Thursday, February 14, 2008

Interface Realism as Post-modern Deconstruction

Manovich rather brashly claims that “the software artist makes his/her mark on the world by writing original code.” He seems to insinuate that this “original” act is superior the mere poking of the postmodern media artists attempts to break down and interpret “media” itself. In claiming that “an artist who sample/subverts/pokes at a commercial media can never compete with it,” Manovich erects what I believe to be a problematic binary; original code is good, deconstructing commercial media is bad/dated.

Manovich overlooks that fact that software (an interface for hardware) is primarily a commercial media. A few shining examples aside (Firefox, Linux, etc.) the majority of software is proprietary and developed by large, commercial organizations (Microsoft, Apple, Sun, Facebook…) While the contemporary “software artist” that he celebrates as the new romantic is undoubtedly an important figure, as Pold shows us, the need for critical analysis of the new media of software and interface is still very important and the role of sampling/subverting/poking at media is still paramount.

As Pold suggests at the beginning of his article, the role of the interface is to obscure its own actions, or conversely, as Don Norman explains “the real problem with the interface is that it is an interface. Interfaces get in the way.” The path of commercial software is primarily is towards the intuitive, “What You See Is What You Get” interface; towards the transparency of the very interface that is being created.

Pold highlights three pieces of digital art which break down and analyze the role of interface. These pieces ultimately sample and deconstruct contemporary mainstream software and interface. Here we see the artist as the very postmodern media critic which Manovich wants to claim is obsolete. As an instance of Interface realism, each of the pieces that Pold examines unearths the unseen actions of the interface. Max Payne subverts the FPS genre through meta-narrative, Murder in the Museum subverts it through appropriation; Auto-Illustrator inverts and questions the interface of the traditional image editing software.

Each of these pieces do not act as radical, romantic and original instance of code as a new aesthetic. Rather they are essentially postmodern critiques that analyze the very function of a particular media: the interface.

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