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Re: <eyebeam><blast> Art and the attention economy

Mathew Slotover wrote:
>OK, well this is exactly where I disagree. I usually see the computer 
>as a tool, not an art form. I use mine for writing, accounts, graphic
>design, image manipulation etc - so what? I could do any of these
>things using different tools and the end result would be similar, if a 
>lot more time-consuming.
It is completely OK to see and use the computer simply as a tool, but it
is also important to recognise that it can also be a medium. This is an
important distinction. A tool is an element used in a medium, like a
pencil for writing, where the medium is language in its written form,
and further contexts, which themselves become part of the medium, such
as publishing, printing, etc. In this sense tools such as typewriters
and computers also become tools contributing to the medium. The medium
itself can be defined in terms of the potential set of tools it employs,
the nature of how form and content interact and, perhaps most
importantly, its social placement and context (eg: the world of
publishing and reading). The same can be said for the theatre, the
visual arts, etc. The computer can therefore, as you rightly suggest, be
used as a tool in any medium.

However, what I am suggesting is that it is possible to use computers in
other ways, where rather than being a component in a medium they are the
medium. Whilst in an earlier post I stated that digital art and web
based art are not necessarily the same thing I would like to refine that
and say that when digital art is placed on the web then we are
approaching something like a unified medium...where the computer is
intrinsic and indispensable during the production, diffusion and
consumption of a work. The intrinsic and indispensable character of the
computer to any particular aspect of a work needs to be analysed if you
are to recognise this.

>And this is fine, interesting even, though not my area of expertise. So 
>you're saying these artists' works are about the computer and its
>processes etc. I still don't see why they should be 'unrecognisable to
>traditional art discourse' - because gallery-goers and art critics >don't
>know what 'parsing' is? If so, I agree - but isn't that a bit like
>saying the art world cannot understand an artist who makes work about
>certain intricacies of molecular biology because they lack the
>discourse? Surely there's just some kind of category mistake going on
I am not saying that these artists works are only about computing, but
that in their involvement with this technology, placing it as central
and essential to their practice, these artists address issues that arise
directly from the field of computing theory. The example of parsing was
used as it is something essential to computing and artists such as
jodi.org are playing directly with how this works as a means to produce
their texts. They do this possibly because (I worry a little here about
placing a meaning on their work they do not intend, but what the hell)
through using computers and having to deal with the way in which
computers radically relativise both content and how content maps to
expression (the arbitrariness I refered to previously) they have
realised how this impacts on the production and consumption of texts.

This does not imply either a rarefied involvement in detail nor a
hermetic discourse. In fact I think you would find that there are far
more people on this planet addressing issues of computing than there are
addressing issues of art. Personally, I find the space created when
addressing the two together is richer than either alone. I would also
extend this to the combination of art and genetics and many other
marriages of traditionally disinct knowledge areas. In a sense artists
who are involved in such discourses are attempting to reconnect an art
that has become hermetic and distant from life, as it is lived and
experienced, with life and all that this implies. There is no doubt that
issues concerning the environment, genetics, computing, communications
technology, the global versus local economy, etc are the major issues of
our day, and those artists who directly address any of these, combined
with high levels of artistic skill, knowledge and passion, will
reconnect elements that have become disconnected from one another. In
this sense such artists are acutely political in their motives, even
where this is not obviously apparent in the work itself.

That such approaches and content are unrecognisable to traditional art
discourses is not due to their being hermetic, but rather due to the
navel-gazing nature of those art discourses you seek to defend.

Much of contemporary art criticism is not equipped to deal with such
hybrid strategies, as your position shows. Your lack of understanding of
what the computer is, and of the impact it has and will have on society
as a function of that nature, reveals an inability to address such
issues. A lot of theory and criticism I read today is almost surreal in
its disconnectedness from things, arising, as I see it, from an
ignorance of what something might actually be. Such writing is better
addressed to the absurdities of astrology (for example) than the very
real issues opened up through astronomy. This is sad, as artists, and
those who concern themselves with art, have a lot to say that is both
practical and essential to science and the humanities. When it is
announced that astonomers have detected red-shift patterns that allow us
to measure the size of the universe, as well as its age...or physicists
publish results detailing the existence of a smallest particle, thus
suggesting a solution to Zeno's paradox as an aside (see note at
bottom)...then these are issues that should excite artists just as much
as Galileo's discoveries shifted first artists and philosphers, then
societies at large, vision of how the universe might be structured and
the place of humanity within it.

