[-empyre-] First Theme and Guests - the Thickness of the Screen

José Carlos Silvestre kasetaishuu at gmail.com
Thu Sep 3 02:53:08 EST 2009

Well, let me kick-start this discussion. Forgive me if I start with a
message too long:

I would like to consider the "thickness of the screen" primarily as a
disclosure of the materiality of the medium; and connect this to theme of
the error, which both I and Menkman have, through different paths, paid
particular attention to. Two key concerns, first off, are the materiality
and the specificity of media. By materiality I mean that media devices are,
after all, physical machines; under specificity I am grouping both the
particularities embedded in the physical device - which are often inherited
from previous machines, and also often result of arbitrary engineering
decisions - and the conventions around its human usage which define a
"normal" mode of operation. I like to think "specificity" according to the
genesis of the technical object as described by Simondon, or the ontogenetic
machinic phila of Deleuze and Guattari.

There is a paradox in speaking of the materiality of a medium, since media
are, by definition, marked by abstraction. A medium device, in layman's
terms, means a device which produces, stores, transmits, or provides access
to content of some kind; and this content is informational, or immaterial.
In more materialistic terms, this means that:

1. A medium device is such that part of its pattern of operation can be
abstracted from the overall functioning of the machine. In the case of
cinema, this is a pattern of light and color projected onto a screen - this
is only a small part of the overall physical operation of the projecter,
only a small part of the physical operation of the camera, etc. But it is a
small part to which we would like to grant a certain degree of autonomy and
consider on its own right;

2. This abstraction is crucial. Of course, the experience of a medium is not
limited to the transmission of content, and nowhere is this more evident
than in cinema - it has been a truism at least since Adorno that audiences
seem more interested in the movie theater than in the movies themselves.
Nevertheless, this abstraction of a pattern of operation plays a central,
organizing role over the general functioning of the media system.

This abstraction, which characterizes media as such, is decided by the
specificity of the media devices implicated. Not only is part of the
physical operation of the machine foregrounded and part occluded, etc, but
the audience is also trained to filter out and interpret a message from the
physical processes it witnesses. Specificity, therefore, converges towards
the possibility of its disappearance, which is also the disappearance of any
experience of materiality as such.

But something can go wrong: film rolls burn, computers crash or freeze,
typography is rendered illegible. In these situations - which I will broadly
call "error conditions," aware of the fact that this label might sometimes
have inappropriate connotations - the audience can no longer abstract the
pattern of information that it expects, and is then forced to look into the
medium device as a machine. These are also situations in which operations
that are usually hidden from the viewer are regurgitated into plain sight,
or that we can no longer filter out the effects that we usually ignore.
Materiality - the thickness of the screen - is only possible in error
conditions, that is to say, in conditions that impede the normal,
abstracted-out experience of the medium - and this must take place,
moreover, as a detour or a deviation from "normal" modes of operation.

I hope there's enough flamebait in there. ^^

On Tue, Sep 1, 2009 at 10:26 PM, Gabriel Menotti
<gabriel.menotti at gmail.com>wrote:

> The obscured dimension of audiovisual circuits we are going to explore
> this week is the /thickness of the screen/.
> The first meaning of this expression is quite literal. We normally
> consider screens to be mere surfaces, composed of only height and
> width. We talk about their area, aspect ratio and resolution, as if
> these characteristics were all that mattered to the structure.
> However, to hold an image, the screen must also have some density –
> and in order to be dense, the screen must be thick. A work that
> illustrate this in a very poetic way is Guy Sherwin’s performance
> /Paper Landscape/.[1]
> But the thickness of the screen implies in a metaphor as well: it
> likewise means the space that is produced by or contained within the
> image – for example, the setting of the original recording, in which
> camera, director and crew have once been present. This could also be
> an appropriate paradigm to analyze digital images, which, from a
> trivial structural-materialistic perspective, are just manifestations
> of the computer physical and logical architectures.
> In the debate, we are going to give more attention to this latter
> meaning of the expression. To discuss it, our first three guests are
> specialists in computer imagery – either pre-planned and programmed,
> either contingent and accidental. In their works and research, the
> space within the system is revealed in different ways. They are:
> Rosa Menkman
> Every technology has its own accidents. Rosa Menkman is a Dutch
> visualist who focuses on visual artifacts created by accidents in
> digital media. The visuals she makes are the result of glitches,
> compressions, feedback and noise. Although many people perceive these
> accidents as negative experiences, Rosa emphasizes their positive
> consequences. By combining both her practical as well as an academic
> background, she merges her abstract pieces within a grand theory
> artifacts (a glitch studies), in which she strives for new forms of
> conceptual synesthesia between sound and video. She has have shown my
> work at festivals like Haip (Ljubljana), Cimatics (Brussels), Video
> Vortex (Amsterdam) Pasofest (Ankara) and Isea 2009 (Belfast), and
> collaborated on art projects together with Alexander Galloway,
> Govcom.org, Goto80 and the internet art collective Jodi.org. In 2009
> she finished her master thesis (on digital glitch) under the
> supervision of Geert Lovink, and started a PhD at the KHM (on the
> subject of Artifacts).
> Jose Carlos Silvestre
> José Carlos Silvestre is an Engineer in the Telecommunications field
> by the University of Brasilia - Brazil and is currently pursuing a
> M.A. degree in the Catholic University of Sao Paulo with a
> dissertation on the aesthetics of error in the digital arts. As an
> artist, he has participated in exhibitions and festivals in Europe and
> Latin America, such as ISEA, the E-Poetry Festival, Vivo Arte.Mov, and
> the Biennals of Seville - Spain and Yucatan - Mexico.
> Scott Draves
> Scott Draves (Spot) is a software artist and VJ based in New York and
> San Francisco. He holds a PhD in Computer Science by Carnegie Mellon
> University and is involved in the free software community. His
> award-winning work is permanently hosted on MoMA.org, and has appeared
> in Wired and Discover magazines, the Prix Ars Electronica, the
> O’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference, and on the main dance-floor
> at the Sonar festival in Barcelona. His last project, the evolving
> painting HiFiDreams, is permanently installed in the lobby of Google's
> headquarters.
> Scott might be a little off the discussion until the weekend, because
> right now he is preparing a symphonic live presentation of his Dreams
> in High Fidelity animation – to be held on Thursday, in Brooklyn. You
> can check for more information about it in his blog. [2]
> (Other guests are to be announced soon)
> Cheers!
> Menotti
> [1] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n6RZi_Nzyho
> [2] http://draves.org/blog/archives/000632.html
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre
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