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Re: Software as Art: Jul/Aug 'Theme of the Month'


Beryl Graham <[log in to unmask]>


Curating digital art - www.newmedia.sunderland.ac.uk/crumb/


Mon, 30 Jul 2001 10:20:56 +0000





text/plain (210 lines)

Dear List, 

This is from Harwood of Mongrel ...
Date: Mon, 30 Jul 2001 12:13:19 +0200
To: Beryl Graham <[log in to unmask]>
From: Harwood <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: Re: New Media Curating discussion

Hi Beryl this might be of some use: ...

Easy Mrs squeezy 

see also http://www.scotoma.org/TextFm this is a beta of the site and project. but could be good for your debate.

if you want to go for depth  and objectification in interface try
Human-Computer Oscillation and the need for calories.


If this is too heavy try

>If your artwork is 'software that does something' (such as Mongrel's 'Linker' software) then what issues are involved?
>see below
>Do curators get it? NO
>Is it 'enabling others', or artwork in itself?  they are the same thing.

* URL				http://www.scotoma.org/Waste/
* title				Waste Words, their weight and frequency in
London's municipal rubbish
* author/s			harwood/ scotoma
* date produced/	May 2001
* email contact: 	[log in to unmask]

Harwood emptied a rubbish bin on the street and cleaned it.  24 hours later
he took all the rubbish out and had the entire word-content of everything
that had been dropped in the bin at that time transcribed into a list.
Word frequency analysis software developed by scotoma was used to count the
occurence of every word on that list. This enabled the calculation of the
number of times each word would be thrown away in an average day.  A
project executed in strict accordance with the manifesto for useless art.

* title				Ballpool
* author/s			Matthew Fuller / scotoma
* date produced/	May 2001
* email contact 	[log in to unmask]
* short text contextualising the site/project

A narrative based on the experience of a figure trapped in a children's
adventure play centre is fed through the scotoma word frequency software.
Word frequency analysis has been used to determine the previously
controversial authorship of certain of Shakespeare's sonnets and other
texts in search of a writer.  This site points toward the way in which the
same techniques might by contrast be used to 'thicken' a narrative.

>How do you 'show' or distribute it? 
>What about 'user support'? You do what you can.

I have several other texts but this one offers a general introduction for the art use and context mix


Descartes: (1596-1650) Probably near Ulm on the Danube has a fever.  After a day spent in intense philosophical speculations he falls asleep in an agitated state - three dreams later and his vision produces  Cartesian Co-ordinates and within them one of the multiple Origins of maps. This period is dominated by deadly epidemics and during his time in Paris he would have witnessed  60,000 deaths in Lyon from Typhus and 25,000 deaths in Limogues.

Linker construction: Note#1 October 98 (Getting user input)
Do_Linker_Actions  me, ancestor_Descartes
TheMouse_location = point(the mouse_Horizontal ,the mouse_Vertical)
The.Content_Name = the_name_of_User Content 
repeat with cnt = 1 to count(This.Content_Name.coordinate_list)
if(TheMouse-location  is inside( The.Content_Name.coordinate_list))then
The.Point_inside = cnt
if(the mousedown)then 
end if
     end if
end repeat

Cartesian Co-ordinates are used to input the mouse user position on most windowing enviroment.

Guy Debord, a key Situationist theorist, has caught a cold, some 300 years after Descartes. His infection started after walking around Paris making a series 'psycho-geographic guides' in the rain. Recording his aimless wanderings, Debord cuts up and reconfigures a standard Paris map. Reflecting street-level desires and perceptions, mapping alternative itineraries and attempting to subvert what Descartes origin had become. 1988 Stefan Szczelkun walks around cities and produces a series of  Collaborations called Duet's. Two people collaborating took a series of 24 "aimless" pictures over the day revealing the subjective city, Harwood among them leaves early due to a stomach ulcer. 

