Digital Media: Not Magic

According to folklore, Michelangelo fell to his knees upon seeing the Florentine fresco Annunciation, went silent, and eventually concluded that the image of the Virgin must have been made through divine intervention since its brushwork surpassed human talents. When the computer graphics company Blue Sky released its commercial for Chock Full o’Nuts in 1994, The New York Times called the rendering of a walking and talking coffee bean “computer magic.” It was the best way to explain the video’s special effects. What else would one call using lines of code to give an inanimate object life? Or the transfiguration of mere paint into saintly likeness?

Esoteric processes have long imbued artforms with power, rendering audiences speechless, awestruck, and affected. In the nineties, anthropologist Alfred Gell proposed that mundane things can be construed as “enchanted forms” when differences exist between an audience’s technological expectations and an object’s facture. This contradiction gives rise to a belief that artifacts and artisans can possess otherworldly faculties. In reality, everyday forms become enchanted not through magic, but through precise construction methodologies.

This course seeks to articulate what aesthetic categories are at play when technology is perceived to be magical. A working theory for the class is that more nuanced descriptions for the transformations found in computational and craft traditions are good frameworks for understanding architectural effects. We will explore these ideas in synchronous lectures and case studies, and asynchronous workshops. Readings include texts by Alfred Gell, Walter Benjamin, Beatriz Colomina, and Felicity Scott. Case studies include projects by Anne Holtrop, Ensamble, Junya Ishigami, and examples from imperial architecture.

Prerequisites: none

Note: the instructor will offer live course presentations on 01/19-01/21. To access the detailed schedule and Zoom links, please visit the Live Course Presentations Website. If you need assistance, please contact Estefanía Ibáñez