Alternative Approaches to Representing Knowledge in the Human Environment

How is knowledge represented in the environments that surround us? What messages are best promoted, most compelling, or most sophisticated? The impact of our knowledge environments is becoming more apparent as economies become increasingly information-driven and facing our global challenges relies on reliable knowledge. On the scale of the individual, knowledge environments influence the thoughts and feelings that we act upon.


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So much of what a civilization does, internally and externally, is defined by how it handles information: the degree to which it is controlled, the emphasis placed on discovering new knowledge, and ultimately how knowledge becomes embedded cultural wisdom.

Historically, civilizations have produced special artifacts to contribute to building culture from key knowledge they (usually, their leaders) believed was essential. The ideas of the Catholic Church were famously promulgated by the art and architecture in Florence, and the sand paintings of the Navajo people of North America express spiritual ideas that form core beliefs of their culture. In the present-day United States, however, the two best funded, most visually arresting and ubiquitous informational artifacts are not intended to increase cultural wisdom. Instead, commercial advertising and entertainment share the purpose of producing revenue. Social psychologist Albert Bandura's social learning theory advanced our understanding of how signals embedded in people's environments impact individuals' beliefs, attitudes and, ultimately, behaviors. [1] With their ability to dominate the public messaging environment, commercially motivated interests purchase determinant influence on social norms. Advertising in the US is a $400 billion a year industry. For over one hundred years it has employed not only highly skilled message and image-makers, but psychologists, anthropologists and more recently, neuroscientists, to produce highly sophisticated persuasion schemes. [2] These have had a cummulative, synergistic effect on socially normal beliefs and attitudes that many believe is out of line with wisdom. [3] In contrast, media that could contribute to valuable cultural knowledge is severely under-resourced. Hollywood films routinely cost 1,000 times as much to produce as educational programming ($100 million, versus $100 thousand per product). Broadcast venues have been commercially controlled, leaving negligible room for social concerns. Even when educational or prosocial programming proves to be commercially successful (as was the case with the well-known 1977 television series Roots, or producer Norman Lear's series All in the Family) the industry eschews socially motivated endeavors. [4] Such commercial control of the airwaves sets the US apart from other developed countries from Britain to South Africa to Nepal, where governments reserve significant parts of the broadcast spectrum for prosocial and educational programming.

The proliferation of inexpensive, high quality production tools and the open venues of the Internet and mobile networks now allow alternative and valuable information artifacts to be created and to enter the cultural discourse. Evading both state and commercial attempts to control or bury them, such artifacts can ignite political change and also serve the quieter mechanisms of cultural evolution such as the slow growth of common wisdom.

For over ten years, transdisciplinary collaboration between the Imaging Research Center at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, the media research and development firm, InfoCulture, LLC and other researchers from the US and Canada has led to experimentation with new forms of knowledge to test how contemporary media tools and venues might best be used for social goals. Each of the three projects described below is aimed at learning how to engage a population in knowledge that might help them improve their health, education and wellbeing.


Like nearly everyone, young people want to feel as good as they can for as long as they can. They want to know how to survive and thrive emotionally. In the US, despite that the pursuit of happiness is a founding ideal, young people are typically provided little knowledge of what helps the brain sustainably produce chemical rewards. Neuroscience and psychology literature as well as the experience of psychiatric clinicians support that when a person commits to the pursuit of meaning and engagement as a way to achieve the most positive emotional states, the euphoric effect meets or surpasses that produced by mood altering drugs or adrenalin-producing high-risk behaviors, but also is sustainable. However, for lack of that wisdom prevailing in socially normal thinking people engage in more destructive pursuits - a problem that has increased human suffering and plagued societies around the world for decades or longer.

To find a way to engage young people in considering the pursuit of meaning and engagement, the US's National Institutes of Health funded The Euphoria Project. Artists and filmmakers worked with neuroscientists to develop content. It became clear that profound discoveries that had been made about the brain had not entered mainstream thought from which young people were taking cues. Specifically, in addition to the neurochemical rewards of pursuing meaning and engagement, such a pursuit and the rewards it supplies feed off each another in a feedback loop - suggesting to young people that the effort they might expend will be multiplied when returned. Further, the sheer power, complexity and beauty of even a single neuron firing, combined with the astronomical number of connections in the brain is impressive knowledge that could build self-efficacy (one's belief in one's own ability to accomplish and objective). Especially when combined with information about neural plasticity - the concept that a brain grows and changes to increase its ability to face new challenges.

The story seemed strong, but to learn more about how to tell it in a way that might cause young people to engaged with it, researchers chose to represent the knowledge in a feature film, but to abandon the structural conventions of educational and informational media designed to be clearly understood in real time on the first screening. Instead, the new experimental design would be informed by structural concepts found in celebrated works in all the arts - works that have historically engaged audiences and become culturally significant. It would use aesthetics, analogy, ambiguity and authenticity - what the team came to call the 4 As, to compel audiences to reflect and discuss the work to understand it - thus facilitating more personal connection to the ideas in the film. The experimental structure would juxtapose a stream of visual metaphors - three-dimensional sculptures and tableaus built on urban and rural landscapes, against a narrative that wove together some of the neurobiology, social psychology, anthropology and history related to the pursuit of happiness. In one scene, we see a man standing on one leg, constrained by a big box he is wearing and surrounded by the outline of a head drawn in metal pipe. At the same time we hear dialog about the neural basis of depression. In another scene, multicolored clay feet are dropped, one at a time, into a pool of clear blue water where each releases dye which all combine into polychrome clouds that form abstract designs. All the while, the narration discusses the negative impact cross-cultural traumatic conflict can have on an individual's ability to pursue happiness. The narrator himself, rather than appropriating conventional host's garb, wears copper colored, bejeweled shoes and often appears in only his underwear. The incongruity of these juxtapositions plays out for viewers, mostly unexplained. Researchers gambled that it would be better for the film to confuse the audience than be didactic, unimaginative or condescending. The objective was to give the audience something they could not dismiss with easy categorization or predictability, and thus good engage in open-mindedly.

A randomized, controlled study of the film's effect on 500 high school students found that students who saw Euphoria were able to make the connections necessary to understand the content, and reported liking the film more than those who saw the sham film, Storm Chasers reported liking that film. Perhaps most interesting was data from a follow-up survey that showed that the beliefs and attitudes of students who only saw the sham film had shifted toward the ideas in the presented in the Euphoria film, suggesting as the only plausible explanation that the film initiated a social discourse. Though an experiment, Euphoria was accepted into several national film festivals, winning a gold award at the Houston International Film Festival and garnering a substantial amount of praise in the press. Most important, the film showed that the conventions of informational and educational media could be replaced by a more artistic approach and be more effective as a result.


Online and mobile technologies don't just change the ways we do things; they change what things we can do. Fieldtrip is a research project that explores how to best leverage today's portals and venues of communication to provide a specialized social network where teenagers can engage one another in discussions about their thoughts about and feelings toward education. Developing such a discourse on the contemporary technologies that are woven into students' lives outside school, in environments where attitudes about education often form, is something that was previously unaffordable for educators and school systems. In the past, motivational issues had to be addressed by parents, or in school. Of course, young people use these technologies to connect with one another, not with adults. Accordingly, Fieldtrip is based on literature supporting the promise of peer mentoring and peer support to deal with a range of issues.

Researchers used $20 iTunes gift certificates as incentives to recruit a population of 14-19 year-olds to join an online community. Members supplied assent and parental consent forms and filled out an online survey about their attitudes toward, and achievement in, school in order to establish baseline data from which to measure potential changes. One another's real identities were unknown to recruited members. Instead, new online identities were begun as members created screen names by combining three words from a large list (resulting in names such as FreeSushiCasserole and TheWildRose). To prompt dialog on the site, 2-3 short films were posted each day. They were personal video journals made by high school-aged filmmakers. They documented the impact that family, peer and internal struggles were having on the filmmakers' orientations toward school. Through members' written comments, a dialog emerged among community members that would be analyzed to assess the project's potential for shifting members' educational motivations. (Members were not required to watch the films or comment in order to get their iTunes voucher).

The project posed two key challenges: First, to integrate the expertise of adults in order to make the films compelling enough for teenagers to elect to watch, without losing the fact that these were authentic teenage voices. Second was the problem of moderating and facilitating the discussion without distorting it. These questions lie far beneath the veneer of the technologies that made the project possible and reflect the larger, historic question: What is the most constructive relationship between young people and adults in situations where adults are trying to encourage growth?

Professionals mentored the young filmmakers and edited their footage to increase production value, but this expertise was invisible to most people because the faces and voices viewers saw remained those of teenagers. [5] Near-peer-aged, college students of psychology moderated the discussion, chosen with the hope that they could be sensitive to the need to preserve the adolescent-owned character of the discussion but move them forward in constructive directions. [6] Thus, the perception that teenagers controlled the site was maintained.

During the month-long pilot, hundreds of comments by community members accumulated. Analysis showed that the content of comments mapped well onto motivational literature: These were the kinds of discussions that could affect teens' ability to succeed at school. Modifications to the interface of the site and moderation practices were made for a second pilot, and helped further orient community members to the messages in the films, increasing the adolescent engagement in discussions, suggesting self-reflection and the development of beneficial self-perception had occurred. The next step in the research is to scale the online community to reach a wider teenage public and keep it open indefinitely.


The US spends more on healthcare per capita than any other nation and is home to some of the greatest advances in medicine and medical technologies, yet the health of US citizens is ranked 37th in the world. [7] The primary cause of this problem is destructive behaviors such as eating habits and a sedentary lifestyle, rather than a lack of available care. It is clear that people are acting in ways they know will hurt them. Further, commercial messaging aimed at selling potentially harmful consumption is unlikely to be significantly countered by more helpful messages. Could an online public discourse infuse common attitudes with new ways to think about health and tilt the balance back toward more constructive social norms?

That was the research question driving the Speakhealth project. Like the Fieldtrip project, the effort would build discourse with media. This time, however, experts would be a very visible be a part of the mix. To develop content, a transdisciplinary team of medical practitioners, artists and social media producers created three extensive graphic information maps: the first of constructive health ideas, the second of US cultural traits that might facilitate or undermine the adoption of those ideas, and the third of potential co-mission groups. Content emerged when lines were drawn across the three maps, linking ideas with cultural traits and potentially supportive groups. It was decided that the most supportive initial group was likely to be health professionals themselves. The hope was that they would then spread the ideas through and beyond their own networks. Given the modest budget of the project, media that was edgy and improbable would be used to draw attention. A similar strategy had worked in the Euphoria film, and in the Truth anti-smoking campaign sponsored by the Legacy Foundation ( That effort also used unusual, extremely sarcastic and imaginative online films and is credited with 22 percent of the decline in young adult smoking from 25.3 to 18.0 percent between 1999 and 2002. [8]

The website was launched with a talk at a major integrative health conference in front of doctors and other healthcare practitioners. Reaction was extreme and mixed. While some in the audience were enticed, many found the films disturbing. One film presented an enormous computer-generated, though very real-looking human heart orbiting the earth, which then entered the atmosphere and slammed into a suburban cul-de-sac, bouncing nearby residents out of bed and leaving their traffic circle in flames. The short film was intended to introduce the site's visitors to research findings indicating that a sense of community, something US suburbs often struggle to establish, is significantly correlated with improved cardiovascular health. [9] The audience did not expect to see such departures from the norm. Over the following six months, the Speakhealth project built an active online community. It was clear that the most controversial and/or imaginative media created the biggest draw. However, the project's research sponsor, an independent integrative medicine organization, became fearful that this media would harm their funding support and alienate some colleagues. Rather than allow the sponsor's organizational needs to redirect the project in ways not supported by literature and experience, the research team chose to end the project.

As the projects described above indicate, the opportunities for social progress offered by unprecedented access to mass audiences provided by new media and communication technologies are only beginning to be understood. A great deal seems possible, but research is necessary to test new approaches.


References and Notes: 
  1. Albert Bandura, Social Foundations of Thought and Action (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1986).
  2. Bryant Paul, Michael Salwen and Michel Dupagne, "The Third-Person Effect: A Meta-Analysis of the Perceptual Hypothesis," Mass Communication and Society 3, no.1 (2002): 57-85.
  3. Tamara Piety, "Merchants of Discontent," Seattle University Law Review 25, no. 377 (2001).
  4. Arvind Singhal and Everett M. Rogers, "A Theoretical Agenda for Entertainment-Education," Communication Theory 12, no. 2 (2002): 117-135.
  5. Lee Boot et al, "The Fieldtrip Project: An Online Community Featuring Teen's Cellcam Films Sparked Substantive Peer Discussion," International Journal of Ubiquitous Learning 1, no. 4 (2009): 79-88.
  6. David Gurzick and K. White, "Developers and Moderators: Lessons Learned in the Co-development of an Online Social Space," paper presented at HCI International (HCII), at San Diego, CA, USA, 2009.
  7. The Commonwealth Fund Commission on a High Performance Health System, "Why Not the Best?" New York: The Commonwealth Fund, (2008).
  8. Matthew Farrelly, et al, "Evidence of a Dose--Response Relationship Between 'Truth' Antismoking Ads and Youth Smoking Prevalence," Am J Public Health 95, no. 3 (2005): 425-431. 
  9. Penelope Hawe and Alan Shiell, "Social Capital and Health Promotion: A Review," Social Science & Medicine 51, no. 6 (2000): 871-885.




Data Visualization and eco-media content. Media Art produced at Digital Narratives workshops

This paper presents an analysis of the material produced during the “Digital Narratives for community participation on coastal ecosystem management” workshops held in Cairu, Brazil and Aguiño, Spain. It is a reflection on the themes and contents identified and collected by the teenagers. Alongside our analysis tries to facilitate the exploration and to identify topics and problems relevant to the participants, their communities and territories.


