Media Theory for the 21st Century

February 12, 2008

H Part 2

Filed under: Discussion — hbench @ 5:59 pm
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For his part, Hansen imagines a more collaborative relationship between spectator and a new media art object. He contends that viewers (his examples are primarily, if not exclusively, visual art) apprehend new media art affectively through their bodies, which must bring themselves into alignment with the alternate realities new media objects might represent. Bodies are also filters that effectively create images as they enframe and interpret information as perceivable. Indeed, Hansen notes in response to Rosalind Krauss, with the digital image, “bodily activity is required to produce any experience whatsoever” (24). I think in highlighting bodily activity, Hansen wants to distinguish the user from the immobile cinematic spectator—since he spends a good deal of this chapter countering Krauss and Manovich. Insofar as one can only be in the world as a body that is always filtering and framing information, I think Hansen overstates his case. Nevertheless, I think his important intervention is to suggest that new media art works create or foreground affective experiences, that these experiences are what constitute the artistic “object,” or objective, and that such works elicit synesthetic responses in their call for haptic viewing. I do not, however, think this is necessarily the case for all digital media or all new media art works, though Hansen has chosen works that illustrate his argument quite well.

Admittedly, I am sympathetic to theorizing digital media through bodily engagement. I am sensitive to corporeal re-alignments and the rhythms of images as pulsations of space and body. And I am invested in exploring the body in front of the screen and what kind of body is there—not in terms of the social construction of the spectator or the soft body, but in terms of a feeling and responsive body affectively engaged with the digital image. So the work that I’ll be presenting on today speaks, I think, to these two authors, but mostly in terms that Hansen has laid out. In fact, Ellis, the artist, also situates his work in a Bergsonist vein of becoming and temporality.

The files in the dad.project are responsive spaces in miniature, not unlike the installations of Myron Kreuger or especially David Rokeby (whose software underlies many multi-media performances). Like Hansen suggests, the dances in dad are actualized by the user, without whom nothing can happen. The images in some cases have been treated to interrupt visual mastery, and invite a haptic viewing or even a proprioceptive identification with the image. Sight and touch are merged synesthetically in haptic viewing, but cinema can create haptic images without requiring any physical displacement on the part of the viewer. In dad, as in many hyperdances and some of the pieces Hansen discusses, my own bodily motion, reduced, as it is to the tip of my finger, provides a motor force which propels the image onscreen. As Hansen remarks, images, which are now processes, “are irreducibly bound up with the activity of the body” (10).

Even without my own physical displacement or “interaction,” images may yet evoke a bodily mode of apprehension. Ellis’s Microflicks are significant in this regard. There are, of course, many theories of empathic viewing or what is often referred to in dance studies as kinesthetic empathy—from dance critic John Martin’s explanation in the 1930s of the “little man” inside each one of us who feels in concert with performers onstage, to more contemporary theories of mirror neurons that activate the same neural responses when someone watches but does not themselves do a familiar action, or even going back to 18th century studies of rhetoric and the role of intonation and gesture in producing a convincing argument. Leaving these aside, each of the Microflicks demands an acute attentiveness from my body to “make sense” (see Vivian Sobchack) of the image. They carry with them a rhythm and logic that references but does not correspond with the time of the body—the time it takes to move. They are, as Paul Virilio has described, in a constant state of arrival. The Microflicks are only 2 seconds each, but in a sense they are much longer, not only because of the amount of time that has been condensed into each video, but because of my obsessive need for repeated viewing.

I think that’s all I have to say for now.


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