I do not think anyone today would find either Galileo's model of the
solar system, nor the invention of perspective, as difficult concepts to

Mind you, I am not arguing that art follows science. Art and science
have very distinct social functions, but where they can meet very
important work can be done, whether it be critical, moral, experimental,
or whatever.

Note: Given that there is a smallest particle, which exists for the
smallest amount of time, and as time and the particle are a function of
energy, then this means that time is not constant but discrete, made of
finite parts, and thus Zeno's arrow will hit the tree, given that Zeno's
paradox (that the arrow will never hit the tree) is only sustainable so
long as time is infinitely divisible. Interestingly both these
announcements, concerning the biggest thing in the universe (the
universe itself) and the smallest, were made in the same week (in 1996 I
think), which is perhaps an example of the zeitgeist which has been
discussed in other threads on eye-beam.

Suzanne Treister wrote:

>So I guess I could be Simon Biggs (who moved from Adelaide to London) in
>reverse give or take a fair amount of essential code remapping
What an horrific thought! In fact though, your suggestion of code
remapping as a means to turn one person into another is an example of
what I was trying to say in my earlier post about the impact of ideas
(non-art ideas, such as those that come out of computing) upon art and
other practices.

>There seem to be a lot of knickers in the twist here.Simon is being >purposefully obscure and beligerent I feel.
I am being neither obscure or beligerent, as I hope you will see.

>I only know the word 'parse'from Director,
>Anyway in Director there is a term, 'parsing the handler' which means
>that instructions in Lingo (Director's programming language) can pass
>down a chain and affect sound and images or whatever on the screen when
>the mouse is clicked or an image rolled over with the cursor.
>There are no doubt more complex or different uses of the term but I
>don't know them yet.
Parsing means to translate one language based system into another. In
the case of computing it means when a program is set up to take a set of
instructions or data written in one language and to convert it into
another, for use in another context. Although this idea has always been
essential to computing (it is at the core of Turings concept of a
self-modifying system) it has become very important largely due to the
Internet. When you read an HTML document into your web-browser one of
the first things it does is "parse" that HTML, so that the local browser
- which might be made by any software company (or even the user
themselves) and be running on any type of computer, thus representing a
set of unknown factors - can respond to the directions in that HTML and
do whatever it has to do. With JAVA we see this idea taken further with
the idea of Virtual Computers; software only computers that can run on
any computer and be able to interpret JAVA consistently, regardless of
the hardware and software characteristics of the system. What is going
on here is that the virtual computer is parsing the JAVA down to the
instruction sets available on the actual computer.

When Macromedia (who produce Director) use the term parsing what they
are refering to is a specific instance of this technique. Specifically,
they are refering to the means by with data or instructions can be sent
from one object to another object (objects being software concepts,
where data and functionality are instantiated from a template program,
but then self-modify and evolve away from that template) where the two
objects are not required to know anything about each other. Each object
will have a handler that is capable of sending or receiving information,
but other than this remain impermeable. Refered to as Object Oriented
Programming (OOPs) this is a very important development in software
engineering, as it allows programs to be developed where the different
components are entirely seperate, and where a bug in one object will not
replicate in another. Primarily used initially for large scale software
development (such as Windows 95) where the number of developers disallow
a more linear engineering approach, OOPs have now become an essential
strategic component in AI, where the OOP paradigm works beautifully with
current concepts of complex control systems (whether they be artificial
or biological).

>Simon's work, from what I know of it from a talk he did here in
>Adelaide, uses those sensors where audience movement determines what
>happens to a projected screen image, kind of like a more computery
>version of the Gary Hill corridor video piece I guess, so he may be
>talking about this kind of thing.
>(Simon can you enlighten us when you get back from Portugal?)
I am not explicitly talking about "this kind of thing". I was talking at
a far more general level.

By the way, those "sensors where audience movement determines what
happens to a projected screen image" are in fact one sensor...which
happens to be a simple video camera. This is connected to the computer
that generates the projected images. The images are composed of
audio-visual objects, which are also software objects (in the sense of
OOPs I outline above), and each of these is able to "look" at the video
image of the real world and independently interact with it and with each
other (more or less like an ecology). Whilst there is a cosmetic
similarity between Garry's and my work (we both use the human figure a
lot, and often work in black and white - although for me the latter is
due to bandwidth issues,  b&w giving a better image of human flesh than
a limited colour pallette can) in fact our practices are very distinct
and we are dealing with very different ideas.

