Book Review: Digital Art and Meaning by Roberto Simanowski
Published 2011 by University of Minnesota Press
Interactive Art – a new world order?
Post 3 of 3: Final Chapters – 4, 5, 6: Interactive Installations, Mapping Art, Real Time Web Sculpture are covered
Chapter 4 Interactive Installations
Turn to Interactivity – The author discusses the shift from artists producing stand-alone objects where dialogue is conducted from a distance, to interactive art where dialogue is created within the moments of interaction. The meaning of these types of digital works must be formulated by the inclusion of physical experiences. Consider the act of watching someone dance or actually being the dancer – how would you describe your experiences? In one position you are the receiver and in the other you are receiver/transmitter. Simanowski discusses our “culture of presence”; our increasing needs to experience the moment. Is this need resulting in the death of deep reflection and understanding? Simanowski offers information on the types of responses a creator might induce from participants; atmospheric perception, rebellious interaction, and requiring participants to give up something to gain something. I call these types: alert the senses, don’t tell me “no”, and quid pro quo. Is the participant negotiating the outcome or is the freedom to choose just an illusion? (Examples: Text Rain (1999) – Utterback and Achituv RE: Positioning Fear (1997) – Rafael Lozano-Hemmer Very Nervous System (1986-1990) – Rokeby
Understanding the Grammar of Interaction – Simanowski starts off by remarking on the example JCJ –Junkman (1995) by Ken Feingold; a response to the out of control data imposed on the public. I laughed when I first experienced this work. However, once I understood the artist’s intent, the symbolic truth of the work was visible to me. How does this work speak to you? The author’s discussion turns to the body as a tool; as the digital artist’s paint brush. Here he expresses firm belief that physicality is not the end of the experience, stating, “The body is only the means to trigger cognitive process.” (Example: Body Movies (2001) – Rafael Lozano-Hemmer Recollections 4.5 (2005) – Edward Tannenbaum )
Public Art as Deprivation – The author reviews virtual architectures as they relate to construction and deconstruction. The meanings of such spectral and temporal works are defined by the imagery, audio, time, and place of the event. Do you think this work is art, or is it more related to symbolism like fireworks on the 4th of July? (Example: Vectorial Elevation (1999) – Rafael Lozano-Hemmer )
Immersion and Distance – Simanowski suggests that participants in interactive works must actively seek the place of total physical sensation. Then, once the physical experience is over, they must take time to reflect on the deeper meaning of the work. So, considering the experience from a distance of space and time ultimately results in a long term greater understanding of the work. With all the visual stimuli in our active lives, can we truly achieve full immersion in any moment?
Chapter 5 Mapping Art
Database and Mapping in Contemporary Art – All data is stored digitally in numeric code giving it all the same physical form. These codes rest in disconnected states ready to be transformed into a personalized usable form by the requester. Simanowski compares the use of found data in making art to Marcel Duchamp’s ready-mades and also to photography, with its ability to accurately capture exact moments in time. (Example: Laws of Cool: Knowledge work and the culture of information – Alan Liu Making Visible the Invisible (2005) – George Legrady )
Beautification, Photography, Content, and Form – Simanowski discusses Duchamp’s sabotage of art with his “Fountain” (1917), a porcelain urinal submitted to an exhibit, and subsequently rejected by the exhibit committee. Ultimately Duchamp’s work was re-sabotaged when the art world decided it marked a major point in the aesthetics of 20th century art. Beauty is determined by personal values. The eyes of my left brain friends light up when discussing math and science, like mine do when observing a work of great art. Do you think “numeric systems” rise to an aesthetic of artistic beauty?
Mapping as Naturalism – Naturalist writers from the first half of the 20th century were obsessed with describing things exactly; refusing to include any subjective embellishments. Simanowski comments, “The naturalist writer was considered to undertake an experiment, similar to a chemist’s…” He further claims that digital mapping has a greater ability to maintain the exact structure of an object or event than the early naturalist writers. What art aesthetic does clinical data present to you?
Mapping Postmodernism – The author acknowledges our shift from content informed communication to our fascination with the techniques of visual formats and momentary presence. He likens contemporary culture to post modernism, remarking that contemporary reactions are intuitive and turn away from fact based responses. Are we living in a “perception is reality world”, without concern for facts? Do we seek newsfeeds that support our opinions without balancing and broadening our understanding with information from other perspectives?
Chapter 6 Real Time Web Sculpture
Collage and Collaboration in Literature – Simanowski explains the art of literary collage and collaborative works starting with the 1920 Dadaist, through the Surrealist, to those working in the digital field today. Readers are given instructions on the technique of collaborating with previously authored works; the outcome reflects the “remix” by the new creators, as it rejects the sensibilities/intent of the original writer. Collaboration forces individuals to receive and respond to concepts formed outside of their personal thoughts/actions; concepts that likely would not develop by an individual working alone. There is no single author of these works.
Text as Sculpture, Music, Cinema – The author uses the installation “Listening Post”, by statistician Mark Hansen and multi-media artist Ben Rubin (2000 and 2001), to explain the topic of this section. He describes “movements” in this multi-media presentation. Each section of the presentation reveals the text information, but in different and progressive formats. At times it seemed Simanowski was discussing a musical score, not digital text download. The blend of visual and audio to create multiple layers of deepening meanings is explored.
Turning Linguistic into Visual Art – Is digital media art really “new thought”, or a redo of earlier theories in electronic formats? Simanowski delves into opposing thoughts on the digital social chat rooms; asking if they present real community or isolated individuals at keyboards. Can the short moments of human connection through digital devices be considered actual conversations, a true society / community? Is the real digital community actually numeric code, created by us, within digital systems? Is this system now using us to stay alive? Perhaps we are just house servants for and slaves of a yet to be identified community of numeric codes.
Balkanization and Orchestration of Text – In this section, the author provides several examples on fragmentation of text that destructs or redirects meaning, and the management of automated text systems. Simanowski offers insights relative to the digital world’s impact on surveillance, privacy, and democratic policy. He remarks that humans seek utopia through acceptance of or denial of diversity; using the term diversity in its most wide reaching scope. In my opinion, Simanowski reveals the potential horrors of a world running on digital, so automated and homogenized, that the individual voice is annihilated by multitudes vocalizing at once; where we compartmentalize our relationships with like-minded spirits; where in-depth studies become bullet points in digitized presentations and viewers hold these as fact based truths, and; where digital conversations between “friends” consist of a few cryptic words that then reference a link to materials created by someone else. Without the use of language, do we know what the sender really thinks about the visuals they forwarded? Is this the way we now have in-depth dialogue with each other? “ Simanowski asserts, “If unintelligibility is understood as the absence of information, as invalidation of the message, it is also the end of ideology, politics, religion, and ethics, none of which can operate without language.”
Epilogue: Code, Interpretation, Avant-Garde The author recaps specific areas of this book in this section.
I conclude my comments on this book with these questions:
- When we use digital media to communicate, are we trying to have conversation? Or, are we just passing on information with no regard to deeper meaning?
- When we don’t offer our own opinions on material that we share, post, and forward, are we degrading our authentic voice to the open empty mouth puppet of a ventriloquist?
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Always IN ART – msh