This reading group argues for a participatory turn in sociable (web) media. At the bi-weekly meetings graduate students in the Department of Media Study present, read, and discuss the offered material that approaches the issues with texts out of the fields of cultural theory, sociology, and art. The small group considers issues like generosity and participation in art, dialogical aesthetics, and the precariousness of contemporary labor.

Participants write responses to the readings and relate the presented ideas to their own work as cultural producers. As part of this reading group contributors will develop a regular writing practice based on critical conversations with the selected texts. The resulting textual fragments will be helpful in the topical orientation needed for a final thesis. These written "replies" to the texts are not merely summaries; they lead to  the creation of a discursive, dialogical space. This process challenges the participants to position themselves within the largeer discursive media landscape.

-Trebor Scholz

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Diedie Weng on "New Media, Old Media"

Diedie watch video

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New Media, Old Media. A History and Theory Reader

Edited by Wendy Hui Chun & Thomas Keenan

Wendy Hui Chun is Associate Professor of Modern Culture and Media at Brown University.  She is author of Control and Freedom: Power and Paranoia in the Age of Fiber Optics (MIT Press, 2005).  She has been a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and a Henry Merritt Wriston Fellow at Brown.  She is currently working on a book on the relationship between race and software entitled Programmed Visions: Software, DNA, Race.

Thomas Keenan teaches media theory, literature, and human rights at Bard College, where he is Associate Professor of Comparative Literature and directs the Human Rights Project.  He is author of Fables of Responsibility (Stanford University Press, 1997), and editor of books on the museum and on the wartime journalism of Paul de Man.  He is writing another book called Live Feed: Crisis, Intervention, Media, about news media and contemporary conflicts.

Did Somebody Say New Media?
Wendy Hui Kyong Chun

Although the term “new media” has been used since the 1960’s, it came into prominence with dotcom mania, cyberspace and interactive television in the mid-1990’s.  Taking the place of “multi-media” in the fields of business and art, this new term was not accommodating.  It portrayed other media as old or dead.  It was not simply digital media; it was not mass media.  However, the term “media” is linked to mass media: in the eighteenth century, paper was a medium of circulation; in the nineteenth century, electricity  was a medium; in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, media came to describe inexpensive newspapers and magazines and became a singular noun.  Chun asserts that the “new” should be difficult if not impossible to describe.  Furthermore, “describing something as ‘new’ seems a way to dispel surprise or to create it before an actual encounter”.(3)  The new contains repetition, it is fresh, further, additional, restored. 

This collection brings together scholars working in new media, media archaeology, film, television, cultural and literary studies to investigate new media and the political, cultural, economic, and epistemological forces necessary to its emergence.  Chun posits that this book connects forms of media analysis that have usually been separated in order to map the field of new media studies.

Archaeology of Multi-Media
Early Film History and Multi-Media
An Archaeology of Possible Futures?
Thomas Elsaesser 

Thomas Elsaesser wants to put the following question as its working hypothesis.  “Is film history vulnerable, because it has operated with notions of origins and teleology that even on their own terms are untenable in the light of what we know, for instance, about early cinema?”(13)

We Have to Draw a Line in the Silicone Sand

To some, such as the respected critic Jean Douchet, the electronic media do not belong to the history of cinema at all.  Others on the other side of the argument believe that all previous audio-visual media, and especially the cinema are but “poor cousins”.(14)

It’s Business as Usual

Still others believe that its business as usual.  The film industry has been delivering the same basic product for about ninety years.  George Lucas feels that it doesn’t change anything.  A sizable and respected group of film scholars would agree. 

As Usual, It’s Business

Digital storage and delivery has increased the production and circulation of images, but digitization has yet to transform the use of these images are put to.  No one has so far turned this availability into a new cultural commodity.  Elsaesser suggests that only consumer acceptance can impose a medium, not a technology, however superior or innovative it may be. 

Beyond the Post: Archaeology of a Media Revolution?

“If one therefore positions oneself , regarding the indexical nature of the photographic image, not in the past, but in the post, one tends to regard digitization less as a technical standard (important though it is, of course), but more like a zero-degree that allows one to reflect upon one’s understanding of both film history and cinema theory.”(16)  The author further asserts that digitization may for historians of the cinema be no more than the name of this place, which helps them displace themselves in relation to a number of habitual ways of thinking.  Elsaesser wants to sketch an archaeological agenda taken from Michel Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge, which states, “archaeology does not imply the search for a beginning, (…it) questions the already-said at the level of existence (…) and it describes discourses as practices.”(17)

Archaeology I: The Cinema Has No Origins

It is now generally accepted among film historians that the cinema has too many origins none of which adds up to a history.  We have been sensitized to a continuous, if submerged alternative history of cinema, which is now being recovered in the form of an archaeology of the present.  However, much of what we now consider as belonging to early film and thus to the history of cinema was not initially intended or suited to performance in a movie theater.  Yet the cinema borrowed from all of these genres and practices.  In the process, the mode of presentation and the audience had to be adjusted to fit into the movie theater and its program format.  This suggests that we nay be returning to early cinema practice. 

Archaeology II: Film in the Expanded Field, or “When is Cinema?”

The non-entertainment and non-art uses of the cinematic apparatus at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth century did not disappear with the institution of narrative cinema as the norm, or the emergence of the full-length feature film around 1907, they merely went underground.  “But this underground was in many instances contiguous to the above ground, and in several cases the very condition of possibility for the developments in the cinema’s entertainment uses…”(21)

Archaeology III: Discourses in Default: The Dog That Did Not Bark

The cinema was not only a latecomer,  but according to Elsaesser, a bit of a changeling.  There is even a sense that cinema was not wanted altogether.  The public of the time had been hoping for a two-way television.

Elsaesser suggests that perhaps it was the film historians who have been underground.  If this is so, they did not notice, perhaps because they did not want to notice how, for instance, “the military tail had been wagging the entertainment dog all along, or how the Orwellian nightmare of surveillance had probably also all along been the mask and mimicry of the performative pleasure of being seen, of being looked at, and of being looked after.”(23)

As a conclusion, Elsaesser indicates that it might be that the new digital media’s relation to cinema is neither a matter of opposition to classical cinema nor its emulation. 

Electricity Made Visible
Geoffrey Batchen

Lev Manovich asks, “if we construct an archaeology connecting new computer-based techniques of media creation with previous techniques of representation and simulation, where should we locate the essential historical breaks?”(27)  He chooses to use a theory and history of cinema as the key conceptual lens through which he will look at this question.

Batchen sees the task of his essay to be to address in more detail the genealogy of new media and to articulate the nuanced history that it deserves.  In doing so, he will extend Manovich’s narrative back about one hundred years in order to look at two artifacts that he finds important for new media: a photogenic drawing of a piece of lace sent by Henry Talbot to Charles Babbage in 1839 , and Samuel Morse’s first electric telegraph instrument, which was made in 1837.  Batchen’s examination of these two artifacts seeks to provide the foundations for another reading of the history of both “new media” and its logics.

Talbot is never quite sure whether the origins of photography are to be found in nature or in culture, so he comes ups with a phrase that contains elements of each: “the art of fixing a shadow.”(28)  Here, he recognizes that photography is actually about recording the absence or presence of light.  In other words, photography is a binary system – a piece of lace is transformed by photography into a sign of lace.  According to Batchen, photography involves an abstraction of visual data; it’s a fledgling form of information culture.

Batchen suggests that American painter Samuel Morse is perhaps the most intriguing experimenter with electric telegraphy.  In 1832, Morse conceived of a telegraphic system that would harness electricity to transmit messages along wires between any two points.  He said to friends, “if…the presence of electricity can be made visible…I see no reason why intelligence might not be instantaneously transmitted by electricity to any distance.”(36-37)  It wasn’t long before Morse’s telegraphic data network was being used to transfer photographic images.  In 1878, Alexander Graham Bell announced a new invention called the “photophone”.

Batchen argues that this interaction of photography, telegraphy  and computing demonstrates that these three representational systems were never separate or opposed to each other, but had a common trajectory.  This suggests that new media has a long history, “as old as modernity itself”(39)

Tones from out of Nowhere
Rudolf Pfenninger and the Archaeology of Synthetic Sound
Thomas Y. Levin

In 1931 the New York Times ran a headline that said, “Synthetic Speech Demonstrated in London: Engineer Creates Voice which Never Existed”(45)  E.A. Humphries explains, “In order to create a synthetic voice, I had to analyze the sounds I was required to reproduce one by one from the sound tracks of real voices.”(46)  However, this production of voice by graphic means was the product of a long-standing project whose most recent chapter had been the invention of the phonograph and gramophone.  In the end, the invention of synthetic sound depended on four distinct developments:
the initial experiments that correlated sound with graphic traces;
the invention of an acoustic writing that was not merely a graphic translation of sound but one that could also serve to reproduce it;
the accessibility of such acoustic inscription in a form that could be studied and manipulated as such; and finally;
the systematic analysis of these now manipulatable traces such that they could be used to produce any sound at will.

The archaeology of the above-mentioned robotic speech also involves four stages:
the coming-into-writing of sound as mere graphic translation or transcription;
the functional development of that inscription as means to both trace and then rephenomenalize the inscribed sound;
the optical materialization of such sounding graphic traces that would render them available to artisanal interventions: and finally
the analytic method that would make possible a functional systematic vocabulary for generating actual sounds from simple graphematic marks.

Genealogics of Acoustic Inscription

Sound is made graphic, but in the process becomes mute.  However, Thomas Alva Edison’s invention in 1877 of the first fully functional acoustic read/write apparatus successfully pioneered a new mode of inscription that both recorded and re-produced sound, although now at the price of the virtual invisibility of the traces involved.  Edison’s position was that the gramophonic traces ought not be understood as writing.  The high court felt differently, and decided that these gramophonic inscriptions were writing and could thus be prosecuted.

From “Groove-Script” to “Opto-Acoustic Notation”

Levin stresses that implicit in the drive to read the gramophonic traces is the notion that, once decipherable, this code could also be employed for writing.  Ludwig Wittgenstein’s concern is not the character of the gramophone record’s inscriptions, but rather the technical capacity of that language to store and re-produce sound.  “(Rainer Maria) Rilke’s concern is with the ‘ur-sound’ that might arise from a gramophonic tracing of the cranial groove in a skull sitting on his table.”(55)  This thought raises the question of the gramophone’s capacity to render audible sounds that were never previously recorded.  Laszlo Moholy-Nagy proposes that one undertake a scientific examination of the tiny inscriptions in the grooves of the phonograph in order to learn what graphic forms correspond to which acoustic sounds.  He suggests that one could discover the general logic that governed the relation of the acoustic to the graphematic, master it, and then be able to produce marks that would be acoustic writing.  This “groove-script alphabet” as Moholy-Nagy called it, would potentially make the gramophone into an overall instrument “…which supersedes all instruments used so far”.(56)  This could allow composers to write sound directly, eliminating the performance of musicians.  In the 1920’s music critic Hans Heinz Stuckenschmidt took up this challenge, and there was a proliferation of works written for “musical machines”.  As Paul Hindemith predicted, the gramophone would never realize a proper groove-script alphabet, yet, contrary to his prognosis, something very similar was being worked out – the synchronized sound film.  Moholy-Nagy saw this as an opportunity to fulfill his vision, as he saw optical film-sound as  giving access to sound as trace.  In a published version of one of his lectures he states, “Sound-script makes possible acoustic phenomena which conjure up out of nothing audible music without the previous play of any musical instrument.  We are in a position today to be able to play written sounds, music written by hand, without involving an orchestra, by the use of the apparatus of the sound film.  And today, thanks to the excellent work of Rudolf Pfenninger, these ideas have been successfully applied to the medium of sound film.  In Pfenninger’s sound-script, the theoretical prerequisites and the practical processes achieved perfection.”(59)  Moholy-Nagy showed two films in conjunction with his lecture.  One was by Oskar Fischinger, and one by Rudolf Pfenninger.  However, Moholy-Nagy insisted on giving all of the credit of the development of a functional sound script (the invention of synthetic sound) to the much less known Pfenninger.

The Race That Wasn’t One:
Fischinger, Pfenninger, and the “Discovery of Synthetic Sound”

During the early 1930’s a number of people around the world were furiously and independently working on experiments in hand drawn, animated, ornamental, and/or synthetic sound.  Levin states, “Although generally fascinated by the technical achievement and its promise, most critics were perplexed and even annoyed by the new sounds: while some were entranced by what they felt was ‘very beautiful mechanical music, a sort of carousel music,’ others wrote of its ‘primitive and somewhat nasal timbre,’ how it gave an ‘impression of being mechanical, almost soul-less,’ and that it had a ‘snore-like quality and a monotone quality as well.’  As one reviewer put it, ‘the sound reminds one of stopped organ pipes, muted horns, harps, xylophones.  It sounds strangely unreal.’”(64-65)  Levin suggests that most journalists cast the Fischinger-Pfenninger juxtaposition in terms of basic impulse versus logical conclusion, decorative versus analytic.  They imply that it was not a matter of who was the first to discover synthetic sound, but rather it was simply a case of two related, but very different projects.

Recorded Sound in the Age of Its Synthetic Simulatability

It was – at least in theory - only a matter of time until it would no longer be possible to distinguish acoustically a sound generated synthetically from a sound produced conventionally.  Although it was unlikely that the synthetic would replace the orchestra in the near future, what was decidedly possible was minimal interventions into the fabric of extant recordings.  This led to the fixing of off-pitch notes, late entries, disturbing overtones, etc.  A technological doubt had been introduced to the recorded performance.

Coda: The Afterlife of Synthetic Film Sound

The Nazi’s deemed Pfenninger’s films soul-less and degenerate, and work in this domain came to a halt.  Elsewhere, however, hand-drawn sound quickly became an international sensation, although for a brief period of time.  Norman McLaren would become arguably the world’s most well-known and prolific proponent of synthetic sound.

Memex Revisited
Vannevar Bush

Here the author is making a call for a need for a long envisioned invention.  He states, “A revolution must be wrought in the ways in which we make, store, and consult the record of accomplishment.”(85)  Compact storage of material and swift selective access to it are the two basic elements of the problem.  In 1945 Bush wrote an essay voicing his concerns in this area called “As We May Think”.  In the essay he proposed a machine for personal use than the enormous computers used at the time.  His concern was with the ineptitude in getting at records caused by the systems of indexing, for human minds work by association.  It is the author’s hope that we can learn from our own mental processes; maybe even improve on it. 

Bush calls his invention-to-be a memex.  “A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility.  It consists of a desk.  Presumably it can be operated from a distance, but it is primarily a piece of furniture at which an individual works.”(86)  The memex has provision for not only consulting records by indexing, but also associative indexing.  Any item may be caused at will to select another in a process of tying items together to form trails.  This is the essential feature of the memex.

Bush admits that while this is still a dream, it is one that is now attainable.  It will take initiative, ingenuity, patience, and engineering skill.  The author is determined that although it may not be completed soon, it will be done.   If there is a roadblock in the path of the memex, it lies in the problem of moderately rapid access to really large memory storage.  The heart of this problem is selection.

Out of File, Out of Mind
Cornelia Vismann 

“The imperative of administrations to record every action as an execution on paper causes all kinds of problems.  A person, after all, can be held responsible for something  on file, something which, according to who is doing the looking, in retrospect should not have been recorded at all.”(97)  Vismann asserts that if one does not want an action in the real to become significant, it should certainly not be recorded.  Consequently, only harmless data will make its way into the files.

The dogma of complete documentation and the tendency towards more and more detailed reports led to the well-known proliferation of files.  However, there exists no order, rule, or instruction for the destruction of files.  “Whether shredded by machine or by hand, the elimination of files is dirty work.  In contrast to digitalized data storage, paper files cannot be eliminated by clean delete orders.”(101)  According to current law, most of the administrative regulations on how to handle and keep files have to be made applicable to digitalized data via analogies.

Does the Archive Become Metaphorical in Multi-Media Space?
Wolfgang Ernst

In this paper, Ernst addresses multi media archaeology in two parts: first, an epistemological reflection on the term media archaeology and second, literal case studies.

Part I: An Epistemological Reflection on the Term “Media Archaeology”
Pre-Histories of the Computer?

”Media archaeology is not only about re-discovering the losers in media history for a kind of Benjaminian messianic redemption.  Media archaeology is driven by something like a certain German obsession with approaching media in terms of their logical structure (informatics) on the one and their hardware (physics) on the other”.(106)

Multi-media describes the way or method of production, the forms of its transport, not its object or content.  According to Ernst, a close reading of the computer as medium, reveals that there is no multi-media in virtual space, only one medium, which basically calculates images, words, and sounds indifferently.  “The Term multi-media is a delusion.”(108)

Fahrenheit 451

In Francois Truffaut’s film Fahrenheit 451, the object is the burning of its mediatic predecessor, the book.

Another key element defining multi-media is the use of radio bi-directionally.

The fundamental difference between a print-based archive and multi-media storage is interaction.

The Relation between Print and Multi-Media

The usual vantage point from which we talk about the archive is still the notion of the print-based archive according to Ernst.  The media-archaeological task then, Ernst proposes, is to re-think archival terminology in order to embrace a multi-media concept of the archive.  The difference between all old media like the book and the computer lies in the simple evidence that books cannot be re-programmed once printed.

The Silence of the Archive

According to Ernst, the invention of printing distances the reader from the text, beholder from the image, creating a kind of “silence of the archive”(111) through the silent reading situation.  “The printing press silenced the voice.”(111)  The computer, however, is no longer silent.  Audio-visual perception supplements the traditional “reading” of texts.

Part II: Case Studies in Media-Archaeology:
The Virtual Reactivation of a Lost Sound Storage Medium:
Hornbostel’s Phonogramm-Archive

The notion of the archive is in transition, moving towards the audio-visual.  “(Multi-) Media archaeology seeks to reconstruct phantasms of memorizing sound in a pre-technical age and point out the discontinuities which arose with the invasion of audiovisual records into traditional archives, libraries and museums in the twentieth century.  It culminates in a plea for rethinking the options of retrieval under new media conditions – transcending the notion of archive itself.”(113)

Retrograd – Excavating an Archive of Medical Films

Ernst asserts that an archive is a rule-governed, administratively programmed operation of inclusions and exclusions that can be reformulated cybernetically, or even digitally.  Also, media archaeology, unlike media history deals with absence.  Furthermore, the archaeology of multi-media no longer takes place in ground archives, but rather in virtual space.  “Media-archaeology deals with gaps and confronts absences.”(115)

Between Reading and Scanning

Ernst suggests that the computer no longer reads texts, but scans them, thus perceiving writing as an image, or a cluster of signals.  Signal processing replaces pure reading.  The computer reduces signals to the smallest possible alphabet.

Visual Archiving: Sorting and Storing Images

With the transfer of images into digital storage, non-verbal methods of classification are gradually gaining importance, asserts Ernst.  “In digital space, when not only every film, but every still in every film, or even more – every pixel in every frame – can be discretely addressed, titles no longer subject images to words, but alphanumerical numbers refer to alphanumerical numbers.”(117)  Giovanni Morelli developed a program that matches, sorts, and classifies pictures exclusively on their visual characteristics.

Archival Phantasms (the Internet)

“This is a plea for archiving the term archive itself for the description of multi-media storage processes.  Digital archaeology, though, is not a case for future generations, but has to be performed in the present already.  In the age of digitalizability, that is, the option of storing all kinds of information, a paradoxical phenomenon appears: Cyberspace has no memory.”(119)  Ernst goes on to say that the internet is no archive indeed, but a collection.  He says, the function of archives exceeds by far mere storage and conservation of data.  Instead of collecting passively, archives actively define what is archivable, he surmises.

Breaking Down
Godard’s Histories
Richard Dienst

In his current work, Jean-Luc Godard tries to redefine the power of the image of our historical moment, to make images that would enable remembrance and imagination, considers Dienst.  Here, he addresses Godard’s most massive work – the Histoire(s) du cinema (Histories or Stories of cinema).  Upon its completion in 1998, the Historoire(s) comprised a work in eight parts, delivered in three different media: video, printed book, and audio CD.  According to Dienst, the material makes one startling point:  The history of cinema can be told everywhere but in cinema.  Yet, he asserts, the history of cinema is the only history that needs to be told, as the cinema has been the only one capable of telling the story of its time.  “But it failed, and that is the real story.

