Photos: Hand of [HCI]
by Beauchamp Art
Repeatedly photographed computer screen displaying the mouse interface against a blue void (the sky from ‘City in Pixels’), exploiting pixilation and the moiré effect.
The title is a play on ‘Hand of God’; the user as master controller, and ‘hands off’, repelling the physical interaction of the individual, supplanted by a digital exchange, as well as the ‘hand of whom?’, and the anonymity of the user; placed in conjunction with ‘HCI’ – human-computer interface – the hands of human-computer interface, the hand becomes that of the cyborg.
This explicit examination of the remediated image of the interface object, the anthropomorphic hand of the operational user as directed by the movement of the mouse, functioning as an extension of the user and as a means of interacting with the graphic media elements windowed across the flat surface of the screen, a platform and a portal to information. “For media, as extensions of our physical nervous systems, constitute a world of biomechanical interactions that must ever seek new equilibrium as new extensions occur.” This piece is intended to “explode the inner unity of their beings into explicit fragments” [McLuhan, 1964: 186, 202]
As “All culture, past and present came to be filtered through a computer, with its particular human-computer interface,” [Manovich, 2001: 64] then it seems necessary to closely examine both the abstract presence of the opaque interface that aspire for transparency to lend immediacy to the materials presented on the screen, but also the visual graphical representation of the interface.
In re-photographing the image of the spectral glove of the ghost in the machine which is puppeted by the user, these pictures serve not only to “acknowledge the reality of the act of mediation that we are witnessing,” [Bolter, 2000: 59], but to expand on these observations with a degree of self-criticality, in the magnification the pixels of the digitally rendered digits of the computer’s hand, but the repeated re-examination of the image gradually corrupts the apparent simplicity and implicit anthropomorphism of the fingered pointer. Thereby producing a form of optical glitch, rupturing the “immersive environment, undercutting the sovereignty of the digital by revealing its pervasiveness.” [Manon, 2011] Thereby not only attending to the aesthetics of the screen, but also querying the automatic integration of transparent interfacing by the user, “with each return to the interface the user confronts the fact that the windowed computer is simultaneously automatic and interactive.” [Bolter, 2000: 33]
Not only is the subjectivity of the screen questioned through the reprocessing of digital images, but so is the digital photographic process; the images in series alter but stem from the same source, their multiplicity devalues the comparative uniqueness of the singular image, but the electronic capacity to freely create endless copies makes the aesthetic value of each pictures, and the series as a whole, secondary to the intellectual consequence of each more quantifiable, though still not easily measured in terms of fiscal value. For example, if this series were to be sold, what would be sold – the digital files, the RAW or JPEG, a print, or would the (exclusive) rights to use and display the image be that which is exchanged? Where as a painting contains any number of unique brush strokes, the nature of digital image files is that they are malleable and clonable.
Much as with Roy Liechtenstein’s ‘Girl with a Ball’ “The advert existed in thousands of copies, the painting is a unique, one-off product,” the distinction between original and art object is clear – moreover the “social function is different: the purpose of the advert is to attract customers […] and to impart some information about it, the painting’s function is supply aesthetic pleasure, to renew our percept of the everyday world and to comment upon pictorial codes.” [Walker, 1994: 25] Not unlike how the re-photographic of the GUI transforms it from functional interface to art image (electric object).
Taking the commonplace act of looking at an illusionary objected embedded in the screen as the product of RGB rendering to an extreme, devolving the verisimilitude of the interface to a state of colour-glutted abstraction, with each stage of the process as evident in the series, which goes to illustrate the gradual deconstruction of the linear image through the moiré compulsion of the low-resolution rendering that has been magnified. Not only by means of lenses, but by attentive gaze; as “attention itself is an enlarging glass.” [Bachelard, 1958: 158]
Though not uniquely referring to the computer screen, the graphic user interface is highlighted as an example of how the individual is increasingly “in contact with mediated representations of complex physical and social world” [Defleur, 1989: 258] and the user should be aware of the act of mediation through interfaces; transparent or hypermediated and explicitly present; in order to be fully aware of the potential manipulations by the medium, and the biases and intentions behind these deviations from direct interaction though representations, before forming judgment of the information or media that is presented (to then be derailed from actuality by personal biases).
