Turins Contract

By Sheep T. Iconoclast, 26 September 2008

I want to talk about the new media collision. You might have noticed a number of barriers coming down recently, apartheid in South Africa (well the laws at least), the Berlin wall, the iron curtain. For me, my barriers started to come down when clean war techniques were being practised during the Gulf war. It was the first war to be run via shooting schedule. Even for the American air combatants it was close to star wars, films, and video games, and only fractionally linked to the naive slaughter we call war. The potential walls between war and television had certainly been blurred (in the best possible taste).

It can be hardly insignificant, then, that the arts have seen a similar collision between techniques which have generally gone under the appropriated title of 'multimedia', but I think this reflects a general linkage between many areas inside and outside art. The electronic digital calculating device has been, if not a surrogate mother to this collision then probably a gene donor.

The convergence of digital media has brought previously seperated domains within reach of each other. This is partly due to the general deskilling the user interface software brings to the process of manipulation. However, I cannot help but think that there is also a larger convergence going on.

Recently, the Time-Warner media empire was purchased by Its largest media maker Sony. The business logic behind this was clear, by having a ready supply of view-ware, the final inhibitors to the rapid introduction of new technology were removed.

The tyranny of the bit store has bought a common domain, a playground in which artists and technologists have a method for re-engineering what Benjamin Woolly refers to as 'Hyperreality', the reality in our heads.

Previously you made a 'film' you made a 'record' the identification of material with content was complete. By digitising this material you convert diverse and orthogonal media into a common format. A rough digital equivalent of Henry Ford's 'you can have any colour you like as long as it is black or white*. Following the new politics when digital, a work becomes completely mutable and re-editable. Pop too has started to explore/exploit the new general synthesis. Bands no longer make music and performances, they make videos, dance pieces and now, with people like The Residents, Peter Gabriel, David Bowie and the 'man formally known as Prince' they too are constructing multimedia. Even the National Gallery1 has been drawn into to writing one of the best pieces of multimedia, the National Gallery CD-ROM/Microlab. Comics have been a potent source of imagery to be fed into to the New General Collision.

By Ram raiding the image house and appropriating it's contents, the first street recycling shot produced a have of sampled house and hip hop. With a language which has itself been cut-up from William Burroughs, the new groove order retrofitted its glaze just in time for the proto-adults who had just spent their youth channel surfing through oblivion. They literally re-edited culture because they had known nothing else.

From this perspective the just juice which made sampling from imitation to appropriation, provided a fertile ground for the next level, after phase one and before collecting any bonus points.

The bit crazed super mundane mantra nerd kings, Chairman Gates and old Joe Steve Jobs had yet more tricks too pull. After selling everyone popcorn they where looking for a film to go with it. No

one had got where they where today without filling a disk drive. The CD-ROM ( which itself had been appropriated from audio CD's) had two appealing facilities or enough copies of the Encyclopaedia Britannia to sink a small boat, i.e. almost impossible to copy to a floppy for your friends. Secondly it was read only. This put people into a situation which they could cope with, Author vs. Reader relationship a situation which is ominously shared by the world wide web. By mixing digital images, digital sound, computer assisted animation, and importing video and three dimensional imagery, but most significantly allowing these to be linked together via scripts or mini programs which could react to user input, Multimedia was defined by the nerd kings. Like the princess of Serindip they left it around for an unsuspecting computing community to come across. As William Gibson once said: 'The street finds its own use for things', many artists, Julian Opie and Nina Pope spring to mind, are beginning to find a use for computer technology as a part of their general output.

As yet, art fell on to a dilemma it had not been previously forced to resolve. The elicitation of practical, not token interaction between observer and artwork. Taking its lead from advertising, software had to differentiate itself from other media. Multimedia has never reached a level of quality matching the original. Pictures are flat and pixelated ( or is that resolutionaly challenged?), animations are tiny/jerky, text unreadable for prolonged exposure, sound is good but limited in length. True, things will get better if they get used but, the solution was to get the computer to do what it's good at - making primitive micro decisions. Thus 'interactivity' was born. No one needed it, but no one needed television, film, radio or the printed word. It was just lying around there with the words 'Hi I'm Interactive, exploit me' written all over it.

The primary problem artists are faced with is one of loose talk. *Hay is this coke can interactive ? ' Yer sure I'm looking at it, I'm interacting with it'- some body give that man a beer. How ever, computers have a lousy habit of begin immutable to Hetro logic. The other elements of the general collision of materials were on general exhibition. Although very few people have seen Turin's contract, the small print mentioned the notion of the deskilling. Deskilling is a term used by 70's sociologists and appropriate technology buffs to describe the process where the micro decisions are adopted by the machine. In computing terms this removes the stuff that needs to the craft skill i.e. the long time spent coming to terms with the details of the material, leaving only the creative and the boring and completely unautomisiable boring stuff. Look out for a company near you which only has crazed top executives, a bunch of machines and a janitor working in it. but I forgot you already listen to Radio One. Deskilling is different from automation, automation also absolves the user from the creative process too - that bit's done by the engineers.

Grooving on down the logic superhighway, it's possible to see computing as a skill displacement activity. There are skills in computer usage, I should know I mark people over this. Like reading and writing and, unlike serving a hamburger, computer 'intuition' is continuously recyclable. Scan an image, pop it into strata vision, wrap it around a 3D sphere, render it, cut and paste it into a 3D animation: once you have got used to your first couple of systems the principles are carried on to the next piece of software. The crucial difference is that the same core skill is being reproduced across software, a hardened Mac user can assimilate a new chunk of software faster than a junky can get a hit from their latest score ( this is even true to a lesser degree in windows). While no expert, I have convincingly guided new users in the use of software I have never heard of before.