Dienst proposes, images are what remain to be seen.  Further, he asserts that Godard’s work is a rescue mission: he wants to save images from the breakdown of cinema and the closure of its era.  He insists that in principle, every kind of image ought to be saved.


The chapters in Power-Code take on Knowledge-power, analyzing the rise of code and its relationship to the circulation knowledge and empowerment.  Wolfgang Hagen in “the Style of Sources: Remarks on the Theory and History of Programming Language,” emphasizes the importance of unarchivable and unforeseen programming languages to the transformation of the computer into a computer machine.

Science as Open Source Process
Friedrich Kittler
Translated by Peter Krapp

Kittler worries that academic freedom will stand or fall with the freedom of source code.  He asserts that it is crucial that the knowledge generated and passed on by universities must be able to circulate without the protection of patents and copyrights.  He goes on to say that after Gutenberg invented the printing press, most of the knowledge produced in the university fell to the system of books and publishing houses.  The universities ceased to write books and merely stored the books printed by others.  Here, Kittler is interested in the revolution in knowledge this caused in terms of open source and free software – as a precise model of what is going on these days.  “The headhunters of Microsoft lurk around Stanford and at other doors of computer science departments, catch new programming serfs with new algorithms and squeeze them for five years, until the algorithms become proprietary and the coders, with their stock options, are dismissed into early retirement.”(178)  Kittler goes on to assert that once something is burned into a chip, it belongs to the firm who invested millions into the design and billions into their mass fabrication.  No university can compete with that.

In “Cold War Networks or Kaiserstr. 2, Neubabelsberg,” Kittler continues to examine the institutional structures necessary for the emergence of software and cold war information networks.  He argues that hardware is allied with secrecy, the military, and control.

The question of control is debated in the next five chapters, specifically in the relationship between programming and agency, surfing and using.  In “Generation Flash”, Lev Manovich posits that programming in the early 2000’s moved a new generation of artists away from the old and tired act of postmodern citation towards a romanticism and a new modernist aesthetic of clean lines and “transparent causality.” 

In “Protocol vs. Institutionalization”, Alexander Galloway examines the control structures necessary for the so-called open circulation of knowledge, from theoretically open organizations comprising members of a relatively homogenous social class of techno-elites to TCP/IP, the protocol driving the internet.  He argues that the net is founded on control, not freedom.  In “Reload: Liveness, Mobility, and the Web”, Tara McPherson emphasizes the web as a technology of experience, rather than simply an effect of software.  Julian Dibbell, in “Viruses Are Good for You”, returns us to the question of code, but through alien code: viruses whose presence brings fear to the hearts of users who believe they control their machines.  He argues that viruses act as both a virus-maker’s signature and as a self-replicating program that denies authorship. 

In “The Imaginary of the Artificial: Automata, Models, Machinics  - On Promiscuous Modeling as Precondition for Poststructuralist Ontology,” Anders Michelson makes the argument that although the computer is based on the “image of man,” it leads elsewhere.  The machinic is now creative.  It constitutes what he calls the imaginary of the artificial, “an inexplicit and poorly understood impetus for the creative articulation of the artificial.”(234)

The “Network Events” section further pursues knowledge power, but here it looks more broadly at global information flows.  Transmission and “knowledge is power”, it stresses are not limited to computer buses or high-speed data networks.  Concentrating on catastrophic media events and on the ways in which the media create a “we” and a “they”, this section examines the possibilities and limitations of global mass media.  Further, it focuses on the communities or audiences created by global media, as well as on popular and critical assumptions about the nature of technology and technological power.

“Theorizing ‘New’ Media”, the last section continues to pursue knowledge-power, here by investigating new media’s impact on scholarly knowledge.  Every author in this section either offers new theories or terms in light of new media, or argues against their necessity.  These chapters map out the disciplinary challenges posed by new media to disciplines from Asian American Studies to literary studies; from queer to architectural theory.  Lisa Nakamura introduces the term “cybertypes” to describe the ways in which race and ethnicity proliferated in mainstream new media during the late 1990’s.  Nicholas Mirzoeff in “Network Subjects: or, The Ghost is the Message”, asserts that new media changes visual subjects’ relationship to their media.  Mirzoeff argues that the medium itself has become the object and subject of desire.  Ken Hillis addresses identity and desire from the Enlightenment to the present, through VR and queer web cams.  The next two chapters offer historical analyses that question the newness of new media.  Mark Wigley in “Network Fever” argues that we are at the end, rather than the beginning of network logic.


This provocative collection of essays offers a great range of analysis of new and old media.  Its combination of theoretical and historical approaches is refreshing.  The juxtaposition of authors from various disciplines creates a rich resource for its audience. 

As an avid collector of vinyl records, and an appreciator of synthetic music, I was particularly drawn to Thomas Y. Levin’s essay “’Tones from out of Nowhere’: Rudolph Pfenninger and the Archaeology of Synthetic Sound”.  The ingenuity of these early pioneers proved endlessly fascinating, and perhaps exemplified the true exploratory spirit of what “new media” can be. 

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Sarah on Beyond Productivity

Sarahwatch recoding of  Sarah's presentation

Notes from a Dinosaur

Beyond Productivity: Information Technology, Innovation, and Creativity

Ed., William J. Mitchell, Alan S. Inouye, and Marjory S. Blumenthal National Academies Press, 2003

Beyond Productivity is fundamentally, though at times also elegantly, a report of the existing interactions, intersections, and exchanges, among computer science—expanded to encompass “information technology”—and the arts and design, and the potential connections between these two domains.  This report begins with an suggested framework for the intersection between information technology and creativity, broadly defined, and then details how such interactions currently are being realized, and how they might be realized in the future.  The last 4 chapters—fully half the book—are devoted to recommendations for enhancing and supporting the integration of computer science with the arts (always broadly defined) within academia and industry.  Above all, the report is a plea for resources—academic, governmental, and political—to advance the intersections of IT and art.  The creativity of the title is the keyword (to borrow from Raymond Williams) that best advances this argument for increased resources and attention. 

Aware of their predictable structure and rather formal prose style, the committee writing the report notes that “in book form it cannot possibly convey the exciting possibilities at [the] intersection” of IT and art/design (vii).  Despite the obvious limitations of textual, paper-bound literature (I read the report as a PDF, but the entire book is available both in html and bound versions), the report attempts to engage the reader as an interactive subject by noting websites in footnotes, highlighting special projects in boxes, using graphic images as relevant case studies, and including hypertext and live links in the html version (I did this, too, but I have not yet learned to take notes effectively on my computer).  Throughout the book, or more accurately report (as I shall refer to it here), the authorial committee is attempting to justify, encourage, and garner support for a particular synthetic practice; that is, the integration of computer science and the arts, most often defined as visual “stuff”: objects, projections, installations, games.  Although the authors claimed that “the artifacts that…best exemplify the intersections of IT and creative practice…tended to be processes with social and material aspects” (33), it’s awfully hard to put a cool photo of a process in a text, so visual representations of stuff tend to override this preference for processes.  The committee itself (with biographies listed in Appendix A) is a combination of academics, industry researchers, scientists, artists, with a healthy dose of those actively mixing formats, venues, and methodologies.

Perhaps not surprisingly for its stated goals, the report begins with its “Summary and Recommendations.”  At the heart of these recommendations are two essential, though unstated assumptions that guide the entire project: 1) creativity is good; and 2) IT development is inevitable.  I cannot quibble with the first assumption, though its emphasis at the beginning seems a bit overwrought.  The opening statement, “Creativity plays a crucial role in culture” is linked through a bit of tortured prose to nearly inevitable “economic development.”  The second assumption appears similarly unassailable.  Who can argue the rising tide of technological advancement?  This language of inevitability is also one of progression.  For example, in a discussion of “tools needed to support creative work,” the authors note that “There is a great distance from the paintbrush or piano to programming in C++” (67).  An innocuous statement, surely, and their point is well-taken:  to foster true collaboration, artists need to understand and engage with the tools of IT.  Ok, but the progress through this distance is one-way.  We can move from the paintbrush or piano to programming languages, but the report makes little mention in moving the other direction, as if to move from programming to painting is no distance at all.  Indeed, the idea of moving one’s actual practice in this direction is largely absent from the report. 

These assumptions guide the reading of entire project.  The tone of the report often becomes one of warning: the IT boat is leaving, either it will include the arts (perhaps rescuing them from historical oblivion?) or it will go on alone, but without the power of creativity that only the arts can provide.  It’s going to be a long, capital-driven ride.  In the midst of this plea, however, other inevitabilities arise.  As the authors note “information technology now plays a critical role in the formation and ongoing competitiveness of clusters of creative activity—both geographic clusters and more distributed clusters held together by electronic interconnection and interaction” (26).  So, perhaps the boat has already left and we ought to do more to get the artists out of the water and into the boat, lest they be washed away in the tide.  (Too much metaphor?  Ok, I’ll stop, but in the section on “Digital Archiving and Preservation,” the authors recommend stewardship, not just storage.)

I don’t think I’m being paranoid or defensive in my reading of the report.  (Or, perhaps I am, but I think I’m justified.)  Despite numerous calls for cooperative, collective collaborations, the language of competition repeatedly structures the text, if only the competition for resources.  For example, Chapter 1 “Information Technology, Productivity, and Creativity” concludes with a section on the “Race for Creativity in a Networked World.”  This is, according to the authors, a global race in which “the rewards are high” with nothing less at stake than “economic growth,” “enhanced quality of life,” “cultural and political influence” ultimately leading to “soft power” (27).  The consequences for losing are clear.  The losers in this race—those who do not accept the importance of creativity and fail to support and reward the integration of IT and art—will lose (soft) power.  But who is racing?  Toward what are they/we racing?  Are there rules for this race?  Will we know when they’ve/we’ve won?  Given the examples of creative industries, do we even want to win?  My favorite example mentioned twice in this chapter is Michael Jordan.  His first mention is as the product of creative science that results in “creative basketball” (17); the second is in the context of a “progressively interdependent market” (21).  The authors cite the idolization of Jordan by teenagers in “China—or Pakistan” as evidence that creative work in a cultural agenda is a “form of deep, pervasive influence and is as integral to global leadership as trade policy or diplomatic relationships” (21).  So, to summarize: we’re in a global race to enhance/preserve “our” quality of life, economic growth, and political influence.  To lose will mean domination from another more creative, yet unnamed entity; but to win will mean global cultural hegemony. 

To be fair, the actual artistic integrations and collaborations to which the report refers do not imply—many even resist—this kind of cultural infiltration and domination, but I am disturbed by the lack of cultural criticism offered in the report.  I am also surprised by this, given the presence of two cultural theorists in this area—N. Katherine Hayles; and Phoebe Sengers—and a committee of engaged critical practice and theory.  But with the stated purpose of defending this type of creative practice, it may be that internal critique is simply not feasible.  And feasible is absolutely the right word, since this project eventually takes on the aura of a feasibility study with a stated bias.  The list of projects, artists, and developments are clearly intended to prove the good potential outcomes for supporting collaborations between IT and art.  In this sense, all projects are good, if they foster creativity.

But I am reminded of Peggy Phelen’s caution in Unmarked that “Visibility is a trap; it summons surveillance and the law; it provokes voyeurism, fetishism, the colonialist/imperial appetite for possession” (6).  This appears most prominently in the discussion of motion-capture collaboration—“ghostcatching”—with the dancer, Bill T. Jones.  Jones is a dancer with a long repertoire of dynamic dances that directly engage with issues of race, sexuality, and the body.  His famous “Still/Here” (1994) was a reflection on the death of his collaborator and partner, Arne Zane (the company is still Bill T. Jones/Arne Zane), and his own HIV-positive status.  This dance is, in part, about the tension between presence and absence, collaboration, and the loss of a physical body.  In 1994, it placed Jones squarely in the middle of the broiling culture wars, inviting attacks, defenses, and criticisms against the background of the Contract with America and NEA 4 controversies.

I am thus struck uncomfortably by the images of what it means to “capture” Jones and by the uncritical praise for this “collaboration.”  I do not mean to divest Jones of his autonomy or his own critical engagement in the collaboration, though he admits to being ambivalent about the project, and I am not criticizing the enterprise itself.  But I seriously question the representation of this collaboration as emblematic and ideal in the context of this report, as a symptom of the larger questions that the report invites:  namely, the cultural and historical contexts for this intersection of technology and creative work.  In a very self-involved way, I am always interested in and looking for, the body of the performer, so it is from this perspective that I want to consider the images that the report presents.

“Box 3.8” presents two images of Jones: the first clearly engaged in movement, turned at profile to the camera, gaze looking off to the viewer’s left; the second, presents Jones naked, eyes closed, arms and legs spread (vaguely reminiscent of Vitruvian Man), with white dots covering his body.  The images are defined textually much as they are represented visually.  The first is labeled as “Improvising,” the second “Wearing motion-capture markers.”  Thus, the first image reinforces both visually and textually that Jones is an independent artist.  He creates away from the viewer, independent of a script, unconstrained and unregulated, even by our view (though clearly his movement is depicted as a captured image itself).  The second is an image of explicit “capture” and constraint, one that results in the physical erasure of Jones’s physical, Black body; and replaces him with white lines mathematically created by his collaborators.  The second image also carries a distinct sexual connotation, with one sensor attached to his penis.  In the original essay by Zoe Ingalls, one of the media collaborators explains that, “The sensor attachments are fairly standard—wrist, elbows, knees, feet, shoulders,” but that additional sensors were attached to Jones’s back, which “dancers typically articulate more than most people”  So why the addition to his penis?  This goes unremarked upon in Ingall’s essay, but one cannot escape the racial and sexual implications of a naked, muscular, Black male body “captured” and “marked” by white points that appear as light (they apparently resemble ping pong balls in person).  Jones himself re-enters the “performance” through sound described as “chanting, humming, singing, talking, grunting, and more” (91). 

The accompanying text for these images, makes it appear as if the creation of virtual dance—described as “original”—is the most important aspect of the collaboration (90-91).  It is worth quoting at length:

Envisioning a blend of performance, filmmaking, drawing, and computer composition, the artists used light-sensitive sensors attached to 22 key points of Jones’s body and eight cameras to capture his movements. Roughly 40 sequences of Jones’s movement were recorded digitally. The resulting “capture data”—which represented a record of only the movements of the sensors and not of Jones’s body per se—were then used as the raw information for Kaiser and Eshkar’s creative application. See Figure 3.8.1. Jones’s “movements were then manipulated electronically and re-choreographed on a computer screen to make an original virtual performance.”2

The results include an 8-minute digital projection, 13 still images taken from the dance, photographs that describe the artists’ process, and a soundtrack consisting of Jones’s own sounds: “chanting, humming, singing, talking, grunting, and more.”3 Commissioned by the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art,4 the installation opened at the Cooper Union’s Arthur A. Houghton Jr. Gallery in New York City and ran from January 6 to February 13, 1999.

But the larger objective for the work is ignored, namely that this collaboration was an attempt to record dances by performers with HIV, those whose bodies are actively in danger of being literally erased by infected code.  To borrow from Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor AIDS as Metaphor, this project of deliberate physical erasure as preservation eerily echoes what I would call the symptomography of viruses, both bodily and digital.  That the report ignores this larger cultural context for the project seems to me deeply troubling and hardly “beyond productivity.”  It is no coincidence, I think, that the report ultimately has to come to terms with the erasure of the digital information due to obsolete formats. 

That the report does not address these fundamental questions of image, representation, race, gender, sexuality, and the problematic history of “capture” is, for me, a serious omission.  While I take seriously the authoring committee’s argument for funding, infrastructure, academic recognition, evolution of public policy, and standards of evaluation that support, encourage, and protect artists and technologists working across disciplines, I am concerned that omitting such critical reflection at the inception of a project will serve to reinforce and repeat existing hierarchies and privileged positions of viewing, creating, and interpreting.  At the beginning, as this report sees itself to be, is the best (only?) time to incorporate considerations of race, class, gender, sexuality, and ability, and to consider access and representation within the technology itself.  If the project to move beyond productivity, which assumes that every process yield something useful—be it knowledge, innovation, or art object—then a fundamental engagement with those at the margins of representation and access must be at least approached, if not fully integrated into the enterprise.

In a final assessment and with all due respect to those involved—who know far more than I—I would re-title this report, “redefining productivity.”  The goal, as illustrated in both anecdotal and visual illustrations, is not about engaging with aims other than being productive, but seems rather to seek to enlarge notions of productivity such that the gains (in the global race, no less) can be more accurately assessed and perpetuated by including artistic creativity.  If we can redefine our objectives and our tools of creation and assessment, we can “win” the race for global culture influence.  If we remain constricted and under-funded (a drum beat loud and long throughout), then we will restrict the integration of technology and art, and consequently, have to watch the race from the sidelines as others reap the rewards of becoming more imaginatively, more creatively, productive.

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Beyond Productivity

Elli <image: Eli Pollad>

Information Technology, Innovation, and Creativity
National Research Council of the National Academies

The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy’s purposes of furthering knowledge and advising the federal government.  Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the national Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine.  Dr. Bruce M. Alberts and Dr. Wm. A. Wulf are chair and vice chair, respectively, of the National Research Council.


The Computer Science and Telecommunications Board (CSTB) began in the mid 1990’s to examine opportunities at the intersection of computing and the humanities and the arts.  In 1997 it organized a workshop that eventually led to the project described in this report.   This report is by design a record of the project intended to motivate and sustain interest and activity in the intersection of IT and the arts and design.  The Statement of Task is as follows,

“A series of discussions among a cross section of the arts community and experts in computing and communications will be organized.  These discussions will crystallize new ways of conceptualizing joint opportunities and new approaches to the arts (and/or IT).  They will explore what would make the most conductive environment for IT-arts exchange on an ongoing basis, considering physical and virtual options.  They will address possible mechanisms to sustain the discussion, such as funding and institutional support.  Finally, they will culminate in both a coherent description of potential futures and an agenda for action, action that bridges the different communities as well as action most appropriate for one or another.”(viii)

Information Technology, Productivity, and Creativity
Inventive and Creative Practices

Intellectual production can be distinguished from the performance of routine intellectual tasks and creativity can be distinguished from innovation.  Creative production claims value, and it has an edge.  Furthermore, it challenges our assumptions, forces us to frame our issues in fresh ways, and allows us to see new intellectual and cultural possibilities.  Ambitions in creative production tend to differentiate it from routine production in the following ways: it focuses on unexpected questions, it goes for high payoffs and is undeterred by accompanying high risks, it seeks big questions, it looks for fundamental change, it is not bothered by rule breaking, and is characteristically reflexive.  Although creative production is not always positive and widely valued, its products can bring immense benefits to society.  Finally, “the committee tends to believe that it is possible to identify and establish the conditions necessary for creativity, and conversely, that we risk stifling creativity of we get those conditions wrong.”(18)

Domains and Benefits of Creativity

No one has a monopoly on creativity.  It manifests itself in multiple fields and contexts.  The manifestations vary in the types of benefits that result.  In science and mathematics, the most fundamental outcome of creative effort is important new knowledge.  In engineering, and technology-based industry, creativity gives us technological inventions.  Economic creativity manifests itself into entrepreneurship, ultimately making products and services available.  Cultural creativity offers the production of art design, and scholarship, as well as providing the foundation of creative industries.

The Creative Industries

According to an estimate developed by Singapore’s governmental Workgroup on Creative Industries, the United States led the way in creative industries in 2001.  The US has some important, major creative industry clusters including Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and smaller areas such as Boston, Austin, and Nashville.  There has been growing worldwide interest in the regional development strategy of encouraging creative industry clusters.  These clusters include not only large firms, but independent artists and designers, small businesses, cultural institutions, and educational institutions.  Strong creative industries are a strategic asset to a nation.  The reach and robustness of a nation’s creative practices can constitute a form of global leadership, and provide valuable visibility and branding.

Interactions Among Domains of Creative Activity

It should be stressed that not only is it important to distinguish different forms of creativity, but that these domains are also often tightly coupled and often depend on one another.  These various interrelationships suggest the importance not only of specialized loci of creativity, but also of creativity clusters.  Planners analyze creative cities and creative regions that attract and retain talent, and that provide environments in which creative practices flourish.  The idea of a creative class has become popular, and the possibility of shifting from the information economy to the creative economy has become a hot topic. 