Digital media has allowed the development of narratives by a diverse array of communities and collectives that previously were overlooked because they are marginalized. Instead of a well-defined and finished product, these digital narratives are a continuous process of documentation and reflection based on individual and collaborative contributions using different formats, channels and media (audio, video, photo, mapping). In this sense, narratives could be considered platforms for art experimentation, learning and debate.

The objective of these projects is to produce “other” narratives paying attention to subjectivities and explanations of the environmental, social, political and economic problems and idiosyncrasies differing from the narratives offered by mass media and/or political bodies. In this sense, these alternative narratives provide visibility of hidden realities making them explicit to other stakeholders that otherwise would prefer to ignore them, putting in some way problems and collectives in the agenda of the decision-makers. So, digital narratives are media and tools for negotiation both internal (inside communities with the goal of attaining consensus in objectives and strategies to solve common problems) and external (with powers that make policies and manage these communities and their territories).

The present paper is based on the experience carried out in the project “Digital Narratives for community participation on coastal ecosystem management” that was developed in two coastal rural communities dependent on fisheries: Garapuá (Cairu) and Aguiño, coastal places located in Brazil (Bahia) and in Spain (Galicia), respectively. Both communities are representative of the diversity of cultural and socioeconomic conditions that characterize coastal fishing communities in Spain and Brazil. Garapuá continues to be a small village mostly isolated from nearby human settlements and where a strong feeling of community continues to persist. Whereas, Aguiño has experienced an important urban development in the last years and now this village is part of a large diffuse coastal settlement mixing rural and urban characteristics. In this Spanish site, people are less tied to the place and participate in wider social networks. It’s expected that these socio-cultural differences are reflected in the vision that each community has of itself and its territory.

In both communities, experimental workshops combining artistic practices, new media and science were carried out for the creation of digital narratives dealing with ecological, cultural and socioeconomic issues in two coastal communities is here illustrated. Our basic hypothesis was that digital media could allow coastal communities to develop their own narratives about their life and territory, and especially their use of coastal ecosystems. This process can be essential to promote mechanisms of community cohesion and to empower user groups to participate more actively in the co-management of their territories, along with scientists, public officers, politicians and other stakeholders.

A previous paper  (Brunet & Freire, 2010) explained the motivation of the project, the workshop development, and a preliminary description of the main materials produced and results.[1]The workshops were designed as a pilot project where methods and technologies for collaborative construction of digital narratives were assembled, tested and improved for the development of a collaborative framework. A toolbox of open methods and free software was brought together to facilitate future projects. The complete process is documented can be found on site of the project (

In each place, exhibitions were carried out to present the results allowing people to know, discuss and compare their narratives with the ones from the other site. Both exhibitions and digital repositories can help to promote reflection and action about the identity and problems inside each community.

Here we present an analysis of the aesthetical and ecological content of the narratives produced during the workshops. We also present a description of the ongoing experimentation to visualize narratives (media, semantic content and geographic patterns).

2. Aesthetical analysis

Through creating these digital narratives, teenagers from both communities gained confidence and appreciation of their territories. In a brainstorm for the Aguiño photo workshop, we asked: “how do you see your future here, in this town?” The answer was “In the future, here it will became an abandoned town or a big city”. This states their view of the place as two extreme directions: one is the disappearance of the town due to migration towards cities (teenagers visualize themselves as part of this diaspora), or Aguiño becomes a suburban part of a larger city due to the development of nearby urban areas. After the workshop they stated that they realized that their place had other opportunities that they haven’t imagined before. And that yes, they could do things there in order to preserve their landscape and not having to leave town.

Allen Carlson (2000) defines the relevance of landscape appreciation on environmental aesthetics and its descriptions modes. Using literatures as example, he suggests that landscape appreciation is proposed by different sorts of descriptions such as: formal and ordinary description, factual description, and imaginative description. All of those are easily seen on the media produced on Digital Narratives workshops. Photos of beaches landscape from Aguiño and Garapuá are examples of ordinary description; they present the place as a postcard, very clean, distant and with no interference[2]. The video of a worker opening the coconuts[3] is an example of factual description since they present the action as an investigation about the man’s work, it presents the functionality of his act. And an example of the imaginative description is the map of legends[4] created in Aguiño that display the location of the legends of their place, in there, they say that almost every rock in the sea has a legend.

The way we experience the environment as an art form can change from person to person, in our case, from community to community. In one community, for example, landscape appreciation can be the most important factor, while to the other, the contestation and memory can be more significant.

When comparing the results of the aesthetical experience of the two communities, some considerations stand out. For example, in Garapuá many of the teenagers had no previous knowledge on using the cameras, mp3 recorders and GPS, so their use and technological experimentation was more conventional than the use done in Aguiño, a place where the teenager were already used to the technology. This can be easily seen on the photos produced on both communities, the Garapuá’s ones were more a documentation of their territory and community while in Aguiño, there was a graphical aesthetics concern to the photos. Meanwhile, the images produced in Brazil had a stronger narrative content and the ones done in Spain were more landscape contemplation.

In Aguiño, observing the photos produced we can see that landscape appreciation was mandatory for the teenagers to narrate about their territory. While in Garapuá, they focus the importance more on people than on places. Maybe that is related to the familiarity of the teenagers in Garapuá to other members of the community. When photographing they were interacting with their friends, uncles, grandmothers… In the Spanish community, frequently, they had no close relationship with the people photographed, not even knew their names.

The audio recording produced in both communities also had different approaches. In Garapuá, there was no experimentation with the audio, they recorded many storytelling, and many times, all recorded the same situation. We ended up with many audios of the same interview. On the other hand, in Aguiño they experimented a lot with the audio, they created and discovered unnoticed sounds of the place. An interesting example is an orchestra[5] that they created on a shipyard, just with the sounds of the machines. With the sounds produced we believe it was not a question of being comfortable with the recorder, the different results were more related to the effort and experience of the facilitators who could stimulate them to search for different perspectives. Here we can see clearly the importance of the role of the facilitator, in Garapuá, they only focused on the technical aspects of the sound and the editing software. Noticing that problem on the first workshop, we asked the facilitators of Aguiño to work more on the content of the audios than on the technical aspects.

The aesthetical appreciation in this project is a mixture of the senses perceptions and the cognitive effort. Angus McWilliam (2008:36), in “Developing an environmental aesthetic: aesthetics and the outdoor experience” says that:

…if aesthetic experience is … a matter of pleasure derived from perception involving both senses and intellect, then it is more than just a question of seeing – it takes time.  Time to allow sensations to impinge on our time for reflection on the meaning and impact of what we have experienced.

We believe that in Digital Narratives project, the aesthetics was not only a question of seeing, it was a question of acting, the teenagers had to take part of the project. The aesthetics experienced involved action and reflection on their place and territory. It was based on the complexity of the engagement, on the way they were asked to sense their community, through the digital media. 

3. Ecological analysis

The coastal ecosystem is the context where the lives of these communities and peoples occur. Ecosystems are characterized by a series of “tangible objects” (physical and biological components) and intangible processes that connect the different objects (i.e., river runoff or coastal currents, coastal fertilization, trophic cascades…) (Mann & Lazier, 2005) and the human experience of objects and processes gives rise to the landscape (Turner et al., 2001).

The work of workshop participants and the comments of the people interviewed shows us how they perceive their ecosystems and landscapes, and specifically which objects and processes they are aware and/or consider relevant and which ones are hidden. In this sense, this kind of analysis could be of great utility to assess the ecological literacy of the community (Jordan et al., 2009); their ability to understand essential ecosystem processes that support the sustainability of their natural resources and ecological services.

Our analysis of the contents produced during workshops demonstrates that teenagers have only a basic knowledge of the ecosystems. Also, this fact precluded them from engaging in depth in ecological conversations with people. A global analysis of materials allowed us to identify 6 main themes relevant for Garapuá’s teenagers: 1) tourism / leisure, 2) infrastructures, 3) economic activities (especially fishing), 4) life histories, 5) ecosystem and 6) land ownership. Teenagers showed a strong capacity for critical thinking about their own identities and the result of their work presented an accurate description and critical analysis of the community and the territory. However, they only identified the basic elements when working with the ecology of the area: habitats (mangroves, beaches, reefs), animals and plants (especially trees and commercial fished species as clams or some fishes) and physical elements (water, small rivers…).

In the case of Aguiño, teenagers had a more contemplative and aesthetical attitude towards their environment, although the workshop and posterior discussions helped them to start to develop a certain critical thinking. In this sense their materials were more descriptive documenting a static nature and landscapes and they identified three main topics: 1) landscape, 2) fishing, and 3) life histories and cultural identity. They were mainly focused in large landscape features as beaches and coastal geological formations, and they were only aware of commercial animals only when they accompanied fishers in their operations at sea and/or at markets. Some basic ecological processes that are conflictive in the community, as pollution by sewage or processing industries located in the seashore, were also registered. However, only a basic analysis was documented and no in depth discussion was provided by their work.

Jointly, the narratives of both working groups allow identifying that ecological literacies are basic. Only the more symbolic and evident “objects” are recognized. Also some relevant “objects” as habitats or vegetation types and almost all ecosystem processes are not identified showing a static view of the landscape. They lack a conceptual view of their territory as a entangled network of objects and processes where any action affecting one component produces changes in other components and locations, and in this sense, their ability to understand how to manage the ecosystem is restricted. Some basic ideas lacking from the narratives are related to: effects of nutrient discharge in coastal fertilization, trophic dynamics of the biological communities, effects of overfishing in the abundance of resources and cascading effects in other species, or habitat changes by human disturbances.

Developing a comprehensive ecological literacy arises as a key objective to empower the community and develop their ability to influence decision-making in environmental management (i.e., territory planning, pollution control, fishery management). These topics are especially important because the economy of both communities is dependent mainly of artisanal fisheries and, to a lesser extent, a growing tourist activity that uses ecosystem services and it is dependent of landscapes.

Effective participation of communities in environmental management needs both an ecological literacy and capabilities for collective action allowing them to negotiate with managers and politicians. Digital narratives arise as a tool to improve both topics. In a first phase, corresponding to the workshops described here that started with a rather general goal, the construction and analysis of narratives is a way to identify the baseline of the community about their ecological knowledge and their attitude about the environmental problems and risks.

Future workshops could be more focused. For instance, facilitators could work with teenagers to show and discuss ecological processes and landscape dynamics and sustainability, and narratives could be a way to document and visualize these processes and to investigate how they operate in their locations. Other workshops could be focused on organizative aspects of the community, the existence (and/or the development) of a consensus about their main problems and about the actions needed to solve them.

In this sense, in Garapuá, the concentration of land property in a few hands (external to the community) was identified as a basic problem. Actually it was the only problem and conflict related with the management of the territory and ecosystem that was identified in the workshops. Decisions occurring out of the community could modify land use, i.e. with the building of large touristic resorts, modifying habitats and probably basic ecosystem processes as coastal erosion or reef deterioration, and traditional uses of coastal locations as beaches used as landing and boat repairing places or residential houses occupying the shore. The workshop demonstrated that although the problem is recognized, there is not a basic consensus about how to approach collectively this risk and which could be the solutions. Something similar occurs in Aguiño with conflicts between fisheries and coastal pollution and between fishers’ organization with the regional government. In this area fisheries management has not be able to solve overfising and local fishers organization claims a change towards co-management and the use of territorial users’ rights. This debate is a topic of considerable interest but surprisingly teenagers were not aware of it.

4. Visualization and some conclusions

Art, being here a subtle form of communication and protest, uses data visualization to empower community members allowing them to visualize, and realize, facts that were sometimes misplaced, or hidden, or forgotten. The cataloguing and careful handling of the media produced during and after the workshops has a key role in this visualization. We have tagged all photos, videos, maps and audios in relations to its content in order to find patterns of significance on the material produced. At the same time, we explored software and graphical possibilities of this visualizing process.

The exhibition we did in both communities was a form of presenting the visualization of the material they have produced. We created a parallel of video projection, mixed photos by themes, played audio as content title, and printed large maps showing their territorial choices. We also placed photos on topographical maps of both regions helped by the workshop partakers. Besides the physical exhibition in the communities, we presented online all the material produced, this way, giving a broader visibility to the work. In order to better understand the internal relationship of the content produced, we did tag visualization of all the photos produced[6]. We used Impure software to create Datanet (Klanten, Bourquin et al., 2008), a visualization in which the links between the objects are more important than the nodes. This visualization gave us a better perspective of what was important to them, about their location, environment and identity. 

After we have finished the workshops and exhibitions, we concluded that we needed more time in the community for collaboratively editing and tagging the material, and more important, for their assimilation of the work they have done. It would be necessary a longer and more continuous work with them in order to engage a deeper reflection and discussion on the material produced. We agree with Mark Dawes (2008: 65), in “Beyond Process: Art, Empowerment and Sustainability” when saying: “A process-based model can be a highly successful approach to working with people in the arts, but the short-term nature of most projects of this kind limits more profound possibilities for growth within communities.” However, our problem the length of workshops was not a decision implied only by us, the teenagers did not much free time either, many of them studied and worked fulltime. Additionally, it could be hard to keep their attention and focus on a longer period. So we had to condense the most in a few days, otherwise we would not have public. 


In parallel we identified the need for more experimentation in the visualization of media and their semantic and geographical content to refine and improve tools and results. Visual interfaces should be the basic tool allowing people in communities to explore materials produced. Therefore, allowing them to get insights and develop reflections about the topics narrated at workshops. The workshops and research presented in this paper show the opportunities that the concept and method of digital narratives represent to develop art and ecological literacies and to empower communities for participation in environmental management. However, to fully demonstrate the potential of this approach developments in tools, improvements in the logistics of the workshops and an extension of the time of direct collaboration between workshop participants and facilitators are needed.