Spring 1998 Mongrels begin attempting to subvert Descartes origin. Walking around  Hull and struck by the lack of finds in the emotional fossil record. Take it upon themselves to fill in the space by making emotional maps of the city with other Mongrels met along the way. 
Richard; "We could make maps of fear or maps of lust." 
Matsuko; "let's plot emotional states onto the position of things."
Harwood; "let's go for a long aimless walk's about nothing and go nowhere."  
We work four days and calibrate the information into a geography of social Class. 

Linker construction: Note#1 May 98 (a specific need)
We have a specific need that we found doing workshops. We want to have dialogues that allow us to produce fast artefacts of digital culture with other mongrels. A crucial thing we have found in workshops is that people want to produce something that looks good, and means something, but don't want to have to invest months in teaching themselves up to know something like Photoshop or Director. We don't particularly want to knock these programs, but they're cultured up to be useful really only to experts.

Harwood; "let's go for a long aimless walk's about nothing and go nowhere." 
We work four days and calibrate the information into a geography of social Class. 

Linker construction: Note#1 May 98 (a specific need)
We have a specific need that we found doing workshops. We want to have dialogues that allow us to produce fast artefacts of digital culture with other mongrels. A crucial thing we have found in workshops is that people want to produce something that looks good, and means something, but don't want to have to invest months in teaching themselves up to know something like Photoshop or Director. We don't particularly want to knock these programs, but they're cultured up to be useful really only to experts.

February 2001 - lost somewhere in Delhi feeling well and thinking about this article. I pick up the map; a practical tools for merchants and governments to carve up territory for themselves and plan military campaigns. Wipe the scum of the city from my mind: a usual activity for most of us, a "common sense" that can help amass someone an empire a small business,  transport people half way around the world against their will. This forgetting offers us a temporary blindness that allows us to go about our daily lives, walking past the rich-sick-homeless-no-hoper-beggars or the building built on the glories that meant other peoples' pain. 

Linker construction: Note#3 November 98 (Linker a device for a subjective "Knowledge-Map")
We need to make some sort of Subjective knowledge-maps that can draw together the invisible structure of fear, lust and happiness that underpine our experience of the city. Fear imprisons people - divides up territory every bit as much as the very real razor wire you see on a ride around the city  or the urinated lifts and deserted corridors of north London. 

I now forget the map and remember the journey, as I also forget the software that wrote this text. It seems software exists in some form of invisible shadow world of procedure something like the key we find in maps. Software is establishing models by which things are done yet, like believing the objectivity of maps, we forget that software is derived from certain cultural, historical and economic trajectories. Software like the map, can never just be a tool; In the invisibility of it's construction it is always drawn and positioned. 

Linker construction: Note#3 January 99 (Linker Basics)
In order to make Linker work for as many people as possible, we need to explore creativity reduced to Selection, Naming and Linking - Try to illuminate everything else from the creative act.
Take nine images, not ten or eight but nine - the upper limit of gestalt  grouping. Create a layout or "knowledge-map" structured into an easily remembered instrumental [3][3] grid. 
Alpha-numerically order the grid according to the users filename entries so the map elements can be arranged on the screen. 
E.G [[1] = a, [2] = b, [3] = c ], [[4] = d, [5] = e, [6] = f], [[7]= g, [8] = h, [9] = I]]

I follow the menu items of Software like I followed the map of Dehli moving from place to place transfixed by the representation  I see before me, while seeing nothing of the social geographies from which they were emerged and on which they act. I ignore the built-in bias  - the implicit totalitarianism of prescribed functions and procedures - instead I am transfixed by the outcome of my interaction with applications. I forget the program in order to get on with this article so I can go home - love the wife - bath the boy - walk the dog.

