Pathways to Innovation
in Digital Culture
July 7, 1999
Centre for Research on Canadian Cultural Industries and Institutions /
Next Century Consultants
current contact updated October 2013
Professor, Arts Department and iEAR Studios
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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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Phone: 518-276-2302 Fax 518-276-4370
Financial support for the research and writing of this report was generously provided by the Rockefeller Foundation, Arts and Humanities division. Special thanks to Joan Shigekawa.
To all the many people whose conversations and advice have helped to inform this report, I give my heartfelt thanks. In particular, I wish to acknowledge the hospitality and stimulation provided by SPRU (Science and Technology Policy Research) at Sussex University, and McGill University’s Graduate Program in Communication.
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Studio Labs since 1960
Sampling of Studio-Laboratory Institutions and Structures
Instruments and the Imagination
Creative Users in IT Design and Diffusion
Beyond the Access Paradigm
Cultural Critique, Reflexivity and Innovation
Broadening Public Awareness of Techno-Science
This report presents a multi-perspective framework from which to view the
rising density of communication between the worlds of art, technology, and
science. Designating the site of this hybrid activity as the studio-laboratory,
the first section traces the development of such organizations historically,
compares their dynamics to that of "transdisciplinary" knowledge
production in science and technology, and argues that they foster incremental,
radical and systemic innovation. The second section examines this framework
through the prism of five discussion themes: Instruments of the imagination,
Creative users, Access, Reflexivity, Public awareness. A brief conclusion identifies
five issues and questions for further investigation.
This report presents a framework for thinking about the artist as an actor in the innovation process in information and communication technologies. The framework differs from most approaches to the interactions between the creative arts and techno-science in two ways. First, it attempts to identify and characterize the range of innovative outcomes and the factors that shape them along multiple dimensions -- aesthetic, technological, scientific, economic -- and time frames, both long and short. Second, the framework stresses the importance of a new class of hybrid innovative institution, the studio laboratory, where new media technologies are designed and developed in co-evolution with their creative application.
The research is informed by an overview of contemporary studio-laboratories, a historical case study tracing the build-up of a strong digital media capability in Canada, and a review of literatures bearing on the sociology and economics of innovation. Numerous individuals artists, researchers, theoreticians and policy-makers have been consulted. The framework presented widens the way contemporary artistic practices are understood by placing them in the context of innovation studies; and in turn, it broadens the way in which the literature on innovation has up till now addressed the contribution of the creative artist in the digital media design and diffusion process.
The report is organized in a series of short thematic chapters, each treating in a different way the common thesis unifying them: that in the emerging digitally networked society, the creative arts and cultural institutions in general are mutating by forming a constellation of productive relationships with the science and technology research system, industry, humanistic and social science scholarship, and with emerging new structures of civil society. This apparently rising density of communication suggests the need to begin rethinking some aspects of the relationship between cultural support policy, innovation and research policy, and the still nascent but interconnected set of concerns about the requirements for widespread creative participation in a "techno-sphere" increasingly shaped by fast-changing digital media technologies. The concluding section identifies a set of possible interventions and topics for further study, though the phase of research does not permit the preparation of detailed designs or proposals for specific measures.
Cultural theorists will no doubt recognize the shifts briefly alluded to as continuous with a progressive reduction throughout the 20th century of the so-called autonomy of the artist as an alienated or estranged figure existing on the margins of society. Particularly among groups who have defined their "art" more or less in terms of technological innovation, this turn away from the Enlightenment notion of the aesthetic as the "disinterested play of the senses" can sometimes provide the material basis for establishing sustainable linkages with highly charged sectors of the global economy -- the entertainment and information industries -- and their associated scientific and technological bases. But it would be a mistake to consider the breadth of these shifts only as a widening of the well-established role of creators in industrial design to include such relatively new, trendy factors as "interaction design" or "relationship technologies". As art historians have pointed out, the movement of the machine into the studio is a progressive one which can be variously traced to the early 20th century avant-gardes, but in particular, a marked tendency since the 1960s to engage critically with the "technological sublime" as both material and subject-matter. This critical orientation, at least among some of emerging "media-art and technology" community, is part of what makes the phenomena difficult to describe from a singular disciplinary perspective. Works conceived to make a conceptual or critical point by re-appropriating simple or older techniques can be misread when only evaluated in terms of technological novelty; just as, conversely, the point of "speculative" technological invention may at times be missed by developers seeking only incremental innovation understandable in terms of existing markets and users.
Similarly, the sites of innovation with which we will be concerned in this report, "studio-laboratories", need to be understood as emergent formations fed by, and flowing into artistic, techno-scientific, economic and discursive sources. This anti-reductionist approach is unavoidable, given the complexity of interests in and about digital media today. While we aim to characterize a wide range of linkages between art, science, technology and society through digital media, the emphasis will be on identifying those "pathways to innovation" with the greatest potential benefit to the widest number of actors. Somewhat differently conceived, pathways are perhaps better understood as configurations, since multi-finality is taken for granted in the phenomena being discussed. As such, the approach will contrast sharply with other current stances towards the "unity of knowledge" question that continues to be widely debated on both sides of the postmodern divide. For instance, the socio-biological project of E.O. Wilson proposes to bring the arts and their interpretation safely within the purview of contemporary neuro-science, explicitly aiming to demystify the "truth and beauty" of the arts in terms of epigenetic regularities yet undiscovered. Notably, Wilson's consilience, a term for transdisciplinary coherence, dismisses the messy hybridity of today's "unpleasantly self-conscious form[s] of scientific art or artistic science" [2, 211]. Self-conscious or not, it is precisely towards these intermediary zones -- open to the logic of "both-and" rather than the categorical closures of "either-or" -- that we must turn to make sense of the otherwise baffling multiplicity of today's creative practices and institutional forms.
In 1974, pioneering electronic artist Nam June Paik assumed the role of technological forecaster and submitted a report to the Rockefeller Foundation urging the construction of a global "broadband telecommunications infrastructure". While critical of mandarin intellectual disdain for mass media, surprisingly Paik did not even bother to advocate spending on the avant-garde arts, or on the promotion of the work of his fellow video-artists. Rather, he envisioned a two-way, high-capacity video and data network the "electronic superhighway" that would augur a profound cultural shift. In the framework of this now familiar wired world, artists and intellectuals would have the opportunity to make a broader social contribution, what he called "output capacity", beyond the convention-bound production of luxury cultural goods for limited circulation.
This broader role was to "humanize technology", according to Paik, a more complex social implication that follows his consideration of the artist or intellectual in the context of then-current notions of the post-industrial society. Paik drew on Daniel Bell for his understanding of art as information, and John Kenneth Galbraith to underwrite an increasingly central role for the arts as a factor in economic growth. He conceived an amalgam of media, information, knowledge and communication, serving as "a lubricant and impresario to facilitate the relationships and cybernetic interaction of the society of the future".
Now, twenty-five years later, much of the infrastructure aspect of Paiks vision seems to be in place, owing in large measure to the incredibly rapid uptake of the internet for multimedia as well as transactional communication. The kinds of immediate benefits Paik foresaw an electronic superhighway providing, easily distributed educational programming and greater connectivity for work and pleasure, are becoming commonplace for the growing members of the "virtual class". The falling costs of hardware, coupled with relatively cheap or free software, make the barriers to entry for creators lower than they were in Paiks day, when he was one of the earliest to adopt portable video equipment and to devise his own techniques for electronically processing images. And today digital media are widely understood to be facilitating, as Paik predicted, new and varied kinds of relationships and not only between buyers and sellers, teachers and learners, creators and audiences. Further, they have attracted the participation of a significant number of the very cultural élites whose disdain for the public television of the 1970s Paik took pains to criticize in his report.
Yet from the vantage of the late millennium, it is no longer possible to share Nam June Paik's optimism about the wonders of global connectivity, nor, from an analytical standpoint, his deterministic belief in the sufficiency of technological infrastructure for stimulating a widespread culture of active producers of new creative expression. The internet repeats aspects of the early history of radio broadcasting  with the growing consolidation of corporate interests at the high end of broadband and advanced applications; cultural applications of interactivity have bunched up around a relatively narrow group of heavily promoted large-market entertainment products (even if, in some cases, they are played online in technologically innovative multi-player configurations); and thirty year-old visions of new kinds of computer-enabled literacy, extending sensory acuity and augmenting intellectual capacity, seem to be more stalled than spurred by the current market frenzy around media technology. Most crucially, in the 1970s, Paik was not yet in a position to address the key issue of how to bridge the new skill-sets associated with digital technologies with existing, often age-old capabilities grounded in embodied, locally specific practices.
Software indeed has a dual nature, as both medium and tool; practices cannot transcend the limitations of the constraints built into software tools, unless these are reflexively designed to permit extensible, evolving development in the process of use. This is not just the familiar problem of market power exerted by the dominant position of a few large software companies, whose application packages define a de facto standard that, for better or worse, tends to be accepted as the benchmark of digital literacy. In the arts community, too, disquiet rises among the more reflective, like Carnegie Mellon professor of both art and robotics, Simon Penny :
"every day we come to new reconciliations between our artistic goals and methods and the requirements and restrictions of the machines we work with. With a little critical distance, we can see that we are reshaping artistic practice to suit a new set of tools."
Yet these concerns, which have circulated uneasily among the electronic art, music, and graphics communities since the 1980s, are rarely considered in relation to those of the apparently opposite end of the technological spectrum (and world) -- the digitally disenfranchised, to whom, typically, technological capability is presented as nothing else but the adoption of a set of pre-set, externally-defined "solutions". Yet the same questioning can illuminate both sides of the spectrum: how can local, contextually-relevant capacities be developed, which at once build on but also provide the potential to transcend the existing media ecology? Manuel Castells, addressing the culture of the network society, insists on the need to look for and understand the "specificity of new cultural expressions, their ideological and technological freedom to scan the planet and the whole of humankind, and to integrate, and mix, in the supertext any sign from anywhere" . This cultural specificity, or capacity to adapt material means to self-defined expressive uses, is by no means a given result of technological deployment, on the one hand, nor of the transmission of pre-existing messages through digital channels, on the other. If the image of digital expression as a "dynamic, moldable medium" dates back to the early years of the computer era , its reality is not a lot more widespread now than it was then.
This report on Pathways to Innovation in Digital Culture will concentrate,
as Nam June Paik put it in 1974, on those configurations with the greatest
potential for "humanizing technology". But it will also take careful
heed of the various skeptical voices who over the ensuing decades have
developed a paradoxically "post-humanist" stance towards the liberating
potential of human-machine communication and expression. After Donna Haraway's
celebrated feminist "manifesto for cyborgs", or more recently
Katherine Hayles tale of how since cybernetics "we became post-human"
, there is no need anymore to rehearse familiar myths of empowerment in
terms of the "liberal unified humanist subject". The vision of human
expression seamlessly articulated with intelligent machines, pleasing to few
adherents of art's proudly transcendent claims to Truth and Beauty, nonetheless
provides a basis for building fruitful understandings between the diverse
social actors with interests in the shaping of digital media -- researchers,
technology developers, artists, and theorists. Increasingly, it appears that
these meetings are taking place within innovative institutional structures --
spanning organizations, research networks, and projects. And it is to these
sites -- the "studio-laboratory" for combined art production and
technological research -- that we now turn.
