SIGGRAPH 1993: Machine Culture



Anaheim, California


August 1st-6th, 1993


Machine Culture: The “Virtual Frontier”

The goal of this exhibition is to offer a survey of the current state of interactive and virtual art practice around the world. Many people are unaware that the full name of SIGGRAPH is “special interest group on graphics and interactive techniques.” In this spirit, machine culture takes a wide view of interactive techniques. Not only will you find screen-based and interactive laserdisk artworks, but interactive environments, robotic artworks, and immersive systems. Artists in this exhibition are gathered from many countries, including Australia, Canada, Holland, Japan, Germany and the U.S.

1993 is perhaps the first time that an exhibition of such scale has been possible. This is due in part to the availability of sophisticated technology to artists, and simultaneously, the cultural interest in these technologies as culture machines. SIGGRAPH is perhaps the only place that such an exhibition could occur, as it gathers both the technology and the goodwill of the makers of these technologies.

Artistic use of interactivity is a new field. For the artists included here, the nature of interaction and the interactive interface is a prime concern. The definition and use of that interface in this exhibition is diverse, and quite at odds with the increasingly narrow usage in interactive consumer electronics. The interface is the place where the machine meets culture; it is the place where the machine meets the body. These artists question which parts of the body the machine might converse with, and in what ways. Most of the artists represented in this exhibition are newcomers to SIGGRAPH, younger artists, many from outside the U.S., with novel approaches to interactive technologies. These artists have gone to considerable effort to bring and install their complex works for the consideration of the SIGGRAPH audience.

The catalog to this exhibition, the machine culture section of the 1993 Visual Proceedings, has offered these artists the opportunity to speak about their complex works and the ideas behind them. The catalog also includes a specially commissioned set of essays that is the first collection to address interactive and virtual art practice. Though some of the essayists are familiar to the SIGGRAPH membership, many are unfamiliar, and offer dynamic critiques. It is my hope that machine culture will bring the SIGGRAPH community together with active artists and thinkers in interactive technologies from the art world in an exchange of ideas and in the hope that a more sophisticated discussion of the cultural dimension of interactivity will result.

We are witnessing the construction of a new professional identity the interactive media artist, an inter-disciplinarian as comfortable with cultural coding as with computer code, and as familiar with the jargon of the art studio as the computer lab. There are those of us who have crossed over, in one direction or the other, but the generation at home in both places is just arriving. Some of them are in this exhibition. It is they who will invent interactive art.

I’d like to express my gratitude to the artists and essayists without whom this publication and exhibition would have been impossible, and likewise to the companies and individuals who have loaned hardware and software. The members of the advisory committee for machine culture are: Gary Warner, Australian Film Commission; Erkki Huhtamo, independent theorist and curator (Finland); Jeffrey Shaw, director of the Institute for Image Media,Zentrum fur Kunst und Medientechnologie, Karlsruhe, Germany; Richard Wright, lecturer in computer graphics, London Guildhall University (Formerly City of London Polytechnic), UK; and Machiko Kusahara, independent curator and consultant, Japan. The committee has functioned in a different fashion from SIGGRAPH art show committees of the past. All the committee members live outside of the U.S. and have an active professional interest in interactive media. My charge to them was to suggest artists and artworks for the exhibition and assist those artists to take part in the exhibition-I am grateful for their advice and assistance. I’m particularly grateful to my assistant in the machine culture project, Harry Fozzard, who has taken an active, intelligent, and responsible role in planning the exhibition, in editing and designing this document, in corresponding with contributors and sponsors and all the other duties that fell to him. I’d also like to thank my colleagues on the SIGGRAPH 93 committee with whom it has been a pleasure and an honor to work, in particular, Alyce Kaprow, who has been a constant source of advice and good humor. And thanks especially to Molly Morgan-Kuhns, Mark Resch, and Bob Judd for their support and guidance. This project is dedicated to the memory of Felix Guattari.

Machine Culture Chair,
Carnegie Mellon University

Exhibition Artworks:

Exhibition Writings and Presentations:

    Title: Feedback to Immersion
    Writing Type: Essay
    Author(s): Timothy Druckrey

    Cybernetics speculates about the coupling of machine and person. Since Norbert Wiener’s seminal Cybernetics or Control and Communication in the Animal and Machine (1948), the trajectory of technology development has been one of an increasing possibility of achieving that interface. In the past decade, the possibility of defining a relationship not simply between but within technology has become plausible. Yet the commercialization of cybernetics comes neither as a technical panacea nor without deep ethical concerns. As machines mutate into biology, the philosophical and political values of technology are challenged to confront more than conceptualized
    situations but rather to theorize the materiality of programmed or enhanced being. At the same time, the development of”realities” that are characterized as immersive or virtual are beginning to surround experience. The penetration of technology within the body and the socialization of simulated realities is more than a signifier of technological progress-it marks a transformation of knowledge, of biology, and of the cultural order in which knowledge is linked with ideology, biology with identity in terms of a technological imperative not necessarily connected with necessity. The issues raised by this potential for the narrowing of the boundary between technology and experience are vast. In many ways the development of several parallel technologies has
    reached a crucial point.

