On Technical Objects (2018)
In order to approach expanded animation in a searching movement, I try to locate Vielém Flusser's five-level cultural model on the one hand genealogically in the art (historical) context and analyze it exemplarily, and on the other hand turn it around in an exploratory gesture. With this I would like to show that at the end of this model a cultural and artistic practice is installed that tries to make the increasingly complex world tangible again using the means of computation and in the form of a four-dimensional projection.
In the five stages of his cultural history, Flusser describes a model in which mankind has developed away from concrete experience towards absolute abstraction, in “grasping” the world. It should be emphasized that he did not intend to “schematize” the cultural history, but simply tried to “show that the traditional images are the result of a completely different step back from the concrete than the technical images.” I would like to expand his model and show that not only the technical images are different from the traditional ones, but also the devices that generate the technical images themselves become objects - devices by devices. These also refer back to the concrete, bring it back into our perception and expand this to complex systems that can only be read by apparatus - a kind of “universe of technical objects”.
But let's first look at the origin of technical images. Starting from its zero dimension, Flusser clearly describes an area that has degenerated our perception and consists of “dimensionless point elements”. These elements can only be “gathered” by devices that have internalized the correct formulas. With “ruff”, Flusser means the correct conversion, with the aim of making the abstract core of the formulas accessible to us. This enables us to imagine the visualization as a kind of translation of the formulas removed from our perception into perceptible spaces of experience. The decisive factor for Expanded Animation is that this translation is not only expressed in the form of images, i.e. the simulation of visual sensory impressions in the sense of a projection, but is conveyed on all levels of human perception.
It should be noted that, in contrast, two-dimensional animated objects are only representations of such calculations and do not belong to actual perception or have no actual, technical parallels to perceiving objects - they are just “projections”. It is therefore crucial for expanded animation to describe the development of an expression towards a technical synthesis of sensory impressions.
As I mentioned at the beginning, I want to turn Flusser's model inside out and show that Expanded Animation can be located as a form of expression on the mirrored side of a geometric shape. We can imagine the structure as a double pyramid mirrored at the top. On the upper outside there is the concrete sensual experience, Flusser's first level: the natural person. By tapering to the tip, we go through three more stages up to the zero dimension. The different dimensions - three-dimensional objects, two-dimensional images and one-dimensional, linear texts - each reflect the formative cultural technique that slips between people and the world in which they live. The higher dimensions always describe the lower ones; Formulas stand for descriptions, texts describe pictures, pictures represent three-dimensional objects and scenes and objects capture the living environment. In this process, one dimension is always lost, first the time that is lost in the object, then the space that is captured on images, the scenic area that is lined up in lines and which is broken up into dimensionless points in the last step.
In my projection, too, the zero dimension is a point that does not belong to either side; is dimensionless.
The zero point represents the zero-dimensional codes and abstract formulas. In order to develop an understanding of expanded animation, a new imaginary pyramid must be unfolded from this zero point, which adds one dimension back to the zero dimension through “technical means” at each level of expression.
The first developments here are one-dimensional generative texts and descriptions of control systems, such as Ada Lovelace demonstrated for Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine for the first time and thus advanced to become the first female programmer. As the second level of technical expression, photography takes on a special role, because it depicts Flusser's so-called “techno-images” par excellence. Apparatuses have internalized the formulas of zero dimension for the creation of images and generate a technical image of reality at the push of a button. This also shows that the old technologies will not be replaced and will no longer apply through extensions to a higher level of technical expression. The computer, for example, is only very good at internalizing old technologies and, according to Alan Turing, becoming a “multi purpose” machine.
It should also be mentioned here that the shown development of technical expression does not proceed linearly, but via intermediate stages and with detours - i.e. more like a rhizomatic network fills the step pyramid.
