Lev Manovich on Thu, 2 May 2002 07:21:01 +0200 (CEST)

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[Nettime-bold] GENERATION FLASH (3B / 3)

Lev Manovich
(3B / 3)

[Thanks to everybody who contributed to the discussion! I will try to
respond further to some of the points made in recent postings. Meanwhile,
here is the last installment of Generation Flash text - actually, this
segment was written first in response to UTOPIA project.]

___________UTOPIA in Shockwave___________ [ 1 ]

[UTOPIA is a Shockwave project by Futurefarmers for Tirana Biennale 01
Internet section.]
[Futurefarmers : Amy Franceschini and Sascha Merg]

URL: http://nutrishnia.org/level/

UTOPIA is playful and deceitful - because it pretends to be more innocent,
more simple, and more light than it actually is. At first glance it can be
taken for something made for children - or for adults whose references are
not Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Rem Koolhaas, and Philip Stark, but text
messaging, gnuttela, retro Atari graphics, and nettime. This is the new
generation that emerged in the 1990s. In contrast to visual and media
artists of the 1960s-1980s, whose main target was media - ads, cinema,
television - the new generation does not waste its energy on media critique.
Instead of bashing commercial media environment, it creates its own: Web
sites, mixes, software tools, furniture, cloves, digital video, Flash /
Shockwave animations and interactives.

The new sensibility, which Utopia exemplifies so well, is soft, elegant,
restrained, and smart. This is the new software intelligentsia. Look at the
thin low-contrast lines of UTOPIA, praystation.com, and so many Flash
projects included in Tirana Biennale 01. If images of the previous
generations of media artists, from Nam June Paik to Barbara Krueger, were
screaming, trying to compete with the intensity of the commercial media, the
new data artists such as Franceschini/Merg whisper in our ears. In contrast
to media's arrogance, they offer us intelligence. In contrast to media
stream of endless repeated icons and sound bytes, they offer us small and
economical systems: stylized nature, ecology, or the game / music generator
/ Lego-like parade in UTOPIA.

Futurefarmers are among the few Flash/Schockwave masters who use their
skills for social rather than simply a formal end. Their project
THEYRULE.NET is a great example of how smart programming and smart graphics
can be used politically. Instead of presenting a packaged political message,
it gives us data and the tools to analyze it. It knows that we are
intelligent enough to draw the right conclusion. This is the new rhetoric of
interactivity: we get convinced not by listening / watching a prepared
message but by actively working with the data: reorganizing it, uncovering
the connections, becoming aware of correlations.

UTOPIA does not have explicit political content; instead it presents its
message through a visual allegory. Like SimCity and similar sims, the
program presents us with a whole minituare world which runs according to its
own system of rules. (All the animation in UTOPIA is result of code
execution ­ nothing is hand animated. ) The cosmogony of this world reflects
our new understanding of our own planet - post Cold War, Internet, ecology,
Gaia, and globalisation. Notice the thin barely visible lines that connect
the actors and the blocks. (This is the same device used in THEYRULE.NET.)
In the universe of UTOPIA, everything is interconnected, and each action of
an individual actor affects the system as a whole. Intellectually, we know
that this is how our Earth functions ecologically and economically - but
UTOPIA represents this on a scale we can grasp perceptually.
The lines also serve another purpose. Despite CNN, Greenpeace, the glass
roof of Berlin¹s Reistag and other institutions and devices working to make
the functioning of modern societies transparent to their citizens, most of
it is not visible. This is is not only because we don't know the motives
behind this or that Government policy or because advertizing and PR
constantly work to make things appear diffirently from what they really are
­ the societies¹ functioning is not visible in a literal sense. For
instance, we don't know where are the cells which make our cell phones work;
we don¹t know the layout of private financial network tha circle the Earth;
we don¹t know what companies are located in a building we pass everyday on a
way to work; and so on. But in UTOPIA, we do know ­ because the links are
made visible. UTOPIA is Utopia because it is a society where cause and
effect connection are rendered visible and comprehensible. The program
re-writes Marxism as vector graphics; it substitues the figure of
³connections² for the old figure of ³unweilling.²

UTOPIA is serious business behind its playful façade ­ but it is not all
business. Drawing on our urrent fascination with computer games and
interactive image-sound software, UTOPIA is a visual and intellectual
delight, UTOPIA draws on the current fascination with computer games and
interactive image-sound software. It is Tetris that meets Marx that meets
data mining that meets the club dance floor.  It is a game for the new
generation that know that the world is a network, that the media is not
worth taking very seriously, and that programming can be used as a political



[1] Tirana Biennale 01 Internet section
(www.electronicorphanage.com/biennale) was organized by Miltos Manetas /
Electronic Orphanage. The exhibition consisted from a few dozen projects by
Web designers and artists, many of whom work in Flash or Schockwave. Manetas
comissioned me, Peter Lunenfeld, and Norman Klein to write the analysis of
the show. This text is my contribution; many ideas in it developed out of
the conversations the three of us had about the works in the show. The joint
text entitled ³KLM Theory² will be released soon. The names in brackets
below refer to the artists in the show; go to the show site to see their

I should also make it clear that many of the sites which inspired me to
think of ³Flash aesthetics² are not necessaraly made with Flash; they use
Shockwave, Javascript, Java, and other Web multimedia formats and scripting
languages. Thus the qualities I describe below as specefic to ³Flash
aesthetics² are not unique to projects made in Flash.

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