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NEW-MEDIA-CURATING  May 2012

NEW-MEDIA-CURATING May 2012

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Subject:

(Rev.) IMAGERY IN THE 21st CENTURY, GRAU Ed.,

From:

Image Science <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Image Science <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Thu, 3 May 2012 17:28:43 +0200

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text/plain

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text/plain (190 lines)

IMAGERY IN THE 21st CENTURY
by Oliver Grau, Editor; with Thomas Veigl
The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2011
424 pp. illus. 132 b/w. Trade, $40
ISBN-10: 0262015722.
 
With contributions by 
Sean CUBITT, Martin SCHULZ, Eduardo KAC, Thomas VEIGL, Stefan
HEIDENREICH, Olaf BREIDBACH, 
Dolores & David STEINMAN, James ELKINS, Wendy CHUNG, Christa SOMMERER &
Laurent MIGNONNEAU, 
Marie Luise ANGERER, Peter WEIBEL, Adrian CHEOK, Tim Otto ROTH, Harald
KRÄMER, Lev MANOVICH, 
Martin WARNKE, Oliver GRAU and Martin KEMP
 

Reviewed by Amy Ione
Director, The Diatrope Institute
Berkeley, CA 94704 USA
[log in to unmask] 
 

As I began this review I began to think that the refrain “we are
surrounded by images today” has lost its impact (despite my being among
the guilty users of it). On the one hand, it seems that many of us
notice the imagery. Yet, on the other hand, as we increasingly engage
with our visual culture certain norms for our critical investigations
are also developing.  I’m not sure where this leaves us.  To be sure,
the nature and complexity of our image-abundant culture is
extraordinary.  Images are no longer sparse and highly treasured.
Rather, we have visual social media, scientific imaging tools, and even
static objects like paintings populate the ever-changing screens of our
mobile and desktop devices. Even those among us who have resisted some
of the broad spectrum of electronic options (think Flickr, Facebook,
YouTube, thousands of television channels, digital games, and virtual
worlds) cannot escape this new world. Posters and window displays offer
smartcodes that invite us to connect with the Internet and learn more
about whatever the sign is promoting.  Always on, complete with sound,
are television screens in airports, restaurants and the array of imaging
devices that bring us news, sports, entertainment, whatever.  Given the
state of the “image” today, critical examination of channels of media
and communication are needed. Imagery in the 21st Century, edited by
Oliver Grau with Thomas Veigl, presents a number of perspectives on this
theme, highlighting the inroads of media into art and science.  It is a
valuable contribution to the topic.
 
Overall, the book offers systematic and interdisciplinary reflections
on expanding and novel forms of images and visualization.  Drawing on a
number of experts, the twenty chapters highlight new efforts to
visualize complex ideas, structures, and systems. In today’s information
explosion the question of where what digital images represent and where
they fit in the scheme of things becomes quite prismatic.  As a whole,
the chapters are quite strong; they do not suffer from the unevenness so
common in collections of conference papers, which this book is.  Of
particular value is the breadth of the essays.  Researchers from the
natural sciences and the humanities explore the wealth of diverse
functionality that images have evolved to offer to our lives, that
includes lab applications, social commentary, humanistic questions, and
experimental art projects.  The spectrum of topics include: database
economy (Sean Cubitt), telepresent images (Martin Schulz), ethical
boundaries (Eduardo Kac), the emergence of a future web-based video
aesthetic (Thomas Veigl), brain research (Olaf Breidbach), medical
illustration (Dolores and David Steinman), interdisciplinary practices
(James Elkins), the role of source code (Wendy Hui Kyong Chun), the
interface (Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau), the museum (Peter
Weibel), cellular automata (Tim Otto Roth and Andreas Deutsch ),
cultural analytics (Lev Manovich and Jeremy Douglass) and a digital
version of the Warburg Image Atlas (Martin Warnke).  Even this
abbreviated list offers a glimpse into the diversity of efforts to
expand visual competence through providing cross-disciplinary exchanges
among the arts, humanities, and natural sciences. While this range makes
the volume a valuable tool for examining this subject across
disciplines, the title, Imagery in the 21st Century, is likely to seem a
rash overstatement in a few decades, given that the century has hardly
begun.
 
Chapters focusing on applications and innovations offer the most of
substantive value, in my view. “Toward New Conventions for Visualizing
blood Flow in the Era of Fascination with Visibility and Imagery” by
Dolores Steinman and David Steinman falls into this category. Well
written and comprehensive, these authors set the stage by pointing out
that medical images (drawings, woodcuts, engravings) have always played
a key role in educating practitioners and knowledge development. They
then follow with case studies that illustrate their efforts to represent
blood flow in the context of the living body and conclude with some
commentary on medical imagery as art and in popular culture.
 
