Critical Arts

Ecological aesthetics: thinking trees and Goods for Me
by Nathaniel Stern

Published July 2016 in Critical Arts: South-North Cultural and Media Studies

Firewall access via Routledge

figure-1-goods-for-me

Abstract:

People and peoples are always in process with the world around us; we are only a small part of intricate, complicated and ongoing systems; we are always more than the boundaries of what we know, or feel, or make. ‘Ecological aesthetics: thinking trees and Goods for Me’ argues that an ‘ecological aesthetics’ is surfacing in contemporary art, which makes such linkages felt. The best of this work amplifies who and how we are, together with all of matter, and more importantly how we could be. This work can and should be experienced, practised and studied through the ecologies at play in and around that work, be they material, conceptual, environmental, personal, social, economic and/or otherwise. The article more specifically thinks with some of the work of South African artist Sean Slemon, which manifests a politics of movement, potential and composition outside standard human perception. It narrativises, through one artwork, our experience and practice of complex systems and forces. Here every-thing is continuously emergent with its conceptual-material environments, is part of continuously moving and changing assemblages. Ultimately, an ecological aesthetics calls for rethinking human and non-human relations as always mattering, always affecting, always political – together.

Companion to Digital Art

companion-digital-art-paul

Image from Scott Snibbe’s Deep Walls, featured in my chapter, Stern Nathaniel. ‘Interactive Art: Interventions in/to Process.’ A Companion to Digital Art. Ed. Christiane Paul. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell (Blackwell Companions to Art History), 2016.

Digital art is a complex and vibrantly dynamic form whose diversity reflects the exponential growth curve in computing power. This new companion to the genre gives readers an inclusive, in-depth understanding of digital art, covering its history and evolution, aesthetics, and politics, as well as its often turbulent relationships with established institutions. The volume provides a platform for the most influential voices shaping the current discourse surrounding digital art. Their nuanced insights afford a robust and coherent appreciation of the current state of the field – and the possible paths its future development may follow.

Combining the seasoned perspectives of leading international experts with fresh work by emerging scholars, the companion tackles key issues in digital art. It showcases critical and theoretical approaches from across the spectrum, taking in art-historical, philosophical, political, and gendered perspectives, among many others. The volume also covers digital art’s primary practical challenges – how to present, document, and preserve pieces that could be erased forever by  rapidly accelerating technological obsolescence. Up-to-date, forward-looking, and critically reflective, this authoritative new  collection is informed throughout by a deep appreciation of the technical intricacies of digital art.

 
Title: A Companion to Digital Art
Editor: Christiane Paul
Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell, Blackwell Companions to Art History
Date of Publication: May 2016
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1118475208
ISBN-13: 978-1118475201
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The Minor Gesture

erin-manning-minor-gesture

Cover image: detail from Weather Patterns: the smell of red (2014).

“How can we voice the unsayable, unsettle the categorical, reach for that which lies beyond conceptualization? How can we enter that midstream of movement, becoming, and differentiation that courses between the banks of the given, yet from which all perceiving, doing, and thinking wells? In this passionate book Erin Manning answers: by heeding the wisdom of those whom the majority call ‘autistic.’ From their experience she derives a vocabulary—of attention, inflection, directionality, incipience, sympathy, and the undercommons—that carries forth the impetus of life in the minor key. This is a book for scholars, for activists, indeed for anyone in love with life.” – Tim Ingold, University of Aberdeen
 
Title: The Minor Gesture
Author: Erin Manning
Publisher: Duke University Press
Date of Publication: June 2016
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0822361213
ISBN-13: 978-0822361213
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Wikipedia and the Politics of Openness

wikipedia-politics

“This book will make people sit up and think in a new way about a timely set of issues. Tkacz’s argument is not predictable or one-dimensional. Instead, it is productive of new knowledge at each step. Each new layer of argument uncovers riches of detail, new bibliographies of current research, and surprising new directions of thought. His argument balances nicely between powerful general statements and compelling concrete demonstrations.”
(Alan Liu, University of California, Santa Barbara)

“A crucial intervention in the field of new media studies. The book thinks rigorously about participation and collaboration as few others do. It is certain to generate much excitement, debate, and even controversy.”
(Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Brown University)

“Highly original and delightfully written, Wikipedia and the Politics of Openness is one of the finest pieces of work I have read in the field of network cultures and software studies. Tkacz has undertaken a comprehensive critique of openness—or open politics—as it manifests across a range of institutional and social-technical settings. This book has all the key ingredients to make a substantial impact in debates surrounding network governance and software politics.”
(Ned Rossiter, University of Western Sydney)

Title: Wikipedia and the Politics of Openness
Author: Nathaniel Tkacz
Publisher: University Of Chicago Press
Date of Publication: December 2014
Language: English
ISBN-10: 022619230X
ISBN-13: 978-0226192307

Features a chapter on Wikipedia Art
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Furtherfield

The Performance of Infrastructure: Review of Interactive Art and Embodiment: The Implicit Body As Performance by Nathaniel Stern
Book review by Robert Jackson

Excerpt:

New book! 'Interactive Art and Embodiment: The Implicit Body as Performance' underscores the stakes for interactive and digital art

… Nathaniel Stern’s Interactive Art and Embodiment establishes two first events: not only Stern’s debut publication but also the first of a new series from Gylphi entitled “Arts Future Book” edited by Charlotte Frost, which began in 2013. All quotations are from this text unless otherwise stated.

