PaganStudio Writings

In the spring of 2009, İstanbul Bilgi University Visual Communication Design Department and santralistanbul hosted a series of media art events such as exhibitions, performances and a festival named Pixelist. Quadrature, basically an A/V performance realized by Refik Anadol and Alican Aktürk in cooperation with DUE3 was created for the partial fulfillment of the requirements for VCD 422 Senior Project course. The show took place in the program of parties and performances of Pixelist.

As a full time academic staff I am working on media arts theory. In order to point out the intercourse of Quadrature with this theory I feel the urge to refer to the event concept, a concept which is hard to grasp in the philosophical sense but perfectly illustrated by Quadrature.

QUADRATURE from Griduo on Vimeo.

In his book “The Logic of Sense”, French philosopher Gilles Deleuze interposes this notion to define becoming, as pure event, which is a concept, inspired by ‘Alice in Wonderland’. ‘Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There’ (1871) is a work of children’s literature by Lewis Carroll, as a sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865).

According Deleuze ‘Through the Looking-Glass’ involves a category of very special things: events and pure events. Although in the previous book it makes no reference to the events, the themes and settings of ‘Through the Looking-Glass’ make it a kind of mirror image of Wonderland. Alice ponders what the world is like on the other side, and to her surprise, is able to pass through to experience an alternate world.

When I say “Alice become larger” I mean that she becomes larger than she was. By the same token, however, she becomes smaller than she is now. Certainly, she is not bigger and smaller at the same time. She is larger now; she was smaller before.
(Deleuze, The Logic of Senses, pg.1.)

Event in Deleuze, of course, deserves a lot more analysis and promises many other evolutions, but it is easily comprehensible that the event occurs by the means of the juxtaposition of the actual and the virtual. This reveals the pure event. Methodology of the show is perfectly analogous to this Deleuzian terminology. In this case the virtual is the digitally designed light beam and the actual is the façade. Obviously each spectator of this event with which infinite identities of the architecture of santralistanbul Main Gallery created one episode of the wonderland, was an Alice. The whole thing was an event.

From another point of view Quadrature also proved that architectural spectacularity is a soft one and is no longer in the hands of the architects or the material vendors. Quadrature, through the axioms put by Deleuze reminded that juxtapositions of the actual and the virtual should be the major issues to be studied, not only in the context of visual arts, design and architecture but also in social and philosophical contexts.

Ahmet Atıf Akın, MSc.

