop, Penguin Books, 2001, p.366. In many ways, "bit-map" graphics are simply a historical hack used to generate text and images dynamically on a screen. In the case of the heavily text-centric Xerox PARC machines, one would assume that a more vector-based image generator would make more sense: typography is essentially a history of shapes built out of lines, with a visual language heavily influenced by the traits of handwritten letterforms. In fact, it took some thirty-odd years, led by Apple's "retina" ultra hi-definition screens, for bitmapped text to match the quality of the printed page. So it could probably be argued that the "bit-mapped" approach was historically the wrong one, even if it is now somewhat catching up. Douglas Engelbart, Workstation With Mouse, Agumentation Research Center, cir. 1964-1966 & Maze War, Xerox Alto, 1974 But from a purely technological, engineer's perspective, bit-map images make all the sense in the world. In the above quote we need only retain that "the programmers would have a much easier time..." in order to understand why the pixel approach won out. Computers are "discrete" machines, capable of switching parts of itself off and on independently. This logic gives us random-access memory which in turn gives us databases, which in turn gives us things such as hyperlinks. Machine architecture influences use and to assume that this would not influence the resulting aesthetics is naïve. The infinitely re-configurable and re-contextualizing nature of the machine is the whole point of why we use these damn things. So an image construction method that would closely match this discrete logic, down to the very 0s and 1s of the machine's ABCs, was an important step in creating a "plastic" image, capable of reconfiguring itself multiple times per second. It is out of just such a type of image that video games as a medium emerge. Raster-scan vs. Vector-scan Let's compare two images from two iconic video games from 1980, Battlezone and Pacman. Battlezone is a vector-based game, and originally used a vector-scan method for displaying shapes on-screen. This created razor-sharp images, albeit in black-and-white, or actually black-and-green. The use of vectors also allowed Battlezone to be one of the first mass-market games to effectively represent a three-dimensional scene, using the first-person perspective of a tank commander to navigate the game space. It would be many years before a pixel-based computer system could anywhere approach the visual elegance of early 1980s 3D games such as Battlezone, Star Wars or Tempest. One of the great iconic raster-based 3D games, Castle Wolfenstein, wasn't even in 3D at its introduction in 1981; and even when it became Castle Wolfenstein 3-D in 1992, that visual representation was made up of large blocky pixel shapes, far inferior to Atari's 1980's graphical representations. But Battlezone's vector-scan technique also created some curious visual anomalies: for example objects on screen were fully transparent, defined solely by their outlines without any possibility for image "textures" to fill in the gaps. This created the odd situation where an enemy tank could be seen transparently on the other side of an obstacle, but could not be shot at. In a sense, this improved the gameplay and created part of the strategy of playing Battlezone — no matter what level of realism it achieved as a simulation. Ultimately, it was a game made for fun, for play, but even so it would eventually be used by real tank commanders as a training simulator for their soldiers. The simulation was good enough so as to be a functional form of training in the real world manipulation of tanks. Visually, Pacman (a.k.a. Puckman) is a very different animal. Contrary to Battlezone, or even the more-colorful Tempest, Pacman is practically drenched in color. Ghosts are brightly-colored with different hues based on character traits, allowing players to read their individual algorithmic behavior within the game. The player's character, Pacman, is a completely opaque bright yellow animated blob, full of visual charm. Like the ghosts, he is full of personality. Color is even used as a gameplay element, allowing players to distinguish between dangerous ghosts (multi-colored) and edible ones (blue). Everything about Pacman screams "bit-map" techniques: the maze is a series of bit-mapped 0s and 1s, turned on or off to represent a wall or a navigable open space. And the dots or crumbs that we eat are also represented as a bit-map, i.e. a scattering of pixels that we have to turn off by running our character over them. In Pacman, the gameplay, in fact the whole game algorithm, is directly controlled by the graphical representation, as opposed to Battlezone where the graphical representation is often in contradiction with the physical simulation of interaction with physical objects. Pacman is a collection of pixels, he lives to eat other pixels, and the level is over when there are no more pixels to be eaten. Pacman essentially spends his time running around a memory map until he has effectively manipulated all the memory registers by setting them all to 0. The internal circuitry of the machine is visually exposed to the player who is then asked to navigate into this memory register map and manipulate the digital switches via an on-screen representation. Cellular Automata While it is not technically a video game, and was in fact designed as a scientific simulation experiment, John Conway's Game of Life is nevertheless one of the best examples of one of these immanent pixel-plane spaces from which a "playable" image emerges. The "game" is played entirely by comparing one pixel to the pixels that surround it: too many surrounding pixels, the pixel dies from overcrowding; too few, it dies from lack of resources; and from just the right number of pixels, a new pixel is born (if none) or survives (if already alive). The visual representation of the life "game" is exactly the same map of values as the memory registers that control it. There is no representation of the simulation outside of the frame of the grid. Based on this immanent principle, a complex interaction of forms emerges, hence the term "game of life". Conway's Game of Life, 1970 & Runxt, R-Life for iOS One of the best known games of all time, Sim City, was directly inspired by this Conway thought-experiment: "[John Conway's work] is so extraordinary, because the rules behind it are so simple. It's like the game Go. [...] They can arise from fairly simple rules and interactions, and that became a major design approach for all the games: "How can I put together a simple little thing that's going to interact and give rise to this great and unexpected complex behavior?" So that was a huge inspiration for me." — The Replay Interviews: Will Wright, Gammasutra, 23 May 2011. In Conway's Game of Life as well as Wright's Sim City, the immanent pixel grid is the space itself of the "game", conflating both the pictorial representation and the