The concentration of scientific research in structurally distinct industrial or institutional laboratories dates only from the later 19th century. Current scholars describing what are now termed "systems of innovation" have pointed out common trends, as well as national differences, in the transition from pre-industrial to the more familiar industrial and now post-industrial organization of research and development. During the first of these phases, it is sometimes overlooked how strong was the artisanal component -- mechanical skills, like spatial imagination, dexterity, and fluency with materials -- in enabling early industrial innovation. With the spread of advanced professional university training, as well as the formation of scientific and engineering societies, the specialized research and development laboratory became increasingly common in the early 20th century, bringing disciplined scientific knowledge to bear on industrial problems. With important national differences, the role of the state was always crucial, particularly in steering priorities towards the military, health, and particular industrial sectors .
After World War II, and the decisive impact of the mission-oriented Manhattan project in the U.S., the distinctions between "pure" scientific knowledge from its "applied" technological development began to erode. Not just the close interaction of multiple branches of science was at work here, but also the importance of new developments in technology, and especially instrumentation, in setting the very research agendas for science. A compelling, if somewhat stylized interpretation of these complex shifts distinguishes between two concurrent "modes of knowledge production". Gibbons, a former director of the Sussex University Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU), along with an international team of social scientists, calls traditional discipline-bound R and D "Mode 1 knowledge production". He summarizes the emergent second mode in terms of a set of key trends:
In the arts and humanities, transdisciplinarity has had a different career since 1850. Nineteenth-century sensibility was decisively rocked by the Wagnerian notion of the total work of art -- the Gesamtkunstwerke -- which, in an abstract sense, can be understood as initiating a movement towards more expansive and deliberate synchronization of the separate disciplines of the arts into new synthetic combinations. The legacy of this creative and conceptual innovation was a radical way of thinking about artforms or media in terms of the inter-relatedness of their codes or constituent parts. By the second decade of the 20th century, and alongside the rapid growth of mass industrialization, the conceptual scope of some artists and cultural theorists extended still further, to embrace "art and technology [as] a new unity". This 1922 slogan of Walter Gropius, from the Weimar Bauhaus, underlined a strongly applied socio-technical project to shape the quality of mass reproduced designs with all the imaginative resources of the contemporary creative spectrum -- not excluding abstract art, modernist music, architecture, and theatre.th century; its technological realization, with the diffusion after 1945 of electronic and telematic media, provides an often neglected connecting thread between todays virtual worlds of interactivity, and those of the early 20th century avant-gardes.
These basic shifts in culture, touched upon all too briefly here, are rarely seen as pertinent, even conceptually, to the changes in knowledge production previously summarized. Gibbons' treatment of the arts and humanities identified some aspects of Mode 2 processes, like the increased role of instrumentation in the humanities (e.g. the use of the computer to produce theoretical models) and what is called the "re-shaping of aesthetic response". But overall, he remains ambivalent about the way in which artists and humanists fit into the new mode of knowledge production. They are described as:
"standing aside as quizzical commentators who offer doom-laden prophecies or playful critiques, and as performers who provide pastiche entertainment or heritage culture as a diversion from threatening complexity and volatility. In other senses, they are even more deeply implicated: through the culture industry, they fashion powerful, even hegemonic images, and through higher education they play a direct part in the new social stratification." (110)
This report will demonstrate a set of closer affinities, by looking at the growth of what we have designated the "studio-laboratory", as a site within or through which artists, scientists, technologists and theorists commingle. In a study commissioned by the French Ministry of Culture, Norman  has previously profiled a dozen current European cultural laboratory and media centres where "transdisciplinarité" contributes to the "creation of new aesthetic forms" grounded in development of new technologies. Besides transdisciplinarity, this study confirms a marked tendency towards multi-site co-operation and, among several cases, a strong vocation to serve as a bridge between social needs (often expressed as "the culture of the network society") and the technology development process.
A 1996 conference Art@Science, sponsored by the Japanese research consortium ATR, has produced a collection of papers which, among other things, reinforces what Gibbons might call the interpenetration of applied ("artistic") and theoretical ("scientific") components in the Mode 2 research context. The conceptual framework for this contribution, at least at the editorial level, tends however to stress a putative "convergence" between art and science, rather than the more contingent, evolutionary models implied in Gibbons' notion of Mode 2 knowledge production.
The rest of this chapter considers the studio-laboratory phenomenon in
relation to the wider dynamics of contemporary research. The first part
interprets the growth of studio-laboratory settings since the 1960s; second,
their historical emergence in relation to a common classification of types of
innovation; and third, an introduction and brief description of a diverse
illustrative range of studio-laboratories and related structures.
In recent years, scholars have begun to unpack some of the persistent habits of thought which have tended to construe art and science as dichotomous. Caroline Jones and Peter Galison, respectively historians of art and of science, summarize the aim of a recent collection as moving beyond the "focus on art and science as discrete products," to look at "commonalties in the practices that produce them."  Still, little attention has yet been given to the institutional development of the contemporary studio-laboratory. Three overlapping phases may be distinguished.
In the first phase, dating from the 1960s and 1970s, artist centres, networks, university-based institutes and public sector labs were established to support open-ended exploration of new and emerging technologies by artists. Among the most celebrated examples was Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) founded by artist Robert Rauschenberg and Bell Labs physicist Billy Klüver in New York in 1966. The goal of E.A.T. was to establish "an international network of experimental services and activities designed to catalyze the physical, economic and social conditions necessary for cooperation between artists, engineers and scientists." The research role of the contemporary artist was understood by E.A.T. as providing "a unique source of experimentation and exploration for developing human environments of the future." At the same time, other Bell Labs scientists were also engaged in collaborative research, in computer graphics and vision, music and acoustics.[17, 18]
Also during the late 1960s, at MIT, the Hungarian artist and Bauhaus affiliate Gyorgy Kepes founded the Centre for Advanced Visual Studies, providing a stable location for collaboration between artists-in-residence and university-based scientists and engineers. In the 1970s, composer Pierre Boulez launched the IRCAM (Institut de Recherche et Coordination en Acoustique et Musique) in Paris, based on a dialectical conception of research/invention as the central activity of contemporary musical creation; not incidentally, Boulez invoked the model of the Bauhaus as interdisciplinary inspiration for what he considered the inevitable collaboration of musicians and scientists.
The relative autonomy of these new centres in the case of IRCAM., established with a fiercely guarded aesthetic independence setting it apart as a modernist citadel distinguish them from the more publicly oriented type of media centre that began to appear in the 1980s and 1990s. Typically incorporating festivals, exhibitions, commissions and competitions of electronic art, this second phase saw the increased commitment of both public administrations and private corporations towards exposing the most radical media-based creativity to a wider public. As festivals such as Ars Electronica or SIGGRAPHs non-commercial art exhibition became global in scope during the 1980s, so plans were drawn up in most advanced industrial countries to establish permanent centres able to incorporate a dual research/development and public education mandate. To mention only a few of the most conspicuous of these institutions, the Zentrum fur Kunst und Medien (ZKM) and the NTT InterCommunication Centre were active in commissioning and publishing throughout the 1990s even before their physical centres were opened in 1997. The German philosopher and critic Florian Roetzer analyzed the media centre bandwagon of the late 1980s, when he commented sardonically that "everywhere there are plans to inaugurate media centres, in order not to lose the technological connectionThis new attention is supported by the diffuse intention to get on with it now, the contents remaining rather arbitrary, so long as art, technology and science are somehow joined in some more or less apparent affiliation with business and commerce."  Roetzer was then not alone among critical intellectuals in harboring a deep ambivalence about these institutional developments, fearing that they would serve only to accelerate the public acceptance of automation in everyday life, on the one hand, and to co-opt artists "with their purported creativity" into becoming commercial application designers, on the other.
As it has turned out, explicitly designed linkages between art, research and innovation have developed a good deal beyond Roetzers cynical prognostications, and now form the basis for the third phase of the contemporary studio-laboratory. Many observers would probably count the MIT Media Laboratory as the main propagandist, if not initiator, of this phase, in spite of the secondary importance of artistic practice or input in its research activities. Xerox PARC since the early 1990s has prominently supported an in-house artist-in-residence program (though whose modest scale perhaps belies the extensive attention it has received). In the words of its manager John Seeley Brown, the program serves as "one of the ways that PARC seeks to maintain itself as an innovator, to keep its ground fertile and to stay relevant to the needs to Xerox". Other Silicon Valley, Japanese and some European private firms have followed suit, in differing flavors, though more or less in agreement with PARC's position that the traditional model of "corporate support for the arts" -- hands-off, patrician, and marketing-driven -- overlooks basic potentials for core innovation. Among cultural organizations, the Banff Centre for the Arts in Canada was early in initiating a major-scale investigation of "virtual environments" as a partnership with university researchers and industry sponsors. Since 1995, research networks have begun to appear with the express aim of linking multimedia art with technological development and the social sciences. In short, the deliberate involvement of artists as collaborative researchers in innovation programs now takes place in a wide variety of social and economic settings, with a corresponding diversity of approach and program design.
Figure 1 below illustrates the increasing pace of establishment of studio-laboratory sites in the 20th century, which clearly shows a grouping of activity in or bordering the 1960s, and again, the 1990s. This pace has now reached a point where it is no longer conceivable to keep accurate track, particularly with the proliferation of all manner of "new media centres" at various degrees of sophistication and scope on university and college campuses, within corporations, as regional industrial development efforts, and as catalysts for public access and digital literacy efforts. Rather than even attempting a comprehensive listing of such sites, we will focus below on characterizing the range and styles of their approaches to innovation.
Before turning to this, however it will be useful to briefly consider the
widening scope of the Research and Development process in the context of recent
critiques of the so-called linear model of innovation. This critique,
undertaken since the 1960s by sociologists, historians, and economists of
science and technology, makes explicit what Gibbons Mode 2 concept of knowledge
production accepts implicitly: the inadequacy of the simple model of a one-way
flow of ideas from basic science through applied research to development and
commercial innovation. In the place of the traditional mechanistic model,
evolutionary, interactive models emphasize the linking of inventions to
markets, with significant stress on user innovation and the role of embodied
skill tacit knowledge as determinants of innovation.
Economist Christopher Freeman distinguishes between four categories of innovation and their diffusion: incremental innovations, radical innovations, new technological systems, and changes in techno-economic paradigm.
1. Incremental innovation involves small-step improvement of existing technologies or processes; as such it covers the vast majority of patents that are taken out in the world, as well as typical changes in product design or styling within industry. It is worth adding, in this particular context, that it also includes the bulk of contributions to scientific research. Indeed Thomas Kuhn, the philosopher of science whose book on the structure of scientific revolution brought the concept of "paradigm change" into common use, defined "normal science" as puzzle solving. Whereas within the arts, "innovation is a primary value, in science it arises only as a response to crises in established paradigms."
