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exploring uncharted terrain on the New Media map (after Lewis Carroll)

Manovich on ‘Augmented Space’

In  his  essay “The Poetics of Augmented Space” (2002, revised edition 2005), Lev Manovich places Augmented Reality in the context of similar trends in New Media: Augmented Reality being one possible form of Augmented Space, characterised by overlaying dynamic data over physical space. For me, the most important statement he makes in his paper is to describe Augmented Space – m.m. Augmented Reality – as “idea and cultural and aesthetic practice rather than as technology”.

“here is the brief definition: augmented space is the physical space overlaid with dynamically changing information. This information is likely to be in multimedia form and it is often localized for each user.”

In an analogy with architecture he points out that overlaying physical space with layers of data is part of our cultural history since long. The main new difference is now the nature of the data: in contrast to e.g. paintings, pictures, colours, …, data are now dynamic, in multimedia form and localized for each individual user.

“The layering of dynamic and contextual data over physical space is a particular case of a general aesthetic paradigm: how to combine different spaces together. Of course, electronically augmented space is unique – since the information is personalized for every user, it can change dynamically over time,  and it is delivered through an interactive multimedia interface, etc. Yet it is crucial to see  this as a conceptual rather than just a  technological issue – and therefore  as something that in part has already – been a part of other architectural and artistic paradigms. “

Moreover, Lev Manovich sees Augmented Space as the next step in a logical progress in modern art from flat wall to 3-D space: “how in 20th century art from the dominance of a two-dimensional object placed on a wall, there is a trajectory towards the use of the whole 3-D space of a gallery.” Not just a physical space, but also a ‘dataspace’ filled with dynamic, contextual data with which the user can interact.
Manovich sees this ‘dataspace’ – built using newly available and emergent technologies – “as a continuous field that completely extends over, and fills in, all of physical space.”

As I mentioned above: describing Augmented Space as a next step in the evolution of cultural and aesthetic practice rather than focussing on its technologicial backbone, is an important statement.  Maybe even more so because most Augmented Reality applications that ‘do the rounds’ suffer a bit from being very clear manifestations of the technology involved.

Taking a more neutral stance,  you could also describe the field as such:

There is this general trend of new technologies becoming part of our physical world in an increasingly less obtrusive manner  – Ubiquitous Computing. Parallel to and part of this general trend there is this dynamic and continuous ‘dataspace’ added to the physical world – Augmented Space. But as long as Augmented Reality applications keep focussing on the technology involved, they exclude themselves from becoming completely ubiquitous.

Ironically, new technological advancements are needed to allow Augmented Reality to make this next step towards effacing itself as tangible user interface to the (augmented) real world and thus become integral part of the world of Ubiquitous Computing.


Lev Manovich publishes his latest book “Software Takes Commandon-line – I’m discussing the November 20, 2008 version – and he is open to suggestions for cover art, or illustrations.

softbook_coverA, as shown on Manovichs  website

softbook_coverA, as shown on Manovich's website

Nice idea, on-line pre-publishing, and it will not keep me from bying a print copy when the final version will be available. ;-)

With this book Manovich puts his own book “The Language of New Media” (completed 1999; published by MIT Press 2001) , where he a.o. coined the term ‘software studies’, in perspective.

”New media calls for a new stage in media theory whose beginnings can be traced back to the revolutionary works of Robert Innis and Marshall McLuhan of the 1950s. To understand the logic of new media we need to turn to computer science. It is there that we may expect to find the new terms, categories and operations that characterize media that became programmable. From media studies, we move to something which can be called software studies; from media theory — to software theory.” (p. 5, 6)

“Software takes command” redefines the concept of ‘software studies’ as a new academic discipline: a unique object of study, and at the same time a new research method.

“[...] I think that Software Studies has to investigate both the role of software in forming contemporary culture, and cultural, social, and economic forces that are shaping development of software itself.”
(p. 6)

And if we are to focus on that software layer itself – a layer that permeates all areas of contemporary societies – we need a new methodology. Manovich stresses here that he is writing about cultural software: “software programs which are used to create and access media objects and environments.” (p. 13)

His book is an interesting continuation of exploring and identifying the medialayers – speaking of software-layers would probably be more appropriate – in society, but it does not provide a methodology for software studies. On the other hand, just as he provided us in his book “The Language of New Media” with a language to discuss New Media, Lev Manovich provides us now with a language to discuss what software studies are, could be or should be. That already sounds like being part of a methology.

Anyhow, “Software takes command” is part of a larger effort to establish software studies as an academic field; the video repository of “SoftWhere 2008” looks certainly very interesting in that context.


June 2017
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I currently have a PhD fellowship at KU Leuven, Associated Faculty of the Arts. This blog documents my PhD research, where I explore the workings of cylindrical anamorphosis in audiovisual media. My practice based arts research shows an evolution towards installation-based works.