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database interface spatialisation navigation

2006-06-09

I just stumbled across the topic of a seminar on Computer Culture: Defining New Media Genres held sometime in the past at Center for Research in Computing and the Arts.

New media requires a new critical language- to describe it to analyze it and to teach it. Where shall this language come from? We can’t go on simply using technical terms such as “a web site” to refer to works radically different from each other in intention and form. At the same time traditional cultural concepts and forms prove to be inadequate as well. Image and viewer narrative and montage illusion and representation space and time – everything needs to be re-defined again.

The goal of our symposium is to explore new conceptual categories appropriate for analyzing computer culture and its objects. We focus on four categories: DATABASE INTERFACE SPATIALISATION and NAVIGATION. Each of these categories provides a different lens through which to inquire about the emerging logic grammar and poetics of new media each brings with it a set of different questions.

During the symposium we will interrogate these categories and use them to map out two key genres of computer culture. That is creating works in new media can be understood as either constructing the right interface to a multimedia database or as defining navigation methods through spatialised representations.

Why does computer culture privilege these genres over other possibilities? We may associate the first genre with work (post-industrial labor of information processing) and the second with leisure and fun (computer games) yet this very distinction is no longer valid in computer culture. Increasingly the same metaphors and interfaces are used at work and at home for business and for entertainment. For instance the user navigates through a virtual space both to work and to play whether analyzing financial data or killing enemies in “Doom.”

The four terms database interface spatialisation and navigation are defined thus:

DATABASE. After the novel and later cinema privileged narrative as the key form of cultural expression of the modern age the computer age brings with it a new form — database. What are the origins ideology and possible aesthetics of a database? How can we negotiate between a narrative and a database? Why is database imagination taking over at the end of the 20th century?

INTERFACE. In contrast to a film which is projected upon a blank screen and a painting which begins with a white surface new media objects always exist within a larger context of a human-computer interface. How does a user’s familiarity with the computer’s interface structure the reception of new media art? Where does interface end and the “content” begin?

SPATIALISATION. The overall trend of computer culture is to spatialise all representations and experiences. The library is replaced by cyberspace narrative is equated with traveling through space (“Myst”) all kinds of data are rendered in three dimensions through computer visualization. Why is space being privileged? Shall we try to oppose this spatialisation (i.e. what about time in new media)? What are the different kinds of spaces possible in new media?

NAVIGATION. We no longer only look at images or read texts instead we navigate through new media spaces. How can we relate the concept of navigation to more traditional categories such as viewing reading and identifying? In what ways do current popular navigation strategies reflect military origins of computer imaging technology? How do we de-militarize our interaction with a computer? How can we describe the person doing the navigation beyond the familiar metaphors of “user” and “flaneur”?

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