I woke up to the news that Linkfluence had been asked by The Guardian to examine and map the webpages Anders Breivik's manifesto are linking to, along with the pages that these in turn link to. I guess it's a way for the Brit daily to celebrate the fact that, unlike Lacoste, it occupies only a negligible place in the gunman's life.
In any case, the story provided me with a smooth and apropos start of a day dedicated entirely to the browsing, reading and right now blogging of one of the latest books that have landed on my desk this Summer.
Publisher Princeton Architectural Press writes: Our ability to generate information now far exceeds our capacity to understand it. Finding patterns and making meaningful connections inside complex data networks has emerged as one of the biggest challenges of the twenty-first century. In recent years, designers, researchers, and scientists have begun employing an innovative mix of colors, symbols, graphics, algorithms, and interactivity to clarify, and often beautify, the clutter. From representing networks of friends on Facebook to depicting interactions among proteins in a human cell, Visual Complexity presents one hundred of the most interesting examples of information-visualization by the field's leading practitioners. Author Manuel Lima has been called the "Edward Tufte of the 21st century" and nominated as one of the "50 most creative and influential minds of 2009" by Creativity magazine.
I'm not an information designer. I don't follow as closely as i should what moves and shapes the world of network representation. However, I'm not a complete neophyte and i've received enough books about infoviz to recognize that this one is a gem. The volumes i've been sent over the past few years are either glossy coffee table books containing jaw-dropping images and scarce information or they are heavy accumulations of knowledge and theory that fall out of my indolent hands and brain at the second chapter. Taking the best of both world, the visual punch and the informed text, Visual Complexity, Mapping Patterns of Information has everything it takes to satisfy the curious and the expert alike. It's a precise and pleasant book that does justice to the practice of infoviz and i'm sure that it will be an invaluable reference for the whole design community for years to come.
If Lima knows how to use images to filter and make complex nodes of data more apprehensible, he also seems to be a master in transferring the power of clarity into words.The author writes in a limpid and seemingly effortless way about the 'Ubiquitous Datasphere', 'Segmented Radical Convergence' or 'Multivariate Analysis". No theory entanglements, no information confusion.
But what's inside the book?
The first chapter, devoted to the trees of life, brings us back to Aristotle and his study of classifications and sub-classifications in Organon. The second chapter moves from trees to network thinking and introduce us to nonlinear ways of envisioning and organizing information. Chapter three, "Decoding Networks' gets deeper into the subject with paragraphs about the pioneers of infoviz and a list of 8 principles that aim to help the work network visualization designers. Next comes a chapter that dissects the most popular subjects of network visualization: exchanges of information on blogs, bibliographic citations, donations to political candidates or environmental organizations, terrorist cells, etc. Chapter 5, 'The Syntax of a New Language' explores the visual techniques designers chose to portray a particular topic. Diagrams, Implosions, Globes, Circles, Spheres, etc. Chapter 6 definitely sold me to the book. with its foray into sculptures and art installations that evoke and translate networks.
Visual Complexity opens on an essay by Lev Manovich and closes with contributions by prominent figures in the world of infoviz: Nathan Yau, Andrew Vande Moere, Christopher Kirwan and David McConville.
And this is where i'm going to apologize to the wonderfully talented designers whose work is featured in Lima's book. I could have chosen one of their information visualizations to illustrate the post on the homepage, i was actually finding it hard to chose a particular project until i found an entry about Jeremy Deller's History of the World on the blog Visual Complexity. Jeremy. Deller. How could i resist? If Manuel Lima himself believes that my favourite artist is fit to be featured in his blog, how could i not jump on the opportunity to put yet another Deller on my homepage?
Related entries: Book Review - Data Flow 2: Visualizing Information in Graphic Design, Book review: Form+Code, Stock Overflow at iMAL in Brussels, Data Visualization panel at OFFF, Lisbon, video of the day and etech08: Information Visualization is a Medium, by Stamen Design.
The english abstract is available online, here's just an abstract of it: Neither the label "New Media Art" nor the artistic practices it refers to were able to conquer the official art criticism or, more generally, the contemporary art world. Just a few works of New Media Art were able to enter the permanent collection of a museum, and even less were able to escape the limbo of the museum's warehouses. New Media Art is more or less absent in the contemporary art market, as well as in mainstream art magazines; and recent accounts on contemporary art history completely forgot it.
