Lev Manovich on Wed, 10 Apr 2002 01:15:01 +0200 (CEST)

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[Nettime-bold] GENERATION FLASH (1/ 3)

Lev Manovich
(1 / 3)


GENERATION FLASH looks at the phenomenon of Flash graphics on the Web that
attracted a lot of creative energy in the last few years. More than just a
result of a particular software / hardware situation (low bandwidth leading
to the use of vector graphics), Flash aesthetics exemplifies cultural
sensibility of a new generation [1].  This generation does not care if their
work is called art or design. This generation is no longer is interested in
"media critique" which preoccupied media artists of the last two decades;
instead it is engaged in software critique. This generation writes its own
software code to create their own cultural systems, instead of using samples
of commercial media [2].  The result is the new modernism of data
visualizations, vector nets, pixel-thin grids and arrows: Bauhaus design in
the service of information design. Instead the Baroque assault of commercial
media, Flash generation serves us the modernist aesthetics and rationality
of software. Information design is used as tool to make sense of reality
while programming becomes a tool of empowerment [3].

(1/ 3):
Turntable and Flash Remixing
[for www.whitneybiennial.com ]

[Turntable is a web-based software that allows the user to mix in real-time
up to 6 different Flash animations, in addition manipulating color palette,
size of individual animations and other parameters. For
www.whitneybiennial.com, the participating artists were asked to submit
short Flash animations that were exhibited on the site both separately and
as part of Turntable remixes. Some remixes consisted from animations of the
same artists while others used animations by different artists.]

It became a cliché to announce that ³we live in remix culture.² Yes, we do.
But is it possible to go beyond this simple statement of fact? For
instances, can we distinguish between different kinds of remix aesthetics?
What is the relationship between our remixes made with electronic and
computer tools and such earlier forms as collage and montage? What are the
similarities and differences between audio remixes and visual remixes?

Think loop. The basic building block of an electronic sound track, the loop
also conquered surprisingly strong position in contemporary visual culture.
Left to their own devices, Flash animations, QuickTime movies, the
characters in computer games loop endlessly - until the human user
intervenes by clicking. As I have shown elsewhere, all nineteenth century
pre-cinematic visual devices also relied on loops. Throughout the nineteenth
century, these loops kept getting longer and longer - eventually turning
into a feature narrativeŠToday, we witness the opposite movement ­ artists
sampling short segments of feature films or TV shows, arranging them as
loops, and exhibiting these loops as ³video installations.² The loop thus
becomes the new default method to ³critique² media culture, replacing a
still photograph of post-modern critique of the 1980s. At the same time, it
also replaces the still photograph as the new index of the real: since
everybody knows that a still photography can be digitally manipulated, a
short moving sequence arranged in a loop becomes a better way to represent
reality - for the time being.)

Think Internet. What was referred in post-modern times as quoting,
appropriation, and pastiche no longer needs any special name. Now this is
simply the basic logic of cultural production: download images, code,
shapes, scripts, etc.; modify them, and then paste the new works online -
send them into circulation. (Note: with Internet, the always-existing loop
of cultural production runs much faster: a new trend or style may spread
overnight like a plague.)  When I ask my students to create their own images
by making photographs or by shooting video, they have a revelation: images
do not have to come from Internet! Shall I also reveal to them that images
do not have to come from a technological device that record reality ­ that
instead they can be drawn or painted?

Think image. Compare it to sound. It seems possible to layer many many many
sounds and tracks together while maintaining legibility. The result just
keep getting more complex, more interesting. Vision seems to be working
differently. Of course commercial images we see everyday on TV and in cinema
are often made from layers as well, sometimes as many as thousands ­ but
these layers work together to create a single illusionistic (or
super-illusionistic) space. In other words, they are not being heard as
separate sounds. When we start mixing arbitrary images together, we quickly
destroy any meaning. (If you need proof, just go and play with the classic
The Digital Landfill [4]) How many separate image tracks can be mixed
together before the composite becomes nothing but noise? Six seems to be a
good number ­ which is exactly the number of image tracks one can load onto

Think sample versus the whole work. If we are indeed living in a remix
culture does it still make sense to create whole works ­ if these works will
be taken apart and turned into samples by others anyway? Indeed, why
painstakingly adjust separate tracks of Director movie or After Effects
composition getting it just right if the ³public² will ³open source² them
into their individual tracks for their own use using some free software? Of
course, the answer is yes: we still need art. We still want to say something
about the world and our lives in it; we still need our own ³mirror standing
in the middle of a dirty road,² as Stendahl called art in the nineteenth
century. Yet we also need to accept that for others our work will be just a
set of samples, or maybe just one sample. Turntable is the visual software
that makes this new aesthetic condition painfully obvious. It invites us to
play with the dialectic of the sample and the composite, of our own works
and the works of others. Welcome to visual remixing Flash style.

Think Turntable.

[PART 2 and PART 3 will be posted shortly.]

 1. I should make it clear that many of the sites which inspired me to think
of ³Flash aesthetics² are not necessaraly made with Flash; they use
Shockwave, DHTML, Quicktime and other Web multimedia formats. Thus the
qualities I describe below as specefic to ³Flash aesthetics² are not unique
to Flash sites. 
 2. For instance, the work of Lisa Jevbratt, John Simon, and Golan Levin.
 3. GENERATION FLASH consists from three parts. First part was comissioned
for www.whitneybiennial.com; third part was comissioned by Tirana Biennale
01 Internet section (www.electronicorphanage.com/biennale). Both exibitions
were organised by Miltos Manetas / Electronic Orphanage. ³On UTOPIA² was
commissioned by Futurefarmers.
 4. See http://www.potatoland.org/landfill/

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