Tuesday, 20 September 2011

The story

The interdisciplinary collaboration was taken for granted today, but we may resist with the outcome that we are not familiar with.
My works are the uncategorized for anthropology, archaeology, fine art and digital art.
I try to depict the development of my works step by step.

The focus of my research is the interaction between material culture and human activity.

I had several opportunities to participate in archaeological fieldwork when I was an undergraduate student. I was fascinated by the archaeologists who created a study subject based on a hybrid of time and space by digging at various sites, and locating and categorizing the remains using horizontal grids and vertical layers via a soil color chart. Although the archaeologists focused on the analysis of the remains found, without regard to the visual aspect of the archaeological discovery progress, their grids and layers system made a great impression on me.

Based on the kinship courses I have taken, I learned about the house society theory proposed by Claude Levi-Strauss. Levi-Strauss led us to rethink how a house as a material culture helps anthropologists to explore the visible and invisible relationships and activities in societies. For my B.A. thesis, I attempted to analyze the phenomena of multiple figures of one Mazu goddess in Taiwanese Mazu folk religions utilizing the house concept. I replaced temples for houses and used incense burners as the medium for figures sharing body substances. This attempt aimed to present the connection between identity and objects via “temples as houses” to understand how believers perceived the relations between Mazu figures. At the same time, for my NSC project, I continued to develop a house study via the study of international spouses living in rural villages. In that project, I noticed that sharing food and kinship duties were the main keys to converting foreign spouses to members in the family and house. During this period, I was training myself to think broader, beyond the kinship aspect of the house society theory.

To expand my knowledge and abilities for my postgraduate study with interdisciplinary collaboration, I enrolled in psychological linguistics courses in a graduate institute of linguistics to explore the connection between external presentation and internal logic. The Conceptual Metaphor Theory, proposed by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, is a key concept that I learned from the courses in that it links objects under different categories via breaking the boundaries using the mapping principle. The mapping principle is a rule which connects the Target Domain (the idea or concept that is described) to the Source Domain (the object applied to describe the Target Domain). The Target Domain and the Source Domain are separated into different categories, so linguistics looks for attributes that are shared by both to understand the mapping principle. In anthropology, categorization is an important system in which the natives distinguish themselves from others, such as in Huang Ying-Kuei’s study concerning the Bunun’s food categorization system. The Conceptual Metaphor Theory aids in analyzing categorization and understanding how conceptual metaphors help natives configure information about the boundary between themselves and others. The house theory is similar to the Conceptual Metaphor Theory, since people construct their identities based on food sharing and living in the same house. In my subsequent studies, the Conceptual Metaphor Theory was a fundamental method in discovering the connection between houses and other objects in societies.

My M.A. thesis focused on the construction of identities via house-related material cultures. I integrated my previous studies with the Conceptual Metaphor Theory and created an archaeology project investigating a Paiwanese village and their abandoned settlement. I applied cultural layers to describe the migration of the tribes and the grids to locate their objects (i.e., house, tomb, and settlement), which were connected by the Conceptual Metaphor Theory. Although the building sources had changed and the duration of the settlement was short because of multiple forced migrations, houses became the Source Domain for the identity metaphor. The reason houses became an abstract concept is the accumulation of migration stories about houses and their eventual separation from their tombs, where ancestors ceased living with the living physically and hence conceptually.

From my experience in anthropology studies, I have found shortcomings and restrictions in this methodology. Anthropologists obtain abundant information by staying at particular spots for long periods to investigate and study the daily life of natives as living biographies. Under those conditions, anthropologists are passive receivers and interpreters. The text is full of native terms creating an exotic atmosphere, and every culture seems different from other cultures. The result is that every culture is seen as independent, with a difficult-to-compare existence, and hence cross-cultural studies become a battlefield of vocabulary without holistic viewpoints. In contrast, I wanted to reverse this method of study to create a specific way to conduct cross-cultural researches. This shift is different from traditional anthropology, so I needed support from different disciplines to achieve my goal. At the same time, I found that contemporary art offered me a possible way to develop my experiment.

Grids and layers were applied by Josef Albers and Richard Paul Lohse to study the interaction between colours and to transform 3-D to 2-D, similar to the way archaeologists and anthropologists position objects in the field and convert their fields to text. After the work of these pioneers, grids and layers were widely adopted in the minimal and conceptual art movements. I referred to the works of different artists and adopted colours (layers) and grids as my tools to create a hybrid of time and space as my study subject.

