Image and Interactivity, UCSD
Image and Interactivity:
University of California, San Diego, Fall 2010
Prof. Benjamin H. Bratton; Dept. of Visual Arts
ICAM101 is the introductory upper division course for the Interdisciplinary Computing and the Arts major. In this course we will outline an alternative history of our contemporary condition(s) and through this, a potential history of the future of globalization and localization.
Lectures will present an intensive history of the mechanical and electronic image, of media technologies of interactivity, and of the cultural, economic, spatial and political conditions of their intertwining: of images that become interactive, and of interactive technologies that are based on images. We will examine this history as it takes different forms: as software, as cities, as social networks, and as experimental art. Through this you will gain insight into the functioning of the technologies that will organize the world we have no choice but to make and re-make as our own.
What is the fate of the image when it becomes an technology? For millennia, images where primarily re-presentations of things, ideas, places and narratives (icons, indexes and symbols) and while representations were certainly a matter of life and death, images were images. Few if anyone was literally beaten over the head with a picture, and if so, many more were beaten to death instead because of what the picture showed, said, enforced. Today, however, images are literally tools. It is not just a matter of representing something in the world, now images invite their activation (push, point, click, poke) and in this, images actually do what they represent. It is one thing to produce an image of a bomb and quite another to produce a graphical interface with an image of a bomb that when touched bombing happens.
At the same time that images become tools, tools become images. Textual, alpha-numeric tools on the one side, and direct-physical mechanical mechanisms on the other are in indirect competition with images to define the general interfaciality of the tools with which we make the world for ourselves everyday. Code, while itself alpha-numeric, is more a tool for making tools than a general purpose instrument. A complete conversion to imagistic instruments is neither possible nor desirable but as science becomes data visualization, as networks become social graphs, as dashboards become governance, and GUI’s become carriers of symbolic identity, the entire complex history of images and representation is now brought to bear on what tools are and do.
In this images become programs: embedded plans and mechanisms for the very specific expression of a very specific possible frame of action. That which is not in the interface is an action that cannot be done, and by extension not considered. That which is in the plan can be built, repeats and enforces itself when it is and in time becomes iconic of its own capacity to project and enforce.
Or, Put another way...
One possible and specific history of technology is to be found in the history of the image, from material to mechanical to digital inscription; just as one history of the image is a history of technology, from map to movie to mobile interface. Across these is the story of how we comprehend and communicate the world: how the integration of planetary space and time is both enabled and seemingly necessitated by the proliferation of technologized images and of image-making technologies.
Another third history is of how we work upon the world and make tools and systems for remaking it in the image of our complicated intentions: how we compose things at a distance (and are composed by them). This is the history of interactivity, one which includes not only ‘buttons-with-words-on-them’ but really any membrane + mechanism that works to transfer intention through itself and in doing so governs the conditions of exchange between the intender and the indendee. Ultimately interactivity can be said to describe any complex situation that comes to order only through the aggregate communication of its participants. If so then interactivity is not (only) a modern phenomenon but is fundamental to how we make and use the world. What is modern is how technology has come to rely upon increasingly nuanced forms to interactivity in order to be technologies at all.
In this the world we must make might be diagrammed.
Course Structure and Sequence
This course, ICAM101: Image and Interactivity, is about how this third history (image-interactivity), and how the first history (image) came to intersect with the second (interactivity) and what can be done about it (or with it).
Now of course for our era the predominant cause of these conversion is computation (computational images, computational interfaces, computational interactivity). We will locate the problem of the interactive image in the larger context of the computerization of everyday institutions (city, building, art, mobility).
In sequence, we will trace the history of the mechanical and digital image from Cameras Obscura and mediaeval maps to daguerreotypes to digital cinema and image processing. We will consider the the history of interactivity and communications networks including Napoleonic telegraphy to Piercean semiotics to early industrial design to augmented reality.
We will focus on one conversion in particular, that from the map to the abstracted diagram to the graphical user interface use our understanding of this conversion to develop a meta-strategy of what the design of interactive images might ultimately entail beyond the examples that surround us everyday.
At this point, we will survey and repeat some professional best practices (and strange practices) as a baseline for understanding the possible methodologies of production that have developed around image-interfaces as a critical component of our culture and economy.
We will then consider in some detail what the contemporary works and practices of interactive and mobile art, ubiquitous computing and augmented reality, and interactive architecture and digital urbanism, and examine their potential for helping us understand what is most radically at stake for us in the interfacialization of the image and the imagistic transformation of technological systems. (See week by week schedule below for detail)
The course will have an historical/ critical/ theoretical track (mostly in lectures) and a generative/ technical/ design track (mostly in section). While the work you prepare for the former will count more than the latter, they are both critical.
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