Further to this, my most recent work involves what is called object
user-modelling. What this means is that I now have another level in the
software, which takes all the data from the real world (the video input)
and interprets that, building a model of that world, and "birthing"
objects into computer memory which in a sense are replica's of the real
people (or whatever) that inhabit the work's space. All the other
objects (what the people eventually see and hear) then interact with
these models of those people. This clearly involves a lot of use of
parsing, as I have defined it above. I have used this approach for much
the same reason that a large development project would, as it allows we
to isolate different components of the system (the sensing, the
user-modelling and the interactive objects) for developing works more
elegantly. However, having done this, I am finding all sorts of creative
possibilities open up in terms of interactivity and behavioural systems,
which hopefully will allow me far more freedom in what I can do.

It would be nice if art critics could recognise the value of such work
that I and many other artists have to do to get our work to work, just
as they can recognise the value of why a sculptor uses a particular
material or technique in their work.

>art forms, except those which rely on 'real life' performers. It can in
>some cases add up to something which could be considered a whole new art
>form but I completely disagree with Simon in that I don't think this
>work has to be about the computer and its processes, just as I don't
>think painting has to self consciously be about the language of painting
>although some would disagree. I'm worried about Simon's possible
>heirarchising of work that uses the computer 'to its fullest and within
>its paradigms'. I think there's some kind of macho problem there.
I am not setting up a value laden set of relations here. I do not think
that one has to use the computer beyond a function such as a tool (as
Mathew suggests) for its use to be justified. I am only arguing that
there is another approach which should be recognised...not that it is
necessarily a better approach. However, such an approach is different
and carries its own set of problems and issues, and these need to be
addressed expertly and critically.

>To me, and many other artists who use computers, what I want to say, do
>and explore with my work comes first and it just happens that at the
>moment using Director for a CD ROM and Premiere for video editing are
>the most appropriate ways of getting to it, so this in a way comes back
>around to your 'tool' remark Matthew although I would substitute the
>word medium for tool in this instance.
I would say the same for my own practice. Although I would miss my
computer and what I can do with it, I would happily go back to pencil
and paper to do my work if I had to. In the end it is the practice of
art (whatever that might be) that is important to me, not the specifics
of any single art form.

> I'd like to ask which art discourse does Simon think that new media art
>is unrecognisable to? The term 'traditional art discourse' sounds pretty
>problematic to me, suggesting all sorts of nasty binary possibitities,
>another example of the empty bath/burn the books syndrome, and possibly
>an easy cop out.
I am just refering to the limitations of art discourse (and many other
discourses too) when it comes to dealing with things that are
paradigmatically different to that they are conventionally concerned
with. In this sense, whilst I found Geert Lovink's posting rather
hyperbolic, I do agree with him on some essentials...specifically, that
digital art and cyber-economies involve new paradigms which require new
critical approaches. Where I disagree with him is that there is only one
way to do this, or that the old ways cannot adapt to fulfill this
function. I would like to believe that good old-fashioned art theory
might be able to address such issues...but to be able to do this that
art theory will itself have to change. One can live in hope, and be a
cynic at the same time.

Perhaps in my earlier posts there was something churlish in my attitude,
but this is simply a result of my awareness that somehow art critics
expect artists to come to them, whereas I see things rather the other
way around. Theory follows practice in my mind.

Hope that clears some of the earlier obsufucation.

Subject: Re: <eyebeam><blast> Art and Media

ursula wrote:

>Artists were never really able to use television as a medium and
>network, they just took over the video as a new technological medium and
>kept showing it in the art space. The public sphere of the major
>audio-visual medium was not successfully accessed by artists. I guess
>that's where I have to disagree with Simon on his idea that digital
>based art becomes a distinct art form.  Art practices on the web are no
>more just another discipline as cultural studies are, they both have an
>impact on all disciplines or make disciplines somewhat obsolete.
I made a distinction in my post between digital art and web based art.
Although digital art can exist on the web not all art on the web is
digital, in the sense that I was defining digital art. From what I can
remember, I defined digital art as that art form which utilises the
basic principles of the computer (here the computer defined in its
broadest sense, as in a Turing Machine), this being the idea of a
self-modifying symbolic system. For an art work to use this it would
itself have to be this, as in such a system there is no inherent
distinction between content (data) and process (program).

As such I feel that you have misunderstood (possibly my fault) what I
was saying. To me there are huge differences between web based art and
digital art, and you cannot equate the two, although you can produce a
digital work that can exist on the web, just as you can produce any type
of work that, in some form, might be able to exist on the web.

Simon Biggs
London GB

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