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Interface Criticism: Aesthetics Beyond Buttons

Interface Criticism:  Aesthetics Beyond Buttons

by Christian Ulrik Andersen & Soren Pold, Editors
Aarhus University Press, Copenhagen, 2011
295 pp., Illus. Paper, EUR 40.95
ISBN: 9788779345041.

Reviewed by Ellen Pearlman


Interface Criticism is a well researched, timely collection of essays on the theoretical underpinnings of our attraction to, use of, and reliance on digital technologies and their interfaces. Heavy on European philosophy, the book is divided into five overlapping sections of exploration.  The inherent meaning and function of signal and code is dissected and scratched back to ancient Greek definitions of familiar terms used (aesthetics, technology, haptics), and pushed forward to contemporary theories concerning code software criticism and media archeology. Section One examines the ‚historical development of a screen mediated public sphere, including video art and installations. How we perceive the world through input and output forms the basis of the Section Two, and contains the collections most powerful contribution. Grappling with the issue of the mediated senses, Lone Koefoed Hansen's essay, “Interface of the Skin‚” examines wearable computers as the ideal communication conduit. It examines the belief in ultimate scientific methodology as secretly masking a yearning for the numeric to function as a covert wish-fulfilling telepathy. Soren Pold’s piece examining cybernetic memory highlights the insightful critiques written in the 1930s by Walter Benjamin. Benjamin’s words still resonate stating, “the mode of human perception changes historically.” Because we live in such a remediated world of images and sounds, this reasoning leads one to contemplate complex theories of simulacra, power, control, fantasy and cognition.

A chapter is devoted to the interface and aesthetics of beautiful transparency‚ investigating these ideas as a classical Kantian dichotomy of the beautiful and the sublime. The very topical and relevant idea of software as artistic material and programming as an artistic act is discussed by Morten Breinbjerg in terms of music composition and performance. Live coding is highlighted as a liberating, radical act. In one sense this is true. In another sense unless you are a  musician adept at programming you can share the liberation.

In the chapter on software and codes a ‚hermeneutics of suspicion‚ prevails, looking at how interfaces function, and what they ultimately hide. The final chapter, “Culture and Politics” relies heavily on social and political theory. Though these theories are a necessary aspect of software analysis and criticism,  the deeply pedagogical tone and forced analogies make this chapter a tedious read, in contrast to the other, more upbeat ones. The analysis I sorely missed seeing was of gender and class in accessing these advanced technologies, and the issue of first vs. fourth world aesthetics.

Last Updated 8 May 2011

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