simulated one. It is the "map" upon which the simulation of SimCity, an architectural construction if there ever was one, would be built. Animation Another significant trait found in pixel-based games such as Pacman, far more absent in vector-based games, is the narrative dimension. Pacman tells a story, and even introduced comedic interludes every few levels, telling little Keaton-esque sketches of Pacman being chased by ghosts and then turning the tables to chase the ghosts in turn. Pacman cutscenes, arcade edition 1980 & Atari 800 edition, 1983 Many interactive characters were built out of these basic, often extremely limited, collection of "bit-map" pixels: the whole Pacman family (Pacman, Ms. Pacman, Pacman Jr., etc), Mappy, Dig Dug, Mr. Do, Mario, et cætera. Even known animated characters — such as Popeye —, found their way into the heavily pixellated game screens of the 1980s. There is nothing arbitrary about this use of cinema-animation logic aesthetics to animate the characters of early video games. For animation had already solved this problem of opening up cinematic figuration by eschewing realism and embracing the artificial nature of the image. Gerty the Dinosaur, Betty Boop and Felix the Cat, all the way up to La Linea and Don Hertzfeldt's pencil-drawn absurdities: these are all forms of reduction down to the visual interaction of a few basic visual forms. So too in video games: the key to their success in adding expressive characteristics came not from the militaristic, cybernetic-inspired scientific simulation instrumentation. Instead, it came precisely from embracing the abstract, graphical, nature of their primitive cousins and in accepting the artifactual, visually limited detail of the early digital machines. In accepting this fate, video games tapped into a deep tradition of expressive visual tapestries that had been explored throughout the 20th century in cinema through the work of experimental film-makers and animators such as Len Lye or Norman McLaren, using simple abstract shapes such as lines, scratches, and blobs of color to great expressive effect. Vanishing Points Although the term is a bit dubious, we are exploring here the problem of realism, or perhaps more specifically that of mimesis, i.e. the art of imitation. A significant historical component to this debate on art and realism relates to the introduction of a very specific form of pictorial representation: geometric perspective of the sort demonstrated by Brunelleschi in the early 1400s. In our parallel history of video games — notably as it traverses its naive period of representation —, we as well can see some interesting effects of perspective as it relates to how images are constructed on-screen. Due to the purely arbitrary nature of the discrete pixel grid where any section can be turned on or off at will, a strange form of mixed perspective becomes possible with multiple forms of perspective not only co-existing on screen but even interacting with one another. Pacman and the ghosts within the maze are completely devoid of principles of foreshortening and vanishing points, and are in fact a mixture of top-down vertical perspective (of the maze), and side-view perspective (of the characters) reminiscent of early forms of perspective emerging in the work of Giotto where, to take an observation from Deleuze & Guattari in Mille Plateaux (p.219), Christ alternates between divine receiver, enduring the stigmata, and kite-machine, commanding the angels and heavens via kite strings. The emerging nature of the Brunelleschian-style of geometric perspective is not fully developed at the time of Giotto, hence the optical oscillations for a modern eye between flatness and depth, foreground and back, and so on. Jesus is at once commanding Saint Francis, and simultaneously being flown by him like a kite. It is only through narrative cues, understood by semiotically reading the painting, that we are able to reconstruct these spatial relationships between the various figures. Like many paintings from the middle ages to the early renaissance, perspective in early video games contain multiple points of view and often chooses its perspectival representation based on contextual narrative needs. These are naïve and/or mixed perspectival geometries (cf. Tapper, Zoo Keeper, et al.) that have recently been exploited to brilliant effect in Polytron's visual delight, Fez. Tapper, Bally Midway, 1983 & Fez, Polytron, 2012 We could also mention Game Yarouza's Echochrome where the gameplay takes place somewhere in between the OpenGL pipeline where vector data is rasterized into pixel data and itself becomes a gameplay mechanic as players exploit visual absurdities and try to line them up. Echochrome, Game Yarouze, Japan Studio, 2008 Such hybrid forms of perspective would have been much harder to acheive had gaming stuck with purely vectorial and mathematical forms of representation. Visual abstractions It might be temping, based on such an art-historical exposition, to start comparing video games to the history of art and graphical design. For example, it would be fairly easy to visually juxtapose the paintings of Piet Mondrian/De Stijl, with Taito's 1981 arcade classic, Qix: Piet Mondrian, Composition 10, 1939–1942 & Piet Mondrian, Composition II in Red, Blue and Yellow, 1930 & Taito, Qix, 1981 Obviously, on some level there is a visual inheritance taking place, either explicitly, culturally or unconsciously, even though such causalities are either impossible to prove or even, if true, merely anecdotal. Another juxtaposition might be to look at the Russian avant garde, starting with El_Lissitzky, and compare his visual language with the shapes and forms of more abstract forms of video games, including early 3D games that had not yet perfected their perspectival rendering engines: A Prounen, El_Lissitzky, c.1925 (cf. Prouns) & Sixty Second Shooter, Happion Laboratories, 2012 Blaster, Williams 1983 & Ballblazer, Lucas Arts 1984 Rez, Tetsuya Mizuguchi, 2001 The problem, ultimately, with all these approaches is that these are merely visual cues and not aesthetic ones. The problem with just such a visualist reading is that it assumes that both De Stijl and Taito constructed their representations purely as visual tableaux — in other words as just a bunch of pretty pictures —, instead of looking at the material, conceptual and historical visual languages and logics that might have led them there. In the case of Qix, it would probably be far more instructive to compare its geometric abstractions to early MacPaint software, and Bill Atkinson's visual algorithms that made it possible, especially since these routines would go on to influence gaming history via Bill Budge's Pinball Construction Set. To begin with, both Qix and MacPaint were built as profoundly raster images, and both use similar algorithms for "painting" in their geometric forms. But more importantly, much of Atkinson's work, like that of Qix, was not only an attempt to find an algorithmic