Digital Art History Chapter 1 Chapter 1, cont. Chapter 2 Chapter 2, cont. Chapter 3 Chapter 3, cont. Chapter 4 Chapter 4, cont. Chapter 5 Chapter 6

Chapter 3, cont.

Charles Csuri <> is a pioneer of multimedia, an 'Old Master' in a new medium. In the short history of computer art, there are no Rembrandts or even Picassos. But there is Prof. Charles Csuri at Ohio State University, who may be the nearest thing, in this new art form, to an Old Master.

Esthetics, culture and history still count. Csuri wants the full power of a sophisticated computer at his finger- tips, which lets him sculpt images in three dimensions, view from any angle, set them in motion and alter them in ways that often blur the distinctions between special effects and art. Although some of his work is done with a mouse, moving a cursor around the screen, much of it still requires knowledge of programming. But Csuri insists that he is not interested in technology for its own sake. "Just because the computer can do perspective and beautiful shadows and shininess, or make things look like glass," he says, "you still need to have an esthetic sensibility, you need a sense of culture and history. That has not changed." Art is what excited Chuck Csuri most.

Csuri says "But even though we have all this marvelous technology, the problems for the artist are still the same. You can very easily be seduced by some special effect, but that in and of itself doesn't do it. You have to have some way of communicating what you feel as a human being.

Yet, beyond all the technical details, Csuri points out, it was his deep interest in the myths and rituals of many cultures that makes the image work as art. Increasingly, Csuri's works have explored the passions and pathos of life, as he struggles to make the computer a more intimate and expressive medium. Tragic masks adrift in space, lovers falling apart in each other's arms, dancelike figures entangled in ecstasy or comforting each other in grief are typical. And, at the same time, he is continuing to investigate the technological possibilities of this new medium. (Paul Trachman)

SOFTWARE by Charles A. Csuri (2003)The primary software used is a custom programming language called AL. Dr. Steve May of Pixar Inc. developed it for his dissertation research at The Ohio State University. The AL language is an extension of Scheme. Scheme is a LISP-like language which is powerful and general purpose, but relatively easy to learn and use. It is an environment for procedural computer animation, which provides powerful modeling language, a language interpreter, and a set of interactive animation tools. In addition, AL provides a complete interface to RenderMan compliant renderers including PhotoRealistic RenderMan (tm) and BMRT. The system exploits a concept of an encapsulated model. An encapsulated model is an animated object containing an integrated set of dynamic attributes--e.g. shape, motion, materials (surface properties), light sources, camera, user interfaces and sound. All of this is pre-presented by a procedural data format i.e., a program written in a procedural animation language. Objects have not only a geometry and a color. They have surface attributes and programs which define their behavior. The objects can be given a range of knowledge on how to respond to a variety of circumstances. The implications of the encapsulated model paradigm is that it introduces new strategies to manipulate many diverse and complicated objects within a three-dimensional world space. It provides one with greater latitude in an experimental approach to a creative decision making process. Instead of being involved constantly in the tedium of making the same assignments and definitions of objects, higher-level controls are used to systematically alter the parameter space. An example of the encapsulated model is the following. The object is no longer simply a geometry or a list of coordinate points. In a model of a weeping willow tree, there is a function to grow the tree and alter its shape and size. In this case it does not exist as a predefined set of data points. Each tree can easily be made to be different and there is another function to move branches and leaves in the wind. The wind is a function, which permits the specification of variable rates of speed and a change in direction. Also, another function permits for variations of the trees and places them into patterns.

There are many functions, which can be used to making changes to the objects and their relationship to one another in the world space. One function can be applied to just one aspect of an objects’ definition. Parameters which control the color can be systematically altered affecting the entire scene at once. The overall representation of the entire scene as lines with shadows can easily be achieved. Lines and their thickness can be altered by a mathematical function, using a sine wave, snoise, or a b-spline function. The line thickness can change from front to back or from the right side to the left side. Functions can change the object’s opacity and its appearance from glass, to wood, metal or brick. The density of each objects atmosphere is set with parameters in another function. Another example is how one can define the entire world space as a single object. There can be 50 objects within the world space. A point in 3 space can be selected and each object’s distance from it determines its degree of fragmentation. In fact, several such points can be chosen. Or, in one line of code, all of the objects must simultaneously change their appearance from being realistic to becoming abstract. The encapsulated model was also used to develop a software architecture to do message passing. This was done at a relatively simple level so that objects could ask questions of one another. They could ask one another about their location in space, their size, color, and other aspects of how they are defined. It was possible to develop rules that governed the objects behaviors. The QuickTime animations on this site as well as several of the Infinite Objects were created with this capability. Barbara Olsafsky wrote the code for me, which was called Cognitive Art Objects. We also had another name Artificial Idiocy, Idiocy. The AL code was extended so that within it I can make external calls to code written in other languages such as C++. This means that I have control over an external program dealing with fragmentation. Within the AL program I can set the parameters affecting the degree and types of fragmentation of an object. With another external program I have control over the representation of an object from complex to simple. For example, a human figure can be shifted from being realistic to becoming very abstract, almost unrecognizable as a figure. The reverse is also true. Numerous special functions were developed in AL. These were designed especially to work with the concept of the Infinite Art Object. But there are the occasional external calls to other programs. The software for the VRML work and Sketchpad was written by Dr. Matthew Lewis, of the Advanced Computer Center For The Arts and Design. The VRML sequences with color and sound was developed over three years ago and placed on the internet. However, few people had the proper computers and the necessary browsers. It was updated by Peter Gerstmann to work in today’s PC world.

