Report from ICT and the Humanities Summer School Continued

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Mary Flanagan Presents.
After a short coffee break on the fourth day of the ICT and the Humanities Summer School at Sodertorn’s University College we returned to hear Professor Mary Flanagan (artist; inventor-designer-activist, NYC; professor + director, Tiltfactor research group, Hunter College) speak on “Reskinning the Everyday”. But first an introduction.
Mary Flanagan was the producer for the educational game The Adventures of Josie True. She is the designer and founder of Tech Arts Buffalo (“a community action project to encourage girls from the City of Buffalo to learn about and use computers”). Mary is an author and editor whose work includes Reload: Rethinking Woman and Cyberculture (2002) and The Sims. Similarities, Symbols & Simulacra (In Italian) with Matteo Bittanti (2003) and soon to be published reskin Cambridge: MIT Press, forthcoming 2005. Details of these and other writings are available HERE.
Mary began the presentation by introducing us to some of her works and some of the motivations behind them.
Flanagan began her artistic practice as a film maker working particularly in video. In reply to some earlier discussion regarding the nature of the cyborg in relation to identity, Flanagan stated the “cyborg is about the Self rather than techno fetishism”.
In 1991 she made a video called innards . This was one in a series of works which looked at the feminine body as both object and image.
From this entry point into cyber cultures the dialogues and pathways have been MANY!!.
Flanagan is a virtual world developer and works with game hacks as a medium. In virtual world development she sees the possibilities to “encounter non-linear narratives”. Asking the question “What is a virtual space?” she answered herself with “It is a space of imagination.” This is turn poses the questions; “How am I here?” and “What is this hard drive?” We are thereby propelled into considering the nature of the works, how they arrange subjectivity and what their contexts both as art and material metaphors are.
Phage(2000) re-contextualises digital material into new hierarchies by searching the hard drive of the engaging computer and re-presenting material in a 3D visual field. The artwork is just the computer application and the pre-existing content of the drive is what we see, but in a new form.
Other works Flanagan showed were Collection, which continues a primarily visual interpretation of the medium. Rootings a more game like environment and remotion, which re-presents imaged nature through a wireless web cam application. Ineffabel, a 2005 work is a welcome examination of sound in digital contexts, in this case in relation to individual voice in daily online text exchanges.
The final work previewed was domestic from 2003. I found this piece highly impressive, the little I saw of it. A large 3D game environment has been created around the theme of a house fire which Flanagan experienced as a child. Text, sound and space are integrated to stunning effect, although it was video fly-thru we saw (which may influence the pace and tempo of engaging with the work) it made a strong impression on myself of the possibilities of using 3D game environments to present emotional configured work.
We now move on to “Reskinning the Everyday”

Mary Flanagan read (for the first time in public) an essay she has in the forthcoming volume Reskin (MIT Press 2005). So, as one may expect from an innovator such as Flanagan, this was not a lecture in the sense of “listen carefully and be quiet”. Instead this was a story and parable, or rather a dialogue. It was constructed between Mary and her friend Sebastian, who I seem to remember is a real person and a mathematician.
As it was a narrative (and somewhat poetic at times)I listened and noted down points that I could extract from the overall flow of images. This being the case it will appear a bit disjointed here, as regurgitation usually does….

Boarders. the screen skin ripples. linked throughout. “The Great Container”: the area around me = another skin. the boarders.
The way we think about interfaces:

1. Boxes.
Vannevar Bush and XEROX Parc,

– Argument for intuitive systems are culturally based
– Interface systems are entry point
– The computer as box is a colonial model

In development drawing game scenarios were deployed. NO characters. Drew the box. Mouse, typing touch pad are all hand communication.
This is an example of authoring culture. Computer as ideological system.
The hacking mythos arose from the gaps emerging in the control system where the vulture is inaccessible, language (code) effects agency.
7% of programmers in the USA are women. The socio-cultural boarders of computing. Jerry Kang does cognitive research including timed responses to racial stereotypes which is applicable to the nature of data in operating systems. One example of this is that Group Authored Documents are not recorded or represented as such.

II. Maps.
Interfaces as maps. Screens as maps. Green = Valley,
Brown = Landscape, Icons = Roadside Attractions.
The paths of information are not shown. Map – abstraction as describing underlying structures. The ever-present fuzzy quality of computer interfaces.
– centralized, decentralized, distributed.

III. Network.
Interfaces as networks. Barriers, Boarders, Breeches.
“the nature of instability is woven into the states of the universe”.
– centres the cultural creations of the material. Carolyn Marvin’s work on the telephone as changing the space in the household and the body as a medium for conveying new technologies. These “new” technologies functioned actually as filtering devices, as limiting experience and as remarcating personal/private and public.
Some easily recognised networks:

Search Engines – lack of temporality through time.
Blogs – introduced temporality, progression of self through time.
Body – where language transcends time and becomes action (skin).

IV. Objects
Interfaces as Objects. Maps contain values. Look at structures of all interfaces as informing process.

Semantics and Syntax of Code:
Plato – Chair + sitting
Object orientated programming. Example being “Crowd = 100 instance of person object” Inside=True, Outside=False. the works of Raymond L. Wilder on the philosophy of mathematics (particularly in relation to anthropology) illustrates that object thinking influences broad cognition, including the idea of place as object. Object thinking fails in regard to fuzzy boundaries and contradiction and in epistemological practice it is rationalistic and deterministic.

Enter Gilles Deleuze
Nomad Art. The invention of new metaphors. Code as embodying concepts of time and space. Aspect-oriented programming (AOP) Flanagan argues embodies possibilities of this.

Ken Knoespel – New diagrams?
Lakoff/Johnson – New metaphors?
Aarseth – New methods?

“Where does mathematics come from?”

This is where my notes on Professor Mary Flanagan’s presentation end. After lunch we returned for a three hour workshop led by Prof. Flanagan on Digital Profiling and End User License Agreements (EULAs). This was very interesting as when dealt with critically the contours and topography of the EULA take on more significance than the physical appearance of such a document would indicate. As well as this the world of digital profiling is complex and implicit. After looking at several examples of both profiling and EULAs we broke up into groups and in each constructed a research proposal round the material and themes from the day.

Here ends another report from the ICT and the Humanities Summer School. My next blog post will be on Day 5; Morton Soby and Cyborg Reflections on Digital Literacy

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