[ISEA2011] Keynote: William Uricchio – Towards a New Order: the Algorithmic Turn


Something has been happening to the relationship between the artist and artifact, at least in a growing sector of the digital domain.  The old certainties upon which notions of authorship and attribution are based, and within which ideas of creative control reside, are slipping and giving way to new forces.  Of course, in a time of transition, this process itself – and the forces behind it – are ideal sites for artistic engagement and interrogation, and some of the most profound interventions to date owe themselves to this community.

In fact, cracks and fissures have been appearing in the relationship between the subject and the object more generally, undermining the carefully wrought distinctions upon which the modern era was founded.  Let me make clear at the outset that cracks do not a transformation make, but they give us an early warning and an important place to look for further signs of change.  My argument in a nutshell is that over the past decade or so, we have had increased access to new ways of calculating, representing and seeing the world, ways dependent on algorithmic interventions between the viewing subject and the object viewed.  This intervention has many manifestations, from the changed model of authorship and expertise that Wikipedia represents over and against the Enlightenment paradigm represented by Diderot’s encyclopaedia, to the dynamic and location-aware cartographic systems that we can find on our iPhones and TomToms over and against the fixed cylindrical projection grid of Gerardus Mercator’s 16th Century maps.  We can find it in the domain of the archive, where a long fixation with the physical artefact has given way to dynamic information repositories, digital in form but algorithmically accessed and reconstituted.  And in the case of the image, grosso modo, the long regime of three-point perspective and its reification of an underlying understanding of subject-object relations constitute the representational order that is also exhibiting fractures in the form of algorithmic visualization systems such as Microsoft’s Photosynth and image recognition-based augmented reality applications.

These binary oppositions are complicated by our residual practices – we often act as if nothing has changed, treating these new assemblages as if they were consistent with the much older practices we are familiar with.  And this can prove confusing.  In our world, the coincident transformations of form taken by information (digitalization, for example) further confuse the issue, garnering credit (or blame) when in fact the algorithmic processing of that data (whether analog or digital) is the real issue.  We shall then consider the algorithmic, extracting it from this thicket and reflecting upon its impact.

The video documentation of William Uricchio’s keynote speech Towards a New Order: the Algorithmic Turn at ISEA2011 is available online in five parts. Please click on the the following links for Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IV, and Part V.

  • William Charles Uricchio is professor and director of MIT’s Comparative Media Studies program and professor of comparative media history at Utrecht University.  He has held visiting professorships at Stockholm University, the Freie Universität Berlin, the University of Science and Technology of China, and Philips Universität Marburg; and Guggenheim, Fulbright and Humboldt fellowships have supported his research. At MIT, Uricchio is principal investigator of the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab; the Center for Future Civic Media; and the Convergence Culture Consortium. His scholarly research considers the interplay of media technologies and cultural practices in relation to the (re-) construction of representation, knowledge and publics. In part, he researches and develops new histories of ‘old’ media when they were new (early photography, telephony, film, broadcasting, and today’s ‘new’ media). And in part, he investigates media cultures and their audiences through research into such areas as peer-to-peer communities and cultural citizenship, media and cultural identity, and historical representation. His most recent books include Media Cultures (2006 Heidelberg), on responses to media in post 9/11 Germany and the US, and We Europeans? Media, Representations, Identity (2008 Chicago University Press & Intellect). He is currently completing a manuscript on the concept of the televisual from the 17th century to the present.    uricchio.wordpress.com