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before|after|poetika [an introduction only]

guy van belle     print
 
realizing the other day that sitting here and talking to someone about a subject, and also thinking about sound and patching it up in a little sound machine (most of the time ending up with something different than the initial idea) is far easier than both switching this computer on and tapping in a consistent and understandable text. in a way we are used to reading the long strips of letters in newspapers, or the one to two lines moving text on the television screen, or the pockets with uniform chunks rolling on and on till the story is read. in a way we don't want to end up with that at all.

throughout the years, mxHz have been trying to reflect on the changes due to our own involvement in what could be called 'computer implemented art', or 'technological art'. we are a collective that reflects on what we are doing and are willing to change radically if needed (either by internal or external pressure). one remark: we call ourselves a collective since our primordial endeavour is to create collaborative works. and even if we have sometimes made solo works, we are aware that they are always based on shared content, shared skills, a strong will to communicate them, and finally related to the small social group's focus and development.

earlier on we were thinking a lot about defining a sort of aesthetics that could not only explain our way of working and performing, but could also drive a programme for an experimental set of actions within the arts. we have gradually become aware of the discrepancy between on the one hand the theoretical discussions concerning media works and on the other the organizational problems, such as the development of technological skills related to the aesthetical activities we are all involved in. maybe we need to create an in-between explanation that can be labelled as 'poetics' rather than 'aesthetics'. what follows is composed of random thoughts in the direction of creating a possible poetics for the early 21st century.

these discussions will be further developed within the framework of okno.be, which includes the sub-organizations mxhz.org, code31 and so-on, which is why we consider this text preliminary. in pointing out the different directions we hope not to limit ourselves to the artistic context only. we tend to see our work within a wider socio-cultural and political environment, relevant for many different forms of collectives. our networked and mobile settings are a deliberate and substantial choice, and so is our localization in whatever we bring into the public arena. in an earlier version of this text we started with comparing complex political and social situations to our lack of insight at the moment itself. by now all of us are convinced we have a broad overview of what happened historically in the 20th century. but many questions remain. to give an example: though we were living during the 1990s and were actively interested in the background of the breaking up of yugoslavia, in a sense we did not see what was really happening there or could not perceive what this background was. it is like being too close to the mirror to see the reflection properly. similarly, our personal activities and how we reflect on them and take explanations for granted, repeating and slightly modifying them when necessary, blind as we are and will always be for immediate processes.

several strategies to gain enough distance - apart from this writing - can be applied: [1] shock, the induction of a fracture that stops the continuity as things develop over time, changing its course, halting or stopping it; [2] geographical retreat into unknown territory, abandoning familiar objects, friends and relatives, known procedures for organizing daily existence; [3] the setup of a system to be described maybe by mid-2006 as 'contra-performance inexpliquée' or: from the deconstructive attitude into a rebuilding upside down of a new temporarily present artefact that self-destructs when the medium it is communicated with becomes illegible; [4] application of explicit intolerance of the normal, the predictable and the obvious in aesthetics, things with a purpose and a safe existence in a defined locus.

we were sitting facing one another while eating, drinking, and writing notes - outside it was raining - talking, thinking aloud and using the food as an excuse for making enough silence for reflection to happen. [mentioning the weather here is not important]. but until today, first of all, why does it puzzle us and why do we really want to explore possible issues like: to start with, is cultural and socio-political critique still possible today, which leads to the secondary question of finding out what the new formats (that this rhetoric should take on) are today, ending with the possible description of what poetics could hypothetically be these days at all? we might as well just make a song or do a dance and laugh, which we indeed do once in a while. now let us turn to describe what we normally do not explain at all but just do: a song, a dance, a laugh. [later we'll do the opposite and reflect on how to sing and dance or laugh through the description of the process inside the structure and content handling of the creative piece we have in mind]

in the context of literature studies, we know of 'poetics' as an old form of critical text writing, though that is not a limiting explanation. in a sense we believe that the approach to understanding writing is similar to understanding any other artefact made in any medium. the many poetics we know are in fact very diverse. think of the historical sources on poetics, such as (1) aristotle's www.gutenberg.org/etext/1974 or horace's www.english.emory.edu/DRAMA/ArsPoetica.html or the more contemporary 'poétique d'oulipo' www.fatrazie.com/Laprand.htm

approaching the time of writing this, we find that different views on poetics have been formed for a variety of purposes, but in general they have a tendency to pinpoint the more technical aspect of the creative aspects of writing and relate them to the social environments in which the activity takes place. though they mostly overlap, treatises on poetics are different from those on aesthetics in that they tend to give us almost a manual for writing. of course (and related to the specific intensions of the writers on poetics) there are different flavours of poetics. for instance, they can be prescriptive (what styles can you use and how do you write within that style), descriptive (what styles are around and how did writers create that style), analytical (what techniques have been used in the history of literature and by whom), synthetic (what combinations yield what result), or intended for evaluating literature (the good, the bad and the ugly). interestingly enough, poetics has focussed on different aspects of the interpretation of literature by analysing the works according to the world they exist in (context), or basing itself on the attitude of the audience and readers of the works (reception). poetics often takes as a starting point the life of the author as a timeline for explanation. within what is called close reading the opposite approach is followed: the work itself is seen as the nucleus from which everything can be learned, mainly concentrating on the use of language. over the past few years there have been many extensions and combinations, especially with contextualization and mediatization, even though basically this was already present in the older poetics. think, for instance, of horace's famous 'ut pictura poesis'.