Linker construction: Note#4 February 99 (Content totalitarianism)
Linker will be content totalitarianism. From Linkers initial layout, the software will enable you to create sixteen links from each map image to a sound, image, text, video clip or to other parts of the map or again to other maps and different scale views of the map with a single click. 
Reduce objectifying the interface to the user to the minimum. No menu items like File, Edit, View, and their subsets; Cut; Paste, Save As, open - all removed. 

Although maps depict what is actually visible, they also visualise what is invisible in everyday experience and through the selectivity of the mapmaker, certain elements are shown and given relative importance whilst others are not. The map it seems is an abstract visual composition for finding my way round, a godly view from a vertical rather than horizontal plain, usually drawn at a constant scale across its surface. 

Software also attempts to visualise and structure creative processes and procedures along "helpful" lines. It objectifies interface content for the user. Imposing invisible constructs within their work, reducing it to a series of binary choices that are hierarchically defined and through the selectivity of the programmer certain elements are shown and given relative importance whilst others are not. 

Linker construction: Note#5 March 99 (Content totalitarianism continued)
Linker should work in series, no binary choices. The difference between two and three is as large as the difference between the map and the experience the city. 
Lets make absolutely sure we do not waste pixels. Interface = the least effective difference. 

The apparent confidence I feel, when looking at a map points toward a graphic illusion of our experienced urban space. It is so compelling over and above its use as a method of knowing where I was - where I will be - where I'm going. It is also obvious that maps present only one possible version of the earth's surface, a fiction constructed from factual observation derived from Descartes origin. This fiction maps itself onto the cities exterior - the city image as a mediated concept, the city as seen from elsewhere. 

Out of the put-put  and walking down to  Sarai, 29 Rajpur Road Delhi India I realise the cab driver could not read the map? I could have been showing him an engineering drawing of the Boeing 747 - he does not care. This city is navigated by asking the way. The map is in the exchange between people finding their way and recognising places.

"That's where I got married, That's were the riot took place, That's where I lost my virginity, that's Delhi Gate where the British re-took the city"

Linker construction: Note#6 April 99(Inconsequential interface)
Process: Take four uses of Linker and calculate the  (Pixels-UsedFor-InterfaceDisplay) divided by (Pixels-UsedFor-ContentDisplay) to give the % of interface in the total visual experience of using Linker. 
Yields that that early implementations of the Linker interface are averaging %5 of the total visual experience of the user. Final interface reduces this to %1.08 of the total visual experience of the user.

The modern map presupposes a certain worldview, a specific visual geography, one that takes a kind of birds eye view.  The map is a scale drawing not an exact reproduction, it is a symbolic representation by an agreed set of symbols figures, lines and shading. Software also presupposes the user to have a certain world-view - a high point in it's marketing potential. Software is a systematic modelling of the creative process not an exact reproduction of that process. Software is a symbolic representation of creative processes by an agreed set of symbols and processes of interaction.

Linker construction: Note#7 May 99(Multimedia equivalent of a throw-away camera.)

Place the contents in data-type folders and start. Formal simplicity - explained in ten minuets to people not familiar with computing. It's clear and deliberately constrained. This constraint makes it quick and turns the implicit totalitarianism of prescribed options into an opportunity to learn quickly. Links between content drawn on the top of the data. So the user can see where the link goes. Not hidden in some symbolic operating system somewhere.		

Download it get on with it:


Post script:

Linker 1.0 workshops were run by Mongrel in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, USA, France and Holland working with various groups from indigenous and ethnic peoples to white majorities, the unemployed, art students, war veterans and friends and family. 

Harwood will be working at the Waag for the next year to produce the online version of Linker which will be implemented in Sarai India Australia and London Busit. 


Speculative Software.


A key issue that has emerged within the field of interactive art over the past year or so is that the cultural implications of supposedly neutral software tools are in need of critical discussion. Whilst most artists have been happy to create content with the tools provided for them, some have questioned software's construction and it's social/cultural agenda.  Within this debate artists have been taking an increasingly central, productive as well as theoretical, role.

