Bill Seaman responds in turn

Bill Seaman responds in turn

2004-03-23

Body politics and mouse use scroll through the scene.

(To Diane Gromala)

1) “Textuality – an open, infinite process that is meaning-generating and subverting.”

Yes. This is one of the forms of textuality that I am interested in. Yet I want to go beyond the logocentric - the analogy of the text in discourse - somehow even in the extended sense of writing that Derrida describes (probably because he is a writer), he seems to bring us back to the way “writing” and/or “text” operate to understand that extension.

The central issue is this - I do not believe we make a text as we perceive, yet we still experience meaning-production. We may choose to make a text later to try to articulate what we have perceived in the form of a text. As we explore more complex experiences under the guise of “authorship,” we need to move toward technologies that better enable reflection upon that complexity.

Computer-based environments open out many new communicative potentials. The concept of fields of meaning enables one to have very different kinds of impressions informing the experience evoked in particular environments. In turn, the nature of meaning production also shifts in such poly-signifying realms. An environment need not be understood through the analogy of a text for a participant to derive meaning. A virtual environment’s experiential nature presents a new conglomerate of meaning qualities - the summing of qualitatively different meaning forces inform meaning production in terms of interactivity in a particular context.

The technological properties of emergence that I am alluding to seek in part to be a compelling extension of Derrida’s “other” ways of writing and reading, where we take seriously “other” logics of the structure of signification. I seek to move beyond understanding meaning production through the analogy of text alone. My work in part explores Derrida’s concern “with the signifying gaps that a standard reading disregards or represses: discontinuities, contradictions, ambiguities, materiality, silence, space, conflict, margins, and figures.” It does this in relation to an extended notion of “text” as well as through other avenues. My work also explores the otherness of media-elements and processes, and larger environmental issues exploring interface, virtual and physical spatiality, and the potential operativeness (read: code-driven manipulation) of media-elements of which text is just one.

2) “How can we use new technologies to provoke us into a more sensually engaged relation to text in ways that don’t immediately re-inscribe these longstanding practices of repressing sensual response?”

Computer-related environments open many potential new qualities of media authorship. This new authorship can be more or less embodied, but we must be clear that the body always becomes implicated in the cybernetic loop. The physics of these environments work through matter/energy exchanges – human/machine/human interaction. The question here has more to do with the intention of the “author” of the environment – what layers of content does one wish to explore and how might an experience be focused through the inclusion of a particular set of fields of relation?

2a) “How then does he view the relation between cultural contexts and technology?”

There is always a reciprocal relation between culture and technology. They can not be separated out. Each exerts a meaning force on the understanding of the other.

Gromala states: “An interesting component is the role of attention, as it continually seems to shift, oscillate, and buzz among reading the text as it is overtly meant to be read, reading the more covert, visual aspect of text, and reading aspects of one’s own body.” But this intermingling of responsiveness can be a way to sustain awareness and at the same time, to continually provoke different kinds of awareness of autonomic states.

I am very much interested in this “intermingling of responsiveness.” Gromala focuses on “reading” each of these experiences where I would say that each experience is potentially “of itself,” contributing a meaning force that cannot be “read” but can only be understood by drawing on multiple qualities of meaning production as arising through interactivity within the overall context. It is a reduction of experience to equate the understanding of some computer-based environments as a “reading” of that environment. The notion of “Reading” is often used as a descriptive metaphor when media-environments are being negotiated, but “reading” is not a broad enough analogy to encompass the new kinds of experiential meaning production that computer-based environments enable. The notion of the experiential meaning production includes the following: how sound actuates the space; how physical behavior can be focused to negotiate or operate on media events; how media elements can have an authored agency or their own emergent behavior; how spatial relations can alter the evocative nature of the experience of a virtual world; and how physical experience can intermingle with virtual experience. We need to develop a series of differing metaphors to address meaning production in these new forms of media environment. The analogy of the text is no longer broad enough to adequately reflect these experiential realms. I have now gravitated toward the concept of the field to reflect on the complexity of such environments.

3) “I would like Seaman to address the issue of the role of the legibility of coding and emergence. How can they create meaningful patterns of experience? Do emergent properties need to be perceived as such?”

I often intentionally load the fields with a meaning potentiality (i.e. in The World Generator/The Engine of Desire). Legibility again points to the analogy of how text signifies. In The World Generator, the signs are more or less “legible” if we are to use the limiting vocabulary of the analogy of text. I am interested in the differing evocative qualities that media elements display. Peirce states, “Meaning is that which the sign conveys.” In generative virtual environments I am assuming that meaning is that which the sign configuration conveys. Meaning can be extremely subtle in terms of what media elements in a spatial virtual environment convey, and meaning production can be approached from many different perspectives in relation to the media elements and processes that are facilitated in computer-related environments. In particular, media environments can explore meaning production in different ways than that of the “legibility” of words. Again, sound communicates differently than image and text. Behavior alters understanding. Spatial relations and neighboring properties are not “legible” in the same way they become functional in texts alone. I would say media elements carry different qualities of meaning force than that of words. Yes, we can say media elements and media processes have qualities of “legibility,” but this misses the point – they have new potential signifying qualities that are not necessarily understood in the same way that text is understood.