Canter sees the digital artist of the future as a “composer” of all forms of media, orchestrating fragments of graphics, animation, text, and sound, into a single artwork. His predisposition towards theater and music belies Canter's roots in live performance, and reinforces his vision that desktop multimedia would evolve into the digital. “Authoring software should aim to shorten the feedback loop between the computer and the user – between the idea itself and its actualization. The overall outcome is a more direct connection to creativity for the user.”

Pierre Lévy's Collective Intelligence: Mankind's Emerging World in Cyberspace (1994) has helped shape the dialogue about the aesthetic and social implications of multimedia, influencing artists and theorists alike. A counterpoint to the dystopic vision of William Burroughs and William Gibson, Lévy points to a digitally-conceived utopian universe, a virtual world in which vast repositories of information, decentralized authorship, mutable identity, and telematic interaction form an "endless horizon" of evolving forms of art and communication.

Lévy identifies an active role for the recipient of the artwork in tandem with a dramatic dissolution of authorial control on the part of its creator. For Lévy, art is becoming a dynamic, fluid, changing environment, a “deteriolized semiotic plane” in which “artist” and “recipient” unite in a consensual interplay in the formation, execution and interpretation of art. He views the digital medium as continuous and collaborative work-in-progress.

According to Lévy, the break from traditional notions of authorship is leading us towards cultural transformation. He envisions a collective society linked by electronic networks, with citizens actively engaged in the “continuous invention of the languages and signs of a community.” Levy proposes that multimedia is a catalyst for social evolution. It is, he writes, “the architecture of the future” – or the language of the new era.

Jodi demonstrates that Net art has become the latest stage for artists to construct experimental forms and narratives, challenge convention, initiate dialogs, introduce new strategies, threaten old paradigms. The medium of interactive networked computing clearly captured the imagination of artists in the 1990s. They encourage us to question the representation of data, its translation, its mapping, its conventional application for visualizing and decoding the language of programming into metaphors and signs we can interpret and utilize.

“We are honored to be in somebody's computer” boast the Jodi authors Joan Heemskerk and Dirk Paesmans (hence, Jodi), who have not only gone beyond the interface, they have abolished it., their magnum opus launched in 1995, contains pages of flash and burn, scrolling and displaying uncontrollable computer code, fragmented shards of interface elements (menus, buttons, etc.), code stripped bare of its functionality, a once symbolic language now transformed into a surreal magic theater of the absurd.

Peter Weibel, pioneering Austrian media artist, was determined to further his activist position towards art and culture through the emerging medium of Net art. He conceived Net_Condition, and in the fall of 1999 – on the threshold of the new century – mounting an exhibition of over 100 projects that represented he says, “an introduction to the political-economical ideas, social practices and artistic applications of online communication in a Net society.”

Weibel used the exhibition to build a theoretical position on the state of Net Art, its function and properties as agency for aesthetic and social transformation. In his curatorial essay, Art/Politics in the On-line Universe, Weibel goes on to proclaim that, “The global Net is the driving force behind a radical economical, social and cultural revolution at the beginning of the next millennium.”

Some of the latest applications of Multimedia are for interfacing educational environments. Research shows (Shippey, 2004) that animation is the best mode to capture and hold the attention of the learner. Media can be organized around cognition – the way it is used and learned, rather than by file type. New platforms and environments increase learning capacity by delivering information more effectively and efficiently through interface enhancements.

Systems can be used as stand-alone models for self-directed learning. Topic trees and question-asking interfaces increase ease of flow. Students view visualizations longer than other types of cognitive input, such as definitions or pseudocodes, and this positively correlates with performance. Students with different abilities, such as verbal comprehension, use cognitive media types differently.

