[ISEA97] Panel: Christopher Csikszentmihalyi, Laura Trippi, Tapio Makela & Lev Manovich — Hype: 1000 Seductions of New Media

Panel Statement

You are my avid fellow feeling. My affection curiously clings to your passionate wish. My liking yearns to your heart. You are my wistful sympathy: my tender liking.
Yours beautifully, MUC 1950

When Alan Turing used the Manchester University Computer to create random love poetry, algorithm-generated text was a bold incursion into what had been considered uniquely human. Fifteen years later, Weizenbaum’s Eliza program seemed uncanny and profound to those who engaged it.These two works anticipated much of what was to become electronic art, including the nagging question they leave a modern observer: How could anyone have been unsettled by such simple tricks?
Four years ago, a piece using CD-ROM, multimedia, or Laser Disc created a stir because it involved new and exotic media. Now, it is more likely that an avatar, a life system, or web piece would attract such attention. Does this inclination towards spectacle indicate a surface art as meaningful as a texture-map, or the necessary responsiveness of a relevant and current discourse?
The Hype: panel will look at electronic art through a variety of filters — historical, regional, and disciplinary — in order to analyze its narrative strategies. Don’t expect resolution, but rather playful analysis, taxonomies, and contrasts. For instance:
•    Western artists usually take technology very seriously, despairing when it does not work. Post-communist artists, on the other hand, seem more willing to recognize that technology will necessarily break down.They accept that, in the words of Claude Shannon,”what is noise in one situation can be signal in another.” Russian artists and intellectuals are offering a useful alternative to the West’s default thematics, while articulating a distinctive visual poetics of new media.
•    From project management to virtual pets, emotions are leaking out all over the software industry. Production teams learn to honor emotions as the key to shipping great software, while emotional authenticity is displacing intelligence as the holy grail in research on artificial agents. Toys employing artificial life technology target affections through the extraordinary ploy of death and dependency. What’s up with all this digital emotionalism? More to the point, how does it make you feel?
•    Electronic art derives its media from various scientific disciplines. Artists often borrow scientific themes, as in the case of Al or Alife. But science is an engine of cultural production in its own right, separate from art. Where science and art converge, what does this proximity mean for the artist, and for their work? Have we become unwitting agents of another discourse, slaving away to provide free scientific visualization services?
•    Visualization of mathematical algorithms and optimistic promises are key ingredients for success in the contemporary marketplace of technology, marketing, and arts. Modern critiques of science would seem to deny the mathematical image of any power alien to its origin. But many observers seem to have a semi-religious way of perceiving mathematical visualizations. How an algorithmic automaton such as a computer animation is given a sense of being, and hence meaning, is crucial.

  • Christopher Csikszentmihalyi (U.S.A.), chair, works between the fields of science, art, and industry. He has shown technology-oriented installations in North America and Europe. Currently in the graduate program at the University of California, San Diego, he also studied at the Reed College and the University of Chicago, and holds a B.A. from the Art Institute of Chicago. Csikszentmihalyi is an associate at the Center for Research in Computers in the Arts, La Jolla, and was recently awarded the Hepps Scholarship for Excellence in Graduate Research. His dog, Cedric, is on the verge of learning to speak.
  • Laura Trippi (U.S.A.) is a curator, writer, and new media project manager working at the intersection of art, science, and popular culture. A curator at The New Museum, New York, from 1988-95, her Web site, Drawing oN Air (dn/a), has been located at adaweb since the spring of 1996 In addi­tion to exhibition catalogues, her writing appears in the Guggenheim Magazine, 21( and World Art. A B.A. from Columbia University’s School of General Studies (1984, magna cum laude) led to three years of graduate study at Johns Hopkins’ Humanities Center. Prior to that, Trippi grad­uated from an alternative high school in the Bay Area with the “Tender Feelings Award,” and has been wondering about it ever since.
  • Tapio Makela (Finland) is a writer and a researcher of new media, art & culture. He is also a coordinator of MuuMediaBase, an artist run media lab in Helsinki, Finland. The latest        pro­jects include a conference on Media and Ethics, media art workshop Polar Circuit, The Net Sauna for Ars Electronica and Net Academy educational program. Together with John Hopkins he is coordi­nating net + art education for Tornio School of Art and Communication. During last year Tapio has presented papers at DEAF in Rotterdam, NL, Crossing Over in Sofia, BG, Digital Dreams in Newcastle, UK, and Wiretap in Rotterdam, NL.
  • Lev Manovich (RU/USA.)  is an artist and a theorist of new media. He was born in Moscow, where he studied fine arts and com­puter science. He continued his education in the U.S. receiv­ing an M.A. in experimental psychology from NYU and a Ph.D. in Visual and Cultural Studies from University of Rochester. He has lectured widely on digital arts, and his writings have been published in many countries. He is an Assistant Professor at the University of California, San Diego. In 1995 he was awarded a Mellon Fellowship in Art Criticism by California Institute of the Arts. He is currently working on two books: a collection of essays on digital real­ism, and a history of the social and cultural origins of com­puter graphics technologies entitled The Engineering of Vision from Constructivism to Computer (University of Texas Press, forthcoming).