Digitizing the Physical: Physicalizing the Digital

Digitizing the Physical: Physicalizing the Digital

Joan Truckenbrod (School of the Art Institute of Chicago, USA)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 13
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8205-4.ch004
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Intertwined with the digital realm is a parallel sphere of digital material objects. The physicality of these things play an important role as they are embedded with memories as well as personal, social, and cultural meanings and references. The pervasiveness of digitizing information, images, spaces, and objects into digital data creates an expanding virtual presence. Simultaneously, virtual objects are now being transformed into material, tactile forms. Sensors are harvesting physical information and providing important feedback. Using digital devices involves an array of electronic rituals that have evolved. These ritualistic behaviors function in a similar manner to the performance of ritual and ceremony in indigenous cultures. This chapter examines the function of these digital rituals, with the physical residue deposited by these rituals and ceremonies. Material objects created by digital processes are powerful and play an important role socially, culturally, and spiritually.
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Digitizing The Physical

Digital experiences vacillate between flat screens and material objects, between simulated three-dimensionality and the physical world. Digital images are inseparable from the electronic page or the screen; the substrate is inherent in the image – paper, computer screen, television screen, monitor, movie screen, and personal devices. Early computer images resided on oscilloscopes or on paper created with pen plotters. Using the Cartesian system of X, Y, Z coordinates the author created a series of drawings beginning in 1975. The computer graphics programs were written in FORTRAN, incorporated mathematical formulas that described invisible physical phenomena such as light waves reflected off of irregular surfaces. The program used CalComp drawing subroutines for the CalComp Pen Plotter. These drawings were envisioned in the imagination as there were no display screens for graphic images. The program was punched on punch cards and communicated to the large mainframe computer through a card reader. The program was processed and the resulting data describing the drawing was transferred to a 1600 BPI tape that was read by the pen plotter. The available plotter used only black ink in the pens to create drawings. The author used color xerography on transparencies to create the color drawing in Figure 1. Individual drawings were Xeroxed onto transparencies in yellow, red and blue, overlapped to create the final artwork.

Figure 1.

Fourier Transform, computer drawings and color xerox

Joan Truckenbrod, 1975. In the collection of the Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University in Evanston Illinois.

These drawings created a physical presence for an invisible phenomena in the physical world, described by mathematics. Through the artist’s programs two-dimensional abstract representations were created.

Contemporary culture embraces the material world in collaboration with the digital. Digitization creates parallel universes of simulated constructs, that exist on flat screens - personal computers, tablets, and smart phones. These digital images are transforming into physical space through continually evolving materials and technologies. Three-D printers are easily accessible in schools, libraries, and DIY studios or maker spaces. Car and truck parts are being created with these printers as well as toys, dishes, clothing, jewelry, human tissue and even human organs. The digital intervenes in the material world, simultaneously the material is injected into the virtual realm. As powerful cultural artifacts and icons these physical objects play important roles. Images propelled into objects probe cultural, economic and political issues. Material things are embedded with highly charged social meaning and personal memories.

The physicalization of digital images creates new opportunities for expanded modes of expression and communication. Tactility of the object creates a sensuous, empathetic form of communication. Objects contain narratives that reside in personal and communal memory. This empathetic power permeates the body as well as the imagination as one explores the physical landscape of the object. Analogous to the simultaneity of the digital and the material realms, Aboriginal mythology maintains that 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)

Key Terms in this Chapter

3D Printing: Printers that create three dimensional objects based on the information provided by a computer. Material including plastics and metals are used in these printers, which deposit sequential thin layers of the material to build up the object.

3D Digitizer: Digitizer that records a three dimensional description of an object, relief or person, and transmits the information to a computer. The three dimensional image is displayed on the computer screen and can be scaled, altered or manipulated. A 3 – D printer creates an object with the data set.

Digital Ritual and Ceremony: Ritualistic behaviors characteristic of using electronic devices that function similar to rituals and ceremonies in indigenous cultures.

Sensors: Digital interface devices that capture specific information or experiences, and transfer them to a computer through an interface board or microcontroller.

Interactive Sensors: Digital interface devices that capture specific information from a participant and provide feedback to the participant about or with this information that is gathered.

Video Sculpture: The projection of video into an object in which the meaning of the object is enhanced with the video sequence, and the video imagery takes on the shape of the object informing the meaning of the video narrative.

Tangiality: The dichotomy of sensory experience in the liminal space between the virtual realm and the physical, material world.

CNC Router: A computer controlled cutting machine used to create three dimensional objects. These forms can be fabricated with wood, plastic, foam, aluminum, bronze, glass, vinyl, and other material. CNC machines are not as accessible as 3 – D printers but work with a much broader range of materials.

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