[ISEA96] Paper: Leo Chanjen Chen – Transparency as Interface: A ‘Petite Histoire’ of its Tools


Short Paper

This paper purports to examine the dynamics and implications of the notion of “language as interface” by tracing a genealogy of the concept of transparency as it is employed by various discourses. More specifically this paper foregrounds three usages of transparency and argues for a reorientation of the “language mode” of meaning-making within our visual culture and digital discourses that might, consequently, help to account for the perpetual negotiation of interpretation between the visual and the textual. These usages include transparency in architecture, transparency in language and transparency in digital media. As Anthony Vidler suggests, modernity has been haunted by a myth of transparency: transparency of the self to nature, of all selves to society, universal transparency of building material, spatial penetration, and the ubiquitous flow of light and physical movement. Following this genealogy, this paper attempts to redirect our over-reliance on the perspectival-material based visual cognition to the metaphoric assumption of transparency in language. Transparency here is defined as the convention in which both author and beholder are absent from representation, objects rendered as if their externals are entirely perceptible in a unified field of vision with their internally fully accessible. By linking architectural transparency to the transparency of language, I will then discuss how the metaphoric usage of transparency in digital media is broken down by the actual program application. Namely, the data compression technology that renders and alters our concept of layering and interface. Finally, I propose to reconfigure a new epistemological paradigm in which to contain discourses of transparency in digital media and transparency of language. After all, echoing the spirit of Heideggerian and Freudian UNHEIMLICH, transparency reveals as much as it hides.

  • Leo Chanjen Chen, Japan