[-empyre-] ambiguous artistic strategies & critical engineering

César Baio cesarbaio at hotmail.com
Mon Feb 13 09:39:53 EST 2012

Sorry for the delayed response. I would like to comment on some of the issues that have gone through the past posts.

Simon Biggs:

Whilst the concept of the black-box is valuable and allows us to structure our knowledge of things it isn't possible to be literate in a domain where everything is black-boxed. You need to have an in depth understanding of the content of at least some of the boxes. In the case of computing this means a competency in programming. Without this knowledge computers are going to appear as magical devices, not as writing instruments.


One of the issues I am working is how much should be the degree (and the kind) of technical intervention in the artistic practices. To address this issue, for me, it's necessary to understand the relationship between processes of art and methods of engineering in media art practice.
I believe there are issues that can only emerge when one has a certain level of technical knowledge. However, there are a number of others that do not really depend on our know how to make a device. But in both cases it's necessary have what Flusser calls "techno-imagination", which can be defined as a systemic (or complex) thinking that can allow us to see through hidden layers of the device (cognitive, political, epistemological, and several others).

However, the technical knowledge (or the methods used in engineering) can help 
when one want to create an apparatus as a response to another apparatus (or one aspect of it) like many artists have made. 
On this topic, I do not find an absurd to think that at sometime the technical  knowledge will be something that will be part of basic education. Nowadays programing and electronic are taught in art schools. Here in Brazil, besides media theory, I teach Processing, Arduino and OpenFrameworks for audiovisual students and I know about many other experiences like this in Brazil and other countries.

Gabriel Menotti:
For instance, I wonder how César managed to include his insights about
video and digital technologies into his thesis. Have you actively
deployed your argument in contrast to Manovich’s? In order to do so,
did you need to look for further references besides your own personal
understanding of the technology? How much of your background had to be
made explicit in the text?

I agree with Davin Heckmanm when he says that one of the most important aspects of contemporary techno-culture is the sharing of information and collective knowledge. Every time I have to update my technical knowledge in relation to what is being created and made available on the networks that I belong. All the time, this process brings me other concepts of technology (such as of art). This process is very important to my research.

I think this technological background, which is in constant motion, appears throughout the thesis, but only sometimes it needs to become explicit. This happens, for example, when I discuss topics such as the relationship between digital and video or simulation and emulation or synthetic image.
Actually, I agree with most of the arguments of Manovich, so I did not want to criticize his proposals. However, I believe that even if his arguments are valid, the video is much closer to digital than the film and can be a more interesting entry point for thinking about digital today. To try to show that I explore the relationships between technology and aesthetics aspects of digital and video. But this is only the entry point of some of the arguments that I really develop on my dissertation. 

Date: Fri, 10 Feb 2012 09:26:21 +0100
From: davinheckman at gmail.com
To: empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
Subject: Re: [-empyre-] ambiguous artistic strategies & critical engineering

Having worked in a field of criticism where a lot of the theory originates with artists/programmers, I'd have to say that there is some value in being committed to a sort of naive pluralism.  I agree with Simon that literacy requires more than a mere superficial grasp of language, I would also like to suggest that literacy cannot require a comprehensive grasp of language.  A great poet, for instance, does not need to master grammar or etymology, in some cases, the poet can do everything necessary with an appreciation for the sounds of langauge.  Also, a poet does not necessarily need to worry about sound, but could accomplish much with an understanding of a particular form or structure.  

With technical systems, we are talking about much more than computer programming.  In some cases, a tight focus on programmerly language comes at the expense of the larger cultural scripts within which the programmed object operates.  That we are rapidly developing deep habits with regards to mobile devices also means that an aspect of understanding how computers "work" in a broad sense has a great deal to do with the ubiquity of the commodity, the politics of hidden labor, the absent-mindedness with which humans make the abysmal leap from being tool using animals to being subroutines of automated systems.  Which, ironically, indicates the need for the kind of literacy we are talking about: Understanding the logic and function of complex systems.