This project was funded partially by the AECID (Agencia Española de Cooperación Internacional para el Desarrollo) and with a research grant of FAPESB (Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado da Bahia).

References and Notes: 

Brunet, K., & Freire, J. (2010). Ecology and collaborative digital narratives: a comparative project Cairu-Aguiño. In M. Gabriel & M. Sogabe (Eds.), SoftBorders Proceedings. São Paulo

Carlson, A., & Berleant, A. (2004). The aesthetics of natural environments. Orchard Park, NY: Broadview Press.

Dawes, M. (2008). Beyond Process: Art, Empowerment and Sustainability. In G. Coutts & T. Jokela (Eds.), Art, Community and Environment. Bristol, UK; Chicago, USA: Intellect Books.

Jordan, R., F. Singer, J. Vaughan, A. Berkowitz (2009). What should every citizen know about ecology? Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment

Klanten, R., N. Bourquin, et al. (2008). Data flow: visualising information in graphic design. Berlin, Gestalten.

Mann, K., J. Lazier (2005). Dynamics of Marine Ecosystems: Biological-Physical Interactions in the Oceans. Wiley-Blackwell.

McWilliam, A. (2008). Developing an environmental aesthetic: aesthetics and the outdoor experience. In G. Coutts & T. Jokela (Eds.), Art, Community and Environment. Educational Perspectives. Bristol, UK: Intellect Books.

Turner, M., R. H. Gardner, R. V. O'Neill (2001). Landscape Ecology in Theory and Practice: Pattern and Process. Springer





Procedural Taxonomy: An Analytical Model for Artificial Aesthetics

This paper proposes an analytical model for computational aesthetic artifacts based on Espen Aarseth's work. It reflects procedural affinities that may not be found when focusing on surface structures and aesthetic analyses developed from them. The model attests to the importance of computational characteristics and of procedurality, both as conceptual groundings and as aesthetic focuses, as aesthetics pleasures in themselves.



The growing presence of computational media and tools in many areas of contemporary life brings massive change to all who interface with these systems, either as consumers or producers, as spectators or interactors, as writers, readers or wreaders

‘Artificial poïesis,’ the production of computational aesthetic artifacts, is widespread. Computational aesthetic artifacts are created by practitioners with diverse backgrounds, methodologies and terminologies that are not always reconcilable and that create obstacles to mutual understanding, effective cooperation and criticism. However, in spite of contextual variations inherent to each particular field or project, and regardless of the specific functions, contexts or settings of production, there are many commonalities to be found among these works. Various phenomena discovered with or through these media are genuinely new and unprecedented, lacking clear references in other arts or fields of study, as well as a clear nomenclature, a disadvantage for their practice and study.

This work hopes to contribute to the development of a terminology for computational media, by proposing a framework for their study and criticism that is versatile and plastic enough to accompany their ongoing transformation and its effects in creative practices.


The starting point for this work was Espen Aarseth’s model for the analysis of cybertexts. [4] Although tailored to textual artifacts, this model presents several advantages: 1) it is focused on the structural, functional and procedural traits of the texts, rather than on their surface features or contents; 2) it is extensive enough to encompass different media and expressions; 3) it emphasizes common features found across most of the artifacts, rather than aspects that may be specific to some; 4) it acknowledges the interactive potential of the artifacts, without establishing a precedence over other important characteristics for the production of meaning and the development of the aesthetic experience; and finally, 5) it is workable, with a set of seven variables and eighteen possible values that create a space of 576 unique media positions.

By applying Aarseth’s analytical model to a broader range of aesthetic artifacts, we asserted its efficacy and were then able to adapt and expand it, in search of a more comprehensive description of the works. The variables were tested for suitability and with the exception of one, all proved to be usable in the new model. 

The model


The first variable in Aarseth’s typology describes the contrasting behavior of signs in static systems – where they are constant – and in dynamic systems, where we repurposed the original values to describe surface unit dynamics (SUD) and deep unit dynamics (DUD), following a nomenclature inspired by Krome Barratt. [5] SUD describes rearrangements of perceivable structures without the transformation of their foundations which is described by DUD. 


Determinability concerns the stability of what Aarseth defines as the “traversal function” [4] of the artifact. This is the set of conventions and mechanisms that combine and project surface and deep units to the user. [3] If multiple experiences of the same artifact may result in similar behaviors or even in exact repetitions, we classify it as determinable. If on the contrary the artifact may lead the traversal function as much as, or even more than the users themselves, driving the experience into unknown territories and forcing users to adapt or react to new usage scenarios, we classify it as indeterminable.


Transiency describes the temporal existence of the artifact. If the mere passing of time causes changes in the artifact’s outputs then it is transient, otherwise it is intransient.


Access describes whether the totality of the artifact or its outputs are available to the user at all time, in which case the access is random, otherwise being controlled.


Linking describes the existence of rules or devices that may lead the user through the traversal and whether the access to these is explicit or conditional.

User Functions

The last variable in Aarseth’s typology describes which functions are available to the user besides the omnipresent interpretative function. In the explorative function, the user chooses which paths to follow along the traversal while in the configurative function new structures, i.e. surface or deep units, may be rearranged or created. These two functions are what “in addition to the obligatory interpretative function” [4] define an ergodic medium. 


Modalities will quantify the levels of perception involved in the user functions. They are defined sensorially [8] – visual, audial, haptic – and expanded with the perceptions of motion and procedurality – that of mathematics and of logical structures [11] – raising their total number to five.


Autonomy is a descriptor of the system’s capacity to generate novelty – or to be somewhat creative – without resorting to external inputs. Autonomous systems either contain or generate all the data they need to produce novel outputs, while systems fed by external sources – or that include extensive sets of hard-coded data, digital data structures or digital streams, according to Berry [2] – are classified as being data-driven.


This variable details the computational class – understood after Stephen Wolfram’s definition [12] and Rudy Rucker’s interpretation [10] – that better describes the outputs of a system. Static intransient outputs were classified as class 1, most of the static transient outputs as class 2, and those that exhibit complex behaviors as either classes 3 or 4, using the structure of the outputs to determine whether the system was class 3 (random, totally unpredictable) or class 4 (structured, at least locally, and at least partially predictable).

Variables and Possible values

  1. Dynamics: static, SUD, DUD;
  2. Determinability: determinable, indeterminable;
  3. Transiency: transient, intransient;
  4. Access: random, controlled;
  5. Linking: none, conditional, explicit;
  6. User functions: interpretative, explorative, configurative;
  7. Modalities: 1-5;
  8. Autonomy: autonomous, data-driven;
  9. Class: 1-4.

Data collected

We compiled a set of representative samples, collecting diverse approaches to procedural creation and focusing on visual arts and design. Besides a set of pieces of our own choosing, we collected an independent selection of works, trying to avoid a bias towards the model under development. The complete list of 54 works and the details of their analysis are to extensive to present in this article, but can be found in our previous works. [6] [7]


After classifying the works according to the model, and still following Aarseth’s methodology, we used the R environment for statistical computing and the CA package [9] to develop a Multiple Correspondence Analysis (MCA). The first synthetic variable achieved 54.1% inertia, but a plotting as a one-dimensional graph revealed the lack of indispensable information that was added by the extra 8.6% of data variation provided by the second synthetic variable. We therefore, opted for plotting the MCA as a two-dimensional graph describing 62.7% of the data variation.

Control Analysis

This model was developed with the purpose of allowing objective classifications and of minimizing subjective factors. Trying to test the definitions of the variables and our own analysis, we developed a control analysis, providing the list of systems and a description of the model to an independent analyzer.

The understanding of most of the variables was straightforward. The greatest challenge was found with modalities variable, especially with the classification of the procedural and haptic modalities. The control analysis tended to classify as haptic all those systems that allowed any degree of interaction, regardless of which devices were used in the process. Our analysis used different criteria: standard controllers (e.g. mice or keyboards) used in established ways (e.g. as in operating systems or productivity tools) were not classified as haptic; only works that used dedicated controllers or that employed standard controllers in non-conventional ways were considered to heighten haptic awareness and involvement. The control analysis also found the procedural modality in more instances, something that may be due to regarding the outputs of a work as being part of its system and not as independent artifacts, that may or may not be procedural or able to communicate procedurality. The procedural modality is tied to the perception, understanding or intuition of mathematics and logical structures. It is only when the outputs of a system present a minimum of clues for that understanding that this modality can be identified. In some cases this classification can be somewhat subjective, because it is historical, it deals with acquired knowledge and learning.

The control analysis revealed a divergence of 7.4% – 36 contrasting classifications in a total of 486. The divergence in the classification of modalities is not a sign of arbitrariness, but the effect of the false positives created by different understandings of the variables described above. We found that in a majority of cases, the divergence was explained by the extra classification of procedural (eight) or haptic (twelve) modalities in a work. Should we choose to disregard this effect, we could interpret the divergence in modalities as a much lower 5.5%, lowering the total divergence to 3.29%.

Divergences in the control analysis

  1. Dynamics: 3 divergences, 5.55%;
  2. Determinability: 0 divergences;
  3. Transiency: 0 divergences;
  4. Access: 0 divergences;
  5. User Functions: 1 divergence, 1.85%;
  6. Linking: 2 divergences, 3.7%;
  7. Modalities: 23 divergences, 42.59%;
  8. Autonomy: 0 divergences;
  9. Class: 7 divergences, 12.96%.


Studying the plot of the MCA, we find that the periphery is taken by works that originally stood somewhat apart from the rest of the selection due to their contrasting physical characteristics. These are Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau’s A-Volve (#4), Carvalhais, Tudela and Lia’s 30x1 (#27) and Andreas Muxel’s Connect (#40). The work that is most isolated is Olia Lialina’s My Boyfriend Came Back From the War (#6), which is also the only narrative hypertext, plotted logically and consistently.

In the east edge of the plot, we find a series of printed or otherwise static outputs, such as Roman Verostko’s Seven Sisters: The Pleiades (#9) or Andy Huntington and Drew Allan’s Cylinder (#16). The west area, in contrast, is predominantly populated by interactive systems. By circumscribing both areas, we find that there is no overlap and that two well-defined islands are created in the graph.

A closer look at the categories encompassed by the areas allows us to understand which values are more typically associated with them. In the eastern quadrant, we discover works that are mostly static, determinable, intransient, randomly accessible and with no linking. Deep unit dynamics, conditional linking and the explorative and configurative user functions characterize the interactive systems that also tend to concentrate more modalities and to develop higher computational classes.

The single book among the pieces, Raymond Queneau’s Cent Mille Milliards de Poèmes (#1), is found in the middle of the non-interactive island, a placement that raises the question of whether books can ever be understood as interactive devices. Following Schubiger’s definition [1] of interactive systems as supporting communication from user to the system and back, or Lippman’s definition of interaction as a “mutual and simultaneous activity,” [4] it becomes clear that regardless of any manual reconfigurations that may be developed, a printed book should never be classified as interactive. Although the configurative user function is involved, it does not follow that a cybernetic feedback loop can be established because the system is not able to act on its own. If we circumscribe the systems that produce computer-based outputs or real-time computations, we also find a clear division between two sets.

It is not possible to infer much about an eventual genre partitioning. We wondered whether this could be a shortcoming of the model or if traditional genres may be unsuitable to the description of computational media. If we study pieces plotted in coincident coordinates, we discover that traditional descriptions such as sculpture, painting or drawing, do not prove to be very useful. We can find two of the works most easily identifiable as sculptural – Cylinder (#16) and Andreas Nicolas Fischer’s A Week in the Life (#39) – plotted very closely but still in different coordinates, sharing positions with systems that produce visual-only bidimensional outputs. We find linear videos plotted in neighboring positions, but still not necessarily in the same coordinates, something far more common among systems that produce printed outputs. It is also interesting to discover that two of the pieces where a strong directionality (and irreversibility) of time is patent – William Gibson’s Agrippa (a book of the dead) (#3) and John F. Simon Jr.’s Every Icon (#7) – are plotted in the same position. Although, in an initial analysis, they may seem to be very different systems, belonging to different genres or artistic typologies, they share strong procedural traits, turning out to be much more similar than one would originally expect.

The coherent distribution of the classified artifacts that is found in the plot of the MCA contributes to a validation of the current state of the model. The analysis of clustering may eventually lead to the discovery of new genre descriptors.

Future research

This work studied systems that could broadly be classified as visual arts or communication design. Aarseth’s previous analysis, from which some works were preserved, focused on pieces that could generally be classified as literary. In the future we expect to broaden our field of analysis, by increasing the quantity and variety of works. The common characteristics discovered in this set of works lead us to believe that such a follow-up study needs to be developed, allowing us to refine the model and to further develop the study of the procedural and haptic modalities as better definitions of both are undoubtedly necessary.

A complementary path to follow is the approach to the 'perspective' variable from Aarseth’s model, that focused on the text requiring the user to play a strategic role as a character in its diegesis, and that we did not succeed to integrate in the presented model. Artificial aesthetic systems are created from processes, and narrative aspects may be generated from procedurality and the procedural modality, from the user’s desire to witness the unfolding of processes and from the simulations and predictions that are inevitably created. A complete study of procedural media must include their narrative properties without loosing sight of the remaining procedural aspects so far surveyed. Although a partition between the study of rule-based and story-based aspects of systems is certainly possible, we search for a dialectic model, where one is able to reintegrate perspective and understand how narrative emerges from rules.


