[iDC] Lev Manovich on Remix Culture

Trebor Scholz trebor at thing.net
Sun Apr 9 12:01:02 EDT 2006

At the occasion of the exhibition "Media Miniature" at Pratt Manhattan
Gallery Lev Manovich introduced a new essay from his upcoming book



Quickly going back and forth between a projected myriad of open browser
windows he presented his notion of remix culture.

Manovich anthropomorphized the evolution of new media. He delineated a
map of the development of new media and linked stages in that trajectory
to the computerized simulation of physical objects. His core suggestion,
carefully constructed, was the emergence of hybrid media emerging out of
remix culture. Multimedia for Manovich is an inadequate concept that
defines media as standing next to each other. Today, "the computer
becomes a petri dish in which different media mate, hybridize, mix.
Media come together and create offspring. Meta media² (roughly quoted
from memory). Manovich called himself a biologist of new media observing
and reflecting this process. In his visual presentation he quickly
switched back and forth between art examples and commercial business
applications such as corporate promotional MTV-type video clips,
maps.a9.com or mappr.com.


A9 maps shows a video of the location next to the map of the searched
spot. Examples demonstrated included the joining of video, drawing, and
3D objects. Hybrid aesthetics. Manovich indeed treated the computer
programs and hybrid media forms like lab test animals. "We are not yet
techno-deterministic enough..." he said.

In the question and answer session several problems were posed. Instead
of phrasing his media historical map as one aspect of the current media
landscape, he argued for these phenomena as the evolution of new media
in which one technological development informs the next. The
intentionally provocative formalism at play here leaves several facets
out of sight. But Manovich's argument undoubtedly sheds light on one
detail of the current media development. 

Someone in the audience questioned the speaker's decisively formalist
approach dissecting the surface of the described media mix without
looking at the algorithmic workings of these processes. A perhaps
conscious blind spot of Manovich's suggestion, already evident in
"Language of New Media," was that "old" and emerging media are somewhat
described in a social vacuum. The idea of the isolated petri dish in
which one media copulates with the other pushes that notion to its
logical extreme. At the talk the question was posed if new media are not
conditioned by both, societal driving forces (e.g. the cold war leading
to the invention of the Internet) and the cross-pollination of one
technological development by previous technological findings. Manovich's
response to this question was "Can you prove that social factors were at
play?" Manovich¹s historical trajectory was also drawn in a straight
line as if one occurrence just leads directly to the next.

A second comment was concerned with another aspect, central to today's
media panorama. Sociable media. Manovich's talk did not address the way
in which the users of technologies shape their development through their
use. Our devices are shaped by us and they in turn shape us. The
participatory characteristics of the current culture of sociable web
media as well as physical computing were absent from Manovich's mental
media history map. 

None of the mentioned concerns would have been all that pertinent if
Manovich's argument would have been phrased as a micro-history of new
media, a snapshot of one aspect, instead of a grand representation of
the history of new media at large.

People left Manovich's talk vividly debating, inspired, and provoked to
position themselves. 



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