2. Radical innovations are discontinuous events, going beyond variational creativity. In the oft-told explanation, no combination of horse-driven coaches could have produced the railway; so, for many artists interested in working with information technologies, the aim is often to explore or invent new media forms, as the unit of innovative work, as opposed to working within established techno-cultural genres. It is worth noting how artists ideas about radical innovation since the 1960s have been in part shaped by the way in which Marshall McLuhans widely diffused discourses about "media as art forms" characterized experimental artists as prophetic. Although McLuhan was himself thinking mainly about the modernist writers and painters whose radical innovations (Eco's "open work") actually anticipated aesthetic structures now embodied in electronic media, the very notion of new media artworks as perceptual training for yet-to-be-invented new media environments now has taken hold widely. This makes it possible, today, to consider the proliferation of user interface creations in aesthetic terms much as McLuhan spoke of the content of new media in terms of the features of previous ones.
3. New technological systems involve constellations of interrelated innovations, both radical and incremental; as systems, they entail economic and social as well as technological changes. Examples include plastics and synthetic materials, in the 30s and 40s, consumer electronics in the 1960s, and digital networks in our time. Taking the latter case as illustration, changes are underway in how knowledge is technically produced and distributed, in models of education and life-long learning, in the globalization of finance, and the rise of electronic commerce. These interrelated technologies and organizational changes combine to produce trajectories, along which new innovations that would have been radical become incremental as the system matures. The idea of technological trajectory is closely associated with that of path-dependency, the familiar effect of lock-in which takes place when new technologies and associated human skills are widely diffused. Another standpoint on the reversibility of technological trajectories, perhaps more suited to the complex patterns of interaction between art and technology, is provided by the French sociologists of innovation associated with the so-called "actor-network theory". These scholars speak of "socio-technical dispositifs" - a set-up, or dynamic apparatus - which combine objects, both human and non-human, the conditions under which they are used, plus the means through which new entities or agencies in networks emerge.  From this anti-reductionist angle, constraints are in both things and people, and are both limiting and generative. Technological systems grow out of the co-evolution of actors and techniques during the conception and adoption of innovations . Crucially, for the digital dispositifs under consideration here, it would appear that artistic conventions, craft routines, and related embodied practices can play an important role in the growth of new networks (or trajectories).
4. Changes in techno-economic paradigm refer to the so-called long-waves of economic and social change which, according to some evolutionary economists, have articulated the history of the industrialized world in 50-60 year periods since the mid-18th century. Techno-economic paradigms are pervasive shifts, based on the arrival of new material inputs that are cheap, widely available, and revolutionary in impact. The current Information Technology paradigm, by this account, was in preparation since the 1940s and 50s, but only began in the 1980s with the widespread and cheap availability of micro-electronics. (The previous mass-production paradigm began in the 1930s and 40s, organized around the cheap availability of energy supplies including oil.) See Figure 2 for a representation of the five waves of innovation since the 18th century, ending with the current wave characterized by "digital networks, software, new media".
As interpreted by social scientists such as Manuel Castells, the information
technology paradigm provides the basis for producing a vast synthesis of
current political, social, economic and cultural tendencies;
however, so far little attention has been given to what sectors may now be
forming in preparation for the next techno-economic paradigm. It seems apparent
from the vantage of the late 1990s that some combination of bio-technology
and cheap bandwidth will likely form the basis in coming decades of the next
techno-economic paradigm, distinct from but building on information technology.
What philosopher Vilem Flusser already identified as an emerging "ars
vivendi" in the late 1980s clearly signaled what is turning into a central
issue for creators in the arts and techno-science, as we begin to imagine what
it means to move beyond mere biological analogies to the practical construction
of post-organic life.
By juxtaposing the starting dates of studio labs against the five innovation waves, it can be shown (Figure 3) that they cluster around the rising portions of the waves. No rules or strong theories are meant to be implied by this observation. It is surely suggestive to think of the Bauhaus as catalytic in relation to the broader flow of innovation within the Fordist mass-production regime. Many of the studio-labs that appeared between 1950-65 dealt broadly with a range of material technologies, light, electronics, and kinetic or cybernetic systems. However from the standpoint of the aesthetic paradigms which they explored and defined, they could be understood as preparing the terrain for the new material possibilities afforded only by very powerful networked micro-processors, which only became a reality toward the mid-1990s. As will be seen in the following survey, the current studio-laboratories are active in all four of the categories of innovation previously introduced. Some, a distinct minority but noteworthy nonetheless, are oriented toward the issues and challenges associated with what may be a new emerging bio-techno-economic paradigm. For the most part, however, description here centers on the still far from exhausted potential of digital media (some would say, recalling the perennial "software crisis", barely tapped).
The studio-laboratory as a class is by no means homogenous. Some are privately funded by corporations, seeking to understand the properties of radically new media technologies via aesthetic R & D programs; others are public funded and linked to traditional museological mandates for public education; others are industrially sponsored pre-competitive laboratories based in universities; still other models are network-based and more or less explicitly tied to long-term state or regional industrial development objectives. The studio-laboratory can be understood as providing a site for an ongoing and progressive series of negotiations between artist-users and technology designers, which simultaneously shaped the technology, its use, and users.
The survey is divided in three parts. First, stand-alone institutions, divided into those with mainly cultural roots and funding bases; those located in and financed by private corporations; and government agencies or institutes. Second, network structures, of three kinds: research networks; networks linking cultural with socio-political organisms (civil society); and art production networks. Finally, a group of project-based initiatives is discussed. Two further prefatory notes: the sampling aims not at inclusivity, but rather representative breadth. Second, in each case, extensive online information is available, and the internet address is provided.
R and D laboratories in publicly financed cultural organizations
As previously noted, Pierre Boulez founded IRCAM as a transdisciplinary centre for musical research, experimentation, and cultural diffusion. Since its founding in 1977 it has been at the forefront of experimental artistic practices involving electronic media. It has always employed a substantial scientific staff researching perception, material science of instruments, and developing software systems for musical production. While oriented in its first decade towards powerful, specialized resources only available to composers on site, it has since the late 1980s focussed more on diffusing its innovative software to a world wide user community. Several of its applications have been commercialized and are in wide use by musicians and other interactive artists. According to Norman, it has provided an invaluable template from which many of the more recent establishments have drawn their plans. However, the challenge facing IRCAM now is to remain current and establish relations with the many new centres/networks set up in its pioneering wake.
The ZKM is now the largest and widest ranging centre for art and new media in the world. With the first large-scale museum dedicated only to "media art" since 1945, the ZKM in some ways is playing a role in relation to emerging interactive art practices similar to that played in the 1930s by the Museum of Modern Art to photography. That is, establishing the field from a museological standpoint, especially with regard to the special problems of maintenance, education, and support for complex technological installations. Combining, as it does, both in-house research, production, as well as innovative forms of cultural diffusion, ZKM is from the standpoint of the density of its connections, the richest and most complex of current studio-laboratories.
Two institutes for research and experimentation are
also located at the ZKM, one dedicated to Image and the other to Sound. The Image
institute has in particular been influential by commissioning some 70 new works
by international artists since 1990, many developed in-house and supported
technically by staff engineers and researchers. The ZKM has also been actively
associating itself with scientific expertise centres in Europe, through the
European Union's Esprit program for long-term research. As well, it has
developed similar productive links with other culturally-oriented
media centres in Europe, such as Ars Electronica, V2. However, its very scale
raises questions of sustainability. Financially dependent on state authorities,
ZKMs global program has already raised questions about relevance to local
audiences and possibly also, business enterprise. So far, the artistic program
at ZKM has been deliberately independent of industry sponsorship; pressure may
rise for it to become more responsive to applied or sponsored research, a
deeply controversial point at the time of writing.
The Society for Old and New Media exemplifies what might be termed a new breed of interventionist, policy-oriented public new media centres. The name signals its approach, which places both new and old media within a common framework, and one of its key tactics is to seek and amplify resonances, both historical and practical, between them. From a mediaeval-age location in central Amsterdam, it inverts the typical "high-tech" image of the research laboratory, in line with its program of driving technical developments with a rich mix of cultural and historical references. In its applied research programs, de Waag has so far emphasized the application of design and technical creativity to enrich the range of what can be termed the "public domain" of cyberspace. A clear example is its award-winning public internet interface, based on the 19th century Dutch reading table. Its programs include competitions, symposia, workshops and commissions; it grew in part out of one of the largest and most active "Digital City" internet sites in Europe, and from this has a strongly defined political and social program for defining a democratic "public domain" in the digital sphere.
The Society has played a European leadership role
the policy arena, advocating the growth of broadly-based
network of cultural innovation centres across Europe. Much of this material has
been summarized in the recently published "New Media Culture in
The Banff Centre is unusual in its location in a
remote, non-metropolitan setting, which fosters an intensive, residential
structure of activities. Its interests in advanced media and technological
development grew out of a deliberately interdisciplinary arts context, spanning
music, theatre, literature and visual art. When it established a media research
initiative in the late-1980s, one of its aims was to attract support from
academic and corporate partners for in-depth investigations of emerging media
by diverse teams of artists all working with the same research and development
team. A second aim was to make space in the formative stages for dialogue
involving cultural theorists, philosophers and other humanists normally
estranged from the sort of active technological development engaged in by
artists and scientists. The difficulties encountered in that unusual effort are
further discussed below; see also . Currently, The Centre operates a
multimedia institute, offering a plethora of courses and seminars, but it has
phased out the research intensive activities.
Founded in 1979 by Brucknerhaus and the regional television corporation of Upper Austria (ORF), the Ars Electronica festival was, at the time, the only annual showcase exclusively devoted to forms of electronic art. Combining the exhibition of works, the organization of conferences and the recognition of pioneering electronic-art producers (the "Prix Ars Electronica" were created in 1987), Ars Electronica figures as a foundational event on the international scene of contemporary art. In 1996, with the innauguration of the Ars Electronica Centre, Linz operates year round. The festival and the centre boast an impressive roster of corporate as well as its state-owned and institutional funders.
FAE Centre Director Gerfried Stocker defines the
centre's mandate in terms of transdisciplinarity, by which he means, transfer
of knowledge between practices and disciplines. However, Jutta Schmiederer, the
FAE's Producer, also stresses Ars Electronica`s role in dessiminating knowledge
and use of new media by encouraging the local and international comunity to
engage with and transform those technologies.  These dual emphases reflect
Ars Electronica's dynamic as a whole. The "Lab of the Future" project
works to develops advanced 3D animation and internet
technologies, while concurrently exhibiting recent products. The coexistence of
this kind of display and simultaneous practice lends Ars Electronica an
unparalelled internal vitality.
Art-labs in private sector firms
Art+Com operates as a research and development centre for computer aided visualization and design. What distinguishes it from purely industrially-oriented labs carrying out sponsored research is its emphasis on research on "the new media grammar"; i.e. according to its chief Joachim Sauter, "how to use computer as a medium, not a specific tool". Grammar is understood as the expression that is "inherent" to the new technology. Art+Com maintains a balance of sponsored and internal research projects; the former, including visualization systems for firms such as Daimler Benz. Of the latter, a good illustration is a "grammar defining" project called Zerseher.