This work was only possible due to the help, advice and insight provided by Heitor Alvelos and Penousal Machado, supervisors of the dissertation in which context it was developed. [7] We are also indebted to Golan Levin, Lia, Luísa Ribas, Marius Watz and Florian Cramer, for invaluable advice and collaboration. This work was developed with the financial aid of the Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (FCT), under the Programa Operacional Potencial Humano (SFRH / BD / 43877 / 2008).

References and Notes: 
  1. Caroline Schubiger, “Interaction Design: Definition and Tasks,” in Total Interaction, ed. Gerhard Buurman (Basel: Birkhäuser, 2005).
  2. David M. Berry, The Philosophy of Software (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).
  3. Espen J. Aarseth, “Nonlinearity and Literary Theory,” in Hyper / Text / Theory, ed. George Landow (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994).
  4. Espen J. Aarseth, Cybertext (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997).
  5. Krome Barratt, Logic and Design (Guilford: Design Books, 1980).
  6. Miguel Carvalhais, “Towards a Model for Artificial Aesthetics,” in Generative Art, ed. Celestino Soddu (Milan, 2010).
  7. Miguel Carvalhais, Towards a Model for Artificial Aesthetics: Contributions to the Study of Creative Practices in Procedural and Computational Systems (U. Porto, 2010).
  8. Mitchell Whitelaw, “Synesthesia and Cross-Modality in Contemporary Audiovisuals,” Senses & Society 3, 3 (2008): 259-76.
  9. Oleg Nenadić, Michael Greenacre, “Correspondence Analysis in R,” Journal of Statistical Software 20, 3 (2007).
  10. Rudy Rucker, The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul (New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 2005).
  11. Stephanie Strickland, “Quantum Poetics: Six Thoughts,” in Media Poetry, ed. Eduardo Kac (Bristol: Intellect, 2007).
  12. Stephen Wolfram, A New Kind of Science (Champaign: Wolfram Media, 2002).

Digitaterial Gestures – Action-Driven Stererolithography.

Attempting to reconcile a digital sensibility with sculptural materiality steeped in the modernist legacy of “truth to materials,” we can conceive of a form that is generated outward from its central core. Reflecting on the theoretical implications of the generative process this paper explores the nature of digital materiality as a heterotopian space comprising of and uniting artist, material and process.


Through what passes as a high-speed network in New Zealand I SHIFT/CLICK/ZOOM through the Quick Time Virtual Reality (QTVR) of Brancusi’s studio in the Centre Pompidou. [1] Here, in this carefully manicured space, I can indulge my voyeuristic urges – rummage around the private inner sanctum of the artist’s 'creative' process, lingering on every (contrived) residue, every 'casually' placed prop that poses as a creative artifact. 

It is at the tool bench the artist’s presence is most visceral: hand-worn tools and other signifiers of the making process litter the bench. Every 'discarded' shaving is given new import by the museum handrail that even in this virtual space asserts credibility. Here, surely, is the authentic act – the point of closest communion not simply between artist and audience but between artist and product. 

It is in seeking this point of contact between the maker and the made, the making and the maker that the project FORMø will be discussed. 

FORMø is an interdisciplinary collaboration between artist James Charlton and engineers Olaf Deigle, Sarat Singamneni and B. Huang. Working within the Creative Industries Research Institute (CIRI) at Auckland University of Technology, the project received Smash Palace funding under the partnership program between the Ministry of Research Science and Technology and Creative New Zealand. [2] The fund supports collaborative projects between teams comprised of loosely defined New Zealand scientists and artists. The emphasis of the fund is on the cross-disciplinary sharing of knowledge and exploration of methodology rather than applied outcome. 

The project developed out of the dialogue between Design Engineer Olaf Deigle and Artist James Charlton in 2008 around the use of rapid prototyping technologies in creative practice. From this exchange Charlton produced a number of works that laid the foundation for this project, for instance 16:sec, in which sixteen seconds of video was used to generate a series of rapid prototyped forms. 

In Charlton’s writing about this work, we find the concerns that have driven the conceptual direction of Digiterial Gestures: 16:sec “explores the construction and perception of time-based events by examining the ability of static objects to encapsulate temporal information. It aims to question our relationship with physical objects and the static concreteness that we assume of them, […].” [3]  

The relationship between Diegle and Charlton at this stage was not fully collaborative in nature. Deigle’s expertise in rapid prototyping was being applied by Charlton in order to realize his ideas. What developed from that dialogue was an exchange of ideas about form, materiality and time in the context of fused deposition modeling and the authored gesture.

From this point of convergence, FORMø proposed to realize a system through which the performative gestures of the artist are translated into concrete form by integrating motion capture technology with real time 3D printing.

The approach was to develop a concept machine made by modifying an X-Y axis system from an electronic pick-and-place machine that allowed for a print area of approximately 600mm cubed. The completed platform provides an X-Y axis that moves the print head along the vector print path and a Z axis which moves the build platform down by a unit of measure. The motor control system consists of four stepper motors (one for each axis, and one for the extrusion head), a Xylotec XS-3525/8S-4 Stepper Motor Driver Board, and an Olimex LPC-H2148 Microcontroller Board allowing for simple control of the 3D printer through a PC-based CNC machine control program called Mach 3 CNC.  A custom-made thermoplastic extrusion head allows for granules, powder, or plastic to be extruded. (This system served the development phases of the project; it has subsequently been replaced by a Mitsubishi MoveMaster-EX five-axis robotic arm. This system is still under development at the time of writing.)

Initially, print data was generated using an OptiTrak V100:R2 six-camera motion capture system and Arena motion capture software. Even in this simple six-camera set-up the limitations of software designed specifically for animation purposes became evident and the motion capture equipment was quickly left behind in favour of a customized motion detection software system.

Experiments using color tracking proved much less cumbersome and more manageable but still required controlled lighting and trackable color markers that worked as an interface barrier separating the artist’s hand from the digital expression of form, and theatricalizing the work. By switching to a Kinect depth map camera system and defining the sample space depth, accurate motion capture of hand gestures provides clean data for the printer.

The Kinect was hacked using MAX/MSP to extrapolate data for XYZ and direction for two hands to send to the Rhino plug-in Grasshopper for real-time form visualization and compilation. The flexibility of this approach using graphic programming interfaces to process the raw data enabled the team to experiment with and conceive of algorithmic methods of generating forms from the spatial data.

Put simply, instead of thinking that a hand moving in space would correspond to a similar movement by the printer, multiple points on the body could be combined to determine the position of the deposition head.

Through this train of thought, it became clear that the project was not thinking simply about virtual drawing in space but was attempting to understand how the artist’s actions could interact with digital material. The notion of digital material is perhaps paradoxical. [4] Perhaps there is not even such a thing, or if there is it refers to things arising from a digital process – an image, a document or a 3D-print. As I attempt to explore this notion of digital materiality it will become clearer that what I am really speaking to is the non-material being of the media without manifestation – media as a concept in relationship to process.

This paper seeks to frame the project in these terms – as an attempt to reconcile spaces within a heterogeneous space that might constitute a new understanding of the materiality of the digital.

Collapsed Spaces.

Unlike the rarified and idealized modernist studio where singularity of discipline, intent and technique assume one source (the artist), FORMø operates across spatial, modal, disciplinary and temporal sites. 

In practical terms, there exist two primary sites: the site of production and the site of reproduction – in this case the artist and the 3D printer. Initially the challenge at this practical level seemed simply to eliminate the latency between these sites, bringing them together as one event.  This might be thought of in traditional terms as seeking the same immediacy that the sculptor’s hand has on a lump of clay or the painter’s brush on a canvas, but is also evident in contemporary digital media practices such as video production, where the artist’s gaze carves its way through time, or in some forms of installation and performance work. (I don’t want to labor historical metaphors here but it is useful to ground the ideas in physicality of media when trying to understand the materiality of the digital.)

I am then suggesting that in direct manipulation of media – the visceral effect of the artist’s body on materials – a synthesis of space is achieved by collapsing the spaces of the body and the spaces of the material into a heterotopia - a place “outside of all places,” and removed from that which constructs it. [5]

Returning to Brancusi’s studio for a moment we see that there are present at least three utopias – the artist’s hand (as distinct from the artist’s consciousness), the material studio (in this case both tools, materials and finished works) and the museum (acknowledged in the introduction by the handrail).

This collapsed space of action and event (with implicit inclusion of author and outcome) is the space long identified in artistic practices. In its many interpretations we see investigations and experiments of Ruskin’s "truth to materials," [6] in modernist sculptural work (most obviously the work of Henry Moore and minimalists Eva Hesse and Richard Serra) and in the emergence of performance works in the 1960s and 70s in which “sculpture is re-contextualised within an action.” [7] More recently, the work and strategies of practitioners like Tino Sehgal have become exemplars of a type of practice that synthesizes production and product.

It is perhaps not surprising that digital art practice with its distributed nature, obsession with the screen and contestable authenticity is less concerned with materiality “as being ‘hyper,’ ‘virtual,’ and ‘cyber’ – that is, outside of the known materiality, existing independently of the usual material constraints and determinants […].” [8]

However, in technologies such as rapid prototyping we can see practices emerging that exploit the notion of the digital as a material with its own 'material truth.'

In the collapsed space of the computation process that developed in this project, the 'material truth' is one that originates not in the artist’s body, the tools of production or the physical materials but a heterotopian space that is distinct from all three – the space of the digitaterial. (It’s important here to distinguish the Digitatrial from digitality. Negroponte’s (1995) treatment of digitality separates the world into "bits and atoms" whereas the notion of digitaterial space collapses the physical and the digital into a common space in which the digital has materiality.)

Rather than visualizing the outcomes that might be produced, what must be conceived of is what the process itself delivers. Rather than imposing subject matter for technology to execute, the relationship between the artistic gesture and technology should be seen as subject matter itself in a manner that is part of the continuum of "truth to materials" in sculptural practice.

Traditionally additive manufacturing processes estrange the act of production from the act of generation as files are worked on in isolation from the material reality of the 3D printer. In fact this has been the goal of these technologies – not only to allow predefined designs to be realized as proto-types, remote from the tooling and mass production, but to remove the designer from the constraints of the materials and the preconception of form.

As Ann-Sophie Lenmann puts it: “New media have led to the formation of new creative spaces; spaces that seem to have caused a dislocation of materiality of the traditional working space.” [9]

Here we might identify both the promise and failure of not only additive manufacturing but, perhaps, our general approach to the digital.  In liberating the artist from the constraints of the physical we define a media whose intrinsic materiality strives to go unrecognized or to pass as the real rather than the imitation of the real. “[…T]he very process of making is rendered invisible by the medium itself.” [10]

The digitaterial space is then defined as being the heterotopian space comprising and uniting artist, material and process – a space in which materiality and form are defined from within.

Ironically enough we find this endlessly thrown up to us in demonstrations of the marvel of 3D printing where the very tired Klein bottle is once again the standard.  This impossible form – without boundary and in which notions of left and right remain illusive – has become the Escher of rapid prototyping as it exemplifies the dilemma of digital materiality.

This is the space of the impossibly perfect contour, the surface model that denies its own existence, as opposed to the space that has no form other than that which it itself defines.

The point I am making here is simple enough: that the digital, freed from representation, is not without material qualities. In and of itself it has characteristics that are as compelling as the block of wood or lump of clay in Brancusi’s studio.

Yet to sculpt them, to form them, is akin to modeling air. In the most literal sense this is the experience of making these forms.

One’s hands become disembodied. No longer the property of the artist they defer to the material of the digital that, as it twists, bends and rotates appears more in control of the artist’s body that s/he is.

No longer calling to another site, this collapsed digitaterial now looks within to the locally defined gestural source for its sense of material truth. 

The artist’s actions are thus sublimated into the digital, his/her body controlled by the material logic of the medium. Rather than manipulating it s/he is party to it both inside and outside.

Slices of Time.

The sequential layering approach of conventional rapid prototyping systems imposes a structural logic on form that is alien to its own inherent structural logic.  The computation of slices that provide the freedom to generate impossible Klein-like forms is one of the liberating attractions of 3D printing.  Yet, even in structural terms it presents a weakness. Unlike a branch that’s grain is indicative of its form, adding a strength to it that is an inseparable part of its materiality, the slice approach is externally defined.

Using the analogy to wood-grain we can conceive of a system in which the printer head follows the contour of a form, possessing its own material logic. However, this places further conceptual considerations before us.

Diegle’s work on curved layer deposition follows this logic and looks to the form itself as the referent for its deposition structure. By analyzing the contour of a surface, layers can be deposited along the curvature of the shape, increasing the structural integrity of the build.

Instead of sequential layering’s external slicing up of time, in curved layer deposition time exists relative to the form of the material. Form is not conceived of with a logic outside of its own generation; rather, the space and time of the form are “constructed locally.” [11]

The imposition of an externally defined time based construction of form has the inevitable effect of producing a lag between generation and realization. Reducing or eliminating latency has been the ambition of many developments and experiments in digital media. Explorative investigation of direct manipulation such as those conducted by Willis et al, cite latency as a problem to be solved, as a temporary technical obstacle to achieving material immediacy. However, if time is seen as a material feature of the digital as discussed, then immediacy is inherently resolved. The goal of reducing latency in digital media processes is then a misguided attempt to make the digital 'real' – immediate in the here and now.

If, as suggested earlier, direct manipulation can be achieved by collapsing the space of the body and the space of the material, and that time is a dimension of the material instead of producer, then the imperative of reducing or eliminating latency between generation and deposition becomes obsolete.  Instead of seeing latency as a technical/mechanical failing to be overcome, the gap between production and produced simply no longer exists.

The Workbench of the Digital.

Unlike Brancusi’s studio the workbench of digitaterial is not a space cluttered with tools or littered with shavings any more than it is the SHIFT/CLICK/ZOOM of the mouse or the software interface. The digitaterial workbench is the disembodied space map of my hands as they reach out and dissolve in the Kinect’s vision.

