michael.benson on Thu, 9 Apr 1998 04:46:12 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> interactivity, cave variant

Hmm yes, interactivity. At the top of my "pegasus mail" window is a 
small winged horse; when I click on it I have the option to Restore, 
Minimize or Close. In 30,000 year old cave paintings discovered 
as recently as 1994 in France (the cave was named Chauvet, 
after its discoverer), four horse-heads can be seen. There's 
something very kinetic and even contemporary about the 
rendering of the animals in this cave. They are gestural and look 
like pastel works on brown paper. There is a real success in 
depicting form, volume, motion, incident (two bulls ramming heads 
together, for example). Why were the horses, and the lions, and the 
buffalo, in this cave rendered? Was there a need behind the 
rendering, something that could be approximated by the menu list 
Restore, Minimize or Close? It's hard to say, but with a little 
enlargement, I dare say the vanished artist(s) would have little 
trouble recognizing the horse icon in the upper left corner of the 
screen. Even if everything surrounding that image was a complete 
blinking mystery.

Was there an implicit command logic behind the cave paintings? A 
desire to make the animals follow orders, so to speak, or go down 
pathways chosen by the artist? Or was it a need to receive something 
back from the animals depicted? 

Now, interactivity. Branching pathways, multiple choices, the 
gathering of knowledge in ideosyncratic, self-steered ways. Having 
opened up a new terrain, i.e. the net, there's even now still a sense 
of an open horizon, though not really of danger. The last just _may_ 
be the only thing unique to the cave painters, though, it seems to 
me.  Otherwise, the tools of their rendering are different, yes. The 
light shining on their work is more -- elemental -- yes. But the 
representation of a type of understanding, in the form of -- well, a 
form, a _type_ of language, if not a _typed_ language -- and even the 
freedom to make that form in an idiosyncratic way appear to be the 
same then as now, or maybe even weighted in favor of thecave 
dwellers. The stone wall is a screen. The image is handmade, but no 
less an "icon". The possibility of changing the rendering seems to 
have been immediate and direct. Communication didn't speak through 
this stone wall from the other side of the planet -- or even the 
valley -- true enough. At least not directly. But it filtered through 
remembered visual stimuli and maybe comparison with the work of the 
master in the next cave. An individual who, seeing what was 
on-screen in this one, may have had the option of adding figures, or 
retreating back to the next cave to make more figures. Or 
even deciding to give up on figures altogether and put some food on 
the table. 

But the key is the abstraction of the image; it's not a shadow 
of a physical body, or a fossil of a physical body: it's a 
_representation_ of a physical body. In effect, bits, not 
atoms. And what's more, it was projected down through those 
300 centuries. How? Through the skill of the artist. Undeniably. So 
the leap was made at the beginning, and the operating system was the 

But I keep on coming back to the menu options. Was there a desire to 
Restore (resurrect?) Minimize (scare off?) or Close (kill?)? Or was 
there another motive altogether? How interactive, in other words?

Michael Benson

website: http://lois.kud-fp.si/kinetikon/ 

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