Livestream: Visualizing Digital Seriality

2015-01-28 02.54.54 pm

According to the Duke Visualization Friday Forum website, my talk this Friday — “Visualizing Digital Seriality: Correlating Code and Community in the Super Mario Modding Scene” — will be streamed live: here.

The talk will take place at 12:00 Eastern time, Jan. 30, 2015.

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More about Manifest Data

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Above, another poster for the Manifest Data event on January 21, 2015, which I posted about a few days ago. Again, we’ll be presenting “a project that includes a 3D printed manifestation of personal Internet browsing data and an AR-enhanced data-based garden gnome” (as Amanda Starling Gould summed it up succinctly). If you’re in the Triangle area, do swing by! The event is free and open to all. (And if that’s not enough to entice you: as the poster says, “Light refreshments will be served!”)

See also the posts about the project on the HASTAC digital humanities network (here and here), as well the full list of events in the Duke Digital Scholarship Services series this semester (here).

Visualizing Digital Seriality / Duke Visualization Friday Forum

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On January 30, 2015 (12:00-1:00pm), I will be speaking about visualization techniques and game-related serialization processes at the Duke Visualization Friday Forum. Organized by Eric Monson and Angela Zoss, this is a very exciting and robustly interdisciplinary venue, as the long list of sponsors for the weekly forum indicates: Information Science + Information Studies, the Duke immersive Virtual Environment (or DiVE), Media Arts + Sciences, Data and Visualization Services, the Department of Computer Science, Research Computing at the Office of Information Technology, and Visualization & Interactive Systems.

As this list indicates, the Visualization Friday Forum has the potential to take just about anyone — but especially humanities-types like me — out of their comfort zone; but it does so in the most comfortable way possible: the informal setting of a lunchtime chat fosters a type of exchange that is interdisciplinary in the best sense. Artists, computer scientists, media scholars, digital humanists, historians, literary critics, mathematicians, and researchers in the natural sciences, among others, make a genuine effort to understand one another. And, to judge from the times I have been present or watched a live-stream of the Forum, this effort is usually quite successful.

So here’s hoping that my own effort at interdisciplinary dialogue will be as successful! In my talk, I will discuss an ongoing project, some preliminary findings of which I posted not too long ago. Here’s the abstract:

Visualizing Digital Seriality: Correlating Code and Community in the Super Mario Modding Scene

Shane Denson (DAAD Postdoctoral Fellow, Duke Literature)

Seriality is a common feature of game franchises, with their various sequels, spin-offs, and other forms of continuation; such serialization informs social processes of community-building among fans, while it also takes place at much lower levels in the repetition and variation that characterizes a series of game levels, for example, or in the modularized and recycled code of game engines. This presentation considers how tools and methods of digital humanities – including “distant reading” and visualization techniques – can shed light on serialization processes in digital games and gaming communities. The vibrant “modding” scene that has arisen around the classic Nintendo game Super Mario Bros. (1985) serves as a case study. Automated “reading” techniques allow us to survey a large collection of fan-based game modifications, while visualization software such as Tableau and Palladio help to bridge the gap between code and community, revealing otherwise invisible connections and patterns of seriality.

Karl Marx Garden Gnome at The Carrack Modern Art

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I have written before about Karin Denson’s crazy hand-crafted garden gnomes, based on figures from popular culture, philosophy, and modern art (see here for a piece I posted about them last year). Recently, Karin’s gnomes have taken on new dimensions — quite literally, in fact — as she has transformed personal data collected during Internet browsing sessions into a sort of “portrait” of the user, subsequently turning this image of the interface into a gnome’s “data face,” and then subjecting the poor creature to a strict (but playful) regimen of photogrammetry, AR enhancement, and 3D printing. These new aspects, developed as part of the collaborative Manifest Data project, have further expanded the gnome’s artistic questioning of popular and high-art cultural formations, material and immaterial labor processes, class consciousness, national identity, and the role of seriality in all of them.

It is only fitting, then, that as we prepare for next week’s presentation of Manifest Data, in which context Karin’s data gnomes mount a brave attempt to reverse the neo-cyber-Marxian dictum that “all that’s solid melts into zeroes and ones,” another of Karin’s gnomes is also currently on display: Karl Marx himself, or his gnomic Doppelgänger, is haunting the gallery, bringing things down to earth, and making them concrete (literally: solid concrete). This week only, the Karl Marx gnome can be seen at The Carrack Modern Art, where he’s participating in a community show featuring 100 local artists from the Triangle area of North Carolina. The show runs today through Friday, 12-6pm, and Saturday 2-5pm. Also, as part of “Third Friday Durham,” there will be a reception with food, wine, and music this Friday, January 16, 2015, from 7-10pm. If you’re in or around Durham, don’t miss it!