How can we explain this segregation? Why "official" art criticism and history have still so many difficulties in integrating the artistic research on new media technologies into their interpretation of the art history of the Twentieth century, even now that this research can be considered in all its historic relevance? Why the art market, that was able to greet video, installation and performance, is still unable to accept and distribute artworks based in software, hardware or computer networks? Why many artists are so intolerant of the very term "New Media Art", and of any attempt to stress its diversity? Why, on the other side, other artists are so proud of this diversity? Why New Media Art pretends to be "different" from contemporary art, and yet proudly reclaims its relationship with contemporary art's very same roots, the Avant-gardes?
(...) Medium, New Media, Postmedia is the first attempt to give these questions a common, holistic answer. In order to reach the goal, this book starts discussing the current definition of New Media Art, making its weakness clear and suggesting a new definition that makes it possible to reconsider New Media Art's historical development on a new basis and to better understand its recent developments and its positioning in contemporary culture.
But Medium, New Media, Postmedia is not just an attempt to explain the current status of the artistic research with new technologies, but also a militant endeavor to help it get the critical consideration it deserves; it's not just a description of the present, but also an attempt to change the future, suggesting new critical and curatorial strategies.
It's not every day that i feel like recommending a publication to anyone interested in new media art. No matter the depth of their involvement with new media art, no matter their degree of expertise. Whether you're a student, an academic and someone who curates or collects contemporary art and is 'just curious about new media art', Media, New Media, Postmedia is one book you ought to read. The catch is that, so far, the book is available in italian only. The abstract i butchered above as well as the list of contents are available in english online. It's not much but it should give you an idea of the breadth and tone of the publication. Media, New Media, Postmedia is a brave book, one that might ruffle a few feathers sometimes (but oh so elegantly!) The publication gives a carefully researched overview of the state of the 'new media art vs contemporary art world' debate, navigating deftly between opinions and ideas. As far as i know Media, New Media, Postmedia has no equal in english and i do hope Quaranta looks for and finds a publisher who will be willing to translate it.
Hopefully my review will be of interest not only to the 3 readers i have in Italy but also to other readers who might like to know what happens beyond the abstract and the list of contents. This is not going to be a thorough review nor a summary of the book but more of a way for me to digest it and highlight a series of ideas that help me keep the love/hate relationship i have with new media art on the healthy side.
The first three chapters lay the basis for the whole discussion. The first one looks into the definition of medium, of new media (art), but also delineates their identity and analyzes how pertinent these terms are. The second chapter traces the history of new media art from the 1960s to the early 1990s. The third chapter brings side by side the world of contemporary art and new media art. it is a rather painful confrontation as new media art seems to emerge as the eternal loser in terms of critical recognition and economic perspective.
The last two chapters The boho dance: New Media Art and contemporary art and The postmedia perspective are where the action is at. The title of chapter 4 refers to the Art Mating Ritual (the Boho Dance then the Consummation) ironically described by Tom Wolfe in The Painted World. In this case, however, the attempts of new media art at seducing the contemporary art world have failed repeatedly and miserably. Quaranta analyzes the reason of this fiasco by going through a series of exhibitions in major art museums that celebrated the 'newness', 'brightness' and 'avant-garde' of new media but never quite met with the respect of contemporary art critics and curators, due too often to the excessive focus on the technological perspective rather than on the art perspective of the works exhibited. Apart from a few exceptions, new media art has not yet found a comfortable place in art institutions and public or private collections. According to Quaranta, the usual excuses brought forward do not stand a close observation. Is reproducibility the culprit? No, think of the limited editions of photos, and of the price that a print by Cindy Sherman or Andreas Gursky reaches at auctions. Is it because of the ephemeral nature of many of the works? That didn't prevent Damien Hirst's shark to get the icon (read 'bankable') status it has nowadays. Is it the rapid obsolescence of the material used in new media art works? Quaranta replies with the example of VHS video works that have been transferred onto digital support and of neon installations by Dan Flavin that cannot use the original red neon anymore because in the meantime it was discovered that that particular shade is toxic. The real problem of new media art is that many in the contemporary art world have doubts about its value as art and as an investment.
