Nothing leads to a greater understanding of a particular kind of wine than traveling to the region where it is produced. Great wine is an expression of culture and, aside from walking the earth where the grapes are grown, it’s important to meet the people who grow the grapes and make the wine, to eat the food of the region and to understand the community as well as is possible in a brief visit.
For anyone who’s attempting to do qualitative text research, it’s a time consuming and often costly business. However, the etcML site (short for Easy Text Classification with Machine Learning) is aiming to change this.
Made by Stanford researchers, it’s attempting to make text analysis more freely available.
Read more about it at the Stanford site.
When I first came across Malcolm McCullough’s book ‘Digital Craft’ in 2005, I was put out that I didn’t have access to the various videos mentioned.
Now, two of the key ones are available online:
Winkler’s In Praise of Hands (174) is mentioned as an early example as paying attention to the skill of craft
Waliczky’s In The Garden (1991) is nicely summed up by Anna Szepesi (1995):
In 1991 Waliczky wrote the script for THE GARDEN, an animation based on an idea which came from an old piece of Super-8 film, made over ten years before, showing a little girl playing in a country garden. The artist’s aim was to portray the alertness and curiosity of a small child investigating its surroundings, and to evoke the particular sense of affection that children often inspire in us. To illustrate these lines of force, Waliczky devised a new type of perspective, the “waterdrop-perspective-system”. The conventional notion of perspective, dating from the Renaissance, privileges the viewer as the person for whose benefit the depiction of the world unfolds and whose gaze completes the image; the stability of his or her position is mirrored by the fixed vanishing point. “Waterdrop-perspective” is a quite different principle which structures every object from the vantage point of the child within the space of the image: the objects grow or shrink as the approaches them or moves away. Thus everything in the space becomes visually distorted; the world is seen as a sphere and the child as its centre. In other words, the depicted world is the child’s own private universe; shaped entirely by the child’s movements, it is independent of the viewer who stands outside it and sees the dream of another.
While in my school days playing flute, I remember standing in front of a mirror to ensure my posture was correct: a bad posture was not only tiring but would stop the sound. As least that’s what the books said.
Apparently the research is based on the related Virtuoso’s Map Project (VMP), “a research project where successful guitarists of extraordinary ability are video recorded responding to inquiries into their Body Maps and Self Maps”. The videos are available on the site.
HCI researcher Thelca Schiphorst has investigated what she has coined ‘somatic connoisseurship’ in relation to her background as a dancer, so it’s interesting to see this concept developed in the creative fields in general.
A recent NPR article emphasises how language affects our understanding of the world. It reports on research that specifically shows how words can affect how cultures understand locations or even taxonomies: Aborigine children can easily point in an asked global direction such as south or north-east thanks to their language using that rather than left or right, while Russians distinguish between their language equivalent of cups and glasses based on material rather than shape.
None of this research is particularly new: I remember reading ethnographic accounts several years ago about such considerations (one that stuck in my mind was how some Aboriginal children could happily read a newspaper or writing from any angle, even peering at the text upside down as another read it).
On a similar theme, another article highlighted research into where exactly emotions were felt in the body.
McLuhan said “We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us”. This has never been truer than in the case of stone age man. New Scientist suggests that stone tools helped shape human hands. The article actually suggests a more expected story of natural selection (namely the humans able to use the available stones survived), but it’s still an interesting reminder of how man is really a “tool-making animal”.
One of Nietzsche’s friends, a composer, noticed a change in the style of his writing. His already terse prose had become even tighter, more telegraphic. “Perhaps you will through this instrument even take to a new idiom,” the friend wrote in a letter, noting that, in his own work, his “‘thoughts’ in music and language often depend on the quality of pen and paper.”… “You are right,” Nietzsche replied, “our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts.” Under the sway of the machine, writes the German media scholar Friedrich A. Kittler , Nietzsche’s prose “changed from arguments to aphorisms, from thoughts to puns, from rhetoric to telegram style” (Carr 2008).
More generally, it points out how physicality can affect writing.
Rhizome interviewed video artist Mark Leckley. He comments on how photography has changed from being a gaze to something from the hands. He also notes both that vision is physical, but our digital objects are changing our sense of physicality:
Say I’ve filmed or made an object and then I’ve put it smack in the middle of the screen. Its really compelling, this object, its got real allure – real presence.Because the object compels me; it’s not me (as a maker), it’s the agency of the object drawing me to it. It causes a physical sensation in my body; this image, this picture, this mere representation, seems to be directly stimulating the material elements in me: all my nerves and fibre. Like I’m responding to a physical encounter. At this point I’m not just contemplating an image, I’ve embraced it and absorbed it into my body. There’s a great British phrase to describe this: ‘clapped eyes on it’ – your eyes are like hands that smack an object.
At the same time, I keep telling this story of when I last tried to sculpt a figure out of clay. I made one half of the head and then it was as if my body, the instinctual part of it, couldn’t grasp why I couldn’t just copy, paste and flip the other half. It’s as if I’ve un-learned how to behave in the physical world, or that this engagement with the immaterial realm has superseded the need to. That’s a scary thought but also an exciting one.