third draft for isea 2009 with reference

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 the image with light. (Mizuno&Motomaya, 2008, pp.329-330) However, that study did not show why we touch the image on the electric display.

Now, electric display, for example ipod touch, seduces us to touch the image. 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<< [emphasis in original]. (Huhtamo, 2008, p.130)

In other article, Huhtamo mentions that “how those development will affect the realm of tactility as we we know it remains to be seen.”(Huhtamo, 2007, p.94) This paper will take over Huhtamo’s suggestion for the touching and see a new realm of tactility which the new technology opens to us.

What we see in the electric display
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 Mcluhan 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. (Mcluhan, 2003, p.77)

We should know ourself under the electric light. The electric display came into our life as TV in late 1930s, therefore, the TV is the first electric display we are familiar with. Mcluhan 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. (Mcluhan, 2004, p.413)

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.” (Goodman, 1978, p.86) 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. (Goodman, 1978, p.86)

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. 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 “he reveals the inaccessible depths of the background while flooding the foreground to expose its unsuspected tunnel of color.” (Stafford, 2007, 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 of 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.” (Komachiya, 1996, pp.95-96)

Furthermore, Komachiya affirms ‘light color’ as new media for opening new image field due that the nature of no contour. (Komachiya, 1996, p.305) ‘Light-color’ is mainly made from the electric light which has the potential to merge figure and ground, therefore this new color does not have the contour. Owing to above natures, ‘light-color’ looks similar to David Katz’s ‘film color’. (Katz, 1996, pp.7-17) Komachiya takes the experience of directly looking at the electric light into consideration like Mcluhan. I would like to suppose that we have an innate ability for looking ‘film color’ with no material sensations and the electric light make this ability go into next step.

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 no weight 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 weight and contour. Mcluhan’s metaphor; “scanning-finger” shows the ‘light-color’ image desire for getting its own materiality. 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 [1953-57]”, even though it was just pretend to touch it.

Light-color with the computer
Now, we have computers in order to control the weightless image formed by the electric light. It may mean that the pure information meets the information machine. In traditional sense, the light reflected from the material of the world makes 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. Moreover, Komachiya shows that ‘light-color’ can not tell the nature of weight, therefore it does not show us own materiality. In short, the image made from the the electric light may be just color information of thing in traditional sense.

Ron Burnett 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.” (Burnett, 2004, p.47) 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 into the electric display because of its nature; no weight, no conture. Furthermore, Masaki Fujihata re-defines the color as a concept because the computer releases the color from its materiality. (Fujihata, 1997, p.7-11) Nevertheless, Burnett and Fujihata are half right; the computer must needs the electric display to generate ‘light-color’ image.

Touching ‘light color’ with the smooth materiality = Believing our body

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 or trackpad. Moreover, there is the smooth materiality like the plastic or glass when we pay attention to only contact of our fingers and object. For example, Apple describes that “to stay smooth and pristine, the new Multi-Touch trackpad is made from wear-resistant etched glass.[emphasis is added]” (Apple, 2008, online)

Touching ‘light-color’ is connected to the smooth materiality. ‘Light-color’ merges figure and ground, therefore there may be something flat, no contour in our vision field. ‘Light-color’ does not shows its own weight, therefore there may be no friction to hold and move in our tactile field. Consequently, the smooth materiality represents ‘light-color’. To control the ‘light-color’ image, 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. 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.

After I have looked at ‘light-color’ for a long time, we began full-scale investigation for the new realm of tactile with the smooth materiality. David Katz writes that “what has been touched is the true reality that leads to perception.[emphasis in original]” (Katz, 1989, p.240) We re-train our fingers with the smooth materiality in order to touch and generate new reality of light-color. This demand us to believe our body’s weight and density in the ‘light-color’ and smooth world. And this belief creates new ‘Display Acts’ for our action and diverse bodily sensations.

Apple, 2008: (June 14, 2009 access)
Burnett, Ron, 2004. How Images Think, MIT press.
Fujihata, Masaki, 1997. Color As a Concept, Bijiutsu-Shuppan-sha.
Goodman, Nelson, 1978. Ways of Worldmaking, Hackett publishing company.
Huhamo, Erkki, 2007. Twin-Touch-Test-Redux in MediaArtHistories, Oliver Grau ed., MIT press, pp.71-101.
Huhtamo, Erkki, 2008. Tactile Temptation: About Contemporary Art, Exhibition, and Tactility in Interface Cultures, Chista Sommere, Laurent Mignonneau, Dorothee King ed., transcript, pp.129-139.
Katz, David, 1989. The World of Touch, translated by L.E. Krueger, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Katz, David, 1996. The World of Colour, translated by R.B. MacLeod and C.W. Fox, Routledge.
Komachiya, Asao, 1996. Chi no me・Sora no me [the human history of vision], Keisou-Shobou.
Mcluhan, Mashall, 2003. Understanding Media: the extensions of man, critical edition, W. Terrence Gordon ed., Gingko press.
Mizuno, Masanori & Motomaya, Kiyofumi, 2008. To see and Touch the Light Source in Proceedings of ISEA2008, pp.329-330.
Stafford, Barbara Maria, 2007. Picturing Uncertainty: From Representation to Mental Representation in MediaArtHistories, Oliver Grau ed., MIT press, pp.453-468.









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