On Friday April 16 as part of the HASTAC Grand Challenges and Global Innovations virtual conference, I will be “presenting” (live via pre-recorded video) a project from my class last semester titled “Interactive Experience and World Design: IKEA as ARG” in which graduate students from USC’s Interactive Media program infiltrated an IKEA retail outlet to analyze the spatial and narrative design of the store as part of an Alternate Reality Game experience. The video offers a summary of the course context and project assignment, focusing on the concept of “scripted spaces,” drawn from Norman Klein’s book The Vatican to Vegas. This video also marks the first time I have had content automatically removed from my YouTube account due to the inclusion of copyrighted material. In representing the transmedia context for this project, the video includes clips of television programs, feature films, advertisements and popular music, at least one of which was flagged by YouTube’s copyright-filtering system on behalf of the Fox/News Corp. media conglomerate. I have filed a counter-takedown notice with YouTube in the hopes of having the video reinstated for public viewing, but for now, it is viewable as a Quicktime file or on Vimeo.
I just gave a talk at Art Center College of Design to students in the graduate Media Design Program about video documentation. My basic thesis was that, for many interactive media projects, installations, performances (etc.), the documentation can be as important as the work itself. Good documentation begins well before the project is complete, often incorporating video and still images of the process, iteration and underlying technologies associated with the project. Although I have been teaching documentation strategies for many years, this was the first time I have attempted to outline a taxonomy of documentation genres. Slides from my presentation are posted on Slideshare; most of the video samples are available online.
The images and sounds that pervade our world, indeed the excited electrons that illuminate this screen are, by definition, evanescent — we perceive and make meaning from them in fractions of a second before they flicker, fade or are replaced. Likewise the computer you are now using will one day crash or become obsolete, perhaps taking its prodigious memory with it, an eventuality that suggests the alarming impermanence of digital media while it hints mischievously at our own mortality. There is very little in today’s culture — except perhaps for the copyright of Disney characters — that can be counted on to survive the 21st century. Indeed, those of us who study the artifacts and stories of cultural and artistic production may be in the midst of a new dark age, inundated with such a profusion of information that we can never hope to organize or digest it, much less sensibly preserve it for the future.
But there is something more at stake here than the planned obsolescence of the technology industries. The environmental destruction and increasing toxicity of our planet during the past half-century is symptomatic of a seeming inability to look beyond the next quarter’s profit-loss reports. It is this tendency toward short-sightedness that prompts The Long Now Foundation to carry the year out to five numerical places (e.g., 02006), a subtle reminder of our own decidedly transient role in the history of this planet. Do we dare take comfort in the notion (mixing equal parts Nietzsche and Andy Warhol) that our fifteen minutes of “world history” are nearly up? Since the previous issue of Vectors launched, the average age of justices on the U.S. Supreme Court dropped from 72 to 66. All indications suggest that the Roberts court, like the current administration’s “war on terror,” will be with us for a very long time. Many of the beliefs that once seemed most deeply etched in our national psyche — ideologies of freedom and privacy, for example — may be the very things that must be asserted most vigorously in the decades to come.
This issue of Vectors is not intended as a celebration of ephemerality, but rather a gesture of respect for the fleeting nature of the present and the material consequences of the past. Historical investigations, as Carlo Ginzburg argues, are sometimes most productive when they look for meaning in the least likely places. Each of the projects in this issue attempts to take seriously the significance of cultural artifacts that would otherwise be forgotten or overwhelmed by more official documents and discourses of history. The voices that reach us via things that were meant to be forgotten may in fact speak most eloquently to the imperatives and contradictions of our present historical moment. It is with equal degrees of irony and hopefulness that we present these works of excavation, rumination and preservation in a form that will soon confront its own likely disappearance.
For as long as we have been thinking about, designing, and programming this inaugural issue of Vectors, a war has been taking place half way around the world. Every day, that war is waged and information about it is disseminated using the very technologies that made conceiving this journal possible. How do we know what is really happening in that place? For those whose only exposure to the war is through streams of data mediated by screens like this one, it may be possible to suspect, as Jean Baudrillard famously declared some fifteen years ago, that none of it is really taking place at all.
For some time now, postmodern culture has comforted itself with the thought that our age is defined by unstable relations between signifier and signified; by delirious uncertainty not only about the past but our own access to events in the present. When words like evidence and reality begin to seem naked without quotation marks around them, it’s hard not to wonder if we aren’t simply playing into the hands of those who have the most to hide. With images of American soldiers torturing their captives fresh in our minds, those sanitized relays from smart missiles and satellites no longer hold the video game allure they once did. The creeping sense, articulated by Michael Moore, that “we are living in fictitious times” somehow no longer rings true. The times we are living in seem all too real and, against all expectations, the best evidence seems to lie in a few dozen grainy digital photographs e-mailed from the other side of the world.