"The observer finds himself in a museum environment, a framed picture hanging on a wall. Upon coming closer, the viewer notices that exactly the spot of the picture he is looking at is changing under his gaze."
This work makes clear the distinction between the computer as a simulated paint brush (tool) and as an inherently interactive medium. Art+Coms celebrated TerraVision simulator (1994) linked various satellite views of the earth with visualization systems, giving the user a continuous zoom-in from space.
Since 1993 XeroxParcs Artist in Residence Program has provided Bay-Area artists with the opportunity to carry out their own projects in the corporate lab, collaborating with like-minded scientists on common projects. Pairings are voluntary, and the structure oriented toward process rather than product; in no case are artists required to implement ideas of scientists, or vice-versa. PAIR is understood to help the laboratory remain relevant to the needs of the corporation by encouraging artists to experiment about the future forms and paradigms of documents. As John Seeley Brown writes "Xerox is, after all, the Document Company and what artists fundamentally make are documents, and in particular, new forms and genres of documents. Artists are really document researchers discovering new kinds of documents even new definitions of what constitutes a document."  The program founder, Rich Gold, was an avant-garde music composer before he entered the computer industry through games design; he says:
PAIR is not based on the belief that each person must be both an artist and a scientist, though such people exist, but rather that there is a class of extraordinary activity that a scientist and an artist can simultaneously engage in that is mutually beneficial to both.
The ICC was opened in 1997 as part of a large scale Shinjuku cultural complex, through the initiative of the Japanese Public Association for Telecommunications, and sponsored by NTT. ICC is conceived as a prototypical "information network oriented arts and science interface" a new kind of museum for the 21st century depicting "a vision of life in a post-industrial society". The term "intercommunication" signifies the inter-linking of art, techno-science, and society. NTT sees its sponsorship of this cultural project as contributing to "thematic communication" imagining new uses for future technologies, and it looks forward to ICC offering "exciting feedback into the world of technology". Like the ZKM, the ICC maintains a permanent collection of media art works on exhibition, all highly participatory, interactive works that exemplify formal openness and multi-sensory immersion. The centre also has a laboratory wherein artists and engineers collaborate in the production of electronic art works.
ATR International, a consortium of seven research centres devoted to telecommunication, set up the MICC in 1995 for studies in art and communication. The research laboratory is divided into four units: the reconstruction and creation of communications environments, the foundations of communication, the expression and transmission of mental images, and finally, the process of human communication. Interactive Art is of central interest to this lab, as a domain through which engineers are researching the base technologies for representing/transmitting human emotion (kansei, or sensitivity). Effectively, the approach is to develop models for machine "understanding" of gestures, images, and speech. Collaboration takes place both ways: "Artists present a new concept and engineers provide technologies to realise itEngineers present a whole concept, and artists produce the art part" . A group of four media artists work in a fifth art and technology unit. The goal is that sophisticated communication and interaction methods will be discovered that "overcome the cultural and language gaps among people".
Only a stones throw from XeroxParc, Interval mixes artist-researchers into an already very broad ranging scientific and engineering research staff. Its charter is to look five to ten years into the future of computing and media. Rather than the open-ended, voluntary pairings of the PAIR program at PARC, Interval includes a sprinkling of researchers with backgrounds in such fields as interactive art, theatre, documentary film. David Liddle, the manager of Interval, sees them adding cognitive diversity through their unique standpoints. By bringing in "alien methodologies", he notes, "most of these people are the herb, not the entrée, in the particular project being baked [but] the minor ingredients are very, very important. There is no chance of doing good, new work in these areas in a sterile environment where there are no herbs allowed" (quoted in ). The noted media artist Michael Naimark recounts how, as a member of Interval research staff, he and computer vision researchers nurtured a symbiosis in which 3D stereoscopic computer models based on panoramic landscapes he gathered for an art project provided the researchers with valuable material. "The fact that it was not simply views of the parking lot was gravy". (From seasonings to sauce)
Founded in 1991 the ArtLab is a corporate lab devoted to the integration of the arts and sciences, primarily by encouraging new artistic practices using digital imaging technologies. The lab itself consists of offices and a "factory"; the latter employs computer engineers using Canon digital products in interaction with artists in residence to produce new digital art works.
Since its launch, the studio portion of the program
has presented exhibitions of the works developed in-house. In 1995, seeking to
introduce multimedia works to the general public, the
ArtLab began its Prospect Exhibitions program, which also circulates the work
of multimedia artists and creators from a variety of new media centres.
Workshops and lectures on new communications technologies and practices are
also organised on an ad-hoc basis, which are both national and international in
University/Public Sector Studio-Laboratories
for Media Communication
The GMD Institut für Medienkommunikation is composed of four departements: Visualization and Media Systems Design (VMSD), Multimedia Applications in Telecooperation (MAT), Networks (NW), and Media Arts Research Studies (MARS). The centre is primarily a teaching and research facility, hosting a number of innovative projects which actively integrate the technological and cultural innovation in the development of new media forms and content.
The centres artistic direction was set by VMSD Director Monika Fleischmann, along with architect Wolfgang Strauss. However, a good deal of the initiative to integrate artistic and technological innovation can be traced to the efforts of Wolfgang Krüger. With the goal of building a cultural perspective into technical development and technical expertise into artistic practice, Krüger came from the Berlin centre Art + Com to join the GMD centre in the early 1990s. Having left the institute in 1995, Krügers legacy of interdisciplinary practice remains nonetheless.
According to the visions set forth by both Krüger
and Fleischmann, the pure functionalism of technological
research should always be undercut by the cultural meaning or purpose of what
is being developed. In the case of the development of new media tools,
innovative products should necesarily be in the service of the expressive and
aesthetic possibilities defined by cultural producers and creators. As such,
for example, the centres "VizWiz" (Visual Wizards) group developed
new digital tools, such as the Wall of Communication, a sort of virtual
billboard which permits multiple users to post their images and ideas during
teleconferencing sessions, or the Responsive Workbench, a table which serves as
an interactive projection site for group work, where multiple audio and visual
feeds can be cohesively integrated.
Since its inception in 1973, the EVL has established itself as a centre for academic excellence in the development of computer graphics and interactive media applications through its transdisciplinary pedagogy. It offers a rare joint graduate degree between the visual arts and computer engineering departments.
During the 1970s, EVL hardware and software was used to generate the animation used in the first Star Wars movie, while in the late 80s the lab began focussing specifically on scientific visualisation, providing media tools for engineers and research scientists. More recently EVL activities have encompassed the production of virtual-reality tools and environments, such as the CAVE (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment) virtual-reality theatre (1992), and the ImmersaDesk virtual-reality work space. Producers associated with the EVL also showcase their innovations at a variety of academic, industry and electronic arts conferences.
Both of these centres date back to the turbulent era of "art and technology" collaborations of the 1960s. Kepes, the CAVS founder, had earlier brought the European Bauhaus tradition to Chicago; at CAVS a dynamic program was quickly established including an international group of artist and critical Fellows. This was shortly followed by a graduate degree in visual studies which counts among its alumni pioneers of virtual reality and interactive art.
The Media Laboratory grew out of the important research led by Negroponte on Computer-Aided design; known as the Architecture Machine Group, it built on the strong scientific base at MIT in computer graphic systems and artificial intelligence. Interaction between these two groups continued through the 1970s, but seems to have diminished as the Media Lab was conceived and eventually opened in the mid-1980s. The program of the Media Lab translates many of the cultural and technological "threads" of the IT paradigm into a coherent vision of a hyper-mediated techno-scape premised on breakthroughs in machine intelligence. From the start, artists were understood to play an important part in the wider Media Lab mix. As then-academic director Steven Benton explained during its early years, the new meta-discipline of "Media Arts and Science has a technical, perceptual, and aesthetic basis, but no-one here is solely an artist.. The Barry Vercoes, Tod Machovers, Muriel Coopers all are doing research with a technical base. We are not trying to be an art school... It's a new kind of research trying to be informed by aesthetics".  The status of artists at the lab has been controversial; this has proven to be a complex, sometimes acrimonious dispute, closely calibrated to how well artists themselves are able to accommodate the agendas of the Labs' mainly corporate sponsors. Stewart Brand, author of a quasi-official book on the MediaLab, has commented ,"The Lab was not there for the artists. The artists were there for the Lab. Their job was to supplement the scientists and engineers in three important ways: They were to be cognitive pioneers. They were to ensure that all demos were done with art - that is, presentational craft. And they were to keep things culturally innovative. Having real artists around was supposed to infect the place with quality, which it did." 
A new generation of researchers may be forging more
integral fusions between the aesthetic, technical and perception than Brand states.
Ishii's "Tangible Media" group designs 3-D and spatial interfaces
that border on the kind of sensory environments often found in the work of the
best media artists. Importantly, cultural traditions, such the abacus from his
own Japanese upbringing, are considered in defining the affordances for
effective human-machine communication. Maeda, a graphic artist, may be the
first of a new, younger breed of artist-engineers. Carrying forward Cooper's
Visible Language Workshop in a research program on "aesthetics and
computation" Maeda's stated aim is the "true melding of the artistic
sensibility with that of the engineer in a single person"
This program of the EU finances over a dozen multi-national, interdisciplinary research networks, organized around three themes: experimental school environments, inhabited information spaces, and connected community. Designers of all types -- industrial, graphic, product -- play a central role in all these networks. In the present context, we note the programs of two networks which set out to work closely with the electronic and media art community as equal partners in their research.
The eSCAPE - electronic landscape - network addresses the difficult problem of inter-communication between virtual environments, particularly those using quick-maturing spatial and immersive interaction techniques. Since this is a field in which artists have been intensively active since the 1960s, the computer scientists directing the project sought to draw on this rich fund of past work for models and inspiration. Partners include the ZKM, GMD, and scientific partners in Sweden and England. A third component in the mix is ethnography, at two levels so far: first, studies of users in heavily mediated settings (traffic, ambulance control) to derive new design principles; second, studies of users of interactive art works (field work done at ZKM) to gain new understanding of the complex interplay between cognitive, physical, and sensory experience.
Interlinkages between these three components (technology development, art, social science) have, up till now, been nascent. According to the EC officials responsible, the coupling is justified in part because the aim in this research is to look very far forward, to better "understand how information and communication start making a difference when they're embedded in a real context". Thus, it's important to "forget about virtual environments and trying to fit people into some artificial worldhow can we help people in their everyday environment, and integrate technology into this?"
The Erena network shares much of the philosophy of
eSCAPE, specifically addressing a set of "arenas" which traditionally
have been considered cultural: performing arts, galleries and museums,
broadcasting. One project combines a telecommunications firm (BT), computer
scientists, a television producer, and performing artists to create an
interlinked live broadcast + 3D internet system
("inhabited TV). Another pushes the limits of synthetic actors in computer
Civil society focus
European Cultural Backbone
The concept of a continent-wide "social, cultural and technical infrastructure" of independent media centres, research facilities, newsletters, online forums developed through the 1990s, supported by the cultural program of Council of Europe. As Marleen Stikker explains the concept:
"Sustaining the public sphere is an essential factor in fostering an innovative European media culture. This means providing participatory public access to networks and media tools, and privileging public content, by developing the digital equivalent of public libraries and museums, as distinct from privately owned databases and networks.
For an effective exchange of expertise and training, an open, online communication environment is required. Other means of distributing information and knowledge, including publications, newsletters and workshops, should also be developed. Such facilities must cater to the multilingual reality of Europe through the provision of adequate software, design and translation. To be effective, culture as much as science requires its domains of primary research, which needs to be supported by appropriate environments and resources (e.g., independent research laboratories for media art)".
The CD-ROM and web site Hybrid Media Lounge is a self-described "interactive visual representation of European Network Culture". The first four menu sections hard data, soft data, context, and network each provide a different representation of resources available, interests, and linkages between nodes.
Art production focus
ANAT presents a clear model of a mainly virtual structure whose role is to "advocate, support and promote the arts and artists in the interaction between art, science and technology". Founded in 1985, and supported by Australia Council, it offers annual "summer schools" for working artists, support for international travel and exposure, critical dialogues, and funding for projects and residencies. The vision of its director is "not to build edifices to new media art practice but rather in building mechanisms, where new media art practice is included in exhibition, performance, literature based practices."  ANAT has organized its flagship summer school around scientific topics of growing critical concern to artists, like biotechnology and artificial life. From this intensive several week session were born several projects by artists which now continue in scientific labs. Financial support for this subsequent phase, now taking place, comes from public sources concerned with the promotion of science awareness.
3. Projects and targetted funding schemes
Art-Science award schemes
Sci-ART - Wellcome Trust, Gulbenkian Foundation, NESTA - National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts.London, UK
The Wellcome Trust is one of the largest bio-medical research foundations. Hoping to widen public understanding of science, particularly biomedical, it launched a competitive scheme in 1997 to bring together the "often separated cultural spheres of science and art". The aim is to match professional artists with scientists, working on common projects that "grew out of a genuinely reciprocalinspiration". Two rounds of awards have now been given, some 6 per year each averaging about $25,000 US. The varied formulas for collaboration in these pairings present a panorama of the dynamics of art-science cooperation: from the artist as a medical subject for a scientific group working on the relationship between "looking" and "reproducing"; to the whimsical creation of a new fashion line derived pictorially from an interpretation of the dynamics of embryonic development. 
The Gulbenkian Foundation, UK Branch, has run a granting program since 1997 called the "The Two Cultures - Arts and Science. Based on this experience, the Foundation is preparing a major publication about Science and the Arts -- what it calls, the first 'map of the world' of this vast territory, to appear in the Fall of 1999. Commenting on the findings, the foundation reports "Many people take the view initially that the creative processes in each discipline are fundamentally the same, but that is not what our current research reveals. Indeed, stepping from one 'planet' to the next takes some adjusting to and sometimes the views of each on the other (artists on science, scientists on art) are curiously out of kilter. The book should reveal many new opportunities for artists but also explain to scientists the value of seeing the world from the peculiar tangential viewpoint of the artist". 
In 1999, a
consortium was established between the Wellcome and Gulbenkian Foundations,
plus the Arts Council of England and the newly formed National Endowment for
Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA). A new program is planned in which
NESTA provides funding for "follow-on" stages of projects begun
through science-art collaborations. Details are not announced, but based on the
published charter of NESTA, it is likely to include
investment for commercialization of intellectual property, touring of
exhibitions or performances, and publication.
Hybrid Workspace was a summer-long project in 1997 produced by the Documenta world art exhibition in Kassel, Germany. It was conceived as a communication experiment, highlighting the creative process and untapped potential of digital media, more than the display of fixed aesthetic works. This entailed setting up a temporary media space, with equipment to produce a range of multimedia, web-broadcast, pamphlets, television and radio programs. The logic of its planners also identified the redundancy of many current conferences and professional meetings, particularly where proceedings are instantly available over the internet. Face-to-face meeting with people in such settings can rarely progress to the stage of detailed, practical exchange. The idea of setting up a hybrid workspace was to make possible a series of topical work sessions, each led by a different group/collective. Fifteen such groups consisting of artists, activists, critics and their guests presented their work, produced new concepts and started campaigns that developed and continued long after the gathering. This CD-ROM archive documents the rich and diverse results of the Hybrid Workspace.
The model has been considered a useful organizational innovation, and a follow-on project is now in preparation in Helsinki for the newly opened national museum's digital media centre. This model presents an interesting approach toward knitting together, in a production context, the interests of local groups, new entrants to the field of media-production, and a diverse range of international/visiting theorists and practitioners. We return to its potential for longer term, systemic impact in IT capacity development in a later section.
2 mode of operation: S = on Site, i.e., at the main studio-lab location
D = Distributed, i.e., multiple sites cooperating
T = Touring, i.e., works often are co-commissioned and toured to other centres
3. typical manner of teamwork (pairings of artist/scientist, small teams, common platform)
"lead" tendency. Left pointing 3 means, mainly "art-driven"
Right pointing8means, mainly "science-technology driven"
The table is indicative only, meant to provide an overview of the very distinctive models presented by the cases selected.
One fruitful way to think historically about the kind of techno-cultural creativity manifest in the studio atories just surveyed is to recall the role that instruments have long played on the margins between science, art, magic, entertainment, and philosophy. Citing science historian Thomas Hankins: "To understand actual scientific practice, we have to understand instruments, not only how they are constructed, but also how they are used, and more important, how they are regarded". Hankins does just this in a book about curious, mostly forgotten instruments from the 18th and 19th centuries -- ocular harpsichords, animal automata, stereoscopes and magic lanterns -- which oscillate between demonstration, entertainment, magic, and measurement. The crucial point that Hankins makes is that even such "objective" devices as the telescope, microscope or air pump were the subjects of controversy in their time; just as the photograph later was in the 19th century, and today, digital processing of images makes the veracity of any picture questionable. "We choose", Hankins writes, "how to represent the natural world to ourselves". Instruments are a way of "questioning nature", a "language of inquiry"; and the historical examples retold with verve in Hankins' book suggest a way of considering today's investigators -- artists and scientists -- in the spirit of those "natural philosophers", whose "instruments move easily between natural science and other human activity".
A striking set of examples where today's investigators specifically designate technology as a shared medium of joint exploration is available from the Xerox artist-scientist pairings. Each case indicates the medium taken as point of departure, and the contrasting way in which they were regarded and employed by scientist and artist respectively:
The PARC commentators refer to the medium (or "experimental document" in their corporate jargon) as a common language, but a more apt metaphor is perhaps that of the boundary object. This is a term introduced by sociologist of science S. Leigh Star, describing "scientific objects which both inhabit several intersecting social worlds and satisfy the informational requirements for both of them" . Through a radically opposed dialogue about the STM, one PARC researcher recounts, a new line of questioning grew about how the senses are extended through instruments: "Are there untapped sensory channels for interacting with the unseeable which enable powerful conceptualization?"
Similar conceptualizations of the sensorium characterized the collaborations during the 1960s between AT&T Bell Labs researchers in vision and perception, and the varied artists -- musicians and filmmakers, mainly -- who worked with them. In the words of vision researcher Bela Julesz: "Visual perception is historically a common area for both the artist and scientist, a common intersection where there is no gap or artificial bridge. The same kinds of things can be artistic or scientific; the only difference is the motivation..the artist is searching for an artistic truth, an intimate truth he wants to convey, and I am searching for scientific truth, which is testable and very defined. " The activities of these teams tended to focus around the digital computer, which was constructed as a tool for understanding human perception, and at the same time, as a potential new medium for artistic expression. Bell researchers tended, in the main, to locate the artistic added value in the unique ways in which artists could train themselves to perceive, and thereby, shape, images or sounds. John Pierce, director of the Communication Sciences Division, acknowledged that in seeking to program computers to produce intelligible speech, "one of the most important human faculties is that of being able to judge qualities even when we cannot measure them. Here the ear of the trained musician may be as valuable as the digital computer."
Today, similar cases abound; entire labs, like the Chicago Electronic Visualization Laboratory, operate on the basis of the heterogeneous shaping of a common medium which can prod new disciplinary insights. In some cases, the "uncertainty" of the object's identity has declined over time, becoming, much as Hankins described some of the pre-scientific instruments of "natural magic", more or less stabilized at one or another of its poles of attraction. Such, it could be argued, is the case of scientific visualization at the EVL: to the extent that the aesthetic shaping of the immersive simulations developed there is confined to the usual "non-essential" parameters of color, form, or texture, the object has settled at the scientific side of the margin.
As we have previously seen, one area where the boundaries today are notably blurred is the field of "artificial life", attracting artists with interests and background in biology and computation to create evolutionary digital systems. Broadly speaking, ideas from genetics have begun to shape the way many computational artists conceive the inter-relationships between their formal materials. In the simplest manner, style can be characterized in terms of traits, and as objects -- drawings, or melodies, for example -- replicate, they change form according to programmed rules of reproduction and mutation. Artificial life extends evolutionary metaphors even further, in the work of the team Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau, who develop artificial-life installation works as researchers at ATR corporation in Tokyo. They build imaginary eco-systems which evolve and mutate as artificial virtual worlds, but are able also to react to observers' gestures when provided.
A scientific colleague at the same
lab, computational biologist Tom Ray, illustrates well the instability of
borders between artificial-life artists and scientists, when he calls for a
"new aesthetics", based on "free evolution in the digital
medium". Interestingly, he argues this evolution need not be
"inherently visual or auditory in nature, and would not be recognized as
conventional artistic creations". He seems to be describing a kind of
computational beauty inherent to the digital medium, with "richness
comparable to what [evolution] has expressed in the organic medium".
There is one special case of the projection of human imagination through skilled instrumental performance: musical instruments have long served as metaphor and analytical model for philosophers (think of Heraclitus or Confucius), mathematicians (Pythagoras or Galileo), and in our own time, computer scientists and interface designers.
From the earliest years of personal computing, a controversy has simmered about the trade-offs in designing systems that are easy-to-use but quite general in their scope, or more challenging to master, but with greater depth and power. Alan Kay, credited with conceiving the personal computer as a portable "Dynabook" (and later helping Xerox to implement one of the first "personal workstations"), was also influential in promoting the notion of computer use as a medium for creative thought. In their 1977 paper on "personal dynamic media", Kay and Goldberg  explained their design goals as wanting to combine both the broad, standard-model usability of inflexibly mass-produced items like cars and TV sets, with the plastic, moldable, open-endedness of tangible media like paper or clay. The key, Kay argued in 1977, is learning to use a high-level programming language, inspired by Seymour Papert's artistic approach towards teaching children to program.
In the meantime, the trajectory that actually became locked-in once personal computing took off in the 1980s is based not a style of programming, but rather a graphical means of manipulating and selecting surface icons -- the ubiquitous "graphical user interface". Far from Kay's subtle, even dialectical conception of fluency within a dynamic medium, most computer use could be characterized as brittle, fault-intolerant, and closely coupled with proprietary software "solutions" -- packaged applications -- that offer only minimal room for user-programmed extensions or variation.
