Pause a moment: It’s a magazine that’s apparently been missing in a warehouse since 1985. On an iPad. OMD is on the cover.
OK, alright, fine. I’ve had my say but the consensus is we all want to go backwards 25 years. Everything since then was a horrible mistake and time to stock up on vinyl and Moogs. I remember some great things that happened over those years, but hey, it’s your party.
And frankly you might be right. Because what else is on offer?
Hear me out – it gets somewhere. My current teaching is in screen and sound production. I just did the lecture about three act structure, Syd Fields’ Paradigm and so on, critiqued the first shot of their documentary as encapsulating the arc of the narrative blah blah. When the kids look me up online to find out what films I made they find a computer game, some ‘video art’ and a bunch of old records. What? Where the hell are my three acts? Rotten old structuralist wanker.
Last night I was guilting on Derivative Touch. I own the damn thing, and every few weeks get the time to yet again practice Networking my TOPs and CHOPs with a few SOPs here and there to get my rotating doughnut on. Touch is more arcane than the Catholic Church and I attend it driven by the equivalent moral panic. After confession I feel a great sense of accomplishment making my doughnut wiggle. Then the inevitable question – how does this express anything? I can project on a building – how does this express anything? I can track people’s movement – how does this express anything? That’s what makes it so unfulfilling to learn New Media tools (yes, let’s cut the crap – New Media is back out of the coffin) because they exist in an artistic void. No one ever cried over a MaxMSP patch. The tools prefer to exist in that moral void – like scientists working on the atom bomb. You can do things.
I just bought VENTUZ, which is a live video system for broadcast and kiosks. Other users include FOX Television, NFL, Microsoft. It’s not without a learning curve but it avoids fuss and bother. I can get the doughnut in VENTUZ in a few minutes, because it doesn’t ‘award exploration’ or ‘open ways of working’ instead getting you to a result. The difficulty, the self flagellation, the athletics of New Media are minimised. Straight away you get to the result. And the result is the problem.
Here’s my dilemma. I’m charged with guiding and developing audiovisual coursework for the coming years and I really fucking care about it. It’s been put to me that ‘film’ and its equivalents are no longer the business of a university, music gets handled elsewhere, that ‘electronic media arts’ and the ‘creative industry’ are on the rise. We have ISEA coming up and reading through the programme I find this:
Participants will intellectually and tangibly explore the possible roles that visualisation can play in imagining the future, using this exploration to reflect critically on existing visualisation practices. By adopting emotive approaches, the hope is to elicit new insights into design practices in data visualisation that challenge present representation forms. Participants will use paper prototyping techniques to develop descriptions of personal utopias. These descriptions will be examined in group exercises to mine them for ‘data stories’ – imaginary data sets which exemplify or illustrate their particular utopia. By sketching visualisations for such data sets, we will discuss the language, aims and claims of visualisation processes.
Which I concede is a harsh example. Allow me to wonder aloud at ‘adopting emotive approaches’. Is that like feeling something and acting on it? Who out there wants to tell a ‘data story’? Silly old ‘film’ used to offer personal stories and emotions and I think we’ve again confused process athletics for results. The really weird thing is alongside the obsession with process, there’s anxiety about skills. ‘Participants will use paper prototyping techniques’. Does that seem kind of ‘with one hand tied behind your back’ to you? New Media was rightly faulted for being fetishistic about technology – one definition was that it was anything computer based. At the turn of the century the word ‘digital’ was plunked in front of all and sundry – we slavishly avoid it now, to the extent of ‘paper prototyping’. But the techniques are still there and the highlight work of the festival is 100 percent digital technology – probably made in Derivative Touch. Obsessing over something is bad, whether positively or negatively.
I seem to find myself not too different from the subscribers to Electronic Sound, but I have a lot more hope.
I made a computer game for all kinds of reasons but one of them was to tell a story in much the way my old songs tell stories. I actually don’t care much for three act structure, but I care for characters, personalities, archetypes if you follow that idea. My game had a story about two women; a young ‘project manager’ that strays into weapons manufacture, the other a kind of genie, a spirit that is ‘farmed’ by the other and takes revenge. The story is never made as clear as that, because it’s an opportunity. This is the great power of computer games, to offer a narrative when it suits the player, more like a book than a film.
There are some games in ISEA. None of them have an implied narrative, as far as I can see they’re all variants of geocaching which is studiously and frigidly level design only. What is so distasteful about games?
Look at the main artwork.
Monumental and architectural, on a scale grander than the human ‘participants’ who are seen like those cut-out people used by architects to flesh out a building design. Constrained, avoiding any display of passion. Driven by data, unlike abstract art which is a distilled act of personal will. ‘Big data’ – the blurring of personalities into a ‘cloud’. The negation of personality.
Here is Ikeda’s more recent work. The description quietly notes that ‘performers will appear in his piece for the first time’. They are silhouettes but it looks like at least one member of the New Media dares to bring a human back into their data visualisation. Who knows, one day they might even allow a face telling a story. We grow up.
So there’s a clue where to go next. Sure, let’s move away from the rails and the acts and all that linear lineage. The beginning, middle and end don’t matter any more. Syd Field is a patch around old rules, we can throw those rules out. But let’s continue to keep the human scale of film. Let’s not require conflict as the engine of a narrative, cooperation is harder but we can do it. We should allow passion to make a mess. We should not fall into neoclassicism, all white marble and tasteful curves.
We can say the word ‘digital’, it won’t kill you. Hell ‘data’ is just a cousin.
But at the heart of it is: art is not sport, not athletics. Just because the public purse is often shared between these goals, there is no need to make art festivals into sports carnivals.
OK. Maybe I know what to do…