method for interactively constructing visual output, but to do so within the constraints of a Motorola 68000 microprocessor using 128kb of memory. MacPaint, Macintosh, 1984 & Pinball Construction Set, Bill Budge, 1983 And again, we can see even in these early days of MacPaint, that in order to construct the computer image in a visually compelling way, Apple's marketing machine opted to look back to previous techniques of image construction, here the japanese wood cut, and not to that of the photograph. Pixel Clouds One of the most beautiful games to emerge in the last few years is Proteus, a love-letter to this naive period of highly pixellated gaming. Only here, the game is rendered with a modern vector-based graphics pipeline. This creates a strange oscillation between the utterly fluid 3D navigation, and the giant blocky pixellated landscape. Trees, shrubbery, waves, raindrops, animals: everything has been reduced down to a limited grouping of pixel blocks. In Proteus, we walk around the simulation of an island world and explore its aesthetic qualities: sound, color and shape all interact in an elegant generative landscape. There is no real "goal" to the game, although season-shifts can be provoked in a pleasant transition that eventually leads the player to new forms of gaming experience. The whole experience suggests that perhaps some new media form — of an entirely new quality — could be afoot in what we call gaming, although I cringe to qualify such a future as "just over the horizon" because gaming has been promising such an unattainable land for the past several decades. Still, the hope here is that this emerging form is less about Holodecks and more about the raw interactive audiovisual experience of this new media form. The ultimate goal of Proteus, I suppose, is that of aesthetikos, i.e. sensation, or perhaps more accurately the experience itself of human sensing. In other words, we are talking about aesthetics in the Kantian sense of a search for beauty — via the senses — that eventually discovers itself in the limits of its search (cf. Sublime). For, the overall effects turns out to be indeed highly romantic, something akin to a multidimensional interactive 8-bit rendition of a Turner-esque tone poem. While playing Proteus recently, I found myself in a curious situation. I was high up atop one of the hilly peaks of the island, watching as night began to fall and rainclouds emerged below. As I descended down from the hill and onto the rain-soaked plains, I suddenly found myself awash in a pure sea of color that originally felt like a visual glitch: while I could still move somewhat, it seemed that any direction just led me to more colored polygons rendered as flat shapes. For a few moments, I even imagined that the game engine had crashed and I started to reach for the ESC button to get myself back in control of the machine. But then, slowly, I began to realize that I had merely descended down into the level of the clouds themselves and was swimming in the middle of their visually depth-less space. Anyone who has flown in a plane knows this de-spatialized zone while traversing the clouds: there is no focal point or point of reference and everything feels atemporal and ethereal. Essentially this is what happened to me looking through the little portal of my computer screen, the same logic taking place on a purely representational level of pixels that refused to figure the depth contours of the objects in space. Finally, I just leaned back and watched as abstract geometric shapes of treetops re-emerged only to be submerged again in swaths of color as waves of clouds chased ever more waves of clouds. It was a profoundly pleasureful oscillation between recognition and disorientation, one of the key ingredients to many successful works of at. Eventually the cloud formation began to recede from my point of view, and the three dimensional perspective of the landscape re-emerged, re-aligning the simulated first-person perspective of my view portal onto a three-dimensional landscape. The beauty of the moment had something to do with what the art-historian Hubert Damisch calls the théorie du /nuage/ or theory of /cloud/. The term /cloud/ is written with two slashes in order to reconstruct in text the odd, receding nature of clouds from realism and perspective and their re-apparition within the tableau in the form of a semiotic signifier, almost like a placeholder or an asterisk. Clouds in classical painting are the limit of perspectival representation, the resistance of aesthetics to the mere logics of mimesis and perhaps even of representation. Whatever the case, it is the limit of the realism model of aesthetic forms (cf. Cory Archangel's Super Mario Clouds). This limit of perspective within a three-dimensional simulator takes us back to Battlezone and its visual, artifactual, limits. And this limit speaks to one of the fundamental problems confronting video games today, beyond the problem of figuration and by extension the problem of figuring the human face. This representational limit of the /cloud/ in Proteus is what we could call the limit of realism as a model for what simulations, and therein gaming, seek to achieve. Taken to its limit, these clouds of Proteus have their cousin in a wonderful little game built by two lifetime members of the glory days of the Atelier Hypermedia: Pascal Chirol and Grégoire Lauvin. In their collaborative piece NEVERNEVERLAND Color Suite, a 3D simulator and a joystick open up a landscape of nothing but infinite gradients of color: Consider it a 3D simulator of navigation within the color selector of your favorite painting software. And it is also probably one of the outer limits only an artist can propose to the world of gaming in its relationship to the aesthetic realm: a landscape of color, a perspective of visual artifacts, as itself the "goal" of the game. Via play, via simulation, we are now beyond play, beyond simulation, and even figuration; the play has moved into the aesthetic realm, the domain of sensation, opening up an entirely different sphere of experience than that of the reconstruction of a physical world. This is a playable aesthetic world, not beyond ours, but instead immanent to a new field of perception within our world: the realm of artifactual play. This post first appeared on Douglas Edric Stanley’s blog. For more interesting observations, […]