“One of the clearest messages in the log data is that “glitzy” multimedia, i.e., fancy animations, is not an atheoretical luxury,” says Davidson. Multimedia captures and holds attention better than other modes. Sounds and problem sets can be added to the programs. Students must still guide their own thinking process and goal-oriented learning strategy. After scanning all the information available, students actively hunt for needed material.

Telematic Embrace

According to Roy Ascott,

“Our increasing tendency as artists to bring together imaging, sound, and text systems into interactive environments that exploit state-of-the-art hypermedia and that engage the full sensorium, albeit by digital means. Out of this technological complexity, we can sense the emergence of a synthesis of the arts. The question of content must therefore be addressed to what might be called the Gesamtdatenwerk—the integrated data work—and to its capacity to engage the intellect, emotions, and sensibility of the observer.“The past decade has seen the two powerful technologies of computing and telecommunications converge into one field of operations that has drawn into its embrace other electronic media, including video, sound synthesis, remote-sensing, and a variety of cybernetic systems. These phenomena are exerting enormous influence upon society and on individual behavior; they seem increasingly to be calling into question the very nature of what it is to be human, to be creative, to think and to perceive, and indeed our relationship to each other and to the planet as a whole. “The "telematic culture" that accompanies the new developments consists of a set of behaviors, ideas, media, values, and objectives that are significantly unlike those that have shaped society since the Enlightenment. New cultural and scientific metaphors and paradigms are being generated, new models and representations of reality are being invented, new expressive means are being manufactured.”

Telematics <> is a term he used to designate computer-mediated communications networking involving telephone, cable, and satellite links between geographically dispersed individuals and institutions that are interfaced to data-processing systems, remote sensing devices, and capacious data storage banks. It involves the technology of interaction among human beings and between the human mind and artificial systems of intelligence and perception.

The individual user of networks is always potentially involved in a global net, and the world is always potentially in a state of interaction with the individual. Thus, across the vast spread of telematics networks worldwide, the quantity of data processed and the density of information exchanged is incalculable. The ubiquitous efficacy of the telematic medium is not in doubt, but the question in human terms, from the point of view of culture and creativity, is: What is the content?

This utopian proposal is the ideology of such media theorists as Pierre Lévy and Roy Ascott, (Telenoia, in which the collective, participatory nature of telematic art represents a new catalyst for the realization of socially and philosophically motivated aspirations. As Weibel concludes, “Net art has become the forum in which many of the liberating hopes of the historic avant-garde are expressed in new terms.”

Since the 1960s, British educator, artist and theoretician Roy Ascott has been an outspoken practitioner of interactive computer art, pioneering the place of cybernetics, telematics and interactive media in art. Ten years before the personal computer came into existence, Ascott saw that interactivity in computer-based forms of expression would be an emerging issue in the arts. Intrigued by the possibilities, he built a theoretical framework for approaching interactive artworks, which drew from roots in the avant-garde (Dada, Surrealism, Fluxus, Happenings, and Pop Art, in particular), with the cybernetic theories of Norbert Wiener.

Ascott's thesis, "Behaviourist Art and the Cybernetic Vision" from 1966, begins with the premise that interactive art must free itself from the modernist ideal of the “perfect object”’. Like John Cage, he proposes that the artwork be responsive to the viewer, rather than fixed and static. But Ascott takes Cage's premise into the realm of computer-based art, suggesting that the ‘spirit of cybernetics’ offers the most effective means for achieving a two-way exchange between the artwork and its audience.

“Whether by narcissistic self-reflection, passionate attraction, possessive desire, or the harmonization of multiplicity in unification -- hearts, minds, and bodies crave connection with others. These are just some of the qualities that characterize the enigmatic romance of technology and intuition as well as the sentiments of the artists, scientists, and philosophers who have attempted to conjoin them. My work addresses the dynamic relationship between technology and intuition and their philosophical roots in and points of intersection with reason and metaphysics.

These "loving" couples have been conventionally constructed as the dialectical locus of utopic and dystopic formulations of the future, often manifested in theories of global consciousness and its wicked step-sister, or draconian big brother, global surveillance. Part of my project is to problematize these binary oppositions and to suggest a more nuanced reconstruction of the relationship of technology and intuition with regard to the future.” (Ascott, 1997)

Cyberception, <> is Ascott’s term for extension and refinement of our senses: qualitative change in our being, a whole new faculty, the post-biological faculty of “cyberception”. Cyberception involves a convergence of conceptual and perceptual processes in which the connectivity of telematic networks plays a formative role. Perception is the awareness of the elements of environment through physical sensation. Cyberception heightens transpersonal experience and is the defining behavior of a transpersonal art.

