Tag Archives: wittgenstein’s language games

Dourish, P. (2001). _Where the Action Is: The Foundations of Embodied Interaction_. Cambridge and London: The MIT Press.

Paul Dourish, PhD Computer Science from University College London, is Professor of Informatics in the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences at UC, Irvine. He also has courtesy appointments in Computer Science and Anthropology, and is co-director, with Bill Maurer, of UCI’s new partnership with Intel, the Center for Social Computing. His research is at the nexus of computer science and social science, with a particular interest in ubiquitous and mobile computing and the cultural practices surrounding new media.

“Embodied interaction is interaction with computer systems [everything, really] that occupy our world, a world of physical and social reality, and that exploit this fact in how they interact with us” (3).

This book has a four-part hypothesis. (1) Tangible computing, the notion we improve our everyday lives with direct interaction with devices of computational power, and social computing, the process of using social sciences and anthropology to enhance user/system interface, share a common base. (2) Embodiment is that common base. (3) Embodiment is not a new idea but has deep roots in phenomenology. E.g. Husserl’s lebenswelt, Heidegger’s preontological experiences, Schutz’s model of intersubjectivity, and Merleau-Ponty’s three aspects of embodiment. (4) These and related explorations of and into embodiment offer material for devising a basis for embodied interaction.

Tangible computing (either virtual reality or ubiquitous computing) designs foreground awareness: of communication, of the importance of holistic design, and that the computer and physical worlds are connected.

Social computing holds design is shaped through sociological methods and reasoning. Context has several definitions: the system’s tasks being performed, why they’re being performed, the settings of that research, etc. “The context, though, is as much social as technical” (57).

Dourish privileges place over space. Where space amounts to physical properties, literal and metaphorical, place is contextual and “refers to the way that social understandings convey an appropriate behavioral framing for an environment” (90). The upshot:

  • place is comprised by its activities, rather than its dimensions or structure
  • “place can’t be designed, only designed for” (91)
  • place relates to a specific “community of practice” (91)

Finally (well not finally — there is much more to this book than I’m writing about), I want to add Dourish’s thoughts about affordance. His office chair’s size and dimensions match his legs’, and thus affords him a comfortable seat.* But the seat would not be so comfortable for a horse or a rabbit, which “are not ‘appropriately equipped individuals” (118).

“In other words, an affordance is a three-way relationship between the environment, the organism, and an activity. This three-way relationship is at the heart of ecological psychology, and the challenge of ecological psychology lies in just how it is centered on the notion of an organism acting in an environment: being in the world” (118).

*William H. Whyte writes about how certain public spaces afford (or don’t) people comfortable seats — and gives specific measurements — in his great The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces [1980]).


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Poissant, L. (2007). The Passage from Material to Interface. In _Media Art Histories_, O. Grau, ed. Cambridge and London: The MIT Press.

Louise Poissant, PhD, philosophy, is the Dean of the Faculty of Arts at Université du Québec à Montreal. She has led the Groupe de recherche en arts médiatiques since 1989 and the Centre interuniversitaire en arts médiatiques since 2001. She researches art and biotechnologies, as well as how new technologies are used in performing arts.

“Now the renewal of art forms has materialized through a series of iconoclastic gestures, which as introduced new materials that were first borrowed from the industrial world or from everyday life and progressively from the domain of communications and technology” (229).

This search for new materials and immateriality, to Poissant, has led artists to reorganize into the following three camps. From the emergence of new materials we observe: (1)  artists committed to sharing their view of the world and related emotions, (2) those who perceive a diverse range of roles and choose from among them, and (3) those who reorganize their practice to advance the role of the spectator to status of co-creator in interactive works.

Language and speech are performances, actions. Per Ludwig Wittgenstein’s (1953) language-games, to speak extends beyond self expression, it is to act. François Armengaud’s (1985), three notions of language pragmatics occur in art: (1) the act, where speaking goes beyond representation to trans- and inter-acting; (2) the context, which can further shape the discussion; and (3) the performance, which, once completed, verifies abilities.

There are six conductor interface categories in media arts; each one contributes to the conversion of viewer into participant. They have five functions, “alternatively extendible, revealing, rehabilitating, filtering, or the agent of synthetic integration” (240). Sensors receive and perceive data for the spectator-artwork interactivity. Recorders use binary data and allow for manipulations, sampling, etc. “Recording becomes a transferable memory, an extension of a faculty” (237). Actuators are robotics that give installations some capacity to interact autonomously with their environments. Transmitters close space and obviate time in telematic arts, such that the artworks themselves are located elsewhere. Diffusers are the projection devices from all eras (“magic lantern to interactive high-definition television” [239]). Finally, integrators, “automaton to cyborg” (239), simulate the living.

Poissant concludes that interactive programs unable to do what they can/ought must announce their shortcomings to the user at the fore. For planning, this responsibility to the user is well-taken.

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Rush, M. (2005). _New Media in Art_, 2nd. Ed. London: Thames of London.

Michael Rush, PhD in Theology and Psychology from Harvard University, is the founding director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University. Most recently he was director of the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University. He contributes regularly art world publications and scholarship. His books include Video Art, New Media in Art, New Media in Late 20th-Century Art, Marjetica Potrc: Urgent Architecture, and he’s written monographs on Gunther Brus, Steve Miller, and Alexis Rockman.

This book is a well-organized, beautifully illustrated (124 of 267 illustrations are in full color) and straightforward history of new media in art. Rush organizes the text quasi-chronologically, but emphasizes modes of practice, with chapters entitled, “Media and Performance,” “Video Art,” “Video Installation Art,” and The Digital in Art.” Suffice it to say, Muybridge and Marey, and Duchamp are the technological and conceptual benefactors, respectively, whose ideas are experimented with and added to over the next century, first by artists migrating from other disciplines and eventually by first-generation artists.

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