Carola Moujan

From Quantity to Quality : Re-thinking Movement in Digital Art and Design

Movement plays a key role in digital media. Whether we think of art installations, hybrid media, mixed and augmented reality or generative animation, motion is most often essential to activate systems that otherwise would not function, or even exist. In most cases, however, movement is envisioned merely as a resource. The development of ubiquitous computing has made this easy: through sensors and software, movement can be captured, quantified, and transformed into fuel for the system. Considered from this vantage point, however, the experience of movement is reduced to its sole quantitive value; instead of being explored as a theme, it is used as energy.  Weaving from the works of Henri Bergson, John Dewey and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, this paper will argue that such instrumentation of movement is limited and reductive, has ethical implications, and leads to superficial excitement and mechanical effects. Through the compared analysis of precise examples, It will suggest that a shift of focus from the quantitative to the qualitative is essential to achieve aesthetic depth beyond high-tech lobby art[1], simulation of reality and technological flaunt.

Movement capture in digital devices is generally envisioned as a direct measurement of individual positions added together through software. However, while numerical values are useful for recording individual positions ―the “place” where movement has been measured–, or variations between individual positions, they fail to restitute the quality of “being in motion”. In other words: the experience of moving, as such, has a particular quality that defines it;  and it is this quality that makes it an experience, not the number of meters covered or the absolute values of speed or acceleration involved in the process. Movement capture is based in discreet intervals, whereas movement itself is a continuous phenomenon: not a juxtaposition of distinct parts, but an interpenetration of phases. The force that produces the interpenetration is a resultant of multiple tensions operating within the device, and as such, cannot be directly measured.

Why is this important in art and design? While pervasive and situated technologies are meant to «augment» everyday life, It is easy to see how the reduction of movement to its sole quantitative value implies instead an impoverishment ―something is lost in the process.  digital media continues to spread out in our environments, dramatically changing the way we relate to space and time, it is crucial that we adopt creative strategies leading to meaningful and enriching aesthetic experiences. Through selected case studies, the aim of this paper will be to show alternative approaches to movement capture within digital media and the very different aesthetic qualities such strategies produce.


[1]I borrowed this expression from Usman Haque’s “The Architectural Relevance of Gordon Pask”, in Architectural Design, Volume 77, Issue 4, July/August 2007, pp. 54-61.


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