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JISC 3D Visualisation in the Arts Network

3DVisA Bulletin, Issue 3, September 2007

ISSN 1751-8962 (Print)
ISSN 1751-8970 (Online)

A review by Graeme Earl, University of Southampton, UK.

The Electronic Visualisation and Arts London conference was held at the London College of Communication on 9th-13th July. The EVA is focused on new technologies and their application within the cultural sector and draws from a wide and prestigious range of institutions, artists, individual scholars, and representatives of the public and private sectors. Each year four main international conferences take place in Florence, London, Berlin and Moscow with others taking place in additional locations each year. In total there have been nearly ninety meetings.

EVA London 2007 provided a stimulating mixture for practitioners, academics and others from across the arts and the humanities, and indeed otherwise dispossessed members of the electronic cognoscenti. Differences between the many and varied groups represented could perhaps best be summarised by Gregory Sporton of the Visualisation Research Unit at the University of Birmingham, in his definition of nogs and sogs, terms derived from a stay at the University of Illinois and defining the distinction between those with access to resources (the nogs – those in the science faculty North of Green Street) and those without (the sogs – those working in the Arts and Humanities to the South). The conference demonstrated that as far as there is any 'ours', ours is a research environment fraught with variable access, variable focus and in many cases an indeterminate future. However, what EVA also demonstrated was the vast potential for interdisciplinarity, with a pointedly small i. If we envisage an interdisciplinary environment to be one in which the best of various talents are combined and creatively intermingled then projects such as CSAGE, AMUC and work by Kia Ng demonstrated this in spades.

EVA London incorporated six separate workshops, addressing topics such as social networking within museums, three-dimensional modelling, and the ethics of digital image manipulation in the context of cultural heritage. The JISC and Arts & Humanities e-Science Support Centre led workshop addressed new directions in e-Science and visual perceptions. Here the considerable potential of e-Science initiatives was explored in a lively and stimulating fashion, in the shared environments of dance motion capture and dance stereo visualisation, digital art and in the context of e-Science itself. A debate here on standards, prompted by a discussion of the London Charter brought to bear the considerable variability underlying our attempts at integration. Perhaps appropriately, when the issue of creative control and the authenticity of a given artistic or cultural heritage product was raised the audience was divided. What we do with our digital products, and indeed whether we should do anything with them for the long term, are not the clear cut issues one might surmise. As an archaeologist I have perhaps become overly accustomed to the reified archive, the store and the temperature-controlled collection. And yet other disciplines, indeed other practitioners have divergent and equally relevant understandings of when the research or practice product ceases to be required.

Elsewhere in the conference programme the breadth of digital visualisation strategies employed within the visual arts and beyond was made clear, together with their attendant epistemological and practical considerations. Meisinger and Lin described their approaches to documentation of museum collections, whilst Sircar brought into focus the non-trivial, non-technical difficulties relating to controversial anthropological collections. In papers of a more technological focus we were presented with the potential for three-dimensional representation of painted geometry and its possibilities for enhanced artistic interpretation and appreciation. In turn DiPaola presented a novel take on non photorealistic rendering technologies employing the portrait painter’s workflow within a computational system to great effect. EVA thus provided a variable focus on what is at times the daunting variety of digital media practice and outlined routes for collaboration and debate, and points of shared interest.

As the conference progressed I and others were drawn to consider why it is that we visualise and why we should devote a conference to its practice solely within the cultural sphere. Is as George Mallen suggested the compulsion to externalise our visions of the world so great as to require dedication and development? Papers by Goldberg and Goodden at once defined and deconstructed this focus. In the former we saw the specificity of the image – the contextuality of visualisations of death and horror alongside the equally constructed imagery of commerce – whilst from the latter emerged a sense of distrust of the technological surge. Asking whether the full gamut of IT infrastructure should at all times be at the behest of the research community the latter considered visualisation to be an at times unnecessary frippery. In my own work on representations of the Classical world I would concur; there has always been much effort in the sphere of CGI cultural heritage, as elsewhere, with little to recommend it.

There is much still to celebrate, and EVA London made this ever clearer. Beyond the specific milieu of cultural heritage the artist, Michael Magruder presented a cogent argument for an embracing of technology for art’s sake, but never for its own ends. Whilst I support the sentiment one is still left craving the excitement of the new – the innovative technological intervention that was as much a part of his beautiful art works as the message. And indeed in a number of further art pieces at the conference the mixture of technological, emotional and intellectual focus was enticing. Oliver showed in her beautiful use of human scan data the potential for repurposing new records of an ostensibly medical form, whilst in a multisensory context Jones’ sound and visualscapes were stimulating to anyone interested in human scale and perception of the environment: a concentration on the experiencing of the transitory moment. Elsewhere issues of documentation, access, sustainability and permanence were not overlooked. Papers discussed Getty Images, Flickr and the BBC archives from the varied perspectives of management, freedom of access and reuse of visual records. Finally, a visit to the compelling Stanley Kubrick archive at the London College of Communication presented a welcome addition to debates about authenticity and preservation. Looking on to the remnants of the face of HAL 9000 was every fan of 2001: A Space Odyssey’s dream. Here as elsewhere in the week, the visual spoke loudly and profoundly, about the past and an increasingly digital future. I look forward immensely to EVA London 2008.

Select conference papers are available at the EVA London 2007 website.

© 3DVisA and Graeme Earl, 2007.

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