"In the same way that we forget the map and remember the journey, we also forget the software that wrote this text.  Software exists in some form of invisible shadow world of process something like the key we find in maps. Software is establishing models by which things are done yet, like believing the objectivity of maps, we forget that software is derived from certain cultural positions. Software can never just be a tool; it is always culturally and politically positioned, and part of this positioning is the invisibility of the software's construction. " Harwood.  Another commentator on this field notes that, "Interactive Art is now beginning to allow us to formulate a new sense and critical context for computer interface." Matthew Fuller (Middlesex University)

This coincides with recent developments in the understandings of disease not only as pathological reality but as social constructs with major parts played out within the history of humanity.  Dr J. N. Hays in his book "The Burdens of Disease" presents a view of the workings of Disease and illness within Western history, it emphasises alike the individual physical reality of sickness and death and the social responses to such physical Disease. He goes on to say "Disease is both pathological reality and social construction. Both material evidence for it and convictions about it exist; concentration on one to the exclusion of the other might make a neater story, but would be a false one." 
It is only now that we may begin to glimpse a view of the cultural implications of both software and disease.  The two disciplines of interactive art (software understood as reflexive culture) and the history of medicine (disease: is both pathological reality and social construction) have both began to look into the history of their cultural construction in order to create a productive analysis of the contemporary arena in which they manifest. 

Development of  the idea.

It would at first sight seem bizarre to suggest an artistic exploration of computer interface from the point of view of the subjective and pathological symptoms of disease. However, we believe that given the historic interdependence of Cartesian dualism and the epidemiological context from which it grew there are very fruitful grounds for making this investigation. The text that follows is a theoretical example of the working methods that we would like to experiment with.
To use the computer we rely on the software engineer's abilities to construct basic interaction tasks (BIT).  The use of an interactive system entails a unit of information that is meaningful in the context of the software application. How large or small is such a unit? For instance, does moving a mouse a small distance enter a unit of information? Yes, if the new position is put to some application purpose, such as repositioning an object.  No, if the repositioning is just one of a sequence of repositioning as the user moves the cursor to place it at the top of a menu item. Here, it is the menu item that is the unit of information. The space between what is a BIT and what is not allows for the objectification of a user-task. Objectification here represents our ability to see a thing as different from ourselves which in turn allows us to explore and transform the thing at a spatial range from ourselves. It is precisely this spatial range that can be interrupted in our experience of the symptoms of disease a
Migraine, for instance, can be described as effecting our sensation of space in unusual ways, "One patient with characteristic headaches preceded by hemianopia, complained of bright stars before the eyes whenever she had looked at a brilliant light; and sometimes one of the stars, brighter then the rest, would start from the right lower corner of the field of vision, and pass across the field, generally quickly, in a second, sometimes more slowly, and when it reached the left side would break up and leave a blue area in which luminous points were moving." (Gowers, 1892)
Descartes lay the foundations for Dualism and also created the co-ordinate system that computer interfaces now rely on. He held that the geometrical ordering of space is not only the foundation of an orderly universe, but also guaranteed a person's sane perception of the self.  Similarly the users of computers also perceive the spatial range of the computer interface as the foundation of the orderly performance of user-tasks.  However, a person's perception of space and order can be altered in pathological conditions, and thus provides an occasion which allows us to explore the construction of both order and disease experience.  Similarly, if we simulate disease experience in computer interface, we can reveal and explore the process of construction of the spatial range of user-tasks. 
>From this example we can see that in order to simulate or re-create the symptoms of an individual experience of disease, the scotomata experienced by some Migraine sufferers for example, we would need to recreate the extinction of space felt by the person who is experiencing the scotoma. We would in this case attempt to create a non-objectifying interface, one lacking in BITs. This theoretically could be made possible by using all the parameters that are contained in the contact between the machine and the user. This should theoretically lead to an extinction of space in the interface, thus simulating or recreating the symptoms of a scotoma.


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