Stern’s vision in brief: in order to rescue what is philosophically significant about interactive art, he justifies its worth through the primary acknowledgement of embodiment, relational situation, performance and sensation. In return, the usual dominant definitions of interactive art which focus on technological objects, or immaterial cultural representations thereof are secondary to the materiality of bodily movement. Comprehending digital interactive art purely as ‘art + technology’ is a secondary move and a “flawed priority” (6), which is instead underscored by a much deeper engagement, or framing, for how one becomes embodied in the work, as work. “I pose that we forget technology and remember the body” (6) Stern retorts, which is a “situational framework for the experience and practice of being and becoming.” (7). The concepts that are needed to disclose these insights are also identified as emergent.

“Sensible concepts are not only emerging, but emerging emergences: continuously constructed and constituted, re-constructed and re-constituted, through relationships with each other, the body, materiality, and more.” (205)

Interactive Art and Embodiment then, is the critical framework that engages, enriches and captivates the viewer with Stern’s vision, delineating the importance of digital interactive art together with its constitutive philosophy.

One might summarise Stern’s effort with his repeated demand to reclaim the definition of “interactive”. The term itself was a blatantly over-used badge designed to vaguely discern what made ‘new media’ that much newer, or freer than previous modes of consumption. This was quickly hunted out of discursive chatter when everyone realised the novel qualities it offered meant very little and were politically moribund. For Stern however, interactivity is central to the entire position put forward, but only insofar as it engages how a body acts within such a work. This reinvigorated definition of “interactive” reinforces deeper, differing qualities of sensual embodiment that take place in one’s relational engagement. This is to say, how one literally “inter-acts” through moving-feeling-thinking as a material bodily process, and not a technological informational entity which defines, determines or formalises its actions. A digital work might only be insipidly interactive, offering narrow computational potentials, but this importance is found wanting so long as the technology is foregrounded over ones experience of it. Instead ones relationship with technological construction should melt away through the implicit duration of a body that literally “inter-acts” with it. In Stern’s words:

“…most visually-, technically-, and linguistically-based writing on interactive art explains that a given piece is interactive, and how it is interactive, but not how we inter-act” (91)

Chapter 1 details how aesthetic ‘vision’ is understood through this framework, heavily criticising the pervasive disembodiment Stern laments in technical discussions of digital art and the VR playgrounds from the yesteryear of the 90s. Digital Interactive Art has continually suppressed a latent embodied performance that widens the disembodied aesthetic experience towards – following Ridgway and Thrift – a “non-representational experience.” Such experiences take the body as an open corporal process within a situation, which includes, whilst also encompassing, the corporal materiality of non-human computational processes. This is, clearly, designed to oppose any discourse that treats computation and digital culture as some sort of liberating, inane, immaterial phenomenon: to which Stern is absolutely right. Moreover, all of these material processes move in motion with embodied possibilities, to “create spaces in which we experience and practice this body, its agency, and how they might become.” (40) To add some political heft, Stern contrasts how the abuse of interactivity is often peddled towards consumerist choice, determining possibilities, put against artistic navigation that relinquishes control, allowing limitless possibilities. Quoting Erin Manning, Stern values interactive art’s success when it doesn’t just move in relation to human experience, but when humans move *the* relation in experience (Manning, 2009: 64; Stern, 46).

Stern’s second chapter moves straight into a philosophical discussion denoting what he means by an anti-Cartesian, non-representational, or implicit body. Heavily contexualised by a host of process, emergent materialist thinkers (Massumi, Hayles, Barad), Stern concentrates on the trait of performance as the site of body which encapsulates its relationally, emergence and potential. The body is not merely formed in stasis, (what Stern dubs “pre-formed” (62) but is regularly and always gushingly “per-formed” (61) in its movement. Following Kelli Fuery, the kind of interactivity Stern wants to foreground is always there, not a stop-start prop literate to computer interaction, but an effervescent ensemble of “becoming interactive” (Fuery, 2009: 44; Stern, 65). Interactive art is not born from an effect bestowed by a particular medium of art making, but of “making literal the kinds of assemblages we are always a part of.” (65)

Chapter three sets out Stern’s account for the implicit body framework: detailing out four areas: “artistic inquiry and process; artwork description; inter-activity and relationally.” (91) Chapters four, five and six flesh out this framework with actual practices. Four considers close readings of the aforementioned work of Penny together with Camille Utterback merging the insights gained from the previous chapters. What both artists encapsulate for Stern is that their interventions focus on the embodied activities of material signification: or “the activities of writing with the body” (114) Utterback’s 1999 installation “Textrain” is exemplary to Stern’s argument: notably the act of collecting falling text characters on a screen merges dynamic body movements with poetic disclosure. The productions of these images are always emergent and inscribed within our embodied practices and becomings: that we think with our environment. Five re-contextualises this with insights into works by Scott Scribbes and Mathieu Briand’s interventions in societal norms and environments. Six takes on the role of the body as a dynamic, topological space: most notably as practiced in Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. Chapter seven I’ll discuss near the conclusion: the last chapter shortly.

