April 4, 2004


by Noah Wardrip-Fruin · , 1:58 pm

I’m at 040404 today, a “Colloquium on New Media and the Unfolding of New Structures in Old Spaces” at UC Berkeley.

Upcoming talks include: Ken Goldberg, UC Berkeley — Peer Pressure: Bodygames and Collective Telepresence; Warren Sack and Michael Dale, UC Santa Cruz — Drawing by Derive; and Jane McGonigal — Avant-Game: Flexible Structures through Site-specific Play.

More to come in the “extended” version of this entry.

11:25am — Quite a bit about grids here. Eve Meltzer begins with an epigraphic image of Sol Lewitt’s — displaying nine grids on a grid. Zabet Patterson started with Jim Campbell’s grid pieces. I suppose that’s no surprise, given that the question of digital space always begins the with presumption of the grid as the means by which the space will be displayed. (I’m reminded of the lo-rez grid graphics I used to do on the Apple II.) One of the speakers attributed the invention of bit mapping to Doug Engelbart. I seem to remember hearing that was a contested attribution. Anyone out there have more information?

2:28pm — There was no presentation by Ken Goldberg, which is too bad because it sounded like an interesting topic. I had an good lunch conversation with Marc Davis and Carlo Sequin about the idea of a computer organized around Saussurian principles (not what that means, but whether that would mean anything, and if so what).

The first two afternoon presentations are both ones that start from film studies — Jason Brush departs from his script to talk about Jim Campbell’s Untitled (an example from this morning) talking about how it gives the viewer an agency like Tarkovsky’s mobile, long-tracking-shot camera. But Campbell’s viewer’s agency is quite different it seems. I wonder, is Jason going to talk about the first-person camera in computer games? The answer is no. Even though, at the same time, he’s talking about Serra “taking sculpture off its pedestal.” So there must be some other reason that he used such an odd example for talking about giving the interactor camera-like agency than because he was looking for something that occupies the pedestal comfortably, right?

Next Jonathan Phillips talks about “Vector Aesthetics” while zooming around his slide space in Inkscape, an open source SVG editor he helped develop. Lots of energy. Talking about the importance of the openness of the XML SVG format (searchable, metadata can be embedded, you can read and manipulate it), and running out of time before he can talk about the problems with Flash being closed.

2:58pmMarc Davis talks about his Garage Cinema group and about trying to address the asymmetry between moving image consumption and production, and specifically biting off the metadata problem and then trying to use metadata to automate production and reuse. He’s holding the same Nokia camera phone that my brother and Lev Manovich use and talking about “Moore’s Law for cameras.” Your camera phone knows who you are, roughly where you are, what time it is… If you then add a community of media makers, you can start to make guesses about what the images are of (hundreds of people a day take pictures of, say, the Berkeley Campanile). You get the idea. Though there are interesting questions raised — “where” is a photograph taken from Albany of the Golden Gate Bridge? He makes a gesture toward the Total Information Awareness questions just in time to keep people in the audience from jumping upon their chairs to challenge him. Augmented reality, memory palaces, spatio-temporal montage, created computationally through space-time sampling communities of phones. There will be talk about this April 17th in South Hall. He says, “I want to give the power that Homeland Security has to every individual on the planet.”

3:14pmRick Rinehart is talking about Archiving the Avant-Garde. It sounds like he’s definitely embraced the view that digital art can have a “score” and be re-performed 100 years from now on entirely different hardware, in an entirely different network environment, etc. I hope he’s going to problematize this. After all, something like The Impermanence Agent embraces 1990s web specificities like the “404 error” — which I assume will not be a user-experienced feature of all future network environments. Of course, he only has 10 minutes… Okay, some mention of documentation, source files, emulation — fragments, clouds — but museums are used to fragments (ripped off churches, the prows of ships, etc). Okay, sorry I was cranky. This was a good presentation, and helped this audience understand the issues.

4:35pm — The coffee break is over. During the break William Huber and I went to a secret room, where we received champagne flutes. We’re to give these out, but keep one each ourselves, as they’re needed for entry into the “hidden champagne reception” later. Of course, we haven’t been told where it is. So we should try to parlay at least one of our invitation glasses into access to that information (via bribery).

Now Warren Sack and Michael Dale are presenting. The international situationists represented geographies as networks. Warren pauses to ask, why is it that so many of us here in this room are looking back at the 60s, why is that where we’re digging in seeking the art connections to our technical work now? (Rough paraphrase.) Placing stories in space, using mobile GPS devices, without the GIS tradition of a point in space dominating over the fact that people want to locate a story, say, all along a street. So they’ve got a piece of phone software — you push a button, walk around, and then push a button — and you get a drawing of your route overlaid on a satellite image. It really works — they show an image that Michael created while taking a walk during the coffee break. Spontaneous applause. (Some samples here.) It sounds like this project originated around the same time as PDPal but is significantly further along in some ways. They’re going to be using it this summer in asia for a project recording personal memories of WWII in the pacific. It’s like GPS Drawing toward an end (situated storytelling).

5:10pmEric Paulos is at an Intel lab that is located on the Berkeley campus and is one of Intel’s experiments in “open collaboration” (nothing is secret, etc). He’s giving an interesting talk about “urban computing,” and drawing on conceptual art’s urban work (e.g., following pieces) and Stanley Milgram’s stuff on familiar strangers. The 60s again! They repeated Milgram’s “waiting for the train/bus” experiment in downtown Berkeley, got similar results, and thought about what could be done if you could digitally “tag” familiar places and also carry around little devices (they build little things). Showing a mobile phone app. (I’m afraid my laptop battery’s running out of juice.) The Nokia logo is visible on a lot of slides. Do they have an Intel partnership? When you’re in a public place it shows people with phones iconically, represented differently if you’ve been in the same space with them before. He’s running it now, and at the start of the conference those of us with phones mostly showed up the stranger color — but now we’re all familiar strangers…

5:31pm — Okay, I’m hoping I have enough battery to last through Jane’s talk. (Not to slight Lisa Jevbratt‘s talk about some of her earlier work, but…) We are being plagued by A/V difficulties… She’s not talking about her old topic, but about Site-Specific Superheroes! “Transformation” and “play” are the keywords, and it’s about network-enabled play in public spaces (e.g., The Big Urban Game, The Go Game, flashmobs, geocaching). Running out of battery, so posting halfway through… Looking at dedication of The Practice of Everyday Life to everyday heroes. Also talks about a “challenging mobility” that is “playful and threatening.” From de Certeau to McGonigal means: from linguistic to ludic, from power in seeing all to power in being seen by all, from stories to spectacles. Answering a ringing pay phone (in a manner of speaking — grasping the location- and time-specific moment), and then massively mobilizing the data across space and time, playfully.