now, the (probably unanswerable) question remains: what are we doing now {is the 'why' still appropriate here}? and first of all how can we describe it properly? this begs the question as to why there are so many manuals for different software (by the way, all prescriptive!) that are used to create artefacts and none that generally describe the techniques for making technological works. Our answer is not simple and as such will have to be reconstructed by the reader from the fragments and snippets that are left here, filling in the gaps. only through doubt, with pointers into different directions, by taking multiplicity and paradoxes seriously can we create fertile ground for new techniques for synthesis to emerge from. only in this way can we avoid activities getting paralyzed and losing the dynamics essential for further development. maybe this is also the reason why pierre schaeffer stopped his sound research with the remarkable work on poetics, 'Traité des objets musicaux'. and we can ask ourselves: do we create better works after reading it or do we become more predictable and closed in by the overwhelming descriptions? the same would be true for perry cook's 'Music, Cognition and Computerized Sound: An Introduction to Psychoacoustics', and curtis roads' 'computer music tutorial'. actually we think that we become technically better but not content-wise, and certainly we become more disciplined. if we don't fight back. critically, the questions still remain: how are we going to talk and what are we going to work on?

maybe we will never really write the intended 12 chapters of our poetics:

1 the presence of a generally accepted network for electronic communication implies that new creative artefacts are mainly developed for this medium, and gradually take a bigger distance from physical or really existing works, locking these into an earlier disciplinary format. it implies also, due to the technical construction of the communication algorithms running on it, that - as the futurists already stated - time and space died yesterday. or the exact 'happening' situated in time and space has gradually become irrelevant when we internalize this property into the work, i.e. that maybe the development of activity through time is important, but the exact synchronization is no longer and that the new works are somehow infinite in all directions.

2 the way we describe creative activities can come very close to the earlier 'actor network theory', and boils down to the reimplementation of object oriented and parallel distributed computing into critical thinking: take an object and describe all possible internal and external parameters, then follow the links and describe all the related objects identically. through recombining, parallelization, contradicting and extending this creates a new object. accentuating the interactions that occur between objects, we can invent non-existing objects that oppose existing ones and vice versa. reality and imagination are just essential zero or border crossings within the creative artefact.

3 what if we treat everything that exists within the network of networked and non-networked creative artefacts, physical and non-physical people, actions and activities, as the material that makes up the creative artefact?

4-6 there are many political and ideological issues at play. with political we mean two things: (1) present political themes criticizing society and culture in an explicit way and (2) the hidden layers of experimental changes to existing artefacts, from sound over visual elements to a different and new structure or composition, but essentially undermining the continuity of style. one breaking point and therefore very political in culture is the recent proliferation of open source issues that have spread from pure software development to creative content development. this leads to different topologies in the distribution of works and undermines the traditional financial infrastructure that disciplinary art forms still largely rely on. this has also led other things to change. when a collaborative open publication exists, it has to be read and evaluated differently from an editor-dominated hierarchically created book, since the development is based on other parameters for creating it. this fits in with the current disdain our society, its economists and politicians have for the organization of learning and of innovation in learning. this is currently a weak point in open source development but, once overcome, it can revolutionize and reinstall the democratic emancipation of general free education as an alternative track to state and company installed ersatz learning.

7-8 as described above, creative content development today has to deal with the repositioning of the different levels of involvement of both composer and engineer into a new shared status. we urgently have to abandon copyright as it is today. creative commons is the least of all evils but will not hold when the complexity of the creative content development rises with an increase of collaborative and both non-physical and non-human works. there are many paths that will lead to this, which are already in existence.

9-10 parallel to the development of shared creative content, we have to develop organizational experiments with virtual cultural communities as well. just as the educational and knowledge implementations are essential parts of open source development, a crucial point in the creation of common artefacts is the organization of the development in a different way from the one we know. what are the new formats collectives (can) use to establish distributed collaborations, which finally lead to the formation of new sustainable groups with specific (timely and non-locative) activities? in this the parameters are formed by what is essential to make distributed actions successful, while parallel developments are not seen as competitive but enriching.

11 the many cross-disciplinary actions that are now positioned at the fringe of cultural activity have become central to new developments, whereas the former disciplinary artefacts in reality remain on the surface, with minor impact on their audience. it is not the counting of visitors that enter a door that determines the presence of a work within a cultural environment, but rather its positioning in the virtual network. increasing cross disciplinary works that transgress the real and imaginary, from documentaries to abstract movies, together with real-time interactions that change the creative objects to an unrecognizable (from the original since it is only an instance) level require a new theory of semiotics: representations can create new interfaces that create new cross-synthesis artefacts in a myriad of unpredictable ways. the reinvention of semiotics within this context can lead to a new impulse radically to abandon the current kitsch in pop, music and theatre, dance and painting, writing and performing literature, etc... since new syntheses will always be more exciting than copying and mixing the existing forms.

12 the final chapter could bring the previous technical descriptions of innovating activities together in the context of internationalization, mobility and new views on non-included, developing areas. in this light the making of an ecological alternative to our technological culture and arts could be included: the use of alternative energy for artbot development, the cultivation of non-polluting materials, and the construction of ecological environments for display and performance could be an essential part of this.

(to be changed)





 

 


 

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