- Archigram Archival Project [Reference] It's a pleasure to announce to CAN readers that this amazing project I have been working on for the past year is now live and ready for your perusal. The Archigram Archival Project [AAP] makes the work of the seminal architectural group Archigram is now available free online for public viewing. The project was run by EXP, an architectural research group at the University of Westminster, where I teach, and was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. This was also all made possible by the sheer generosity of members of Archigram and their heirs who allowed us to browse through the immense collection of work stored in the attics and basements and collected a total of around 10,000 images. On Monday night was the official site launch and if you were following us on Twitter you would have seen a number of updates regarding the project. I am happy to say even with some major hick-ups just before the announcement (server power failure at the university), with about 150 attendees including collaborators, historians, journalists and fans, the launch was an absolute success. Mike and Dennis were not able to join us but they were there thanks to Skype with Dennis taking us through the different parts of the site. This was followed by Peter's talk on Archigram proteges with David also at the event, always in the mood to kick off an inspiring conversation. We are incredibly pleased that now, finally after all these years, we can all enjoy the work of one of the 'most seminal, iconoclastic and influential architectural groups of the modern age'. The extraordinary influence of the mainly unbuilt 1961-1974 architectural group Archigram is internationally acknowledged. Exhibitions of their work have been touring major institutions worldwide since 1992, they were awarded the RIBA Gold Medal in 2002, and they are recognised influences on many of the world's greatest contemporary architects and buildings. Yet the bulk of their visionary work has to date remained difficult to access, largely stored in domestic conditions or temporary storage. In collaboration with the remaining members of Archigram or their heirs, and funded by a £304,000 grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, a team from the University of Westminster has formed an online, searchable database of all the available works of Archigram for study by architectural specialists and the general public. I have collected few projects below, just to highlight how forward thinking Archigram were, foreseeing many things we enjoy and desire today. For full list of projects, make sure you visit archigram.westminster.ac.uk. Geoff Manaugh of BLDGBLOG has also written a wonderful post on his blog about the project which is a must read. For now, I leave you with 7 fantastic but much less known projects somewhat related to CAN. Holographic Scene Setter Speculative proposal for holographic projection of environments, or virtual reality environment. Part of the Instant City project. I had a holographic scene setter - a light space - switch on/walk around/3D/walk thro'/Hollywood Boulevard in my TV room/Death Valley on my patio/Tahiti in my pad/Laurel and Hardy in the morning/The 'Who' at night ... change film - new environment/switch on/off/there - not there ... what's real/it's observable/it's real when it's there/is it a dream? - a ghost? - a turn-on? ... Holographic ceiling - cloud - rainbow - cloud - people - John (pee on your shoes) - scenery - event - television ... great ... switch on the people/turn on the crowd/bring in the whole scene ... turn off the ceiling. more Media Experiments 1-2, 1968 Light/Sound Workshops: television display system set up as an experiment in multi-channel and multi-media display with streams of images flickering across grouped screens. A far more flexible medium is T.V. which, at the moment, is still normally thought of the single channel box, but which whilst utiliising other media such as film as content allows us far more opportunity for selection. If we then consider T.V. used in display systems monitoring a number of channels concurrently from a variety of sources, both from national and international news and entertainment networks and also from personal close-circuit and video-tape and even generated by computer, we can see what colossal potential there is in the medium. So in the not so distant future we can expect to have to deal with the multi-channel multi-media situation both professionally and as an involved audience in our own homes, and one suspects at times the distinction between producer, and audience may become blurred. more Soft Scene Monitor: MK1, 1968 Exhibit designed for Aftenpostle newspaper and Oslo Architectfornung and exhibited at Kunstneres Hus, Oslo for a prototype home access unit to communications, audio-visual entertainments and information technology. As the Instant City study developed, certain items emerged in particular. First, the idea of a 'soft-scene monitor' - a combination of teaching-machine, audio-visual juke box, environmental simulator, and from a theoretical point of view, a realization of the 'Hardware/Software' debate. more Info Gonks, 1968 Speculative design maquette for educational television glasses and headgear. Use of the 1½-inch television as a built-up pair of spectacles with stereo glasses all wired to headgear receiver: everyman his own on-the-eye and in-the-ear environment. more Cushicle & Suitaloon, 1966 Speculative design for a personal, individual and portable dwelling unit which may be ‘worn’ for transport and unpacked for occupation. The illustrations show the two main parts of the Cushicle unit as they expand out from their unpacked state to the domestic condition. One constituent part is the “armature“ or “spinal“ system. This forms the chassis and support for the appliances and other apparatus. The other major element is the enclosure part which is basically an inflated envelope with extra skins as viewing screens. Both systems open out consecutively or can be used independently. The Cushicle carries food, water supply, radio, miniature projection television and heating apparatus. The radio, TV, etc., are contained in the helmet and the food and water supply are carried in pod attachments. With the establishment of service nodes and additional optional apparatus, the autonomous Cushicle unit could develop to become part of a more widespread urban system of personalized enclosures. more Enviro-Pill, 1969 Speculative proposal for a pill for inducing architecture or virtual and imaginary environments in the mind. more. Electronic Tomato, 1969 Speculative proposal for mobile sensory stimulation device. MANZAK is our latest proposal for a radio-controlled, battery-powered electric automaton. It has on-board logic, optical range-finder, TV camera, and magic eye bump detectors. All the sensory equipment you need for environmental information retrieval, and for performing tasks. Optional extras include response equipment for specific applications and subtasks to your own specification. Direct your business operations, do the shopping, hunt or fish, or just enjoy electronic instamatic voyeurism, from the comfort of your own home. For the great outdoors, get instant vegetable therapy from the new ELECTRONIC TOMATO – a groove gizmo that connects to every nerve end to give you the wildest […]