Perhaps instead of obsessing about making the digital 'real' by seeking to impose ever-greater control over its ability to be 'real' (or, more accurately, to conform to existing notions of the material real) we can approach an understanding of digital materiality by collapsing into the space that is “absolutely different from” that which defines and generates it. [3] The digitaterial is that which is released from our grasp as we embrace it.

References and Notes: 

  1. Centre Pompidou, “360 Degrees Atelier Brancusi,” Centre Pompidou’s Official Website, (accessed January 15, 2011).
  2. Ministry of Science and Innovation, “Science-Art Collaboration,” MORST, (accessed January 20, 2011).
  3. James Charlton, dForm (Auckland: MIC, 2008).
  4. Paul A. Taylor and Jan L. Harris, Digital Matters (New York: Routledge, 2005), 114.
  5. Michel Foucault, “Des Espaces Autres,” Architecture, Movement, Continuité, no. 5 (1984): 3.
  6. John Ruskin, The Seven Lamps of Architecture (Orpington: George Allen, 1889).
  7. Thomas McEvilley, Sculpture in the Age of Doubt (New York: Allworth Press, 1999).
  8. Marianne van den Boomen et al., “Introduction: From the Virtual to Matters of Fact and Concern,” in Digital Material: Tracing New Media in Everyday Life and Technology, eds. Marianne van den Boomen et al., 8 (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2009).
  9. Ann-Sophie Lehmann, “Hidden Practice: Artists’ Working Spaces, Tools, and Materials in the Digital Domain,” in Digital Material: Tracing New Media in Everyday Life and Technology, eds. Marianne van den Boomen et al., 270 (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2009).
  10. Ibid., 279.
  11. Bruno Latour, Science in Action (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987), 253.

Don't Hate the Business, Become the Business!

This introduction to the panel investigates some of the interconnections between art, activism and business. "Don't hate the media, become the media" was one of the slogans of Indymedia. We are applying this critical hands-on perspective to the business framework to explore the concept of disruptive-innovation.


"Don't hate the media, become the media" was one of the slogans of Indymedia. In adopting the phrase, the idea is to apply this critical hands-on perspective to the business framework to examine how artists, rather than simply refusing business logic, are producing critical interventions from within. Indeed as the distinction between production and consumption appears to have collapsed, every interaction in the info-sphere seems to have become a business opportunity underpinned by informational capitalism and the perceived importance of the creative industries to the economy (the so-called 'creative economy', where creativity is effectively instrumentalised). Therefore, the creative intersections between business and art have become a crucial territory for re-invention and the rewriting of symbolic and cultural codes, generating political actions or social hacks that use a deep level of irony but also have unexpected consequences. The tactics demonstrate the permeability of systems — that these can be reworked — and more so, that radical innovation requires modification of prevailing business logic.

The backdrop of the Istanbul Biennale and the art world/market makes a useful reference point here as one of the markers along with art (trade) fairs in general for the commodity exchange of artistic production and the intention to boosting the local economy: "economic development and culture as part of a trade and investment portfolio" as Maya Balcioglu explains. In the local context, the almost exclusive model of private patronage rather than State subsidy for the arts indicates a growing trend for the art world as a whole, and its overt business orientation. But examining such trends are not new issues — as there have been many examples of artists making interventions into the art market and alternatives to commodity exchange — and we aim to discuss some of the recent strategies that have emerged from a deep understanding of informational capitalism with its enduring paradoxes.

More detail on the particularities of the information economy is what Elanor Colleoni provides with attention to its stress on the capture of social aspects and the pluralization of the concept of value. The mechanisms for generating value from intangible assets, or the ways in which it can be made tangible, takes new business forms and these are somewhat exemplified in the case of social media. The concern is how particular kinds of social relations are monetized, which sets the context for Dmytri Kleiner's notion of 'Venture Communism', an intervention that offers a model of workers' self-organization to allocate wealth using a peer-to-peer model, offering: "commons-based collaborative and shared forms of cultural production and economic distribution." Artistic interventions such as this, perhaps provide the "most innovative business models" as Christian Ulrik Andersen and Søren Bro Pold argue, but also reveal a "conceptual gap". There are many examples of new models but the central paradox is the focus here: that on the one hand, there are alternative or disruptive business models that derive from the art scene, often as critical or activist interventions, but on the other how these practices can be easily co-opted by proprietary business logic. The question is how to take this back: expropriate the expropriators.

The paradoxes are exemplified by the IT business idea of disruptive-innovation, where disruption is considered to be a creative act that shifts the way a particular logic operates and thus presents newfound opportunities for investment. If, in general, it appears that innovation has become co-opted, Paolo Virno offers a rather different interpretation (partly to avoid using the problematic term creativity) through his use of the phrase "innovative action," to describe the ways that humans demonstrate the ability to modify their forms of life. [1] He is developing the point that innovation both produces contradictory factors that reflect the human condition, its creative energies and their repression, but that it also provides opportunity for further reinvention. We propose to do something similar with the term business: and it is worth remembering that the term itself, business, simply indicates an occupation, and one undertaken with both care and anxiety (in its etymology) and is not pejoratively capitalistic.

If the economy is increasingly characterized by its linguistic characteristics and social cooperation, as Virno insists, language becomes the means for transmitting data and for innovative action. When it comes to digital work, there seems to be a changed relationship between conception and execution in this respect, in that the work is conceptual and is then enacted materially by the instructions that are produced by a machine. [2] Citing Virno, Christian Marazzi in Capital and Language, further develops this linguistic dimension as a mechanism of control: "Biopolitics exists where the foremost priority, in immediate experience, is given to what belongs to the potential dimension of human existence: not the spoken word but of the faculty to speak; not work actually done but the generic capacity to produce." [3] The goal of government becomes the generation of certain types of collective speech acts and competition within markets becomes an important foundation for a critique of social media and the ways in which the energies of peer production have been expropriated from the public by the market. In this sense, the vague marketing distinction between web 2.0 and web 1.0 is just another example of capital recuperating the democratic potential of a new technology for the privatization of public assets (as Kleiner also points out). [4] It sells the public what it already owned in the first place.

There are endless examples of platforms that extract value in this way from social creation but thankfully there are also others that try to hold on to it, further reinforcing the connection that Marazzi makes between financial markets and collective speech acts (as with P2P credit cards and other initiatives that speculate on the future of money). [5] The current austerity measures in global economies seems to underline the urgency for producing alternatives, as public services are eroded by the neoliberal logic of financial capitalism. The problem remains how to develop alternatives that do not simply function as innovation for capitalist renewal, how to innovate beyond the market?

Like innovation, disruption is a rather ambiguous concept. In the business culture, disruption does not mean only rupture, but innovation and re-design of behavioral tendencies. The concept of disruptive business represents a paradox because it demonstrates a process that interferes with business, but at the same time, it generates new forms of business. Since the avant-gardes, artists concentrated into the effect of producing the unpredictable, while generating new forms. Today, neoliberal business logic has embraced the unpredictable too, encapsulating disruption and co-opting alternatives. The paradox lives in the encounter of business culture and artistic disruption.

The intervention is to apply the business concept of disruptive innovation back again into the art field, and at the same time to develop a critical perspective on the concepts of disruption and innovation. The challenge becomes how to be aware of the business logics and mechanisms, introducing unexpected incongruities in the capitalist structure and provoking unpredictable feedback. In a scenario where business has largely co-opted the values of hacker ethics and social networks, and where the forms of criticism tend to freeze as soon as they emerge, the way out from the impasse might be found within business itself. An examination of the paradoxes lies at the heart of this, in an inversion of old schemes of contradiction, and through the direct involvement of multiple and diverse subjectivities that react strategically and playfully from within. Art becomes business disrupting the neo-liberal marketplace.

The various contributions that follow explore these paradoxes and provocations: Does this mean that well-meaning critical strategies of artists and activists are self-defeating? How do we develop disruptive business models that do not simply become new models for business that ultimately follow capitalist logic? We maintain there is nothing wrong with doing business as such, it just needs to be better.

References and Notes: 
  1. Paolo Virno, Multitude: Between Innovation and Negation, trans. Isabella Bertoletti, James Cascaito, and Andre Casson (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e) Foreign Agents, 2008). 
  2. Christian Marazzi, Capital and Language: From the New Economy to the War Economy, trans. Gregory Conti (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2008), 40.
  3. Ibid., 156.
  4. Dmytri Kleiner & Brian Wyrick., “Info-enclosure 2.0”, Mute Magazine, Web 2.0. Man's best friendster?, Vol 2, No. 4 (January 2007).
  5. For example, Paolo Cirio’s P2P Gift Credit Card, - also see the interview with Tatiana Bazzichelli, Digicult,

    This research has been funded by the Danish Council for Strategic Research, 09-063245, (Digital Urban Living).


The image-object notion and art practices using mobile screens.

Whether it is a question of the object supporting the image or of the object represented by this image, the relationship between images/pictures and objects has evolved throughout art history. In this paper, we summarize three different approaches of the image-object notion in order to contribute to it and propose an extension of its field of application in artistic practices using mobile devices.



The image-object notion in visual arts

Every visual representation needs a physical medium so that it can be apprehended by its viewers. Since the very origins of visual arts and crafts, artists have been creating artistic objects by manipulating physical materials in various ways. Pictures can be seen because they are inscribed on or within a surface, even when this picture is made up of a very brief phenomenon. Bas-reliefs and sculptures produce images because they take a tangible shape that makes them visible. As a last example, cinema films can be seen by the audience thanks to the projection of its frames on a screen through a light beam. These statements, although obvious, show without ambiguity that an image is linked to the object it is shaped with (paper sheet, canvas, wood piece, etc.), whatever its plastic qualities or aesthetic objectives. Whether it is a question of the object supporting the image or of the object represented by this image, the relationship between images/pictures and objects has evolved throughout art history. Several analyses can be found in theoretical research about the relationship between images and objects. These analyses use the term 'image-object.' We summarize here three different approaches of the image-object notion in order to contribute to it and propose an extension of its field of application in the artistic practices using mobile devices.

Image-object in the Middle Ages

The first direction of research leading to the image-object notion is suggested by Walter Benjamin: "Artistic production begins with ceremonial objects destined to serve in a cult. One may assume that what mattered was their existence, not their being on view." [1] One thing that the author suggests here is that religious pictures and images should also be considered, in their physicality, as objects. This problematic idea has been developed by Jérôme Baschet [2] who sets out the notion of image-object as follows:

In the Middle Ages, there is no image that is not an object at the same time or at least, that is not attached to an object of which it constitutes the scenery and supports its use. [...] We suggest the notion of image-object, in order to highlight that an image can’t be separated neither from the materiality of its medium, nor from its existence as an object, being acted and acting in specific locations and situations, and within the dynamic of social relationships and of connection with the supernatural. [3]

In the specific context of the occidental Middle Ages, an image-object would be "at once created as an image and an object" [4] and this notion "forbids to think it as the simple conjunction of an image and its medium. The image-object should rather be taken as an indissociable whole." [5] This first definition of the image-object, explicitly linked to the social and religious context of the European Middle Ages, is an image shaped by the means of physical material, a medium that gives it the capacity to exist as an object in a religious and social network of activities which determines their functionality.

Manet and the tableau-object

In his analysis of Manet's painting, Michel Foucault [6] uses the notion of tableau-object. [7] If the term 'image' is not used here, this notion shows many similitudes with the image-object notion introduced by Jérôme Baschet and slides it into the context of the painting at the end of the 19th century, when it was more independent of religion. Here also, the medium's materiality of the picture is a major aspect but with the idea that the painting is closely linked to its direct environment, and therefore its exhibition space.

What Manet has done is to make re-emerge, inside the painting's representation, the properties, the qualities or the material limitations of the canvas itself that the pictorial tradition had, in various ways, avoided or hidden until then. Manet re-invents, or maybe invents, the tableau-object, the painting as a materiality, as something colorful that is illuminated by an exterior light and in front of which the spectator turns around. [8]

Foucault's proposition consists in the demonstration of how Manet managed to restore the materiality of the painted artwork by considering, in the visual construction of his paintings, the physical characteristics of the canvas, the way it is shown and the position of the viewer facing it. Foucault seems to accentuate the sculptural aspect of Manet's paintings. As every volume placed in space, the painting becomes sensible to exterior contingencies, and becomes similar to an object that should be observed from various points of view. This idea is confirmed by Foucault's own words about Un bar aux Folies-Bergère (1882):

Here is the very last technic of Manet : the property of the painting to not be a normative space but a space in front of which we can move. The viewer is mobile facing a painting that exterior light strikes directly, verticals and horizontals lines are endlessly doubled, depth is erased. Manet didn't invent a non-representative painting but the painting-object in its material elements. [9]

Image-object and interactivity

The term image-object is frequently used in the context of computer software. Many high-level programming languages use this term to name pictures that are included in a program. [10] More generally, object oriented programming (OOP), by its fundamental principals, naturally lead to the use of this vocabulary. OOP consists of the definition and the interaction of software bricks called objects. An object represents a concept, an idea or any entity whose structure and behavior have to be defined in a way that it can communicate with other objects. In this context, pictures/images becomes objects that can have a particular behavior. Beyond this technical approach, this image-object presents conceptual specificities that Jean-Louis Weissberg raised about interactive images. As it becomes an interactive object, an image can respond to our solicitations through physical interfaces (mouse, keyboard, etc.) because its specific behavior has been programmed. "The image becomes an existence mode for the object and an access to its creation, its transformation, its manipulation." [11] This relies on the digital nature of this image-object. Variable and programmable in time and space, the digital image-object takes place in a simulation, in a time that runs on because the spectator/user interacted with it, a "flatten time" [12] or "uchronic time" [13] that we usually call the 'real time.'