The Roles of Information Technology

The committee suggests that increasingly information technology constitutes the glue that holds clusters of creative activity together.  This is enhanced by its extraordinary capacity to apply the same concepts and techniques across many different fields.  Furthermore, IT can support the formation of non-geographic clusters of creative activity.  The growing integration of digital storage and processing technology with networking technology and sensor technology further strengthens the role of IT as glue.  Finally, many argue that IT is a powerful amplifier of creative practices.

The Race for Creativity in a Networked World

The committee feels that there is an emerging, global race to establish effective, sustainable, clusters of IT-enabled creative activity at local, regional, and national scales – and at larger scales.  The rewards are high.  This report provides more detailed analysis of the conditions needed for creativity in a networked world.  It asks the following questions:

1. How can information technology open up new domains of art and design practice and enable new types of works?
2. How can art and design raise important new questions for information technology and help to push forward research and product development agendas in computer science and information technology?
3. How can successful collaborations of artists, designers, and information technologists be established?
4. How can universities, research laboratories, corporations, museums, art groups, and other organizations best encourage and support work at the intersections of the arts, design, and information technology?
5. What are the effects on information technology and creative practices work of institutional constraints and incentives, such as intellectual property arrangements, funding policies and strategies, archiving, preservation and access systems, and validation and recognition systems? (28-29)

Creative Practices

Research points to a tendency for creative people to be independent, nonconformist, unconventional, to have wide interests, openness to new experiences, cognitive flexibility, and risk-taking boldness.  Creativity can be linked to tools; however, there is a difference between basic functional know-how, and higher-level skill.  Relatively few artists may pursue true IT fluency, but some movement in that direction appears important for ITCP (information technology and creative practices).  One concern is that early ITCP has been associated with artists’ frustration with IT.  However, the challenges presented by IT have helped to stimulate some kinds of art and design, and artists’ responses to those challenges should help the development of new forms of IT.  “When people or groups are fluent in IT and arts and design disciplines, they may work at either of two intersections of information technology and creative practices.”(33)  The first involves the use of computational technologies as a medium for cultural practices.  The second stresses art as a form of research or knowledge production that is interwoven with the practice of research in IT.  In seeking to understand the people who do ITCP work, the committee found it useful to examine the details of how the work is organized.  Their observations correspond closely with the social model of creativity proposed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.  Here, creativity is a three part social system made up of individuals, knowledge domains, and institutional structures.  Individuals (or groups) produce new variations on inherited conventions stored in domains.  These novelties are promoted or filtered in the field of social institutions.  Creativity results from the interaction of these three systems.

How Creativity Works

The integration of the arts and design fields and IT depends on who is doing what and how.  The human resources can be obtained through the broadening of individual skills and through collaborations.  Collaborations are frequently the preferred approach because they demand far less individual investment in learning and therefore accelerate the process of experimentation.

Successful Collaborations

Collaborations in ITCP may differ from other kinds of collaborations in that they well not be symmetrical.  Some of the more structured and better-funded ITCP collaborations are those found in commercial endeavors, such as segments of the architecture, movie production, and computer game industries.


Architecture is inherently collaborative.  As supporting technologies have developed, forms of collaboration have evolved.  Digital technology has been transforming design and construction collaboration since the 1960’s.  The shift to digital modeling and fabrication based on computer-aided design and manufacturing also provides significantly greater design freedom. 

Movie Production

“The movie industry exemplifies cooperative creative practices, relying on collaborative processes involving artists and technicians to make its magic.”(46)  Hollywood production demands this vast array of talent and skill.  Virtually every part of movie making has been transformed by IT.  Computer-generated imagery (CGI) has made virtually anything possible.  Smaller studios and independent film markets have been affected by digital video, and animated work is now being digitized.

Computer Games

Today’s game industry is an increasingly important force in youth culture and the economy – video games make more money than the Hollywood box office.  More so than film, computer games require a close marriage between the practical aspects of code and art, and between programmers and artists.  The three groups of people involved in the production of a game are the designers, programmers, and artists.  These three groups have to work to achieve an almost spousal level of understanding throughout the course of production.  If the game is played online, these groups have to work with a fourth technical group.  “This level of collaboration exists in part because game technology is a moving target.  The medium is evolving so rapidly that many games solve problems that did not even exist a year before, because the tools were not there to solve them.”(49)

Cultural Challenges in Cross-Disciplinary Collaborations

Potential collaborators from different disciplines can encounter a number of obstacles, which include: difficulties in accessing appropriate funding sources, differences in vocabulary, the absence of frameworks for evaluation, and the long time periods required for projects to gel.  However, when adequate resources are available, people can be formally taught skills that are conducive to collaboration.  If specialized training is not an option, general awareness of key issues that arise in collaborations may help projects to succeed.

Overcoming Preconceived Notions about Computer Scientists and Artists and Designers

The challenge of overcoming stereotypes permeated the personal accounts of those who briefed the committee and of the committee members themselves.  Some scientists and engineers exhibit a sense of superiority, even hostility toward those in the arts and design.  Similarly, the arts establishment sometimes regards technology suspiciously, as if it lacks a worthy lineage or is too practical to be creative.  The challenge of maintaining respect across disparate fields is an extension of the frequent differences in attitude encountered in a field between people in the more theoretical and the more applied areas.  Establishing strong common goals and ensuring individual work satisfaction is one strategy for cross-generational disciplinary communication.

Minimizing Communications Clashes

Recognizing the barriers posed by jargon, terms of art, and localized practices goes a long way toward bridging gaps.  Education and training shape expectations for communication; collaborators can also factor into receptivity to the vocabulary and styles of others.  Obviously, scientists and artists have widely differing community standards with regard to language and modes of expression and the types of questions to explore, however, successful collaborations involve mutual respect and friendship.

Resources that Support Creative Practices

IT can be exploited both to help technologists and artists learn skills and methods and gain access to tools, and to motivate and educate others.  There seem to be more resources offering IT skills training and tools than offering arts education, and in general, there is a belief that artists can learn IT faster than technologists can learn art.  An important resource in the mid-to late-1990’s was Open Studio: The Arts Online, a national initiative of the Benton Foundation and the NEA.  At Eyebeam Atelier the goal is to expose broad and diverse audiences to new technologies and the media arts while establishing and articulating new media as a significant medium of artistic expression.  This is done through education, exhibition, and an artist–in-residence program.

Work Spaces

Appropriate work spaces are an essential ingredient in creative production.  “Contemporary work spaces are in flux.  “During this time of change (or evolution), ITCP practitioners might be best served by flexible and open designs that allow for new configurations to alter the flow of work and communication.”(59)  Virtual spaces can be systems for collaborations that allow multiple users to talk and share work and work space across geographical territories.  These capabilities are changing the nature of collaborative work as well as the markets and audiences for it.

Advancing Creative Practices Through Information Technology Strange Bedfellows?

Artists and other creative practitioners within a wide array of contexts can immediately apply new tools developed by computer scientists, however, there are further important implications of information technology and creative practices (ITCP) for computer science research and development.  Some are engaging in IT research as a form of art and design practice itself.  The intended outcomes go beyond making new tools for art and design practice, to arrive at a fundamentally new way to do research.  “The naïve response for computer science researchers would be to generate as many new-media forms as possible for art and design practice.”(63)  The push and pull of new technologies focus on the new possibilities created by those technologies, rather than on the needs and perspectives of art and design practices using “old” media.  What tends to be overlooked are the subtle processes of change occurring in the traditional art and design forms as they adjust to information technologies.  But these subtle developments are no less important for the long-term ecology of digital culture, suggesting limitations of, and possibilities for, the development of technology as a medium.

Tools Needed to Support Creative Work: Hardware and Software

Computer and communications hardware and software are the tools of ITCP and the means by which almost all digital media are created and manipulated.  These tools can do many things.  A simple list of capabilities would include:

∑ Automation of processes such as drawing, composing, editing, and so on;
∑ Handling, representing, and displaying or performing information;
∑ Analysis of information and phenomena;
∑ Connection to the physical world; and
∑ Communications

Human-computer interaction specialist Ben Shneiderman argues that IT for creativity falls into eight categories: searching, visualizing, consulting, thinking, exploring, composing, reviewing, and disseminating.  However, like other tools, IT tools have shortcomings.  As stated in  a leading computer science journal, “A discontinuity exists between technology tools and our ability to interact with them in natural, beneficial, and most importantly, for this discussion, creative ways”(67)

Hardware and Software Tools: A Mixed Blessing

The committee has found that it takes a long time to integrate a new technology into the making of non-trivial art or design work.  Developers of software tools that can support creative practices have a number of variables to consider, all of which may affect the ways in which users interact with the tools – and through the tools, their own work – and the ease with which users can produce original or even groundbreaking works with those tools.  Creating a good tool requires an understanding of the problem area and often experience at the cutting edges of artistic and design and technical disciplines.  More could be accomplished with tools designed to suit a range of different tasks, however, because creativity is associated with novelty, comprehensive tools for creative work will neither be possible nor necessary to develop.  Design choices related to tool extensibility may be particularly important for broadening participation in ITCP and tool development.  One way to customize tools is with a plug-in, which extends an application by implementing a new function.  Decisions about what to expose will still influence the ways in which users can extend a tool.  “New software tools could be developed that would enable users to build their own software tools – collaboration between artists and designers and computer scientists could aim at  a meta-toolkit that would offer ease of use plus flexible, extensible results, and an Internet-accessible repository of available software and hardware tools as well as guidance of what it takes to use them would broaden access and experimentation.”(73) 

Support for Flexibility, Experimentation, and Play

Tool designers vary the kinds of structures imposed on the work process and product in their tools, often to facilitate experimentation, improvisation, and flexibility.  Tools support improvisation when they offer interactive design, revision, and elaboration of partial specifications.

Internet and the Web

The Internet is particularly useful in ITCP work because of several unique features that set it apart from traditional communications systems.  The Internet’s design encourages innovation at the edges by users, allowing a relatively unrestricted set of applications to run over it.  Furthermore, connection, interconnection, and innovation in facilities and services are relatively easy with the Internet.  Not only are computer systems connected to the Internet, but also are televisions, telephones, personal digital assistants, and other devices.  These possibilities and more open up many intriguing possibilities for ITCP work. 

Recent experience with Napster and other peer-to-peer systems has motivated experimentation among researchers and other creative communities in uses of the Internet.  Technologies such as peer-to-per networking also can challenge basic notions of exhibition or participation.  Given their roles as content-generators, artists and designers have a special interest in the Internet as a vehicle for content.  The Web offers ready access to stored documents, access to which has often required a physical presence.  Ultimately, technologists need to be receptive to the  input from artists and designers, and artists and designers must take the initiative to become engaged with technologists.

Economic Realities

A key factor that shapes the development of tools for creative work is the economics of software.  Software is expensive to develop and inexpensive to distribute.  Therefore, is most profitable when it appeals to many people.  Non-profit organizations develop some of the best tools for creative use – both in computer science and in artistic and design contexts.  Subsidies are another way to encourage the development of creative tools.


Standards can both limit and support creativity.  They do establish some constraints, but they also can allow various programs to interoperate in new and creative ways.  “With standard representations for digital images, many programs and devices can interoperate, including cameras, digital editors, Web browsers, optical character reading (or other scanning) software, and graphical interface tools.”(85)  According to the committee, a consensus statement would carry more weight with standards setters than would input from lone individuals or representatives of small groups.

Selected Areas for the Development of Hardware and Software That Would Promote Creative Work

The capabilities available for work in ITCP will become far more powerful and diverse in the coming years.  There are many opportunities for improvement.  The committee identified a handful of areas that could exert considerable leverage in promoting ITCP.

Distributed Control

One area in need of support is distributed control.  Distributed control has taken center stage as a way to handle the difficult task of coordinating computation across multiple computing units.

Sensors and Actuators

The committee sees sensors and actuators as another area deserving attention.  Advanced sensing technologies and actuators exist, but without tools to simplify their use, these technologies remain out of reach of most individuals who are not specialists.  “In addition to the challenge of using sensor and actuator technologies, there is the problem of interfacing them to computers, especially if they are non-standard.”(88)

Video and Audio

The tools that exist for time-based media (including video and audio) assume a particular style of working – the product will be a linear video or audio recording.  In addition, most tools do not support real-time processing.  Standards emerge and compete in this arena, but a common difficulty for all of these standards is to maintain compatibility.  These inconsistencies are rarely addressed, and content creators must simply work around these known problems.

Generative Processes

An attractive feature of computers is that they enable generative processes.  An artist or designer can design a process that generates material automatically.  A couple of reasons that are interesting to contemplate are that the first associated computer models depended on assumptions, and some of the earliest explorations of ITCP were generative processes.  The idea that forms can emerge from programming echoes complex processes in the physical world where the result is something you cannot expect.  For ITCP to advance, a fundamental shift is needed from computation to that based on symbols.

Reliable, Low-latency Communication over the Internet

Artists, designers, and a wide range of users have an interest in reliable, low-latency communication over the Internet.  “Higher bandwidth and/or quality-of-service guarantees could enable new levels of interaction, distributed concerts, two-way video, and other creative activities that necessitate specific levels of network performance.”(93)  As in other communities, opinions in the arts world about the value of broadband differ.  To some, a benefit of ever-increasing processor speeds has been the development of media-rich simulations and other works.  Others find such digital spectacles less compelling than new social models for peer-to-peer cultural production.

Programming Languages

Some areas of great interest to artists are not well served by programming languages.  However, because a great deal of creative activity involves combining existing concepts in new ways, and because programming languages provide the glue for assembling software tools and libraries into applications, languages are critical to innovation.

The Influence of Art and Design on Computer Science Research and Development
Beyond Tools

The information arts range across the life and space sciences, nanotechnology, robotics, and other new materials, as well as IT.  This style of practice uses artistic practice to manage and interpret information at the cusp of technological and scientific research.  This new kind of art and design practice looks more and more like technical research but it is done from an artistic or design point of view.  Artistic and design work tends to focus on the social and cultural meaning of the technology.  The committee believes that artists’ questioning can be powerful and constructive.  ITCP makes apparent the value of the artist as mediator.  The reach of the information artist extends beyond product design to process design.

Modeling Disciplines: From Multidisciplinary to Transdisciplinary

In discussions around the relationship between IT and the arts and design using a multidisciplinary model, each discipline is represented as a circle.  Overlap areas are the areas of intersection.  This conveys how IT can be applied in the arts and design areas.  “In transdisciplinary research, the point is not just application of given methodologies but also implication  - a result of imagining entirely new possibilities for what disciplines can do.”(99)  Also, in a transdisciplinary situation, artists and designers are not clients of computer scientists but instead interact with them as peers.

Implications for Computer Science

There are potentially large advantages for computer science work in being open to the perspectives of the arts and design.  Responding to disciplines from the arts and design worlds opens the possibility of discovering new methodologies for and solutions to problems that, until now, have been out of reach of the computer science field to solve or possibly even articulate.  “The perspectives of the information arts are particularly interesting in cases where CS research itself is already moving toward the perspective embodied by art and design practices.”(102)  One example of such a shift is in the field of human computer interaction (HCI).  Similar shifts are occurring in other areas of computer science.  Inartificial intelligence (AI), there has recently been a focus on lifelike computer characters or believable agents, with quite a bit of interest in incorporating elements of drama and the arts into agent design.

Promising Areas

The committee identified a number of promising areas of transdisciplinary work.  “The areas involve the social context or politics of computing; they raise difficult ethical issues that need to be addressed in the context of technical research; they have high public or social impact; and or they suggest fundamental rethinking of computer science.”(105)

Mixed Reality

Mixed reality is a new, interactive medium in which computing is taken off the desktop or head-mounted display and linked with real-world objects and places to become part of everyday, physical lives.  Here, IT development and other creative practices are synergistic.  Approaches to mixed reality include tangible media and augmented reality.  Technical issues in mixed reality include the maintenance of correspondence between real-world and virtual objects, standards for interobject communication, perception, spatial reasoning, and learning and adaption.

Computer Games

Computer games are emerging as a contemporary topic of CS research.  Computer games offer a unique arena for serious research, not only because of the underlying allure of fun and competition, but also because important new questions arise.  These questions are beginning to be addressed by CS.

Narrative Intelligence

In the 1990’s a group of students formed a new reading group, which they called narrative intelligence (NI).  The group explored issues at the intersection of narrative and both human intelligence and AI.  The group came to an understanding of, and the desire to reconcile the contradictions and incompatibilities between these two worldviews.  AI technology focused in formal, logical representation and objectivity, whereas the analytical tools provided by new literary theories focused on subjectivity, multiplicity, and the limitations of formalism.  NI research incorporates influences from a variety of fields such as; AI, psychology, art research, cultural studies, literary studies, and drama.  Research in NI is flourishing, with applications in a variety of areas.

Non-utilitarian Evaluation

Traditionally, artists use evaluation techniques that differ radically from those of computer scientists.  They seek to provoke as well as understand the user.  The committee feels that there is an opportunity to develop hybrid evaluation methodologies to combine the broader concerns of artists with the narrower and more structured methods of HCI.  “Evaluation techniques drawing on both HCI and arts traditions could rigorously examine not only the usability and utility of software and electronic products, but also the meanings they may take on in users’ everyday lives, the background cultural assumptions that underlie them, and their potential impact on current cultural issues and debates such as intellectual property issues.”(112)

Experimental Consumer Product Design

Experimental designers explore a range of issues and ideas that often differ from those of individuals working in specific product fields who are more constrained by the demands of the market.  Often, their work explores issues at the intersection of product design and social issues.

Mobile and Ubiquitous Computing

IT is being embedded into more and more physical devices, linked together through (often wireless) networks.  Networked systems of embedded computers (Emnets) will be largely invisible but extremely powerful, allowing information to be collected, shared, and processed in new ways.  However, resulting products are technically new, but do not take full advantage of the broad conceptual design space opened up by mobile and ubiquitous technologies.


A vigorous debate has been taking place in recent years about whether knowledge production is shifting from discipline-bound, strongly bounded, and relatively stable models to transdisciplinary, loosely coupled, and transient ones.  There is little to be gained by preferring either multidisciplinary or transdisciplinary exchanges.  Both have their place, and both make clear that there is a continuing need to maintain the integrity of the traditional disciplines, both in arts and sciences.  The committee has found strong evidence of the need for the sustained bridging of disciplines, involving the development of both individual practices and a community of researchers in the cross-disciplinary area with correspondingly innovative institutional structures.

Venues for Information Technology and Creative Practices
Historical Perspective
“An accurate history of the 20th-century developments related to ITCP would counter the widespread but false impression that there has been a renaissance of creativity enabled uniquely by the computer, and would make clear that a gradual development of new institutions, especially the studio-laboratory, has also played a central role.”(119)  The term “renaissance,” though, may in fact be appropriate, because the role of institutions in the last century parallels the role that they played in the Renaissance.  If the current era is a period of hybridity and interdisciplinarity, then it can also be described as a period where, in many different, local places, experts of different kinds, interested in many things, meet and learn from one another.  One can look for the complex dynamics that arise when specific ideas come into contact with each other at a variety of places.  The studio-laboratory can be viewed as a hybrid institution where such interaction can occur.

Three Classes of Studio-Laboratories

There are three classes in the development of modern studio-laboratories: art/design-driven technology development, public diffusion and critical debate, and industrially sponsored applied research.  The three classes came into being at different times and are rarely in close productive cooperation.  The three phases in which studio-laboratories were founded are:
1. Research and production were oriented principally toward the creation of singular, visionary works.
2. Toward the end of the 1970’s specialized institutions were planned and established to focus on the presentation of new technological art in public areas.
3. Beginning in the 1980’s it was oriented toward applied research and development.

Schools, Colleges, and Universities

Schools of art and design, colleges, and universities are fertile ground for fostering work in ITCP.  They facilitate the acquisition of new and different skills and insights, they bridge old and new knowledge and techniques and ways of thinking and doing, and they provide a ready source of talent and motivated labor to support work in ITCP.   However, how academic environments embrace change caries enormously.  Still, ITCP activities have begun to proliferate in academia.