- The Psychoeconomy War Room Table [Theory] One of the interesting cultural by-products to have emerged from the American assassination of Osama bin Laden is the public's sudden fascination with situation rooms. As noted by Alexia Tsotsis on TechCrunch last week, the photograph of Obama and his national security team taken during the raid has received millions of page views and inspired both serious commentary and dumb meme photoshop tomfoolery. Additionally, given the gravity of the action and the secrecy that allowed it to be executed so seamlessly, the media has revelled in celebrating every minute detail of the planning and management of the operation. I'd been meaning to plug a project proposal by the Argentine artist Gustavo Romano that will be developed at the upcoming Visualizar'11 workshop in Madrid. Considering its mandate, it is undoubtedly the perfect moment to discuss this venture and I think it will serve as a useful point of entry into a related discussion on the visual representation of conflict and power relations. Given the theme for this year's edition of Visualizar is "Understanding Infrastructures", the projects that have been selected for developmentexamine a range of supply chain, consumption and finance-related topics. The above image represents Gustavo Roman's proposed The Psychoeconomy War Room Table (PWRT), a tangible interface for exploring global economic data. PWRT will utilize the open source computer-vision framework driving theReactable Live! musical instrument to create a collaborative workspace for exploring (quantified) international relations. Roman outlines the goals for his project as … try[ing] to display the relationship between two or more countries in the world in terms of some specific social and economic variables. The proposal builds on the metaphor of the table of the War Room, the room where are discussed possible tactical moves in a military confrontation. Using a multitouch surface,reacTIVision and fiducials, persons using the table may choose to place different flags on stage of the global economy and they can visualize the relationships between these countries. We will use data related to flows of assets (goods and financial capital), human flows (migration and tourism), energy flows (fuel and food), information flows (corporate media and alternative media). We will collect the data from public websites like the UN, the IMF, the World Bank, the CIA, etc. I think this is an utterly brilliant idea and look forward to seeing the proof-of-concept interface that Roman and his team prototype next month. Imagine being able to manipulate the contents of the World Bank data catalogue and browse the interdependencies between nations – it would be both engaging and illuminating. Given the project is currently only an elevator pitch, I'll make a point of mentioning the work that emerges when the results of the Visualizar workshop are posted online later this summer. It is worth noting that PWRT is part of Roman's larger Psychoeconomy project, an artistic platform for exploring global issues. For those within striking distance of Madrid, you might consider applying to work on PWRT or any of the other selected projects. Medialab-Prado is accepting applications through June 12, the workshop runs over the second half of June. The still of Dr. Strangelove in the lower right corner of Roman's PWRT collage gets me thinking about how depictions of these strategic 'command' spaces have evolved over the decades. The above image is a still from Joseph L. Mankiewicz's opulent 1963 film Cleopatra that hypothesizes what 'real time naval imaging' might have looked like during the Battle of Actium (31 BCE). For those unfamiliar with the downfall of Mark Antony, the military leader sailed his flotilla into a trap set by his nemesis Octavian (who had obtained vital intelligence from a defecting general). As Antony's naval forces were decimated the strategists remotely monitoring the battle at their 'war room table' set the appropriate ship models aflame. The interesting thing about this fictional case study is—as it is pre-screen—it functions as a tangible interface… …and the scale models of Cleopatra bring us back to the inescapable reference of wargaming. The cleverest of the anonymous internet situation room photo edits was a tight crop of the intensely-focused Obama wielding a Playstation controller alongside a Brigadier General hunched over a laptop; drone mishaps notwithstanding, perhaps this is our caricature of warfare for 2011? The absurd addition of a gaming controller brings to mind a 2006 sound bite by Henry Kissinger where he described the (pre-makeover) White House situation room as "uncomfortable, unaesthetic and essentially oppressive" – in this image, wargaming is pure playbour. I still contend that the most engaging game mechanics that I've encountered is the visualization of empire in Sid Meier's Civilization series. The above screen capture is the city management interface from Civilization V, where you see the players' borders butting up and flowing around those of their neighbours as well as detailed informatics that reveal the yield of the landscape and chart out where expansion will occur. There is sufficient depth in Civ that competing nations are required to develop extremely nuanced trade and diplomatic relations to acquire needed luxury items and natural resources while forging strategic alliances. However, the game kind of falters in failing to represent these complex flows of goods, materials and capital visually – at times it can be quite difficult to determine exactly what is going on. This is why I'm so fascinated by the PWRT as it aspires to provides a handy interface for exploring the global economy as a field of vectors rather than relying on stale geographic representations of borders and trade routes. In Newsgames, Ian Bogost, Simon Ferrari and Bobby Schweizer describe this kind of open engagement as an exploratory graphic that …shows data that is meant to be synthesized by the user independently of the creator's expectations. Both [Edward] Tufte and Benjamin Shneiderman encourage the use of information graphics to offer multiple levels of granularity for maximum flexibility. Tools or controls allow the reader to arrange, filter, or zoom data. Can the complexity of international relations be distilled down to a work surface or game environment? Presumably, but exploring this kind of data can only be as revelatory as the interface it is delivered in. -- About this article: The Psychoeconomy War Room Table (And Other Situational Awareness Vignettes) first appeared on serialconsign.com on 2011-05-11. About the Author: Greg J. Smith a Toronto-based designer and researcher with interests in media theory and digital culture. Extending from a background in architecture, his research considers how contemporary information paradigms affect representational and spatial systems. Greg is a designer at Mission Specialist, blogs at Serial Consign, writes a column on emerging technology for Current Intelligence and is a managing editor of the digital arts publication Vague Terrain. He currently teaches in the CCIT program (University of Toronto/Sheridan College) and at OCAD […]