Waiting for the last bus, this leaves only two problems, content and the fleshy access to the means of production. The computer artist has a grave problem: how to avoid being identified with the multi-megabyte 'my first pony' computer assisted rat-shit out there in the big room. For a nation brought up with a fear-of-being-crap-so-they-brought-their-kids-colouring-in-books, the sheer booklike professionalism of their first laser print makes us believe the authority of the 'quality' image. With deskilling, quality is now cheap, the level of craft most people hope will guide them in the good stuff is officially trivial. For the computer artist one response to all the rat-shit is the 'hay look I'm just an artist who just happens to use a computer' tee shirt. Yer sure, the same way a ceramist is just an artist who happens to use clay, it would have been steel but the steel shop doesn't deliver. It scores high on the first rationalisation chart, but there is the feeling that this negates the purpose of using the medium, its new possibilities and new limitations. I feel we need some kind of solution to this before computer art looses all potential for serious meaning (like comics did in the 1920's).

Looking at the collision between subject divides like this you being to see a cultural imperative behind the introduction of no-fixed agenda magazines like Mediamatic, Artifice, Mute, Wired and Mondo 2000. Perhaps they could be better described as the agenda is the agenda magazines. I'm constantly surprised when I meet people who too are seeing the technosocial complex as the playground which slips between 'high' and 'low' art. Computer games become the extension of the graphic and soon, in an arcade near you, the architectural experience. Conversations with Joe B. of Probe indicate a fusion between the cinematic and videogame content. Games like Batman and Alien show a different unique media fusion over content, and when the game grosses more than the film it's hard to fix what is the original and what is the merchandising. When the music is in the top 40, the game is re engineered for the theme park, the book ( there are 5 books about sim city alone), magazine (8 game magazines), the notions of 'medium' to the game world are verging on the quaint. This is the mispelt manifesto of the corporate cultural combine, it is also symptomatic of the wider synthesis going on in culture.

Hyping to the max, games are clearly the leaders in the notions of interactivity. While Sonic T. Hedgehog is one of the most successful in braking the bonds of 'narrative', the message delivered seems null and void. As Ted 'HyperText' Nelson put it 'the games of today are the user interfaces of tomorrow', a computer game is primarily an interactive meta-experience, but hay the medium is the 'massage'. Non Interactive games (except for cellular automata) are almost a contradiction in terms, games are the new laboratories of the avant guarde, and remember, science is the new rock and roll. Like a granny getting off the bus, the hip-hype terminology too, is slowly being exported from the games community. Players spend frozen hours discussing something they can only flacidly describe as "gameplay", the feeling about the interactivity of the piece. Like a blunt syringe, the animation, the graphics, the sound and plot is just a way of delivering the'gameplay'to the user. I feel that before artists start to appropriate game-asmetaphor they should really try to assimilate gameplay/gameboy to their work.

While watching VNS matrix at ICA's Terminal Futures, I could really roll with the fall's they where handing out. They too where operating on the basis of game as proto art poin. Figure my general disappointment when I discovered that, well OK they hadn't implemented anything yet. In this post literate psycho culture, the intertwingling of image, animation, space, sound, text and network would give artists a way of expanding their ecology of media and their audience. Some 409 of the population own a game, but not an original painting. It's also time to realise that games are skidding over the abyss of content, 909 of games (according to the Face magazine) involve hero rescuing trapped heroine. Already neo-Fascists have masturbated over the idea of brain washing the 'youth' of the nation via race hatred filled games (not realising how cynical most 11 year olds are). The notion of media eliciting response seems both a well-spelt and comfortable companion seeking long term lasting rela! Ionship for art.

Naturally, computer as interactivity box is not the only way computer art can express it's deep, moody personality. The computer is the no-agenda box, it will pop up in a number of places, in a number of frames of reference but, as Doug Elbert, inventor of the mouse said: 'A computer is a device for thinking with'. The game arena is a new mosaic ready to be accessed, it is firmly part of the deconfliction of art. The other main experience in the computing explosion is the Internet. After you have been numbed by the amount of misinformation, the other main service the internet is sold on is the ability to interact with others, even mosaic is called a frozen conversation. Alternatively you could leave your terminal and go and talk to the people next door and not have to pay any connection charges.

Loose adjectives litter the super information highway waiting to cause a serious pulp pileup. Broken by the casual technical illiteracy it's hard to have a good feel as to where things end up. The new media collision, feels to be both simultaneously here around us and also lost in the heat haze in the distance. How subject areas will evolve to adapt to the new insecurity is problematic. On a good day it's reassuring to spin around the ideas of the ultimately retro renaissance. The analogy is in the air, the feel love and mixing between technology and Art, a symbiosis where both gain.

Since cubism and quantum theory, most subjects have got beyond the phase of being intelligible. I have known clever programmers who think architecture is all to do with houses. Equally many clever architects and lecturers are still failing to realise what impact general computing will have on architecture's teaching and practice.

Again Benjamin Woolly comes screeching to the rescue by inferring a generic similarity between subjects like quantum theory and post-modernism. This infers a new media collision along the lines of the comet which hit Jupiter. What might be dubbed the grand unified similarity.

When spinning out on the dance floor it's easy to see the Mandelbrot fractal tee shirt as a symbol of how science unites itself into culture, both are a product of each other. Both Art and science are reservoirs of 'Memes', mind viri, which sometimes leak out of the lab to run riot on an unsuspecting public. Anyvirus, once running wild, will naturally evolve and adapt to its environment in order to further its Darwinian purpose. As generators. both 'Art' and 'Science' have been unified from the very beginning. On the other hand, when someone buys a fractal tee shirt what ideas are they really buying into?