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This article, written on the occasion of Track/09, will try to discuss ‘error’ in the field of visual communication design, which has been chosen by VCD and POV students as the concept of this exhibition. Aesthetic potential in and social implications of ‘error’ will be scrutinized with two distinct examples, one is a very recent natural and social phenomenon and the other is from a personal memory.
Eyjafjallajokull
In the course of the preparations for this exhibition, on April 14, 2010 a strong eruption on Eyjafjallajokull in Iceland exploded through a glacial ice cap, throwing a vast plume of volcanic ash around 7 miles into the atmosphere, high enough to be carried for thousands of miles. As photographers in the department following from photoblog feeds we were all jealous of the photographers who had the chance to capture this awesome spectacle. As ash from the volcano continued to keep European airspace shut down over the weekend, affecting millions of travelers around the world, some government agencies and airlines clashed over the flight bans.
“These kinds of eruptions happened all the time in the past,” says Douglas Jerram, an earth scientist at Durham University. “But the disruption is a product of how we live today.” From a social point of view, these words by Jerram summarize why we tend to perceive a spectacular earth event as an error. Eruption itself is a magnificent natural event but the dependence of social and economic relationships on international flights caused a lot of trouble to many commercial and cultural activities.
Of course not all earth-events in our common memory created scenes as visually stunning as Eyjafjallajokull. I first grabbed the notion to perceive the 1999 İzmit earthquake, which killed around 40 to 45 thousand people and left approximately half a million people homeless, as a glitch in space in a small talk conversation with two VCD students during a coffee break*. A glitch may be defined as a usually short-lived fault in a system where recently it is a concept that attracts more and more attention from designers working in digital environments as a creative process.
Again after the earthquake, national discourse, with proper reason, was about blaming the cheap and vulgar contractors and the construction bureaucracy system for the deaths. So this created the general opinion that it is ‘not the earthquake but the buildings that kill’.
The coffee break with the students ended up with us skimming through Austrian multimedia artist Peter Kogler’s installations, some of which were closely related to glitch in space. This conception is a great aperture to the evaluation of a new type of politics, originating from an artistic medium, as designing the error instead of analyzing the contrast between its spectacularity and its damages.
Verticaly Flipped 3
In the mid-80’s almost like every child with engineer parents I spent a lot of time with my father’s Casio fx-19 scientific calculator, of course having no idea about the functions of those buttons with numbers and trigonometric abbreviations printed on them. In fact I was obsessed with its ten digit, blue VF display, which is used as an 8 digit (plus the ninth for negative – the tenth digit is never used). You can visit the basement floor of the VCD department to see many of this kind of retro-electronic equipment in exhibit. Those equipments were digital playgrounds as the first experiences of interaction with a digital interface for the children of that period. The common thing was doing random calculations and observing the results. Sometimes the render on the digital display was astonishing, it was a vertically flipped “3”!
As its name implies, its display was designed and coded to display digits. Calculations resulting with a number larger than 8 digits or ending in loops displayed with an “E” representing an error and the limitations of the digital display conditions one to perceive a vertically flipped “3” instead of an error. One can see this as a visual perception trick, but it is from another point of view nothing but a visual interpretation of some significant data. Today Casio fx-19 is, at least for account of digital displays, replaced with powerful expansion (graphic) cards whose function is to generate and output images to a display. Artists and designers of today internalized the perception of error as a visual interpretation and now they employ glitch, as defined above, as a process of creation. Trying to cause some temporary errors in the circuit flow of the graphic card and still trying to get display outputs. Now they are as spectacular as a lava blowing giant volcano.
Both phenomena prove that error is a type of communication and can be designed or designed through. Damage is incorporated with error with a false definition of its realm and borders. Track/09 invites to you discuss and discover this communication potential.
Afterword

However, what is possibly more important than all of the above discussions is that, organizing Track for the ninth time, VCD and POV prove how creativity, talent and professional commons can establish a consistent ground in this new world order obsessed with social, economic and thus, cultural instabilities. This thinking and production environment, which can only be achieved by this kind of steadiness, provides the chance to university students to train themselves as creative professionals and academics reevaluate trending concepts isolated from the social deformations of occupational life.

Ahmet Atıf Akın, MSc.
Bilgi VCD
Full-time Academic Staff

* Thanks to Refik and Fehmi for the coffee.

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We have modified our environment so radically that we must now modify ourselves.
- Norbert Wiener

The term cybernetics has it roots in the Greek word for kubernetes (steersman) or “governor”, and Norbert Wiener’s, use of it suggests how people interact with machines through a controlling device, such as a steering mechanism. Wiener is a mathematician, and electrical engineer and communication specialist, famous with his derivation of the word “cybernetics” together with Arture Rosenleuth in 1948, in his book of the same title. According to his definition all activities like driving a car, passing through an automatic door, or clicking with the mouse are cybernetic activities. Cybernetic systems are characterised by automatic control as well as transference, processing and re-transference of information. Today cybernetics is integrated into newly formed scientific areas such as information theory, communication, signal theory, system theory, artificial intelligence research and biological cybernetics (bionics) etc. All automatic data processing systems are cybernetic machines according to Wiener’s definition.

Wiener’s groundbreaking theory on cybernetics is valuable in the context of this today’s audio visual and sensual communication theories, since his theory became the main reference for anyone investigating the psychological and socio-cultural implications of human-machine interaction, as stated by Jordan and Packer, “Wiener understood that the quality of our communication with machines affects the quality of our inner lives.” (Packer and Jordan 2001).

This article aims at signifying the new base for theorization of today’s communication systems through a lateral and multidisciplinary research and categorization of man-machine systems in a trans-techno communicational manner. Through out this exploration focus of the study will be on the implications and criticism of the implantal applications at the man machine interfaces.

