[-empyre-] old media cycles to new: Signal Culture and Jason Bernagozzi

B. Bogart ben at ekran.org
Sat Feb 14 13:16:26 AEDT 2015


Thanks for your close reading Murat, I'll respond inline...

On 15-02-11 11:04 AM, Murat Nemet-Nejat wrote:
> <snip> as I see it, there is a contradiction in your analysis when 
> applied to computers as a tool. Film has a well defined place in 
> society. One either goes to the theatre or sits in front of TV or 
> your lap top or your cell phone, you name it, to watch it. But 
> computers as tools are all pervasive, affecting every activity of 
> human behavior. It is no wonder the term "ecology" has entered the 
> language in relation to digital tools. Your idea seems to fit when 
> working against a language/style/convention within an industry; but 
> how can you do so when the tool in question is not really a tool;
> but a technological system of thought, of calculation (algorithm, as
> I see it, is not a tool but a system) that has incredibly
> promiscuous areas of application? Don't you constantly have to
> create "sub-sytems" to isolate yourself, to gain some air to perform
> your subverting act?

Indeed you are right that computers are highly general in a way that a
hammer may not be. I think there are two issues here, the first is the
sense of a tool as existing for a specific purpose vs a tool being
general purpose. The second is the granularity of the description, i.e.
most tools are made by, or composed of, other tools (that is tools as
systems). I'll begin with generalism. I think this has a lot less to do
with the actual technology and more to do with the cultural practises
that constrain its use. A hammer is meant to hit nails, but it could
also be used to kill someone, or pull up weeds (with the claw), or even
test for studs in a wall. The affordances of the design of the hammer
certainly facilitate particular use, but in my examples above those same
affordances are perfectly suitable for other uses not intended by the
designer. I think of tools as any arrangement of matter or energy that
has utility in a particular use context, the degree of generality does
not change the toolness of the tool. All tools are systems because they
are meant to create relations, at least between the user and the world.

Thus, I think its not the technology in isolation that determines
generality, but the interaction between the technology and the context
of its use. Film is both a set of technologies and a media. When you
speak of it being presented in a living-room, a theatre, or on a phone,
I think you are speaking more about the cultural practises (filming,
viewing, etc.) that formed around the 'original' technology (e.g. film
cameras, celluloid, etc.). Film stays film only because the cultural
practises that have become dominant stay (somewhat) the same, despite
the underlying technology changing significantly.

Then there is the question of granularity, where we tend to consider a
set of technologies as a unified whole, even though it's composed of
individual components. A hammer is made of the head and the handle, and
each offers different affordances and potential uses. The head on its
own may be good enough for pulling weeds, but not very suitable for
hammering nails. A 'film' camera is composed of a lens, and a sensor,
and a number of processors that deal with transforming the raw
information from the sensor into a sequence of images.

Indeed everything has become a computer, from cars to house-hold
appliances. Each provides its own physical affordances to emphasize
particular use, but the underlying technology is more general.

Another interesting question is why computers are so general. I expect
it's because they allow very complex relationships between abstract symbols.

> In other words, don't you have to achieve a certain amount of
> invisibility to function as an artist?

This seems related to representational vs nonrepresentational arts.
Indeed invisibility is highly useful in creation the illusion of
objectivity, but is this the aim of all artists? From my M.Sc. Thesis,
MAM was my thesis project, Memory Association Machine
(http://www.ekran.org/ben/wp/2007/self-other-organizing-structure-1-2007/):

"For a time I considered my interest in the system acting beyond my
intentions as a removal of myself — a removal of my intention from the
system. In this attempt I was instituting software mechanisms that more
deeply ingrained my intention in MAM. This removal was an attempt to
remove my "hand" from the work. My intention shifted from the design of
the system’s external properties to the design of the interface between
the context and the system. This effort moved to a different level,
rather than removed, my influence over the system."

> As usual, a brilliant post. Thank you. By the way, my essay /The 
> Peripheral Space of Photography/ deals exactly with how photography 
> gradually realized, achieved its own independence in its early years
>  as a medium against the onslaught of experts, "art critics" who saw
>  it as a weaker sister of painting, consequently, as a medium of 
> representation. These presumptions never died down. /The Peripheral 
> Space/ is an extended review (later published as a book) of The 
> Metropolitan Museum exhibition "The Waking Dream" on the first 
> hundred years of photography. The curators of this exhibition heavily
> framed almost every one of several hundred amazing photographs in it.
> My essay discusses how these frames undercut and go against the
> nature of the experience one has looking at them. The essay discusses
> what that experience is and how it defines the nature of photography
> as an independent medium totally different from paint. <snip>

Thank you for your kind words Murat. What do you think of the difficulty
in electronic media arts acceptance within dominant contemporary art?
Robotics, electronics, video, etc. all started around the same time in
the 1960s, so why is video more accepted as contemporary art? I would
argue that the stability and dominance of practises that made video a
medium (rather than just electrical technology applied in an art
context) allowed it to be more accepted, partially because of the
stability of the practises, and also because of the industrial support
of video being used outside of art. Perhaps "electronic media art" is
not a media at all, as it lacks the kind of dominance and stability in
practises around it of video.

Ben


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