We are in the middle of a process of complex cultural transformation, but to what extent is this matched by the transformation in the way we see ourselves? Reframing Consciousness covers a wide-ranging discussion on the interaction between Art, Science and Technology, and goes on to challenge assumptions about ‘reality’.

Loosely themed around four key elements of Mind, Body, Art and Values, Ascott leads the investigation through the familiar territories of interactive media and artificial life, combining them with new and ancient ideas about creativity and personal identity. Art has long been preoccupied with questions involving the mind and consciousness. But it is discovering that new possibilities emerge from creatively applied technology.

Becoming Virtual

In viewing multimedia's broad historical chronology, we see the timelessness and cyclical nature of human expression – from the collective intelligence, dreams, and immersions of the initiatory caves of Lascaux to recent digital forms of immersive experience and altered states of consciousness. The roots of art are intimately linked to mind-bending ritual and primal spirituality. We have grown from shamanism to technoshamanism that manipulates our neurology intentionally and scientifically with an artistic itentionality.

This notion is expressed through such works as conFiguring the CAVE, created in 1997 by Jeffrey Shaw, Agnes Hegedues, Bernd Linterman and Leslie Stück for the CAVE system at the InterCommunication Center (ICC) in Tokyo, Japan. According to curator Toshiharu Ito, conFiguring the CAVE articulates the “fourth dimension that exists between the work and the viewer. In that space, the viewer's awareness and bodily experiences can be restructured and recreated.”

In describing immersive forms, “we cannot,” according to Margaret Morse, “fully anticipate what it means to experience that realm until we are inside.” Interactive multimedia is experiential and sensory, you don’t simply observe the object: you are the object. You enter into and become part of the landscape, not just a detached observer. The medium functions as an extension of the self, a reconfiguration of identity, dreams, and memories – blurring the boundary between self and exterior.

Are we becoming virtual? Pierre Lévy describes virtualization as “that which has potential rather than actual existence. The virtual tends toward actualization.” The revolutionary nature of multimedia, from Wagner to virtual reality, lies in its potential to transform the human spirit.

In his book "L'idéographie dynamique " (The Dynamic Ideography) Pierre Lévy postulates the existence of a new language that would go beyond the distinction between text and image to provide a dynamic representation of thought models. This new language would radically alter the role of the creator who would work on interfaces, transforming the "spectator" into a creative actor. A second book entitled "Les arbres de connaissances " (Trees of Knowledge), co-authored with Michel Authier, develops an application of dynamic ideography in the field of forms of knowledge.

We do not think by making logical deductions or following formal rules; we think by manipulating mental models which, most of the time, take the form of images. This does not mean the images resemble visible reality, they are more of a dynamic map-making. If a dynamic ideography were created, it would constitute a computer-assisted imagination. It would help us construct much more complex mental models than we can with the structures of our mind and enable us to share these mental models with others.

What would we do with such tools? Give people models of kinds of environments with a certain number of actor-objects - ideograms - capable of a degree of interaction between themselves and with the user. What would the person do? Envisage possible scenarios based on these models: consider the standard scenario provided, alter the behavior of the actors, invent other scenarios, etc. and then maybe send the new scenario back to the originator of the standard scenario or share it with others. Clearly such a micro-world could have economic, industrial, educational, ecological or political consequences by making interactive imaged representations of collective phenomenon that concern us.

How can you create a virtual reality expressing the whole range of relationships that the members of a particular group of people have with one another? We are not talking about the kind of communication where one person sends a message to another who, in turn, may pass it on further. Communication in which a member of the group transforms his own image is sending everyone a message that his images have been transformed. Simultaneously, the overall map of the group is transformed. In such circumstances, communication becomes the sharing of a common context and the reciprocal action in this context.

In the field of the relationship to knowledge, to learning and to skills, Michel Authier and Levy give a technical form to this apparently purely philosophical idea. Called the "tree of knowledge", it is a map of all the skills present within a given community organized on the basis of the order in which they were learnt. Everyone has an apprenticeship "curriculum" with small icons that represent their skills divided up into elementary units. A great variety of skills and know-how are included and not just those currently accredited by formal education and official diplomas.

On the basis of these curricula, a computer charts the skills of the community, not on the basis of a re-established theory of knowledge, but on the order in which people have learnt things and the co-existence of skills in the curricula. In the trunk of the tree we have what people learned first, those skills that are common to everybody and, at the top, what people have learned during prolonged study or long experience.

