11 Jan

PIPES theoretical framework

During the Art Matters International Conference we had the opportunity to talk about our project. Here we’re sharing a part of our participation on the conference, when we focused on the theoretical framework of PIPES.

So any investigation of code, software architectures, or interfaces is only valuable if it helps us to understand how these technologies are reshaping societies and individuals, and our imaginations.

                                  Lev Manovich (in a Rizhome interview)

When we started the research we began to think about data, visualization and interface. What we had clear, as Laia Said, was that a highly critical perspective should be central. Each one of us comes from different backgrounds: cultural and visual studies, design, art or sociology, which has created an interdisciplinary point of view.

Having decided that our path will follow the interface manifesto as a goal, we began a theoretical research with the aim to settled it’s basis, reading and discussing several texts.


The first to come out was interface as a representation: assuming that they are based on other media as print or film, which metaphors are used more frequently? Some symbols have changed but some others have crystalized. Interfaces are dynamics, and their shape is in constant change. In this point Media Studies, semiotics or aesthetics, and concretely Lev Manovich, Bertelsen & Pold or Catalá were central.

Infrastructure – networked object

Then we went deeper. Interfaces are becoming ubiquitous, and they have become a universal language to relate to reality, affecting our public and private activities. They are social, psychological, economic and political unnoticed infrastructures, and many things are happening there. As a networked object, interfaces are fields where different actors and interest collide, not without conflict: Protocols, coding languages, standards, aesthetic trends, physical networks, designers, programmers, companies or users, dialogue in a constant flow. Obviously, Burno Latour was a must on this new materialistic point of view, and we’re researching, departing from here, in Actor-Network Theory and Science and Technology Studies.

Black – box: software studies

Interfaces have a great agency power. As black boxes or -as Fuller & Goffrey assets on Evil Media- obscurely grayed-out zones, interfaces hides their processes, and doing so, they embody choices and worldviews where power is rooted and displayed. In this point, perspectives from Software and Media Studies were extremely useful.

Interfaces don’t hide just their functioning, but also themselves. As we learnt from Olia Liliana among other authors related to art and design, there’s a curious paradox: as computers are becoming more and more present in our lives, there are growing attempts to create computerless illusion (Tools are becoming a nuissance, something that’s clear when thinking on augmented reality applications or wereables: the machine does everithing for us, painless and effortlessly).

Nevertheless of this illusion, interfaces are now more than ever fields of data collection. Our performing on screen provides quantifiable test data, which is exploited, to better understand users or improve interfaces. As Fuller & Goffrey asset: “It is perhaps uncertain just how far behaviour has been transformed into economics”.


Behavioural labs

Indeed, interfaces have become behavioural labs, but experimental subjects are unaware humans. Here, sociology helped us understand how important are users when thinking on interfaces. As Liliana says, this word is disappearing from designers discourse, preferring to talk about people. General Computer User is perceived as some whose not interested on the tool but on the results, and in this sense, the ideal subject of design reaches it’s materiality on interfaces.

But interfaces don’t follow just one road. We learnt from a virtual ethnography research on Drupal community, which are the social dynamics of the interface as a collaborative space, and how do it’s members act, negotiate and relate each other to build a very competitive service.

Last, interfaces become highly visible or even exotic on net or digital art or videogames, where the creator’s intention is to maximize computer experience. As Liliana says, user must be empowered as workers were empowered on XIXth century, and for those, they should be aware of their role.






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