The final chapter, The postmedia perspective, opens by laying the blame of the foul reputation of new media art on art critics and curators. On the one hand, the new media art world has tried to impose on the rest of the art world the criteria used internally to appreciate a work. Moreover, they have failed to do justice to new media art by presenting it as a uniform phenomenon instead of the heterogeneous reality that it is. On the other hand, many contemporary art critics have failed to go beyond the technological aspect of the works of new media art. Or they have also seen it a 'uniform phenomenon' and condemned it as a whole.
What unifies new media art is not the use of 'the media', it is its familiarity with the cultural impact that these media have had on society.
For Quaranta, the New Media art world should turn its frustrating complex of inferiority into a virtue: that is, to act as an incubator for art forms that wouldn't be accepted at a first stage by the mainstream art world. He gives as an example Tft Tennis v180°, an installation typical of ars electronica 'gadgetry'. It might not stand raise up to the standards of a contemporary art critic, but it has value as a prototype ahead of game research, as a precursor that paved the way for the Wii. Without new media art, works like this one would struggle to find a suitable context to be produced, exhibited and discussed.
As i mentioned above, Media, New Media, Postmedia is a book that required audacity. And it took someone like Domenico Quaranta, a critic and curator whose involvement and respect for new media art doesn't need to be proved any more and who has rubbed shoulders with the contemporary art world, to dissect and appraise in a way that was at time harsh the world of new media art. I suspect it was sometimes a distressing process but one that was necessary if new media art wants to get rid of the stereotypes, weaknesses and misunderstandings that weights it down.
Unsurprisingly, i'm going to end with the conclusion, not mine, but the one Quaranta has written in the abstracts:
At the end of this long debate, conclusions can't but be provisional. The advent, after the last World War, of the digital media introduced the premises for a consistent change of paradigm in the contemporary cultural production. These premises, patiently nurtured in the New Media Art world, have now reached the complexity needed to cause the cultural revolution we are expecting from them. What we still have to understand is if this change should be pursued through the radical opposition to the idea of art that has been winning until now, or rather through border crossing, mediation, cross-breeding. This book is a bet on this second way.
Check out the blog Media, New Media, Postmedia.
Domenico Quaranta is a contemporary art critic and curator whose research focuses on the impact of the current techno-social developments on the arts. He's a prolific writer, his articles and essays have appeared in numerous magazines and he has written and contributed to many books and catalogues. I was particularly enthusiastic about GameScenes. Art in the Age of Videogames which he authored together with Matteo Bittanti. You can either download for free or get as a print on demand his recent In Your Computer, a collection of texts he wrote between 2005 and 2010 for exhibition catalogues, printed magazines and online reviews.
He curated and co-curated a number of exhibitions all over Europe (right now you can see ITALIANS DO IT BETTER!! at the Venice Biennale.) Domenico Quaranta is the Director of the MINI Museum of XXI Century Arts and a founding member and Artistic Director of the very promising and much needed on the Italian territory LINK Center for the Arts of the Information Age. If all of the above were not enough, he also lectures internationally and teaches "Net Art" at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera in Milan.
Image on the homepage: Mission Eternity by etoy.CORPORATION.
The book under review this week is Open Design Now: Why Design Cannot Remain Exclusive, edited by Bas van Abel (Creative Director of Waag Society), Roel Klaassen (Programme Manager at Premsela, Dutch Platform for Design and Fashion), Lucas Evers (Head of Programme Culture at Waag Society and member of Creative Commons Netherlands) and Peter Troxler (independent researcher and concept developer.) You can find it on amazon USA or UK.
BIS publishers writes: In design(ing) there is a revolution ongoing that is triggered by an emerging networked community that is sharing digital information about physical products and the ubiquitous availability of production tools and facilities. It transforms design into an open discipline, in which designs are shared and innovation of a large diversity of products is a collaborative and world spanning process.
Open Design Now covers these issues:
You might remember that I've already said a few words about Open Design Now in early June when it was launched at DMY International Design Festival Berlin. I hadn't read the book at the time. I have now.