In a forthcoming book about Douglas Engelbart and his Palo Alto research group, Bardini sharply pinpoints the actual losses entailed in the "lock-in" of the PC in its present form.  Early researchers, like Engelbart during the 1960s, thought of the user as acquiring progressively more powerful kinesthetic and motor skills; in effect, operating interfaces with greater instrumental virtuosity to keep pace with the mental scope and expressive boundaries set by the user's intellect. The idea of learning to "play" a piano-like key-set, in order to navigate conceptually through information space, may seem like science fiction; but this is what Engelbart himself built and mastered, and arguably, its originality is such that it deserves to be considered a more profound interaction paradigm than the "mouse" with which he is actually credited.
Alan Kay, meanwhile, who is himself a skilled musician, has tended to be ambivalent about how literally to base human computer interaction on a metaphor of musicianship. Younger theorists already describe "interface" as the characteristic art form of the 21st century, with much the same kind of historical determinism driving their arguments that pertained during Henri Bergson's time when cinema was widely welcomed as the 20th century's defining art form. To have a glimpse today at what this prediction might look like in 10 to 20 years, it is likely more suggestive to extrapolate from the more speculative, 3D or installation-based creation of current artists and design engineers, than to look at the incremental variations coming from software vendors. Much of this work begins with something like a musical notion of the machine interface, using bodily motions, breathing, movement, gesture to shape the art-work's responses in a way that is, at least in principle, amenable to personal nuance.
Turning back towards what might be dubbed the more "cognitive" pole of the mind-body continuum, it is still worth recalling how Kay and Goldberg had envisaged the system design of a "dynamic personal medium" two decades ago:
"Our design strategy, then, divides the problem. The burden of system design and specification is transferred to the user. This approach will only work if we do a very careful and comprehensive job of providing a general medium of communication which will allow ordinary users to casually and easily describe their desires for a specific tool. We must also provide enough already-written general tools so that a user need not start from scratch for most things she or he may wish to do".
"User innovation" has become a commonplace term of late, indicating the importance of the user (customer, client) as a partner in the innovation process. Von Hippel explains the benefits of turning users into designers as "faster and better and cheaper learning by using" . Advanced firms, he argues, are changing the very economics of design, by investing in software-based application-specific toolkits that "transfer a capability to design truly novel customized products and services to users". His examples come from manufacturing (custom-designed circuits and software), and he stresses that the design tool-kit reduces the iterations and flow back and forth between users and designers.
Consider these points in a non-manufacturing case now, the software used by artists to make movies, music, or multimedia -- all dynamic, time-based expressions which technically challenge the computer's capacity to synchronize and co-ordinate various kinds of audio-visual representations. Software applications have been widely available for some 15-20 years that permit artists to create more-or-less independently from the system programmers on whom they formerly depended if they wanted to use computers without learning to program. As a class, software for animation or music abstracts  some aspects of the craft of movie-making or composition, mechanizing them into modules much like the "already-written" generic tools Alan Kay thought all users would likely call on in his SmallTalk system. But what about support for individual expressiveness, corresponding to the distinctive traits of an artists' style or signature? Recalling Simon Penny's present-day concern about artists' practices being re-shaped to conform to the restrictions of their computer-based tools, it is evident that the ability to design novel capacities beyond the base mechanisms embedded in common applications remains elusive.
As has been shown by the successive diffusion of desktop publishing, image processing, music composing, and now multimedia/animation software, the distinctive appeal of such programs lies in the way they facilitate for new classes of users a degree of creativity that formerly required a specialists' craft training. The issue of boosting the general user's media fluency is of less interest to this discussion, however, than to look in greater depth at the way in which new types of creative possibilities get embedded in software in the first place.
To do this, we will here present a précis of the results of part of a full case study about the emergence of the creative user of computer animation. In the mid-1960s, when computers were completely intractable to all but engineers, the very idea of applying digital calculation to the intensely artisanal production of animated film was by no means obvious. A host of contrasting, often conflicting interests existed from the start of computer graphics, and the earliest encounters between artists, system designers and programmers reveal a fascinating, and in some ways instructive story about the conditions under which creative users enter into productive relationships with designers. Another way of saying this is that between the 1960s and mid-1980s, the computer itself was constructed as a medium for making movies, within a wide and sometimes contested zone of interpretive flexibility, to use the phrase of Dutch sociologist of technology W. Bijker .
The base technologies for interactive computer graphics were largely developed in U.S. military research programs, often closely aligned with key universities like MIT, and supported by the Pentagon's aggressive funding of fundamental information processing research. By the mid-1960s, development of civilian applications was underway as well, notably in aviation, architecture, scientific communication. Many of the same organizations also experimented with artists as lead users of early mainframe animation systems. Broadly speaking, two design approaches towards computer animation were pursued: picture-driven, and language-based. The latter specified visual images and their continuity using traditional textual computer programming languages; they depended on the ability to describe visual phenomena mathematically. Picture-driven approaches aimed to assist aspects of the hand-crafted art of animation, permitting the non-specialist artist to draw and ink the cels serving as key-frames, using the computer to coordinate the images and calculate the transitions between them (in-between) images. 
The study looks at similarities and differences between the way in which this field developed in various parts of North America; in particular, close attention is being given to the conditions of innovation which led to an unusually dense concentration of firms, researchers, and electronic media artists in Canada. Beginning in the mid-1960s, researchers at the National Research Council (NRC) and the National Film Board (NFB) -- both federally-funded agencies -- began to investigate the potential for using computers in film-making. The approaches taken, in each case, differ markedly from those of the American research sites. In both cases, the Canadian investigators were scientific and technical followers, not leaders, and they had very restricted budgets for equipment and personnel. They began their research by intensively studying everything the Americans had done to date.
To start with, the NRC researchers chose film-making as an application domain through which to study the problems of the man-machine interface. Besides computer animation, they also began an equally important program in computer-assisted music composition. Their goal was general understanding, ultimately to better support the use of interactive computing in science and engineering. But it was by no means irrelevant to their choice that the NRC was already a kind of studio-laboratory, supporting in the same Radio and Electrical Engineering department the groundbreaking research of a physicist-cum-composer on electronic musical instruments. By modeling the user as a creative artist, an original outlook resulted which at the time of its formulation in 1969 was notably different from the U.S. corporate or university labs :
"Up to this point, it has been assumed that the best possible way to design the computer would be to make it transparent. That is to make it look to the user as though it were not even present, so whatever idea occurred to him, it could be rapidly formed into a final creation. This is not necessarily true"
Constraints, argued researcher Ken Pulfer, are crucial to the creative process, giving examples such as conventions for drawing in architecture, or scales and notational conventions in music. By supporting the use of such conventions, the user is given a more meaningful starting point than the abstract 'blank slate' of total generality.
"Most computer languages now available ...are unsatisfactory either because they are mathematically oriented, or because they result in cumbersome and slow programs. As a result we are usually left with the situation where an artist-programmer team is formed, the artist uses the system without having intimate control over the functions of the blocks he uses, and the programmer builds blocks without fully appreciating the needs of the artists."
"at no time [was] it necessary for the user to learn how to program the computer, or in fact even to know how to operate it other than through making some choices from names presented to him on the screen... he can proceed to learn the 'language' by trial and error."
Crucial to the implementation of this design was the just-published research of the first graphical user interface published in 1968 by Douglas Engelbart  -- interestingly, as a system for "augmenting the human intellect". The NRC team considered the results produced by the U.S. "artist-programmer" teams to lack validity for their purposes; for this reason, they chose to work only with professional filmmakers (or composers) who could teach them something about movie-making (or music composition).
The National Film Board of Canada, founded in 1939 as the Government Film Office, was home to a world famous tradition in documentary film and experimental animation. A strong technical research and cooperation department maintained a watch on the global development of motion picture technology, and this group too had a well-established tradition of technical innovation. In 1951, under the direction of the award-winning animator Norman McLaren, it had produced the first stereoscopic animated film, presented to stunned crowds at the Festival of Britain; during the mid-1960s, another team of filmmakers and technicians developed a unique multi-screen projection and camera system for the Labyrinth pavilion which was soon thereafter transformed and commercialized as IMAX wide-screen format. An electrical engineer who had previously worked in the telecommunications industry on the application of the computer to digital signal switching brought a disciplined bench-marking approach to the analysis of the computer as a tool for motion pictures. This quickly produced an intensive learning program in which the NFB had received visits from and in most cases, pursued in-depth dialogues with all of the key U.S. players; it also conducted tests using borrowed equipment.
Within the strong technical culture the Film Board, there was strong resistance to "solutions" from outside experts being applied to creative problems. (Indeed, an early proposal from AT&T Bell Labs to "solve" an animation need for special effects was flatly refused.) This culture was strongly shaped by the model of McLaren, whose creative vision was sharply opposed to the assembly-line factory approach towards commercial animation typified by Disney Studios. He summarized his method, in 1948, as :
With this disposition towards the close interpenetration of idea and technique, the film board animators of the 1960s looked with some skepticism at the results of the art + technology experiments coming from such well-resourced U.S. centres as MIT, Bell Labs, IBM. The computer was imagined richly as a creative, administrative, and mechanical-control resource, but always in terms of a very concrete set of ongoing work practices.
Space does not here permit a comparable outline of these American studio laboratories. Suffice it to say that in these settings, the computer was mainly a scientific instrument, an aid to studying perception, or a modeling tool for the production of simulations. Links with artists tended to be far more "experimental", and it seems that where aesthetic considerations were important, these tended to equate artistic creation with the discovery of new forms of expression (rather than supporting a more known range of what users might already want to create). Only in a few cases did the scientific investigator think reflectively about what the user brought to the computer as a potential contributor to system design.
It must be remembered that computing in the late 1960s, was formidably expensive, and software development a labor-intensive enterprise beyond nearly all non-technical users. After developing an internal knowledge base about the technical as well as aesthetic possibilities of computer animation, the NFB decided to look outside for compatible partners with which it could enter the field through "real" production, not just technical tests. This was arranged to take place with the National Research Council's system, which by 1970 had developed further by implementing a system for keyframe interpolation, the first which allowed the artist to communicate graphically with the computer.  (This accomplishment was recognized, some 25 years later, with a Scientific and Technical Academy Award).
The NFB rigorously evaluated the NRC system before the production period began; a series of improvements were made, all geared towards making it conform more closely to the mental models of a creative animator. These exchanges were documented, and a pattern of mutual accommodation developed between the NRC researchers (a team of three) and the NFB's French Animation studio. A set of criteria outlined what kind of film the NFB should aim to make. It should be one suited to systems' quite limited capacities, but also, it should be chosen to push the medium enough to yield "generalizable" results applicable beyond the single instance.