My doctoral project involved visualizing Wi-Fi networks in London, Taipei, New York, Chicago, and Hong Kong to explore how individual networks construct urban landscapes and their identities. According to Le Corbusier, houses are machines in which we live. I reversed his idea, assigning Wi-Fi users as cyborgs (cybernetic organisms) living in Wi-Fi houses. Then I applied the house society theory to visualise Wi-Fi access points as houses with colours and grids to construct 3-D-based 2-D landscapes. Colours were translated from unique Wi-Fi machine codes that represented individual Wi-Fi machines. The codes could also be tracked to the manufacturer, so the colours also offered a connection between individuals and capitalism. This work presents the different aspects of Wi-Fi machines as a house metaphor in their respective societies and extended anthropology to study material culture and human activity via multiple ways to reveal the connection between them.

For the future

In the future, I will continue to my research on the methodology of anthropology in urban landscapes, identity, technology and cyborgs. My study will focus on the application of metaphor in creating the connection between the material cultures and the representation medium.

The motives:

When it was born, anthropology is a visual, acoustic and sense-based discipline. Anthropologists studied the craftwork, food, architectures, languages and music to realize the social and cultural connections behind them. That approach was criticized for their lack of the context. With the emphasis of “the native point of view”, contemporary anthropologists obtain the information from the mouth of the informants and the data becomes the main “object” that anthropologist analyzed and the other objects are auxiliary. For example, anthropologists talked about house in the text but physical houses have the different appearances. The former is signifier and the latter is signified as Ferdinand de Saussure proposed. The information was transcribed with text but it results in the differences of material cultures that were ignored with the universal appearance of the text. The physical houses cannot be described/represented completely in the text. To deal with this issue, I chose to abstract the elements from the material cultures to become conceptual metaphor. Material cultures are the solid and visible metaphors of human life and they are another kind of informants. My study plans to create/produce a new methodology to organize the connections between different objects to grasp their information of “native point of view.”

Wi-Fi is a wireless technology that contains two parts, the personal devices and access points. The users utilize their Wi-Fi-equipped electronic devices, such as laptops and mobile phones, to connect to Wi-Fi access points and go on-line. This is the popular landscape in metropolitans and the landscape becomes the metaphor of the interpersonal interactions in daily life. With the municipal Wi-Fi plans and rapid-growing commercial Wi-Fi distribution, more mobile device vendors added Wi-Fi chips to their machines and the spectacle attracted me to analyze and present them in visual and acoustic way to obtain the unspoken and invisible information of “native’s point of view and action.”

The plan:

Granada Centre of Manchester University produced a series of films to overcome the restriction of discourse to challenge the previous anthropological studies “from a different epistemological position.”(Anna Grimshaw and Amanda Ravetz 2005: 2) They also acknowledge their result maybe not accepted by the academic world but it is important to extend anthropology to study the human on various of perception, such as hearing and seeing.

Their idea is similar to me and I want to begin my project with a series of combination of fieldwork data and the elements of visual/sound art, including shapes/colours and notes. As Anna Grimshaw and Amanda Ravetz pointed out that contemporary art break the conventional understanding for the objects and concepts, my works also aim to inquiry anthropology knowledge and present the fieldwork data to a new view.

I had visualised urban Wi-Fi landscapes and translated them into music to explore how Claude Levi-Strauss’s “house society theory” was transformed an artistic approach to provide us the broader and deeper way to analyze the relations between technology and identity. The steps are listed in the below:

1. Codes of Wi-Fi Access Points -> Colour Codes ->Colour Squares->Colour Brick->Colour House->Colour Landscapes->Wi-Fi Networks

a) Codes of Wi-Fi Access Points => Colour Codes : Dividing the serial number of Wi-Fi access points to web colour codes , but both of them have the same format - numbers and alphabets.

b) Colour Codes => Colour Squares: The web colour codes are embodied in shape. The squares are not the combination of numbers and alphabets, but the visual difference are more obvious than codes.

c) Colour Squares => Colour brick: the shape is the same but the role and the concept of the colour object are changed from the square shape to building material - brick. Brick has the different "function" and the brick implied the possibility of "construction" that is similar to the concept of "constructing a network."

d) Colour Brick => Colour House : Embodied the function of the "construction" and create an object to be analyzed.

e). Colour House => Colour Landscapes: Expanding individual conceptual object (house) to the cultural and social objects (urban landscape that was composed of houses). This change highlighted the conceptual and material aspects of Wi-Fi codes rather than a combination of numbers and alphabets.

f). Colour Landscapes => Wi-Fi Networks: The sudden change from the metaphor (house and landscapes) to the original context (electronic devices) offer an distinguishable spatial representation to emphasize the multiple aspects of Wi-Fi, especially social, political and economical distribution.

