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07-03-2013 mag 7 /

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Magazine 7: Editorial

Abstract: 

Ranging from data visualization to cinemagraphs, Flickr, interface design and even internet memes; magazine no. 7 turned into a 200-page book, in which we celebrate digital visual culture at its best. Let’s briefly introduce this vast network of theoretical discourses and image making practices.

“If aesthetics could be hacked like code, then a beautiful rose, in the beak of a beautiful flamingo, flying in a beautiful sunset, would be 3X-beautiful. It isn’t. It never will be.”
Bruce Sterling1

 

In October 2010, the first Newmediastudies Magazine was published. Being a showcase, its main objective hasn’t changed since then: to present articles written by students. Articles that –except maybe for a personal blog now and then– otherwise never get to see the light of day beyond the sealed inbox of the addressed lecturer. Additionally, the magazine serves to exemplify the scope of the courses within the New Media and Digital Culture programme. Flipping through all editions published so far, you indeed will notice the variety of the digital phenomena discussed.

However, this seventh edition differs in form; instead of the regular web magazine, we made an actual book out of it. Digital visual culture, the current overarching theme, calls for a more visually oriented approach. As most academic scholars would agree, writings about visual phenomena often are not presented as such. Mixing traditional qualities of a book with a more design-ish approach of presenting the articles, we pursue a more symbiotic bond between the two, in which form represents the same creativity and enthusiasm that can be found in the content. (In a similar sense, also see page 190, in which we try to assemble a Newmediastudies curriculum that reaches far beyond the textual).

This volume presents the reader with a compilation of the best and most innovative research papers written during the MA course “Software Studies: Images”, taught by dr. Ann-Sophie Lehmann in the academic year 2012/13 as part of the MA New Media & Digital Culture at Utrecht University. It aims at a more critical understanding of the production and impact of visual artefacts, through the integration of a technological perspective with media-theoretical approaches. Following initial selection based on their relation to the theme of this volume, we revised and edited the papers in collaboration with the authors. All articles are focused on image making practices, although the chosen subjects vary to a great extent. Yet, there are several underlying and overlapping questions to be found.

It is rather striking that, although most papers discuss new practices of imake making, these practices do not necessarily rely on new digital technologies. The Cinemagraphs for example, as we can read in Noraly’s article, are quite easy to obtain with the same tools used to create animated GIF’s. The same goes for sizecoded Demos (impressive real-time graphics that have to be limited to a certain amount of kilobytes, to show off coding skills), as dealt with in Adriaan’s research. Although these restrictions on filesize were once bound to the limited memory size of early platforms, there is no need for them any more, given contemporary technical possibilities. Yet the basic principle remains unchanged, regardless of new technologies. And what to think about the Internet memes in Linda’s paper; most of them can be done in a basic program like Paint.

These examples illustrate how Digital visual culture is not tied to new technologies when it comes to producing the picture itself. However, the picture is merely a small part of the image. Looking closer at all papers, we can recognize the social function these images fulfill. These are created within a community; Memes are referred to as community board inside jokes (Linda); Demos are at the heart of Demoscene competitions (Adriaan); Flickr has its own rules, norms and values which reflect back upon the imagery (Therese); Rome Reborn ties virtual archeologists together in scientific 3D models (Siem); Cinemagraphs are most popular in the design and fashion industry (Noraly). In short, all of these image making practices are closely tied to a very specific social environment. A niche, we might even say. Even though these groups may hold millions of users or the activity/object has ‘gone mainstream‘ (usually referred to when commercially deployed); there is still a very distinct social dynamic at play. For each image making process, there can be a very specific consensus about the meaning of craft, skill and knowledge.

As such, new digital technologies are not necessarily part of producing a picture, but do play part in how images come to be. An image making process spans the whole process, from the point one gets inspired to create, to the moment of display, distribution and possibly even remixing (which might lead to a new cycle again). New technology can accommodate this process, whether it functions as an infrastructure (social media, for example), a tool or just an accelerator for evolving certain interests (for example, Instagram might spark interest in vintage and pre-digital photography).

Art and media historian Dieter Daniels once claimed that all modern art is media art2. Even if no media technology is used, the final art work still relates to the works that do, and therefore media technology is present in its absense. The same might as well be said about all image making practices; contemporary developments are always connected to new technologies, even if not explicitly there. These technologies shape their environment, the overall context necessary to construct (social, cultural, political) meaning.

All topics in this book are more or less genres in digital visual culture, ranging from data visualization to memes or interface design. Since all of these are tied to a specific social group/function, they all have their very own aesthetics. When Darko Fritz –artist, curator and researcher– held a lecture in Utrecht on The New Aesthetic3, he started by asking one important question: whose aesthetics are we talking about? Those aesthetics are plural, and not to be found in new technologies; they’re located in the image making process, as it is carried out within a specific social environment.

This is digital visual culture; a vast collection of many theoretical discourses and image making processes. A patchwork. At best, a conversation. But herein lies the strength: putting it all together, we learn to recognize patterns, acquire a deeper understanding of what the image actually is, and notice the true challenges visual literacy has to offer us. Therefore, I suggest we celebrate digital visual culture in all its forms, starting with these 7 articles.

On behalf of the whole team, I invite you to celebrate with us. ◼

Frank-Jan van Lunteren
Alumnus NMDC & admin newmediastudies.nl
Therese Schedifka
MA Student NMDC

 

1: Sterling, B. (2012), ‘An Essay on the New Aesthetic’ http://www.wired.com/beyond_the_beyond/2012/04/an-essay-on-the-new-aesth...
2: Daniels, D. (2005), ‘Forerunners of media art in the first half of the twentieth century’. Media art net. New York: Springer
3: Darko Fritz was invited at ‘Understanding The New Aesthetic‘, 31/10/12. http://setup.nl/na_symposium