Radically shifting personal experience of the visual image from virtual worlds like Second Life, from flat screens, cinema, and paper to physical forms, subverts the predominance of the digital realm. Living on the surface of the screen minimizes the tactility of materials and the resonance of memory and meaning embodied in objects. Digital 3D cinema, 3D television, and 3D cameras are precursors at the threshold of transforming digital into physical. The image flexes from screen to object with 3D printers and CNC machines. In the medical profession, computer 3D images from CT scans are transformed to remotely controlled, physical surgeries. Recently thinking experiments use brain activity to remotely control robotic arms. Vehicles for physicalizing the image from paper, screen, and from one’s imagination and thinking in the brain, manifest three-dimensional, palpable, sensory, tactile, objectified experiences. How will this phenomena transform modes of digital communication, physical interactions, and production on both the global and the personal scales? How will the material role of the computer prescribe new creative activities, new modes of artistic expression?
Citing Digital Images And Objects
Digital images teeter in a precarious position between flat surfaces and material objects, between simulated three dimensions and the physical world. Currently image is inseparable from the page or the screen; the substrate is inherent in the image – paper, computer screen, television screen, monitor, movie screen, and textiles. As carriers of the image they are membranes not involved in the meaning, emotion or expression of the content of the images. Images float on these neutral materials, unconnected like images float on the surface of a mirror, or like a reflection on a lake or stream. Images are ripe to spring into three dimensions embraced by new and unusual materials and technologies. Radical shifts in language now include objects born out of digital images and processes. Objects are powerful cultural artifacts and icons, embedded with highly charged symbols with social and personal meanings. Images propelled into objects probe cultural, economic and political issues, representing the powerful resonances of communications, relationships and interactions.
New languages will erupt with physicalization of digital images. Tactility of the object creates a sensuous, empathetic form of communication. Objects become symbols as they contain narratives that reside in personal and communal memory. This empathetic power permeates the body as well as the imagination as one caresses the physical landscape of the object. In Aboriginal mythology, the mind and body are intertwined as the meaning of a symbol is inscribed on one’s awareness only when it is absorbed through languages that affect both the mind and the body (Lawlor, 1991, p. 287).
The Aborigines conceptually entwine a multitude of languages in the everyday expression of their lives weaving together the body, the physical landscape, their ancestral history and their spirituality. Symbols are transformed into large earthworks, three dimensional earth sculptures. These ceremonial earth sculptures represent topographies created by the Dreamtime ancestors, some extending for acres in order to complete a mythic cycle. Groups of men work collaboratively forming these relief maps out of earth - each depicting a specific myth. During the construction they sing related chants and perform dances that are associated with the forms they are building that embody the many levels of meaning in the linear and circular design elements (Lawlor, 1991, p. 288). As sacred symbols these material constructions engage potent forms of transformation. For the Aborigines this is a transformation of pure energy into form. This is parallel to the digital realm where computer images are transformed into objects using various production technologies. The imagemaking found in Aboriginal artworks provides another way to think about their Dreamtime creation. The Creative Ancestors made the world in a similar way, forming and shaping the creation from the symmetries and geometries of a preexisting energy continuum. The Aborigines maintain within their bodily existence the universal geometry of creation, activating it through sacred images and rhythmic movement (Lawlor, 1991, p. 299). In the contemporary electronic rituals we perform, the power of the digital arena is slipping from the virtual to the physical.
Ritual has become the language of the digital realm, opening portals to other realms of experience, forming new communities, and creating alternate realities. The point and click of computing is highly ritualistic, as we go into a trance, entering alternate geographies, connecting with others, and even transforming our identities.