Quantitative Aesthetics: Attention

This course is looking at computational approaches to digital media that allow us to analyze and reinterpret our environment as a signal, creating interactive interventions that distort the limits of the sensible. The term aesthetics here has less to do with judgments of beauty and more with its original meaning of the discourse on the “sensible”. Our experience of the cultural social and physical environment is increasingly mediated by digital media that form cascades of filters and surfaces of interaction. In that sense the understanding of the totality of what can be seen, said or heard within these environments [what Jacques Ranciere might call “the distribution of the sensible”] is passing into the realm of signal analysis; a conceptual framework for making sense of and intervening in an environment that exists in a superposition of states that can be analyzed and recombined in different ways.

This year, Stockholm based choreographer Cristina Caprioli, will help us frame the scope for this course. Cristina is currently organizing a new type of traveling conference on dance and politics where new modes of delivery of and listening to speech are tested. Within this context, we will attempt to rethink the communication and media organization of the space of the conference and particularly the problem of attention, forced engagement and ultimately participation. The space of the conference; the space of the delivery of lectures, its format; has been largely codified nowadays into a series of talks delivered by increasingly detached speakers to mentally disconnected audiences. Contemporary discourse on dance can help us trace a trajectory out of this situation. We seek to test the idea that achieving a heightened state of attentiveness and engagement by speakers and audiences alike may involve placing them in unfamiliar situations characterized by discomfort or at least strategic impediment to perception, requiring effort, physical labor and investment from the ones who speak and the ones who listen. As Pier Paolo Pasolini used to say, he expected from the viewers of his films as much attention and effort as he had put into making them.

Students will be required to develop and prototype a site specific intervention that seeks to reconfigure distribution of bodies, attention and signals within the space of the conference. From a technical standpoint the students will be introduced to digital tools specifically developed for the course that would enable them to process and affect various aspects of the sensible environment. Among other subjects we’ll look into vision and movement analysis, sound analysis and synthesis and Arduino micro-controllers.