- Resonate [Events] We are happy to announce that after months of hard work, and even more to come, Resonate Festival has launched it's full site and tickets are now available for purchase. ‘Resonate’ is an initiative by “Magnetic Field B” in collaboration with CreativeApplications.Net and Dom Omladine in Belgrade. It's core aim is to set a new standard in the arts industry by creating a new event platform for inspiration, networking, information, knowledge sharing and education. It brings together distinguished, world class artists, with an opportunity of participating in a forward-looking debate on the position of technology in art and culture. But Resonate is also much more than just a festival, expert seminar or exhibition of visual arts. It is a project broad enough to encompass areas ranging from software engineering to visual arts theory, but also to create a bridge between culturally separated segments of the artistic and intellectual scene through a comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach. Taking place in Belgrade, Serbia from 16th - 17th March 2012, the event will give visitors an overview of current situation in the fields of music, visual arts and digital culture. Guest artists, lecturers and other participants have been chosen to represent the cutting edge of the contemporary creative industry in Europe. Interactivity is the key feature of contemporary communications and as a festival of new media, Resonate will be structured in such a way to reflect this fact on several levels. First of all, that means the interaction between audience and authors, or audience and art forms, as visitors of the festival will be active participants and will have contact with the authors through workshops, lectures, multimedia installations and the music program. - 20 speakers from Europe, Asia and North America - Collaborations with both national and international educational institutions - Talks, workshops, panel discussions, performances and concerts - Day and night programme (DJ Sets, Live Audio/Visual Performances and Concerts) - In the heart of europe, city of history and culture – Belgrade Featuring Nicholas Felton, Josh Nimoy, Jer Thorp, Greg J. Smith, Regine Debatty, Champagne Valentine, Niklas Roy, Benjamin Gaulon, Martial Geoffre-Rouland, Karsten Schmidt, FIELD, LAb[au], Rafaël Rozendaal, United Visual Artists, Written Images, Jürg Lehni, WARP, onedotzero and many more. ...and this is just the beginning. Yet to announce are night event details including 2 headlining acts, audio-visual performances, DJs, workshops, screenings, panels and more. You will not be disappointed! Tickets are now on sale (Only €40.00). Book now and save 50% on the door price. Only available for few weeks and in limited numbers. Dates: 16th - 17th March 2012 Location: Belgrade, Serbia Stay up to date with developments by following us on Facebook | Twitter or Subscribe to […]
- Particles [openFrameworks, Arduino, Events] Particles is the latest installation by Daito Manabe and Motoi Ishibashi currently on exhibit at the Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media [YCAM]. The installation centers around a spiral-shaped rail construction on which a number of balls with built-in LEDs and xbee transmitters are rolling while blinking in different time intervals, resulting in spatial drawings of light particles. This is an art installation which is able to create a visionary beautiful dots pattern of blinking innumerable illuminations floating in all directions on the air. The number of balls with a built-in LED, pass through one after another on the rail “8-spiral shape.” We see this phenomenon like “the light particle float around” because the balls radiate in various timing. The openFrameworks application controls both the release of "particles" as well as their glow based on the information read within the application. The image below shows perlin noise being translated into particles, giving each one glow and position properties. The position of each ball is determined via total of 17 control points on the rail. Every time a ball passes through one of them, the respective ball’ s positional information is transmitted via a built-in infrared sensor. During the time the ball travels between one control points to the next, this position is calculated based on its average speed. The data for regulating the balls’ luminescence are divided by the control point segments and are switched every time a ball passes on a control point. The audiences can select a shape from several patterns floating in aerial space using an interface of the display. The activation of the virtual balls on the screen are determined by the timing which a ball moving on the rail passes through a certain check point on the rail and the speed which is calculated by using average speed values. The sound is generated from the ball positions and the information of LED flash pattern and is played through 8ch speakers. The board inside the ball is an Arduino compatible board based on the original design from Arduino Exhibition page: particles.ycam.jp/en/ Date & Time：March 5 (sat)−May 5 (thu) , 2011 10:00−19:00 Venue: Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media [YCAM] Studio B Admission free Images courtesy of Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media [YCAM] Photos: Ryuichi Maruo […]
- Recent work by Adrien M / Claire B + ‘eMotion’ – Tool for interactive visual performance Adrien M / Claire B put the human body and the center of art and technology and use custom developed tools to serve a timeless visual […]
- The Politics of the New Aesthetic: Electric Anthropology and Ecological Vision Digital culture, for all of its inherent reflexivity, can be surprisingly dumb when it comes to reflecting critically upon itself. However, when it does, ideas mash quickly, and the fast moving meme emerging around The New Aesthetic is a fascinating example (you can literally watch this discussion in real time online right now). Image above: Selective Memory Theatre by Matthias ‘moka’ Dörfelt The current conversation was launched at a panel of the same name, at the SXSW (South by South-West) Interactive conference in Austin a few weeks ago (see here for summary). The panel featured James Bridle, Joanne McNeil, Ben Terrett, Aaron Straup Cope, and Russell Davies, and was given a critical momentum following remarks made by Bruce Sterling in his closing talk at the same event, which he further developed in a Wired article. In the days since Sterling made his comments a swarm of other commentators have continued the discussion, and there are no signs of it stopping yet. The focus of the discussion is an ongoing research project initiated by James Bridle, which primarily takes the form of a tumblr blog: The New Aesthetic. The blog assembles material of all kinds – from CAD generated building facades to the glitches in the stitched photos on Google streetview images, from short clips of iPad manufacturing plants to the fragmented images