by Lev Manovich
posted the preceding segments on popular mailing lists dealing with
new media art and cyberculture (rhizome.org and nettime.org), I
received lots of responses. Here are my answers to two most commons
questions which appeared in a number of responses.
“soft modernism” you describe simply a result of particular
technological limitations of multimedia on the Net? You seem to
mistake the particular features of Flash designed to deliver animation
over the narrow bandwidth for a larger zeitgeist.
the new release of Flash (Flash MX) allows for import and streaming
of video, it is possible that soon "Flash generation"
/ "soft modernism" aesthetics will leave Flash sites.
This is fine. My concern in this essay is not with Flash software
and its limitations/capabilities per ce, but with the new sensibility
that during the last couple of years manifested in many Flash projects.
In other words, I am interested in "generation Flash"
that is quite different from Flash software/format.
the number of people who after reading my text accused me of confusing
a technical standard with aesthetics missed my argument. The vector
oriented look of "soft modernism" is not simply a result
of narrow bandwidth or a nostalgia for 1960s design - it always
happens when people begin to generate graphics through programming
and discover that they can use simple equations, etc. This is also
why "soft modernism" of Flash projects and other software
artists replays, sometimes in amazing detail, the aesthetics of
early computer art (1950s-1970s) when people were only able to create
images and animations through programming.
There is no reason software art cannot use representation images
or any other form. Why do you associate software art with nonrepresentational,
abstract vector-based graphics?
Of course software artists can use representational images or any
other “conventional” form or media. It was not accidental
that soon after his arrival at Xerox PARC in the 1970s, Alan Kay
and his associates created a paint program and an animation program,
alongside with overlapping windows, icons, Smalltalk and other principles
of modern interactive graphical computing. The abilities to manipulate
and generate media are not afterthoughts to a modern computer -
they are central to its identity as a "personal dynamic medium"
(Alan Kay.) To put his differently: computer is a simulation machine,
and as such it can and should be used to simulate other media.
So I have
nothing software artists using/creating media, but I hope that "Flash
generation" will extend its programming work to representational
media! In other words, if in the early 1970s the paint program and
the animation program were revolutionary in changing people idea
about a computer away from computation and towards a (creative)
medium, after almost two decades of menu based media manipulation
programs and the use of computers as media distribution machine
(greatly accelerated by World Wide Web), a little programming can
be quite revolutionary! In short, we have now are so used to think
of a computer as a "personal dynamic medium," that we
need to remind ourselves and others that it is also a programmable
about how programming has been used so far to create/use still images,
animation and film/video. There are three trajectories that can
be traced historically. One trajectory extends from the earliest
works of computer art - the films by the Whitney made with an analog
computer already in the mid 1950s (who were the students of Oscar
Fishinger and thus represent a direct link with the early twentieth
century modernism) - to today's "soft modernism" of Flash
projects and data visualization artworks. In other words, this is
the use of programming to generate and control abstract images.
trajectory begins in the 1980s when Hollywood and TV designers started
to use computer-generated imagery (CGI). Now, programming was put
in the service of traditional cinematic realism. Particle systems,
formal grammars, AI and other software techniques became the means
to generate flying bats, hilly landscapes, ocean waves, explosions,
alien creatures, and other figurative elements integrated in a photorealistic
universe of a narrative film.
using algorithms not simply to generate figurative elements of a
narrative but to control the whole fictional universe? This is the
third trajectory: programming in computer games (1960-). Here algorithms
may control the narrative events, the behavior of characters, camera
movement, and other characteristics of the game world - all in real
time. Unfortunately, as we all know, aesthetically revolutionary
computer and player driven game worlds feature formula-driven content
that makes even a bad Hollywood film appear original and inspiring
by comparison. (Grand Theft Auto 3 is no exception here - despite
its breakthroughs in simulating a more compelling an open universe.)
this brief survey shows that there is still an untouched space completely
open for experimentation and creative research - using programming
to generate and/or control figurative/fictional media. For instance,
in the case of a movie, programming can be used to generate characters
on the fly, to composite in real-time characters shot against a
blue screen with backgrounds, to control the sequence of scenes,
to apply filters to any scene in real-time, to combine prerecorded
scene with on the imagery generated on the fly, to have characters
interact with the viewer, etc, etc. In short, programming can be
used to control any aspect of a fictional media work.
once in a while one encounters projects moving in this direction
at places like SIGGRAPH or ISEA, but they are typically research
demos created in Universities that do not reach culture at large.
Of course, you can object that having an algorithmically controlled
complex fictional universe requires the kind of programming investment
only possible in a commercial game company or in a University. After
all, this is not the same as writing a script that draws a few lines
that keep moving in response to user input...yes, but why our fictional/figurative
works have to follow the formulas of commercial media?
accepts that the characters do not have to be "photorealistic,"
that the fictional world does not have to be exclusively three-dimensional,
that chance and randomness can coexist with narrative logic, or
that stick figures can coexist with 3-D characters and video footage,
etc., programming figuration / fiction becomes less formidable.
In short, while I welcome programming Flash, I think it is much
more challenging to program QuickTime.