Terry Flaxton, University of Bristol Conference on Transmediality 8th january 2011

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Notes on the developing aesthetics of digital technology and its effects on transmedial disciplines
Terry Flaxton, University of Bristol AHRC Senior Knowledge Transfer Fellow
http://www.bris.ac.uk/ http://bristol.academia.edu/TerryFlaxton http://flaxton.btinternet.co.uk

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by the end of a long period. it has been found. That attentive gaze has been with us ever since and is now resident in the gaze of the visitor to the museum. In the recent discovery of mirror neurons we have begun to understand that neurons fire both when a person acts and also when a person observes the same action performed by another.Terry Flaxton.and that energy is met by the gaze looking back out at us. This surface is the meniscus or meeting point of those two energies as they are displaced in time by the surface of the screen or the surface interface of the performance. when our oldest primate ancestor sat and gazed across the tree canopy in an absorbed. When we represent the world we sometimes show the self captured in the medium looking at us with an extra-diegetic gaze. with an energy that is mediated by the surface of the medium. be it paint or pixels. There are other phenomena worth considering: 2 . One of the surprise discoveries of FMRI scanner technology is that the deeper brain makes choices before the conscious will. reflective and contemplative act. captured in every image where the subject stares back out at the world. That gaze is now measurable in audiences as a small voltage change generated by the massed neurons jumping across the synapses of the audience’s brains. cinema or art gallery . the look our ancestor was engaged in was full of sentient conscious energy. like watching a feature film or a play. everyone in the audience will blink in synchronicity. Also. theatre. University of Bristol Conference on Transmediality 8th january 2011 2 Eight million years ago.

and performing an action activates the associated perceptual event. Within Common Coding Theory it is proposed that there is a shared representation (a common code) for both perception and action – and.Terry Flaxton. 3 . seeing an event activates the action associated with that event. Many researchers in cognitive neuroscience and cognitive psychology consider that this system provides the physiological mechanism for ‘perception action coupling’ described as ‘Common coding theory’ which is a cognitive psychology theory describing how perceptual representations. a bridge made of their own substance. they eventually come into synchronicity and their pendulums swing together. for instance of hand actions . In the life of the Amoeba it will occasionally stop the process of subdividing to then ‘entrain’ with other Amoebas. University of Bristol Conference on Transmediality 8th january 2011 3 If two clocks with pendulums are placed in the same locality.are linked. This is as true of 100 clocks as it is of two. more importantly. The meniscus between the two. for instance . To date no widely accepted neural or computational models have been put forward to describe how mirror neuron activity supports cognitive functions such as imitation. the sense of boundary is done away with as both break the seal of circumference. They come next to each-other and then an extension of themselves. is offered between the two and they exchange internal substance – they ‘entrain’ and become part of each-other.of things we can see and hear and motor representations. In various digital research labs such as at ETH in Zurich there is now great interest in testing this meniscus between the real and virtual worlds through research centering on haptic or virtual touch and other sensory evocations such as osmics.

On a visit to Europe. taken partially to try to convince Walter Benjamin to join the rest of the school in New York to where it had fled to avoid the Nazi menace. that what we observe is actually the cause rather than the symptom of the event – deep within this description is the possibility that sensory experience is virtual rather than actual. But. whose propositions now inform the contemporary mindset that determines what is regarded as meaningful in art and critical description and what is not. then requires interpretation to evaluate it.Terry Flaxton. a key to unlocking and developing an understanding of the audiences evolving requirement that has surged ahead of the current theory of the display of art. 4 . University of Bristol Conference on Transmediality 8th january 2011 4 However. which comes to its apogee in the foundation of the Institute of Social Research. Meyer Schapiro wrote two landmark articles on Romanesque Art in South Western France and Northern Spain. This act has influenced a worldwide curatorial project that has stimulated the production of art that in turn. new criteria are arising of what is worthwhile and this will in turn affect what is produced and then point the way towards a new way of appreciating. with the advent of digital innovations in origination and presentation. which in the West is rooted in ‘interpretation’. the Frankfurt School. However. valuing and experiencing art. the American. At this time Art History teaching was rare and what Schapiro had begun to originate was the proposition of ‘interpreting art’ – of trying to understand its value through analytical dissection and then re-representation through metaphor. the idea of entrainment is a useful metaphor. we have no evidence other than the circumstantial associative evidence.