In exploring the theme of Evidence, this issue of Vectors suggests that something of particular significance is at stake in our current relationship to the traces that are left behind by human actions. We invite you to explore the projects in this issue, each of which stages its own articulation of the meaning, nature and significance of evidence as a central element of scholarly practice. And we humbly dedicate this issue to those who have been killed by the ongoing violence in Iraq, whose numbers will never be known, whose remains may never be found, but whose traces should not be lost to history.
It seems fitting that the editorial statement for a multimedia journal should itself be enacted in a dynamic form. Yet text continues in many ways to provide us with the means for our clearest form of expression. Thus, we commend this editorial statement to you as a hybrid introduction and metaphor for beginning to experience some of the ideas and pathways that weave their way throughout Vectors. This editorial “statement” attempts in part to represent the multiple collaborations and conflicts that take place in interactive and computational media, highlighting not only the virtual dialogue between creator and producer, but also the tenuous alliance of human and machine intelligence.
One of the primary and ongoing tensions in an academic multimedia journal is the question of how to deal with text. This is not a new question nor is it one that is peculiar to electronic publishing. One of the ways of dealing with text in a screen-based vernacular is to think of it as an instance of images. Usually this is marked by the shift from plain text to typography, which broadens the expressive palette to include fonts, layout, color, composition, contrast, opacity, dynamism, etc. Instead of treating text as images, we decided to explore — through our collaboration with Vectors Creative Director Raegan Kelly — what happens when we treat written text as an instance of code – more rather than less like the way the computer understands it.
The statement thus became a three-way conversation between us, Raegan, and the computer, seeking to create an environment where the words that we wrote were not necessarily privileged over Raegan’s programming or the output generated by the computer. The three output windows thus reflect the parallel “thought” processes of writer, designer, and processor. Finally, the system requires user collaboration in the form of keyword input and selection, patience, curiosity and a willingness to assemble meaning from diverse forms of human- and computer-generated lexia. We believe it is in this interplay of thinly veneered binary arrays that some of the most suggestive potentials of allographic composition may be found.
-Tara + Steve
A review of the recombinant narrative engine, Soft Cinema, by Lev Manovich and Andreas Kratky
Much has been written about the transformative impact of digital technology on contemporary cinema. But while digital imaging – from the large-scale visual effects spectacles of the studio blockbuster to low-end vector-based animation – may be comfortably positioned on a continuum with other “revolutionary” imaging technologies of the previous century (Technicolor, 3D, high definition video, etc.), the Soft Cinema media-processing engine created by media theorist Lev Manovich and designer Andreas Kratky proposes a somewhat more radical intervention into the evolution of cinema as a storytelling apparatus. Indeed, as Manovich notes in his introduction to the recently released DVD Soft Cinema: Navigating the Database, conventional cinema is anachronistically rooted in the logic of the industrial revolution and its assembly-line mentality for delivering sequential narratives. By contrast, Soft Cinema emerges more or less organically from the logic of the computer database and the revised patterns of production/consumption that characterize the digital age.
Published in The Moving Image 2006
This paper was the result of a presentation delivered by Steve Anderson at the International Society for Optics and Photonics (SPIE) conference in San Jose, California. Written with Scott Fisher, et al.
For most of the past century, cinema has been the premier medium for defining and expressing relations to the visible world. However, cinematic spectacles delivered in darkened theaters are predicated on a denial of both the body and the physical surroundings of spectators. To compensate, filmmakers have historically turned to narrative, seducing audiences with compelling stories and realistic characters. This paper describes a year-long investigation into the narrative potentials of interactive immersive cinema that sidestep the narrative preoccupations of conventional cinema, instead focusing on notions of space, movement and embodied spectatorship using an experimental, 8-camera panoramic cinema apparatus.
Published in SPIE Conference Proceedings Volume 5664, March 2005
An article examining the movement toward new storytelling sensibilities in interactive artwork at the intersection of cinema, video games, and networked computing
With the flick of a mouse, we glide effortlessly down the gloomy corridors of Los Angeles’ Ambassador Hotel, floating past cavernous ballrooms and windows overlooking elegant gardens and swimming pools. Around each corner and behind each door, ghostly figures replay events from a past that is at once real and imagined. A Kennedy died here, along with countless villains and plots of Hollywood noir. The number of possible paths through this story space seems limitless. Even familiar rooms tell different stories with each visit and earthquakes periodically rumble through the dilapidated building, triggering a barrage of images and hurling us into new spaces and times. This is the world of Pat O’Neill’s Tracing the Decay of Fiction, a DVD-ROM made in collaboration with the Labyrinth Project at USC’s Annenberg Center for Communication, which for the past five years has been a key player in the loose global network of digital artists and designers charting new territories in the field of interactive database narrative.
