Summer Research Dispatch: KC Forcier on the Computational Loop in Network Culture

19 Aug, 2019

Summer Research Dispatch: KC Forcier on the Computational Loop in Network Culture

Each year, the Berkeley Center for New Media is thrilled to offer summer research awards to support our graduates in their cutting edge work. Below, we outline how KC used the funds for fieldwork on the loop in moving image culture.

This summer, with research support from BCNM, Kaitlin conducted research for a chapter of her dissertation on the computational loop in networked culture. This dissertation: “Infinite Images: The Loop in Moving Image Culture,” considers the technological loop - a pervasive but under-studied phenomenon – to map shifting notions of temporality in the digital age. A central concept in computer programming languages, recursion and iteration are also essential to algorithmic culture, in which the audio-visual loop is a widespread form that arises across multiple platforms and mediums, from the animated GIF and cell phone formats such as Instagram’s Boomerang effect and the now-defunct Vine video, to motion graphics in computer games and film.

As part of developing this chapter, Kaitlin attended the Princeton-Weimar Summer School for Media Studies. The Summer School provides advanced training in the study of media and cultural techniques. A group of fourteen graduate students work with distinguished international scholars in an intimate and highly focused context and engage in dialogue with doctoral students from around the world working in similar fields. This year’s topic was “The Technologization of Cultural Techniques: What Happens When Practices Become Algorithmic Technologies?” In addition to receiving extensive feedback on her current research from the graduate students and faculty attending the Summer School, the weeklong institute provided Kaitlin with a rigorous grounding in recent scholarship on algorithmic culture and technologies – an invaluable perspective for the framing of this dissertation.

This summer, Kaitlin’s research focused on the work of three contemporary artists producing looping moving images in a variety of digital animation formats. These works – in installation, video art, animated GIFs and computer games – engage with the indefinite temporality of the network and its relation to the iterative logic of computer code. This chapter argues that these works articulate two co-existing attitudes towards the indeterminacy of networked temporality: on the one hand anxiety about the pressures of the “always on,” (Hodge 2019, Boyd 2011), “24/7” (Crary, 2013) temporality of the network, and on the other a curiosity about a contemplative and expansive visual culture based on code.

Lorna Mills, Peter Burr, and Faith Holland are exemplary of a diverse cohort of contemporary artists producing work in digital formats that engage with the automatic and ongoing repetitions of the loop. Their animations – which include looped video pieces, large- scale public installations, and animated GIFs, engage with the indeterminate temporality that is characteristic of networked culture, such as we see in the “eternal scroll” function of social media platforms, and the temporality of the Internet itself, which is perceived as an ongoing flow, always available to tap into. This chapter addresses what these artworks suggest about the relationship between the iterative logic of software and the digital images it produces. Code by nature relies heavily on repetition: the loop is a fundamental structure of many programming languages. This chapter examines in what ways the artworks under consideration engage with the looping logic of code, with its potential for ongoing and indefinite temporality, and how this relates to the perception of temporality in networked culture as similarly indeterminate.