Second draft for isea 2009

Seeing the ‘light-color’ seduces a new kind of touching    

When we use a computer, what do we do? Almost all of us look at some image on an electric display, grab and move a mouse, and type on a keyboard, then our right hand holds the mouse in order to point to an image called an icon on the display. This is all very 'natural' for us; if our body makes some actions, then the images on the computer display change. However, this relationship between our body and the image did not exist until the computer, and especially until the Graphical User Interface, appeared.  I call this phenomenon 'Display Acts': the action formed by connecting our body action with the change of images on the electric display. Through living with the computer, we have acquired new actions in order to inhabit this new image world.  In other words, 'Display Acts' is the first step for our new actions in the man-computer world. I have already discussed ‘Display Acts’ on the first computer graphic system, Sketchpad, concerning the action of drawing with light. However, that study did not show why we touch the light on the electric display. Now, electric display, for example ipod touch, seduces us to touch the light. Erkki Huhtamo writes that:

While the classical cinema and even television broadcasting still emphasize distanced and physically nonactive forms of spectatorship, video game consoles, mobile phones, laptops, iPod and other >handy< electronic devices have familiarized millions to the >>tactile dimension<<.

In other article, Huhtamo shows us “a media-archeological approach to “touching art” as a contribution to a wider cultural mapping of interactive media”, however, his approach can not answer why we want to touch the image on the electric display “now”.

Although we have seen the electric light for a long time, why we want to touch the image on the electric display “now” ? The technology is, of course, enough developed for touching it. However, the mature technology is not enough, I believe, to explain why we touch it now. We have to consider how our body reacts the image made from the electric light, because this artificial light has totally changed the world: Marshal Macluhan writes that “In a word, the message of the electric light is total change. It is pure information without any content to restrict its transforming and informing power.” We should know ourself under the electric light. Therefore, this presentation will focus on the relationship between our body and the electric light.

What we see in the electric display
The electric display came into our life as TV in late 1930s, therefore, the TV is the first electric display we are familiar with. Marshal Macluhan sets a high valuation on the TV for opening new world and gives it one chapter in “Understanding Media”. He points out the nature of the TV as bellow;

The mode of the TV image has nothing in common with film or photo, except that it offers also a nonverbal gestalt or posture of forms. With TV, the viewer is the screen. He is bombarded with light impulses, that James Joyce called the “Charged of the Light Brigade” that imbues his “soulskin with subconscious inklings.” The TV image is visually low in data. The TV image is not a still shot. It is not photo in any sense, but a ceaselessly forming contour of things limned by the scanning-finger. The resulting plastic contour appears by light through, not light on, and the image so formed has the quality of sculpture and icon, rather than of picture. The TV image offers some three million dots per second to the receiver. From these he accepts only a few dozen each instant, from which to make an image.

This Mcluhan’s statement is famous because he tells us that the TV image is made from ‘light-through’ and gives us not visual sensation but tactile sensation. Seeing the contour of light through means that we directly the light source beyond the image. As a result, we see the electric light itself in TV image. Based on this idea, I especially focus the word “contour” and “finger” in his statement in order to examine the nature of the relationship between our body and the electric display. Why does Mcluhan use the word “finger” as metaphor for expressing a scanning line?

“A ceaselessly forming contour of things limned by the scanning-finger” makes the apparent motion on the electric display. Nelson Goodman considers about the apparent motion as ‘a puzzele about Perception’ in his “Ways of Worldmaking”. Goodman writes “that virtually every clear case of visual motion perception depends upon abrupt shift in color. (p.88)” Goodman shows us that the apparent motion happens due not object-shape but object-color. Moreover, he continues that;

With visual system taking such leaps in stride, with their indispensability for motion-perception, with object-identity dependent not upon smooth color transition but upon contrast with the background at the contour, the color-jumps in the Kolers experiments seem so inevitable as to leave us wondering how we let a false analogy trick us into expecting anything different. (p.89)

Even though we normally think that changing the color of object smoothly causes the apparent motion, Goodman focuses on the contour between the object and the background. It means that we look at not just the object alone but the relationship between the object and the background. The contour is the place that the background becomes the object, and the object becomes the background, therefore the contour is the place they are merged. This merge makes the apparent motion.

Now, I want to go back to Mcluhan. He gives important role to the electric light because it has the potential to merge figure and ground. This merge make the electric light to the pure information. Therefore, the electric light in best media for the apparent motion, “a ceaselessly forming contour of things” in Mcluhan words. However, Mcluhan misses the color aspect for the apparent motion that Goodman mentioned while Goodman also misses the aspect of electric light for it that Mcluhan mentioned.

Barbra Maria Stafford realizes the power of color and electric light in Dan Flavin’s work, and writes that;

Take Dan Flavin’s discovery of the dark corner, rarely used by other artists before him. By dint of pressing a single eight-foot fixture into that cavernous angle, or leaning fluorescent light into the triangular penumbra, or lacing it with chromatic grid, he reveals the inaccessible depths of the background while flooding the foreground to expose its unsuspected tunnel of color. (p.459)

In her statement. we are aware that the electric light has its own color and this electric light color has the power to merges figure and ground into the space. Therefore, we have to consider not only the nature of electric light but also the nature of color formed by the electric light.