Here is constructed the reality effect of simulation, not in illusion nor substitution, but in intervention. At the end of this process are generate hybrids, intermediary beings, more figurative than images, more functional than objects. Let us accept to call these image-objects. They are not anymore a matter for re-presentation but for presentation/simulation. [14]

Mobile screens: from image to object to image...

With the new generations of smartphones and tablet computers we assisted the gradual disappearance of the physical keyboard. For most of these devices, the main human interface is a multi-touch screen that makes the keyboards virtual, one of many other elements in a graphical user interface. The virtual keyboard of mobile devices is one hint, among others, of the radical compression of traditional human interface input/output devices into one single object: the screen itself. Mobile devices can then be thought as mobile screens. Our research into mobile screens and their use in artistic and interactive creations led us to another variation of the image-object notion. This variation does not exclude the three categories we stated above, but assembles them while concurrently extending the notion toward another meaning. SensorGirl, an experimental artwork we created in collaboration, [15] is a useful tool to illustrate this fourth image-object category.

SensorGirl: mobile screen's image-object model

Accelerometer sensors, primarily made to measure the linear acceleration of the mobile it is mounted on, were popularized by the Nintendo Wii remote controller, some time before the gyroscope, made to measure angular position (orientation). These sensors, nowadays embedded in almost every mobile device available on the market can be used to compute the relative rotation of the device itself as it provides 6-axis motion sensing. In the daily use of, for example, an iPhone or iPad, the current orientation of the device returned by these sensors is used to automatically rotate the main user interface: if the device is physically turned in landscape orientation by the user, the GUI rotates in landscape mode and accordingly with portrait mode. GLGravity, an Apple iOS SDK sample code, [16] demonstrates to developers how to apply the rotation matrix from the sensors to a 3D teapot in real time. This technical demo shows how one can manipulate the mobile screen to see the 3D model from various angles : the model position looks like it is fixed in the actual space, and by rotating the iPhone physically around this virtual object one can see it from the top, the left, the bottom, and so on in real time. The demo is technically well done and shows a new type of gesture, specific to mobile screens and their potential, but it does not aim at any artistic ends.

SensorGirl attempts to give more significance to this special gesture. In this iPhone/iPad application, a 3D feminine figurine wearing a short white dress can be seen in a similar way to the teapot demo. The choice of a feminine figure dressed like this fits the idea of creating a strong analogy between the observation of this 3D model through the device manipulations and a real world situation: to see underneath the dress of an actual doll, one needs to either turn the object around or lower one's head in order to see what is hidden while looking from above. The manipulation of the device to discover what lies underneath is at the same time a pretext, a motivation and an invitation to manipulate the screen. In addition, by a subtle modification of the virtual camera's position according to the current model's rotation, the face of the 3D character can never be seen. Looking out for the face without success brings the spectator naturally to manipulate the screen in every possible angle. In the end, everybody ends up in a near-voyeuristic activity: holding the screen above their head, looking at the underwear of a 3D doll.

In SensorGirl, the physical state of the screen has a direct influence on the represented 3D object. It is by grabbing the device and turning it around that one can interact with the representation. What is discovered by this manipulation can make one laugh, amused, feel uncomfortable, or even offended. [17] In any case, the screen manipulation happens and leads to a result. The gesture of rotating the screen is directly transmitted to the simulated object without the help of any third party interface device. The displaying medium and the interface device are not linked, they are the very same object. Mobile screen image-objects obviously inherits the property of the interactive images presented by Jean-Louis Weissberg: the capacity to be manipulated through their own visualization medium, a mobile screen equipped with embedded sensors. This image-object manipulation, therefore, depends on the material and technical properties of this medium (size, weight, sensor type and precision, etc.), which reminds us of the tableau-object Foucault analyzes in Manet's paintings. Finally, mobile screens are deeply inscribed in our contemporary societies, founded on information exchanges through communication networks. In a similar way to the image-objects of the Middle Ages, they are actively engaged in the social fabric and practices of a particular era. Mobile screens are the place where the three image-object notions we discussed earlier are working together as one notion, with one extension demonstrated by SensorGirl: the screen object itself and the image-object melts together to become one single entity.

A possible interactive grammar?

The gesture involved in SensorGirl is adapted to the interactive visualization of a 3D model in real time and reveals a new image-object model. However, other kinds of relationships with interactive images, in other words other interactive forms, are also a matter of the image-object. Following the path of non-mobile computer image-objects, that developed several well-known interaction gestures (drag and drop, point and click, etc.), mobile screen images-objects can produce various interactive 'figures.' Touch based, and some accelerometer based, interactions have been integrated in mobile device operating systems (iOS, Android OS, etc.) since their initial design, but many other 'image-object oriented' interactivity possibilities lie in these devices and can be used to create interactive artworks designed specifically for these devices. Book Tales [18] is a series of iPad projects based on a simple protocol: every application is an interactive scene using photographs of a book and explores one or more image-object oriented interactivities that mobile screens offer. Every application/book has its own title. Les bonbons, for example, consists of a blurred photograph of an opened book with candies placed on it. By touching the screen, the spectator adjusts the focus only around his fingertips to discover that he can read some words only through the candies, other parts being too blurry to be read. Another book, Temps perdu, shows the picture of an opened white book with a child's marble placed on it. Only inside the projected shadow of the marble does the book text appear and the spectator has to physically tilt over the screen to make the marble roll in the direction of gravity in order to read the text: an impossible and non-functional reading system. Another, Petals, shows an opened book with cherry flower petals spread out on it. Blowing on the device's microphone blows the virtual petals, which twirl and move from their starting position to reveal a blank area on the book page: the text's ink has been absorbed by the petals and is reversed as in a mirror. Other multitouch, gyroscope and accelerometer based gestures are used in other applications of this ongoing series, which can be considered as an artistic application series and a mobile screen based image-object interactivity catalog. This work is part of a larger research project into artistic practices using mobile screens and makes use of a specific programming language we developed called Mobilizing. [19] This tool, currently available on iOS devices, has been conceived with the idea to help artists to prototype and create art works for mobiles screens by providing a simplified programming tool. Partially inspired by Processing, [20] Mobilizing is an ideal tool to create small prototypes of image-object artistic projects and has already been used in various workshops. The result of this research may eventually be the construction of a kind of manual for mobile screen image-objects that makes the inventory of interactive figures available on mobile devices, a kind of interactive grammar particular to these devices.

References and Notes: 
  1. Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, (accessed September 2011). The French translation uses "ceremonial images," not "ceremonial objects."
  2. Jérôme Baschet, "L'image-objet," in L'iconographie médiévale (Paris: Gallimard, 2008), 25–64.
  3. Ibid., 33–34.
  4. Ibid., 38.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Michel Foucault, La Peinture de Manet (lecture in Tunis, 20 May 1971), (accessed September 2011).
  7. Tableau is the French word used for painting, but it also bears the meaning of picture, canvas and board, which is why we choose to keep the French word in this notion.
  8. Michel Foucault, La Peinture de Manet.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Image-object shows up on many websites about HTML and JavaScript, among others.
  11. Jean-Louis Weissberg, "Sous les vagues, la plage," in Paysages Virtuels. Image Vidéo, Image de Synthèse, Anne Cauquelin, Florence De Meredieu, Anne-Marie Duguet, Jean-Louis Weissberg, 21(Paris: Dis Voir, 1988).
  12. Ibid.
  13. Uchronic time: Edmond Couchot, Des images, du temps et des machines... (Paris: Jacqueline Chambon, 2007).
  14. Jean-Louis Weissberg, "Sous les vagues, la plage," 21.
  15. Dominique Cunin, "SensorGirl," (accessed September 2011).
  16. Apple iOS Developer Library, "GL Gravity," (accessed September 2011).
  17. Dominique Cunin, "AppStore reviewers rejected SensorGirl," (accessed September 2011).
  18. Mayumi Okura's personal website, (accessed September 2011).
  19. Dominique Cunin, "Mobilizing," (accessed September 2011).
  20. Official Processing website, (accessed September 2011).

Artists as the New Producers of the Common (?)

This paper examines a new form of creativity, based on the commons.  Using two projects organized in 2010 by the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens as case studies, it aims to define the features of this emerging creativity and to locate the challenges and changes formed for the creators involved in this process.


Paolo Virno writes that post-fordism is the era of the "communism of the capital." [1] The notion, which may be heard as a political (pseudo) paradox of our times describing a capital based on communality, is not a new form of utopia, however, it rather implies a new kind of accumulation and creation of value based on the expropriation of the common. Knowledge, information, affects, codes, social relations, the new ‘artificial’ common wealth, which is not inherited but is produced and shared by the ‘posse’ – the potentiality – of the contemporary multitude, is what is at stake and what is being capitalized today according to the Italian school of thought. Produced in the contemporary metropolsis and the networked spaces we have come to inhabit, the common is the multitude’s strength and its Achilles’s heel at the same time. Continuously becoming and constantly expropriated, being abundant, dynamic and diffused, it can only be understood as a derivative of a life in excess and a life open to appropriation and control. Therefore, the ‘communism of the capital’ is an oxymoron expressing the controversies and questionings of the post-fordist condition. How can the multitude’s capacities to think, to produce and exchange information and knowledge escape capitalization? How can they be reclaimed and by whom? If there is no longer an outside, as it is often being said, is there maybe a possibility for a change, which would derive from within? 

This paper looks into the role of art in the years of the new common wealth. Taking into consideration the great number of projects which have been developed in the last decade and the references made to creativity in the context of the new discussion on the commons, a double-sided observation is attempted; not only on how forms of art encourage a swift of mentality towards the commons, but also on how the art world itself changes through this process.

The starting point for this positioning will be two projects initiated and curated by myself and organized by the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens, in 2010, the year when Greece started losing its financial independence. Seeking alternatives in the impasse of late capitalism,  Esse, Νosse, Posse: Common Wealth for Common People and Mapping the Commons, Athens aimed to examine and locate the commons in their two main reservoirs, the Internet and the city.

Esse, Nosse, Posse: Common Wealth for Common People

Esse, Nosse, Posse: Common Wealth for Common People is an online platform launched in April 2010, as an open comment to the growing common wealth of the connected society. [2] The title is a reference to the Latin triad  “I am, I know, I can,” that having constituted the core of renaissance humanism, today interestingly reappears in order to describe the features of the contemporary multitude. [3] What is important is not only the knowledge itself but also our potential for its production and the formation of our subjectivities through it at the same time. Taking this into consideration, the online platform aimed to refer –through a rich variety of artistic creation – to the motivations and capacities that form the new common wealth and to respectively discuss the controversies and risks lying behind it. To achieve this, Esse, Nosse, Posse: Common Wealth for Common People hosted: a) projects critically commenting on the new forms of networked wealth and b) initiatives and open platforms based on free and open software, encouraging exchange and collaboration. Selected texts were also uploaded as resources to provide a context for further discussion.

The issues tackled by the projects that were presented were the following: the passage from the fordist to the post-fordist society and the transformation of labor (First of May by Marcelo Exposito), the immeasurability of the immaterial work conducted in the networks (User Labor by Burak Arikan and Engin Erdogan), the new forms of online labor based on virtual sweatshops (Invisible Threads by Jeff Crouse and Stephanie Rothenberg; Gold Farmers by Ge Jin aka Jingle) or on crowdsourcing (Bicycle Built for 2,000 by Aaron Koblin and Daniel Massey; re_potemkin by .-_-.), the call for a free exchange of knowledge beyond copyrights (Free Culture Game by Molleindustria; Perpetual Wall by Dimitris Papadatos), the interweaved character of the networked economy (All Over by Samuel Bianchini), the imbalance of the information society (Internet Art for Poor People by Carlos Katastrofsky; MAICgregator by Nicholas Knouf),  and the value of attention economy in territories of info-noise (Falling Times by Michael Bielicky and Kamila B. Richter).

While the above works were discussing the capitalist character of the networked condition, the platforms, that were also introduced, invited users to join efforts of collaboration, co-production and knowledge sharing. Initiatives by collectives with significant work in the field were listed, such as: Furtherfield, who encourage people to recycle their old laptops by offering them to the homeless (The Zero Dollar Laptop); Platoniq, who propose a platform of exchanging services (The Bank of Common Knowledge); or Mediashed who propose that people communicate their low cost products through their database (Gearbox). Escaping capitalization, control and appropriation, these efforts propose to users a different mode of engagement and production in the networks. At the same time, projects with a more specific character were also included. Such as the platform of Anders Weberg (P2P Art) who invites people to participate in the creation of an ephemeral common artwork based on peer-to-peer logic, or Brett Gaylor’s Open Source Cinema, which invites users to upload and remix the videos online. The Artzilla team has also been included for its web browser modifications and subversions that support freedom and openness, along with the Shiftspace group who, in a similar approach, propose the placement of open source layers above any website. In addition, the network Kate Rich created for the fair trade of products is presented (Feral Trade), as is Dmitri Kleiner’s Telecommunisten network, which offers tools and services that are owned by the workers themselves.

A new utopia or a breakthrough in the networked world? This entity of projects is only part of an emerging creativity on the Web which is based on the idea of the commons. However, can we realize our potential and re-orientate our disposal for socialization and knowledge towards the new liberated environments the artists propose? We might be in the beginning of a shift in mentality, yet it should be noted that the initiatives and actions discussed in the context of this paper are not being valued on the basis of their popularity or ‘efficiency.’ They are considered noteworthy for the stance that their creators take. What lies behind them is a call, an urge for a new system of values that can empower the growing common wealth. These values are to be found not solely within the Web, but also within life itself and especially in its most lively terrain, which is the contemporary metropolis.