The book is divided into three main sections. The first one is made of some 210 pages of essays by practitioners and thinkers such as John Thackara, Dick Rijken from STEIM and professor at The Hague University, Bre Pettis of the MakerBot fame, Renny Ramakers from Droog Design, Tommi Laitio from Demos Helsinki. The section of essays is followed by a stimulating list of case studies that range from the Fifty Dollar Leg Prosthesis to Fritzing and the RepRap digital fabrication system. The last part is the 'visual index' made of examples over examples of inspirational works and ideas: guerrilla gardening, bamboo bikes, hacker strategies, recycling initiatives, manifestos, grassroots inventions, etc.
The authors of the book announce right from the start that they won't try and reduce open design to a definition. What they do instead is provide a clear snapshot of the state of open source design in all its guises. Van Abel, Evers, Klaassen and Troxler did also a great job at editing a book that provides a solid framework for discussion as well as plenty of opportunities to reflect and ponder on the opportunities and challenges offered by open source values on the whole spectrum of creativity, from chair marketing to robot making.
In their essays, the contributors explore with more depth many of the issues that the design community might prefer to ignore right now: shifts in the distribution and production process, 'loss' of control, adjustments of intellectual property rights, reassessment of old hierarchies, access to knowledge, definition of 'design literacy', impact of new technologies and tools, the hybridization of the designer's role, the designer-client relationship is under (re)evalution... And most crucially for some, the business potential of open source creativity.
Joris Laarman's point of view is one of the highlights of the book. The designer (and one of the initiators of Make-Me.com) raises thought-provoking questions about the 'mediocracy of the middle classes' that dominates the current mass production design, about why true modernists wanted open source design 100 years ago, how the power could get out of the grasp of multinationals and back into the hands of craftspeople whose know-how and talent had been rendered irrelevant by industrialization, why creative commons licensing shouldn't prevent you from making profit, etc.
Another great input is Mushon Zer-Aviv's essay "Learning by Doing", a very personal and often humourous account of the strategies he deployed in his efforts to teach open design in art and design schools.
Finally, and mostly because it gives me the opportunity to highlight the breadth of the book, i'd like to single out Open Design for Government, an essay in which Bert Mulder calls for applying some of the tools, frameworks and values of open design to governmental institutions in order to open up policy making to citizens.
Before i close this post, i should mention the very brave and befitting publication model. BIS publishers is making the content of the book gradually available on the Open Design Now website. Right now, 15% of the content can be read online.
Views inside the book:
Image on the homepage: ÖLKE BÖLKE by Remy&Veenhuizen. Photo: Leo Veger.
Black Dog Publishing writes: See Yourself Sensing: Redefining Human Perception is the first book to survey the fascinating relationship between design, the body, science and the senses. Over the last 50 years, artists, architects and designers have been experimenting with the boundaries of our senses, altering the way we experience the world.
Did you know it has been revealed that we can hear our skin, can see through our tongue, and can plug our nervous system directly into a computer? With prosthetics, robotics, cybernetics, virtual reality, transplants, and neuroscience altering the way we perceive and experience space, the body has re-emerged as an important architectural site. See Yourself Sensing reports the experiments of artists and designers on the intimate scale of the body, and explores the influence of such experimentation on architecture, installation and new media.
Exploring this concept through the last 50 years of contemporary art and design, See Yourself Sensing examines the work of key practitioners in this field, from Rebecca Horn's object based installations and Stelarc's robotic body extensions, to Carsten Höllers' physically interactive sculptures. The works and artists illustrated throw into consideration how we see and sense the world around us through artistic interpretation. The book includes projects such as solar-powered contact lenses that augment reality, LED eyelashes and an implanted tooth receiver that transmits the Internet directly into the wearer's inner ear, all created with the purpose of transforming and provoking the wearer's sensory experience.
Madeline Schwartzman brings together this unique collection of images that reflect the sensory design in architecture, art and installation, chartering the breadth of this sensory theme through the work of many renowned artists. Analysing the importance and influence of body-scaled sensory experiments, Schwartzman reveals the fascinating relationship between senses, body, art and perception.
