Manovich and the EnterAction web site

Written presentation, group 2:

Text: Lev Manovich: "What Is New Media?" (in The Language of New Media, 2001)

Case: ENTER ACTION web site:

Introduction to the case

The web site is created for the exhibition "ENTER ACTION - digital art now" held at Aros Aarhus Art Museum (2009). The exhibition displayed international digital and interactive art. The site consists of a virtual city landscape resembling Aarhus (with Aros as the focal building). The virtual Aros connects mutiple multimedia menus with information (text, pictures, video, sound, interviews) about the different art works in the exhibition. The user can move around in this landscape and find her own path through.

Manovich's five core concepts

1. Numerical presentation
A new media object is governed by the formal logic of mathematics. This is a basic principle of new media, which makes it programmable.
The new media object is a product of binary codes, which cannot be seen explicitly, due to the fact that it is made on a level underneath the visual page.

2. Modularity
A new media object consists of independent parts which can be removed without damaging the whole. The web site consists of different parts; videos, texts, pictures, sound etc. This makes the entity of the site, but if one of these modules where removed, the site would still be considered as whole. These modules can coexist in different contexts, be removed and inserted without losing their individuality.

3. Automation
A severe amount of operations involved in media creation turn automatic due to the numerical coding and modularity. Manovich distinguishes between low and high level automation. Low level automation occurs when the computer user somehow modifies or creates a media object, using for instance a template. The vast city scape on the web site can be viewed as an example of what one is able to create via artificial life software. High level automation, on the other hand, is when the computer somehow has to understand what is going on in the objects generated. Computer games have turned out to be the central platform for high level automation because the virtual characters are able to perform specific operations within a narrow area of specific codes and rules. Maybe one can view our case in relation to these ideas, in that the computer user has limited access to the documented exhibition. Whereas one can view the works of art in one's chosen order, read some facts and take a look in the galleries, one can neither interact with for instance "Run Motherfucker Run", "Life Writer", "Sonic Bed" nor experience the atmosphere in the room with the pulsating lights.
Furthermore, Manovich talks about media access. That is, computers are used as tools to store and organize media material and data, in which one can search and filter. Media objects are no longer created from scratch because they already exist somewhere and therefore the problem is how to find something that you wish to reuse. Our case can be seen in relation to media access because it obviously is a documented exhibition. The techniques of new media have in this case replaced the function of the archive or the library.

4. Variability
A media object is not an absolute, but can exist in numerous different versions. Variability is also closely linked to automation, seeing as new media objects are exposed in different versions, automatically assembled by the computer. Manovich touches on Adorno's concept of the culture industry in that the rapidity or immediacy caused by today's computer technology has given new sense to the production on demand logic. Taking our case as an example of what Manovich calls branching type interactivity, we experience how one is able to customize an individual experience. We have various choices and options due to the tree structure of the hyper links that might lead us to the distant lands of the artists' homepages.

5. Transcoding
Due to the new media’s foundation in numbers, the objects are capable of being transcoded. This means to translate or convert an object into a new format, it’s not making an exact copy, but creating a different version. The process of compressing data is due to the 'need for speed' in modern society. You have to send new media objects on the internet to the consumers/beholders very fast to meet the modern demands. When entering a website different objects are assembled to create the site. The objects are not present on the site before the visit, but are loaded from servers all around the world.
This, however, comes with a lack in quality. Consequently you trade quality for speed. When transfering independent elements into smaller modules, the files becomes 'lossy'. The videos on the web site have been compressed so they can be opened immediately, they are not in the same quality as an independence video would have been. They lose a small bit of the file information, i.e. pixels in an image (cf. the picture of "Lossy - the dog" below). When a file is repeatedly compressed and decompressed that file will lose quality over time, which introduces generation loss. However, it is possible to use lossyless methods, but the lossy methods are capable of making smaller compressions, which are more transferable. Lossy compressions are usually used when dealing with videos, images or sound, here the lossy compression becomes transparent to the human eye/ear due to the human interpretation, which can fill in the blanks.

Original image (file size: 60 KB)

Low compression (84% less information, file size: 9 KB)

Medium compression (92% less information, file size: 5 KB)

High compression (98% less information, file size: 1 KB)


We originally had four discussion points in our presentation but due to lack of time we ended up discussing two of our points:

Individualization vs. mass culture
Early on in Manovich’s text he points out that old media (photography and cinema) was created for a mass society and new media is created for or originates from a “society of individuals”. New media, as explained by Manovich in his five principles, enables the user or the audience to make choices as an individual i.e. when choosing which links to follow on a web site. But later on in his text Manovich points out, that there is a lot of research (i.e. cognition and semiotics) involved in creating websites and programming the internet. It is in some degree possible to foresee the users thoughts and by implementing signs in the text the website itself can guide the user:

• Can we talk about individualization when talking about new media? Are we more free to think and make choices now than we were in the time of old media?

Of course these questions are impossible to answer categorically but we discussed some different aspects of them. Some felt that new media might be more “controlling” than old media because it isn’t only a question of free choice but in the end a question of free thought- That in reality old media might be more “individual” than new media because new media gives the illusion of free thought. Some felt that new media is still more individual than old media because of all the "possibilities", the fact that you as a user can make your own individual decisions.

New media and the cultic ritual
In new media the audience no longer goes through the procedure of going to a museum, buying a ticket and standing in front of the artwork along with other members of the public. Today we can encounter the artwork in our own time on our own computer. We asked the class the following questions inspired by Walter Benjamin:

• Do we as audience encounter new media art in a different way than we did with old media art? And does the artwork loose its cultic value and aura in new media?

The class agreed that it was “oldfashioned” to only consider cultic rituals in connection to museums or performances. With new media we experience new kinds of cultic ritual such as interactivity. The user can interact with the artwork and some times even become a co-producer. As a new media user you might be sitting alone in front of your computer but at the same time you’re a part of a community.

Power Point pdf

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