The conclusion: Wi-Fi codes are the identifiers of users, owners and manufacturers but their connection between the distribution and the social factors are easily ignored. The obvious bias is considering the codes are random in the cities, but the final change marked the distribution is the result of social behaviour and cultural products.

2. Wi-F Codes ->Decimal Number-> MIDI Notes->MIDI Music->Sheet Music.

a). Wi-Fi Codes => Decimal Number: the change and division from the hexadecimal to decimal was to create the MIDI notes. Hexadecimal is positional numeral system with a base of 16. From 0 to 9 represents zero to nine, and abcdef (case-insensitive) means ten to fifteen. Hexadecimal is widely applied in digital equipments. The transformation of positional number system changes the appearance of "numbers and alphabets" to "number" for fitting human’s conventional numeral system.

b). Decimal Number => MIDI Notes: MIDI is the abbreviation of “Music Instrument Digital Interface” and it is a protocol for communication between different electronic music instruments and digital devices. The communication is transmitting electronic signal and digital information not audio signal. MIDI notes can be notated by decimal or hexadecimal. The format of decimal number and MIDI notes is the same but the quality (mathematical to music) and the function (number to notes) changed. The notes also implied the composing songs.

c). MIDI Notes => MIDI Music: Embodied the notes and make it acoustic (quality).

d). MIDI Music => Sheet Music: The transformation of "digital to analogous" and "acoustic to visual". In MIDI music, sound will be affected by the neighbouring notes and our ears can not distinguish too high or too low sound. We may ignore the detail in the music but sheet music make it clear and the contour of the notes highlighted Wi-Fi codes in an analogous way.

Above all, the change in every step leads us to rethink how the fieldwork data are expressed and analyzed. In the future, I will collect more data and produce a series of textual, visual and acoustic works to explore the new methodology and new information of “the native’s point of view.”

2011 London Wi-Fi Landscape, http://www.amazon.com/London-Wi-Fi-Landscape/dp/B004YXQI1E, Cuyahoga Falls: SongCast Distribution.
2011 Tube and Wi-Fi Sound in Music, http://official.fm/tracks/266727
2011 Wi-Fi London - ver. 4, http://official.fm/tracks/280240
2011 Beats in The Grid, http://official.fm/tracks/280674

2010 London Urban Wi-Fi Landscape Music, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jziXJy_hO9k
2010 London Wi-Fi walking, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cAOINa5VjZk
2010 The sound of step, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tMu1S5HvZBU
2010 New York Wi-Fi Landscape, http://vimeo.com/16345994
2010 Wi-Fi trip, http://vimeo.com/17010261

2011 London Wi-Fi Scores, http://www.saatchionline.com/art/Mixed-Media-Found-Objects-London-Wi-Fi-Scores/160262/1311707/view
2009 Group By Cites, http://fireant.itaiwan.net/urban_image/choose_city.php
2009 Colour in different forms, http://fireant.itaiwan.net/urban_image/
2009 "Cyborg in Wi-Fi London" Performance and Exhibition, http://fireant.itaiwan.net/cyborg_exhibition.php
2009 Wi-Fi in New York, http://fireant.itaiwan.net/urban_image/ny.png
2009 Wi-Fi in Taipei, http://fireant.itaiwan.net/urban_image/tp.png
2009 Wi-Fi in London, http://fireant.itaiwan.net/urban_image/ln.png
2009 Wi-Fi in Leeds and Hong Kong, http://fireant.itaiwan.net/urban_image/lk.png
2009 Colour animation, http://fireant.itaiwan.net/wireless/en/colour_show.php
2007 Colorful Network--- Wireless Art Project, http://fireant.itaiwan.net/wireless/en/

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