    Title: Soft Future
    Writing Type: Essay
    Author(s): Richard Wright

    Will you see a technological utopia, a city of gleaming metal spires orbiting spacecraft, a world spared from nuclear annihilation and united by a common belief in the benefits of rational progress? Nowadays, probably not. At most your vision is likely to be an end to recession, economic stability for at least a while, a new order of gray-suited bureaucracy. Perhaps you see nothing at all, just a hazy mist of half-forgotten ideals. But when I close my own eyes there is still something there lurking in the background, like a memory chopped up into disparate fragments. It coagulates, forming an surface-it is the surface of a computer screen.

    Title: It is Interactive--but is it Art?
    Writing Type: Essay
    Author(s): Erkki Huhtamo

    “The possibilities of egalitarian, more democratic, constructive forms offering new kinds of interaction, knowledge, and understanding may well be enhanced by the novel capabilities of the new technologies. They will, more than ever before, have to be struggled for.”
    -Andy Darley

    Title: The Artistic Origins of Virtual Reality
    Writing Type: Essay
    Author(s): Myron W. Krueger

    The history of virtual reality is often obscured. It is easy to get the impression that the
    Big Bang occurred at NASA in 1984 and that virtual reality is a triumph of the technical
    establishment alone. What has been overlooked is the important contributions that artists have made to the development of the field.

    Title: The Mapping of Space
    Writing Type: Essay
    Author(s): Lev Manovich

    1991 saw two events, of different importance and seemingly unrelated. One was the longawaited publication in English of what can probably be called the single most influential essay of modern art history-Erwin Panofsky’s Die Perspektive als ‘Symbolische Form.’ 1 The interest generated around the re-emergence of this legendary essay, written in 1924-1925, demonstrates that the problem of perspectival representation is still felt to be relevant to contemporary culture. The second event was the Gulf War, the outcome of which was largely predetermined by Western superiority in the techniques of perspectival representation.

    Title: Old Ideas in New Boxes
    Writing Type: Essay
    Author(s): Simon Penny

    When we look at ‘cutting edge’ technologies, it is the radical
    newness that we are encouraged to see. This radical newness helps us forget that technologies arise out of past culture. The
    generation raised on Buck Rogers grew up to make the space race, and the generation raised on Star Trek are making the Holodeck. In order to understand the historical significance of 3D imaging, we must place it as part of the historical development of the automation of perspective. Lev Manovich has followed this line of study in his essay, as do Paul Virilio and Harun Farocki elsewnere. According to this line of reasoning, we must look at
    computer graphics, interactivity, and virtual reality as moments in the larger cultural progression of the automation of visual systems.

    Title: Interaction and Play
    Writing Type: Essay
    Author(s): Florian Rötzer
    Title: Virtu-Real Space:
    Writing Type: Essay
    Author(s): Jeffrey Schulz

    A significant shift is occurring in the makeup, physical nature, and composition of space as it is experienced in contemporary culture. This shift, which is a direct result of the ubiquitous presence of information technologies in the cultural landscape, signals that physical components alone no longer comprise the
    infrastructure of the contemporary social environment. The ads, which show American Express cards in locations where they function as architectural elements (i.e., a bridge support, a path on a golf course, a canopy over a restaurant dining area, and others), indicate that it is now a combination of physical components and virtual systems that support and sustain the “real” world. Virtual credit space,symbolized in the advertisements by the credit card, functions not only as structural support for the physical world, but also as solid footing and shelter for the people who live in that world. And since virtual credit space is operationalized by information
    technologies, it becomes clear in these commercials that the extent to which physical space has been infiltrated by information technologies is both extreme (the cards are pervasive) and covert (no one in the ads notices the cards). Furthermore, because the cards blend into their surroundings unnoticed, these corporate images also indicate that information
    technologies are our natural setting. It becomes clear, then, that the use of the credit card icon in these commercials represents the extent to which information technologies have become naturalized as an intrinsic part of contemporary social life.

    Title: Light and Dark Visions
    Writing Type: Paper
    Author(s): Stephen Wilson

    Critical theory and cultural studies are increasingly being used to understand the function of the arts in contemporary technology-dominated, postmodern culture. This essay examines the relevance of these analyses to the work of artists who use emerging technologies. The first section reviews core concepts that are useful for understanding art/technology linkages from postmodernist, post-industrialist, and post-structuralist writers. Concepts discussed include the rejection of the modernist idea of a single dominant cultural stream, the demarginalization of diverse voices, the increasing importance of information and the impact of mediated image and representation on ideology and behavior, and the emphasis on deconstructing the language systems and meta-narratives that shape culture.