Institutional Issues and Public Policy

There are four relevant global issues on which committee members have informed commentary to offer here: digital copyright, digital archiving and preservation, validation and recognition structures, and the geography of ITCP.  In these four areas, ITCP work could benefit from some type of concerted action by several interested groups.  “First, the ongoing copyright debates on the use and re-use of digital information have important immediate and future consequences for the conduct of ITCP work.  Second, the archiving and preservation of digital content for the benefit of future generations – to support both future enjoyment and to serve as a baseline for future ITCP work – requires action now before many digital works become lost.  Third, new recognition and validation structures may be needed to evaluate and reward ITCP work that is notably different from mainstream information technology (IT) or arts and design work.  And fourth, regional development policies and practices can encourage or discourage the evolution of environments conducive to ITCP work.”(176-177)

Supporting Work in Information Technology and Creative Practices

Support for ITCP comes from many sources and is difficult to measure.  Also, many questions complicate a full understanding of ITCP funding.  Because commercial activity spans only a portion of ITCP, commercial resources are not sufficient to sustain ITCP.  Further, commercial activity is not evenly distributed.  Here the focus is on non-commercial – government and philanthropic – funding for ITCP because: it is linked to the most exploratory activity, it is linked to education and human capacity building, it is most likely to sustain the non-and pre-institutionalized activities that have been significant in early ITCP, and it is associated with a broad set of public-interest objectives.  “Although government and philanthropic funding for ITCP has a broader scope than funding linked to creating and distributing commercial products, it comes with a range of conditions.”(198)  The funding challenge lies in ensuring that practitioners and funders have enough common interests to nurture a vigorous spectrum of ITCP activities via their combination of creative effort and wherewithal.


This book is highly valuable in that it is not only a promotion of ITCP through education, but it is also a great resource to a great number of related web-links.  I was also excited to find one of my “dream galleries” mentioned (Mixed Greens).

Some work that I have done that may relate here was a project I took on about 6 years ago through the Arts in Education program in Buffalo.  This project involved going into urban and suburban schools and teaching the art students basic web design.  The students were highly encouraged to exhibit their artwork on these sites.  The overall concept was to tie it into the Pan-America event that took place in Buffalo in the 1800’s.  The final result culminated in an exhibit at the Burchfied Penney Gallery on the anniversary of the Pan-Am.  The exhibit consisted of both physical and web-based interactive work.

Also, briefly, I would like to mention that my own artwork has been highly influenced by computer technology.  In one body of work, I create color-separated, half-tone images and create “pixel stencils” through which I paint.  Not only do I hope to open discussions related to “the media”, but am also interested in the space between the material and immaterial. 

Submitted by Eli Pollard   


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The Invention of Communication

Stefani Bardin on Armand Mattelart

“Communication: a term with a great number of meanings…” 1753 (intro). Starbucks/Search for Meaning Banal + Quotidian/Phenomenological + Far Reaching The invention of communication began , according to  Mattelart when apparatuses and mechanisms of communication enter both visions of human emancipation and strategies of power. He situated the invention of communication around the 17th and 18th centuries, when there was a rise of both the concept of travel and commerce and the concept of the perfectibility or in some cases the lack thereof  human societies (St. Simon, Comte [positivsm] T/M/S, Malthus, Adam Smith) as well as the taking into account of communication in the organization of territories.  The notion of communication that was born in those two centuries was a notion which referred mostly to the organization of road infrastructures, or networks of routes. There is a predominant reference (eg.  made regarding Mattelart’s study of the similarity between Silicon Valley and  the smooth transformation of Saint-Simonianism from a utopian Parisian  intellectual fashion of the 1820s and 1830s (preaching industrial  associationism, universal love that reaches beyond, not against, social  distinctions) into a certain ideological force--the force that, in the  name of creating a universal bond, propelled the visionaries of the  communication networks that became indispensable to the cultural hegemony and imperialistic geopolitics (offshoot of colonialsism) of capitalism. According to Mattelart every technology involved in "the multiple  circuits of exchange and circulation of goods, peoples, and messages" was a technology of communication (p. xiv). For example, the Saint-Simonian  conception of a communication technology, the "cult of the network" as  Mattelart calls it, was broad enough to include a network of railroads  and an advertising network, a network of journals and a network of banks,  a network of canals and a network of industrial fairs. While simultaneously embodying a profound notion of utopia. Mattelart finds that the contemporary rhetoric about a communication revolution was the ideology of the whole of historical capitalism. The scope of his study includes: "avenues of communication networks, of long distance  transmission, and the means of symbolic exchange, such as world fairs,  high culture, religion, language, and of course the media" (p. xiv.) Mattelart organizes his posits around four parts or chapters:  communication technology as enabling social flow (rational /enlightened state administration, market fluidity/liberal political  economy, evolutionary fluidity/Darwinian social theory), Utopian place  (Saint-Simonian network, world's fair, Fourierism [women]), Geopolitical space  (national and imperial, linguistic and cultural, religious and military),  and the measure of the individual (of a psychological and physiological social individual,  of a market consumer). Blah.  Blah.  Blah. Thrust or moment of relevence of his argument occurs in his epilogue: Page #302 : “Out of this question came a first generation of semantics… Benjamin: Page #111 proleptism (From The Arcades) [Mattleart – Temple of Industry Page #120] Paris, Capital of the 19th Century (Expose of 1939) World’s Fair – places of pilgrimage to worship the commodity fetish. Norbert Bolz & Willem van Reijen, Walter Benjamin, trans. Laimdota Mazzarins, New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1996, p. 57-58: "For Benjamin, World War I marked the end of the humanistic human  being, but also the possible beginning of humankind. In this connection  his anthropological materialism develops perspectives that exempt his work  as a whole from any humanistic argumentation. His volume of aphorisms, One-Way Street , ends with a scandalous thesis: antiquity's experience  of the cosmos as a state of intoxication, which was superseded by the visual orientation of the modern sciences, returns in distorted form as the bloody  frenzy of world war. Thus Benjamin views war as a distorted form of communication  with the cosmos. The only thing that could save us from the chaos of destruction  would be successful cosmic communication through the technical organization  of the body of mankind. Thus the aim is to discern a collective surgery  of the social body in the turbulent development of the new technologies.  The aesthetic fascination of war cannot be otherwise explained. "Masses  of people, gases, electrical forces were thrown into the open countryside,  high-frequency sounds pierced the landscape, new constellations rose in  the sky, air space and the depths of the ocean hummed with propellers....  During the last war's nights of destruction, the limbs of humankind were  shaken by a feeling that looked like the thrill of the epileptic. And the  revolts that followed it were the first attempt to bring the new body into  their power." (IV 147 f.) [Mattelart and body analogism] In a state of frenzy, the war unleashed technology in the collective  collapse, because technology has not become a human instrument and thus man's 'key to happiness' (III 250). To this frenzy of technology Benjamin's  anthropological materialism contrasts a technology of frenzy --"secular enlightenment" [or 'profane illumination' --ST]. The main difficulty  here is to attain a synthesis of frenzy and construction. For secular enlightenment  is meant to provide the experience of frenzy with an intelligible structure.  It could be expressed in the formula: secular enlightenment is to narcotic  intoxication as the dialectical image is to the mythical image. As in some  gnostic models of knowledge, dream and clarity are meant to coincide. Thus  understood, intoxication is an original phenomenon of experience. It is  always radical and extreme: radical in its "radicalization" of  the ego and its opening-up of experience to the masses, and extreme in  its stretching of individual experience. Now through new technology there is a numbing toward the spectacle.  Through expanded media (blogging/RSS/surfing the internet) a notion of disembodient begins to appear… Professor Armand Mattelart: The problem I believe is that the notion of communication has become polyphonic. It's difficult in media studies today, to escape a definition which gives too much importance to the media sphere. Michael Dwyer: What is it that we lose by taking this media-centric approach. Professor Armand Mattelart: Well what escapes us is the plurality of actors who intervene in processes of communication. The plurality of apparatuses and mechanisms and the very complexity of these processes. The problem is that the tensions which have marked the history of communicational thought are never reconciled: tensions between physical and immaterial networks, between biological and social approaches, between nature and culture, between micro and macro perspectives, between a village and the globe, between the actor and the system, the individual and society, freewill and social economic determinations. The field of research is marked then by dichotomy, whereas each of these terms should be analysed as related levels, not as dichotomies. This vision which stresses opposition and dichotomies leads to a loss of the sense of complexity of the phenomenon. Michael Dwyer: Instead Mattelart suggests that we pay attention to four intertwined histories of communication. Professor Armand Mattelart: I believe there are indeed four histories, which I have called as follows: the history of flows, the history of the social bond, the history of space, and the history of measure or more precisely, man as measure. The first represents the domestication of communication flows and society in movement. I try to understand how modern communication is bound up with the successive notions of freedom and emancipation, but also with ideas of development. The second history is of the creation of a universal bond. That is, how communication and communication apparatuses played a role in the creation of a universal bond. One of the first sources of this operation were the initial formulation about communications networks as a tool of global solidarity. The third history involves the dimension of space. It's clear that all of this took off above all, with the colonisation of the world by the west. The fourth history is the one which Michel Foucault would call the history of normalisation. It's the history of the emergence of the calculable individual. It should be further noted that the calculable individual was constructed through what we could call statistical reason. Today, in order to connect with the reality of the end of the 20th century, we have, for example the setting up of data banks with profiles of individuals in order to target them for marketing campaigns.

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Stephanie Bardin on Mattelart

Mattelart listen here

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The Invention of Communication

Armand Mattelart
Translated by Susan Emanuel

Armand Mattelart is professor of information and communication sciences at the Universite de Haute-Bretagne, France.  He is the author of Mapping World Communication and co-author of Rethinking Media Theory, both published by the University of Minnesota Press.


Contemporary communication studies tend to be confined to the area of mass media.  This prevents us from discerning the current transformations that are taking place in our modes of communication.  As a remedy to a history caught in the obsessions of the present, Mattelart has, “situated the long process of (communication’s) invention at the moment when a field of practical and theoretical knowledge began to take shape around the notion of communication as a system of thought and power and as a mode of government,” (xi)

Introduction: Flow, Bond, Space, and Measure

Mattelart’s archeology of knowledge about communication is organized around four parallel histories.  The first deals with the domestication of flows and of a society in movement.  The second history he examines deals with the issue of the place occupied by communication in the conception and creation of a universal social bond.  Thirdly is the history interested in space.  Finally is the emergence of the individual who can be calculated, the “man-as-measure.”(xiv)

The Society of Flows
The Paths of Reason

The beginning of communication as a project and a realization of reason came from the ideal of the perfectibility of human societies according to Mattelart.  This first began around the communication routes necessary in forming a national space.  Mattelart uses 17th and 18th centuries as an example.  He states, “ In Vauban’s time, the absence of a fluid and coherent system of communication was still a major obstacle to the organization of a French national space.” (6)  Vauban considered river navigation to potentially be twenty-five times more economical than land transportation to this end.  Although Vauban’s canal work did little for a domestic market, it was later seen as the birth of the star-shaped network that would mark networks that come later.

In 1669 the Ponts et Chaussees was entrusted with the building and maintenance of bridges, roads, canals rivers, and ports.  In 1738 the policy of road systems was formulated.  In 1744 large-scale topography made its appearance.  According to historians Yves Chicoteau and Antoine Picon, “the eighteenth century considered in effect, that prejudices were born of isolation, whereas Reason fought them by making possible the coming together of individuals.”(11)  In the 19th century the problem of the measurement of longitudes at sea was finally resolved, bringing with it not only “automatic machines to measure time”, (15) but also would mark the history of thought about calculation.  Mattelart takes us back to the 1700’s when Marcello Malpighi imported the word “network” into science, and Isaac Newton would bring the word system into philosophy and “revolution into politics.  Despite an omnipresence of the organic metaphor in the analyses offered by an early political economy, the network remained outside the language of the living.

The Economy of Circulation

In 1758 philosopher –economist Francois Quesnay published his Economic table, Explanation, and General Maxims of economic government in which he offered a macroscopic and materialist vision of the economy.  “Circulation was seen as double, just like that of blood.  One circuit exists between nature (the land) and man; the other between the three social classes that compose society.” (27)  Quesnay believed that only by guaranteeing circulation would wealth be perpetuated.  The reformer Turgot made circulation his mission.  Under his management a new system for graveling roads was invented and applied.  More importantly, however, Turgot protested against forced labor.  This lead to a debate with the minister of justice, which was the first in history in which the problem of communication was posed in terms of inequality and social injustice.

With the telegraph came the “vast enterprise of rationalization and mastering space.”(47)  Although the use of the telegraph was oriented toward an obsession with internal security, revolutionary thinkers placed all their democratic hopes in this first means of long-distance communication.  By 1855 the country would be covered with the longest telegraphic network in the world.  Eventually access of the telegraphic service would be given to railroad companies, commodity markets, press agencies, and the public.  The telegraph played a determining role in the invention of steam locomotion.  “The development of the operation of railways could not really become possible …until the electric telegraph, whose aid arrived at the right time and has constantly gone hand-in-hand with steam locomotion.”(51)  In 1825 military engineers approved the term “network” to designate the connections among fortifications, subterranean galleries, and routes of communication.

The Cross Roads of Evolution

Scot Adam Smith (1723-90) stated, “The greatest improvement in the productive powers of labor, and the greater part of the skill, dexterity, and judgment with which it is anywhere directed, or applied, seem to have been the effects of the division of labour.” (54)  Although Smith was not the first to speak of the principle of the division of labor, he was the first to use it to build a scientific system.  He made the connection between a pin manufacturer in Normandy and a search for the general laws of nature as they operate in the economy of nations.  The English school of classical economics would relay, correct, and adapt Smith’s analyses. 

John Stuart Mill wrote of England’s maritime situation in 1848, “But few who have not considered the subject, have any adequate notion how great an extent of economical advantage this comprises; nor, without having considered the influence exercised on production by exchanges, and by what is called the division of labor, can it be fully estimated.”(58)  Renewal of thought on the division of labor came in England from two authors: Edward G. Wakefield and Charles Babbage.  Wakefield added to the division of labor the idea of cooperation; simple cooperation is the union of several workers who help each other in particular labor situations.  From this, Wakefield constructed a theory and practice of the management of territory in colonies, advocating “systematic colonization.”  Mathematician and inventor Charles Babbage’s contribution to the conceptualization of the division of labor is connected to the history of information - computing machines.  Babbage observed that the division of labor allows the classification of workers according to their capabilities.  The concept of division of labor theorized by Adam Smith combined with another theoretical tradition, which was discussed around the conceptual pair of growth and development arising from the life sciences.  Auguste Comte’s project was to build the foundation of a social physics modeled on the biological approach.  Comptean positivism and its organic theory of society would exercise a profound influence on future theoreticians of communication.  “We must overlook the greatness of the step made by M. Comte… apart from the tenability of his sociological doctrines. His way of conceiving social phenomena was much superior to all previous ways; and among other of its superiorities, was this recognition of the dependence of Sociology on Biology…” stated Herbert Spencer in The Study of Sociology in 1873.  However, Spencer confessed that the word “sociology” was the only thing he had borrowed from Comte.  Both Spencer and Comte adopted an evolutionary perspective, but Comte marks his break with the philosophers of a theological and metaphysical bent, and lets it be understood that observation of social phenomena must prevail over sensory experience and logical methods as well as the search for general laws.  Spencer creates his “social physiology “ by taking up the mechanical model of energy physics.  Spencer’s framework for interpreting The Origin of Species, would foster a social use of Darwinian theory that moved in the direction of a sociological evolutionism.  Darwin himself wished for such a cross-fertilization.  Eric Hobsbawm writes, “the theory of evolution by natural selection reached out far beyond biology… It ratified the triumph of history over all the sciences, though ‘history’ in this connection was generally confused by contemporaries with ‘progress’.”(79)

Utopias of the Universal Bond
The Cult of the Network

In the development of the vision of society-as-organism Claude Heri de Saint-Simon’s ideas provide an essential link.  Pierre Musso notes that, “The philosophy of Saint-Simon, appearing at the start of the 19th Century after the French Revolution, assembled symbolic images of the body as a state, identified with an equivalence between the organism and the network, and mobilized them to develop a theory of administration thought of as transition/mediation between social systems: the celebrated passage from the “government of men” to the “administration of things.”  Saint-Simon transferred the vision of combinations and entanglements from anatomy to the social, from the natural organism to the social organization as the production of an artificial network.  Saint-Simon embraced the cause of the “industrialists” who were “the real center and home of civilization,” inciting them to gather, mobilize, and make history.  “Hope our nation’s sons, that / the hand that breaks our curse / Braids the network of industry / That will embrace the universe,”(96) sang Saint Simonian songwriter Louis Vincard in 1835.  The Saint-Simonian model included a belief in progress and a belief in the approaching advent of a “Universal Association” that would come about for some through the intervention of technical networks of free trade in commodities and ideas, and for others through networks of social solidarity.  Saint- Simonian doctrine would become part of the natural landscape of great interoceanic projects and in the construction of rail lines.  However, the Saint-Simonians with Michel Chevalier at their head would become carried away with the idea of Universal Expositions.  As Walter Benjamin would point out in 1939, “The Saint-Simonians foresaw the development of world industry; they did not foresee class struggle.  This is why, with respect to participation in all industrial and commercial enterprises toward the middle of the 19th century , one must recognize their powerlessness in matters of concerning the proletariat.”(111)

The Temple of Industry

The first international industrial exposition in history took place in London in 1851.  It was housed in the Crystal Palace.  However, although England may have been the first to internationalize the formula of the industrial exposition, France was the inventor.  During the first half of the 19th century, ten such events were organized in Paris.  The 1849 Exposition was meant to be international, but it met with opposition from manufacturers and chambers of commerce who were not ready for foreign competition.  Due to such boundaries that stood in the way of trade the emergence of the “industrial exposition” came about.  Here nothing was sold or bought.  Industrial machines were exhibited and the means of production used to manufacture them.  “In this way, exhibitions sought to promote technological innovation, bring industry closer to society, and stimulate industrial patriotism and simple national pride.”(115)  At the beginning of the century, the national industrial exposition included only four sections: mechanical arts, chemical arts, fine arts, and textiles.  In 1867, the Universal Exposition in Paris would include ten groups and ninety-five classes of exhibits.  From the first Universal Exposition on these events became a site of international agreements.  These congresses and conferences were informal until 1878, but that year they would become official.  “In 1878 thirty-two international congresses met at the Paris Exposition; in 1889, no less than sixty-nine, including scientific congresses…congresses by professional or amateur activity… congresses on social issues… congresses on peace, currency, the study of colonial questions, consumer cooperatives, artistic property, industrial property, the protection of works of art and monuments and the conservation of popular traditions.”(125-126)  In 1889, the general chronicler was concerned about the drift toward “amusement”.  The same year bore witness to gaudy attractions from the United States in the form of giant posters of Buffalo Bill with his “redskins” covering the walls of Paris.  The path of the ascetic apprenticeship to progress, work, and high culture which was untouched in the 1870’s now entered into conflict with the undisciplined uses of festival and leisure.

The Communitarian City

In an unfinished text begun in 1623, Francis Bacon imagined an ideal city based on science, The New Atlantis.  This first work of science fiction resembles the Atlantis imagined by Plato.  In this New Atlantis is the refusal of the foreign, “the prohibition on communication with the outside, the imposition of a strict secrecy, and with major restrictions placed on the movements of its insular inhabitants.”(134)  The Utopian Charles  Fourier took the opposite position to Bacon’s communicational closure.  “The street galleries are a mode of internal communication… At each extremity of this spacious corridor there are elevated passages, supported by columns, and also attractive underground passages that connect all parts of the phalanx and the adjoining buildings.  Thus everything is linked by a series of passageways…”(135)  Walter Benjamin said that “the innermost origin (of the Fourierist utopia) lay in the appearance of machines …the phalanstery was to lead men back into relations in which morality would become superfluous.  Its highly complicated organization resembled machinery.  Fourier represented collective psychology as a clock mechanism.”(139) What also brings Etienne Cabet and Morelly together is a shared view of the positivity of the sciences and technology.  “Machines are a good in themselves, since they relieve the worker by augmenting production… OF all social systems, the community is that which most facilitates great and powerful machines, because it is the one that most concentrates all the intellectual and material strength of a great nation… innumerable machines will be in vented, and everything will be done by machines…”(143)  Englishman Samuel Butler (1835-1902) went so far as to say that there is no security against the ultimate development of mechanical consciousness.  This leads us to the paranoid world of Russian naval architect Yevgeny Zamyatin who was obsessed with “the programmed, dehumanized universe, the air-conditioned hell.”(157)  Zamyatin’s “We” is a body with a thousand nameless heads, where each individual is represented by a number and enjoys being a molecule.  The others are ourselves repeated a thousand times.  This certainly places Zamyatin at the oppositional end of utopias of the ideal city.