In order to articulate the man-machine interaction theories in the context of visual art and visual communication design fields, they should be further extended with notions of embodiment and space. Aristotle’s rejection of 3D space as a redundant supplement to body’s 3D volume or extension may be concerned to put that a body’s extension or volume is different from space, since it is mobile and moves with the body, whereas space is supposed to be stationary and to be left behind when the body moves on. This moderately new conception of space where it is mobile among the body which experiences it, brings along the investigation of the interface between the body and the space, and the medium enclosing this interface. Prosthetics, either medical or technical for enhancement, neural implantations, and immersive environments and finally externalization of human intelligence with technical prosthetics constitute a set of situations where body, which may be referred as flesh through the rest of this article, space, the machine and the medium of communication comprise an aesthetic system to be discovered. At this point I find it important to construct a gaze to this system from our field and I think that the issue should be handed with an interdisciplinary approach.

Avital Ronell points out in her book titled “The Telephone Book: Technology – Schizophrenia – Electric Speech”, that the phone was originally intended as a prosthetic device for the hearing impaired but even today, in the time of being lack of telepresentable capabilities count as a traumatic or congenital deficiency, it is not easy to consider a regular telephone device as a prosthetic. Anyway, her approach today is still valid to debate the morality and desirability of such technologies such as “enhancement prosthetics”, to replace healthy body parts with artificial mechanisms and systems to improve function and communication. This aim led scientists to work through concepts such as, human machine interfaces or human augmentation where “cyborg” is an abbreviated name for a cybernetic bio-organism. Cyborg is a human form, intimately linked to both the flesh and the mechanical, and best known for its hybrid character, which by constantly reshaping its own boundaries reshapes our own. Manfred Clynes is the founder of the term to be used in a NASA conference on modifying the human for living space in 1958. The first idea of creating a cyborg depended on the necessity to modify a human with implants and drugs, who as such can exist in space without space suits. “Cyborg” took off among science fiction writers who had already recognized the incredible integration of technology into natural systems that was starting to transform the society.

Coevally enhancement prosthetics – body extensions, due to an endeavour to examine the limits of the flesh, were the subject of interest of many contemporary artists like Rebecca Horn, a German born artist, one of the most important performance artists of the 70’s, is well known with her objects, actions, and performances, focused on the body and space. While Rebecca Horn’s more recent work has been determined by a poetical deployment of mechanical constructions, this object seen at the figure, belongs to ‘Performances II’ (1973), a film in which Rebecca Horn was preoccupied still with extending her own body into space.


Rebecca Horn, Finger Gloves, 1972
Performance photograph

Another important name in this context is Stelarc, an artist born in 1946 and based in Australia. His work explores and extends the concept of the body and its relationship with technology through human-machine interfaces incorporating medical imaging, prosthetics, robotics, VR systems and the Internet. One of his spectacular performances is titled “Fractal Flesh”, which is A body whose, proprioception responds not to its internal nervous system but to the external stimulation of globally connected computer networks.


Stelarc, Fractal Flesh, 1996
Performance photograph

Endeavours of these kinds in the field of art practice lead to theoretical discussions around the issue of body extensions and embodiment. The approaches in these theoretical discussions may also be valuable in design literature. Katherine Hayles is one of the important thinkers/writers on the issue whose thoughts are valuable in the scope of this study. Hayles articulates body and its extensions accepting the shortcomings caused by the ignorance of the notion of space. She focuses on the changing embodied experiences through interaction, where she uses the term “information-rich environments” for the environment where this embodiment occurs and she introduces the term “proprioception” to the domain of this discussion as such:

Consider first the force of habits to shape embodied responses, especially proprioception, that internal sense that gives us the feeling we occupy our bodies rather than merely possess them. Computer video game players testify to feeling they are projecting their proprioceptive sense into the simulated space of the game world. In fact, they eloquently insist that being a good player absolutely requires this kind of projection. Their body boundaries have fluidly intermingled with the technological affordances so that they feel the joystick as an unconscious extension of the hand. The flexibility of the human neural system enables new synaptic connections to form in response to embodied interactions. (Hayles, 2003)

