Tag Archives: Art Matters

21 Jan

Critical Interface Manifesto Work in Progress

During the Arts Matters conference we adressed the manifesto that we are working on.  It was explained that this Manifesto functions not only as a goal but also as the leit motiv of our research that crosses all the activities that have been done so far. All the workshops, conversations and lectures that we have organized have been nurturing the background of the Critical Interface Manifesto.

This tool also constitutes the compass that guides us along the wide and heterogeneous bibliography that we’ve been reading and discussing.  Some of the books that we have highlighted to write the first Manifesto draft are:  “Interface Criticism: Aesthetics Beyond the Buttons” (Christian Ulrik Andersen, Soren Bro Pold), “the Interface effect” (Alexander Galloway) or “Evil Media” (Matthew Fuller, Andrew Goffey).

We have also been looking at the wide tradition of Manifestos that exists in the fields of arts and technology. We consider some of them very inspiring like:

->The GNU Manifesto (1985), by Richard Stallman, an explanation and definition of the goals of the GNU Project (free software computer operating system). But also a fundamental philosophical source for the free software movement.

->The Hacker’s Manifesto (1986), by The Mentor aka Loyd Blankenship. It acts as a guideline to hackers across the globe, especially those new to the field. It serves as an ethical foundation for hacking, and asserts that there is a point to hacking that supersedes selfish desires to exploit or harm other people.

->Mozilla Manifesto, a  set of 10 principles that articulate a vision for the Internet a global public resource that must remain open and accessible.

->The First Things First manifesto , published in 1964 by Ken Garland. It was backed by over 400 graphic designers and artists and also was published in the Guardian newspaper. It is a reaction to the rich and affluent Britain of the 1960s, and it tried to re-radicalise a design industry which the signatories felt had become lazy and uncritical. It has been influences by the Critical Theory, the Frankfurt School and the counter-culture of the time. And it explicitly re-affirmed the belief that Design is not a neutral, value-free process. It was later updated and republished with a new group of signatories as the First Things First 2000 manifesto  by Adbusters magazine .

->The Critical Engineering Manifesto  considers engineering to be the most transformative language of our time, shaping the way we move, communicate and think. It is the work of the Critical Engineer to study and exploit this language, exposing its influence.

->The New Clues Manifesto, is an update on fifteen years since the Cluetrain Manifesto, which has been  seminal in the development of the Internet. The authors emphasize that the Internet is not a medium nor is it content, it is a conversation.

->Even a Manifesto for a Post-Digital Interface Criticism exists, written by Pold and Andresen that of course has been an inspiration for us.

What all these manifestos have in common is that somehow they try to fight the lack of ethics in the industry or in the economic system.  They also consider that technology should be used to expand our horizons. And at last, they invite us to thinking critically.

So we are quite aware that there is loads of previous research done before we started this project. All of this begs some basic questions like why should we focus and produce a manifesto and how can we contribute to this field?

Why to write a manifesto?

Because as a Manifesto is a political declaration of intentions or views and  it seem appropriate to us to use this kind of output that stress the “political” aspect.

If Interface design nowadays tends to hide the interface in order to be more user friendly giving the illusion of neutrality, by doing an Interface Manifesto we are stressing the “ideological” aspect of the interface.

So one of the aims of the Critical interface Manifesto is to generate a discussion between those who are concerned about the need for criticism in Interface design and those who believe it should be ideology-free.

With this motivations in our minds and after looking at all this references we tried to summarize the main ideas on a first draft. And these are some of statements that we agreed on:

– I interface, you interface, we interface.

– Interfaces are political objects.

– An Interface is not a neutral space. Ideologies are always embeded in the interface, but those are not always visible.

– The success of interface is defined not only by its ability to generate the interaction, but to have the user to understand  how this interaction occur and the set of rules that the determine the interaction.

– As a tool the interface should provide the acknowledge of its own shape and limits.

– We need to feel the presence of the interface while accessing the content on the other side.

– Freedom of use implies knowledge and to be consequent.

– Interfaces can also be honest and simple.

– Code is part of the interface.

– You can claim the right to know and understand without having to really know about each interface.

– Design is emotional, functional and political. Interfaces are designed. (D. Norman)

– Interfaces can be potentially everything, objects, movements, behaviors, spaces, sounds…

Taking in account this political tradition of Interfaces, we would say that a Manifesto embedded in its shape its political intention. So one of our challenges and hopefully our contribution to this field would be to transform the previous statements into an interface.

How can we do this? During the work session we focused not only on the contents but on questions related to the formal aspects of the manifesto that posed some dilemmas such as: should we strive for simplicity and clarity or rather should we try to be creative and poetic?

And if Manifesto itself will be an interface how can we design a coherent Manifesto so it can contain its ideology embedded on its own interface?

We have designed two future events that will help us to solve some of these doubts and to keep on working on the development of the manifesto:

—>1st  Booksprint:  this is a methodology that brings together a group to produce a book in 3-5 days. There is no pre-production and the group is guided by a facilitator from zero to published book. During this event we would like to finish not a book but the Manifesto and we’d like to invite some researchers and  designers to think together how can we develop that Manifesto whose shape, structure, matter will be coherent with its ideas.

—> 2nd MEMBRANA: an open call to support a visual artist interested in developing an artwork based on the concept of interface. The artist will develop his/her project during a six weeks residency at Hangar (Barcelona). He/she will also be invited to participate in the ongoing investigation of the PIPES_BCN research group which involves the drafting of a Critical Interface Manifesto.