on broken Kindle screens, from on-set shots of actors wearing computer vision costumes to a mapping of Tesco's corporate organisational sprawl. The suggestion is that there is a new aesthetic to be found in our environment which is in not directly of human design, but comes out of our interactions with machines, and perhaps, from the machines themselves: the subtitle of the SXSW panel was indeed 'Seeing Like Digital Devices'. The individual posts are more or less enjoyable and interesting as the momentary ephemera of a culture and a global economy increasingly determined by the techno-scientific processes of digital production. But is the site any more than a contemporary Wunderkammer? Sterling describes it as 'a gaudy, network-assembled heap', and I wonder how deliberate his use of the term 'heap' is? In an early attempt to describe something like emergence in some systems and organisms, Aristotle stated that 'the totality is not, as it were, a mere heap, but the whole is something besides the parts'. So, does this assemblage of material constitute a 'mere heap', or is there something else, an emerging idea that we can start to discern here? Can we see what the cybernetic ecologist Gregory Bateson would describe as a pattern that connects? Bridle states that the material 'points towards new ways of seeing the world, an echo of the society, technology, politics and people that co-produce them.' For Bruce Sterling, 'the evidence is impossible to refute... modern reality is on display there' and most commentators broadly agree with that – the discussion starts when we ask: Who is doing the seeing? Who hears the echo? What exactly is being pointed at? And just as importantly, how exactly should we theorise the kind of collecting of material that is going on here? Scanning through the blog I think of David Greene (of the sixties avant garde architecture group Archigram), and his quasi-imaginary 'Institute for Electric Anthropology' (ref), which he has used since the early-1970s to talk about the ways in which new technologies and communication networks alter modern life. The NA blog certainly constitutes some kind of electric anthropology, and could even become a department in Greene's 'Invisible University' project? Several other commentators have made connections to the work of earlier twentieth century avant garde art movements. In the panel discussion Joanne McNeil of Rhizome talked about how technology changes perception, referencing the work of Cubists and Futurists. Several others have also asked whether this constitutes (or needs) a manifesto of some kind? Sterling suggests that the NA material is 'like early photography for French Impressionists, or like silent film for Russian Constructivists, or like abstract-dynamics for Italian Futurists.' This all makes some sense, as this is in many ways a classic modernist research project: the material is after all object trouvé, an assemblage of found ready-mades, stuff circulating in the world. Perhaps we should read the tumblr blog as a neo-Dadaist assemblage, a reworking of a Kurt Schwitters Merzbau? Or perhaps it is better to think of it in terms of the kind of contemporary artworks that have a strong curatorial aspect within the art itself? Something like say some of the work of the Otolith Group, or Mark Leckey? Thinking about it as an art project only gets us so far though... let's look at the material a bit more closely... Kurt Schwitters: Merzbau, 1933 The posts tends to fall into one of a few categories (and rarely more than one, interestingly). Some of the material is the unintended side product of digital production processes – glitches and so forth. Some artefacts are the result of the way that we are now marking up and reorganising environments to facilitate machines interactions. Many posts reference human designs which are in some way responding to or mimicking the previous two categories. There is an awful lot of rather mediocre and predictable pixelated, faceted, blurred, stretched etc etc stuff mixed in there. So what are we to make of these categories? Sterling reminds us that 'glitches and corruption artefacts aren’t machine vision', and he is right. But they do, through their very slippage, reveal something about the system, mind and logic that produced them. I am reminded here of the research of William and Gregory Bateson on glitches in humans, animals and plants, where they found clues regarding the role of information and symmetry in evolutionary processes. Regarding the second category, it might of course be argued that humans have always transformed their environments to facilitate the use of tools. For a century now we have put humans second to the needs of the car in our cities, for example, transforming cities beyond recognition in the process. However, there is perhaps something else important to note concerning the way that environments (and indeed human behaviours) are being manipulated to facilitate their recognition by machines today. For example, Rev Dan Catt has noted, regarding the claim that much of the aesthetic seems retro (Sterling: 'retro ’80s graphics are sentimental fluff'), that this is a reflection of the current state of CV: 'or put another way, current computer vision can probably “see” computer graphics from around 20-30 years ago ... because machine/computer vision isn’t very advanced, to exist with machines in the real world we need to mark up the world to help them see.' Ultimate Puma 700 - Programmable Universal Machine for Assembly (1970s) - wikipedia (image) It is perhaps the third category of objects that are simply designed 'art pieces' that are the most difficult to think about as a new aesthetic. Is this just simplistic mimetic iconography, or does it represent a more interesting attempt to empathise with machines? Still, many commentators do want to find (or initiate) a serious attempt by artists and designers to engage with these questions. Kyle Chayka argues that 'The New Aesthetic, as it exists in drone technology and Google Maps imagery and data surveillance, represents a ground-level change in our existence. Instead of shocking society, New Aesthetic art must respond to a shocked society and turn the changes we’re confronting into critical artistic creation.' Bridle has joked that if he had known how influential the site would become, he would have chosen a better name. Yet in many respects the name is just right, and has raised the stakes in an important way. How we think about NA depends very much on how we understand the word 'aesthetic'. There is a weak sense of 'aesthetics', which means something like a style or a look, and to be sure, it seems that much of the material on the actual blog, as well as much of the commentary, is concerned with this reading: what kind of 'look' is emerging, what extent is it intentionally designed,what extent is it the result of frictions between different systems and different visual logics, etc etc.. all interesting enough. There is however another stronger