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<nettime> Learning from Prada (PART 3)
Lev Manovich on Thu, 30 May 2002 04:43:24 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Learning from Prada (PART 3)

Lev Manovich (www.manovich.net)

The Poetics of Augmented Space: Learning from Prada
[May 2002]

[posted 5/29/02]

Before we rush to conclude that the new technologies do not add anything
substantially new to the old aesthetic paradigm of overlaying different
spaces together, let me note that the new technologically implemented
augmented spaces have one important difference from Cardiffıs walks,
Liberskindıs Jewish museum, and similar works ­ in addition to their ability
to deliver dynamic and interactive information. Rather than overlaying a new
3-D virtual dataspace over the physical space, Cardiff and Liberskind
overlay only a two-dimensional plane, or a 3-D path, at best. Indeed,
Cardiffıs walks are new 3-D paths placed over an existing space; rather than
complete spaces. Similarly, in Jewish Museum Berlin Liberskind projects 2-D
map onto the 3-D shapes of his architecture.

In contrast, GPS, wireless location services, surveillance technologies, and
other augmented space technologies all define data space ­ if not in
practice than at least in their imagination - as a continuous field
completely extending over and filling in all of physical space. Every point
in space has a GPS coordinate which can be obtained using GPS receiver.
Similarly, in the cellspace paradigm every point in physical space can be
said to contain some information that can be retrieved using PDA or a
similar device. With surveillance, while in practice video cameras,
satellites, Echelon (the set of monitoring stations which are operated by
the U.S. and are used to monitoring all kinds of electronic communications
globally), and other technologies so far can only reach some regions and
layers of data but not others, the ultimate goal of the modern surveillance
paradigm is to able to observe every point at every time. To use the terms
of Borgesıs famous story, all these technologies want to make the map equal
to the territory. And if, according to Michel Foucaultıs famous argument in
Discipline and Punish, the modern subject internalizes surveillance, thus
removing the need for anybody to be actually present in the center of the
Panopticum to watch him/her, modern institutions of surveillance insist that
s/he should be watched and tracked everywhere all the time.

(It is important, however, that in practice data spaces are almost never
continuous: surveillance cameras reach look at some spaces but not at
others, wireless signal is stronger in some areas and non-existent in
others, and so on. This contrast between continuity of cellspace in theory
and its discontinuity in practice should not be dismissed; rather, it itself
can be the source of interesting aesthetics strategies.)

My third example of already existing augmented space ­ electronic displays
mounted in shops, streets, buildingıs lobbies, train stations and apartments
­ follows different logic. Rather than overlaying all of the physical space,
here data space occupies a well-defined part of the physical space.
My starting point for the discussion of the poetics of thus type of
augmented space will be the current practice of video installations that
came to dominate art world in the 1990s. Typically, these installations use
video or data projectors; they turn a whole wall or even a whole room into a
display or a set of displays; thus rehearsing and investigating (willingly
or not) the soon-to-come future of our apartments and cities when large and
thin displays will become the norm. In the same time, these laboratories of
the future are rooted in the past: the different traditions of ³image within
a space² of the twentieth century culture.

Among different oppositions that have structured the culture of the
twentieth century that we have inherited has been the opposition between an
art gallery and a movie theatre. One was high culture; another was low
culture. One was a white cube; another was a black box.

Given the economy of art production ­ one of a kind objects created by
individual artists ­ twentieth century artists spent lots of energy
experimenting with what can be placed inside the neutral setting of a white
cube: breaking away from a flat and rectangular frame by going into the
third dimension; covering a whole floor; suspending objects from the
ceiling; and so on. In other words, if we are to make an analogy between an
art object and a digital computer, we can say that in modern art both
³physical interface² and ³software interface² of an art object were not
fixed but open for experimentation. In other words, both the physical
appearance of an object and the proposed mode of interaction with an object
were open for experimentation.

Artists have also experimented with the identity of a gallery: from a
traditional space of aesthetic contemplation to a place for play,
performance, public discussion, a lecture, and so on.
In contrast, since cinema was an industrial system of mass production and
mass distribution, the physical interface of a movie theatre and software
interface of a film itself were pretty much fixed. A 35 mm image of fixed
dimensions projected on a screen with the same frame ratio; dark space where
the viewers were positioned in a set of rows; a fixed time of a movie
itself. Not accidentally, when in the 1960s experimental filmmakers started
to systematically attack the conventions of traditional cinema, these
attacks were aimed at both its physical interface and software interface
(along, of course, with the content). Robert Breer projected his movies on a
board that he would hold above his head as he moved through a movie theatre
towards the projector; Stan VanderBeck contrasted semi-circular tents for
projection of his films; etc.

The gallery was the space of refined high taste while the cinema served to
provide entertainment for the masses, and this difference was also signified
by what was acceptable in two kinds of spaces. Despite all the
experimentation with its ³interface,² gallery space was primary reserved for
static images; to see the moving images the public had to go a moving
theatre. Thus until recently, moving image in a gallery was indeed an
exception (Duchampıs rotoscopes, Acconciıs masturbating performance).

Given this history, the 1990s phenomena of omni-present video installation
taking over the gallery spaces goes against the whole paradigm of modern art
­ and not only because installations bring moving images into the gallery.
Most video installations adopt the same physical interface: a dark enclosed
or semi-enclosed rectangular space with video projector on one end and the
projected image on the opposite wall. From a space of constant innovation in
relation to physical and software interface of an art object, a gallery
space has turned into what for almost its century was its ideological enemy
­ a movie theatre, characterized by the rigidity of its interface.

Many software designers and software artists ­ from Ted Nelson and Alan Kay
to Perry Hoberman and IOD ­ revolt against the hegemony of mainstream
computer interfaces, such as the keyboard and mouse, GUI, or commercial Web
browsers. Similarly, the best of video, or more generally, moving image
installation artists, go beyond the standard video installation interface -
a dark room with an image on one wall. Examples include Diana Thater, Gary
Hill, Doug Aitken, as well as the very first ³video artist² ­ Nam Juke Paik.
The founding moment of what came later to be called ³video art² was Paikıs
attack on physical interface of a commercial moving image ­ his first show
consisted of television with magnets attached to them, and TV monitors
ripped open of their enclosures.

[PART 4 will be posted shortly]

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