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Histories of media art are put into a trajectory of the genealogy of media technologies rather than
art history. In The Automation of Sight: From Photography to Computer Vision, Lev Manovich
(1996), draws a direct line from the invention of perspective to computer generated images. He also
places this trajectory within a history of automation. "By automating perspectival imaging, digital
computers completed the process which began in the Renaissance (Manovich 1996, 231)." But, as
Manovich points out, the inventor of the algorithm which makes perspectival rendering on
computers possible, Lawrence G.Roberts, had a 'more daring goal' in mind than creating a tool for
art. The computer should not only be able to render but also to 'understand' 3-D images (through
pattern recognition). Thus, the project of 3-D computer generated images was a part of the project
of AI in the context of the Cold War.
Yet Manovich portrays this in an euphemistic language,
presenting computer vision as "the culmination of at least two histories, each a century long" (ibid.,
233), the history of mechanical devices designed to aid human perception, and the history of
automata. Manovich does mention that the history of automation is situated in the context of
rationalisation in the industrial process and that the Czech word Robot means forced labour, yet he
does not spell out what this means.12 Instead he celebrates 3-D imaging as technology's inevitable
progress. Siegfried Zielinski comments on this frequently encountered narrative strategy:
With the big genealogies of telematic, for instance from the antique metallic speaking pipe to the
telephone, from Aineias' water telegraph to integrated world-wide data services, with cinema
archaeology from the cave paintings in Lascaux to immersive 3D-kino-theatre or computer history
from the medieval mechanical calculation machines of Wilhelm Schickard to the universal Turing
machine specifically one thing is ennobled: the idea of unstoppable, quasi-natural technological
progress. [trans.A.M.] (Zielinski 2002, 11)
'Unstoppable, quasi-natural technological progress' is just another description of technological
With this narrative strategy the arrival of the new is not only made to look inevitable
as a result of technical progress, the same strategy reassures also that nothing really ever changes.
Everything has already been there, somehow, embryonic, in a pre-digital form, which means that
basically we have been culturally the same. A teleology of the digital is constructed which is
technically progressive and culturally conservative.
The history of media as told by Manovich appears to contain only unbroken continuity. For him,
the Jacquard loom is a kind of predecessor of the computer because it could be 'programmed' to
produce different ornaments using punctured strips. In typical technological deterministic thinking
the logic of progress is at work, while human actors are sidelined. Lewis Mumford sees the
Jacquard loom in a different light. According to Mumford aesthetic demands motivated the
invention of the 'programmable' Jacquard loom - it were the complex patterns fashionable at the
time which necessitated its invention (Trögemann and Viehoff 2005). Where Mumford sees human
motivation, Manovich sees a 'logic' at work: from Daguerreotype and the Differential Engine
(Babbage) to cinematograph, radar, television and computer, with the side-streams of the Hollerith
machine, telegraphy, radio waves and wireless telegraphy. Yet Manovich never looses a word
about where all those inventions come from. There is always a 'logic', a 'trajectory', some intrinsic
reasons at work, why technology progresses in this or that way.
Thus, technological progress
becomes naturalised. Taking this to its final consequence, technological progress would be
motivated by a teleology of which computer based (new) media appear as the provisional end
Zielinski demands that we should not continue to find the old confirmed in the new (Zielinski
2002, 11). In those readings, history turns into a promise of continuity, a celebration of
progression. He thinks that this is boring as well as paralysing for the work of the mediaarchaeologist.
He demands instead to find the new in the old, to let ourselves be surprised and not
just look for confirmation of what we already know.
As a counter-strategy Zielinski proposes the
concept of a 'deep time of media' in the form of a un-archaeology (ibid., 13) which opens up spaces
for the imagination. Too quickly we tend to orient ourselves toward a new 'master medium' after
which all symbolic systems have to be re-arranged, until the next master medium arrives
(ibid., 17).
Lev Manovich claims that the aesthetic principles at work in new media culture have been
developed by Russian and German avant-garde film makers in the 1920s.
A hundred years after cinema's birth, cinematic ways of seeing the world, of structuring time, of
narrating a story, of linking one experience to the next, have become the basic means by which
computer users access and interact with all cultural data. (Manovich 2001, 78 -79)
In particular Dziga Vertov's film The Man with a Movie Camera (1929) can be used as the guide to
the understanding of the language of new media. In order to give the aesthetics of cinema such a
privileged role in its influence on new media, he has to neutralise the key counter-argument,
namely that computers are interactive. According to Manovich it is a non-statement to say that
computers are interactive - they are so by their very nature (Manovich 2001, 55). He says that he
would offer only qualified notions of interactivity, and that in principle all art forms are interactive
(ibid., 56). With this conceptualisation he basically kills interactivity as a category specific to
media art. In order to cement his key thesis that computer based media can be seen through the lens
of 1920s avant-garde movies he introduces an extensive genealogy of the screen.
VR, telepresence, and interactivity are made possible by the recent technology of the digital
computer. However, they are made real by a much older technology, the screen. (Manovich 2001,
Only by dismissing interactivity and by making the screen the central component of new media art,
he can say that Russian avant-garde cinema has laid the foundations for media art. Thus, a
seemingly progressive position is turned into a conservative one. Manovich appears to suggest that
aesthetic innovation ended 80 years ago whereas we now move forward in making more perfect
technically what Vertov et al have achieved then. The revolutionary methods (in the 1920s) of
montage, of zooms and pans, of the liberated and accelerated kino-eye have become menu
functions in Photoshop. American software engineers are providing the public with drop-down
menu access to the aesthetic innovations of the 1920s.

Geoffrey Batchen criticises Manovich for using cinema as the key conceptual lens through which
to address the language of new media, ignoring the histories of photography and telegraphy
(Batchen 2004). The use of 35mm discarded movie film by Zuse, the German inventor of the
computer, is evidence enough for Manovich to see "all existing media translated into numerical
data accessible for the computer (Manovich 2001, 12)."
But the plausibility of this particular historical metaphor depends on two particular claims: 1. that
computing and photo-media have no interaction until the 1930s, and 2. that cinema is the key to
any understanding of the forms and development of new media. (Batchen 2004, 27)
In his own account Batchen shows how closely the histories of the computer, photography and
telegraphy were interwoven, partly because inventors such as William Fox Henry Talbot and
Charles Babbage on one hand, and Samuel Morse and Louis Daguerre were in close contact with
each other. According to Batchen four "inter-related technologies and their conceptual apparatuses
- photography, mechanical weaving, computing and photo-mechanical printing" were first
conceived around 1800 and need to be understood in the context of modernity, which means
"capitalism, industrialisation, colonialism, patriarchy (ibid., 36)." It is important to note that
Babbage and his assistant Ada Lovelace saw the computer as "a cultural artefact that enabled
nature (and therefore God) to represent itself in the form of mathematical equations" (ibid., 37).
That means that Babbage's calculating machines were seen as proof of the existence of God.
Batchen concludes that any single 'conceptual lens' is inadequate and therefore also any linear
chronology. He demands "a more complex rendition of the relations of past and present," "a threedimensional
network of connections," a history "thick" with unpredictability which faces up to the
"political challenge" about the way how history is written (ibid., 44).

z http://theoriebild.ung.at/view/Main/TechnologicalDeterminismInMediaArt

 tachykardia      21.02.2007 - 08:09:57 , level: 1, UP   NEW
Siegfried Zielinski mal v oktobri v Univerzitke prednasku na Sympoziu o Benjaminovi Walterovi---velmi uchvatny bol...keby som mala o 50 rokov viac, tak sa zamilujem :}