meaning to the word 'aesthetic', which refers to a tradition of philosophical thought concerned with understanding how it is that we perceive and have knowledge of the world. In this sense aesthetics is inseparable from, and perhaps unites, epistemology (philosophy of knowledge) and ontology (philosophy of being). In an important way, the question whether we can identify a new aesthetics is then not just a stylistic question of appearances, but is also a philosophical question concerning technologies of perception and production in the world. Clearly, much of the discussion around NA above has aspects of both senses of aesthetics. However, once Sterling stated that 'The New Aesthetic is a genuine aesthetic movement with a weak aesthetic metaphysics', it was only a matter of time before philosophers descended... Ian Bogost and Greg Borenstein are amongst two of the commentators who have responded to NA from an Object Oriented Ontology (OOO) perspective. I always have a degree of sympathy with this position. OOO thinkers typically try to deal with both the reality of objects, and their extended relationships in the world. Drawing upon the work of Bruno Latour in particular, they see the world as an extended horizontal network of actors, where the actors are anything from people to machines to atoms to, well, anything. I agree with those who think that OOO is an approach that can help us to think about NA. I concur when Bogost calls for 'philosophical lab equipment that helps us grasp, as best we can, the experience of objects themselves', and am curious when Borenstein suggests that 'the New Aesthetic is actually striving towards a fundamentally new way of imagining the relations between things in the world.' But when Bogost wonders why focus on computers, asking 'why couldn't a group of pastry chefs found their own New Aesthetic, grounded in the slippage between wet and dry ingredients?' it becomes clear to me what is missing in most of the NA discussion (and indeed much Latourian thought) so far: politics, economics... There is of course a reason why we are talking about computers and not pastry, and it is not because pastry chefs are too lazy to get their stuff together on tumblr. The point is that digital production technologies have become fundamental to the processes of global capitalism, in terms of production, in terms of finance, in terms of media, in terms of surveillance, and indeed, are also increasingly central in anti-capitalist movements and post-capitalist alternatives. To reflect upon a possible aesthetics of digital technology at the beginning of the twenty-first century is then in large part to explore the contradictory internal relations of global capitalism itself. Yes, I know that we could draw a network of actors that connects pastry to millers to farmers to wheat fields and water tables and clouds in one direction and to consumers and advertising and so on in the other. Yes, we can show how a cake ultimately networks and internalises all of these relations and more. Nonetheless, pastry simply is not active in reorganising global production today in the same way that computers are. Cakes just do not express so directly and clearly, and at the same time obscure so thoroughly, the techno-scientific processes that are transforming, in simultaneously progressive and appalling ways, life on Earth. It is regarding these questions that the discussion on new aesthetics must now, to some extent turn to attend. It is quite staggering just how apolitical much of the NA discussion has become. This is despite the fact that Bruce Sterling opened his talk at SXSW with a series of comments regarding the economic and ecological crisis, and the Occupy movement. However, he did not go on to develop these questions in relation to his later discussion of NA … he left that work to us. I suggest that we start with the important footnote at the beginning of the chapter on 'Machinery and Large Scale Industry' in Capital, where Karl Marx states 'technology reveals the active relation of man to nature, the direct process of the production of his life, and thereby it also lays bare the process of the production of the social relations of his life, and of the mental conceptions that flow from these relations.' Commentators on NA would do well to reflect upon the range of relations that technology mediates for Marx here. Technology is in this conception radically political, and radically ecological. Amongst the many questions we might ask of the NA material then, are questions like: What are the means of production embodied in these objects? What is the division of labour (between humans, and between humans, machines, and other actors)? What is the difference between material and immaterial labour in these processes? Ultimately, for both Bateson and Marx, technology and aesthetics are ecologically related: this is the pattern that connects. Jon Goodbun Jon's interests range across a network of architecture, process philosophy, radical cybernetics, urban political ecology, and the natural and cognitive sciences. He sometimes refers to himself as an metropolitan tektologist, for want of a better description. His work focuses on near and medium term future scenarios. You can find out more about Jon at rheomode.org.uk or follow on twitter @jongoodbun. The Space Beyond Me by Julius von Bismarck and Andreas Schmelas image source: Invisible […]
- F**k You, Buddy [Events] F**k You, Buddy is a theatrical performance, fusion of “game theory” and the dramaturgical development in computer games in the last decade. Created by recoil performance group from Denmark, F**k You, Buddy is a physical performance in combination of interactive video scenography. With graphics and choreography inspired by the totalitarian collectivism in games like “Lem ming’s” to the anarchistic indi vidualism in “GTA”, “Fuck you Buddy” is a performance for the sake of the game, a game about winning at any cost and about being born inherently selfish.....or? Premiere February 22nd, 2010 in Dansehallerne, Copenhagen, Denmark. recoil is a Copenhagen based performance group. The group was formed in 2003 by choreographer Tina Tarpgaard and composer Pelle Skovmand, with the intention of establishing collaboration between artists across genre and borders. Through dance, live video and electronic sound, we create performances that aim to explore technology as an equal and interactive partner to the performing artist’ Know other events we should feature? Tell us […]
Posted on: 22/05/2011
- Senior Digital Designer at CLEVER°FRANKE
- Interaction Designer at Carlo Ratti Associati
- Creative Technologist at Deeplocal
- HTML / CSS Developer at Resn
- Climate Service Data Visualiser at FutureEverything
- Web Developer at &Associates
- Creative Technologist at Rewind FX
- Coder to collaborate with Agnes Chavez
- Data Scientist at Seed Scientific
- Data Engineer at Seed Scientific
- Design Technologist at Seed Scientific
- Creative Technologist, The ZOO at Google