The NFB producers found a suitable candidate in Peter Foldes, who had previously proposed a full animation treatment of a scenario that required extensive use of metamorphosis between shapes. The artist would spend a few weeks at a time working with the system in Ottawa; in the intervening periods, improvements were made based on what had been learned in production. The film that was released in 1973, Hunger, was recognized immediately as an artistically convincing character animation; it was nominated for an Academy Award and won numerous festival prizes.
The accomplishment of Hunger in matching an artist's vision to the still very intractable computer of the day can be interpreted in a number of ways. For the present purposes, it will suffice to note that the technique of linear keyframe interpolation was still far too primitive and mechanical to be used for what one critic has called the "anthropomorphic" style of the big-budget feature animation studios like Disney. While it promised to save costs by automating the intensive human labor of the artist drawing the intermediate frames, given its technical awkwardness, it could only be put to creative use by an artist willing to shape his or her vision to its still rather mechanical constraints. Indeed, this "machinic" interpolation, which in other contexts would have been a defect, gave the film its expressive signature, and the impact of the film proved to be far reaching. It proved that convincing artistic films could be produced by computer, at a time when Hollywood was only using it for title sequences or special effects. As well, it had a major influence in the technical community, attracting, especially in Canada, young people to the field of computer engineering precisely to further the possibilities of artistic animation.
Summarizing the lesson of this early episode of productive collaboration between two studio-laboratories, both were small, under-resourced, and unable to make further progress without the contributions of the others. None of the researchers identified strongly with (nor necessarily even knew) the way things "ought to be done" in computing. From the outset, both had something of a hybrid character -- the NFB, a cultural organization with a strong technical research group, skilled at absorbing and re-purposing new techniques; the NRC, a government research institute with an intellectual work culture friendly to artistic practice. Many of the individuals were cognitively open-minded and sympathetic to a an approach toward creativity as:
"a process involv[ing]trial and error, with the creator modifying the mental image of his creation as it takes place. He interacts with his creative medium...in a conversational way, learning the 'language' in which he can express himself as he goes along" 
Disons que l'ordinateur américain a des yeux et l'ordinateur canadien une main. Les Amérciains ont des impératifs commerciaux, un souci de rentabilité. Les Canadiens du CNRS sont beaucoup plus désintéressés et subventionnent la recherche pure.
One could say the American computer has eyes, and the Canadian computer, a hand. The Americans have commercial pressures, a concern for profitability. The Canadians at the NRC are much more disinterested, and finance pure research.
In fact, the long-term outcomes of the early Canadian scenes of innovation in computer graphics and animation proved to be economically significant. Nearly all the successful producers of animation software, whose products are used around the world in the animation, multimedia, and CAD industries, were descended from or assisted by the people, ideas, systems jointly formed at NFB and NRC. An ongoing study traces the diffusion of ideas, innovation, systems, and skills up to the foundation of these companies.
Early results support an interpretation that the Canadian innovators shared a linked set of values about the interplay between creators and engineers, or what art historian Caroline Jones has called the "machine in the studio". It is tempting to think of these values in terms of what Paul Edwards, writing about computers and the "politics of discourse" during the Cold war, has called "the closed world" discourse. This term for Edwards signifies a:
"linked ensemble of metaphors, practices, institutions and technologies, elaborated over time according to an internal logic and organized around the Foucaultian support of the electronic digital computer". 
Canada is widely known as a communication-saturated state, and the homeland of Marshall McLuhan. As political scientist Arthur Kroker puts it : "Canada's principal contribution to North American thought consists of a highly original, comprehensive, and eloquent discourse on technology" One aspect of this discourse, previously mentioned, was McLuhan's aphoristic, elliptical way of thinking about new media of communication as art forms. Initially, new media are invariably understood in terms of old (the message is the old medium); the new medium is only "freed" from its reliance on the old through creative -- artistic -- experimentation (the new medium is the message). McLuhan's deterministic way of compelling media along their "destiny" toward "maximal" realization can be maddening to some, but it should not mask his basic insight about how communication media reveal their possibilities through use. Can this discourse about media innovation be linked, as Edwards does convincingly for the computer in relation to Cold-War politics, to the "heuristic" system development approach taken by NRC and NFB innovators?
What can be said at this stage with
certainty is that different cultural constructions of the computer as a
creative medium help to shape different development paths. Canada's
"success story" in computer animation shows how niche strengths in
high-tech industry can grow in diverse settings, and that the way user knowledge
is expressed and cultivated with and through technical communities can play a
key role in seeding and nurturing that growth.
The preceding section demonstrated how creative users linked to the innovation process over a several decade period contributed not only to cultural enrichment in the uses of technology, but also to the growth of an important sector of a regional information economy. From the standpoint of the worsening inequities between the information haves and have-nots, showing how a strong cultural informatics capacity grew up at the figurative doorstep of Hollywood might not at first glance seem all that pertinent. However, there is also a long tradition of analyzing Canada as a "borderline case" -- "the "hidden ground for the big powers" , as McLuhan characteristically quipped, with elements of both "first" and "third" world countries.
Recasting the Canadian case slightly, it can be seen as one pathway to the building of local cultural distinctiveness in a situated set of informational practices. "Situated", in this context, leads us to consider the challenge of cultural diversity in the age of globalization. Much culturalist thought on this topic is still stuck in a "mass-media" mindset, like post-colonial theorist Edward Said who has railed:
"The threat to independence in the late twentieth century from the new electronics could be greater than was colonialism. The new media have the power to penetrate more deeply into a 'receiving' culture than any previous manifestation of Western technology." (quoted in )
To be sure, corporate concentration in the media and entertainment fields continues its rampant increase. As the Economist magazine observed tartly: "What will the digital revolution do to the entertainment industry's emerging global oligopoly? Probably boost it" .
Said obviously overlooks the myriad ways new media have been used by opposition groups, NGOs, identity-formations of all sorts; it is striking indeed that he appears to grant no power to the "backchannels" available through digital media. This movement goes alongside the fusion of internet, multimedia and computer games with "the entertainment economy", and so far, it is anyone's guess the degree to which pessimistic Frankfurt-School type predictions of imperialist cultural hegemony will prevail.
Cultural policy makers have not, for the most part, helped matters much by their willingness to concede a limited role for culture as compensation against the loss of national identity through economic globalization. This lack of vision and advocacy often gets translated into a heritage-based conception of identity, grounded in the irreproachable values of restoration, preservation, and conservation. For those approaching cultural development from a more active technological perspective, policies emphasizing heritage priorities channel inordinate resources towards information projects concerned with inventory management, data retrieval, and classification standards. Unquestionably, the librarian's, curator's, or conservator's professional skills are crucial to delivering effective access to cultural heritage. But these objectives need not be in conflict with broader issues of creativity and innovation in the cultural use of digital media. As Stuart Hall has said, "identity is not in the past to be found, but in the future to be constructed" (quoted in ).
In a recent book about information technology for sustainable development, Robin Mansell stresses the role of information cultures in shaping "people's ideas about how they should be concerned with media, technologies, the advantages/or not of information access, tele-learning, telework" . Drawing on the work of Ursula Mier-Rabler, an Austrian scholar, she lists four such cultures, each followed here by a sketch of the values implied by each label:
As Mansell notes, none of these is a pure form. How they are configured is a factor in determining "whether there will be a demand for access to information via advanced Information and Communication Technologies".
As we have been developing in different ways throughout this report, another important information culture might be identified, defined less in terms of political or ideological alignments, than its tactical grasp of the pragmatics of media. We will call this, partly tongue-in-cheek, the "art-hacker" information culture. This culture rejects any rigid separation of form and content; communication is never passive reception, but invariably entails some more or less actively expressed response. Response is not confined, furthermore, to the pre-figured options that might shape a system. If the occasion demands it, new extensions can always be added to make it possible to think "outside the box" or "jam the channels". A certain parodistic reflexivity prevails in this ethos, as the adbusters or culture jammers play with and undermine the communication flows of their opponents.
On a more theoretical level, this information culture has a deep suspicion of what Berkeley linguist George Lakoff identifies as "the conduit metaphor", a deeply engrained linguistic habit in which "ideas are taken as objects and thought is taken as the manipulation of objects [and] that memory is storageIdeas are objects that you can put into words, so that language is a container for ideas, and you send ideas in words over a conduit, a channel of communication to someone else who extracts the ideas from the words". The conduit metaphor for communication, like the "linear model" of innovation previously critiqued, is deficient because of its inability to cope with complex systems. The metaphor is widespread and pervasive, contributing to the common way in which "content" or "content services" are seen to be made of separate stuff from software and hardware, to which people are given "access" or not, through more or less transparent or affordable interfaces or channels.
The art-hacker culture pervades the practices of the various studio-laboratories already discussed; here we wish to consider the way it drives a particular approach to socio-technical development. Two main aspects typify this approach: first, a preference for the "open source" philosophy of development. This ethos, which stems in part from the earliest hacker culture of the 1960s, has now acquired serious corporate respectability as a credible alternative to proprietary, hierarchically managed development of software and hardware systems. In place of hierarchy, many artisans contribute components within open, standards-defined frameworks, freely sharing improvements and benefiting jointly from the collective rising tide. The second aspect of this culture is a style of heterogeneous teamwork, typically assembled around temporary, socially-specific projects or campaigns. Geert Lovink, the Dutch media theorist and co-organizer of Hybrid Workspace at Dokumenta, formulates a framework for cooperative action as:
" a radical pragmatic coalition of intellectual and artistic forces-- forces that, so far, have been working in different directions. It is time for dialogue and confrontation between media activists, electronic artists, cultural studies scholars, designers and programmers, media theorists, journalists, those who work in fashion, pop culture, visual arts, theatre and architecture."
The tactical media orientation uses all modes of media, old and new, and in particular looks for ways of combining the virtual world of digital media with community based media practices. Lovink and colleagues have been closely aligned as technical and creative advisors to the Soros foundation, in setting up internet access centres, media art research labs, and training in the former Eastern bloc. They now are turning their attention to Asia, developing links in China, India, Indonesia.
An apparent spinoff of these developing links between the Euro-socialist-art-hacker information culture and the developing world is the recently announced Sarai-- the first independent media culture centre in India. Sarai is a joint initiative of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi, Raqs Media Collective, Delhi, in collaboration with The Society for Old & New Media, the Waag, Amsterdam. Sarai is conceived:
2. As an
alive and integral part of the new urban culture and emerging
civic consciousness of the city of Delhi/New Delhi. As a major player in
the shaping of the urban culture and political imagination of the city of
Delhi/New Delhi in the future.
3. As a place
where young and old people, academics, scholars, activists,
technicians and artists can interact amongst themselves and with others
through old and new media, through a variety of programs that are
designed primarily to be low -cost or no-cost. This includes, terminals
for free public Internet access, ISP services, offline/dial up
connectivity for those who cannot afford personal internet accounts,
publication, outreach and education programs and a variety of open
Sarai is still in the earliest stages of establishment. As a model, it suggests a possible structural approach towards wider development of active media and information capabilities. The stress on local self-direction, combined with globally sophisticated cultural partnerships, bodes well for its future. Some possible pitfalls can be anticipated: too heavy reliance, for example, on what worked well for the European partner. It is likely, for instance, that training programmers to think about creative users, or artists how to program, may require a completely different approach in the Indian context, than has worked in Western or Eastern Europe.