On the same branch you have what is generally combined in the curricula of individuals, but which are not necessarily disciplines. Let's give an example. If, in a given group, all mathematicians play tennis and all tennis players do mathematics, you are going to have maths and tennis on the same branch.

The tree is permanently up-dated whenever anyone learns something new. Each time a new person arrives in the group the tree is recalculated in real time. Everyone can locate himself or herself within this map by charting his or her curriculum in the tree, to obtain what we call that person's "blazon": a snapshot of the state of his or her current knowledge against the background of the skills map.

The individual can fix a personal itinerary for learning on the basis of where he or she is in terms of the knowledge and know-how of the whole community, and not according to a predetermined cursus. Everyone in the community is situated in this virtual picture. It is not, however, the kind of virtual reality as we know it now that duplicates physical reality. It is a space for meanings that do not exist elsewhere, representing a new generation of communication systems.

Just as our prehistoric ancestors painted their own reflections on the walls of Lascaux – history comes full circle, or as T.S. Elliott wrote in the Four Quartets, "my end is my beginning."

Suggested Reading:

Alter, Jonathan. "Bridging the Digital Divide." Newsweek 134, no. 12 (1999): 55.
Amaral, Kimberly. The Digital Imaging Revolution: Legal Implications and Possible Solutions, University of Massachusetts.
Anders, Peter. Envisioning Cyberspace. McGraw-Hill, 1999
Beuys, Joseph. "Political Reformation." In Art on the Edge and Over, ed. Linda Weintraub, Arthur Danto and Thomas McEvilley, 178-183. New York, New York, 1996.
Dyson, Esther. "Intellectual Property on the Net."
Durham and Kellner, ed Media and Cultural Studies: Keyworks. MA: Blackwell, 2001
Flanagan, Mary. “Digital Stars Are Here to Stay.” convergence: the journal of research into new media technologies. Eds. Julia Knight + Alexis Weedon, University of Luton. Summer 1999. Print and internet.
Flanagan, Mary. “Next Level: Women’s Digital Activism through Gaming.” Digital Media Revisited. Edited by Andrew Morrison, Gunnar Liestøl & Terje Rasmussen. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003.
Flanagan, Mary + Booth, H. Austin, Eds. reload: rethinking women + cyberculture. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2002.

Goldberg, Ken. The Robot in the Garden: Telerobotics and Telepistemology on on the Internet. Cambridge, MIT Press, 2000.
Hables Gray, Chris. The Cyborg Handbook. London: Routledge, 1996.
Haraway Donna. Feminism and Technoscience. London: Routledge, 1997.
Laurel, Brenda. Computers as Theater, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1993 and The Art of Human-Computer Interface Design, Addison-Wesley, 1990
Levine, Sherrie. "Unoriginality." In Art on the Edge and Over, ed. Linda Weintraub, Arthur Danto and Thomas

McEvilley, 248-253. New York, New York,1996.
Lovejoy, Margot. Postmodern Currents: Art and Artist in the Age of Electronic Media. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1997.
Mann, Charles C. "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Copyright?" Atlantic Unbound unbound/forum/copyright/intro.html. 10 September 1998 and "Who Will Own Your Next Good Idea?" The Atlantic Monthly,
Manovich, Lev, The Language of New Media
Mercedes, Dawn. "Digital Ethics: Computers, Photographs, and the Manipulation of Pixels." Art Education (1996): 44-50.
Norman, Donald, The Design of Everyday Things. New York: Currency/Doubleday, 1990, 1988.
Packer, Randall, and Ken Jordan, eds. Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality.. New York, London: WW Norton.
Paul, Christiane. Digital Art. London: Thames and Hudson, 2003.
Picard, Rosalind. Affective Computing. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1997.
Plant, Sadie. Zeroes + Ones: Digital Women + The New Technoculture. NY: Doubleday, 1997.
Shippey, Gordon et al. “Exploring interface options in multimedia educational environments”. Georgia Institute of Technology, 2004.
Turkle, Sherry. Life on the Screen. New York: Touchstone Books, 1997.
Wiener, Norbert. Cybernetics or, Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1948.
Wilson, Stephen. Information Arts: Intersections of Art, Science, and Technology. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001.
Wolmark, Jenny(ed.) Cybersexualities: A Reader in Feminist Theory, Cyborgs, and Cyberspace. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999.
Zielinski, Siegfried. "Seven Items on the Net." Ctheory,
98sep/copy.html. September 1998. 5/31/1995.

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