Embodiment in New Media

Hansen in New Philosophy for New Media [1] argues that New Media brings the possibility of overcoming the immobility and passiveness of observer as it was the case in theater, photography, cinema, etc. and enabling user to create meaning for digital data by unfolding it through embodied interaction. But a piece that is ignored is that the mediation happens through a software to create a reaction to users’ body. In a natural environment users action is propagated through environment creating a series of crystallization and events, creating a series of zones of in-determination that are unfolding through time. In case of a digital interface (embodied or a flat screen) the results are in most cases a series of causal deterministic events that are designed by the designer (artist) to respond to users’ interaction. If there is any degree of indeterminacy, it is either the result of hardware flaws (software by definition is deterministic) or a simulated pseudo-randomness designed and hard coded into the system by the designer. This is completely in contrast with what Bergson and Deleuze describe as the crystallization through time. When user input is entered into the digital system, it is in a realm that everything can be (and will be) re-created and happened absolutely the same.

So the process of phenomenological body and digital environment interaction does not give enough agency to the body (in comparison to the designer of software) to be credited as meaning giving embodied interaction. On the contrary, as Manovich explains [2], new media in many cases only make the interaction more explicit and objectified. If we consider interpretation as a form of interaction and negotiating context between observer and the object (art), new media art has made this process more conscious and explicit and more prone to banality.

On the other hand embodiment is not only the use of our bodily actuators in reaction to every stimulus from the environment. Especially in Art if we limit the notion of embodiment to such reactions, art through history has been mostly disembodied. I think embodiment in the broader sense is all the feeling and emotions that we experience as an embodied being but are not within the grasp of thought as concepts or words. Then art is a way of communicating these embodied feelings through images (not necessarily visual images). In that sense a movie or a classical painting or a monophonic sound piece may be more embodied than an interactive piece that user controls a camera with a joystick.

[1] Hansen, Mark B. N.. New philosophy for new media. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2004.

[2] Manovich, Lev. The language of new media. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2002. pp 55-61

Adoration of the Magi (Leonardo da Vinci)

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3 Responses to “Embodiment in New Media”

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