Firstly, the good stuff. Interactive Art and Embodiment is probably one of the most sincerest reads I’ve encountered in the field for some time. Partly this is because the book cultivates Stern’s sincerity for his own artistic practice, together with his own philosophical accounts that supplement that vision. His deep understanding of process philosophy is clearly matched by his enthusiastic reassessment of what interactive art purports to achieve and how other artists might have achieved it too. And it’s hard to disagree with Stern’s own position when he cites examples (of his work and others) that clearly delegate the philosophical insights to which he is committed. One highlight is Stern’s take on Scribbes’ Boundary Foundations (1998) and the Screen Series (2002-03) which intervenes and questions the physical and metaphorical boundaries surrounding ourselves and others, by performing its questioning as work. This is a refreshingly earnest text, proving that theory works best not when praxis matches the esoteric fashions of philosophical thinking, but when art provides its own stakes and its own types of thinking-experience which theory sets out to faithfully account and describe. Stern’s theoretical legitimacy is never earned from just digesting, synthesising and applying copious amounts of philosophy, but from the centrality of describing in detail what he thinks the bodily outcomes of interactive art are and what such accounts have to say: even if they significantly question existing philosophical accounts.

Stern leaves the most earnest part of his book towards the end in his final semi-auto-biographical companion chapter called “In Production (A Narrative Inquiry on Interactive Art)”. This is a snippet of a much larger story, available online and subject to collaboration [4]. Here, Stern recounts or modifies the anxiety inducing experience of being a PhD student and artist, rubbing up alongside the trials of academic rigour, dissertation writing and expected standards. Quite simply, Stern is applying his insights of performative processual experience into the everyday, ordinary experiences faced by most PhD students in this field, and using it to justify a certain writing style and a sense of practice. It’s an enjoyable affair – in large part because it outclasses the dry scholarly tone usually associated with writing ‘academically’, elevating imaginative, illuminating redescriptions for how the experiences of interactive art broadly hang together rather than relying on relentless cynical critique. And most of that is down to Stern’s strong literary metaphorical technique for grounding his vision, perhaps even more effectively than the previous chapters.

Yet earnest experiences aside, there are two problems with Stern’s vision which, in my eyes, leave it flawed. That isn’t a bad thing: all visions are flawed of course. That’s why the similarities between art and philosophy feed our heuristic, academic compulsion to come up with them and debate: well, that and sometimes the most flawed can end up being the most influential…

Read the entire review in context (with introduction and conclusion) on Furtherfield

De Arte

Interactive art and embodiment: The implicit body as performance
Reviewed by Rob Myers for De Arte
Nathaniel Stern. Interactive art and embodiment: The implicit body as performance. 2013. Canterbury: Glyphi Limited. £ 18.99.

This review is copyrighted and available from Sabinet, though some highlights follow:

Abstract
In Interactive art and embodiment, artist and art theorist Nathaniel Stern develops and applies a rigorous set of frameworks for reconsidering the concepts of interactive multimedia, performance, and the creation of bodily meaning and experience. Stern begins by building a lineage for his novel understanding of these ideas. He then develops a framework for the critical evaluation of interactive art based on this understanding, and applies it to some exemplary artworks. Finally he applies the parts of this framework that are relevant for non-interactive multimedia art to some well-known examples of that genre in order to show their further applicability.

“The book as a whole continues this concern both with bodily experience through interactive art and with grounding discourse in examples of art and criticism.”

“By collapsing and making strange what we think we know both intuitively and critically about our bodies as ‘performed and emerging emergence’, Stern lays the concept of the body open to productive re-thinking.”

“Interactive art, Stern argues, can interrupt and intervene in the performance of bodily relationality. ‘Moving- thinking-feeling’ is both limited by and amplified by art, as it is by games or drama.”

“Stern’s use of examples – both familiar and unfamiliar – illustrates the strength of the implicit body framework and makes it useful both to critics and to artists who wish to better understand what makes successful interactive art.”

“The implicit body framework concentrates on artistic enquiry and process rather than the ontology of such a piece, and on the experience of it as interaction and interactivity, beyond merely describing its technological construction or mechanical appearance. Doing so allows interactive art to stand or fall on its merits as interactive art, and highlights the value of a work…”

“Interactive art and embodiment makes a considerable contribution to the state of criticism andtheory of interactive art. It is useful for critics, theorists and artists who wish to further their understanding of interactive art and serves as an introduction to its worth for those unfamiliar with or unconvinced by it.”