Geopolitical Space
The Hierarchization of the World

In 1884 the International Meridian Conference took place in Washington.  Twenty-five countries decided to align themselves on Greenwich to reckon a universal time.  Fernand Bradel defined the concept of “world-economy” on the basis of a triple reality: a given geographical space; the existence of a pole serving as the center of the world; and intermediate zones around this pivot, with large marginal areas , which find themselves subordinate to and dependent on the needs of a center that dictates the law.  The relations of domination between center and periphery would be etched into the very networks of national communication within dependent zones.  Distortion was also the rule in the relations the U.S. established with the periphery.  “In 1882, a U.S. network first reached El Paso.  The great neighbor to the north was then on the second phase of construction of its railways, that is, the phase following territorial implantation and whose aim was to build ‘systems’ by means of interterritorial connections, so as to unite trade centers with sources of national wealth.  In Mexico, however, intraterritorial communication was not on the agenda…”(174)

Symbolic Propagation

The objective fixed for the Roman Catholic Church by Gregory XVI was to envelop the earth in a network of missions.  In 1804 Napoleon stated, “My intention is that the Foreign Missionary Society of Paris be reestablished; these secular priests will be very useful to me in Asia, Africa, and in America; I will send them to gather information on the state of countries.  Their robes protect them and serve to conceal political and commercial designs.”(181)  Under pope Gregory XVI was a violent plea against the notion of Freedom of press. Propagation was part of the discourse of those who made the struggle of languages political, economic, and cultural.  In 1883, the Alliance Françoise, a national association for the propagation of the French language in the colonies and abroad was created.  The Alliance was a private association, but it was created with the knowledge and approval of ministries of public education and foreign affairs, and with the cooperation of the government.  This allowed it to accomplish “what the state could not always undertake without other states’ taking umbrage.”(187)  At the origin of their initiative was the balance of linguistic power in the world.  According to Herbert George Wells, French and English would surely be the languages that would impose themselves along with possibly German.  When the Alliance Francaise began to weave its networks however, the contrast was great between this cultural strategy of market penetration and the commercial policy adopted by the German Empire.

The Measure of the Individual

In 1835, the Belgian astronomer and mathematician Adolphe Quetelet wrote, “The average man is to a nation, what the center of gravity is to a body; it is to him that an appreciation of all the phenomena of equilibrium and its movements refers.”(228)  The average man is elevated to the status of a basic unit of a new science of social measurement: “social physics.”  Quetelet’s Essay on social physics was published in the same year as the appearance in French of the word “normalcy.”  Francois Ewald said of the impact of Quetelet’s importance on the emergence of a new art of governing, Quetelet’s importance is to have been a crossroads, a place of intersection, a point of precipitation.  Things still isolated dispersed, and separated were, thanks to him, placed in contact with each other and took on a new form, new developments, and a new future.  Quetelet was the man who universalized probability calculus – which is the universal converter.”(229)  Quetelet’s last book, published in 1871was titled Antropometry, or the measurement of the different faculties of man.  This work staked out the terrain on which a project for anthropometric indexing would flourish in the 1880’s.  About this time (1883)police in France began use of individual cards for locating and identifying criminals.  The banal particulars of detainees were replaced by a summary of anthropometric measurements.  Fingerprinting was soon added to these measurements.  Anew science was born; criminal anthropology.  From individual crime to collective crime, from individual psychology to collective psychology – the path was traced toward “crowd psychology.”  Scipio Sighele’s intention was to stake out his new field of collective psychology by studying the criminal manifestations of that “psychological polyhedron that is the crowd.”  Collective crime has several levels.  “Its simplest form is that born of the association of two delinquents.  Then one moves to the association of malefactors and that of the criminal sect.  And from the sect to the crowd the distance is very short, since the sect itself may also be defined as the chronic form of the crowd, which may then be seen merely as the acute form of the sect.”(244)  In a book by Gustave Le Bon on the psychological laws of the evolution of peoples that appeared in 1894, he had first thought through the psychology of the whole peoples.  “Le Bon’s judgments on the coexistence of races are extremely abrupt.  The notion of “soul of the race,” or, “in other words, the national soul,” the ancestral soul,” is at the heart of his analysis.  Any mixing of races is necessarily disastrous.”(247)  For Le Bon there are superior and inferior peoples and races, and even within superior peoples there exist inferior beings.  The inferior person gains his strength by joining a group, whereas the superior person thereby loses strength. The crowd is a being unto itself.  There exists a “psychological law of the mental unity of crowds.”  A collective soul is formed, which combines with the soul of the race.  Gabriel Tarde shared his own reflections on the topic “The Crimes of Crowds” with participants at the third international congress on criminal anthropology in Brussels.  He was opposed to the narrow conception of collective action defended by crowd psychology, in particular by Le Bon.  The crowd, in Tarde’s view was a social group of the past.  The group of the future was the public.  Tarde’s influence would go beyond anthropology and extend to North American sociology in its period of early development.  After Tarde’s death there would be a long silence in French social science concerning the means of communication and formation of public opinion.  His influence would be felt more particularly on the Chicago School, which would, from 1910- 1930’s, be the foremost center of sociological teaching and research in the U.S.

In the latter part of the 19th century, a need was felt for an expertise for an expertise in kinetics in order to master bodies in movement and improve performance and productivity.  In France instruments to record the work of the muscles was perfected.  This, of course, led to the invention of the motion picture.  The decomposition of time and motion led mechanical engineers to become economists who created a managerial revolution.

The final part of the measure of the individual was the targeting strategy.  “The route that led to targeting audiences followed the twists and turns of a culture more and more oriented to entertainment, addressing the wide majority and manufactured according to industrial norms.”(277)  Marketing and advertising are its core, and America is its breeding ground. 


Mattelart’s take on communication caught me a little off guard.  I was expecting to be presented with more discourse on language, fine arts, and mass media.  This fresh approach to communication, however, dealt more with life sciences, circulation of goods, industry, travel, etc. 

This is truly an historical work, as Mattelart is determined get away from our current conception of communication, which is obsessed with the present.  This historical approach, caught me by surprise as well.  Although Mattelart’s approach is thorough, I found his own personal form of communication a little disconcerting.  His style of writing lacks a natural flow.  Perhaps if his chronological approach was “ironed out” a bit (along a stricter timeline) this would help to resolve the issue.  However, considering the varied and complex systems he has chosen to present, he does a fine job of presenting an interesting approach to communication in its many forms.

submitted by Elli Pollard

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Al notes on Kester

notes for a discussion / notes on a discussion

In Conversation Pieces, (2005), Garnt Kester is really concerned with a narrow range of art within contemporary activist-related art practice... specifically art practice in which an empathetic conversational exchange is central to the creation of the work... either in its conceptualization or in its performance.

He is concerned (overly-concerned I would say) with contextualizing and legitimizing these practices within the fine arts.

The article by Gregory Sholette I brought in “Dark Matter: Activist Art and the Counter-Public Sphere” <> also has a concern with placing related practices (including Tactical Media, exchange-based art, etc) within the fine arts. What interested me, however, is that he also makes reference to a variety of other practices which veer further away from fine art such as 'zine production and prankish workplace sabotage. It brings up for me the idea of drawing a  different circle around the practices and framing them differently. Instead of drawing a circle around the practices for which we might realistically make an argument for including within the definition of art, why not draw a circle around the activities which share a certain conceptual intent and work to create a theory around that. I throw out a few phrases: “Experimental Social Work,” might be a more fruitful way to look at Suzanne Lacy's work with police and teens in Oakland, and WauchenKlausur's work with drug addicts and policy makers in Zurich.  “Experimental Social Poetics” might encompass this type of work and also a range of other activities: “Buffalo Got Hacked,” the kids I saw dressed as zombies and walking through a shopping mall in Toronto, graffiti, culture jamming, subversions of audience/performer mode, 'zines and independent publishing, and even workplace sabotage.

Consider the difference between professional baseball and a regular Sunday softball game in the park. Professional baseball is a major spectacle. People keep records of what happens and argue over it and analyze it for years to come. It supports a major industry and a host of dreams. The Sunday game plays by the same formal rules but has entirely different aims. These may include good exercise, community-building, socialization. These things are all valid and perhaps more important than the spectacle that pro sports provides. Does it make sense to say, “Our Sunday game is a valid sporting event just like the World Series.” ? Do we need validation from the Sports section of the paper? Should we keep stats?

Trebor responded with much incredulity and amusement when I described the article as poorly thought-out and from an obscure no-count website. OK, I now see that Sholette has an impressive CV, that a longer version of the piece was published in a journal, etc etc. Obviously, I am wrong then! Seriously though, my point was not to knock the article but rather to say that just as we can find interesting, exciting and important work which is not accepted in the art world, we can find valuable and illuminating ideas even in texts which are generated and disseminated away from the journals and which we do not feel are entirely conceptually cohesive.

Wochenklausur -> conversation on boat (compares to John Heartfield collage – elements “break free” of cultural determination)

Compares Suzanne Lacy to impressionists attempt to challenge neo- classicism

Routes project in Belfast -> bus drivers union kept Protestant and Catholic drivers working together and driving all routes... project involved oral history

Kester situates the work within the avant garde pg 9 (“elicit a more open attitude  toward experience”) also wants to challenge that avant garde must be shocking or difficult

“...what we urgently need are models for how (communication) can succeed.” (pg 9)

The three projects share a concern with dialog as a central feature of their construction and composition - > not just after the work is created (different than conversation as reaction or in the reception which is more the relational aesthetics idea)

(pg 10) Kester says dialogical projects go against “banking concept” where artist     “puts meaning in” which gets withdrawn later (says dialog unfolds). I would say: the art exists in two parts - > the experience and its documentation -> it is mostly  through the doc. that it gets “framed as art” ... it enters  the area of ideas and art     discussions, in this mode it might behave in the same “banking” way. 


RESOURCE LEVEL > change in policy, redistribution of food, etc -> “dialogical moment”
IDEA LEVEL --> documentation, “another world is possible” -------> “banking concept”

Kester seems intent on finding an aesthetic appreciation of the activities on the Resource Level... I would say that the aesthetic activity is on the Idea Level (a compelling poetics to the idea)

pg 12 Kester Should differentiate between Participants and Audience. I would         say that they are different. Participants are in the Resource level (and the Idea level) whereas the Audience are fully in the Idea level.

Chapter 1: Eyes of the Vulgar...
Cement House vs “West Meats East”

Enlightenment Aesthetics - > Avant Garde shock

Chapter 2: Duration Performativity Critique
Dada, Derive, Fluxus etc. pg 58 three art modes       

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Elli on Kester's Conversation Pieces

Whiteread Community & Communication in Modern Art
Grant H. Kester

Grant H. Kester is Associate Professor of Art History at the University of California, San Diego, and the editor of Art, Activism, and Oppositionality: Essays from “Afterimage” (1998).

Kester begins by discussing a series of artists that have adopted an approach, which is performative and process-based.  They provide context rather than content.  The first group of arts, WochenKlausur seeks an intervention in drug policy through conversations on a boat with key political, journalistic and activist communities.  They were able to meet a consensus through the creation of a boarding house where drug-addicted sex workers could seek refuge.  Kester’s analysis of this work’s relevant legacy of modernist art is found “in the ways in which aesthetic experience can challenge conventional perceptions and systems of knowledge.”(#3)  Next is a performance art project, The Roof Is on Fire, by Suzanne Lacy.  This brought together over two hundred high school students in conversations on top of a parking garage in Oakland, California where they held a series of improvisational dialogues on the problems facing young people of color in California.  With more than a thousand Oakland residents and local media present, the youths were able to take control of their image.  These dialogues led to other community collaborations. Finally, Kester discusses the ROUTES project, which was organized around exchanges with bus drivers, writers, photographers, filmmakers, and other artists in 2001 resulting in a range of works.  At the center of the project was a process of listening to and documenting the drivers’ experience in relation to sectarian violence.  All of these projects share a concern with the creative facilitation of dialogue and exchange.  Conversation becomes an integral part of the work itself. Kester uses the term dialogical to describe these and related works which have an interactive character.  Kester seeks to distinguish these projects from political or social activism by presenting them as works of art.

The Eyes of the Vulgar
This chapter asserts an art historical context for the rest of the book through a reading of the way in which value has been assigned to the intelligibility of the work of art.  First, two works are compared to show the differences between a dialogical approach and the avant-garde discourse starting in the early twentieth century.  The first project is Rachel Whiteread’s House (1993).  House was based on the avant-garde recipe of shock, disruption, and ambiguity where consensus is considered insubstantial. It was provocative yet indeterminate, opaque yet open to differing conditions.  Viewers who didn’t gain insight to the work were written about as a lost cause.  Furthermore, House was conceptualized without any direct interaction with the site’s residents.  The second work, West Meets East (1992) by Loraine Leeson of The Art of Change, culminated in a billboard not far from Whiteread’s sculpture.  Leeson worked with Peter Dunn for nearly twenty years as The Art of Change developing collaborative projects with various groups in London.  In West Meets East, dialogues with young women from the Bow School focus on their common experiences in living between two cultures.  Leeson considers herself a facilitator of shared visions.  The two works discussed here represent two approaches to creating art.  With House, the object came first.  With West Meets East, like most of the work in the book, the starting point was a dialogue with the community.  The artistic identity of The Art of Change is based in part on their capacity to listen and to maximize the collective creative potential of the group they work with.  Unlike the situation with House, there is no theoretical framework in place to analyze a work like West Meets East.

Aesthetics and Common Sense

The motive behind the avant-garde rhetoric of shock and disruption is complex.  It seeks to make the viewer more receptive to the natural world, other beings, and other forms of experience; to shock them out of an existing perspective in order to witness the sensitive perceptions of the artist.  Aesthetic experience prepares us for entry into an idealized community of speakers.  However, this utopian vision is threatened by advertising and mass media.  This relationship between art, advertising, and propaganda is a central point of tension in modern art theory.  While art’s function is almost always presented in opposition to a malevolent other that threatens to destroy or compromise it, art’s promises must be deferred as it struggles to survive the mass culture flood.  As a result, a significant feature of the modernist tradition is a meditation on the ruins of discourse.

The Cold White Peaks of Art

Protecting the purified body of the aesthetic from advertising and mass culture requires the creation of increasingly formidable barriers.  The art of semantic resistance becomes an end in itself and a defining point of the avant-garde.  This development first appears in debates by Roger Fry and Clive Bell.  While Bell is critical of artists whose work relies on shared symbols and representation, Fry states that the “truly creative artist” is “noxious and unassimilable” to “social man”.  Fry and Bell tend to naturalize the elitism of art.  There are many contradictions in their writings.  There is the assumption that understanding art is universal, but at the same time an assertion that the masses will never be able to enjoy a true aesthetic experience. Also, they acknowledge that the ability to experience significant form depends on having leisure time to master the complex codes of innovative movements, while denying that difficult art is discursively coded.  Finally, while halfheartedly appealing to a revolution that might one day universalize aesthetic enlightenment, they readily succumb to the resignation that the elitism of high art is inevitable. However, their work does contain many of the key elements of an avant-garde discourse that takes form later in the twentieth century.

Repin’s Peasant
For Clement Greenberg, art differs from kitsch in its ability to frustrate simplistic translation.  The artwork asserts its difference from, and resistance to, mass culture by refusing to communicate with the viewer.  The only refuge for the artist disenchanted with socialism and disgusted by capitalism was to withdraw into a resistant subjectivity and reject comprehensibility entirely.  A group of New York School artists made a statement criticizing a critic’s writings about their work as being “program notes” for the “simple minded”.  According to the artists their images contained an “intrinsic” meaning that resisted translation.

The Elegiac Image

According to Mark Rothko, the only appropriate response to a world filled with vulgar eyes is silence and withdrawal.  This is a withdrawal from meaning itself.  Leo Bersani and Ulysse Dutoit effect an important transition in avant-garde discourse by linking the critique of representational art (Bell & Greenberg) to a broader set of philosophical assumptions regarding the constitution of human subjectivity.  So Rothko’s refusal to produce readable/understandable paintings opposes not merely kitsch or representational painting, but the very coherence of the viewer as a speaking and reasoning subject. Rothko takes a position of superiority over the viewer.  The artist is a privileged subject who will teach the “ungifted majority” how to grasp the illusory nature of the real.

Politics of Semantic Labor
Greenberg asserts that the work of art must emphasize the “opacity of its medium”.  This opacity operates in two ways.  First, one cannot look “through” the medium of the painting to something that it represents in the world.  The second use of the term suggests the viewer’s desire to penetrate beneath the surface to a hidden significance.  Greenberg’s notion that the experience of art is physical raises the question of how art can directly impact the viewer (bodily) without becoming “easy”.  However, Greenberg recognized that difficult art rapidly becomes part if the tradition against which new work must rebel.  Also, the opposition between complex art and simple mass culture was difficult to sustain in a world where advertising began to employ the mainstays of avant-garde art practice.  Thus the core avant-garde principles were freed from theory and put to other uses.

The Prostitute and the Palace Guard

Michael Fried is possibly the best- known contemporary critic to elaborate on the critique associated with Greenberg.  In Fried’s writing, rather than an attack on kitsch, there is a threat posed by the profusion of new art movements in the 1960’s – especially minimalism.  Fried responds by differentiating authentic art from inauthentic art.  He uses the concept if theatricality to describe artists whose works reference contextual factors.  Theatrical work agrees to conform to the viewers’ expectations.  Thus the aesthetic meaning is not immanent in the physical object, but is created in its situation in space and time.  Works of authentic artists are indifferent to the viewer’s presence and preconceptions.  These works have a presentness that is experienced as a kind of instantaneousness.  There is no dialogue between the authentic work and other art forms or the viewer.  The authentic work of art is tested by a preanalytic chance response that corresponds with established norms of artistic excellence.  Thus there are no contingent forces of history, culture, or politics in regards to the definition of quality.  The authentic work teaches us to respect the unique and anomalous nature of things.  This openness to the world runs throughout avant-garde discourse in Bell and Fry’s rejection of representation, Greenberg’s attack on kitsch, and Fried’s criticism of theatrical art.  However, it is assumed that this openness comes at the expense of an indifference to, or assault on the viewer.

Duration, Performativity, and Critique
The twentieth-century formalist avant-garde approach associated with the criticism of Bell, Fry, Greenberg, and Fried relegates transdisciplinary deviation to the category “not art”.  Here, Kester explores the historical background of dialogical art, using the conditions of duration and visuality to differentiate it from the normative model of avant-garde art.

Duration and Opticality
Thomas Crow seeks to challenge the modernist insistence that art is defined primarily by an optical effect.  He focuses on works that emerge in the 1970’s and 80’s that challenge modernism’s “fetish of visuality”.  These works are associated with the rise of conceptualism characterized by the “withdrawal of visuality”.  Here the viewer is called on to complete the work of art in a process of collaborative interaction.  This movement toward direct interaction shifts the locus of aesthetic meaning to a social and discursive realm.  Fried (according to Stephen Melville) presents the aesthetic experience in a way that brings the viewer and object into a “harmonious communion” (57) without the mediation of speech or language.  Art should overwhelm us with its natural authority, not talk us into acceptance.  What is important to Kester’s analysis of Fried is his insistence that the authentic work resists interpretation and that our awareness of discursive conventions spells the end of authenticity.  Rather than art compelling conviction or casting doubt, Kester suggests a third possibility.  The work of art can enact community through a process of physical and dialogical interaction.  He argues that dialogical art practices are more than supplements to authentic works; they possess their own positive aesthetic content.

Duration and Critique in the Work of The Artists Placement Group and Helen and Newton Harrison
The Artists Placement Group (APG) was formed in the early 1970’s and sought to place artists in advisory positions in government, industry and the media in the United Kingdom.  The APG experienced a moderate degree of success.  Co-founder John Latham asserts that the artist can, by the forces of her alternative time sense, overcome bureaucratic inertia, and self-interested major corporations.  APG’s vision of critical insight, derived from the aesthetic and embodied through consultation and collaboration across disciplinary boundaries, represents an important breakthrough in Kester’s attempt to define a durational and dialogical art practice.  This critical time sense is evident in the work of Helen and Newton Harrison.  Their projects, which respond to the ecological condition of specific regions, are premised on a process of dialogical interactions in which the artists interview environmental activists, scientists, policy makers and others.  The Harrison’s working method encompasses “conversational drift”, wherein unanticipated new images and knowledge are generated by open-ended dialogue.  The Harrisons envision more comprehensible solutions than individual specialists by reframing the meaning and potential of a given site.  Their plans have generated considerable support from both governmental and nongovernmental organizations.  Key to their work is the spatial imagination necessary to envision the interactions of vast ecosystems as well as an imagination that allows them to envision long-term impacts on a given ecosystem.  They are able to present their work in a way that allows viewers to see problems differently.  John Latham (APG) cites two limitations on specialized forms of knowledge or expertise.  The first is the limitation of specialization itself.  The second is the limitation of a short-term time sense in the context of a capitalist system of production.  Kester approaches the problem of defining dialogical practices from two points of view.  The first defines art through its function as an open space in contemporary culture where interactions can take place that wouldn’t be accepted elsewhere.  His second approach to analysis involves identifying works’ salient characteristics and linking them to aspects of aesthetic experience abandoned or redirected during the modern period.  This includes a critical time sense, a form of spatial rather than temporal imagination, and a concern with achieving these durational and spatial insights through dialogical and collaborative encounters.

The Problem of Other Minds: Adrian Piper’s Catalytic Converters

Adrian Piper is an artist and philosopher who is concerned with the limitations and the possibilities of dialogue across boundaries of difference.  Piper’s artistic and philosophical research is important to Kester’s analysis of dialogical art because it provides a description of the process by which we become more open and receptive subjects, as well as the mechanisms that can hinder that process.  What brings Piper into proximity with Kester’s other dialogical practitioners is her interest in the viewer’s response as the material of her work.  She describes the kind of person who could most successfully participate in dialogical exchange as someone who is open and vulnerable to the shaping influences of new ideas and subjectivities rather than defensive and critically reflexive.  She compares this “Kantian subject to the “Humean” subject who has a self-interested desire which is future oriented.  This subject is a “slave to passions” seeking fulfillment of desires.  While the Humean subject is individualistic, the Kantian is social and ethical.  Kester states that one of Piper’s most important contributions to contemporary philosophy is her attempt to link Kant’s ethics to his account of epistemology.  She argues that Kant’s model of epistemology leads us to treat others with respect and to recognize their “complex specificity as human subjects” (74).  However, Piper makes the assumption that we naturally seek an accurate, honest account of others and that we cannot tolerate differences in our mental image of the world and the world itself.  However, Piper argues that our cognitive concepts that we use to understand the world are not fixed, therefore, we “welcome anomaly as a means of extending our understanding our understanding” (76).  She contends that rather than using this otherness to reinforce our fixed identity, we can think of ourselves differently.  Piper’s work seeks to encourage such transformations.  Dialogical art requires empathetic identification and a formation of solidarity based on shared identification. Empathy is key to expanding our sense of humanity, but Piper suggests that there must be a balance between “self -absorption” and “vicarious possession” in empathetic identification.  Furthermore, Kester feels that a dialogical aesthetic requires that we must conceive of others as co-participants in the transformation of self and society.  Piper, however, approaches the viewer as though she is a teacher rather than a co-participant.  She says that she is confronting the “sinner with evidence of the sin” (79).  This somewhat dogmatic stance from a position of moral high ground has elicited criticism. However, Piper asserts that she wants to challenge what she refers to as “Easy Listening Art”.  In doing so she has provided an important resource for artists working dialogically to cross boundaries of racial, cultural, or class difference.

Dialogical Aesthetics
Orthopedics and Aesthetics
The poets, photographers, and filmmakers of the post revolutionary period establish an important distinction between mass media and pop culture or revolutionary art made by or for the working class.  Mass media promotes ruling class ideals in the form of entertainment and journalism.  Thus mass media is condemned because it suppresses working-class consciousness of the operations of social power. Avant-garde artists of the 1920’s employed mass media techniques in a way that promoted the experience of “shock” to counteract the false reality conveyed by these dominant cultural forms.  This is an attempt to create a heightened presence of mind in order to overcome the effects of modern life.  This relates to Greenberg and Fried’s definition of the aesthetic as an immediate shock or epiphany that is made sense of in terms of an existing discursive system.  The artists creating dialogical projects, on the other hand, conceive of the relationship between viewer and work as one that is a movement outside of self, extended over time, through the use of dialogue.  Therefore, Kester sees it necessary to explore the resistance of discourse more thoroughly through the work of Jean-Francois Lyotard.

Lyotard and the Sublime

For Lyotard the shock of the sublime is in and of itself valuable.  Thus the task of advanced art is to represent the unpresentable.  This work is the site where that which is beyond discourse (the differend) takes refuge.  According to Lyotard, the artist “wins” when the viewer is deprived if as much if the framework of shared discourse as possible. Kester has identified two general modes within the tendency of modern art and theory towards antidiscursivity.  The first is indifference and the second is engagement and theatricality (wherein the viewer is a flawed subject).  This leads to two assumptions.  The belief that the viewer’s orientation to the world is defective, and that the artist can recognize and fix this defect.  This framework set up by the avant-garde tradition does not suit dialogical art practices because it promotes a reductive model of discursive interaction, it defines the aesthetic experience as immediate, and it is based on the interaction between viewer and object.

Dialogical Practices
Here, Kester offers an alternative approach; to locate open-ended possibility not in constantly changing objects, but in the process of communication that the artwork initiates.  This requires two shifts; a more nuanced account of communicative experience, and understanding the work of art as a process of communication rather than an object.

Stephen Willats and the Audience as Rationale

Willats is concerned with identifying and facilitating modes of resistance and critical consciousness among the residents if public housing.  In doing so he shifts the focus of art from the object based to the experience of his co-participants in their daily lives.  Willats argues for an aesthetic exchange wherein the artist’s presuppositions are possibly challenged through a dialogical encounter.  Aesthetic distance is achieved through the collaborative production, which develops an interrogative statement developed with a group of participants leading to a framework fir critical reflection.  In this type of dialogical practice, what emerges is a new set of insights.

WochenKlauser and Concrete Intervention

WochenKlauser describes a specific problem and then brings together resources to facilitate its resolution through “concrete interventions”. (98)  Their projects are divided between collaborative and advocacy-based works. Both types of work involve an intensive process of discussion to determine the appropriate form of intervention.  In response to those who equate their practice with social work, their founder, Wolfgang Zinggl states, “interventions are nonetheless based on ideas from the discourse of art.”  This includes the capacity to think creatively and critically across boundaries, and the facilitation of unique forms of discourse.

Jay Koh and the Art of Listening

It is necessary to shift from a concept of art based on self-expression to one based on the ethics of communication to understand Jay Koh’s work. The act of establishing networks of Asian artists, writers and activists across national boundaries constitutes a kind of aesthetics of listening.  The philosopher Gemma Corradi Fiumara argues that Western philosophy and art must, rather than concentrate on assertive saying, begin to acknowledge the role of listening as a creative practice.  Koh agrees.          

Aesthetics and Alterity
Kant asserts that in aesthetic experience our “cognitive powers are in free play”.  Also, there’s a commonness of cognition, with knowledge produced at the site of the viewer and the object.  As viewers we achieve universality by ridding ourselves of self-interest.  Kant's account of the aesthetic offers that the individual has the potential to view the world as an opportunity for experimentation and self-transformation.

Habermas and Discourse Ethics

German theorist Jurgen Habermas differentiates discursive forms of communication from hierarchical forms.  His concept of an identity is one formed through social and discursive interaction, which suggests two differences between a dialogical and a conventional model of aesthetic experience.  The first concerns claims of universality while the second concerns the specific relationship between identity and discursive experience.  Habermas defines the public sphere as a space of contending interests wherein the clash of argumentation results in a winning position that compels the assent of others.  The authors of Women’s Ways of Knowing (1986) have a different approach.  Their procedural form of knowledge is defined by two elements.  The first is to recognize the social context from which others speak, judge, and act.  The second constitutes a connected knowledge grounded in our capacity to identify with other people.

Empathetic Insight in Lacy and Manglano-Ovalle

Empathetic Insight can be produced along a series of axes.  The first is in the relationship between artists and collaborators.  The second is between the collaborators themselves.  The final is produced between the collaborators and other communities of viewers.  These three functions rarely exist in isolation.  This can be seen in the work of Suzanne Lacy and T.E.A.M. and in the work of Manglano-Ovalle.  Both artists’ work has an afterlife, which is an important feature of dialogical projects.

Conclusion: Levinas, Bakhtin, and Performative Identity 

Lavinas describes intersubjective ethics in terms of the “face to face” encounter.  Bakhtin describes a subjectivity that is formed through dialogical interaction , ultimately expanding the authoring subject. Levina’s concern with “concrete” others differentiates  him from Bakhtin, for whom the other still functions as a vehicle for self-realization.  However, Levina’s analysis of encounters leads to the power of the ego, while Bakhtin holds hope that this tendency can be undone.

A Critical Framework for Dialogical Practice
In this chapter Kester applies his theory to contemporary community art practices that are based on dialogical art practices.  There is an assessment of new genre public art that has the tendency to be responsive to local contexts and cultures rather than focusing on the object.  As such artist Dawn Dedeux is presented within the context of the historical and ideological context of community art.  Dedeux worked with prisoners in New Orleans to create a large-scale multi-media installation.  Her relationship with Wayne and Paul Hardy gives an example of her power of aesthetic transcendence.  The Hardy brothers are a pair of notorious drug dealers and gangsters who were willing to work closely with Dedeux to create videos and wall sized prints.  The videos showed other prisoners that their “heroes” were ready to give up the lives that had given them their notoriety.  Thus her relationship and work with the Hardys gained her much respect with other inmates. Ultimately her work with these tragic heroes gives great insight into issues of race, class, and poverty.  Pierre Bourdieu suggests two stages in the process of such political representation.  The first involves electoral procedures wherein a community appoints an individual to speak its collective will.  The second stage occurs as the delegate exhibits the community in the form of protests, demonstrations, and other political performances.  The spokesperson is legitimized through their demonstration of those who have delegated him.  Ultimately, active listening and intersubjective vulnerability play a central role in projects created in collaboration with communities.

Community and Communicability
Jean-Luc Nancy, in his book the Inoperative Community, attempts to put together a concept of community.  For Nancy, our identities are always in negotiation through our encounters with others.  Negation of others is impossible. However, Nancy’s process of “being–outside-self” conflicts with dialogical practice in several ways.  Still his work has influenced recent discussions of community-based art.  Art Historian Miwon Kwon criticizes Kester’s concept of a “politically coherent community” as being reductive and essentializing.  Kwon argues that politically coherent communities are more, rather than less, vulnerable to appropriation because they use collective identities.  Kester shares a concern with Kwon of the compromises involved in the “bureaucratization”  of community-based projects.  However, Kester shows that unanticipated forms of knowledge can be produced through dialogical encounters with politically coherent communities.  This is shown through examples of work by artists such as Cristen Crujido who works with Mexican farm laborers.  Some of the artists Kester discusses illustrate the limits of his concern with dialogical aesthetics.  They suggest “dialogical determinism “ which is the belief that all social conflicts can be resolved through the power of free and open exchange. This is problematic because it overlooks the differences in power relations that precondition participation in discourse.  Also, dialogical determinism overlooks the extent to which political change takes place via discursive forms.

Kester’s book is bold in its desire to challenge the formidable set norms of art criticism in order to acknowledge a new form of art. Kester shows that he is well studied in the theories of the avant-garde before he begins to dismantle some of its core assertions.  He makes a strong argument for the placement of dialogical projects amongst discussions of contemporary art.  As an alternative to tired formal analysis of objects, Kester makes a call to invigorate the community through creative, empathetic means. In his favor, he does not attempt to promote dialogical art as flawless in this process.  He recognizes problems that can arise while still forging new ground for a new form of art.  He does this in a way that is accessible and informative.

Submitted by Eli Pollard

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Description fall 2005

MultitudeThe "Participation, Reciprocity and Generosity in Art" reading group is for graduate students dealing with participatory cultures, the application of open source principles to art, and artists as providers of cultural contexts. On our reading list are Umbert Eco's "Open Work," Pierre Levy's "Collective Intelligence," "What We Want Is Free" (edited by Ted Purves), Howard Rheingold's "Smart Mobs," and his text on Cooperative Technologies, "Code. Collaborative Authorship and the Digital Economy," edited by Rishab Aiyer Ghoshy and "Economising Culture" (part of 3 volumes of DATA browser). We will also look at the themes of Open Congress, in which I will participate in a few weeks as well as the "COde Of practice" online panel at Tate Modern. Alongside these texts we will read the "A Grammar of the Multitude" by Paolo Virno and Brian Holmes' "The Flexible Personality." We will read, present and look at relevant artwork and exhibitions such as "Making Things Public."

This semester's reading group will end with "Theory of Prose" by Viktor Shklovsky.

Additional references:

Paolo Virno

Requiem for the Media by Jean Baudrillard

Precari-us? by Angela Mitropoulos

Blog Notes on Brian Holmes "Drift" seminar
entry #1 entry #2


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Chris Ernst on Richard Coyne's "Cornucopia Limited"

Chris_ernstsee video (about 30 mins)

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Cornucopia Limited: Design and Dissent on the Internet

Dissent Cornucopia Limited: Design and Dissent on the Internet
Richard Coyne

Richard Coyne is an architect, media theorist, designer and teacher. His research and work revolves primarily around the spheres of media design, electronic media, information technology and design theory.

In his preface to the book, Coyne defines the nature of the network economy as both an interplay of commerce and a social condition, a society perhaps best defined by the concept of constant flux. In his reading, he sets up a list of conditions that frame the network economy, all based around the ‘liminal condition.’ By that, he is asserting the interaction of the differing aspects of this economy reside in an in-between state. His analysis itself resides in such a state, being an exploration that provides no distinct resolution but posits the apparent or possible modes of existence. To facilitate this, Coyne uses a series of keywords around which he may circle his exploration: household, machine, game, gift, and threshold.

The introduction of this book deals specifically with design, more so than any other section. Coyne presents what reads as almost an open call to designers everywhere, an argument for the evolution of design theory into a process of greater permeability and multiplicity. As well, he puts design in a context that includes both its role in a consumer market and its place in the greater scope of cultural determinacy. While understanding that design is still a part of the commercial process, he attests that, like art, it is an altruistic pursuit to which commerce is a “corrupting influence.” (3)

The key elements of what he refers to as ‘edgy design,’ a design practice reflective of understanding and engaging with the network economy, revolves around transgression and exploration of seams and boundaries. For Coyne the boundary is the limit of a thing, or as he calls it, “a site of resistance.’ (4) He uses as an example of this the concept of security versus access in a web-portal based scenario. Exploring opposite states and the friction of ideas facilitates the design process. In that way, design is not a solution to a problem, but a playful discourse. He elaborates with five ‘states’ of design:

Design as theft – design practice originating through mimicry, complicated currently by both the ‘ideal’ and the nature of digital media mimesis.

Design as metaphorical – problematic in a similar way to theft, as metaphor may be regarded as an augmented form of copying.

Design sideways –an alternative point of access or inquiry to the creative concept. The process of complicating may provoke creative engagement, or may act as an obstruction.

Design as service – design is found in the service of commerce and the consumer.

Design as plunder – Coyne first uses the term cornucopia in this context as in ‘a cornucopia of opportunities.’ (14) Design may loot or assimilate the language of the market it is designing for.

Home Economics
Within an understanding of the network economy as a democratic space, the concept of the household begins to play a role in possible structural metaphors.  The supposed decentralized and communal aspects of the Internet and its many facets lead to certain such comparisons, but also present problems. Extrapolating on this framework, Coyne explores design in contrast to economics through four models:

The market, or market edge – defined by way of the ancient stoa, or marketplace, the Stoic model of a unified system.

The academy – rooted in Platonic idealism, a focus on illuminating the truth or ‘higher’ reality.

Lifestyle and the garden – where aspects of materialism, leisure and betterment of life through goods reveals a connection to the Epicurean heritage of the ‘connoisseur.’

The household – derived from an Aristotelian notion of moving toward an attainable ideal, marked by cottage industries, the personal workspace and non-commercial market ventures.

Rampant Machines
Using Le Corbusier’s metaphor of the “…house is a machine for living” (35), Coyne plays with the example of machine as metaphor for Internet commerce. He pushes deeper into the use of metaphor itself in design practice, as well its “…linguistic cousin, metonymy.” (36) He asserts that the use of metaphor provokes interaction by way of resisting opposite forces, while metonymy utilizes a part to represent the whole. In that fashion, the use of metonym is appropriate to the concept of the machine, as the machine may be defined by the sum of its parts. The problem arises when such usage results in an over-privileging, or conversely, a consistent reduction of certain aspects within a machine. Furthermore, he delves into the complexity of utilizing metaphor and metonym in relation to irony and language, underscoring the frequency of their relations in contemporary design.

Returning to the theme of aspects or parts of a whole, the concept of a casual system begins to come into play through use of the metonym, as it supports through its very nature the perspective of relationships. Coyne considers the notion that these parts of a machine system are often seen as being removable and replaceable. Division of labor arises as a point of focus when examining such aspects; with contemporary design, division of labor segues into specialization, perhaps analogous to the specific parts of a complex machine. As well, the division of parts and labor may be compared to the design strategy of breaking a project down into sub-categories or parts in order to problem-solve. The dilemma with this approach may be found in the lack of perspective it gives to the entirety of the ‘machine’ itself, and by the passing over of the innate indeterminacy in a ‘thing.’ Coyne speculates that this machine-like organization is the very condition that often elicits a bureaucratic mindset within the network economy.

The concept of an ideal or universal machine is often the philosophical antidote for such a bureaucratic state, and while Coyne examines the utopian ideology, he counters it by examining Marx’s “dialectical materialism” (54) and his assertion that a transformation of capitalism leads to a more machine-like state. An interesting concept that flows from the Marxist exploration is one of machines that are monstrous, created to destroy what is built by other machines. Coyne states, “Before building a city one must consider the machines for its destruction,” (57) a notion that raises the question of a machine’s potential uses and possible mutation. Lastly, he considers the useless machine and the romantic relationship with machine. The former acts as an alternative to the monstrous, corrupted (perhaps by other machines) and dysfunctional; the latter as perhaps a form of self-induced naiveté, a refusing to recognize the multitudinous potentialities of machines.

The Lost Game
In this section, Coyne turns his focus to gaming and the idea of play. He argues that all of our experience is subject to the contest between various emerging and receding elements, which are continually ‘in play.’ (69) Here, play may function as a preparation for encounters in the sphere of reality, while design and play can also act as a to-and-fro dialogical game, utilizing the entire contextual playing-field of the design elements. This is analogous to the concept of learning from computer games. Higher forms of play may include repetition and alternation, as in a musical refrain. Repetition in this case is not necessarily a means to an end, but rather a searching out of possibilities; an exploring of permutations, be they algorithmic or based in artificial intelligence. Repetition is in fact the state of normalcy, whether found in language, defined by a series of referents, or in the perpetual hope of renewal.

Within a hope for renewal, progression plays a vital role, perhaps marked by the model of progressive levels. Coyne explores the level not simply as development from one state to another, but as another multitudinous concept. He states, “Design too succumbs to not just to repetition but to variation across repetitive operations.” (82) Although evident by variation across repetition, the impression of levels may exist as a quest for enlightenment, for transcendence, or as a movement to achieve higher understanding. It may also function as a rite of passage, or be a quest for a greater truth. Coyne notes the drive of game design to transcend deception and encounter the ‘real,’ though the rules of perceived reality as defined by game design often tend to function within the confines of their own language.
The design of games is also dependent on sociality, as evidenced by differing perspectives of interface, the first-person-shooter or the multiple focal lengths of third-person perspective. As well, social dynamics are found within the engagement of game opponents and adversaries, be they artificial of another player. Coyne also notes pressure points in the concept of ‘the game’ as perhaps leading to a perceptive division, where the rest of our lives is ‘serious’ as opposed to play, though he also remarks that games may act as interventions in reality.  Additionally, he argues toward the limited nature of game evolution, pointing to a restricted framework that strives solely for better AI, more photorealism, greater detail, and enhanced rendering power.

The Gift Of Information
The metaphor of gift is critical, and perhaps central to Coyne’s exploration in this book. Gifts, or models of ‘the gift’ are abundant in the network/Internet economy and community; open source software, freeware, and a free circulation of information with no expectation of monetary return. He posits four possible explanations for this phenomenon:

1. It is the true character of information. This is the idea that information is different from commodities such as labor or physical goods. Coyne speculates that Internet generosity is a cheap form of altruism.

2. This wave of generosity is a sign of the ‘digital revolution,’ where a new configuration of identity is born.

3. The Internet brings consciousness to something (the gift) that has always been present, a primordial basis for the economic system, an as-of-yet unrecognized social norm.

4. The gift presents a profound disturbance to economic order; the Internet is radical social alteration through which such a phenomenon can arise.

Coyne also defines three characteristics of the gift: Surprise, where the gift must be unforeseeable. Excess, where the gift is something not actually needed. Difference, where the gift promotes unequal relationships between members of community, or reinforces rank and status based on commodities.

If a free, fair market is defined by equal knowledge, the equilibrium of one is disrupted by the idea of surprise. Risk is component of this surprise, marked by such endeavors as venture capitalism - risk versus return. Surprise is countered by excess; place more on the line, but cushion this risk with an excess of placement. Excess may also be seen through the penchant for a compulsive backing up of information. Coyne further explores the similarities and differences of the gift and commerce, where commerce and trade are not directly a result of gift-giving. Open source, as an example, is not an endeavor by which capital is directly produced, but the products that feed of it do generate capital.

In a similar sense, the giving of gifts is often used within an economy to reap greater rewards in the future. The giving of a gift is not just for reciprocity though, but sometimes is used toward altruistic means, or for ‘feeling good.’ Coyne sees this romantic impulse as celebration of the unexpected, where surprise defies calculation in being an inspired act.  Creativity is not always given and rewarded in equal measure, however. He uses the Linux operating system as example, where Linus Torvalds poses the idea of software not being intellectual property but art, existing as a creative act. Coyne sees this as an example of romantic craving for unity, utopia, and a forward-thinking idealistic projection.

Coyne states, “The concept of the future assumes an important role in the face of the increasing inadequacies of digital technology compared to the promises made of it.” (117) For him, selling the ‘future’ on the Internet is another vital form of the gift. Digital technology is increasingly characterized by the ‘not-yet’ state, the promise of development. He asserts that predicting how digital technology is evolving will allow us to control our position to it, and contrasts this with a phenomenological perspective where time and the future itself are dependant on something primordial rather than un-determined. The future is openness to surprise and possibilities, rather than a requiring of things to conform, and the gift is not a commodity with exchange value, but a thing that ensures connection.

Another primary aspect of the gift for Coyne is the notion of exchange without bargaining, though impulsive behavior exists in the easy consumption of the gift. Such excess is marked by the ability to give excessively, where a distribution of disproportionate gifts defines status. The gift is not necessarily one event, but a repeated event or a pattern/cycle (surprise is the break in cycle); it is an amplification of repetition, a back-and-forth sequence of giving. In open source, for example, a cycle of contribution exists where development of product is the gift. The cycle breeds excess however, and within such a rotation Coyne points to an inherent primordially, drawing a comparison to the archaic practice of the potlatch (tribes outdoing each other in generosity) as a practice that establishes superiority through sacrifice. Tangentially, Coyne proposes that the Earth may be seen as the primary gift, a giver of bounty, where a historical precedent exists for exchange, with fruits of the Earth as the gift. Perhaps in that case, the advancement into communication technologies may be seen as a release from these Earthly bounds, or as reducing space to a state of nothing.

Coyne also sees the gift as transgressional, socially and otherwise. He asserts that the gift in its “…manifestation as potlatch bears seeds of class struggle and oppression. The gift already transgresses.” (135) Although examples cited earlier may be informative as groundwork by which to understand the concept of the gift, the archaic gift society “offers a poor model for the late modern world.” (136) Gifts in the modern world dwell in a different state, consisting of such gifts as tips, contributions, bonuses, and bribes. This condition may not be thoroughly explored by using out-moded comparisons. Again, using examples such as Linux and OSI may serve as an appropriate illustration of the modern gift philosophy, but it is still difficult to translate to the corporate world. Perhaps by returning to an understanding by way of multiplicity, the gift maybe seen to exist in duality.

Delving into this dual characteristic of the gift, Coyne finds the expected and unexpected, the essential and unessential. Circulation of goods and the laws of economy are also applicable to the gift, returning it to the aspect of repetition, but also pushing it into the realm of sociability. The gift may be transgression against transaction, but also can be appropriated by commerce: the add on, the freebie, credit miles, the two-for-one deal. On the other hand, Coyne considers the counterpoint: the malignant gift, or the useless gift. In his case, the former is marked by the functioning of computer virus as gift, the Trojan horse, spam; the latter being the promise of update, the next version, the next release.

Coyne summarizes his discursive thread by asserting that he sees the gift ultimately as an anomaly. Although the gift is defined by surprise, excess, and difference, it may be read in multiple ways. For Coyne there are many angles: It is a utilitarian view that positions the gift within economic constraints, as a means to engage the economy. It is a romantic view that positions the gift on higher level, surpassing commerce and existing within a creative context. It is a phenomenological view that approaches from the gift as primordial, and considers that the gift is already disposed to commerce. At the end of the day, the concept of the gift exists within the network economy as a concept that is “fraught with contradiction.” (150)

Liminal Computing
While it is theorized by economists that economic growth is limited, the limits of the network economy and the Internet have yet to be quantified. Coyne states, “For some the Internet is a medium without limit.” (151) It is these limits, however, that he uses to further explore his subject, as they define the seams of a territory and establish a threshold state. The symbolic markings of thresholds are central to Internet design; virtual doorways, the access point in a web portal, as well as the steps in a process.

Coyne returns to the gift as transgression: transgression is crossing boundaries, limits or thresholds. Marking the household by mapping the exchange of gifts leads to idea of gift exchange as the mark of a community, as well as cross-community relationships. Here, gifts as symbolic emissaries may be used to cross boundaries and thresholds. The question raised from this assertion is then: who monitors these boundaries as they are crossed? Coyne raises the concept of guard, gatekeeper, and doorman: the monstrous guard of boundaries (i.e. Cerberus), or perhaps the position of technology itself as monstrous. Thus, the gift returns to play again as the bribe-gift, a way to transgress the guard and the threshold.

Coyne engages here with his final metaphorical examination, that of the liminal dwellers, figures whom he examines through mythology and a literary framework. He asserts that there are three characters who occupy liminal condition though spread influence beyond; the beggar, the trickster, and the cynic:

The beggar – a marginal figure, one who cannot participate in the economy without assistance, has nothing to offer, and is positioned as a victim.

The cynic – Coyne’s example is Diogenes, the figure who rejects ideology and the utopian ideal, one who exists on the edge much the same as the beggar, though by choice.

The trickster – one positioned outside the system and who manipulates others surrounding them, one who gains through the beguilement of others. This character also has benign aspect in the performer/entertainer figure.

Coyne speculates that there may be a marginal aspect to the prior metaphors used in provoking engagement with the network economy and design (home, machine, gift, game, threshold). He states that these avenues of engagement may be marginal in terms of discussing the economy itself, but can be seen as central to the topic of design. This line of inquiry leads to: similarities of economics and design resting in classification schemas, and the idea of the template or readymade ‘type’ both in design and network system as being a discursive strategy. He further delves into discussion of the ‘type’ beginning with the Jungian archetype, seeing “Narrative self-construction along typological lines” (163) in non-professional web design and techno-subculture. He also looks at the archetype of process in journey, the passage across boundaries and the contextual place of such passage as transformative. He promotes the utilization of archetype not as specific ‘type’ but archetypal phenomena as metaphor in order to reveal specific conditions.

Coyne states, “Confusion at the boundary is well described in terms of concealment.” (165), where ‘lying’ in the context of the network economy acts as concealment and proto-encryption. Here, the adversarial relationship of open-ness/closed-ness within a web portal, the need for security and access is brought into view. Coyne discusses concealment and the role of the trickster through an exploration of Odysseus and the role of trickster as a boundary crosser. Similarly, the negative/critical attitude of the cynic functions outside the boundaries, but without a resolve toward analysis or solution. Coyne uses Diogenes as example, relating partially to archetype of wise man - one who extols exposure through critique, though he adds, “The cynic starts with the pretense of exposure.” (169). He further points out that “…cynicism is also a philosophy that is a parasite on authority” (171), an example of using and profiting from technology while still criticizing it.

Communication itself is a tricky endeavor. While Coyne asserts, “…communication mediates across thresholds,” (174) there are inherently multiple complexities. Such a mediation is achieved through language ambiguity, through words as ambiguous objects with multiple meanings, where the “…meaning resides in use,” (175) Interaction exists at these words-boundaries and contexts, again highlighting the threshold, where Coyne reiterates that design functions as a hybrid, playing on the threshold and edge condition. Secrecy and privacy in the network economy operate as the flip side of the open source situation, with the ability to pay for goods existing as an inherent contingency for access, for crossing of the threshold. The trickiness of a network economy is further complicated by digital thresholding and a binary state, marked by the ‘on/off’ condition found throughout the Internet (i.e. being connected/not connected).

In the spirit of this book as an exploration rather than definition, Coyne gives very little weight to the closing stages. The conclusions rest in the thick of the text, among the tangential lines of questioning and extrapolations on themes. He does reiterate a handful of key points, however, about the multiple aspects of his subject(s): Design acts as a theft across the threshold, taking from one place and placing into another. He states, “Design has the character of appropriation across categories by copying, but more interestingly through the use of metaphor, an act that is provocative, transgressive, and sometimes forceful.” (185) The gift is key to understanding the network economy. The designer act as both thief and giver of gift. The home is a marketplace, but is prone to invasion. The machine is invasive, but also may be transgressive. The alliance of design and theft work in context with that of game and play. Commerce takes place at the boundary of the home. The gift may be benign or malignant in transgression, but it is always crossing boundaries.

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The Rise of the Creative Class

Creativeclass Elli Pollard on Richard Florida

The Transformation of Everyday Life

The driving force behind the current transformation in our society is the rise of human creativity as the key factor in our economy and society.  We value creativity more highly than ever and cultivate it more intensely.  In virtually every industry, the winners in the long run are those who can consistently create.  Therefore, the creative individual is no longer viewed as an iconoclast.  Rather he or she is the new mainstream.
The economic need for creativity has registered itself in the rise of a new class, which Florida calls the Creative Class.  About 30 % of all employed people belong to this new class.  This includes people in science and engineering, architecture and design, education, arts, music and entertainment, whose economic function is to create.  The Creative Class also includes creative professionals in business and finance, law, healthcare and related fields.

The Creative Age

The Creative Ethos

Creativity is essential to the way we live and work today, and in many senses always has been.  To advance our standard of living we need “better recipes, not just more cooking”.  Also, human creativity is multifaceted and multidimensional.  It involves distinct kinds of thinking and habits that must be cultivated in both the individual and in the surrounding society.
Creativity involves the ability to synthesize, and it requires self-assurance and the ability to take risks.  Creative work can often be considered subversive since it disrupts existing patterns of thought and life.  It is no surprise that the creative ethos marks a strong departure from the conformist ethos of the past.
Although the creative process seems elusive, there does appear to be a consistent method underlying it.  It has been put into a four-step process by many researchers.  The steps are: preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification or revision.

The Creative Economy

Today’s economy is fundamentally a creative economy.  Creativity is the new means of production and innovation is its product.  The joint expansion of technological innovation and creative content work has become the force of economic growth.  Investment in creativity in the form of research and development spending has grown by 800 % since the 1950’s.  In addition to the dramatic growth of R&D investment, the Creative Economy is supported by an extensive venture capital system that accelerates the processes of new firm formation and commercial innovation.

The Creative Class

Florida’s definition of class emphasizes the way people organize themselves into social groupings and common identities based principally on their economic function.  Their social and cultural preferences, consumption, and social identities all flow from this.  A shift from emphasis on economic and physical security toward increasing emphasis on self-expression, subjective well-being, and quality of life has occurred.


The Machine Shop and the Hair Salon

Florida uses the examples of the machine shop and the hair salon to cite reasons why today’s employees are drawn to certain types of work.  He found that when he asked his students where they would rather work, they overwhelmingly chose the hair salon over the machine shop – even though it didn’t pay as well.  In essence, people want to work for challenge, enjoyment, to do good, to make a contribution, and to learn.  The only way people will go back to working in machine shops is if the machine shops start embracing the new values and structures of the creative age.

Horizontal Labor Market

People don’t stay tied to companies anymore.  Instead of moving up in one organization, they move laterally from company to company in search of what they want.  Americans now change jobs on average every 31/2 years.  Some view this new trend as a free agent paradise, while pessimists view the change as a sign of social fragmentation and “the end of work”.  Either way employment insecurity is the new way of life.  The new labor market shaped by these trends has three chief characteristics.  The first, as cited above, is the tendency towards horizontal career moves, second is that people have come to identify more with their occupation or profession than with a company.  Finally, people bear more responsibility for every aspect of their careers. 

The No-Collar Workplace

Many features of the work place seem to be more open: open dress codes, flexible schedules, and open office layouts.  The features that contribute to workplace performance, organizational efficiency and consequently profit are the ones that last.  Casual dress gradually crept into the workplace, not only because it’s more comfortable, but also because creative work came to be highly regarded, and creative people have a tendency to dress as they please.  The new code of dress is evolving toward one of diversity and tolerance.  A 1997 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report indicated that nearly 30% of all full-time wage and salary workers varied their schedules to some degree.  This is partly in response to changing social needs, and also indicates the fact that creative thinking is hard to turn on and off at will.  Offices look and feel different now partly because innovation is fundamentally social and companies are designing spaces that reflect this.

Managing Creativity

There are many views on how to manage creativity. Some try to impose order and bureaucracy, while others insist that creativity can’t be managed from above.  Most views fall somewhere between the extremes.  Fewer than half of all professionals feel that their company inspires them to do their best work according to a 2001 Towers Perrin study.  This leaves much work to be done, for companies that manage people well will outperform other companies by 30-40%.  This has led to changes in the work place.  In this change toward eliciting creativity, the workplace tends to become both more stressful and more caring.  However the best ways to harness creativity are still being worked out and the nature of the employment contract is undergoing dramatic change.  The old employment contract was group oriented and emphasized job security.  The new one is tailored to the needs and desires of the individual.  This is a result of workers that are more likely to look for short-term deals as well as the fact that creative people see themselves as unique individuals that should be rewarded according to their unique skill sets.  People have come to expect the key features of the no-collar workplace and simply won’t work in places that don’t offer them.

The Time Warp

While Creative Class people tend to work longer hours, many other factors contribute to the feeling of being crunched for time.  The primary change is that our use of time has intensified.  We try to pack every moment full of activities and experiences.  In the process, the ways we think about time as well as use it are being warped into new configurations.  One factor contributing to this time warp is the relentless march of technologies that extend the workday.  Also, at the end of the day in any creative field there are bound to be unsolved problems that continue to linger in the back of one’s mind “after hours”.  Florida mentions four other factors that contribute to a warped sense of time: flexibility of being able to come and go as one pleases throughout the workday, “frontloading” one’s career and deferring one’s life, life-shifting or changing one’s way of life, and attempts towards “deepening the moment”, or packing each moment as full as possible.  In general, we are shifting from the consumption of goods to the consumption of experience, a theme that takes us from the sphere of work to the sphere of life.

Life and Leisure

The Experiential Life

In many ways the Creative Class lifestyle comes down to a passionate quest for experience – a creative life packed full of intense, high quality, multidimensional experiences.  The kinds of experiences they crave reflect and reinforce their identities as creative people.  With life itself having become the scarce commodity, many increasingly define the quality of their lives by the quality of experiences they consume.  The Creative Class enjoys highly active forms of recreation in part because they attain more entertainment value per unit of time.  Similarly, the Creative Class is drawn to street-level culture because they can easily do several things in one excursion. 

The Big Morph

When the markers that distinguish one type of person from another start to disintegrate, it’s a clear sign that profound social change is afoot.  High and low brow, alternative and mainstream, work and play, CEO and hipster are all morphing together today.  At the core of the Big Morph is a new resolution between two value systems:  the Protestant work ethic and the bohemian ethic.  The Protestant work ethic says meaning is to be found in hard work.  The bohemian ethic says value is to be found in pleasure and happiness.  These two ethics have met head on and have morphed into a new work ethic – the creative ethos – steeped in the cultivation of creativity.  The people of the creative ethos want to contribute, they want to be heard, and they see no need for overthrowing establishment.  They will be helping society run on an even more powerful work ethic.  They represent a new mainstream setting the norms and pace for much of society.


The Power of Place

What really matters to us in making the life decision of where to live and work?  Jobs are not the whole story.  There are a host of considerations that Florida has culled from his research.  The Creative Class is moving to Creative Centers. What people are looking for in these areas are abundant high-quality amenities and experiences, openness to diversity, and above all the opportunity to validate their identities as creative people.  The “creative capital theory” says that regional economic growth is driven by the location choices of creative people – the holders of creative capital – who prefer places that are diverse, tolerant and open to new ideas.  “Quality of Place “ refers to the unique set of characteristics that define place and make it attractive.  It has three dimensions: what’s there, who’s there, and what’s going on.  Successful places provide a range of quality of place options for different kinds of people at different stages in their life.

The Geography of Creativity

In his studies, Florida has found two major trends.  The first is a new geographic sorting along class lines.  The second is that the centers of the creative class are more likely to be the economic winners.  However, the key to economic growth lies not just in the ability to attract the Creative Class, but to translate that advantage into new ideas, new high-tech businesses and regional growth.  To help gauge these capabilities, Florida developed the “Creative Index”, which is a mix of four different factors: the Creative Class share of the workforce; innovation, measured in patents per capita; high-tech industry; and diversity.  This composite indicator is a better measure of a region’s underlying creative capabilities than the simple measure if the Creative Class because it reflects the joint efforts of its concentration and of innovative economic outcomes.  Florida offers it as a barometer of a region’s longer run economic potential.

Technology, Talent and Tolerance – The 3 T’s of Economic Development

To attract creative people, generate innovation and stimulate economic growth, a place must have Technology, Talent and Tolerance.  If it does not, it will fall farther behind.

From Social Capital to Creative Capital

The kinds of communities that we desire and that generate economic prosperity are very different from those of the past.  Traditional notions of what it means to be a close, cohesive community and society tend to inhibit economic growth and innovation.  Weak ties are now more effective.  Our evolving communities and emerging society are marked by a greater diversity of friendships, more individualistic pursuits and weaker ties within the community.  Places with dense ties and high levels of traditional social capital provide advantages to insiders and thus promote stability, whereas places with looser networks and weaker ties are more open to newcomers and thus promote novel combinations of resources and ideas.  Both human capital and creative capital models lead to economic growth, whereas social capital does not.

Building the Creative Community

Cities need a people climate even more than they need a business climate.  Several forces have combined to bring people and economic activity to urban areas: cities are safer and cleaner; cities are the prime location of the creative lifestyle; cities are benefiting from demographic shifts; and cities are incubators of innovation.  An effective people climate needs to emphasize openness and diversity, and to help reinforce low barriers to entry.  Truly Creative Communities appeal to many different groups.