The described addition of dimensions does not run in a linear movement but is a result of complex dynamic entanglements, in the sense of a nonlinear historiography, as demonstrated by Manuel DeLanda in “A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History” (1997). His concept follows the idea that structures harden, settle, break and individual parts are reassembled or formations dissolve again, liquefy and thus become the starting point for new, temporally fixed structures. The shape of this mental, geometric construct of a pyramid is softened, clear, straight lines are bent and split up like a grid into points that can connect with other points of the system. The arrangement thus more closely approximates the shape of a strange attractor, a particle vortex with several focal points.
Non-linear factors such as access to new technologies could be mentioned here. Through the internalization of the camera through smartphones, a broad public has access to photography and, through explosive dissemination, an egalitarian image language can develop (e.g. SnapChat, WeChat, Instagram).
Another example is the control by computer as the central control point of an artistic work. As in other complex physical systems, an increase in the computing speed can exceed critical points. As a result, a system that is actually the same assumes different properties. An artistic principle experiences a new expression that is known, but at the same time represents a progressive development.
Despite these detours, we can locate the next level after the two-dimensional images if we follow a linear course over time. The moving image emerged from photography at the end of the 19th century. The time axis is added to the technical images through the linear arrangement of the images to form scenes in a time sequence.
Moving images are becoming the leading medium of the 20th century and develop their own language of editing, camera work and sound, which in turn drives the development of special technical devices.
At this point there is an important part to be mentioned for the considerations that is excluded in Flusser's model, namely the dimension of the sound. As already described above, his interest lies in showing how traditional images differ from technical ones - i.e. the purely visual level. But sound is another key point of expression through technical means. Sound acts as an important tool to generate emotions and has since acted as an accompanying element to the visual level, but develops its own dynamics in relation to spatial extensions, e.g. in room-sound installations. It is therefore important to mention this strand here separately for consideration.
Intermediate stages also mark the path from one to the next, such as the art movement of expanded cinema, which is based on the 2.5. dimensional plane can be designated. In the artistic experiments, the sounding surfaces were placed in the room or the idea of room was generated.
The three-dimensional space did not become really concrete through virtual computer graphics, but with the physical representation of these. 3D printing can be defined as this stage, i.e. as a form of expression of complex structures generated by technical means in all three spatial dimensions. There were also early artistic experiments for this, e.g. by the German architect Frei Otto, who was able to create models of his complex structures by combining photographs. The superstructures are more reminiscent of a laboratory than a studio. A contemporary counterpart is the PhotoScan software, which enables 3D objects to be reconstructed from a large number of photos and made available for 3D printing.
So at this stage the technical expression functions in all three dimensions of space, but we lose the time axis. Here is the point at which Expanded Animation appears, in this stage the artificial three-dimensional structures experience an expansion through the time dimension.
Expanded animation should not be understood in such a way that the animated objects leave the contours of the surface and begin to “live”. It is more a time-dependent idea of understanding the three dimensions of space as a stage, occupying them with apparatus and thereby giving expression. The apparatus should not be understood purely as performing, “acting objects”, that is, following the classic idea of the robot, but rather the observed object and the observing subject should be understood as a system that is entangled with itself. For this it is now important to delimit the category of animation somewhat.
Based on the concept of animation (from Latin animare, "to bring to life"; animus, "spirit, soul"), that is to breathe "life" into an object of inanimate matter, Expanded Animation asks how this cultural practice "after the media" is in expresses the arts and immediately tries to describe a paradigm shift, away from the digital (soft) to the analog (hard), with the simultaneous connection of both.
Animation should not be viewed in the classical sense, but builds on the early developments described above, with the computer finding its way into artistic work as a central control point. Traditionally, when one speaks of animation, one means the creation of the illusion of movement through the rapid succession of individual images. The feeling of continuous movement is created by the inertia of our eyes, which even with short sequences of different images mixes the successive ones. Early devices such as the trauma scope (1835) made use of this principle. In the early years, the starting material was drawings or illustrations, which were later replaced by photographs or completely electronically synthesized “techno images” on the screen. This encouraged the development of various genres, such as. also film and television, the largest and most important representatives and the leading media of the 20th century, as descendants of animation. Yes, I see animation as a source of film, not a subgroup of it.