Read the entire review in De Arte

Art Journal

Beyond Technology and Representation: What Can Interactive Art Do?
Nathaniel Stern. Interactive Art and Embodiment: The Implicit Body as Performance. Canterbury, UK: Gylphi, 2013. 291 pp., 41 color ills. $29.99 paper
Troy Rhoades, for CAA’s Art Journal, Spring 2014
Download Art Journal’s PDF spread of  this article from Taylor and Francis

Forget technology.
Forget representation.
Remember the body.
Re-member: Embody again (6).

In Interactive Art and Embodiment: The Implicit Body as Performance, Nathaniel Stern would like us to remember the body’s potential for moving, thinking, and feeling in relation to digital interactive artworks. He wants this triumvirate of bodily activities – what he defines as embodiment – to be placed in the foreground of thought when we discuss interactive art. It is his contention that technology and representational content have been the focal points of interactive art for too long, and it is time for a paradigm shift. “We must get away from concentrating only on the signs and images on the screen or the interface, away from privileging the technology and what it affords. We must engage with the quality and styles of movement that are rehearsed with interactive art” (15–16). Stern sees the need to stop explaining what interactive art is as a technological object or a generator of signs. He asserts instead that our attention should be placed on what interactive art does as it shapes our potential for embodiment, that is, our ability to move-think-feel with the work. It is important to note that Stern is not completely rejecting technological and representational approaches to interactive art and solely focusing on embodiment. Rather, he wants us to notice that there is a glaring absence of embodiment in many of the present methods used to analyze this type of work. This book is his attempt to address the long-overdue need to reevaluate this field of art. He reveals that we have always been moving-thinking-feeling with interactive art.

Stern begins his reassessment of interactive art by clearly defining his approach to this work. First, he declares that he will not value or define the potential of any individual artwork categorically: “I begin and end with singular works in the gallery space, and am interested in creating a discrete critical framework for encountering interactive art” (5). Stern then defines the interactive artwork as digital and electronic art that uses “various forms of sensors or cameras for input; computers, microcontrollers, simple electronic circuits, or other digital or analogical terminals for processing; and any form of sensory output – audiovisual, tactile, olfactory, mechanical, or otherwise; where all are placed together in a system that responds to the embodied participation of viewers, either in real-time, and/or over lengths of time” (5–6). From here Stern states that his theoretical approach is aligned with process philosophy and affect theory, primarily based on the work of the philosopher Brian Massumi, in order to “explore interactive art’s potential, outside of signification alone” (9).1 By approaching interactive art from an affective and processual approach, Stern associates himself with other contemporary new media thinkers (some of whom he cites) such as Anna Munster, Steve Goodman, and Stamatia [Portanova].2

With his approach and theoretical foundation clearly stated, Stern delineates in the first two chapters how recent research practices in interactive art, which have focused on technology and representation, connect and diverge from his understanding of embodiment as the body’s potential for moving-thinking-feeling. In the first chapter Stern tackles the notion that digital technology is somehow incorporeal, as espoused by thinkers such as Friedrich Kittler and David Rodowick.3 He argues against the notion that data, computational processes, and networks do not have any physical presence or materiality. For Stern all of these technologies and digital processes take on some physical form, on hard drives, computer chips, or fiber-optic cables: “Neither bodies nor information can exist without form and embodiment, and intelligence encompasses far more than informational processing” (33). Stern wants us to be aware not only of the corporeal aspects of digital and electronic technology that interactive art uses but also how we are affected and effected when participating in these technologies. He sees a real challenge in keeping “the participant’s attention on the quality of their own movements, rather than the response of the machine” (45). In Stern’s view, we need to become more attuned to the moving-thinking-feeling experience we have with interactive art, rather than focusing on the technology that drives the work.

In the second chapter Stern challenges recent thought concerning the body and representation in interactive art. He asks that we pay attention to the body as “more than its signs and significations, more than what we see or look at, more than skin, flesh, and bone” (54–55). According to Stern, for a body to be understood as a series of signs or an object, it needs to be static or “pre-formed,” like the many static points of Zeno’s famous arrow. A body becomes “explicit,” lacking any potential to experience embodiment. For a body to move-think-feel, Stern contends, it must be seen as a continuously changing entity that “situates embodiment as always per-formed: emergent and relational” (67). A body that experiences the ongoing activity of embodiment during an encounter with interactive art is, for Stern, an “implicit body” as performance.

After critiquing technological and language-based approaches to interactive art, Stern outlines a potentially paradigm-shifting method for understanding interactive art and embodiment through what he calls the “implicit body framework.” This framework comprises four areas of examination: “artistic inquiry and process; artwork description; inter-activity; and, relationality” (91). The first area looks at the artwork from the artist’s perspective, focusing on his or her approach to the work and the techniques chosen for its production. The second area gives us a detailed description of the artwork: how it looks, sounds, and plays. For Stern, these first two areas of examination are standard in most investigations of interactive art. They also represent the point at which most inquiries stop. As he states, “most visually-, technically-, and linguistically-based writing on interactive art explains that a given piece is interactive, and how it is interactive, but not how we inter-act” (91, emphasis in orig.).