 

Initial applications of body extensions were made due to medical necessities. Prosthetic organs, i.e. the electronic eye, which is nothing but a digital camera capable of sending signal of vision to brain, or previously prosthetic legs or arms, are the main examples of such extensions. Probably one of the most important figures in mind while referring to the issue of medical prosthetics is Stephen Hawking, English physicist born in 1942. Most people recall him with his speech synthesiser. Hawking is probably the most famous computer mediated medical prosthetics user among masses. It is remembered that in one of his interviews on BBC television, he claims that he can better communicate in various ways than the time before he lost his speech. Gareth Branwyn, a cyberculture writer, categorises the neural prosthetic and interface technologies of today in three major areas: auditory and visual prosthesis; functional neuromuscular stimulation (FNS); and prosthetic limb control via implanted neural interfaces, and further explains in detail:

So far, the most successful implants have been in the realm of hearing. Larry Orloff, a scientist who had suffered hearing loss since childhood, edits Contact, a newsletter for people with hearing implants. He reports that there are more than 7,000 people worldwide outfitted with cochlear implants. These devices work through tiny electrodes placed in the cochlea region of the inner ear to compensate for the lack of cochlear hair cells, which transduce sound waves into bioelectrical impulses in ears that function normally. Dr. Terry Hambrecht, a chief researcher in neural prosthetics, reports in the Annual Review of Biophysics and Bioengineering (1979) that implanted patients had “significantly higher scores on tests of lipreading and recognition of environmental sounds, as well as increased intelligibility of some of the subjects’ speech.” (Branwyn, 1993)

One of the other recent examples is the C-LEG SYSTEM, which has been demonstrated in the Wired Magazine with the title “Prosthetics Go Bionic” (Wired Ed., 2005). The C-Leg’s microprocessor crunches data from internal sensors – which measure angle and force 50 times per second – then adjusts the limb as the wearer moves to keep motion fluid. The knee’s stability makes it easy to negotiate uneven terrain. This kind of an application establishes a flesh-machine connection where AI provides the data to overwrite the necessity for interaction, where the product behaves ‘as-if’ it is a natural limb.


C-LEG

As the examples, the cases mentioned above and visual art and design works, which fall into the same realm with those examples are bid more it is seen that prosthetics, implanted communication systems and other flesh machine systems may be constructed in order to establish a connection between flesh and machine or further enhance the existing bond rather than completing the missing bodily functions. I avoid to give the time reference, like “today in the age of…” which I avoided the give throughout the article. I avoid for the reason that I am trying to mention that use of these kind of advanced cybernetic systems, independently from the emergence of digital technologies and possibilities offered by the new media, are in every age scrutinized with the appropriate technology of the period. Today, if the issue is to investigate the modalities of such a system and its aesthetic integrity, main references can be found in the fields, which deal with the impossibilities of the body such as medical, cybernetic, anthropometry etc. As said by Ende Neu/Bargeld “beauty remains in the impossibilities of the body”

Designers and artists of the non-cybernetic environment with an awareness of how to design to demystify complex technology, improve the interaction between artefacts and their users and enhance opportunities for self-expression, today face a new phenomenon. Flesh-machine systems require a better understanding of a self-enclosed aesthetic system. At this point it is interesting that the flesh-machine integration promises to demolish the interaction between artefacts and their user instead of demystification of visual complexity. This integration positions flesh as an implant in the machine where machine is the immersive medium through a technical process of implanting its environment into the flesh. The amalgamation of man and machine, in the extreme sense their embodiment, has found a new domain of discussion in the field of visual art and design, as well as cybernetics.

“A good tool becomes an extension of our body.” (Ehn, Kyng 2003, 651) Our body becomes an extension of a good design.

References:

Wiener, Norbert. The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society.Boston: Da Capo Press. 1954.

Packer, Randall and Jordan, Ken. Multimedia – From Wagner to Virtual Reality.
New York, London: W.W. Norton & Company Inc., 2001.

Gray, Chris Hables. Cyborg Citizen. London: Routledge, 2000.

