Strangely, the New Media Arts world is sorely lacking in critical thinking. I attempt to explore this void and offer some direction on how to fill it. Feedback welcome
Data is sometimes treated as the “invisible” ingredient of digital/New Media art, hyping up works that either don’t need it, or would fall apart without it. This is reminiscent of the child’s tale “Stone Soup”, where the proverbial stone acts, similarly as the useless but magical ingredient
Is it a good idea to equate brands and corporations with the Medici family? I don’t think so. However I do see more complex, multilayered relationships between artists, designers and brands.
Discovering first-person video games in my very early teenage years was both a thrill and a disappointment. I felt let down by a promise that seemed built-in to the potential of the game, something that was dangled as a carrot but never delivered: true and complete interactivity in a digital realm.
Contemporary art has had it's fair share of artists manipulating light, but we rarely read this work as a quest for an understanding of "being". I would venture to argue that some artists today have in fact a desire to do something just like that.
In November 2010, I was lucky to be part of a great team to work on a large projection mapping project in Mexico City. The project was a celebration of Mexico's independence, and was produced by a great french company called "Les Petits Francais". The project was at a massive scale, more than 50 projectors covering over a hundred meters of old, highly detailed buildings.
I would like to argue that if we had a more critical approach to motion design and to its productions, it would encourage its creators to go beyond technical feats and pure aesthetic pleasure to works that can have a meaning within the cultural conversation of our time. But for this we have be willing to put ourselves out there and do something that people will maybe hate.
There is a great book by Lev Manovich called "Software takes command". Mr Manovich, who is one of the rare thinkers who knows enough about actual computer assisted media production to talk about it intelligently, explains how the nature of software creation defines the tools of production and thus, to a large extent, the type of production of our day and age.
What does that mean? Well to put it simply, everything we create on computers is, to a degree or another, a manipulation of parameters. Like it or not, even if you are using a Photoshop brush or drawing a mask in AfterEffects, the vertices and the brush parameters are still defined as parameters.
Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Neither. But it is something to be aware of. You need to be aware of it for a practical reason (what the parameters are define what you can and can't do, they are your practical limits) and for philosophical reasons (they define the framework of your creative productions as a whole).
Let's start with the first point - practical limitations. If we know anything about creative endeavors, we know that they are most successful when they are approached with a set of limits. The cliche of the white page or of the super open brief are well known to anybody who does creative work. So in this sense, parameters are extremely helpful. They are the obstacles we need to surpass to not do what everyone else does with this or that tool. How many Vimeo "hits" are there out there that show how some people, more at ease than others in a certain application, do something you would never have thought possible with a given plugin or app? The learning curve becomes all about mastering the conjunction of parameters.
But on a deeper level, parameters are more pernicious than they seem. They are the result of the type of computing we have inherited from our forefathers, the ones who sat in offices in California and figured out how programming languages should work, how interfaces should be created, what computers should allow us to do or not.
This may seem like a bold statement, but I'm a firm believer that computing did not need to be what it is today. Read any book about the origin of our current operating systems, the paradigms of our software etc...and you will understand that things could have been quite different. And if you don't want to take my word for it, take this guy's :
In many ways, our computerized creativity is placed within a framework that was probably not so much a necessity and more of an ideological imposition.
What doesn't help to see that is that we have companies like Apple, who do everything they can to mask the rationale behind the decisions that define contemporary computing. Let these guys explain it better than I could.
So where does that leave us? I'm not sure. I would love to see somebody rinse his/her mind and create a brand new operating system based on a different way of thinking. But these kinds of clean breaks don't happen too often, so I'm not holding my breath. I will be looking out for it though, and if they need somebody to design the UI, I'll be on board.
In the field I work in, and you probably work in it as well if you are taking the time to read this, we deal with, make and produce "content".
Saying this term always makes me feel a tinge of sadness. Sadness that we use a term as generic and bland for work that requires such blood sweat and tears.
I've always wondered what a better term could be. Haven't found one yet...But thinking about it lead me to a series of thoughts about the reason we use this word.
First, if there is content, there must be a container. And by thinking about things within this duality, we enter into old philosophical distinctions and categories - inside and out, form and function, meaning and language etc...Usually in this type of discussion, and within the framework of our occidental culture, the content is more valuable than the container. It is the "real" thing, the stuff we want while we discard the packaging. Your thoughts might live forever, but your physical brain won't.
But does this line of thought apply to content creation in the sense of motion graphics, vfx, animation etc....? It certainly does in the sense that a 4k TV does not sell without some compelling content to fill it with.
In the world I work in, which is more geared towards experiential content creation, the container in fact defines the content, or should define the content much more than in "traditional" media production. In other words, if you are creating a character animation for an HD TV, and you are asked to deliver it for a 4k display, you just change your render settings and wait longer. However, if you are designing content for a projection mapped building or an LED wall, you will have completely different approaches to your content.
So we reach a point where, in contemporary media production, the container is slippery. It isn't always the usual rectangular flat surface. Conversely, we are also at a point where content production is slippery. We don't always know what will be produced by a generative process. I once worked on a project where we designed an instagram/google images/tumblr crawler, and had to find all kinds of ways of protecting ourselves against "bad" content.
Which brings us to another interesting idea floating around the concept of "content" today. What you hear a lot in meetings with brands and agencies is that people's lives become content for brands. So you and I take pictures on Instagram, and use a brand friendly hashtag, and there you go, we have provided free, completely usable content for corporations.
So do we call words, images and sounds "content" because they are now so much more than books, music and videos (films, documentaries, ...all the old categories)? Or do we call them "content" because the container is a much more important concept than it was before, meaning that "content" and "container" have a dynamic relationship, where some kind of synthesis occurs in the most successful projects and they somehow become, together, an experience?
To me the latter is the most satisfying and stimulating way of using this ugly word to define what I do.