Stern sees the third and fourth areas of examination – interactivity and relationality – as the missing elements in discussions of interactive art. The two areas focus on the potential for an awareness of embodiment to emerge in the viewer-artwork encounter; they foreground our capacity to move-think-feel our potential for change when we experience interactive art. The third area specifically examines the interaction itself, that is, how viewers and artworks connect at the level of embodiment. It focuses on the emergent affects, feelings, and movements generated in the midst of the viewer-artwork encounter. The final area of examination focuses on the relations that emerge in our encounter with interactive art and how these “relationships intervene in our transformation with the world around us” (97). Stern wants us to become aware of the extensive potential for relations to alter and affect our ability to move, think, and feel with regard to an interactive artwork.

In the next three chapters Stern presents a series of case studies using his implicit body framework, approaching several interactive artworks under three different thematics: body-language, social-anatomies, and flesh-space. For Stern these thematics reveal various emergent relations between embodiment and some other sensible concept, such as “language, society, architecture, other matter, forces, and matters” (97–98). The body-language chapter examines the work of Simon Penny and Camille Utterback and its parallels with Jean-Luc Nancy’s notion of “excription,” looking specifically at body and language as “mutually immanent” (104). The social-anatomies chapter investigates Nick Crossley’s idea of “intercorporeality” – the capacity for the body and society to reciprocally produce each other – through the work of the Millefiore Effect, Mathieu Briand, and Scott Snibbe. The third thematic chapter, on flesh-space, approaches the interactive work of David [Rokeby], Rafael Lezano-Hemmer, and Norah Zuniga Shaw through the thought of José Gil and Erin Manning, investigating the ability of these artworks to make viewers aware of the ways in which “bodies and space are made of their relations” (176). These three chapters demonstrate Stern’s implicit body framework as rigorous yet flexible when applied to the analysis of interactive art.

In the penultimate chapter Stern takes his implicit body framework further, demonstrating that it can be used beyond the limits of interactive art. He investigates a large cross-section of new-media works by artists such as Erwin Driessens and Maria Verstappen, Brandon Labelle, and John F. Simon, Jr., as well as his own work, which he calls “potentialized art.” For Stern all of these works have the capacity to “amplify action, affect, embodiment, performativity, transformation, and/or materiality” (206). Potentialized art enables us to become aware of our ability to move-think-feel with a work in the midst of our mutual encounter. We can experience the potential for embodiment as we perform with these artworks. We can become aware of our ability to move-think-feel.

stern_cover_RGB_front

The most rewarding and riskiest chapter of Stern’s book is saved for the end. “In Production (A Narrative Inquiry on Interactive Art)” is a case study of Stern’s own art and writing practices from 2000 to the present. What makes this chapter such a rewarding and refreshing read is that it is written in an unconventional autobiographical style that is also academically rigorous, a style Stern calls an “autoethnographic experiment” (254). This experiment blends conversations, personal narrative, and several analyses of his interactive artworks using his implicit body framework in order to “amplify” and “potentialize” the reading experience (259). Stern consolidates everything he has advocated about the relationship between embodiment and interactive art into a personal story about himself and his work, effectively exposing us to an example of the experience of moving-thinking-feeling that we have been reading about throughout the book.

Stern’s experimental approach to writing is also one of this chapter’s many risks. There is the possibility that more traditional readers of art theory and history may find such a self-referential and unconventionally written account off-putting, even jarring. However, Stern’s storytelling ability is strong and will likely win over even the most curmudgeonly reader. Another risk this chapter takes is the form in which it has been published. The book surprisingly ends by giving us only the introductory section of this concluding chapter. We are invited to go online to view or download the remaining sections (253, 259).4 We are allowed just a taste of this chapter and then must shift our attention from the written page to the written screen. The risk here is that readers may be lost in this transition from the book to the Internet, leaving some of Stern’s best writing unread.

The book is part of the Arts Future Book initiative, a research project and academic book series investigating the future of academic publishing in the arts, led by Charlotte Frost. Placing this final chapter online appears to be part of the series’ mandate to exploit “recent technological advances in publishing” (xxi). Readers who go online and read the complete text of “In Production” will find the possibility to interact with others, in the ability to make comments at every paragraph. This gives readers a platform to share thoughts about some of their favorite (or less agreeable) passages. The ability to comment is an appealing feature, but publishing this chapter online has the potential to take away some of its affective impact. Moreover, it feels like an unnecessary use of digital technology, one that does not appear to follow the spirit of the book, as the online publication breaks a sense of continuity and makes it more difficult to experience moving-thinking-feeling in the work itself. As Stern states, “Embodiment only is through its ongoingness and continuity” (57, emphasis in orig.). If this chapter – which encapsulates everything Stern advocates with regard to interactive and potentialized art – were printed in its entirety at the end of the book, readers would have a better opportunity to experience the embodied potential the book commands. Despite these misgivings, everyone who reads Stern’s book (and those who are interested in reading it) should visit the website and discover the complete text of this wonderful final chapter.

It will be interesting to see how those behind the Arts Future Book series continue to explore the potential that digital and online media offers to expand the form of the book. Interactive Art and Embodiment is the first from this series, making it the first to experiment with the hybrid approach to publishing. I hope the editors will embrace Stern’s notion of embodiment and ensure that digital incarnations of future titles emerge from the potential activated within the texts themselves.