28 Nov

Interface Working Session

One of the aims of PIPES_BCN is the creation of a Critical Interface Manifesto. Our research team is currently working on it and on November 18th a collective work session took place in which some of the key concepts of the future Critical Interface Manifesto were shared and discussed.

Many of these ideas we are working with come from the reference bibliography that we have been reading like “Interface Criticism: Aesthetics Beyond the Buttons” (Christian Ulrik Andersen, Soren Bro Pold), “the Interface effect” (Alexander Galloway) or “Evil Media” (Matthew Fuller, Andrew Goffey) to name just a few.

The methodology that we followed within this framework was to display a brainstorming session in which every participant would contribute with three statements that could be part of an Interface Manifesto. We tried to organize some of these shared ideas and the result was a compilation of statements that summarize some controversial concepts crossing the interface conceptualization such as transparency, symmetry, collaboration, openness, ownership, etc.

During this working session other issues were discussed. First we look over the aims of the manifesto trying to answer some very basic questions like why should we focus and produce a manifesto, or how can we contribute to this field and who will be its target.

We also focused on questions related with the formal aspects of the manifesto that posed some dilemmas such as: should we strive for simplicity and clarity or rather should we try to be creative and poetic? or, should  the Manifesto itself  be an interface? and if yes, how can we design a coherent Manifesto so it can contain its ideology embedded on its own interface?



22 Sep

Art Matters Seminars Discusses the Idea of Interface

In the framework of PIPES BCN research, the 1st of July Hangar hosted an Art Matters Seminar focused on interfaces, the research issue of the project. In this occasion, besides of the usual attendees we had an special guest: Jorge Luís Marzo, exhibition curator, writer and lecturer at the Bau University School.

After the traditional presentation of the seminar and the attendees introduction, Jorge sugested that devices should turn into interfaces: there is a need that machines could socialize with each other and people, and added that now there is an independence of the (TV) screen, because screens are everywhere.

Regarding to this, other of the participants introduced the idea of relational spaces from social scientist and geographer Doreen Massey, to highlight the space where humans and not humans relate. Following this path, seminar leader Pau Alsina added that there is a relation between the material and the symbolic, and explained that the concept of infrastructure from Bruno Latour is very useful to attend this.

In fact, as Pau clarified, one of the seminar aims is to fight the perspective of researching things (as art, etc.) regardless of their ability of agency. Thinking about interface, some authors placed the software in the center of the analysis (Manovich, i.e). In a  similar way, the essay Interface Criticism: Aesthetic Beyond Buttons, Christian Ulrik Andersen and Soren Bor Pold (as editors) attempts to enter into the interface, thinking about it not just as a mere surface in which political and social conditioning bounce, but as a society articulator.

Another participant added that there is a need of artistic practices questioning these phenomena. The devices are sociability producers, a trigger for social behaviours, and STS studies can help to understand which are the processes through which this standards crystalize. The interface should not be explained but is the explanation, which conveys.

Some authors sharing this point of view are Mathew Fuller, crossing cultural studies with software studies, or Michel Callon, an engineer and sociologist. The actor-network theory and relational materialism are useful perspectives to understand the interface as a complex phenomena, given that they understand technosciencies as a net that includes both human and non-human entities, heeding to the associations between them.

A good example of the success of certain technologies from this approach is the coding language Processing. It has become so popular and used because it has been developed for artists to artists, and has opened a new field of accessible creativity that can be translated from the art field to the industry, and where creators, technologist, coders or scientists can converge.

Building a Manifesto

One of the goals of PIPES BCN is to write an Interface Manifesto. Talking about that, Jorge Luís Marzo said that images may not represent the reality but hide it (as happens in the film The Matrix). The texts are disappearing and being replaced by icons or images full of meaning (Twitter bird, for example, or F by Facebook).

Nowadays, societies live dazzled by the new gadgets and technological services provided by the industry, there’s a technophilic layer that can bring to technical nihilism. We enjoy the latests technologies, but where is the responsability? There can be pointed just one actor?

In the case of interface, what is important is not just the object, but the function of this object in a certain context. This is the argument that defends the article An Introduction to Interface Phenomenology from Josep M. Català. Interface translates more than mediates (mediate has a friendly connotation), and it only exists when there is a need for dialogue. Interfaces are part of our lives, and despite the wide variety of devices, they tend to the homogenization and standarization. Related to technology, there has always been a search for universal languages and standards. The screws are an example, as well as internet protocols.

In technology there’s no neutrality, although there certainly is an illusion of it. It’s stories are bounded to the idea of progress, and preconceptions of human being or ideas related to power are embodied in those objects and the practices they enable. When talking about interface, it seems to be a request coming from users: give me buttons. The designers or engineers of our washing machines, radios or computers seem to say: just press the button and we do the rest. Here are clearly a number of preconceptions that shows us that the dichotomy between active subject and passive object is completely obsolete.

23 May

Art Matters: New Materialism @Hangar

“The strength of new materialism is precisely this nomadic traversing of the territories of science and the humanities, performing the agential or non- innocent nature of all matterthat seems to have escaped both modernist (positivist) and postmodernist humanist epistemologies”.

The occidental thought tradition is mainly based in dualities. Many philosophers have criticized this binary logic, settled with the beginning of the modern project. However, this more systemically or net-oriented way to perceive the world has been peripheral until this last years.

Taking advantage of the convergence of interests with PIPES researchers, this Tuesday 20th of May, Hangar hosted for the first time the seminar Art Matters, lead by the philosopher Pau Alsina. The seminar has been held for two yearsand a half, and it turns arround about breaking down the barriers between learning, reflection and making: it depicts and reflects the need to create convergence zones between the own investigation and the artistic practice. Read More


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