Mapping the Commons, Athens

Mapping the Commons, Athens was a cartography project that followed Esse, Nosse, Posse reflecting a need to trace the commons in the urban environment and to examine their role in times of crisis.  The project took the form of a cartography workshop conceptualized by the Spanish collective Hackitectura, which was commissioned by and hosted in the premises of the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens in December 2010  . [4] The aim was clear: to map the city of Athens, restless and vulnerable as it was, according to its commons. The work was undertaken by an interdisciplinary group of artists and researchers from the universities of Athens, guided and supervised by Hackitectura; with contributions from artists, sociologists, scientists and theorists working on the field.

Seeing beyond the 'public' and the 'private,' the team sought for, examined and documented the different types of commons that were located in the urban environment. The elements of sociability, openness, sharing and accessibility were of primary importance during this exploration; special attention was given to peer-to-peer practices, community networks and forms of exchange economy. The entries enriching the cartography were decided and organized according to certain parameters related to the ‘wealth’ being produced, the community supporting it and the risks of its enclosure and exploitation.

The team successfully produced two maps: a research map, where all commons were described, categorized and located; and a video map where certain commons were developed into video case studies by the participants. Furthermore, a blog documenting the progress of the workshop was also created. However, the most important outcome of the project was the ‘common’ produced during the workshop itself; the knowledge that the community of creators, students, artists and theorists formed together while also building a common experience and imaginary.

Locating the features of common-based art

Taking the above works as examples, one can interestingly locate similarities that assist in recognizing the features of a new form of creativity which emerges on the basis of the common. The rich variety of works discussed – which may be categorized as net art, game art, software art; or as documentaries, interventions, databases and maps – all share a kind of openness and collectiveness which opposes previous ways of perception and evaluation in the contemporary art or new media art scene.

In an attempt to locate and summarize some of the main features of this creativity, the following points could be used as a start:

  • The works, in their wide variety, do not constitute art objects or art installations; they present no certain aura and claim no art market value.
  • They accordingly do not aim for the awe of the spectator; they do not impress by their aesthetics, technics or complexity.
  • They claim no authorship and no uniqueness; their power is in their distribution and diffusion.
  • They are not cryptic or ironic; on the contrary, they aim to be direct, understandable and reachable.
  • They address the citizens and users of the cities and the networks and not specifically the art audience, the art institutions or the art collectors.  

The aim of this growing entity of works seems to be no other than to socialize knowledge. They are works that, as Matteo Pasquinelli expressed it, belong to the age of "social reproducibility," [5]  which followed Benjamin’s age of ‘mechanical reproduction.’ We have gone beyond the unlimited reproduction of artistic objects and the loss of the aura of the prototype. The challenge for the works of art is a new one; it is the challenge for a "unicity without aura" as Virno put it, for a "non-original unicity which originates in the anonymous and impersonal character of the technical reproduction." Art’s new aim, he argues, is to find the relation between the highest possible degree of communality or generality and the highest possible degree of singularity, the balance between the most general and the most particular . [6] Are the works previously mentioned not a first step towards this direction as they refer to the common wealth produced by the general intellect on one hand and to the importance of the contribution of each singularity on the other? Is the presence of the artist’s identity not lessened as works seek for a new balance between individuality and collectivity? Or rather between multiplicity of individual expression and the unity of a collective will, between "singularity and solidarity, cooperation and freedom?" [7]

This realization, however, leads to the need for the second definition: who are the creators that seek this new balance expressed as a "unicity without aura" for their works and why?

Describing the creators of commons based art/the new commoners

Discussing works based on collectivity, openness and lack of authorship, it easily becomes clear that we mostly refer to creators who are leaving the role of the ‘artist’ and moving towards the one of the initiator, the collaborator, the affective worker, the networked creator, the hacktivist. Often, the creators might not even be artists. In their shoes there are programmers, architects, lawyers, social scientists, or generally people from different fields who see creativity as an invaluable tool of expression, communication and resistance. This is a new generation of creators who wishes to merge with the ‘audience,’ blurring prior boundaries and hierarchies. What brings them together is the virtuosity, the social competences and the affective potentialities they all have and use in their virtual and urban interactions. For Virno, who assigns to virtuosity a central role for the post-fordist way of being, and sees creativity as diffused today, each and every individual is, at the same time, the artist performing the action and the audience: he performs individually while he assists the other’s performances.” [8]

But what does such a realization mean? Do artists still have a role to play or they fade in the name of a new common and radical approach of creativity?

At this point, one needs to pause and reflect on some of the fundamental ideas of the common wealth on one hand and on the actions of the creators being discussed on the other. “There is no commons without commoning,” wrote Peter Linebaugh, highlighting the fact that besides the common goods, the social practices of a community are also needed. There is no commons without the commoners; these are the individuals that not only produce and share the commons but also establish relationships of solidarity between them and fight to reclaim the commons that have been enclosed. While Linebaugh refers to the ‘Magna Carta,’ the commoners of the medieval England and the land enclosures, one could interestingly juxtapose this sequence to the inhabitants of today’s cities and networks with the enclosure of the common wealth produced. What seems to be missing, however, is the cultural memory of a prior different mode of being and sharing that the commoners of land had, reminding them what there was to be reclaimed. [9] Missing this element, an urge for a common imaginary appears that – replacing common memory – will be based on the realization of the multitude’s potentialities and will offer the ground to step on in order to reclaim the surplus of the knowledge and information which is being enclosed today. A form of this common imaginary is what the creators are building through their initiatives, activating through it the shaping of new communities and new commons. Seeing artists as the new commoners therefore is the first point that can be made regarding their contribution.

A second point can become clear while looking into the formation of the new common spaces that the artists are particularly proposing which are beyond control and exploitation. The online collaborative platforms, the databases of exchange or the workshops organized can be seen as the new interconnected spaces that allow communities of commoners to be formed, offering to the worrying and restless multitude a new home and a new ground for social encounters.

Thirdly, the creators today may assist the contemporary digital multitude by encouraging the use of the tools that we all already have in our possession. What we need today is to learn how to work with language, codes, ideas and affects; and how to build relationships through them. [10] We need the knowledge and information infrastructure that artistic creation seems to be able to provide while avoiding at the same time the appropriation of these tools on the web and in the city environment by third parties.

Finally and hopefully, through such a process a new system and a new theory of value can emerge, one which would express the desire of the multitude for a liberated connectivity. As life is in excess today, as work and life have become one, a new balance can only be found through creativity that embraces the ideas of sharing and co-producing.   

Reclaiming a new form of exodus

Open, participatory and rhizomatic, the new form of art emerging based on the commons seems to have some of the features that media art did not reach before. It is a form of art that tries to assist, to engage with the audience and to share knowledge. It informs and encourages transformation; it takes responsibility and helps the multitude to overcome its fears.

Although this new form of creation could be related to certain movements of art history such as Dada, for its recycling practices and its negation towards artist's authorship, to Situationism for its refusal to copyright, or to the movements of institutional critique; yet the creativity based on the commons presents an interesting differentiation.  It is not necessarily anti-art or anti-institutional. It alternatively takes a stance or a point of view that looks beyond the art system and the art world. The artists do not negate art or the museums’ structures and hierarchies. They often choose to address to them and propose new forms of collaboration that will need to be based on new grounds of openness and sharing.  They often invite institutions to enter a game based on openness and diffusion of information and to surpass the constraints of ownership and authorship that might have impeded such an orientation. They ask museums to join their efforts towards the commons by providing the audiences a context for art practices related to sharing, by encouraging and presenting creators’ alternatives to capitalism, by assisting in the formation of new common places and common values beyond institutional walls.

Facing the impasse of late capitalism, the creators of the works that were discussed in this context, seem to ultimately aim for a new form of exodus. This exodus however can only come from within, by staying where we are and by expressing a collective will for a change. The idea therefore is to “pursue a line of flight while staying right here, by transforming the relations of production and mode of social organization under which we live.” [11] For this reason, the efforts of the creators to reach out and communicate ideas, to overcome themselves as names and overcome art as art, assist in the formation of a multitude of commoners that can achieve direct experiences of co-operation beyond exploitation. This is a value that is worth noting and supporting for years to come.


This research has been co-financed by the European Union (European Social Fund – ESF) and Greek national funds through the Operational Program "Education and Lifelong Learning" of the National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF) – Research Funding Program: Heracleitus II. Investing in knowledge society through the European Social Fund.

References and Notes: 
  1. Paolo Virno, The Grammar of the Multitude (Los Angeles/New York : Semiotext(e), 2004), 110.
  2. EMST website, (accessed July 2011).
  3. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000), 407.
  4. Realized in the framework of EMST Commissions 2010, with the support of Bombay Sapphire, (accessed July 2011).
  5. Matteo Pasquinelli, Animal Spirits: A Bestiary of the Commons (Rotterdam: NAi Publishers, 2008), 20.
  6. Paolo Virno, “The Dismeasure of Art,” Open 17, (accessed July 10, 2011).
  7. Brian Holmes, Unleashing the Collective Phantoms (New York: Autonomedia, 2008), 56.
  8. Paolo Virno, “An Interview with Paolo Virno" by Alexei Penzin, "The Soviets of the Multitude: On Collectivity and Collective Work," Chto Delat, (accessed September 5, 2011).
  9. Louis Wolscher, “The Meanings of the Commons,” in An Architektur, No 23 (2010): 4-5.
  10. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Common Wealth (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Harvard, 2009), 308.
  11. Ibid., 12, 151.

The Emergence of Consciousness

The Emergence of Consciousness project is an artistic investigation of the scientific study of consciousness and the possibilities of 'machine consciousness' through the use of performance art and digital media. Dumitriu worked with sensory and movement deprivation (e.g. blindfolds, physical restraints etc.) and augmentation, in an attempt to take on the role of a robotic agent herself and try to understand what it feels like to be a robot.


The issue is that we tend to think we know what a conscious experience is and our inner mental lives are filled with assumptions about the conscious experiences of others, we believe we know how they feel and we assume they have some insight into what how we feel. We have what’s known as a “theory of mind” and are able to identify other “minded” subjects. But these abilities are set to be thrown into question as developments in artificial life (AL) technologies lead to the potential to build robots that give the impression of being “minded” in some way. Thomas Nagel’s paper “What is it like to be a bat” suggests that it is not possible for us to imagine how it would feel to be a bat because bats use sonar to navigate their world, something we could not imagine as we have no understanding or experience of it. However technological advances may offer us limited access to “new” senses, even in the short term and we can learn to incorporate them, perhaps enabling new insights. An example of this is the “Enactive Torch” built by Tom Froese and Adam Spiers, which: “provides the user with one continuous channel of vibro-tactile feedback to the hand, where the strength of stimulation depends on the distance to the object which is currently pointed at. The distance is measured using an ultrasonic sensor.”

Working closely with researchers from the Centre for Computational Neuroscience and Robotics at The University of Sussex during her artist’s residency there Dumitriu investigated notions of what “conscious experience” might mean for a robotic agent in contrast to a human (the artist herself). The project, which was created as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad is inspired by perspectives of embodiment as characterized by Francisco Varela, Evan Thompson and Eleanor Rosch, and situatedness as applied to evolutionary robotics by Rodney Brooks. This research was used to develop a new work, which was performed at Lighthouse in Brighton in July 2010. For the piece Dumitriu attempted to take on the role of a robot agent by reducing (as much as humanly possible) her sensory input down to that of her collaborator a medium sized robot whose only interaction with the world is through its limited sensors and wheels).  Working with an assistant (Luke Robert Mason) her ears were blocked with earplugs, her head and body were wrapped in thick black bondage tape to block out her vision and restrict her movement and her skin was coated with Lidocaine cream (local anaesthetic). She was given a walking cane to sense her world with (as suggested by Dr Inman Harvey as being a close analogue for the robot’s sonar. In the performance the robot attempted to find the centre of the room using a control system evolved using a genetic algorithm and a single sonar sensor, Dumitriu attempted to find the centre of the room using her remaining sensory capacity and a counted the paces she took to get from one side to the other. The robot method is faster in this case and the Dumitriu’s very human approach is a demonstration of the incommensurability between artificial and biological life but nevertheless the work demonstrates clearly just how different ‘machine consciousness’ might be. These ideas were also brought out in digital projections to accompany the performance created artist Alex May.

Taking on the role of a robot agent is not a trivial process. The idea that a robot phenomenology is something that we could access is a contentious and flawed idea, however, an attempt to mimic the phenomenological experience of a robot should be of interest. The possibility of impoverishing the artist’s sensory experience to that of a robot is not achievable and neither is the idea of an artist replicating the functionality of a wheeled robot through her own physicality. However the ongoing performative experiments reveal to both the wider public and to invited scientists and philosophers many of the issues inherent in developing machine consciousness, potentially revealing new insights whilst acting as a form of public engagement in robotics research.

In her experiments Dumitriu has attempted to enact “robot experience” with particular focus on Francisco Varela’s work on how a robot might be considered to “mindfully” interact with the environment in which it is embedded. It focuses only on the sensor data it can receive and react to and not concerned with the floods of thoughts and emotions that fill (and pollute?) our human minds. 

The practical aspects of the project are important to Dumitriu’s understanding and Dumitriu built the robot agent from scratch in collaboration with a robotics specialist. The wheeled robot has the capacity to take in a large number of sensory inputs but currently is just using sonar. It is important for the work that Dumitriu understands fully how the robot is constructed in order to deconstruct it psychologically for the audience.