In the main, humanists have had considerably less to do with the kind of co-operative development of technologies undertaken between artists, engineers and scientists. One thoughtful commentator has summed up the usual interests of humanists in information technology as follows:
The author of this passage, Phoebe Sengers, is a rare case of a computer scientist with equal background in cultural theory . Her own original contribution is a widened conception of what she terms "cultural informatics",
" a practice of technical development that includes a deep understanding of the relationship between computer science research and broader culture. This means understanding computing as a historical, cultural phenomenon, including, for example, analysis of metaphors that shape technical approaches, discovering prejudices in the Heideggerian sense that cause us to look at problems in one way to the exclusion of others, finding unconsciously held philosophical difficulties that leak their way into technical problems. These insights are used as a basis to change underlying metaphors, prejudices, philosophy, resulting in changes in technology. Cultural informatics integrates a broad humanist perspective with concrete interventions in technology and technical practices."
As a term in English, "informatics" is preferred by some scholars to designate the disciplines usually called "computer science or engineering". The preference is not incidental. Nor is it without adherents from the computer science community too, and for similar reasons. Yale professor David Gelernter has called for a complete re-thinking of the training of "computer people", though not emphasizing cultural theory but an in-depth knowledge of history of art, design and aesthetics. "Software programming should be taught in studios, like art", Gelernter writes . Far less stress should be placed on correctness, and more on elegance.
What Gelernter is pleading for is a higher standard of design in digital media, a balance of form and function that goes far beyond the usual "requirements-based" conception of user-centred design. To convey that extra measure of aptness, of conviviality past mere usability, elegance accounts only for what might be seen as the "surface design" elements. Taking seriously Sengers' proposal to consider computing as a humanist discipline actually pushes at the intersections between deep system-level design, philosophy, and social science. It is hardly surprising that this agenda is, so far, little understood in the academy.
At the Banff Centre's Art and Virtual Environments project (1991-94), a deliberate plan was made to precede a period of active technology-art development with a formative symposium organized to critically examine the concept of virtuality. This was carried out in a 10 week residency, involving not only artists and technology developers, but philosophers, cultural theorists, art historians. Virtuality here is understood:
"... as an expression of social discourses that are already in place. One of the intentions of the residency is to address the broader context of socio-cultural shifts that are both the cause and symptom of technological changes."
The goal was to develop a set of alternative conceptions -- metaphors, scenarios, speculative designs -- that could inform the development team through the actual implementation phase. In fact, few linkages were made at so functional a level. The actual experience revealed the very wide gaps separating the world-views of critical theorists and those of engineers and programmers (much less so, most of the artists). As noted by one of the participants self identified as "theorist":
"While the majority of artists appear to have been theoretically and practically ill-equipped to deal with this new technology at the level of its technical organization, those involved in developing its hardware and software are equally ill-equipped to deal with its social and cultural dimensions as well as its political implications."
Yet, as was proved in the subsequent implementation phase, the artist-developer teams were eminently capable of developing, at a project level, cooperative strategies sufficient to produce what one commentator has since termed "projects that would permanently extend the tools we have for seeing and hearing". But what remained under-realized in this project was precisely the kind of conscious integration of what Sengers called "humanist perspective" in an ongoing technical practice. The Banff technical group disbanded after the project, and the cumulated expertise and software capability dispersed among the participating artists and researchers.
Within the context of the European Union I3 research networks, several ethnographers, sociologists and anthropologists have been carrying out field studies of contemporary technological art installations, aiming thereby to inform subsequent system and design practice. In an ethnography of visitors to the ZKM Media Museum, investigators chose to analyze media art works sociologically as "breaching experiments". With a technical goal to devise protocols for interoperability between different virtual environments, they studied "the sense of presence experienced by museum visitors", to better understand their "intersubjective organization". These early results do not indicate whether or how findings would lead into the design phase.
Also in the past year, interdisciplinary humanities seminars have been held on "Computing science as a human science" at the University of Chicago, and on "Virtual reality, past and present", at Cornell. These seminars are intended to engage with the technical community, but do so still within the usual framework of critique. A newly announced program sponsored by Microsoft Corporation at Carnegie-Mellon University illustrates a more active model.
Applied research combined with critical perspectives
has been termed "critical technical practice" - another term, like
"cultural informatics", that aims to create a new space for
heterogeneous activity.  Still, very little of this community seems to be
connected to or even aware of the potential resources and talents of the
electronic art"community. This is a point we will return to in the report's
In an informal evaluation of the Wellcome Trust's Sci-Art program, Cohen noted the deep sense of urgency expressed by many of the applicants, that they felt the need to look outside the limitations built into their careers and institutions. "It may be too strong to say that they felt some kind of moral imperativeit is rather that they appeared to feel that the boundaries of their discipline were (and indeed are) weakening at the edges, that people from outside were doing work similar to their own, and that by moving outside the discipline, they may be rewarded by a new perspective and new ways of thinking about their subject".
If this type of program has indeed struck a nerve, it would be worth considering how it might be made more accessible beyond the U.K. While the outcomes of such collaborations can clearly be very broad, here it is worth underlining the potential contribution to public discourse about scientific and technological issues.
Two final points to close this discussion: As we have seen previously, artists are increasingly attracted to the horizons of bio-medical and evolutionary computation. The ethical quandaries arising from these fields may perhaps be as well articulated and illustrated through the kinds of expressive collaborations with scientists that are nurtured through schemes like the Wellcome Trusts Sci-Art. Second, providing a more variegated sense of the so-called "hard" professions of science and technology, might influence young people to conceive of these professions in new, more nuanced ways than tends to be the case. To close with an anecdote: one of the most gifted female computer graphics systems programmers began her higher education at art school in Canada. After seeing the early computer animated film "Hunger", she decided to train in computer science, in order to create better tools for artists.
This report has attempted to present a multi-perspective framework from which to view the rising density of communication between the worlds of art, technology, and science. Designating the "site" of this hybrid activity as the studio-laboratory, the first section traced the development of such organizations historically, compared their dynamics to that of "transdisciplinary" knowledge production in science and technology, and argued that they foster incremental, radical and systemic innovation. By its boundary-spanning nature, a good deal of this activity stretches the limits of established paradigms, whether these be considered from the techno-economic, social or aesthetic standpoint.
The survey of current studio-labs revealed a number of commonalties with Gibbons description of "mode 2" knowledge production. The assembly of scientist-artist-engineer teams usually takes place in a specific context of application, which can range widely from art commission to teams of more or less equal artist-scientist researchers. In many cases, the crucial collaborative communication still takes place in face-to-face encounters, as a rule laboratory or production rather than seminar/theoretical settings. Where distant teams work on common projects, periods of intensive "residential" development are interspersed with tasks still often divided by discipline. This makes particular sense for cyclical, iterative projects, like system design and development, where the learning by using can only go on so long before major overhauls are needed. The temporary media lab notion is the most lightweight version of the contingent manner of organizing the conjuncture of artists, programmers, and theorists; it contrasts with the high-overhead, large-permanent staffing of the centres like the ZKM or IRCAM.
With the price to performance ration of commodity hardware continuing to decline, specialized equipment is becoming less critical to the studio-lab than the range of collaborative dynamics they can accommodate. Individual artists are, more and more, acquiring effective home-based studios which even five years ago were rare outside high end labs or commercial facilities. What we have learned through our survey, however, is that much of the innovation emerging from both the older and more recently founded structures takes place in the flesh, within particular settings, whether these be temporary special events, industrial labs, cultural centres, or universities.
How the specificities of particular studio-labs relate to the "system of innovation" in which they function is a rich subject for further study. As we have seen, a dialogue is already occurring in the E.U. between the arts/cultural sector, industry, and university researchers, and new mechanisms are being devised to turn that dialogue to action. In North America, there are no large scale public-oriented studio-labs operating with the kind of ongoing government sponsorship found in Europe, or corporate sponsorship as in Japan. But the tremendous dynamism of the U.S. information/media sectors generates lots of "studio-lab" activity which could not be addressed in this report; for instance, Intels support for artists working in a variety of university labs, or Disney Corporations now very substantial scientific research department. In the specific U.S. setting (and to a lesser degree in Canada), the difficulty seems to be less about attracting corporations to finance educational facilities with hardware/software; the more important dilemmas arise over the strings attached to such sponsorship. For this reason, the key question in the North American context will turn on how independent media labs can be sustained, whether on campuses, through enlightened corporate programs like Xerox, or, what has been less attempted on this continent, building onto existing cultural infrastructures like museums or theatres. Clearly, this particular discussion will need to be framed broadly enough to bring industry, artist/designers, technology researchers and social/cultural theorists around the same table.
In our look at the studio-lab phenomenon, we have stressed that place still matters, perhaps even more now that communication is so deceptively ubiquitous. We have also made clear that the range of innovations coming from these sites falls into all four of the classes described by Freeman. What is less clear, from a policy standpoint, is whether all should be equally supported, or greater efforts be concentrated towards a few. This question will, naturally, be answered differently in the developing world, where the incremental integration of digital with older, locally-specific forms of media may be the soundest way to start building up a broadly based innovative capacity.
Also, from a policy perspective, it is important to think of the cultural shape of future digital media in terms of the accumulation of expressive traditions: ancient and modern, individual and collective, purely informational and materially embodied. Support for "projects", valuable as they will invariably be, should nonetheless be understood in these larger terms. From this assumption, though, arises yet further questions: what models of studio labs fit best into which national innovation context?
The third chapter examined this framework through the prism of five discussion themes. Using the figure of Instruments of the imagination, the cybernetic art work was likened to previous representational dispositifs -- mediating devices or boundary objects between the sensorium and a "natural" world ever more saturated by artifice. Creative users extends the much-studied user-producer relationship to consider the artist as a kind of user-to-come, a necessary extension where the field of innovation is a fast-evolving symbolic environment. Seeing the artist as a cognitive pioneer only, we suggest, weighs too heavily on the side of theory; learning through using is how artists have always fashioned their poised balance between form and content, technique and idea.
Access, it was suggested, has become a leaky portmanteau term -- carrying all freight but delivering little. Besides measures based on hardware, price, and intellectual coherence, access entails a new kind of fluency with the medium-specific traits of the computer; the build-up of such fluency may be less an individual trait, and more a function of networks (programmer, designer, artist, user). Reflexivity thematizes technical practice as socially situated. The distance between the worldviews of cultural and social theory, and those of the designer-engineer-artist, remains large but there are promising indications that insights between them are growing. Finally public awareness about techno-science may be enriched through more extensive art-science collaborations. Benefits include improved conceptual articulations and re-shaping of the image of professional practices.
Art historian Erwin Panofsky, writing about the
Renaissance, attributed the flowering of the arts and the birth of
observation-based science to new "transmission belts" that
re-connected theory and practice, art and science, instrumentation and
sense-perception. At least as much may be at
stake, five hundred years later, as we face the challenge of continually
re-humanizing our technological world.
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