James Elkins’ chapter, “Visual Practices across the University: A
Report,” also stood out. Elkins presents a brief summary of a book
called Visual Practices across the University that was published in
German in 2007 and is little known outside of the German-speaking world.
The essay summarizes an exhibition project that was initiated by sending
email to faculty in the sixty-odd departments at University College,
Cork asking for exhibition proposals from anyone who uses images in
their work.  What stood out in his commentary is how differently
scientists, humanists and artists think about images and imagery. In
this case, he found that while most visual work in the university is
done outside of the humanities, most of this work is invisible because
the routine image making and image interpretation is not considered as
important to the goals as what the images represent and the science that
they make possible.
 
Oliver Grau, the editor, is a Professor for Image Science and Dean of
the Department for Cultural Studies at Danube University, the author of
Virtual Art: From Illusion to Immersion (2003) [1] and the editor of
MediaArtHistories. His collaborator, Thomas Veigl, is on the scientific
staff of the Department for Image Science at the Danube--University
Krems.  Their opening chapter, Introduction: Imagery in the 21st
Century, sets the stage well and is available at
http://mitpress.mit.edu/books/chapters/0262015722chap1.pdf . Grau’s
concluding section on “Media Art’s Challenge in Our Societies” offers an
overview of image studies today.  Parts of the chapter are useful but,
because some sections in it are so focused on his professional efforts
to meet today’s challenges rather than the challenges overall, the text
read like an infomercial at times.
 
Throughout the book it is clear that there are the endless options for
image manipulation and that while new media presents us with both
interactive opportunities it also raises challenging questions (about
human autonomy, entertainment, interaction, etc.).  The editors note:
 
“Images increasingly define our world and our everyday life: in
advertising, entertainment, politics, and even in science, images are
pushing themselves in front of language. The mass media, in particular,
engulf our senses on a daily basis. It would appear that images have won
the contest with words: Will the image have the last word?” (p. 6)
 
Perhaps images will have the last word.  On March 12th of this year
(2012) the Encyclopaedia Britannica announced “it will cease publication
of the 32-volume printed edition of its flagship encyclopedia,
continuing with the digital versions that have become popular with
knowledge seekers in recent decades.”  The press release also noted that
“[The Encyclopedia Britannica] was originally published in Edinburgh,
Scotland in 1768 and has been in print continuously ever since [2]. When
I grew up, like many of my generation, this book was like browsing the
web.  I used to love to turn the pages, looking at the images and
reading the articles that related to images that caught my fancy.
 
Of course, the Grau book itself raises another side of the question
about whether images will have the last word. At this point in time it
is not available electronically although sections of the text (without
the images!) are on Google Books; moreover Google Books does not offer
active links to all the many, many websites the Grau book references.
Amazon’s page for the book does not link to a Kindle version.  Instead,
Amazon has a link asking visitors to tell the publisher to offer a
Kindle version.
 
So, will images have the last word? Perhaps. Or perhaps we need to ask:
Is it a good thing for images to have the last word?  I did not think
that the depth of this kind of question was fully addressed in the book
since its focus was on the importance of understanding images as vital
and dynamic parts of our world today. Thus, my primary concern about
this volume, which I recommend overall, is that the reflections and
analytical approaches offered did not seem to balance the euphony and
cacophony of our experience today. While I’m not exactly sure how this
relates to whether images will have the last word, I do know that at
times all of the changing images surrounding me feel very cacophonic. 
As a participant in the movement is to reverse the dominance of textual
sources in our approaches to knowledge, as we celebrate our visual
abundance, visualization methods, the distribution of images, and how
imagery benefits our lives; it seems foreign to have evolved to the
point that I think so much about the visual noise.  Even in this book I
found that some of the projects seemed strikingly cacophonic, and
thought that the theoretical assumptions of the authors overall are more
biased toward euphonic reactions to our visual culture than the
harshness and discordant qualities that are congruent with our visual
culture?
 
Perhaps the next step is making sure we address that the cacophonic
side is actively included in our critical analyses or imagery.  Grau
does stress that using an historical lens is an aid in understanding our
imagery today. This perspective opens the door for a balanced analysis
of the visual and textual and I support him in this effort. Therefore,
while the book is only a slice of the imagery picture today, I think
readers will gain much from spending time with Imagery in the 21st
Century.
 
References:
[1] See my Leonardo Review at
http://leonardo.info/reviews/feb2003/GRAU_ione.html.
[2] “Encyclopaedia Britannica To End Print Edition, Go Completely
Digital,” http://www.corporate.eb.com/?p=508.
 
 
Further Information:: 
http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?ttype=2&tid=12675 
http://www.mediaarthistory.org/pub/Imagery21Century.html 
 
 

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