Published in Res Magazine Jan/Feb 2004
A profile of industry iconoclast and experimental film legend Pat O’Neill
A new film by Pat O’Neill is to the experimental film world what a planetary alignment is to astrophysicists, a rare and momentous event, promising a glimpse into the workings of laws of light and movement – perhaps even a new way of seeing the world. For O’Neill to complete two projects at once – a 35mm film The Decay of Fiction and a DVD ROM Tracing the Decay of Fiction – is more like a supernova colliding with a black hole: the convergence of two extraordinary phenomena in a single moment – a nearly inconceivable occurrence from a man who thinks nothing of waiting an entire year to photograph a ray of sunlight shining through a window at a particular angle.
Published in Release Print September 2002
The interactive iteration of Technologies of History is a case-study, an opportunity to put into practice some of the arguments I have been developing over the past few years thinking about the entangled relations among media, history and memory. These arguments, in fact, may only be fully articulated through media. By this I do not mean simply taking advantage of the digital format for providing media supplements or illustrations, but literally aiming to think through the media under analysis, developing relationships between media elements themselves, rather than privileging the discursive affordances of text over images. Technologies of History draws substantially on the ideas developed in my book manuscript of the same title, but the interactive format allows for a much more detailed and nuanced form of engagement with the historiographical models under consideration. In some ways, then, this project is not primarily about the JFK assassination; but the dense layers of mediation to which this historical event has been subjected provide a particularly rich set of opportunities to think about the construction of history itself.
Although certain aspects of the design may initially appear to resist easy navigation, our aim is neither to frustrate the user nor indulge in aestheticized design experiments. The project presents several clearly defined modes of exploration, beginning with the “Analyzer,” in which media elements are subjected to a process of tracking and fragmenting designed to simultaneously reveal and obscure the contents of a film or video clip. The user may then follow connections that are suggested by either the video segment or its accompanying text to explore further text arguments or a connection between two media clips. Each connection that is made is logged in the user’s history and may be revisited at any time. The experience of moving through the project is therefore intended to be partly experiential and partly curatorial; users may select from categories of content that are based on genre, format or (primarily) threads of historiographical concern. The multiplicity of opportunities for revelation or chaos function as both a metaphor for history’s own lack of resolution and as a rhetorical strategy for resisting narrative closure.
IML Island is an experimental learning environment created in the multi-user virtual environment of Second Life. Development of the island was supported by the USC Provost’s Technology Enhanced Learning Seed Grant Initiative (2007-08) and developed in part by staff members of the Institute for Multimedia Literacy and students in CTIN 478: Designing Multi-User Online Game Environments (fall 2008). Documentation of the development of the island may be found here and here. This space represents a significant intervention in pedagogical uses of virtual environments, the vast majority of which are modeled after physical spaces and do not take advantage of the unique affordances of a virtual environment. IML island is deliberately non-representational, choosing instead to refer metaphorically to spaces such as the Panopticon, theorized by Michel Foucault as an exemplary structure for thinking about cultures of surveillance and our own position as subjects who are both viewer and viewed.
To visit IML island, it is necessary to create an account in Second Life (this is easy and free), after which you may follow this link to teleport directly to the island.
The Subservient President is a political parody of Burger King’s Subservient Chicken advertising campaign. The Subservient President attempts to give ordinary people a momentary sense of what it’s like to be a wealthy Bush campaign donor or an oil industry executive. Just type a command into the database and watch the President take your order – anything from “dodge the draft” or “get arrested for drunk driving” to “start a war in Iraq” or “give tax breaks to billionaires.”
Underlying the overtly satirical aspects of the project is the fact that American politics increasingly seem like they are being made-to-order, catering to public opinion polls and the whims of centrist, “undecided” voters rather than being guided by social needs or ethical principles. With the 2004 Presidential election looming, The Subservient President proposed a darkly humorous counterpoint to the media hype and superficial campaigning that sometimes stand in for legitimate political discourse in this country.
The Subservient President launched anonymously in July 2004 during the Democratic National Convention in Boston. After being picked up by bloggers covering the convention, the site was visited by more than 12 million unique users and received widespread media coverage, including a feature story on CNN, as part of a new generation of politically motivated web art. It is included in the Rhizome ArtBase and the Joan Flasch Artists’ Book Collection at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.