However, we might also need to reexamine the old critical model, pull out the supressed aspects of this tradition, and guard ourselves against the fetishized aspects.  The critical tradition has always been rooted in a process of dialogue and a social contract.  Yet, in the spirit of the Enlightenment, we tend to individualize critical accomplishments, hanging author names on specific ideas, and implying that critical understanding is a product of individual genius.  Yet, the entire time, these great works were accompanied by the production of countless creative works, the development of archives, indexes, face-to-face conversations, written arguments, a system of publication, norms for documentation, and a university committed to fostering this kind of activity.  

My abilities as a computer programmer do not go beyond basic html, some dabbling with action script, fidgeting with databases, and a committed curiosity to what other people can do and how they do it.  Thus, I am utterly dependent on the artists' willingness to share, access to free information about the way technologies work, a collegial community willing and able to correct me when I am wrong, the software developed by others, the machines by still more, etc.  In other words, I am hopelessly dependent on a vast network of people to do the work that I do, and the work that I do is hopelessly inadequate to the task of the constituent parts.  I am not advocating a return to Kant, but it strikes me that critical thinking still parallels Kant's understanding of the role of philosophy within the realm of knowledge: The Lower Faculty, not expert in any field, thus enabled to make more comprehensive claims about human experience.

What we have today that Kant didn't have, is broader access to information and greater means for embarking on the sort of philosophical discourse that the University enabled.  But a major stumbling block is our investment in individuality, which pushes us unecessarily towards self-sufficiency as a pre-requisite for competence.  However, it is our self-inusfficiency that requires us to build human systems, communities, which enables collective competence.  I see something promethean in this.  Technology offers each of us the hope of greater agency.  It exploits one concept of humanism inherited from the enlightenment, that of individuality, to secure our dependency on a technical system that is superior to us (Notice that we are warned not to let human interests interfere in "the economy" for fear that it will stifle "growth" and "innovation.")  Further, this reinforces the sort of limited literacy that Simon warns us about (Use the stuff, don't make it.  Develop a cargo-cult view.)  All the while, the actual achievement of human agency via collective effort is hidden from us, doled out in regulated doses, administered by managers, filtered by consciousness industries.  It is as though the gods are withholding from us the secret of fire, hiding us from what we could be, channelling our communal impulses into wage labor, football games, and, when things get really bad, political theatre.  But unlike the Promethean myth from the Enlightenment era, the power that is withheld from us is that of collective effort....  it's not the individual will...  it's the ability to cooperate, share, distribute, network.

To bring it back to the point: The ideal state is a progressively improving critical knowledge of the way things work.  The obstacle, perhaps, is the impression that this critical knowledge needs to be individual while the object of study is complex, mutable, and alien.  The workaround is communities that contribute large packets of incomplete information, coordinate and depug the information, and create shared resources for critical thinking.  The goal, maybe, is to reclaim the commons, the human subject, the good life without interference from the accidental inheritances from the Enlightenment.


On Fri, Feb 10, 2012 at 12:17 AM, gh hovagimyan <ghh at thing.net> wrote:

On Feb 9, 2012, at 10:18 AM, Simon Biggs wrote:

In the case of computing this means a competency in programming.

gh responds:

There's a crossover point between computing and physical perception.  Perhaps starting with Pascal and his discovery of the x,y matrix.

Creating an abstraction and then turning it into a program to run on a computer is a logical process. The core artistic question is what you

choose for your starting point in the real world that you then turn into an abstraction(algorithm). I tend to start with an art work I'd like to make or a series of perceptions

I'd like to explore or convey in the digital world.  Why choose digital? Because the chain of logic in the process of abstraction allows me to examine all the

perceptual components.  Indeed, once you are freed from the template of film or linear narrative or Rennaissance perspective or creating physical objects

you can create new vehicles for sensations and emotions in the digital realm.


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