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Leonardo Electronic Almanac ISSN NO : 1071 - 4391 The MIT Press
Leonardo Electronic Almanac Discussion (LEAD)
Digital and Wild: Beyond "Generative/Emergent" and "Locative/Performative"
by Marcus Bastos and Ryan Griffis

LEAD Chat Transcript: Wild Nature and Digital Life
Digital and Wild: Beyond "Generative / Emergent" and "Locative / Performative"
by Marcus Bastos and Ryan Griffis
Click here to download pdf version.
Also available in Portuguese.

by Marcus Bastos
Professor at the Catholic University of São Paulo
Coordintaor of the CNPq Reserach Group Net Art: Creative and Critical
São Paulo, SP
bastos [dot] .marcus [@] gmail [dot] com

and Ryan Griffis
Associate Professor, New Media
School of Art & Design
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
ryan.griffis [at] gmail [dot] com

The "Leonardo Electronic Almanac Discussion" (LEAD) accompanies selected LEA Special Issues. LEAD has two components a live chat session with LEA authors and artists and a moderated discussion list for readers to engage with the special issue authors.

Guest edited by Dene Grigar and Sue Thomas, the LEA Wild Nature and Digital Life special issue features Peter Hasdell, Tara Rodgers, Dave Burraston, Andrew Martin, Jennifer Willet, Adam Gussow, Dr Kathryn Yusoff, Jeremy Hight and Brett Stalbaum. The essays are packaged with a small but powerful gallery of two works, exhibiting Karl Grimes, Elisa Giaccardi, Hal Eden and Gianluca Sabena.

There are a couple of different approaches to the topic "Wild Nature and the Digital Life", and they are not necessarily as tied to the themes proposed at the editorials that introduce LEA's special thematic edition as one would suppose. As it was discussed in the chat with Sue Thomas and Giselle Beiguelman, dividing the issue in one session dedicated to “The Emergent and the Generative in Nature” and another dedicated to “Locative and Performative” was an option that efficiently reflects the material published, even though the threads overlap and interweave here and there.

Reading the series of live thematic chats with the artists and authors of the special edition allows us to think a little further on the topic, by complementing, questioning and debating some of its established boundaries. It also gives somes clues to think about the works on the gallery of the edition -- specially in the fourth chat of the series, when the works published in the gallery where discussed, and briefly contextualized within a scenario of increasing attention to issues related to “locative media”.

One of the possible approaches to the material (not necessarily the first) is related to a debate on how the very concept of nature is changing due to technology — which, somehow, gives a broader scope to the idea that humanity is becoming "posthumous", in a period of its history when it is possible to "re"-encode DNA structures and implant a reasonable amount of equipment onto the human body (or embed it in physical space). This is reflected in the description of new forms of perception and new ways to represent data, as addressed by Brett Stalbaum and Kathryn Yusoff in the first chat of the series, but also by Jennifer Willet, in the third.

Another approach would be reflecting about phenomenons that could be described as human uses of machines. Those phenomenons are not restricted to usages of GIS technologies in contemporary culture, but they were addressed from that perspective, especially in the context of understanding how such technologies function as tools to open up new possibilities of describing nature (be that to predict a natural disaster, or to represent data through visuals, sounds, etc).

This exercise of approaching the material published on the LEA “digiwild” edition from approaches that go beyond the initial perspective of organizing the issue thematically  is not meant to question the adequacy of topics such as "The Emergent and the Generative in Nature" and "Locative and Performative" (which seem to be flexible and descriptive, rather than fixed and normative). It is rather meant to search an axis that put the question of the wild and the digital (and the wild in the digital, as raised by some of the posts to the discussion list) into a perspective that goes beyond the assumption that nature and technology do not overlap.

This is, actually, very explicit in the set of questions that stimulated the articles and artworks published in the edition, which allows the inference that delineating the discussion around "Wild Nature and the Digital Life" in the mentioned topics is nothing but a pedagogical / editorial decision that is conscious of its limits. As Dene Grigar stated in the second in the chat series: "I do not read the "and" as binary in our title, but the "and" of the Greek mev de — both/and. The idea that wild nature and the digital life can be viewed together and separately providing interesting places of division and ingtersection."

One keyword to understanding this distinction was brought up in the chat with Brett Stalbaum and Kathryn Yusoff, as well as on the list by Roger Malina, among others: scale. It is easier to understand the limits of a body, so we could argue that at a certain scale of perception, humans tend to take their body as a frontier, from which it would be reasonable to infer that nature is whatever is outside of this frontier (out of the body and, in a more abstract approach, out of one's culture). But, there are also larger scales (Hurricane Katrina that struck the US Gulf Coast in 2006 or the recent crack during the construction of the new line for the subway in São Paulo, but also the pattern of migration established by a group of butterflies) and there are smaller scales (DNA, for example, but also code and synthesis).

Scale, and the boundaries of its definitions, likewise reveal the “common sense” opposition of “culture” to “nature” to be one of degrees that can be measured, if not quantitatively, than ideologically. Likewise, our distance from technology as a realm separate from the “human” is measured, as Adam Gussow in his contribution to the issue asks "how far off the grid is too far?" In a sense, that grid has represented “the known” in Western culture for centuries. And there has always been an opposing world existing “off the grid” - whether it is sea monsters, outer space, dark matter, or human psychosis.

This special LEA issue, the series of chats, and list discussions, provide another platform from which to consider the relationship between the grid and the spaces upon which the grid is placed. The question becomes one of ordering and recognition - not looking for a view outside of the lens of culture and technology, but trying to understand how the mediations we create and use define our relationship to others (human and inhuman). Then we can begin to ask how those mediations might be different, and therefor encourage different, more just relationships.

Author Biographies
Marcus Bastos is PhD in Communication and Semiotics. He teaches at PUC-SP. His most recent projects are the interactive video "Shapeless Interface" and a series of banners for the web and video for electronic panels developed on the context of the "Filler" project.
He is the editor of the Arte.Mov online magazine (http://www.artemov.net) and coordinates the CNPq Research Group Net Art: Creative and Critical Perspectives.

Ryan Griffis is an artist and sometimes amateur writer, curator and tour guide. He currently writes reviews regularly for ArtUS magazine and has written for Rhizome.org, New Art Examiner and various other zines and journals. Ryan's art practice centers around an interest in the critical potential of tourism and a quasi fictional travel agency called the Temporary Travel Office. His curatorial projects include YOUGenics, an exhibition exploring the social implications of genetic technologies and most recently, Under Fire an exhibition based on artist Jordan Crandall's multidisciplinary and collaborative discussions around organized violence. He currently teaches Art and Design at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Download pdf version here

Citation reference for this Leonardo Electronic Almanac Discussion Chat Transcript

MLA Style
Bastos, Marcus and Griffis, Ryan.“LEAD: Wild and Nature: Beyond "Generative / Emergent"
and "Locative / Performative”, “Unyazi” Special Issue, Leonardo Electronic Almanac Vol. 15, No. 1 - 2 (2007). 1 Jan. 2007 <http://leoalmanac.org/resources/lead/digiwild/mbastosrgriffis.asp>.

APA Style
Bastos, M and Griffis, R. (Jan. 2007) “LEAD: Wild and Nature: Beyond "Generative / Emergent"
and "Locative / Performative”, “Unyazi” Special Issue, Leonardo Electronic Almanac Vol 15, No. 1 - 2 (2007). Retrieved 1 Jan. 2007 from <http://leoalmanac.org/resources/lead/digiwild/mbastosrgriffis.asp>

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