25 Aug

Visible Evidence

I’m sitting in my hotel room in Montreal after attending the Visible Evidence conference.  It’s been years since I’ve attended this conference, and I’m glad to be back in the fold.  It’s really a quite sophisticated gathering in many respects.  While the discourse on new media leaves something to be desired, the participants are dealing with many of the issues that confront people working in new media: indexicality, reality, ethics, arhives, etc.  I found the sincerety of the discourse at the conference to be refreshing.  More than many conferences, it seems as though there is a common project between academics, filmmakers and artists.  The role of documentation in a culture obsessed with documentation is a theme that demands many voices, and I commend the openness of the disciplines involved for accepting that multiplicity.

Over the past several days, I discovered new connections in my own work as well.  First, I realized that the paper I gave was too concerned with criticizing art work for not acknowledging connections.  I don’t want to be one of those people who criticize because they have no other way of participating in a discourse.   The work is interesting as experiment.  All I intend to do is place the work in a different context – a larger context of urbanism and spatial consumption.  The idea that artists are beginning from the same assumptions as commercial developers shouldn’t come as a shock: we’re all building on an existing culture.  The goals are certainly different, but that doesn’t detract from the important lines that connect the different aspects of cultural production and consumption. 

In the paper, I argue for something called cartographic navigation, a practice of consumption used to communicate the "authenticity" of space.  I argue that it is in the movement (or play) of space accompanied by the personal documentation of that space, where place is communicated.  This is not the only way place is communicated, but trends in design suggest that it is a common method of communicating experience and ownership of public space.  By looking at these artworks, we can better understand what is happening in new consumer spaces that are quickly appropriating these methods of communicating place.

08 Aug

Mixed Use in LA

The Beverly Center in LA might get a $125M makeover to turn into a mixed-use development.  As a means of competing with the neighboring Grove and Hollywood and HIghland, the Beverly Center needs to create some sort of connection to the city.  I’ve often referred to the BC as the best example of placeless mall building in the city of LA.  It’s a miracle that it managed to completely cut itself off from such a lively street.

But with the trend in urban development towards mixed use or lifestyle centers, the indoor mall has hardly a leg to stand on.

03 Aug

Question Concerning Technology

In Heidegger’s The Question Concerning Technology, he makes the distinction between instrumental technology and techne.  The current concept of technology is anthropological or instrumental, in that it is a means to an end, it accomplishes something.  That, according to Heidegger, will get us nowhere. 

So long as we represent technology as an instrument, we remain transfixed in the will to master it (337).

This will to master technology is specific to previous forms of technology wherein there was more of a relationship between the technology and the element it mastered.  For instance, a wind turbine had a direct relationship to wind.  With modern technology, we abstract the physicality and process of wind and produce machines that can master it, thus creating a standing-reserve.  We transform the objects in the world into a standing-reserve, to possibly be used in the future.  He suggests that we also become part of the standing-reserve.

After re-reading this essay, it occured to me that he is describing quite well the way in which we willingly give ourselves over to the standing-reserve of the network to be used for this purpose or that.  Modern technology illiminates objectness for the sake of the standing-reserve. 

This danger attests itself to us in two ways.  As soon as what is unconcealed no longer concerns man even as object, but exclusively as standing-reserve, and man in the midst of objectlessness is nothing but the orderer of the standing reserve, then he comes to the very brink of a precipitous fall; that is, he comes to the point where he himself will have to be taken as standing-reserve” (332).

So, man orders things.  Man puts files into place and spends his time searching for them.  Is this not the majority of what takes place within networks?  But, what is distinct about contemporary digital technology is the sense of freedom that corresponds with the standing-reserve.  Is it possible that agency is revealed in the standing-reserve?

03 Aug

Realism Lacks Presence

HaaaaaaaaaaaaCommunicating the body at a distance.  Seems to be all the rage these days.  This project R*Emote Mirror sets up a mirror in New York and another in Seoul.  A full length mirror in each site shows the outline of the remote person’s reflection.  Funny, how video images don’t seem to cut it anymore.  Realism lacks presence.  Abstract representation, or avatar subjectivity, communicates a sense of presence and individuality within the technology.

02 Aug

Human-Centered Design Considered Harmful

Don Norman’s rethinking of Human-centered design.  He proposes that activity-centered design is in fact more useful as it avoids the trap of having to accomodate all user feedback.  Tools don’t adapt to the user, users often adapt to tools.  And this, he points out is not always a bad thing. 

Yes, we all know of disastrous attempts to introduce computer
systems into organization where the failure was a direct result of a
lack of understanding of the people and system. Or was it a result of
not understanding the activities? Maybe what is needed is more
Activity-Centered Design, maybe failures come from a shallow
understanding of the needs of the activities that are to be supported.
Note too that in safety-critical applications, a deep knowledge of the
activity is fundamental. Safety is usually a complex system issue, and
without deep understanding of all that is involved, the design is apt
to be faulty.

In short, he asserts that giving people want they want isn’t always the most innovate approach to design.  Consider teaching.  Do we give students what we want, or do we give them what they might not know they want?  There’s a fine line here that may be clarified with ACD.

Link: Human-Centered Design Considered Harmful.

01 Aug

Interface Realisms

In Søren Pold’s article "Interface Realisms" in the new issue of Postmodern Culture, he suggests that the interface is now a central aesthetic form conveying digital information of all kinds.

"This circumstance is simultaneously trivial, provocative, and far reaching – trivial because the production, reproduction, distribution and reception of digital art increasingly take place at an interface; provocative because it means that we should start seeing the interface as an aesthetic form in itself that offers a new way to understand digital art in its various guises, rather than as a functional tool for making art (and doing other things); and finally, far-reaching in providing us with the possibility of discussing contemporary reality and culture as an interface culture" (2).

The article begins with an interesting look at the history of HCI, including a brief reference to Alan Kay,  Engelbart’s Online System NLS and Sutherland’s Sketchpad.

There’s a great mention of my new favority acronym, WIMP (Windows, Icons, Menus, and Pointers) and a few other references worth noting.

He then delves into a lengthy discussion of three texts: a computer game (Max Payne), a net.game modification (Jodi’s SOD) and a software artwork (auto-illustrator).  He makes the point that in each, there is attention paid to the interface and the possibilities for critical engagement.  He suggests that these functions move beyond the medium in which they originate.

An interesting point from Frieder Nake, one of the pioneers of computer graphics, is that computers are an instrumental medium that we use as a tool while communicating with it as a medium.  He runs with this idea and suggests that "we can see the computer as a new kind of machine that mediates the instrumental or functional and functionalizes the representational medium" (28).