Physical manipulation of interface is different from the experience of reading, although it may incorporate reading. The body becomes engaged in a different way. This is not to say that the act of reading cannot be enfolded into a larger sensual realm in such computer-mediated environments. We begin to experience felt meanings that are especially difficult to articulate in words. In such environments, meaning is more complex than words’ ability to reflect that meaning. It is in part an experiential meaning, a bodily understanding, that can be enfolded with the meaning force of a textual “reading” – yet it is meaning nonetheless. In part it depends on what the participant construes as being meaningful.

4) “Seaman’s reference to `the body’ seems to imply that the body is unchanging.”

Gromala states: “If technologies that exhibit more literally-involved sensual aspects and emergent qualities can allow us to reawaken or extend sensual experience, and if the body is a key site at which culture and cultural identity is articulated, this will be an important question.”

The body is in a subtle, ongoing state of continuous change, as is the nature of understanding and meaning production. The ongoing summing of meaning forces is understood through the body/mind as it functions in relation to environment over time. The nature and definition of “environment” is also being transformed through technological change. Computer-related environmental authorship enables us to explore many exciting qualities of meaning production that potentially heighten bodily experience. One must also recognize that on a subtle level, the body is implicated even in the use of the mouse and keyboard.

I wish to point at the sensual relation of the body to the following: to sound; to scale; to qualities of light; to motion; to the pictorial; to levels of abstraction; to virtual spatial activity; to behavioral and spatial textual activity – to all of the aspects of meaning production that make computer-related environmental experience different than the experience of reading a book. The body in each case functions in a state of sensual relation. Contemporary authors of media environments are still learning about the potentials of evocative experiences that the computer can enable. The body and our understanding of the body, as well as our understanding of meaning production, are in a continuous state of negotiation with these new forms of space, technology and the larger scope of human interaction. I do not deny the beauty, importance and clarity of words. I also agree that we need to extend our means of discourse to reflect upon the complexity of these new forms of media environment and their relation to sensual experience.

5) “How can these new technologies also enable us to go beyond re-inscribing the tendencies that led us to understand body, environment and technology as distinct from one another? Can the very technologies themselves play important roles in the erasure among these boundaries?”

The expressive exploration of the technology becomes central here. I for one see an infinitely complex interweaving of sensual experience (of the lived environment) intermingling the body, technology and thought. It is important to open up the discourse surrounding this question. Focusing the technology through the authorship of forms of experiential environment seems to be one answer, as does finding new ways to articulate the body/technology/thought relation. In particular it is important to talk about how experiential meaning differs from meaning production through words. Such discourse should encompass the following: the physicality of sound as sensual; the spatial qualities of virtual environments; the authored physics or E-phany physics (playful physics) of such spaces. Differing qualities of physical interface that engage the body may also be brought into the discussion.

In my work Exchange Fields, the participant literally takes on a physical position with the work, which in turn triggers a relevant response. Another approach utilizes direct body language as part of the cybernetic system that enables interaction as in the sound environments triggered through the Very Nervous System (video sensing) of David Rokeby. Haptic response may be employed – see the extensive website of Haptic related feedback systems that Margaret Minsky has amassed. Even in Gromala’s own work with affective computing, the body can be monitored in a direct manner and used to control or operate on media material. It is at this time important to extend the potentials of the computer-related meaning production by moving the discourse away from the analogy of text. This is achieved both through new forms of human/machine/human interface and computer-related forms of meaning production exploring the experiential and the environmental, as well as through new avenues for discourse and the framing of such diverse qualities of meaning production.

(To Jill Walker)

1) “Where do I stop and where does the machine begin when I type these words, or when I engage with an art piece? I can carefully see myself as separate from the machine, but sometimes I dive down imagining we are one, like Kristeva’s infant before she knows she is herself and not part of her mother. That blurred space (continuum) where I can’t tell the difference between me and it is a place of chaos and creativity, of magic and horror alike. Am I a machine? Is the machine an organism?”

I am interested in the continuum between body, machine, thought and environment. One can look at the machine from a biological perspective or biology from a machinic perspective - both kinds of metaphor are valuable, especially at this moment of nano-exploration, potentially conjoining the machinic, the biological and the computational.

2) “Often, I let the machine control me, delighting in the skill of my fingers and my mind in following the strict rules that I’ve learned in order to use this machine.”

The body learns many things about the world. We are surrounded by rules and constraints. We can choose to change them, to skirt them, to negotiate them, to subvert them or we can choose to revel in them. I seek to extend the potentials of generative systems – to open out communicative potentials. Yet this may arise by defining another set of constraints. We now can move toward the authorship of empowering generative systems. We can build powerful new tools to aid in authorship and meaning production. This is not to say that they cannot be used as controlling systems. Technology can be used for different purposes – this relates more to the intention of the people focusing the use of the system. One role of the artist/author is to subvert negative tendencies of control as well as to re-interpret and shift the intended focus of the machine.

3) “I imagine patterns (combinations, signs, texts, hybrids) that did not exist until being vused and that could not be predicted; meanings that weren’t intended by the human(s) who created the machine but that emerge in the meeting between me and it.”

Emergent meaning is central to my work. I am interested in both authorship and inter-authorship – in providing expansive experiences where the participant takes an active role in both the construction of the experience as well as the production of meaning.

4) “It sets the rules, and I must obey them in order to `interact’ at all.”

All systems of communication have rules and constraints. The question is, how can we develop new communicative potentials and empower meaningful interaction inside of these constraints? More specifically, how can we shift the realm of constraints to enable new forms of meaningful interaction?

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