Since the cinema unfolds with the imaginative power of images, the language of moving images needs to be given special consideration. Through the sequence, not only from picture to picture, but also through various sequences of individual pictures, lined up in scenes, this sense and thus emotions are generated in combination. For our considerations, this cinematic tool - narration - has to find an analogy in Expanded Animation and / or investigate which means and methods of the film canon can be transferred and extended to Expanded Animation.
A first extension can be shown through the work of the media theorist Wendy Hui Kyong Chun. In “Programmed Visions” (2011) she describes a form of acting that the viewer enters into with the work of art. This happens in two ways, on the one hand in the meaning of the object to be viewed in its performative sense, on the other hand in the act of the viewer as a self-active, cybernetic impulse; As a user who is in a kind of feedback loop with the object. The latter component appears quite obviously in interactive art. There the work primarily plays with a return channel for the viewer, who in turn is reflected as the subject in the work. It should be noted here that precisely this narcissistic component - in addition to the innovative advantages - also became the greatest criticism of interactive installations, as these were mostly only degraded to digital mirror images.
The phenomenon of the return channel can also be read very well using the example of games that have an expanding element in relation to moving images. Computers not only serve as excellent machines for generating images, but can also simulate a virtual view for the viewer in the “real world”. The viewer moves through a kind of interface with direct access to the medium. A dance arises between the real and the virtual world. Viewing becomes exploration, passive perception becomes an active act, acting.
This corresponds in the deepest sense to an animation or programming of the (physical) world, and in contrast to the film, not only the “idea”, the imagination or the simulation of it. Expanded animation is more about a kind of “realtime animation” that leaves the limits of the screen, the surface and the linearity of the “time-based media” and expands in all haptic dimensions of the space.
At this point I would like to briefly mention where the term expanded animation comes from. It has been discussed by Siegfried Zielinski for some time. First mentions can e.g. be discovered in his 2007 lecture at the Tate Modern in London on the subject of "Pervasive Animation".
From this lecture and the publications resulting from it, I would like to mention the principle of “God's Second Class Automaton”, as Zielinski describes it. These act on the basis of a program that is specified by an authority and entered into them - "Only through human intervention in this material, through inserting an artificial soul and thus animating them, ...". The principle of "acting" described here reveals another basic requirement for "programming" the world. It is subject to a predetermined system of rules, a protocol, a code. Acting can thus be traced back to its basic conditions in Laplace's sense and even from complex actions to its origin (code). In an extended context, code functions as a form of power that gives users (viewers) the power to control the complex world and thus to understand it abstractly. This is an important point for understanding my reasoning - to understand “code as logos”.
Code should not be understood purely as language, but rather as a “performative act of speech” - code does what it says (as Chun further illustrates in “Programmed Visions”). This “doing” or this act needs a form of representation or an expression. In my case, an object or a body is needed. This is in contrast to classic representations, such as screen in relation to image or loudspeaker to sound.
The “artificial soul” mentioned above is a synonym for the program, the software or the code; A soft, immaterial touch (soft) that is pressed onto the rigid materiality (hard), penetrates it and thus brings it to life. I consciously use the analogies to the computer as a dualism of hardware and software in the context of body and soul and their clear separation. The idea of code as a medium that “directs the mind - within the computer” opens up analogies to other discursive fields from biology, technology and social sciences, which in their entirety can function as connections between the individual parts for understanding the complex construct. They also expand the field of abstract scientific ideas and formulas that Expanded Animation needs in order to be transferred into tangible realms of reality.
In this way we can also bring the core of expanded animation to a common denominator. Expanded animation can implement our perception of the world through technical forms of expression as a concrete and immediate technical experience. The natural man, as Flusser describes him in his basic dimension, devices are pushed between the perception, which expand or simulate it, but do not change the concrete feeling of the environment. What emerges from this is a complex symbiosis of technosphere (technology) and biosphere (man and nature), and in combination with the multi-layered feedback that can only find an emotional access through art in all four dimensions.