Semantics of Interaction and Motion (Jason Lewis lecture)

Source Note
The material and flow of this post is derived directly from a lecture by Jason Lewis of OBXLabs in his University of Concordia CART355 Typography class. October 28/08.

Jason begins the lecture by stating: “If you are moving something: why? The why is connected to meaning…There is an intrinsic space for beauty, but I also believe that one of the approaches to take to digital media is to think very seriously about motion and interactivity as tools to create the meaning…”

A taxonomy of tools explored thru examples follows. The commentaries are in some cases derived from Jason’s talk but often I discursively interject.

1. MAS962 Course at MIT, Brad Gielfuss [sic…to be corrected, tomorrow]

First example of text created by lines on elastic springs interactively controlled by user.  Instrumental meaning not semantic meaning is foregrounded. “Engagement operates in visual register.”

2. Letterscapes by Peter Cho (2002) and Type Me, Type Me Not

Concrete poetry and medieval letterscapes are updated in Letterscapes, while in “type me, type me not” there is a clear reference to mappings between sound and letters and motion that expressively. So display and appearance begin to have semantic sense and are coherent. Synaesthesia possibly enters into consideration.

3. Evan Zimroth’s, “Talk You” used in Camille Utterback’s Text Rain (1999)

The phrase from the documentation video “falling letters that do not really exist” is a trope from the virtual-real dichotomy that was often cited in interactivity theories. Utterback’s canonical piece utilized the poem (she negotiated the rights for it) and the floating letters had some sort of underlying sense. Zimroth: each part of my body turned to verb”. The choice of text occured after the design, so that the symmetry between semantic meaning and interaction is only occasionally insightful, but it is very effective at engaging people, at inviting them to play with language with their bodies. (Questions arising: are people still reading when they are interacting?)

4. “For All Seasons”
implements 3D text where the motion uses semantically relevant visual fluid dynamic algorithms : fish, leaves, and snow are converted into primal essences. Interactivity is implicit and can be discovered by the viewers. The 3 first season connect content to context literally. The final season which incorporates a tree is the least effective which suggests that incorporating visual indicators that are not algorithmic.

5. Screen (2004) created by Noah Wardrip-Fruin (with Sascha Becker, Josh Carroll, Robert Coover, Shawn Greenlee, and Andrew McClain) at Brown’s Cave “explores memory… new experiences of text….defies traditional VR…begins with textual experience…surprises again by introducing instability into text…reader can strike at text.”… Struck words return to wall or break apart into neologisms….What happens to sequential meaning or stroy when words are mosquitoes generating. “Finally the user is presented with a remnant memory text generated from her bodily actions.” The wall of conventional connected words is suddenly pierced by holes. A voice speaks. Does this construct a model of memory as menacing, small morsels of language that distract us from the present? Migratory bits that need to be pushed away, put back into the past, onto the wall. So basically the active detioration of memory is converted into a game, the primrdial spasm of the subconscious as it ejects material is problematic in that it puts the viewer into a singular linear relation with the text: user as superego, cave as id, time as the inexorable forward motion of past events.

Jason: ‘the primary computational logic is collision detection; in text rain it is edge detection’. NWF in an interview states: “Well, to put your mind at ease, everything is intentional…”

Lecture finishes with question: “Where does authorship reside?” And a flowing continuum of potential hybrid positions emerges.


Personal postscript: this lecture set me thinking about the seed text that I will use in a piece currently under production. Seeking the symettry of code and content, form and feeling, interaction and intuition, seems like the equivalent of serarching for the sweet spo, groove, attunement, flow etc… that occur when all the disparate levels and radiant topology of creation converge in a singular work.

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