Books on similar topics tend to look either like catalogs listing and illustrating relevant projects or lengthy essays that you might or might not have the strength and desire to read from the first to the last page. See Yourself Sensing manages to keep the balance between the two. There are plenty of works to illustrate each chapter, many of which i had never heard about and was therefore enthusiastic to encounter. But it is also a well-paced, well-researched essay about the impact technologies are having on the architecture of our senses.
Instead of dividing the book into chapters that would each focus on one of our human senses, the author chose to adopt more conceptual approach. The first chapter, Reframers takes a look at the mind-bending in function, utility or outlook. Environments negociates the space between bodies and containers. Tools deals with utility, performance and enhancement. Mediators are the agents that intervene between people, spaces and objects. The final chapter, Speculations is the boldest of all with its set of ideas and projects that spark even more inspiration and conjectures. The introduction to each chapter focuses on a few artists, researchers or designers. They can be as diverse as R&Sie and Kevin Warwick. Then the book adopts a faster rhythm with the presentation of dozens of project that illustrate the theme of the chapter.
The sections are not hermetically closed, they keep referencing each other and there is a sense of narration, a flow that keeps your mind alert and your interest alert. I think this book is going to be one i'll be referencing again and again. And there aren't many books i can see myself getting back to regularly.
Here's a few projects i discovered or re-discovered in the book. I wish i could add more but some of the ones i found most fascinating don't seem to be well documented online:
Sitraka Rakotoniaina and Andrew Friend, Impactor and Neck Clamp from the Shocking series that explores and exposes the boundaries between thrill, fear and science lye. The devices they have designed would allow individuals the chance to test these limits for themselves, capitalising on new, fantastic material qualities promised by the advances of technology and in particular the development of new shock absorbing nano composites.
Creeper is one of Hyungkoo Lee's movable machines that allow humans to alter their sensations and be closer to insects.
Haus- Rucker-Co's experiment brought new perspectives on the fusion/separation between the body and the space.
Blow-Up, by George Yu Architects, is a group of inflatable touch-sensitive surfaces that enable visitors to modulate sound, touch, and light.
Krzysztof Wodiczko's now iconic Dis-Armor is a prosthetic equipment designed to meet the communicative need of the alienated, traumatized, and silenced residents of today's cities, offering them the opportunity offers to communicate indirectly with another person by speaking through their backs.
Marepe's Cabeça Acústica (Acoustic Head) are two aluminum wash basins connected with hinges and a cooking pan to create a meditative isolation chamber for amplifying singing.
Publisher Gestalten writes: Thanks to the omnipresence of computers, cell phones, gaming systems, and the internet, a broad audience has traded its past reservations against technology for an almost insatiable curiosity for all things technical. Against this background, unprecedented new tools and possibilities are opening up for the world of design. In addition to sketchbooks and computers, young designers are increasingly using programming languages, soldering irons, sensors, and microprocessors as well as 3D milling or rapid prototyping machines in their work. The innovative use of powerful hardware and software has become affordable and, most of all, much easier to use. Today, the sky is the limit when it comes to ideas for experimental media, unconventional interfaces, and interactive spatial experiences.
A Touch of Code shows how information becomes experience. The book examines how surprising personal experiences are created where virtual realms meet the real world and where dataflow confronts the human senses. It presents an international spectrum of interdisciplinary projects at the intersection of laboratory, trade show, and urban space that play with the new frontiers of perception, interaction, and staging created by current technology. These include brand and product presentations as well as thematic exhibits, architecture, art, and design.
The comprehensive spectrum of innovative spatial and interactive work in A Touch of Code reveals how technology is fundamentally changing and expanding strategies for the targeted use of architecture, art, communication, and design for the future.
New media art, interaction design, digital art, communication design, interface design, art&tech, etc. Define them as you like, the works in this book celebrate, in an unfussy, feisty way, the emancipation of computer code from the hands of programmers.
A Touch of Code takes a snapshot of the state of interactive art and design right here right now. If you're looking for a book with historical context and a panorama of what is going on all over the world this might not be the book for you. The works covered are very recent, there's no date next to the title of the pieces selected but i'd say that very few -if any- of them were developed more than 10 years ago. Most of the works were created in the USA or in Europe. With a surprisingly high emphasis on works from German-speaking countries. Which is fine by me, i don't tend to follow German magazines and blogs so i'm often in the dark as to what artists and designers are doing over there.
