Lev Manovich on Wed, 10 Apr 2002 09:31:46 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> 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 Turntable.

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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