By asking us to engage with interactive art at the level of potential for movement, thinking, and feeling, Stern alters the idea of what inquiry can be, changing it from an analysis of something static into a dynamic event. The act of examination becomes as much a performance as the interactive art it investigates. Through the use of Stern’s implicit body framework, artworks become more than mere descriptions placed within a historical context. Through his writing, artworks become alive in the reading, giving us a sense of how the embodied interactions and emergent relations feel as they are encountered.

1. Throughout the book, Stern focuses on three of Massumi’s texts: Brian Massumi, Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002); “The Thinking-Feeling of What Happens: An Interview with Brian Massumi,” in Interact or Die: There Is Drama in the Network, ed. Joke Brouwer and Arjen Mulder (Rotterdam: V2 Pub./NAi, 2007), 70–91; and Semblance and Event: Activist Philosophy and the Occurent Arts (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011)

2. See Anna Munster, Materializing New Media: Embodiment in Information Aesthetics (Hanover, NH: Dartmouth College Press, 2006); Steve Goodman, Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009); and Stamatia Portanova, Moving without a Body: Digital Philosophy and Choreographic Thoughts (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013).

3. See Friedrich Kittler, Gramophone, Film, Typewriter (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999); and David N. Rodowick, Reading the Figural, or, Philosophy after the New Media (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001).

4. The concluding chapter in its entirety is at http://stern.networkedbook.org, as of February 11, 2014.

Download the Journal’s PDF spread of  this article from Taylor and Francis

What Animals Teach Us about Politics

massumi-animals

Cover image: detail from Giverny of the Midwest (2011).

“This is a truly brilliant book, one of Brian Massumi’s best. More than anyone else I have read, Massumi makes real progress in untangling the relationship between play, sympathy, politics, and animality. What Animals Teach us About Politics provides a fascinating and persuasively non-subject-centered account of sympathy, and it goes a long way toward helping us to see how the practice and theorization of ‘politics’ would be radically refigured within a process-ontology.” – Jane Bennett, author of Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things

Title: What Animals Teach Us about Politics
Author: Brian Massumi
Publisher: Duke University Press
Date of Publication: September 2014
Language: English
ISBN-10: 082235800X
ISBN-13: 978-0822358008
Order this book from Amazon.com

Thought in the Act

thought-in-the-act-massumi

“Every practice is a mode of thought, already in the act. To dance: a thinking in movement. To paint: a thinking through color. To perceive in the everyday: a thinking of the world’s varied ways of affording itself.” —from Thought in the Act

Title: Thought in the Act: Passages in the Ecology of Experience
Author: Erin Manning and Brian Massumi
Publisher: University Of Minnesota Press
Date of Publication: May 2014
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0816679673
ISBN-13: 978-0816679676
Order this book from Amazon.com

Neural Magazine

Nathaniel Stern – Interactive Art and Embodiment: The Implicit Body as Performance
AURELIO CIANCIOTTA

New book! 'Interactive Art and Embodiment: The Implicit Body as Performance' underscores the stakes for interactive and digital art

GYLPHI LIMITED, ISBN-13: 978-1780240091, ENGLISH, 304 PAGES, 2013, USA

Man/machine interfaces have involved the body in progressively more sophisticated ways, from the mechanical finger pressure on a keyboard to the intellectual challenge of voice-recognition-based software assistants. Media art has interpreted interfaces dynamically, abstracting the interaction and playing with its modalities, symbols and meanings. Stern analyses almost forty different artworks to augment his theory: “interactive art suspends and amplifies the ways we experience embodiment – as per-formed, relational, and emergent”. The text investigates “how we interact” and the role of the body in the interaction process is here exploded and carefully delineated. Many of the connotations that the body assumes in artworks – being perceived as a structure, a tool, a territory or an imagined space – are analysed as performative and symbolic instances. One of the qualities of this book is that it provides extensive references on the topic, while remaining very focused. The artworks are carefully described in their mechanisms and their performative dimensions are acknowledged separately, representing an annotated anthology in itself. There’s also a “digital companion” chapter (called “In Production”, partially printed and freely available online, meant to be updated and expanded at will), which has been aggregated to the book as its dynamic (in a way even performative) extension. This book is very helpful for understanding our physical relationship with the digital and how to properly relate to interactive art.

See the review on Neural.it

Archée

Interactif, implicite, performatif, éprouvé, le corps exploré
Louise Boisclair (read the whole article, or read the google English translation)

Dans Always More Than One, Erin Manning croise philosophie ou mouvement de pensée, chorégraphie ou mouvement du corps, art et autisme. De son côté, avec Interactive Art and Embodiment : The Implicit Body as Performance, Nathaniel Stern propose de considérer le corps implicite dans sa triple relation de mouvement, sensation et pensée lors de l’appropriation interactive. Quant au collectif, Personnage virtuel et corps performatif. Effets de présence, dirigé par Renée Bourassa et Louise Poissant, quinze artistes et théoriciens explorent, chacun, chacune, sous un angle singulier, diverses facettes du corps performatif et du personnage virtuel. Pour sa part, dans L’instance du regard sur le corps éprouvé. Pathos et contre-pathos, Élène Tremblay examine les notions de pathos et contre-pathos à travers l’insistance du regard sur le corps éprouvé. Chaque auteur-e arrime son analyse à la théorie philosophique, médiatique ou phénoménologique selon l’approche singulière ou multiple qu’ils ou elles adoptent pour cheminer avec le corpus sélectionné.


Interactive Art and Embodiment:  The Implicit Body as Performance (Nathaniel Stern)

Pour sa part, l’ouvrage de l’artiste-enseignant-chercheur Nathaniel Stern constitue une refonte de sa thèse de doctorat qu’il a auparavant résumée dans un article intitulé : « The Implicit Body as Performance: Analyzing Interactive Art. », publié dans le Leonardo Journal of Art, Science and Technology (MIT Press). Vol 44, No 3 (2011): 233-238. Globalement, la thèse est la suivante : au lieu de s’en tenir à la vision, à la structure et à la signification, Stern propose de recentrer l’intérêt sur le « corps en relation ». Il conçoit l’interaction en tant que performance et la manière d’être en tant que manière d’« être avec ». Dans un cadre de travail sur le corps implicite au sein de l’installation interactive, il propose une approche qui réunit quatre volets: la recherche et le processus artistique, la description de l’œuvre d’art, l’interactivité et la relationalité. Selon lui, les deux derniers volets propres à l’expérience interactive doivent faire l’objet d’un examen détaillé.

Cette prescription, Stern la met à l’épreuve dans son ouvrage. Composé de huit chapitres dont le huitième introduit un texte à paraître sur le WEB seulement, il met la table dès la première page :

« When we move and think and feel, we are, of course, a body. This body is constantly changing, in and through its ongoing relationships. This body is a dynamic form, full of potential. It is not “a body,” as thing, but embodiment as incipient activity. Embodiment is a continuously emergent and active relation. It is our materialization and articulation, both as they occur, and about to occur. Embodiment is moving-thinking-feeling, it is the body’s potential to vary, it is the body’s relations to the outside. And embodiment, I contend, is what is staged in the best interactive art. » (Stern, 2013, 2)

Lui-même artiste spécialiste de l’art interactif, sa réflexion philosophique, aussi stimulante que novatrice, est ancrée dans le corps implicite, c’est-à-dire ce corps qui vit et déborde le corps vécu, notion renvoyant au corps pensé. Stern invite la recherche à considérer bien davantage les forces et les champs en puissance dans le corps, alors que la corporéité est en « per-formance », ici-maintenant, au sein de l’installation interactive. L’incorporation s’accompagne donc de la métabolisation d’informations sensorielles issues du milieu d’immersion, sorte de sémiose corporelle pré-signifiante. Elle s’apparente au sens dynamique que lui donne Stern:

« The conception of a continuous embodiment, however, allows us to rethink bodies as formed through how we move in, and relate to, our surroundings. Embodiment, I contend, is not a pre-formed thing, but incipient and per-formed. » (Stern, 2013, 12).

Ainsi, la corporéité, dans sa dynamique, n’est pas une chose pré-formée, mais per-formée, insiste Stern; elle n’est pas constituée, elle se constitue. Continuellement en action, la corporéité évolue de façon dynamique au fil de l’incorporation, elle n’est jamais figée.

Tout au long de cet ouvrage, le lecteur, la lectrice rencontrera de nombreux artistes de l’art interactif et immersif, ce qui a le bénéfice non seulement d’illustrer le propos de Stern, mais bien davantage d’incarner sa réflexion philosophique dans une encyclopédie d’art interactif encore en train d’évoluer. Graduellement, au fil des chapitres, Stern joue avec les thèmes performatifs suivants: 1- « Digital is as Digital does »; 2- « The Implicit Body as Performance »; 3- « A Critical Framework for Interactive Art », 4- « Body-Langage » ; 5- « Social Anatomies »; 6- « Flesh-Space »; 7- « Implicating Art Works » et 8- « In production ». Ce livre d’une grande importance rend compte d’une vision actuelle non seulement artistique, mais « spectatorielle » du corps, assisté ou outillé technologiquement, comme on l’est de plus en plus même dans notre vie quotidienne. Bien plus que le corps performant, c’est toujours et encore le « corps implicite » qui sert de fil rouge pour explorer l’art interactif.

Read the whole article, or read the google English translation

Law and Disciplinarity

law+disciplinarity

‘Wikipedia Art: At the Borders of (Wiki) Law, Lawyering, Lobbying and Power’
a chapter by Nathaniel Stern and Scott Kildall

Book Title: Law and Disciplinarity: Thinking beyond Borders
Editor: Robert J. Beck
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Date of Publication: December 2013
Language: English
ISBN: 1137034440
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Meaning Motion press

IMG_5794Meaning Motion was a duo exhibition (with Tegan Bristow) of interactive art, at the Wits Art Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa, June – August 2013. It took up two floors of the museum, and featured 8 installations of work, including the international premiere of Stern’s scripted, and the first full exhibition of his Body Language suite of work – all with new, updated code.

Body Language (2000 – 2013) is a suite of four interactive works that has us encounter some of the complex relationships between materiality and text. Each piece stages the experience and practice of bodies and language in a different way, enabling in-depth explorations of how they are always implicated across one another. elicit invites viewers to perform the continuity between text and the body; enter effectively asks its participants to investigate how words and activity are inherently entwined; stuttering provokes its performers into exploring the labor and intimacy of embodied listening and communication; and scripted asks us to remember how the activities of writing, the shape and sound of language, are forever a part of the physical world.

Meaning Motion produced two publications, including a Body Language catalog with essay by Charlie Gere, and coincides with a panel on interactive art at the International Symposium on Electronic Art (Australia), and the release of Stern’s book, Interactive Art and Embodiment: The Implicit Body as Performance.

Various press includes:

The Politics of Meaning and Voice,” in Business Day
Viewers Make the Art Work,” in the Mail and Guardian
“The Games Artists Play: Performance and Failure” in the Sunday Independent
An interview with Nathaniel Stern on the Morning Buzz, WORTfm in Madison
Meaning Maker” on Mahala.co.za
An interview with Tegan Bristow on Radio Today, Johannesburg
Wam set to wow this June,” in the City Buzz, Johannesburg

Critical Point of View

Critical Point of View: A Wikipedia Reader

‘Wikipedia Art: Citation as Performative Act’ – a chapter by Nathaniel Stern and Scott Kildall

Wikipedia Art is many things: an open-ended concept, an immanent object, a collaborative text, and a net-work that complicates the very possibility for these distinctions. This chapter most specifically explicates and unfolds the performance of Wikipedia Art as an intervention into, and critical analysis of, Wikipedia: its pages, its system, its volunteers and paid staff. Both the art work and our chapter use and subvert Wikipedia itself – the definitions it puts forward, the discourses engaged by its surrounding community on and off the site, and as a venue/space ripe for intervention. In the chapter, we briefly unpack how the art work speaks back to the structure and performance of Wikipedia, online consensus, the mythologies behind Wikipedia, and Wikimedia’s power more generally.

Book Title: Critical Point of View: A Wikipedia Reader
Editors: Geert Lovink and Nathaniel Tkacz
Chapter Title: Wikipedia Art: Citation as Performative Act
Publisher: Institute of Network Cultures, University of Amsterdam
Date of Publication: 2011
Language: English
ISBN: 978-90-78146-13-1
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Critical Mass

Critical Mass: Printmaking Beyond the Edge

Book on Contemporary Printmaking

Title: Critical Mass: Printmaking Beyond the Edge
Author: Richard Noyce
Publisher: A&C Black
Date of Publication: 2010
Language: English
ISBN: 978-1408109397
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networked

networked: a networked book about networked art

Book: edited collection of essays

Chapters:
Deseriis › No End In Sight: Networked Art as a Participatory Form of Storytelling
Ulmer › The Learning Screen
Varnelis › The Immediated Now: Network Culture and the Poetics of Reality
Helmond › Lifetracing: The Traces of a Networked Life Chapter Icon
Freeman › Storage in Collaborative Networked Art
Munster › Data Undermining: The Work of Networked Art in an Age of Imperceptibility
Lichty › Art in the Age of DataFlow: Narrative, Authorship, and Indeterminacy

Editor: Jo-Anne Green
Publisher: turbulence.org
Date of Publication: 2009
Language: English (and some translations)

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See the section featuring Wikipedia Art

Cyberculture + New Media

Cyberculture and New Media book

Book: edited collection of essays

Table of Contents:
Preface: ‘Until Something Else’ – A Theoretical Introduction

PART 1 The Empirical
Francisco J. Ricardo: Formalisms of Digital Text
Sheizaf Rafaeli, Tsahi Hayat, Yaron Ariel: Knowledge Building and Motivations in Wikipedia: Participation as “Ba”
Mahmoud Eid: On the Way to the Cyber-Arab-Culture: International Communication, Telecommunications Policies, and Democracy
Rita Zaltsman: The Challenge of Intercultural Electronic Learning: English as Lingua Franca

PART 2 The Aesthetic
Nicole Ridgway and Nathaniel Stern: The Implicit Body
Leman Giresunlu: Cyborg Goddesses: the Mainframe Revisited
Maria Backe: De-Colonizing Cyberspace: Post-Colonial Strategies in Cyberfiction
Tony Richards: The Différance Engine: Videogames as Deconstructive Spacetime
Alev Adil and Steve Kennedy: Technology on Screen: Projections, Paranoia and Discursive practice
Seppo Kuivakari: Desistant Media

Reviews:
Cyberculture and New Media,’ Leonardo Electronic Almanac
Forgetting Media Studies: Anthologies, Archives, Anachrony,’ Electronic Book Review

Editor: Francisco J. Ricardo
Publisher: Rodopi Press
Date of Publication: 2009
Language: English
ISBN: 978-90-420-2518-9
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