2. we will learn to adapt to and become comfortable with the speed of transition. 2006.practices formulated 5 . Though transmedial practices are pre-existent to digitality.55pm Velocitation does not exist within the Oxford English dictionary yet it describes something that we can now recognize as being a constituent part of digitality. The eyes can no longer judge horizontal velocity correctly and as such cannot judge safe following distances. Velocitation is an analogue response to a digital world and when acclimatized. The only remedy is to stop the images streaming through the windscreen. Gabriel Gonzalez. University of Bristol Conference on Transmediality 8th january 2011 5 Developing meta-language is a response to a changing intellectual landscape and is governed by. as Noam Chomsky tells us. The eyes become fatigued in the horizontal plane to images streaming through the windscreen. cube pixilation of space and beyond . it is only via enhanced computational techniques. Velocitation can be noticed when entering built-up areas after long periods of country driving. telematics architectural image skins. the principle that thought and language arise together: Velocitation occurs when you unconsciously go too fast on the freeway. The speed drop from 100 km/hr to 60 km/hr makes the driver think the car is going much slower (maybe walking pace). As we head towards holographic 3D. aka digitality. Velocitation is caused by long periods of high-speed travel. that transmedial practices have come into their own. haptics. to do this.Terry Flaxton. stop and park for several minutes to allow the eyes to rest.

com/talks/ blaise_aguera_y_arcas_demos_photosynth. University of Bristol Conference on Transmediality 8th january 2011 6 outside of text require new non-verbal languages with the chameleon-like nature and migratory instincts of the digital and not born of the frontal lobes and voice center. paragraph. because language is too slow for the speed of thought exchange that we are now capable of. At this point please view a short excerpt of the Blaise Aguera y Arcas presentation for the TED talks: http://www. 6 .html So Iʼm showing this excerpt to indicate that the scale of the velocitational effect of technical innovation is lessening and that the shock of the new is faltering. What I am arguing is that it will be the language of digitality itself and not the effects of an analogue language trying to describe what it is like. moving picture – all of these things can be made digital and when they have a digital reference they become a digital artifact or asset. simply that the intellectual environment we now find ourselves in is qualitatively different than before and will require new gestures of understanding. I am not arguing that text and language are defunct. gesture.ted.Terry Flaxton. To become digital everything has to be rendered as code . Innovation and adoption are becoming the norm from Beirut to Beijing – there can be no early adopters in a world where a definition of individuality is related to the acquiring of the digitally new. that is a gesture towards freedom.sound image.

It is a philosophical distinction to term experiences. In coping with this change.Terry Flaxton. Necessarily the boundaries of art forms become porous and a debate such as the one we are having around the concept of transmediality. This is a moment of paradigm change where the essential definition of the self is changing. The virtual and the real are one. As our understanding grows of what we are capable of. to extend our boundaries in meaningful ways so that what we believe ourselves to essentially be is an enhanced version of the individual self. Deep down we understand that boundaries have been good for us because limitation itself has previously delivered meaning. I am as much an internal creature as an external creature. we are still inventing analogue concepts to 7 . The mechanics of digitality are simply the lubricant or catalytic function that allows ourselves a wider interaction with the world and with ourselves. events and things as either real or not real. I have no boundaries.it has already extended and morphed through the entire substances that it is made from – its parts have gone through this metaphysical change so that no part of them is purely what it once was. But we can now understand that we can extend ourselves both inwards and outwards into what we are currently calling the virtual world. University of Bristol Conference on Transmediality 8th january 2011 7 So this then is the digital project. as expressed through our technological grasp of reality. so our utlilisation of the newly revealed functions of art grows. weighing and counting of itʼs weight and substance is inappropriate because it asks the boundary to be something that it is not . situates itself at the notional boundaries between forms. An Aristotelian measuring. My essential self is porous .

