“Into the Black Box: relations between artistic expression and formal descriptions in computer based fiction and art” presented by Callesen


Presentation Title:

  • Into the Black Box: relations between artistic expression and formal descriptions in computer based fiction and art



  • Abstract

    Short Paper

    In this paper I will describe formal descriptions as a material for interactive and nonlinear artistic expression. The relation between formal structures and traditional means of expression in 4 Danish experimental works are outlined to give concrete examples.

    Keywords: non-linearity, interactivity, formal descriptions, artistic expression.

    Black box: any unit that forms part of an electronic circuit and that has its function, but not its components specified                                                                                                                    _Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English language.


    Digital media confront the author and artist with a new material for artistic expression. In principle every single sample in the soundtrack or pixel in the image are generated or manipulated after certain rules and descriptions expressed in a programming language, which can happen automatically or through interactive response from the reader/viewer. This calls for a theoretical framework to describe the new means of expression that are unique to the computer medium, not only to create theoretical insight, but also to enable artists and authors to understand and use the potential and nature of the complex, undermining and chaotic conditions ruling in interactive and nonlinear digital media. The point of departure is the thesis, that formal descriptions of the used representational material is an integrated part of the fiction or artwork if it includes interactive and non-linear effects. These descriptions can be very different in nature, spanning from mathematical descriptions of 3D shapes and figures to formal rules concerning the dialogue between two characters in a narrative. Books, films and paintings normally speak for themselves, whilst descriptions of their content and nature are made by their audiences, critics and academics. The artistic genius is often described as the person working mainly from intuition and talent combined with technical skills and analytical distance to the work. I stress the point that in interactive fiction or artwork an explicit description has a far more important role, since the description is defining the non-linear and interactive effects actualized on the computer. The construction of complex algorithms and data is a task in itself. Brenda Laurel has shown us, that in theory it is possible to create formal descriptions, that will generate an interactive first person experience of the diegetic universe in Starship Enterprise. My point is thus, that interactive art and fiction is only possible to judge when its actualized. In the process of visualizing such a project a whole new range of problems will occur; what montage techniques will work, how are the actors instructed, how is the dialogue and storyline written etc., meaning that the description and the actual audio-visual manifestation are interdependent and unique for each work. The people writing or directing the formal descriptions must therefore also possess artistic talent in a traditional sense – in this case writing and directing a sci-fi series. I have two main reasons for focusing on specific genres and techniques already established within art and fiction. Firstly because our basic understanding of narratives and artwork in audio-visual media derives from a culturally embedded praxis, and secondly because computer mediated fiction and art hasn’t yet reached a stage in both quality and content that is comparable to f. ex. video art, film, animation or comics. The outlined points will be illustrated by 4 Danish experimental works; a nonlinear computer generated collage “the Cliche Generator”, a non-linear video-montage generating drama-improvisation “the Improviser”, an interactive impressionist fiction “Lailah”and a sketch for an interactive comic “Sim-Existence”. This is followed by examples of how descriptions of cinematographic techniques used in German expressionism, Eisenstein’s films and the Hollywood film can be exploited as a point of departure for the development of new montage forms, that work in interactive and non-linear fiction. In the descriptions the theoretical framework is based on Metz, Barthes, Eco and Bordwell. The conclusion is that the artist or author as part of the creative process can enter the black box through a formal description involving both content and expression of the material they master. This is a necessary step in creating art and fiction that manifest an aesthetics and a poetic unique to interactive and non-linear works.

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