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Lev Manovich and the Language of New Media
6. maj 2003, Center for Internetforskning, Århus Universitet
According to the Russian-American computer researcher
Lev Manovich we have since the end of the 19th century
developed cinematic ways of seeing the world. We see the world through a camera, or, more correctly: we see the world through its thousands of cameras. To paint a picture implies seeing the world through a frame. What is inside, what is outside, what is the
perspective? This is the view of the painting and the theater. But, it is also the view of the cinema, the TV-set and the computer. Through a frame we have access to a world.
With the birth of film, i.e. the moving image, however, the moving camera was born. In 1929 the russian film director created the avant-garde masterpiece Man with a Movie Camera. "Movie Camera" meaning film camera, yes, but, it also means a mobile and polycentric camera. Pictures can be taken from rooftops,
from ground level, from a chimney, and from the front of a fast moving motorbike. The digital - and virtual - camera, digital editing and digital transmission has made this the general standard. Our view is not mono-centric, but polycentric. Everywhere, a camera is running. The input is not one view or one shot, but image databases. Even the fixed frame is dissolved into a split-screen of frames. Perhaps the war in Iraque is the first war, which fully exemplifies this principle. Pictures come from hundreds or thousands of cameras. From the broadcasting corporations, from video telephony cameras, from webcams, from digital cameras mounted to the single soldier or the front of the equipment, and from Al-Jazeera's staff in Basra and Baghdad. Radar cameras, night glass cameras, infrared cameras. The war in Iraque is the war of (or through) thousand cameras.
In his already classical book, The Language of New Media (The MIT Press 2001), Lev Manovich offers the first systematic and rigorous theory of new media. According to Manovich, two fundamental principles can be identified: numerical representation (that all media objects are subject to algorithmic manipulation) and modularity (that any media object can be copied into or added to another object). From this a new computer culture, a
blend of human and computer meanings can be extracted. In his book Manovich particularly focuses at the interface (the language of the screen), the operations (e.g. digital compositing), the digital illusions and the forms (e.g. the database form replacing the traditional narrative form). Lev Manovich has recently illustrated many of these observations in his art project Soft Cinema with a small book, a website, and several exhibitions, demonstrating the database form principle in different exhibition environments and in a Mondrian-inspired split-screen web format.