The Creative Class Grows Up

The members of the Creative Class today, according to Florida, need to see that their economic function makes them the only possible leaders of twenty-first-century society.  Unless we design new forms of civic involvement appropriate to our times, we will be left with a substantial void in our society and politics that will ultimately limit our ability to achieve economic growth and rising living standards.  Florida makes a call for the Creative Class to grow up; to focus less on our individual selves, and more on developing a responsible, motivated, shared vision which reflects the very principles of the Creative Age.  He asserts three fundamental issues to address: investing in creativity; overcoming the class divides; and building new forms of social cohesion.  In the end we must consider how we want to direct our creativity.  What kind of life – what kind of society do we want for ourselves, and for future generations?

I find it difficult to find points of contention with this work.  Richard Florida does not veer far from his thorough investigative research.  I would, however, like to share a few of my experiences to echo some of the content here.
I currently live in a small city in Maryland about 70 miles from both Baltimore and DC.  I originally moved here in part to run a non-profit art gallery.  Over the course of four years of living and working here, I came to discover that the City Government truly values the arts.  The main part of downtown has been designated as an arts and entertainment district.  Artists and arts centered establishments are offered incentives for locating themselves and doing business within these several blocks.  Seeing the value in the arts and understanding them are a bit different.  I feel the incentives offered are somewhat weak (tax breaks for artists, rather than say free studio spaces in abandoned buildings).  However, the arts organization I worked for works close with, and receives funding from the City.
Moving forward a bit, after my tenure as a Gallery Director, the Economic Development Director for the City quickly asked me to work in her department (there were three of us including myself).  Before I knew it I went from installing exhibitions to recruiting new businesses to the City.  If I hadn’t been in such a small city, I may have never seen what a close correlation creativity and economic development really have.

Additional Reading

Richard Florida and Martin Kenney, The Breakthrough Illusion. New York: Basic Books, 1990

Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York: Random House, 1969

Daniel Pink, Free Agent Nation: How America’s New Independent Workers Are Transforming the Way We Live. New York: Warner Books, 2001

William H. White, Jr., The Organization Man.  New York: Simon and Schuster, 1956

Submitted by Eli Pollard

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Richard Florida The Rise of the Creative Class

LorenThis meeting, introduced by Loren, discussed Richard Florida's The Rise of the Creative Class.

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Thesis Writing

Vision "Writing A Thesis" by R. Keith Van Wagenen - ISBN 0139710868

Think interactively from reading to observing as a basis for deriving a research problem.

The first sentence should speak straight to the issue, no preliminaries.
No attempt of building a general context. Go right to the heart of it.

The first and second paragraph should explain the problem.

An hypothesis is a supposed relation between variables.

"We interpreted the studies by [so and so] together with our own observations justify a supposition that whenever A appears, B is present."

Provide the complete idea, don't hint.

Write understandable headings.

Find expository devices. How can you show what you like to prove?

A success of a report depends on how it argues its case.

Limit the number of hypothesis. Good research is unified under one or two main hypothetical concepts.


   * The investigator integrates her own work with that of other investigators (in the field). She manages to interrelate these variables well. The literature review should be interwoven with your own work to show some understanding of the variables studied.

Take note of events that take significance in your research.

It is up to you how long it takes to solve the argument.

Label clearly what you do not choose to talk about.

   * Explain, don't simply label.

   * The argument is good if it is clear and persuasive and complete.

   * The very first sentence should declare a purpose: "to determine if..."

Don't make the mistake of writing a literature review as you read. Until the problem is fairly well identified you should only take notes.

What you cite in your proposal should be clearly relevant to the problem that you identify.

You need quiet time to think, to identify the topic out of all your interests.

A problem statement is composed of identifiable words and sentences. A reader should be able to tell without any difficulty which word begins a problem and which words ends it.

Problem Statement:

   * Your opening words should be arresting and clear.

   * Find an hypothesis that is researchable.

   * A problem statement is a statement about relationships among variables.

   * The words must speak about variables and the relationships that relate them to each other.

Set boundaries of your research problem. Research problems are narrow. They have boundaries. When a problem is stated - it should make the boundaries of it obvious. No research problem exists until the problem seeker can express a problem as a singular issue.

   * Have an effective title. Longer titles that are more descriptive are Ok.

   * Provide a by-line.

Use your name as author, ommitting the word "by." It is acceptable to list your college or universitry in a byline.

Give an explanatory problem statement. How is this relevant to the field?

   * What is the relevance of your study to existing knowledge?

A definition of terms section is possible if necessary. (But this is old fashioned and little practiced).

   * For each hypothesis have a justification
   * Reveal hypothesis before substantiation.

An introduction to a thesis is concluded with a solution-finding expression of a problem. It is followed by a method section deliniating the details of the method.

Citations should be unmistakably relevant.

Unfavorable arguments have to be introduced.

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Media Ecologies

Remix In Media Ecologies Matthew Fuller sets up a study of media systems through an ecological looking glass, focusing on “dynamic systems in which any one part is always multiply connected, acting by virtue of those connections, and always variable, such that it can be regarded as a pattern rather than simply an object.” Making use of Deleuze and Guattari’s machinic phylum and hylomorphisim, looks at disparate technologies, media, cultural movements, governmental control, etc. that through processes of self-organization and a kind of “coming together” create new and unexpected possibilities.

Pirate Radio

Looking at pirate we see a machinic phylum that includes not just combined technologies but “a whole interrogative filed of social, juridical, legislative, political, and economic formations.” Here we find that changes in any on of these areas can cause new practices to emerge. Objects in this light are not looked at simply for materiality, but looked at for the potential they have in combination with other elements.

The Apparatus

The camera has two programs, one to allow the camera to take pictures and another to allow the photographer to play. “Beyond these are further programs – that of the photographic industry that programmed the camera; that of the industrial complex that programmed the photographic industry; that of the socio-economic system that programmed the industrial complex; and so on.” The abstraction of the object into apparatus, “a complex plaything so complex that those playing with it are not able to get to the bottom of it,” is matched by that of the systems that arrange labor into a complex mechanism that relies on a network of social arrangements.

Standard Objects

The standard object is one, which functions with “an ideally isolated system,” as exemplified by Fuller’s citations of the streetlight and shipping container. Both function in an isolated manner, which implies exchange, command, and communality. Within these objects are embedded a language that can tell us about the forces involved in their creation.

Evolutionary Media

“You put enough bits together and they start breeding.” In chapter 4 Fuller discusses the evolutionary possibilities of media through concepts of the meme, seamlessness, and surveillance. He cites some limitations with the relatively new area of study memetics; one point being the inability to observe small scale or dead memes. As well, he identifies “flecks of identity” as variables in the socioalgorithmic processes of surveillance.


Mathew Fuller’s Media Ecologies attempts to progress from flat semiological readings of objects and their symbolic power, to a look at the living ecosystems various media live within. It looks at interconnectedness, relationality, and potentiality that combinatorial arrangements of media and other elements allow. It illustrates to us what can develop end when these combinations come into alignment.

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1. Meeting: Media Ecologies

In the  first meeting  Trebor gave an introduction to Fuller's book Media Ecologies followed by discussion led by ChrisTs Cb


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Response to Media Ecologies by Matthew Fuller

Elli Pollard (graduate student, Department of Art (SUNY at Buffalo):

Media Ecologies
Materialist Energies In Art and Technoculture
by Mathew Fuller

In his book Media Ecologies, Mathew Fuller promotes two primary themes.  First, he suggests that live interactions without a control sample are the only way to find out what happens when complex objects such as media systems interact.  He wants objects to be understood to mean processes embodied as objects like elements in a composition.  An object is the stabilization of energy.  Second, he promotes a materialist account of the world in which delight is taken in the conceptuality of real objects, for all objects are poetic.  He explores works that cross the border from one object to another and while doing so allow other worlds to enter and mutate conventionality.

The R, the A, the D, the I, the O: The Media Ecology of Pirate Radio

In this chapter, Fuller begins his argument for machine, digital, and electronic aesthetics.  He sites the Dada aesthetic of collage, a patchwork made up of singular parts.  He organizes his singular parts in the form of a list.  He likens each item on the list to an object – one that can be opened up and permeated.

Transmitter, Microwave Link, Aerial, Transmission, and Studio Sites

Here Fuller sites Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus.  “The machinic phylum is materiality, natural or artificial, and both simultaneously; it is matter in movement, in flux, in variation, matter as a conveyor of singularities and traits of expression.”  Deleuze and Guattari are again sited when emphasizing the morphogenic capabilities of material itself: the movements when a series of forces, capacities, and predispositions intermesh to make something else occur, to move into a state of self-organization.  Fuller goes on to define Hylomorphism as “a model of the genesis of form as external to matter as imposed from the outside like a command on a material which is thought inert and dead.”  Recognizing hylomorphism allows accounts of technicity and media to escape from a merely semiological reading of the world into an expanded involvement with and of it.  This involvement in pirate radio includes interactions of the multiple social, linguistic, algorithmic, technical, and other drives that merge and recombine in the media ecology.  When this interaction works – when it generates mutually excitatory fervor – it works as a result of all these combinations crossing into another state.  Furthermore, the machinic phylum of pirate radio crosses not simply that of its constituent technologies, but a field of social, juridical, legislative, political, and economic formations.

Records, Record Shops, Studios, Dub Plates, Turntables, Mixers, Amplifiers, Headphones

Here is a fascinating account of how to make a voice, which entails being fastened to a small glossy-leaved tree while running in vegetable oil and simultaneously speaking into an oxygen mask fitted with a contact mic.  The mic feeds into a computer running speech-recognition software.  The manipulation of a set parameter of frequency and speed of vibration abolishes the soul.  The sampled voice becomes part of the rhythmic mix, rather than an indexical hook.

Drugs, Clubs, Parties, Flyers, Stickers, Stickers, Posters

In promoting the concept of social networks combining as part of a scene, Fuller says that dosing bodies with chemicals requires that such bodies must first be organized into a mass, a user base, and that this mass must have verifiably similar dysfunctions and organs in order to generate a requisite level of demand.

Reception Technologies, Reception Locations, DJ Tapes

Expanding the range and possibility of media ecology is the somewhat possible scenario in which one could be listening to music on a radio, from a record, being played on a phone that was made by the same company (he uses the example of Sony) that manufactured all of the other equipment.  Making this a stronger possibility is the task of the company.

Phones, SMS
Attention is paid here to the particular material qualities of elements that form the media ecology, which in combination can provide a route into numerous layers of possibilities.  If we begin to take these elements apart, each component provides a chance to get smaller (molecular) while at the same time getting more massive.  The discrete and the dynamic should not be reduced to grand isolates, but rather the interplay should be examined.

The Camera That Ate Itself

Fuller narrows his field of investigation down to a single media object: John Hilliard’s 1971 series of photographs, A Camera Recording Its Own Condition (7 apertures, 10 speeds, 2 mirrors).  Of concern is the notion that a technology is a bearer of forces and drives; is made up of them.  Also, a technology is composed by the mutual intermeshing of various other forces that might be technical, aesthetic, economic, chemical – that might have to do with capacities if human bodies as affordances – and which pass between and are composed through and among all such bodies.

One such force is the will to power. Nietzsches’ writing on the subject has been described by Alphonso Lingis as being “the chaos, the primal fund of the unformed – not matter but force beneath the cosmos, which precedes the forms and makes them possible as well as transitory.”  Power is the condition of life.  In relation to the question of the composition and arrangement of drives, will to power, within media, it should be recognized that there are substantial political stakes in any figuration of the processes of technical and medial invention.  Conglomerations of forces and materials have the capacity to take part in the making of the world.  Every force whether chemical, biological, social, or political is related to other forces, and either obeys or commands.  Every relation of forces constitutes a body.

We come back to A Camera Recording Its Own Condition (7 apertures, 10 speeds, 2 mirrors).  It was created at a time of more general “crisis of the object.”  Here the material limits of a camera are exhibited by the recording of its speed and aperture.  The work allows a route into the drives that compose the camera by mobilizing two sets of interconnected and antagonistic relations of force and in doing so measures out its own collapse.  This piece can be understood as the result of a cross section through a material instance of numericalization.  Numericalization allows for the transfer of labor from the worker to the machine.  A Camera Recording… achieves the paradox of achieving self-referentiality, but simultaneously eliminating the “self”.  In this work we can read its relation to its outside.  Its material capacity is within the same acceptability of cultural, familial, juridical, journalistic, erotic, and other formulations of reference and representation.  Also, what is exploited is the chasm between form and formlessness.

How This Becomes That
This chapter covers three works: Embryo Firearms, by Cornelia Parker; The Switch, by Jakob Jakobsen; BITRadio, by Bureau of Inverse Technology; and by the way, by Germaine Koh.

First is a discussion of a story by Franz Kafka’s in which telephone and telegraph wires were put up in a complete circle around Warsaw.  This created a social space in the form of a private courtyard (Eruv).  This is an example of the use of the material properties of a preexisting media system by another significant code that captures it for new purposes.  Various economic, ecological, material dynamics, potentials, and constraints all combine to make this possible.  There is a capacity here to distinguish, mobilize, and connect medial powers in relation to other compositional formations.  The use of objects is determined by their arrangement, interpretation, layering, reuse and other operation.

With Parker’s sculpture, Embryo Firearms, two pieces of steel that are in the first stages of becoming a pistol are put together to roughly form the shape of a handgun.  The work shows the potential of the material and its conjunction with a series of dynamics eventually leading to death.  However, there are no correct answers here, but rather a set of potentials that can be thought and sensed through.

The Switch by Jakob Jakobsen involves an on/off switch that was temporarily installed on a streetlight on a cul-de-sac.  This simple alteration causes an explosion of potential in a settled technology.  There is no democratic order as to the use of the light.  There is a release of an insight into the arrangement of forces that make up the body of this system.  The work makes politics.
One activity of BITRadio coincided with the World Economic Forum in 2002, and was located on a rooftop near the WEF event.  Their transmitter was set to take over a local NPR station for one-second alert breaks.  This happened each time toxins fluctuated over the EPA set level.  Here a type of information is isolated as being the socially significant crunch-point of a crisis.

A year earlier, in 2001, the work by the way was installed inside of the previously existing sculpture Torre de los Vientos located in the midst of constant Mexico City traffic.  A live audio-video feed monitors the passing traffic.  The audio feed is processed to resemble gusts of wind that correspond to each passing car.  In real time the wind gusts are broadcast over an existing radio station know for its traffic reports.  As such, the commuters can listen to their own passage in the form of a simultaneous traffic/weather report.  This anonymous, non-commercial audio clip reclaims frenetic commercial spaces to gently remind commuters of other worlds of activity.  In revealing the position of the listener as a sensor that has been separated from any direct means of incitation the work gains political charge, but in implying missing forms of connection it also attains powers of paradox.

The account of the BITRadio action also achieves paradox in the sense that in order for the work to break one regulation (FCC), it is dependent on other organizations, people, economies, technologies, and materials to break others (EPA).  In addition it provides feedback between the ecological impacts of technologies and social forms such as governments and capitalisms.  However, it not only makes visible, but also adds another set of processes to the world and makes non-standard connections.

Solutions create problems, development of the concrete generates reverberations that knock the other elements out of balance, and this provides opportunity.  These works acknowledge their involvement in such a process, twist or tweak it, and add the results to the composition.

Seams, Memes, and Flecks of Identity

The work involved here, Cctv-world wide watch, consists of a series of Web pages by Heath Bunting published at  Users are encouraged to watch shots from four webcams and if they see a crime, are encouraged further to report it via HTML/fax to a police station.  As this information travels from street to image to network to text, the Web site begs the question “what ‘flecks of identity’ constitute proof?”

The combination of media systems is explored in the chapter through a series of specific approaches: memetics , a set of theories in which cultural elements and processes are proposed as being evolutionary; seamlessness, the condition of an uncondition of an uncomplicated confluence of media systems; and surveillance, the medial drive to spot, name, and control.
Explored are the interrelations of media the site stages: locations – the artists’ group and business; changes of a site; relations of text to image; the form and the fax; the “witness” of low quality footage; spatiality of the net; police station as media ecology.

The precursor to the Cctv site is a response to it; a cease and desist email from the Marketing Director of one of the cameras. This could be placed first to bring more interest to the site, to show off a “trophy”, or as a variation on the uses of documentation as artwork which aims to lock part of it solely while providing a new opportunity for mobilization.

The entire site is composed of non-legit links: the ‘cease and desist’ site in Leicester Square (London), one in Spain, and in Germany.  Their feeds consist of such low quality images, it adds to its overall seaminess.  In Manhattan a lump crosses the street and projects an arm/knife/scarf then the lump becomes part of a blob.  The overall crappy quality of all the sites makes  them functionally unusable for surveillance.  However, this does not stop “crimes” from being reported.

Crime: I’m not certain but I believe the Caucasian (weight approx 180 lbs) in the white shirt is wearing crimplene trousers…
Crime: tree breaking in to shop. send reinforcements immediately

The Cctv site allows users to see the results of previous users’ informing only after they have also submitted a completed form.  This makes the work in one sense collaborative.  Its structure and allotment of information from multiple sources points towards the beginnings of an ethico-aesthetic, which is simultaneously systematic, medial, and social.

While the site is promoted by Fuller as mobilizing and twisting the weak position of the potential honest citizen helping police, this is part if its nonrepresentational effect. It whittles away at resources, time, and attention.  Given the extreme codification of crime, the poor image quality and slow rate of refreshing images (nonobservation), the odd link of media and codes, and all of the other linked elements’ scales and dimensions of relationality, the site allows a route of observation and play with their mixing and interference.  This connects the formulation, production, and shaping of “results” directly to medial devices, representational forms, coding and decoding protocols, data organization, media in the process of invention, and use by mobilizations.  It is made available to its limited audience (police stations) and is done live without a control. The work butts media systems up against each other, makes them produce seams, and in doing so makes it possible to patch together something of another order.

What is of great interest here is potentially the formation of the world we know through interactions of poetic ”objects” in the space between form and formless.  However, Mathew Fuller in speaking of layers upon layers of intermingling energies, notably leaves out what could be an interesting discourse on spirituality (although he does mention fervor) as this would potentially break outside of his version of scholarly academics and possibly necessitate what some would refer to as faith.  It should be noted however, that in turning away from what some would consider a blind faith in spirituality allows for a fascinating, somewhat scientific analysis of the unseen, and therefore offers the possibility of a greater knowledge of our world.

Additional Reading

Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia 2. Trans. Brian Massumi. Athlone, London, 1988.

Foucault, Michel. Michel Foucault: The Essential Works, vol. 1: Ethics. Ed. Paul Rabinow. Allen Lane, The Penguin Press, London, 2000.

Guattari, Felix. Chaosmosis: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm. Trans. Paul Baines and Julian  Pefanis. Power Publications, Sydney, 1995.

Jakobsen, Jakob. “The Switch.” Transgressions: A Journal of Urban Exploration 5: 90-91.

Kafka, Franz. The Diaries of Franz Kafka, 1910-23. Ed. Max Brod. Penguin, London, 1964

Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Will to Power. Trans. Stuart Kaufmann. Vintage Books, New York, 1968.

Submitted by Eli Pollard

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Schedule Spring 2006

Open Wednesday, 01/25 12-2pm

  • Presenter/Discussion Facilitator:  Chris (Barr)

Fuller. M. (2005) Media Ecologies. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Wednesday, 02/08 12-2pm

  • Presenter/Discussion Facilitator:  Loren

Florida, R. (2002) The Rise of the Creative Class. New York: Basic

Wednesday, 02/15 12-2pm

  • Presenter/Discussion Facilitator: Chris (Ernst)

Coyne, R. (2005) Cornucopia Limited. Design and Dissent on the Internet.
Cambridge: MIT Press.

Wednesday, 03/08 12-2pm

  • Presenter/Discussion Facilitator: Al

Kester. G. (2004) Conversation Pieces. Community + Communication in
Modern Art. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Wednesday, 03/22 12-2pm

  • Presenter/Discussion Facilitator: Stefani

Mattelart, A. (1996) The Invention of Communication. Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press.

Wednesday, 04/05 12-2pm

  • Presenter/Discussion Facilitator: Sarah

Mitchell, J., Inouye, A, Blumenthal, M. (2001) Beyond Productivity.
Information Technology, Innovation, and Creativity. Washington, DC: The
National Academies Press.

Wednesday, 04/19 12-2pm

  • Presenter/Discussion Facilitator: Diedie

Kyong Chun, W., Keenan, T. (2005) New Media. Old Media. London:

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