[ISEA97] Paper: Michael Punt – What If? Another History of Digital Media for Designers and Artists


What if computer technology had not become the PC but remained a machine for corporate users? What if there had not been surplus capacity in the tube industry and computers did not have screens? What if we took the wrong turning when we thought that the PC meant associative databases and multimedia? What if the PC is just another accidental machine? What if the creative irrationality of the artist has succumbed to the apparent rationality of technology? Probable-ist histories of technology are yielding fascinating insights into older technologies. For example some people are suggesting that Thomas Edison was interested in the equivalent of the domestic VCR when he invented the Kinetoscope. Entrepreneurs picked up this invention and used it to give us the cinema. If this was the case then the movies are just a massive wrong turning in Edison’s project to help us all to be programme makers and film editors, and the cultural power and economic strength of the film industry has merely delayed technological advance. This paper argues that rather than try to overcome technological barriers which the economic dynamics of the PC industry constantly insist upon, the artist and designer could be thinking about probable-ist histories of the computer by reinterpreting the technology and exploring its creative potential with irrationality. It suggests that to do anything else is simply to reiterate or, at best, amplify the suppliers software manual. Artists should not be passively asking”How can I do this?” but setting the interpetive agenda by insisting “What if I did this?”

  • Michael Punt (UK), University of Wales College, Newport. Michael Punt is an artist and film maker who has been exhibiting since the late 1960s. He contributes to International research both in early film history and the cultural analysis of interactive digital media. He is active through his contributions to con­ferences and articles in scholarly journals and books. In 1992-1996, he was awarded a major research scholarship by the University of Amsterdam. He was a contributing edi­tor of interact, a European journal concerned with interac­tive learning programmes, and is a regular contributor to Skrien, a Dutch journal of film and television criticism. He has exhibited video and installation work internationally, is a member of the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis, and teaches Film Studies at University of Wales College, Newport. Recent publications include articles in Velvet Light Trap, Leonardo, Design issues, Kintop, MA Proceedings, ASCA Brief 2, and forthcoming in 1997 in Kintop and Design Issues.