Branwyn, Gareth. 1993. Wired Magazine. The Desire to Be Wired [online].
http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/1.04/desire.to.be.wired.html?pg=2, Last
Retrieved September, 2005.

Ehn, P., Kyng, M. Cardboard Computers. In The New media Reader. Ed. Wardrip- Friun, Noah and Montfort, Nick. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003.

Hayles, Katherine. 2003. Medienkunstnetz. Flesh and Metal: Reconfiguring the
Mindbody in Virtual Environments [online].
http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/source-text/116, Last Retrieved September,
2005.

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“Data Fragmentation” as the main theme of this year’s ‘Track’ exhibition points to a new topology to be discovered in order to understand and give form to the social networks which are formed with the emergence and pervasion of Internet as to create social and cultural phenomena. One of these phenomena is ‘web 2.0’. ‘web 2.0’ is an abstract concept justified with no technological update or a concrete reason. Within this framework this article will deal with two issues: ontology of the fragmented data and its behavioral similarity with the global capital in the 21st century. For this I will try to examine ‘web 2.0’ and the motivation of the user to share and participate in the context of technology history with a reference to memex as it is a main reference in computer history.

While industrial revolution enabled mechanical reproduction next paradigm shift was the invention of the Turing Machine. Distribution of digital data and the ability to produce exactly the same copy of the original has changed both economic order and social network structures.

memex, the acronym for “memory extender”, is the temporary name given to theoretical computer design which is known as the basics of today’s modern computers since Vannevar Bush’s article titled “As We May Think”. Even though this name is a temporary one it may help us understand contemporary computer networks’ function and behavior. Postulations put by memex includes early versions of concepts such as Internet, hypertext, speech recognition and GUI (Graphical User Interface). Bush’s prevision is as such:

Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and to coin one at random, ”memex” will do. A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.

Reading this prevision reminds me of one of the frequently encountered phrases in the social networks on the Internet: “I love my computer because my friends live in it!” Let us think about the analysis recalled by the name through an example: I watch a video recorded on the hard disk of my computer, I like it and save it. Accordingly I send the copy (the original copy) of this file to one of my friends living in the computer. There might be two reasons for this act: 1. Sending a social message. 2. To back up the digital file. The first reason should be justified with sociological and psychoanalytical methods, which are beyond the scope of this article. The second reason is definitively “data fragmentation”. From this act on even if our hard disk is damaged or we somehow have to delete the file we still can reach and have the original copy. This structure, more formally entitled as P2P, guarantees the existence of data, keeping it in circulation and provokes the formation of new data from the traces of circulating data.

Today, server based networks are being replaced by user based networks. Henceforth data is secure and functional as long as it is in circulation. Data being shared from one center (server) is under threat of attack, natural disasters or counter guerilla. Economic crisis, which started in the US and spread all around the world, and its precaution suggestions showed that capital and data are not acting in different manners under same social and political effects. If we take Wall Street as a server, the solution proposal appreciated at the last presidential elections in the US offers a P2P economic model. With the new model, instead of a Wall Street centered economic system, the public who had to share the loss of the power and capital pivots is pulled into the economic system, the network and becomes a node, a peer in the network structure. Consequently missions of the flooded, account messing, bulky institutions are distributed to the users of money that is the public. Capital is secured through its fragmentation.

Today, in the global scale, data as well as capital is secure and accessible as long as it is fragmented, not crowded. Circulation and transformation of data are generating new data sources. Within this context the Internet should be considered as a networked mechanism, which constitutes the accumulation and permanency of the data. To imagine that a notion like ‘web 2.0’ which is presented with naturally well connoted keywords like share and participation represents a structure that guarantees the freedom of the individual through suspension of the direct relation between the power nodes and the individual, keeping in mind that the notion does not have a scientific background is only wishful thinking. memex proposal is realized but not yet updated.

Ahmet Atıf Akın, MSc.
Istanbul Bilgi University Visual Communication Design Department
Full Time Academic Staff

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Ozan Sagdic, 1956-58, Ankara, Turkey

Ozan Sagdic, 1956-58, Ankara, Turkey

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