Archive for Mark Hansen

Embodiment in New Media

Posted in Art and Philosophy, Bergson, Body and Affect, Deleuze, Phenomenology with tags , , , , , on May 15, 2012 by immanentterrain2

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)


We’ve got the power!

Posted in Art and Philosophy, Film with tags , on April 24, 2011 by immanentterrain2

We’ve been living with the postmodern crisis on full red alert for quite some time now: the world is an endless circuit of images without reference or meaning, a hyperreal simulacrum in which the boundary between image and reality, and the capacity to move or be moved, is dissolved, diffuse, disappeared.

Mark Hansen’s New Philosophy for New Media calls for a reconception of affect in engendered by new media art, which, he argues, foregrounds the creative force of the embodied spectator to materialize digital works through framing, filtering, selection, synthesis, and construction. He argues that it is precisely the distance between the dematerialized image and human that increases the body’s role in creating the work. It is important to note that Hansen does not recognize this affective capacity in digital images in and of themselves, rather that works of new media art that engage the “body-brain” have affective capacities that reincarnate an embodied spectator. For Hansen, the “incommensurability” of the digital image and the human experience creates a recognition of our active role as agents of synthesis and creation.

Reading Hansen’s “redemption of embodied experience” led me to synthesize my own threads of thought, different and connected, which I will share here. I found myself thinking of Harun Farocki’s War at a Distance. While this film falls into the realm of traditional cinematic experience (not a work of new media), it takes as its subject the disturbing lack of distinction between simulation and reality in war, and how modern wars are waged through simulated processes. The film employs mainly found and archival footage, from both the Gulf War and WW2, including processes of mechanization, video footage of missiles, and video simulations. A voiceover acts as a guide to the disconnection that is inherent in a war carried out through simulated technologies. Throughout, we are completely overwhelmed, beaten down by images.

War at a Distance is an effective argument about the relationship of war and image and the disappearing boundaries between simulation and reality. Repeated images force the viewer to constantly re-evaluate her relationship to the image. This repetition create both a disconnect and an uncomfortable, visceral response to the images. This is where I find the connection to Hansen: it is the complete lack of embodied humanity in the film that precisely brings about the horrible realization of the human cost of war. As viewers, we fill that distance through an affective response that can only come about through the active role of the human body-brain. Bringing it back to the real, which was supposed to have ceased to matter or exist.

This film makes reminds one of Baudrillard’s precession of the image, and the famous essay in which he claims the Gulf War never actually happened because it was seen on TV before it was overr. The images superceded the reality, and in as such, effaced it. The difference between is that Farcoki views this as a continuation of the processes of consumption and destruction, which Baudrillard argues no longer have force. (Perhaps Baudrillard makes this extreme claim to bring us to the point, not because destruction no longer exists.) As Susan Sontag writes in her essay “Looking at War” this extreme view is a luxury of an educated, prosperous, intellectual arena. It is useful to an extent, yet ridiculous as an explanation of reality. For Sontag, this view,

“assumes that everyone is a spectator. It suggests, perversely, unseriously, that there is no real suffering in the world. But it is absurd to identify ‘the world’ with those zones in the rich countries where people have the dubious privilege of being spectators, or of declining to be spectators, of other people’s pain…there are hundreds of millions of television watchers who are far from inured to what they see on television. They do not have the luxury of patronizing reality.”

Through the distance between images and an unrepresented humanity, War at a Distance brings it back to the human and the body, reinfusing reality with the real.

Hansen’s ideas about affective capacity, and the idea of distance/incommensurability at its heart, led me to another thought: the connection between his “embodied spectator” and Jacques Rancière’s “emancipated spectator,” which he describes in his book of the same name. Again, Rancière is not necessarily talking about new media art, but he is talking about exiting the useless circuit of spectacle that forever tells us there is no meaning or that we as spectators cannot put together its puzzle. He argues that within spectatorship is power. In addition to the distance between author and spectator, there is a distance within each work of art that the creator and spectator have a separate relationship to, apart. In this separation, or distance, there is equality. We all have the equal capacity to act, view, and translate our own experience. It’s not that we have the secret keys to unlock the prison of spectacle, representation and illusion, but that there is no secret and we are already the keys that play our own songs. Hansen’s use of the term, viewer-participant foregrounds this creative potential.

So, while Hansen is specifically talking about embodiment as it pertains to new media art, it seems relevant to possibilities of thinking the escape from the circuit of simulation and our human power to virtualize and actualize the world.