When we see the electric display, aesthetician Asao Komachiya says that we see ‘light-colors’. ‘Light-colors’ throw away material information and extract only color information from the object. Komachiya writes:

“light has no weight. This is our recognition from the experience of human history. Similarly, light-color can not express its weight. However, the object described does have a weight. Therefore, the description of the object conveys the weight feeling for us. Paintings have expressed this. .... However, the image made from light-color does not essentially fit this principle.”

Although it does not fit our traditional sensations, Komachiya affirms ‘light color’. He thinks that ‘light color’ is new media for opening new image field due to the nature of ‘light color’; No contour.

According to Komachiya, the ‘light-color’ image is, however, beyond control for our sensations because it does not fit our traditional principles. ‘Light-color’ forms an image but it is weightless and no contour. We try to merge this new principle to our familiar one, but, this task may be beyond the capacity of our brain. Therefore the brain asks the body to make new a reality for the ‘light-color’ iamge. This seduces our body to touch the ‘light-color’ image in order to get its own contour and weight. Mcluhan’s metaphor; “scanning-finger” tells us this desire from not our body but the image on the electric display. The ‘light color’ image wants to be touched us, so it reachs for us. However, we have not been able to touch it because we have not made the device for that until now. However, we tried to touch the ‘light-color’ image on TV like “Winky-Dink and you (1953)”, even though it was just pretend to touch it.

Light-color with computer
Now, we have computers in order to control the weightless image formed by the electric light. It means that the pure information meets the information machine. In traditional sense, the light reflected from the material of the world maks the images. Although he realizes ‘TV image’ is made from ‘light-trough’, Mcluhan dare to say ‘TV image’ but its not the image in traditional sense. According to Komachiya, ‘light-color’ can not tell the nature of weight, which means it does not show us own materiality. It is just the color information of thing.

Ron Bernette shows us the unique point about the image in our age. He writes “the distinction between images and information blurs into pixels, lines, and rates of compression”. His point of view about the image is not analogue and digital, which gives us a lot suggestions. ‘Light color’ merge the image and the information on the electric display because of its nature: no contour, no weight. Furthermore, Masaki Fujihata re-defines the color as a concept because the computer releases the color from its materiality in order to adjust the color to the information age. Bernette and Fujihata are half right since only the compter can not release that. The computer needs the electric display to do that.

Touching no weight = Believing our body
Go to the problem of the smooth materiality
Smooth but diverse.

Our seeing of ‘light-color’ seduces our recent a new kind of touching. We have always touched materials which had their own weight. Material like the plastic mouse or the glass of the display do not change by our touch. However, now our touch to the material causes some changes in a weightless object on the electric display. The human and computer are making a new circuit for dealing with weightless objects made from ‘light-color’ via the material object which is our body and something like the mouse and trackpad. Moreover, there is something smooth when we pay attention to only contact of our fingers and object.

Touching ‘light-color’ is connected to the smooth materiality. ‘Light-color’ merges figure and ground, therefore there may be something flat, no contour. ‘Light-color’ does not shows its own weight, therefore there may be no friction to hold and move. Consequently, the smooth materiality represents ‘light-color’. The connection of light-color and the smooth materiality makes diverse bodily sensations on the electric display. In basic level, ‘light-color’ and the smooth materiality are connected, even though the images made from ‘light-color’ shows something heavy or rough.

To control the ‘light-color’ object, touching nothing is ideal like Tom Cruise’s air gesture in front of the electric display in Minority Report. However, our traditional sensation can not adopt it yet. Now we train and study our new sensation for ‘light-color’ image with the smooth materiality. When we see and touch ‘light-color‘ image, we paradoxically feel the heavy density of our body by giving some weight to the weightless image via our smooth touching.

This is the time for answer: why we want to touch the image on the electric display “now” ? David Katz compares the touch and vision and points out the role of the sense of touch as below;

The sense of touch (in which, for simplicity of exposition, we also include kinesthesis) indeed does not provide all of the subtle nuances available in vision. Also, remote sensitivity, which has reached full development in vision, is found in only rudimentary from in touch. Even so, from a perceptual viewpoint we must give precedence to touch over all other senses because its perceptions have the most compelling character of reality. Touch plays a far greater role than do the other senses in the development of belief in the reality of the external world. Nothing convinces us as much of the world’s existence, as well as the reality of our own body, as the (often painful) collisions that occur between the body and its environment. What has been touched is the true reality that leads to perception; no reality pertains to the mirrored image, the mirage that applies itself to the eye.

Our finger try to touch something smooth in no-weight world. We re-train our fingers with the smooth materiality in order to explore and generate new reality. This demand us to believe our body’s weight and density in the ‘light-color’, weightless world. And this belief creates new ‘Display Acts’ for our action and diverse bodily sensations.