A goal for my time at USC is to explore the spiritual nature of digital media. What about all this human crafted interactivity speaks to our craving for something ultimate?

I lack a strong faith tradition I can project into interactive space. In his essay, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Walter Benjamin proclaims "We know that the earliest art works originated in the service of a ritual--first the magical, then the religious kind."

Art in service of ritual - before specialization, and before machine reproduction of media. As I'm straining to find meaning in interactive media, I wanted to isolate core elements of the experience. Distanced from air/water/fire/earth, or other "core elements" a layman might use to identify physical objects, the digital experience is immediately reducably instead to symbols: ones and zeroes. Simple and elegant, ones and zeroes have their own relationship of sequence and place in the mechanics of math. Busenbark bookStanding alone, they each correlate clearly to the yoni and lingam from Hindu mythology (and common throughout worldwide mythology if you survey the sexual and religious symbols collected by Ernest Busenbark in his eclectic tome: Symbols, Sex, and the Stars in Popular Beliefs: An Outline of the Origins of Moon and Sun Worship, Astrology, Sex Symbolism, Mystic Meaning of Numbers, the Cabala, and Many Popular Customs).

By animating the zero and the one, relating them to each other, and then layering them over each other, I worked to create a sort of mesmerizing field. A brief meditation on the core interplay behind digital media experience.

From the somewhat lewd title to the patterns created by the symbols, the animation is designed to suggest sexual reproduction, identity and locality within a rigid system, and ultimately the power to create patterns within the network of ones and zeros.

Before the final field of buttons, the back and forth alternating animation eventually meshes into a field of eyes beneath a cacaphony of sound. The ones over the zeros, shown simultaineously, inbetween state in a binary system.

Years ago, a friend showed me her watercolor landscapes. I gazed at the bold colors and flowing lines and I felt something unsettling. After staring for a time, I saw embedded in the trees, fields and clouds staring eyes. They were created between the lines she'd painted. I still wonder if she did that on purpose, or if only I saw them. It struck me as paranoia-inducing.

I am reaching for some of that effect. The even rows of eyes are perhaps less disturbing that what she'd more subtly painted. Originally, I hand drew (with a tablet input device) alternating fields of circles and eyes. This emphasized an absurdist recapturing of the manual art process amidst the era of mechanical reproduction, and it made for more uneven, more unsettling eye effect in the final output.

But it didn't allow me to create the type of interactive experience I wanted. I had to submit my art to the machine reproduction for the ritual I wanted. With encouragement from Aaron Meyers and technical advice from Larissa Bank, I coded a series of generating ones and zeroes using ActionScript.

Using ActionScript to render hundreds of hand-drawn ones and zeros created some emergent behaviors; layers leaving artifacts, overlapping of the noises generated by the ones and zeroes colliding. Electronic music composer Bevin Blectum recently posted many of her early samples online; these mechanical stutterings and squawks make up the soundtrack to this piece.

There are some Unintended Anomalies:

Ultimately, I'm pleased that the piece explores the nature of the forms I was curious about. There's some of the ritual experience there, delving into something core behind digital technology. But the even-ness of the experience is neither ragged or smooth enough. It's too short and too long. Somewhere in between, and I'm not sure where I'd rather be. Not enough narrative embedded in this project perhaps, but I believe I'm hoping that these kinds of experiments will generate their own small narratives on spirit in technology.

At first I believed that hand drawing (with the tablet) was more fun than coding. But by the end of this exercise, I found myself enjoying the power possible with layers of code. Joy in the Age of Digital Reproduction!

-- Justin Hall

I had much help on this project from Aaron Meyers. He encouraged me to program nearly all of it in straight ActionScript. In his honor, I will post my awkward code here. That doesn't include the bit of script that's on the tail end of the opening movie:

_root.circular ();

Also thanks to Larissa Bank for her help and persistent positive attitude.


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