The work done in the Emergence of Consciousness project is now being built on in Dumitriu’s new collaboration with the University of Hertfordshire where she and fellow artist collaborator Alex May have been appointed as Visiting Research Fellows: Artists in Residence in The Adaptive Systems Group (since January 2011). They are now working closely with Professor Kerstin Dautenhahn and Dr Mick Walters to develop a series of speculative robot heads designed to provoke the audience to think about their feelings about the possibilities of living with robot companions. It asks the audience to consider the field of social robotics and what they actually want in robot companions; how they should look, move and whether they should appear to be humanlike or ‘minded’. The first of these heads was exhibited at the Science Gallery in Dublin (April-June 2011) as part of their exhibition “HUMAN+ The future of the species” and included a humanoid robot body built by the University of Hertfordshire with a head created using rear projection 3D video mapping and a hacked Microsoft Kinect that is able to take on the appearance of anyone looking at it (in group situations it creates a composite based on proximity). The idea is that users may prefer a familiar face but the work plays with the sense of the uncanny as users begin to recognise themselves (a disjuncture perhaps between the sensation that something is minded and the knowledge that it is not). The title of that head is “Familiar” and also references the idea of the ‘witches familiar’ (in mythology this is often a black cat), a creature which ‘appears only at a time of need’, ‘can act on the witch’s behalf’ and ‘can change shape’. Technology as witchcraft?

References and Notes: 

Daniel Dennet, Consciousness Explained (London, Penguin, 1993)

Thomas Metzinger, Being No One (Cambridge, MA, MIT Press, 2004)

Thomas Nagel, “What is it like to be a bat?” In The Philosophical Review, 1974

Francisco Varela, Evan Thompson and Eleanor Rosch The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience (MIT Press, 1992)

 The Enactive Torch official blog (accessed 23 June 2011)

The Science Gallery official website “My Robot Companion” (accessed June 23, 2011)



Unnecessary Research, what's the point?

This panel outlines “The Institute of Unnecessary Research”(IUR) and presents a new paradigm in the way artists are engaging with the world through transdisciplinary practices. It brings together art, science and philosophy by creating participatory audience experiences. Sometimes humorous and sometimes grotesque, our work pushes boundaries and critically questions the means of knowledge production in the 21st Century.


Artists are innovators, if a new piece of technology or a new medium, becomes available; artists want to try it, to experiment with it- from microbiology to robotics; from tissue culture to neuroscience. Some artists take on the role of a scientist in almost a performative way and some scientists become artists themselves. Philosophy and ethics is always at its core and the work unpacks the instrumentalization of science and art for commercial and political ends.

Forms of “connective aesthetics” (Gablik) are used to engage audiences in participatory experiences that extend and generate new outcomes through exhibitions and events going beyond simple interactivity, throwing authorship into question, as members of the audience are inspired to become Unnecessary Researchers in their own rights.

The IUR was founded in 2005 by Artist Anna Dumitriu following discussions at the “Rules of Engagement” Conference on the nature of Art and Science collaboration, held at York University, UK and organized by Arts Council England. The original ‘blue sky’ vision for the IUR was a major research facility where scientists were employed to work with artists, thereby avoiding the common situation of scientists’ lack of availability/time when engaged in art/science collaborative projects. Scientists tend to view a collaborative art/science project as extra-curricular to their ‘day jobs’, whereas to an artist the collaboration is often key to their ‘day jobs’ in terms of being either a grant funded project, commissioned piece or artists’ residency. This inconsistency is one of the biggest hurdles for art/science collaboration to overcome, often far greater than issues, such as funding, audience engagement and linguistic incommensurability. Key to the notion of art/science collaboration are these reoccurring questions, “What is the purpose of it?” “What can an artist offer to science”, “In terms of art, why engage with science at all?” “What levels of cross-fertilization should happen” and most importantly “what has art got to do with knowledge anyway?” The IUR attempts to work with these questions.

There are obvious financial issues with building a major research facility for artists to work with scientists (the IUR favours a underground facility carved out of a rocky island that can only be reached by boat or helicopter (for purely aesthetic reasons)) so it was decided that The IUR should initially be started as a hub for artists or scientists working a high levels of trans-disciplinary practice, strongly concerned with the philosophical implications of their methodolologies, interested in public engagement and practicing in ways that could be described as ‘performative’ in nature. A web site was set up in 2005 and a very low-key performance event took place in Dumitriu’s studio above The Phoenix Gallery in Brighton, England. Since then the has project attracted wide interest and has grown form there, including further performances and interventions at Sussex University, The Whitechapel Gallery in London, ETH in Zurich and as part of many festivals.

The Institute of Unnecessary Research is now an international hub for researchers and artists working experimentally and deeply engaged with their specific research areas. We present our research through performative and experiential methods, engaging the public and new audiences in our ideas.

The IUR uses performance as a means of conveying research; often events have an interactive component, the audience taking part in experiments and research activities thus changing the direction, development and final outcomes of the artwork. Critical theorist Suzi Gablik discusses in her essay on “Connective Aesthetics” that the traditional relationship of the artist to the artwork has come to be superseded, and that this social role of art has become increasingly important, since there is:

“.. a rejection of modernism’s bogus ideology of neutrality. Many artists now refuse the notion of a completely narcissistic exhibition practice as the desirable goal for art”. (Gablik)

Artists have now come to see the process as equal to, or even more important than the outcome, or the performance is more important than the documentation of it. So the means of production of the artwork as a dialogical and collaborative process is also the outcome of the artwork in this model, which is what makes it so relevant to Art/Science practice, it is an analogue of the typical, natural relationship of the artist to the scientist (and vice versa), the journey rather than the destination. Although not inherent in all Art/Science practice it would seem logical to include the audience in the collaboration, with their own vast tracts of knowledge and experience. Gablik states:

“..there is distinct shift in the locus of creativity from the autonomous, self contained individual to a new dialogical structure that frequently is not the product of a single individual but the result of a collaborative and interdependent process”. (Gablik)

This influence of performative, dialogical aesthetics, which comes from the collaborative structure of Art/Science practice makes it a useful technique for reaching out to new audiences in a non-hierarchical way. But these forms of collaboration are not easy and require huge conviction, and effort from all partners involved.

The IUR mimics and subverts the Institutional model it is based on. There are various ‘departments’ each ‘headed’ by an unnecessary researcher. The ‘department’ names are created by the individual artists, scientists and philosophers and based on their personal research areas. When a researcher joins they come up with a ‘department’ name, if they leave (and the IUR is a dynamic group in this sense) it is likely that the ‘department’ is discontinued (at least for a while)

For instance the Head of Crockery resigned his role (from within the online cyber world Second Life in 2006), as part of a multimedia performance at Sussex University, the position of Head of Crockery currently remains unfilled.

There is no official selection procedure for department heads, unsolicited enquiries are responded to with a warning that selection procedures  “are entirely nepotistic”, in fact the IUR grows organically through increasing networks of international contacts.  Current departments include: ‘Projective Geometry’ (Alex May), ‘The Digital Simulacra’ (Luke Robert Mason), ‘Neuroplastic Arts’ (Gordana Novakovic), ‘Textile Abuse’ (Bettina Shuelke) and ‘Viral Contagion’ (Tagny Duff). There are currently 25 departments across distributed locations and the project is directed and co-ordinated by Anna Dumitriu (whilst working on her own research interests which cross microbiology, artificial life, robotics and ethics).

The name “The Institute of Unnecessary Research” is, in many ways, confrontational. It raises the question what is necessary research? Unnecessary does not imply pointless, it often means going beyond the normal (in the Kuhnian sense of ‘normal science’) and crossing boundaries, asking where do we draw the line with what we study or with what can be studied? Unnecessary Research encourages eccentric, obsessive, creative working practices and is an antidote to the stranglehold placed on research by central government and the gatekeepers of academia.

References and Notes: 

Suzi Gablik,, Connective Aesthetics: Art after Individualism in Mapping the Terrain: New Genre Public Art. Ed. Suzanne Lacy (Bay Press, 1995), p85

The Institute of Unnecessary Research official website  (accessed 23 June, 2011) 



Digital Photography: Expanded Creativity and Technology

Digital tools available for photography allow artists to think in a more daring, free way. This freedom influences the content and also the visual aesthetics of the recently created artworks in the universal practice of contemporary photography. Digital means/processes are already and will in the future, strengthen photography’s position in the art scene as one of the most progressive artistic expression and visual language platforms.



Photography is one of the creative fields in which technological advances influence artistic expression the most. The ease of manipulation brought by software and extra features available in cameras made artists (using photography as an articulation tool) reconsider their visions, themes, narration, syntax and ways of sharing their artwork. Sharing sites like Flickr, which expedite encounters of various individuals from different cultures, help in changing the perception of the vital notion of time and enable artists to get faster feedback.

Digital tools allow photographically based artists to think in a more daring and free way. In addition to the regular montage and collage methods remaining from the analog days, digital imaging techniques allow artists to work with notions of augmented perception, chronophotography, subreal encounters, pictorialism, palimpsest-like superimposition, interlacing, simplification / minimization, creation of new worlds, delusion, synthetic realism / artificiality, appropriation. 

Following textual content are excerpts from the concept statements of various artwork series in which computational procedures were essential in their creation.

Aesthetics of serendipity: Muta-morphosis

The different traces left by various people and slices of time co-exist as layers in cities that have a particular past. The global trends and economical conditions strain this multi-layered traditional urban structure. An architecture with a language that cannot be considered as local anymore but universal, attacks the old texture of cities during the urban growth. This intervention usually implemented through gentrification supported by big capital, causes the urban tissue and its components to face mutation and even beyond this, undergo metamorphosis. Following this interaction and consecutive natural selection, some constituents disappear and some survive after being transformed.

The concept of “muta-morphosis”, a combination of the notions of mutation and metamorphosis, and the connected artwork series was obtained by reducing panoramic images on one axis. The image compression on the horizontal level points to the dynamics between the urban components that can persist and the ones that give up, vanish in the various historical, residential and business urban districts. The visual urban result obtained after this contraction process points to the much discussed notion of evolution, where stronger components of existence survive the others after a natural selection process and change the course of life. The lack of a single perspectival structure due to multiplicity of perspectives after panoramic imaging, can be linked to Ottoman miniatures, which in turn, connects the global contemporary representation to its local traditional counterpart.

Contemporary aesthetics is a subject under construction due to the rich variety of fresh expressive means supported by the computational creativity, nourished by artistic spontaneity and improvisation. The series ‘Muta-morphosis’ could only be created within the digital realm, and it indirectly points to the mutation and metamorphosis in aesthetics in general.

Photography as a tool of Alienation: ‘Aura’ series

Regular photographical imaging record volumetric planes with smooth surfaces. The reason is the camera’s deficiency in perceiving and documenting the visual richness of “persuasive” details in life. HDR imaging methods used in creating this artwork series titled “Aura” helped making invisible organism-like textures emerge and point to the notions of decay and symbiosis.

The ‘Aura’ series consists of photo-composites obtained with the combination of Photoshop and Photomatix Pro in order to perform HDR imaging. Four or more photos from the same angle are used for each of the plates from the series. All multiple-photo groups, recorded inanimate objects still, yet animate subjects in different positions / movements due to passage of time and slow shutter speeds. Superimposition of four photos resulted with the particular aesthetics of the constant appearance of immobile objects and the dynamic intricacy as a consequence of layered mobile subjects. The aim in multiplying the photographical renderings of these mobile subjects, is to reach a similar complicated result to the above mentioned notion of merging reflective analogue visual data with its reflexive digital one.

This series of artworks, focusing on the difference between the intrinsic soul and extrinsic perception subsidiary to conditions; was created in galleries, museums and market places in Paris, Bologna, Hong Kong, London and Istanbul in year 2009. The work is conceived as a reminder and critique of the ever-present but recently much-peaked “market economy” climate and approach, concealed with various awareness arguments in artists’ statements. In the presence of commercial art milieu, it seems there has not remained much difference between art venues and shopping malls. Aura series can be taken as a study created after the desire of having artworks independent of peripheral conditions and gaining their inherent value...

Inadvertent Art - Ars Accidentalis

Even though art is the product of an intentional act of fabrication, the serendipitous spill of an ink or paint, the unforeseen slip of a pen or brush, sudden shake of a camera in the analog realm have the potential of generating an unconscious lead in the planned course of action. The consequential shift in direction may completely change the aesthetics and content of an artwork. An artist should always be open to such 'accidental' dimension which will help him / her to take the original idea out of its initial framework and recontextualize it for a new conception.

The outcomes of software ‘failures’ in digital technology made a similar type of aesthetics emerge: Glitch aesthetics. The ‘dirty’ and sometimes ‘chaotic’ nature of glitches made things look much more organic and human, as opposed to mechanically computerized. This unrefined aesthetics has recently become so popular among designers that some of them have made specific websites as tributes to the process.

Though the accidental dimension in art looks more compatible with analog practices, there are various instances it finds its niche in the digital world as well. Mystifying benefits like freedom from preconceptions, momentary skepticism about planned course of action, avoiding mechanical thinking / prejudices, reaching a more natural / authentic result, discovering unusual and unique aesthetical domains, etc. will always make ‘ars accidentalis’ an indispensable part of art practice. 


Digital tools available for photography allow the artists in the field to think in a more daring and free way. This freedom influences the content and also the visual aesthetics of the recently created artworks in the universal practice of contemporary photography. Photography is probably one of the visual art platforms that is influenced the most by digital production and creativity. Digital means/processes are already and will in the future, strengthen photography’s position in the art scene as one of the most progressive artistic expression and visual language platforms. 


References and Notes: 

Germen, Murat. Concept text from the "Ars Accidentalis" series, 2008.

Germen, Murat. Concept text from the "Aura" series, 2009.

Germen, Murat. Concept text from the "Muta-morphosis" series, 2010-11.

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