The book doesn't embarrass itself with much text. There's an introduction by Joachim Sauter from ART+COM, another one by the editors of the book. Other than that, all you get is the usual description of the works and a few lines that comment each chapter (Look, Touch, Explore, Engage and Intervene.)
Still, A Touch of Code is a joy to pore over. It's like a fast, efficient and snazzy blog about interactive installations. The images are fantastic, the design is impeccable, I discovered many young artists and designers (i was actually appalled by the extent of my ignorance) and felt the need to reconnect with artists i had not seen in ages.
Take a look at some of the goods you'll find in the book:
Siren Elise Wilhelmsen 365 Knitting Clock that knits 48 meshes per day, and produces one two meter long scarf per year. Knitting 24 hours a day, and a year at a time as a physical manifestation of time, they knit one mesh every half hour all day long, and in a year they each produce a two metre long scarf.
By the end of the year the yarn can be changed and a new year - and a new scarf - can begin.
Cycloïd-E is a sound sculpture composed of five horizontally-articulated tubes which swing in unpredictable patterns and produce musical tones. Each section of the armature is a different instrument that emits a sound dictated by its position and speed of movement. The video of the work in action is impressive.
Mischer'Traxler's cake decoration machine is made of a rotating platform, icing gun, a motor-run arm and a silver dragées spout. The machine perpetually repeats one production step, first the icing lines then the sugar beads, as the cake rotates. It goes on until the customer stops the process.
txtBOMBER by Felix Voerreiter generates on the fly and prints out political statements using an Arduino processor and seven markers.
Fühlometer, by Richard Wilhelmer, Julius von Bismarck and Benjamin Maus, draws a luminous emoticon over the Berlin sky. A software reads emotions out of the faces of random Berliners, the system processes the resulting mood data and turns it in real time into this gigantic smiley.
The Self-Made Carbon-Copy Paper Printer is the result of two constraints: no original and no traditional printing method. The printer was hand-made using carbon copy paper. The software was developed for the printer using processing to read the bitmat image and control an Arduino driver. Wherever there is a black dot on the bitmap image, the printer-head hits the paper, leaving a mark. The printer's hardware and software solutions reference the work of do-it-yourself and maverick open-source communities.
Three Pieces, which was housed during several weeks in Victorian Palm House of the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, is a robot that plays the traditional Chinese dulcimer with its many bamboo fingers while the surrounding foliage hides an ensemble of robotic chimes. The robot performers, which are connected together, are conducted by the living and ever changing elements in the Palm House: moisture content of the soil, plants, temperature, animals, visitors.
Joseph . L Griffiths 's Drawing Machine #1 (To Your Heart's Content) is a stationary bike with a spinning front wheel that powers an apparatus that draws circles on the surface using coloured markers. Meanwhile, another drawing element makes other doodles based on the side to side motion of the handle bars.
Views inside the book:
Publisher Princeton Architectural Press writes: From Andy Warhol to the sassy designers of today, screen-printing is a medium with undeniable panache. Prized for its accessibility and bold, saturated colors, screen-printing is cheap, versatile, and a little dirty. Not to mention fast. Author Mike Perry (Hand Job, Over and Over) screened his first shirt in college and wore it later that night. So listen up, burgeoning artistes: it can't always be bad to wear your heart on your sleeve.
Pulled stretches screen-printing in all directions, leaving no element untouched. This book is a survey and a how-to, a collection of prints and an idea bank. It brings together more than forty talented screen printers, including Aesthetic Apparatus, Deanne Cheuk, Steven Harrington, Maya Hayuk, Cody Hudson, Jeremyville, Andy Mueller, Rinzen, and Andy Smith, among many others. Pulled is for the creative person who wants to leave his mark on cotton, or anything else.
Another book review because sometimes you've spent such a nice time with a book that you need to share it with your readers. Right here, right now.
Pulled contains mostly images. 2 pages of introduction. 2 pages of how to screen print yourself and then bits and pieces of portfolio with a short presentation of each designer/artist/studio. Pretty straightforward, charming and efficient. The author of the book, Mike Perry is one of these screen printing artists which gives the whole book a kind of homely, small community feeling. I'll shut uo here and let you see some of the goods for yourself: