Modes of Spectating investigates the questions posed by new artistic and technological mediums on the viewer experience. These new visual tools influence not only how spectators view, but also how what they view determines what artists create. Alison Oddey and Christine White analyze how gaming and televisual media and entertainment are used by young people, and the resulting psychological challenges of understanding how viewers navigate these virtual worlds and surroundings. This multidisciplinary approach brings together ideas and examples from gaming art, photography, sculpture, and performance; it will be a valuable text for scholars of both media and art.
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About the Author
Alison Oddey is professor of contemporary performance and visual culture at the University of Northampton. Christine White teaches at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge.
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Modes of Spectating
By Alison Oddey, Christine White
Intellect LtdCopyright © 2009 Intellect Ltd
All rights reserved.
A beautifully designed videogame invokes wonder as the fine arts do, only in a uniquely kinetic way. Because the videogame must move, it cannot offer the lapidary balance of composition that we value in painting; on the other hand, because it can move, it is a way to experience architecture, and more than that to create it, in a way which photographs or drawings can never compete. If architecture is frozen music, then a videogame is liquid architecture.
Steve Poole with these words attempts to raise in the viewer/user's consciousness the prowess of the art forms that develop/create and enable the process of developing videogames. He invokes the sacred geometry that lies behind the presentation of the visual, as architectures of maths and music but it is commercial and global concerns that have given videogames prowess and their artistic merit is seldom celebrated. Success rated by popularity and usually accruing commercial value too, has often achieved little critical repute.
In The Location of Culture Homi K. Bhabha proposes that globalization must begin at home as this enables us to recognize the 'predatory effects of global governance'; he argues for the rights of cosmopolitanism to be recognized, rights of diversity and the richness of the history of human civilization. In all this, the individual's claim for identity is a difficult path between the global and local, where ancestry and travel have changed our experiences, heritage and parentage beyond that of any other generation. In the last two decades more people have lived between or across national borders than ever before with one estimation from UNESCO as high as 40 million migrant workers, 20 million refugees and 20–25 million people displaced due to famine and civil war. The borders of culture are breaking down, and much of this breakdown is being determined by technologies of communication, be they computer, via e-mail or VOIP technologies, design images, which are part of a global culture transmitted via cable, wireless, terrestrial or extra-terrestrial technologies; the Internet and the interactive, downloads, pod casts, webpages and blogs, which contemplate and document human action and interaction in a way that could not have been thought possible 50 years ago.
A democratization is occurring which by offering the ability to speak in a global context, makes it far harder for oppressive regimes to maintain control, when the population of a country can get a perspective of their local world from a global context, from news media and local webblog comment.
The communications of people to people across the world have enabled many changes from local cultures and economies to global cultures and economies and these cross-border forays of cultural practice have altered ways of reading and perceiving. Professor Sue Thomas worked on a project called 'Transliteracy – Reading in the Digital Age'. In 2005, she ran a conference looking at the use of the Internet and its possible causes for anxiety or opportunity. The research was particularly concerned with reading in the digital age. The claim and concern for scholars was that the web is primarily a textual medium, which, therefore, requires reading – often of more than two languages, one being predominately English. This emphasis on reading gives an enormous boost to text, however, it caused some concern and anxiety by the fluidity of reading possible on shifting platforms. The platforms could be blogs, e-mail, hypertext and mobile media. The concerns were that text was being superseded by image, audio or even ideogram as the communication language of choice, and of course, in the context of the conference's research, that would change the nature of literacy.
The development of the global technology of communication has enabled an anarchic liberalism, where the evolving knowledge presented is not academically peer-reviewed but, as in the case of Wikipedia, is globally viewed, reviewed, and multi-edited by collaborators who are collaborating in providing edited definitions of knowledge. However, Wikipedia when launched in 2001, was originally inspired by the door-to-door selling of encyclopedia in the 1970s and a wish to use the computer to liberalize knowledge. Initially, the inventor asked academics to write definitions for the online-free-content-encyclopedia, but he decided that the entries were too dry and dull and so he opened the editorial role to everyone. Wikipedia encourages not only debate but in recent years has also been open to abuse, particularly with regard to, the number of times the entry on George Bush has had to be re-written or cleaned up.
The ways of reading the web are predominately visual, and it is rare for a viewer to simply read the pages one after another in a linear fashion; what is more usual is to edit as part of reading. We read a part, line or paragraph, skip irrelevant content and move through the information to find what we want. Often this is navigation done through visual structures, and by and through a sense of associative ideas. If this is the case, are we losing narrative structure and are the readers enabled by this seeming lack of coherence? This lack of coherence may in fact be what is attractive. This random kind of thinking/viewing is a very liberal response to creativity without a defining knowledge of narrative coherence. What impact does this liberalism and use of associative connections have on the brain if it is now so prominent a style of communication? Is there a problem with the lack of coherence? In his famous book, Homo Ludens: a study of play-element in culture, Huizinga writes, 'any thinking person can see at a glance that play is a thing on its own'. This suggests that although, as he details in his book, play can be found in all human activity it is also able to be a thing/experience in itself. A feature of the new tools of communication has been their immediate integration into activities which constitute play.
In the global transliteration of information and the dissemination of thought and image, we may be able to chart the activity of human history changed or potentially changed by an endless communication, but what happens in the local sense to our use and absorption of images and information? What happens in the most local point of consciousness to this information and how do we process our reactions and behaviours accordingly? In this global arena, what happens in the local, locality of the brain? This chapter looks at questions for the local brought about by the global digitalization and visualization communications systems, which we take for granted and do not analyze with regard to the effect on our brains and brain function.
The separation of distinct reactions to image technology and image product has brought about a significant response to such technologies. In the late twentieth century we have invariably argued about the dangers of too much television watching for children and generally there is a perceived wisdom in limiting the time with which children have contact with computers, also based on a similar presumption. This sense of what is good for children is contrary to what is endured by most adults in both work-place and home situations – namely to sit for long periods of time, often several hours, working at the computer workstation. This rather hypocritical interaction between machines and humans of differing ages and experiences further confounds our responses to how we 'should' be responding to time in the company of technologies. For what exactly are we protecting children from whilst not protecting ourselves as adults? We might be concerned for our children, thinking that prolonged activity on the Internet might lead them to unsuitable chat rooms or pornography sites where they could be groomed by paedophiles. A need to protect from this threat is therefore rational, sensible and some would say imperative. However, our response to the televisual world is negotiated by ideas of too much exposure. Certainly in the 1980s some sociological studies were made into the reactions of societies in non-televisual contexts and how their society communicated in the now lost ways of pre-TV communities. However, what was the danger here? Indoctrination? The diminished conversational skills of these populations? The lack of work achieved due to this new technological distraction? It was more to do with the potential soporific nature of this technology on human behaviour and a perceived problem of visual imagery taking over and taking precedence from a literary or verbal culture, a culture of great art in terms of literatures, of poetry and prose.
In the latter part of the first decade of the twenty-first century, with many countries of the world investing in design and design research, we can see that the visual culture, which surrounds us, in many mediums and technological forms, is affecting our reception of and responses to communication. In the adage that 'a picture tells a thousand words', we as a global culture can quickly respond to televisual reports and fast moving images, and are able to determine messages in complex forms from the array of sequenced images put to us. Contemporary insights about the interconnections between modern imaging systems and their historical and perceptual impact on our human imagination can be both surprising and unforeseen. However, it is harder to promote new technologies as 'new', as they are not developing a unique category of perception. However, what these imaging systems do is privilege the cybernetic richness and sensory density fusing patterns of information that are mediated by technologies.
In the last twenty years, scientists have begun to take the phenomenon of synaesthesia more seriously as neuroscience has developed as a field of medical practice. However, the testing for synaesthesia as a mechanism must be countered by the notion of differences and similarities of perception that have arisen in the arts. The implication of synaesthesia for theories of consciousness for painting, literature, music and performing arts are legion. Scenography embodies the arts of music, design, sculpture, paint, light and dimensional design and as such the notion of perceptions of spaces and responses to such design spaces is always based on an understanding, perhaps non-scientific, of the potential synaesthetics of such performance spaces.
Harrison and Baron-Cohen produced their book on synaesthesia because they felt there was enough scientific evidence to warrant the discussion of different modes of perception. Their definition of synaesthesia is where one sensory modality automatically triggers a perceptual experience when no direct stimulation to this second modality has occurred. This definition would be a natural explanation of what might be occurring in digitalized visualizations. In fact, one might from this premise suggest that performance and scenography have purposely set out to develop an audience's ability to respond synaesthetically to what is presented. Whilst states of synaesthesia can be reproduced through hallucinogenic drugs, performers desire such altered states for their audiences, and many audiences indulge in spectating to lose themselves by the nature of skipping through associative states, whilst being provoked by sound, light and form in space. This might indeed be one explanation for the popularity of contemporary and modern dance, which offers abstractions and visual stimuli for the spectator to enjoy. These altered states demonstrate the skills of design, the development of associative thought and the nature of artistic perception, which becomes a part of a less conscious art. This associative process may be a productive way of interrogating the design process, but what of the visualizations and their resultant effect on the audience?
The context of performance now encompasses the media of TV, film, theatre, DVD, Internet, web-blogs and people of all ages are interested in and intrigued by the possibilities that fast moving images and communication can offer them in describing their lives and stories. The content of the media is vast. Add to these wide-ranging opportunities and ideas of displacement, which might occur in virtual worlds, projections onto 3D objects and the integration of the anomalies in live performance and such immersive experiences. The Internet enables our imaginations in a display environment. It is polylinear in construction and it holds the promise of fulfilling a desire that was only partially expressed in the idiom of cinema verité – to create a kind of motion picture that lets the world reveal itself and permits discovery on the part of viewers. The multiplicity of visual culture, then, in all these forms and the possible harnessing of associative skills may have an effect on younger viewers/users, which we haven't yet quantified or, more directly, been aware of, except in the notional sense of restricting the engagement with a televisual world, as an inherently positive response to a degenerate medium. How do these images and their corresponding changes and associations affect the health of young people due to what is produced by this sensory richness in the brain? The question is, therefore, what effect do images and multimedia experiences in a number of performative contexts have on concentration?
Human nature and the nature of spectating are both inextricably linked but what is the future of spectating in the developing landscape of technological change? I want to explore concerns, which rely on the presumption of the non-ambiguous nature of text-based knowledge as the premise for all other forms of knowledge. The presumption of this assertion being correct is at once alarming and quite sad as it is dependant on viewing the world of visual technological developments as a negative. The dystopia, which Professor Susan Greenfield expresses as a problem for our multimedia world, does not take into account the positive nature of multimedia entertainments technology – most notably the sophistication of the spectating undertaken by young people.
Whether we believe that Greenfield's bold attempt to describe how twenty-first century technology is changing the way we think and feel is correct, is debateable. Our increasing ability to manipulate electronic media, robots, genes, reproductive biology and our minds is dramatically changing the way some of us live. Whilst we may see some technologies as producing an individuated life, where the technology makes us fearful and alienated, the contrary is the case for gaming. The gaming nature of spectatorship is inclusive and censoring children's activities related to gaming, play-stations and movies, might conversely be interrupting the further development of these environments, as enhanced unambiguous knowledge, rather than as a negative environment of associative hypertext, which Greenfield finds disturbing.
Whether we can equate the private ego with the development of IT particularly, also challenges the nature of the gadgetry and spectating possibilities that are available to us and for young people in general. Any negative impact on the human brain and central nervous system is unproven, as is the assertion that the essence of the individual is lost.
At home, the toddlers play with their smart toys that mirror their development, as each grapples with its environment. They can amuse themselves assembling a kind of subatomic nanotech Lego. Meanwhile, their flexi-operative parents and guardians will plug-in-and-play their serotonin depleted brains, episodically provoked to virtual desk rage, as performance statistics are relayed to the virtual boss somewhere on the other side of the world. The family will socialise remotely on some days, the teenagers are promiscuously lost in virtual sex role-play with a designed partner of their choice. All the while, the Hyperhouse, with its electronic spine and communications hub teems with smart appliances, activated by bodily sensors adjusting ambience and functionality accordingly.
And what's so wrong with that! The relationship of technology to our lives has almost overwhelmed any debate and the sense of technologies as dangerous per se for their anti-human and post-human properties is an irrational response to what we do with the technologies and what they can do to or for us. In many senses the surreal and surrealism as a form, is a natural precursor to our fears of multimedia performance genres. Multimedia contains all the dangers of the imagination and l'amour fou – obsessional love, of games and interactivity, which André Breton identified as the seduction of the surreal.
Excerpted from Modes of Spectating by Alison Oddey, Christine White. Copyright © 2009 Intellect Ltd. Excerpted by permission of Intellect Ltd.
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Table of Contents
Introduction: Visions Now: Life is a Screen
Alison Oddey and Christine White
Part One: Interactive Media and Youth Culture
Chapter 1 Altered States
Chapter 2 A Quick Walk Through Uncanny Valley
Saint John Walker
Chapter 3 Spectatorship and Action Research Performance Models
Lizbeth Goodman, Esther MacCallum-Stewart and Vicki Munsell
Part Two: Imaginative Escape
Chapter 4 The Active Audience: The Network as a Performance Environment
Chapter 5 The Audience in Second Life: Thoughts on the Virtual Spectator
Chapter 6 Cultural Use of Cyberspace: Paradigms of Digital Reality
Chapter 7 Observing the Interactive Movie Experience: The Artist's Approach to Responsive Audience Interaction Design
Part Three: Identity and the Self-conscious Spectator
Chapter 8 Interior Spectating: Viewing Inner Imagery in Psychotherapy
Chapter 9 Tuning-in to Sound and Space: Hearing, Voicing and Walking
Chapter 10 Picturing Men: Performers and Spectators
Chapter 11 Haptic Visuality: The Dissective View in Performance
Chapter 12 Touched by Human Hands: City and Performance
Part Four: The Site of Spectating
Chapter 13 Dwellings in Image-spaces
Chapter 14 Embodiment, Ambulation and Duration
Craig G. Staff
Chapter 15 Odd Anonymized Needs: Punchdrunk's Masked Spectator
Chapter 16 Sites of Performance: The Wollstonecraft Live Experience!