The hyper-examination of the image until it is explicitly deconstructed until its mechanisms are evident and overwhelm the original meaning and use of the primary image could also be seen to exemplify the problematic information overload that is available by the seemingly limitless access to greater levels of (visual) data that ultimately serve no purpose for the user, as “a digital image could easily contain much more information than anyone could ever want,” [Manovich, 2000: 53] or for that matter, more information than they could possibly need. It is unimportant that the pointer graphic when visually amplified becomes a meaningless wall of colours, for it has no empirical use. Such overly vigorous inspection opens up and exposes the functioning components of the screen in order to critical analyse the media, thereby undermining the original purpose of the GUI; which is to allow the user to access files and navigate virtual space through basic two-dimensional representations. Thus continuing in the Modernist tradition of deconstruction in “the age of the full gamut of self-critical attitudes.” [McLuhan, 1964: 197] taking the image apart; but superficially breaking it in the process, revealing that which must be hidden or overlooked in order to function, questioning image, and art, as a “translator of experience.” [McLuhan, 1964: 242]
These images would have to be displayed collectively for full effect, however, and isolated picture, from the end of the series, could effectively exemplify the action of re-photographing; re-processing; remediation of the GUI. The images seem most organically displayed on a computer screen; though whether this would be fitting for a public display is contestable. Perhaps it would be best to keep them as online objects, floating curiosities in the online cloud, inviting debris for the web-browsers to stretch their gaze across to should they be determined enough to find it. However, there though could readily be dismissed (which would be fitting for the works, to a certain extent, may only dissolve them to finely in the solution for them to be noticed at all, and therefore become nothing but collateral clutter).
Therefore, it is worth considering ways of presenting the images in three-dimensional environment that makes use of aesthetic of interactive that is apparent in the graphical representation of the hand from the screen. If the images could be made tactile, but not textile (glitch fabrics are an obvious example of this, such as the designs of Phillip Stearns, which so basically contrast the cold immaterial image to the hot interaction of the fabric. Lacking in subtly, their random pixilated aesthetic resembling bus-seat covers, so designed to hide dirt and stains that come through constant popular use).
Perhaps projecting each image in sequence onto a block of transparent plastic could be effective, as the image would appear solid from directly in front, but fall away into a fittingly immaterial illusion should the viewer stray around the sides of the block. However, a means of display that does not detract from the image in place of the object is paramount, so producing optical illusions may provide too much spectacle and detract the audience from meditating on the image.
Something subtler is required; though the idea of producing an image that can be touch, which features an abstracted graphic representation of the body, as with these images, seems appropriate. Touch-screen computing could thereby be worth considering; should the images be shown on a tablet device or interactive monitor, which the viewer would be able to navigate the images with directly using their hands (in place of the mouse; a less transparent interface) then this could be an effective means of demonstrating the work.
Nevertheless, overall, I believe this series is quite a successful one, as they are both aesthetically stimulating, and explore a curious level of macro fascination with the digital image and the everyday interactions with electronic media (surfaces). However, there are further considerations for display that extend beyond this work, and need to be experimented with more extensively in due course, in order to present the work in the most critically engaging way possible.
- Bachelard, Gaston (1958) The Poetics of Space. First Edition Beacon Press.
- Bolter, Jay David and Grusin, Richard. (2000) Remediation: Understanding New Media. MIT Press. Paperback edition. London, England.
- Defleur, M. and Ball-Rokeach, S. (1989) Theories of Mass Communication. New York: Longman.
- Manon, Hugh S. & Temkin, Daniel. (2011) Notes on Glitch. http://worldpicturejournal.com/WP_6/Manon.html – Accessed 26.11.13
- Manovich, Lev (2001) The Language of the New Media. USA. MIT Press.
- Walker, J.A. (1994) Art in the age of mass media – a reader. London: Pluto.