Manifest Data

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On January 21, 2015 (3:00-4:00pm), the S-1 Speculative Sensation Lab will be presenting a collaborative artwork titled Manifest Data at The Edge, the new space in Duke University’s Bostock Library devoted to “interdisciplinary, data-driven, digitally reliant or team-based research.”

Manifest Data brings together programmers, 3-D printing specialists, sculptors, and theorists to reflect on the production of value in the digital age, the materiality of information, and the (non-)place of mediated relations.

Code written by Luke Caldwell captures data that would otherwise be leaked as we browse the web, and exploited by the likes of Google and Facebook; in a second step, this data is transformed into a coordinate system that can be mapped as a 3D object. In collaboration with other lab members, artist Libi Striegl prepares and prints out the resulting “data creatures.” Karin Denson has reimagined these forms as beautifully grotesque garden gnomes — thus reappropriating a figure that has become a symbol for 3D printing and a marketing tool for companies like MakerBot. Together, Karin and I have further translated these figures into the hybrid spaces of augmented reality, planting the gnomes strategically and in such a way as to instantiate a very personal system for creating value that — dare we hope? — is immune to corporate cooptation. Lab members David Rambo and Max Symuleski, among others, round out the project with artistic-theoretical statements connecting the project of Manifest Data with a critical questioning of contemporary manifest destiny and a new phrenology for the digital age.

The S-1 Lab is directed by Mark B. N. Hansen and Mark Olson in the Media Arts + Sciences Program at Duke. The Manifest Data project was initiated by Amanda Starling Gould, who has continued to provide it with a guiding aesthetic-theoretical vision.

More information about the presentation, which happens to be the inaugural presentation in the “What I Do With Data” series of the Digital Scholarship Services at Duke, can be found here.

Post-Cinema and/as Environmental Media Theory #SCMS15

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I am very happy to announce that the panel I will be chairing at this year’s SCMS conference, “Post-Cinema and/as Speculative Media Theory,” has been chosen as one of eight panels to be officially sponsored by the Media and the Environment Special Interest Group. The group, of which I am proud to be a member, defines its mission thus:

The Media and the Environment Scholarly Interest Group (MESIG) aims to provide a forum for shared discussion of research and pedagogy at the intersections of media and environment. We believe that nearly every aspect of film and media practice and studies–from materials manufacturing and physical infrastructures, to filming locations and resources, to audiovisual aspects and themes, and beyond to marketing, preservation, obsolescence, and also scholarly discourse–touches matters of the environment and sustainability. Various approaches from an environmentalist perspective have been taken and more are still being developed to investigate how our mediated cultural practices have, do, and will position humans in relation to physical and natural worlds. How can we further film and media studies as a global–read planetary–concern, focused on dire changes and issues affecting the Earth and our natural surroundings? We believe our field has much to contribute to discussions and findings more frequently held in and attributed to science disciplines and Environmental Studies. With this Scholarly Interest Group, we seek to cultivate the study of significant matters of media and the environment within our field and through the representative collective that is SCMS.

I am honored that our panel — which includes one explicitly environmental film/media theorist (Adrian Ivakhiv) but also three others (Steven Shaviro, Patricia Pisters, and Mark Hansen) who are helping to define the subject of post-cinema in broadly ecological terms — has been chosen for sponsorship by the Media and the Environment SIG, and I am grateful for their recognition of the topic’s relevance for our ongoing attempts to rethink the relations between humans, our media technologies, and the environments that we inhabit, access, and transform with and through them.

Here, finally, is a list of all eight panels sponsored by the SIG:

A23: Ecocriticism

F8: Fossils, Films, and Sedimentation: Ecocritical Approaches to Archival Moving Images

G4: Media Waste: Technological Systems and the Environment

H22: Excess Hollywood: Economies of Waste in Media Industries

J12: Engaging Ecocinema: The Affects and Effects of Environmental Documentaries

J17: Media Environments

K7: Post-Cinema and/as Speculative Media Theory

P4: Cinema in/of the Anthropocene