Saturday, October 17, 2009

The High of the Beholder: Nowcasting IV

Todd Presner introduced his talk on "Google Earth?" by characterizing it as a "somewhat more cultural studies art-historical approach" than the work of his predecessors Trevor Paglen and Benjamin Bratton at the Nowcasting conference. He began by noting how a single company is attempting to present both a definitive "interface to the world’s digital information" and a definitive "interface to the earth (or Google’s representation of it)." In looking at the search box, Presner noted several recent innovation 1) accommodation for an infinitely long string of characters rather than the fifty character queries of old, 2) much faster searches, and 3) repopulation of the input window with an emphasis on American corporations and pop culture.

I had seen Presner talk about Google Earth before, but the current version of the talk includes analysis of a much more polymorphously perverse Google, even though his argument builds on the same 1968 NASA photo from spaceof Earth rising and the image of the 1969 Stewart Brand
Whole Earth Catalog, which has been a touchstone at the conference, to contemplate the implications of a Heideggerian Weltbild, the world as picture. He argued that Google involves "many different perceptual habits" and then offered a list of ten areas of inquiry: 1) the Apollonian desire to see as spectator, 2) the wish to fly like a bird, 3) the titilation of travel without leaving home, much like like the colonial panoptic viewing habits of panorama viewers in London, Paris, Berlin, and Vienna who experienced an imperial construction, 4) the fascination with aerial bombardment, 5) computer aided navigation of the kind described by Lev Manovich in the Language of New Media mediation, 6) the experience of the postmodern space of the digital, 7) the treatment of reality as spectacle, which normalizes viewing habits like photography, 8) the will for the cartographic fantasy of a completely mapped world, as Borges imagines, 9) the potential for the Situationist method of detournement, which reinstantiates the Dionysian in Google's Appolonian vision, and 10) a set of spatial practices, such as those described by De Certeau, which may include memorializing lived experiences of walking.

He showed how what were once flat digital maps had been enhanced with photorealistic 3D models in Berlin to begin his argument about how control, surveillance, and a videogame eye informs the design of these simulations that Presner argued were intimately tied to the emotions of war. Much as film had been in an earlier era, he claimed that Google was tied to Cold War and the eyeless vision of the combat flight simulator. But he also showed images of the Kaiser panorama, reproduced above, where women could look at Cario or Rome and a panorama that allowed the viewer to enter the globe itself. He also discussed the contemporary art practice of Jeffry Shaw and Bill Viola. After showing the montage images of Earth bathed in sunlight, which he described as a "managed and sanitized environment," he noted that we can overlay "remediation within a remediation," thanks to a number of new street view tools and data bubblies in Google, and explore "a panorama within a virtual globe"

He then turned to discussing the Hypercities project that he has headed for the past few years, where spatial practice can also serve as a "project of memory" in which "new media peels back layers of time," although there is "no promise of recreation or accurate representation" in his cartographic history of representations of the city that allows users to annotate and hemix content in these stacked representations of the urban environment. Although Denis Wood, author of The Power of Maps, has presented the argument that a traditional map never grows or develops, Presner contested this claim by asserting that "missing voices can be returned to particular locations . He also showed a Hypercities map of recent street demonstrations in Tehran, which showed "writerly maps" and "countermapping" at work. This student, who had also worked with Johanna Drucker, had created 819 annotations and was seriously engaged with the curation of data. In closing, Presner acknowledged the work on media archeology done by audience member Erkki Huhtamo.

As the conference came full circle, Peter Lunenfeld stepped to the podium again to warn attendees that now things may take a "hegemonic turn," as he makes an argument for "unimedia not multimedia that would open with a reference to Siegfried Zelinski before detailing the four stages of modernism.

Lunenfeld identified his typology as follows:

1) heroic modernism, represented by the Bauhaus, Russian Constructivism, Eisenstein, and furnishings from the Rietveld Schröder House that I had visited with my niece this summer
2) high modernism of the "you buy it" variety, which could be seen in a 1967 ad for Helvetica as "the face all print men are talking about" or the Jackson Pollack they aspire to hang in their homes.
3) postmodernism, which he described as "like porn, you know it when you see it," whether it is the Piazza d'Italia in New Orleans soon a ruin or the Walker Evans photo adopted by Sherrie Levine as a statement about appropriation and feminism.
4) unimodernism, which could take the same Evans-Levine photo and process it with Photoshop, so that an image of a young Depression-era girl might demonstrate the "material case for the evolution of an information aesthetic that requires a new discussion."

For Lunenfeld the computer functions "as culture machine" in which even eBay can be seen "as the new archive." He followed with a number of examlpes of informationalism and complex, which includes I/O/D Web Stalker, Radiohead's "House of Cards" motion tracking video with multiple reposts on YouTube, the software that created the Frank Gehry's Bilbao Guggenheim and the Disney Concert Hall as 21st century signifiers, and Liz Larner's Untitled 2001, which uses commingling hues on a number of animation keyframes that were colored by custom car-painters in East LA in ways quite different from the finish fetish group of the sixties.

Rather than early, high, or post, we produce and consume a unimodernism, our moment is unimodern in the sense that it makes modernism in all its variants, universal via networks and broadband, uniform in their effect if not affect, and unitary as existing as strings of code

For Lunenfeld, the FIGURE/ground distinction is changing with our "ability to shift point of view" and see two things, since "toggle" is almost as central a computer command as "undo" in contemporary life. From a 1900 machine art (making the machine central to the vision) to a 2000 information aesthetic (looking at the ground of culture), he also credited a "punk aesthetic" that "will come back in 7 months."

In this "archive fever" to which "we have just adapted," not only do we check information sources constantly, but also we iteratively pull visual references. As Lunenfeld asked, "What would the imagery be like if we did this conference ten years ago?" (He assumed that all presenters had used Google image search.) This change in "photography and truth value" can be measured as a "moment in time" in which the experience has moved "from being a marvel to cliché." If the first half of the 20th century was cinematic in reframing the way we look at life, and the second half embraced television and its all-at-onceness, now we have the "computer with culture" for "transcultural bricolage" in which "it all becomes ground." Different artistic producers may exploit the "reconfiguration of individual parts" as "an economic necessitym, such as Quentin Tarantino, Rm Koolhaas, Takashi Murakami, and Martha Stewart who can DIY her own Wii cake with what can be called "sticky media" rather than "teflon media." For him, the question is about "how what we download contributes to what we upload." With "unimedia as the result" and "unimodernism as the aspiration," Lunenfeld pointed out how much larger a world that we live in than the world of Rauschenberg, De Kooning, and Jasper Johns, who lived in close proximity. According to Lunenfeld, this video on YouTube showed how "tiny this world is and how different our world is" with our "vastness of connection to accessible culture."

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