Thursday, November 19, 2009

Workplace media

Our key media of the 21st century are fundamentally spatial. Though it is still a truiism of film and video studies that the mainstream media are dominated by narrative and illusion, the truly dominant media of the early 21st century are geographical informatio systems (GIS), spreadhseets and databases. These workplace media operate by spatialising time. Where once voyagers recorded their journeys as narratives, the early imperial navigations turned to a more schematic system of recording space, turning to the grid of longitude and latitude to create a globe which already contained the unexplored regions of the Southern hemisphere. This level of control increased incrementally, through the Ordnance Survey's addition of contour lines among other features, until, with the introduction of ZIP codes in 1963, mapping could be associated not only with physical but with sociological information. This basic zoning tool could then be associated with such other datasets as census returns, and the move to geographical information systems commenced. The history of the spreadsheet is a denser one but covers a similar history. The critical move came in the migration from the double-entry ledger to the electronic spreadsheets, which no longer carried the residual chronological ordering that paired accountancy with narrative. That move had been achieved rather earlier in bureaucratic record keeping, with the invention of the vertical filing cabinet by Edwin Seibels in 1898 (and the slightly earlier innovation of horizontal filing systems). Again, the ledger had retained some aspects of temporal ordering, especially in terms of how searches were to be conducted. The filing cabinet spatialised these searches, allowing quasi-random alphabetical and numerical searches, as well as the use of 'metadata' such as labelled drawers to isolate files of particular interest. Te database completed this spatialisation of data, separating, for example, biographical from geographical, financial from medical records, but allowing for cross-referencing. These three instruments, GIS, spreadsheets and databases, express and enable the managerialisation of society noted by Foucault and subsequent scholars. These spatialising tendencies correspond with the arithmetic drive in digital media. The grid, and the arithmetical nomenclature for colour distinctions, identify points rather than continua, ideally replicable entities excluding both semantic reference and temporal change.

Snatched from a chapter drafted for Resolutions 3: Video Praxis in Global Spaces edited by Ming-Yuen Ma & Erika Suderburg.

The draft chapter has discussions of some favourite video and animation work of the last few years. It argues that these and other examples from Robert cahen, Daniel Crooks and Susan Collins among others escape the confines of the cartesian grid and begin to create new orderings of space, or disturb the grid by bringing in time. Those with a good web presence are:
458nm, Jan Bitzer, Ilija Brunck and Tom Weber, Filmakademie Baden W├╝rtenberg / Polynoid, Germany, 6 mins 54 sec, 2006,
Asparagus, Suzan Pitts, US, 20 mins, 1979,
Ryan, Chris Landreth, National Film Board, Canada, 13 mins 54 sec, 2004,
The Tale of How, The Blackheart Gang, South Africa, 4 mins 29 sec, 2006,

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