yes and no. all is transmediality. It has a simple and elegant language of two values. All is digital. Digitality – the metaverse of functionality – is an access point.weʼre telling ourselves that prior concepts were not sufficient to describe the complexity and wonder of the world we now believe that we live within. It took us a century but we finally shook off Newtonʼs mechanics and caught up with Einsteinʼs Special Theory of Relativity. By coining new words and descriptions – such as this one . its own medium. In so doing weʼve unleashed the beginnings of a new materiality. manipulated then reconstituted. In the past we did the same thing with the invention of myth – these inventions of course were often stimulated by real events but time and 8 . a wormhole. It is the highest lossless compression/ decompression system we have from which everything we know of the world can be deconstituted. The journeying of an asset through the conceptual maze is a primary function of its status as an asset and if everything is an asset then everything is also the medium in which the asset functions. So it seems to me that the concept of art forms with separate boundaries is effectively defunct. but previously thought we had no access to. University of Bristol Conference on Transmediality 8th january 2011 8 remediate forward and examine things that are essentially an experience of digitality in a world where the analogue has lost traction. The digital is its own functionality and reality. What weʼve cleverly done is unfettered ourselves from a description of ourselves that was limiting. on and off.Terry Flaxton. to the other seven eights of our brains that we knew was there.

9 . which to Narcissus sounded like his own image responding… Now that’s what we call a feedback loop. parasdoxically. the tale is told of Echo and Narcissus: Narcissus was a beautiful but vain youth and Echo had fallen in love with him. In Western Greek mythology. But now feedback loops are the stuff of digital algorithms. Echo tried to tell Narcissus that she loved him. had angered her mistress. the Goddess Hera and Hera then punished Echo with a curse: from then on she could only use the words that she heard others speak. who’s boundaries form a fractal. Meanwhile.Terry Flaxton. Analogue feedback loops were unproductive and suggested a sense of stuck-ness. University of Bristol Conference on Transmediality 8th january 2011 9 creative imagination took the real into an area of the archetypical so that deeper resonance could be affected and therefore touch more people. A youth who Narcissus had previously betrayed. but of course she could only echo his words. the feedback loop created the circumstance for the genie to be imprisoned in the bottle. So. we’ve become aware that there is an infinite mutliverse of detail within the looping function and this has produced the idea that the feedback loop is productive rather than unproductive. coming upon Narcissus looking at his own image in a pool and talking to his image lovingly. prayed to the Goddess Nemesis for justice and Nemesis judged that Narcissus should fall in love with the next person he saw – that person was his own image reflected in a mountain pool – so Narcissus became fascinated with his own image. Since Mandlebrots Set. Echo who had already fallen in love with Narcissus.

This is a metaphor for an analogue age trying to keep up with a digital age. has the problem of potentially developing an old-style feedback loop. as real. University of Bristol Conference on Transmediality 8th january 2011 10 The judgment of Nemesis was administered and took effect at the speed of sight – Narcissus saw himself via reflection and Hera’s judgement of Echo effected a judgment that took place at the speed of sound. by committing ourselves to suspending disbelief and believing the reality of the moving image. and realising that the transmedial through its key function of migration and its chameleon-like nature are properties of the digital. because it separates the self from experience through the act of intellectual discrimination. The myth of Echo and Narcissus is about their continuous relationship to eachother in their many and varied forms – as sound and image in modern digital art – but also of mimesis and diegesis – showing and telling.Terry Flaxton. which then renders the strategy as dysfunctional: In the past. Prior strategies of deriving meaning such as interpretation. not only were we captivated by the reality of the image. Now. 10 . we then were deceived by it. we can begin to experience a paradigm change that enables the manifestation and manufacture of what was once virtual. by accepting the reality of the illusion.

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