Sol LeWitt || Translation and Transmission of a Message

Sol Lewitt has been described as one of the most influential artists of his generation. He played a huge role in the Conceptual Art movement; changing the way people thought of, called and viewed ‘art’. LeWitt’s worked in many mediums and medias from sculpture and painting to almost exclusively working with conceptual pieces “that existed only as ideas or elements of the artistic process itself”.

And it is in this presentation of artistic process as art that he transmits his message.

LeWitt, and well many other artists, authors or musicians of the time, saw the artist or creator as the generator of ideas. LeWitt believed that it was the idea that should be called the work of art, like an architect who creates a blueprint but doesn’t move brick and mortar.

According to LeWitt the work of art was in fact the piece of paper handed to us in class last week; the words on the page; the specific order and arrangement of letters and punctuation. The algorithm.

We were assigned The Quadrangle. It was a complex message, despite the assumed simplicity in the first 10 words.

And so, like the architect who then turns the project over to a construction crew, we were handed the artwork’s blueprint, a pencil and a blank space on the wall.

The Mathematical Theory of Communication provides a useful model for thinking about the relationship between ‘form’ and ‘content’ – or ‘medium’ and ‘message’ – in LeWitt’s wall drawings. For LeWitt, the most important aspect of the work is the ‘idea’, which in the earlier drawings is a numerical permutation (all possible combinations of 1, 2, 3 and 4) and in the later works a verbal description (‘Lines not short, not straight, crossing and touching, drawn at random, using four colors, uniformly dispersed with maximum density, covering the entire surface of the wall’). This message is then translated into a visual ‘signal’ using a code devised by LeWitt (1 = vertical, 2 = horizontal, 3 = diagonal left to right, 4 = diagonal right to left). In the later drawings, this process of translation is less programmatic, but still involves a kind of transposition

– Anna Lovatt, Ideas in Transmission: LeWitt’s Wall Drawings and the Question of Medium

While many of LeWitt’s pieces are about and the compression of information (a whole wall decoration into a few sentences) this one seemed to take a simple image and use language to make it deliberately convoluted. It came down to our ability to translate (or interpret) the meaning of the one long sentence and to extract the procedure hidden in it.

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“The main idea – outside of figuring out all this stuff – was how things can be perceived in different ways.  It was about transmitting an idea in different ways through visual means, but also verbally, because there was a title … All are different aspects of communication.”

– Sol LeWitt (1)

Because we did have to translate it. And if google translate is an example, no translation is perfect. And those imperfections affected our making of the work. I mean we completed it. It was tricky, we struggled through, and I am still second guessing the placement of some lines. But we were successfully able to follow the process to achieve the outcome.

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Because despite the instruction, there was a lack of contextual instruction – like with a fax machine we needed that handshake– we needed to know more about what this artwork meant and was meant to convey. LeWitt’s Rule did not specify which medium to use, nor did it specify the size or shape of the wall being used, he didn’t say if grids would make it easier, and he didn’t mention if we should be keeping or erasing our work lines…

Translation and transmission of the message also affected the reception of our work.

We were so worried about presenting this piece correctly we ensured we cleaned the working lines, the graphite smudges and the finger prints off as we went. But once we started googling some of the best examples, the detailed, the impressive, the visually appealing, were ones that had left those lines in.

LeWitt wanted us to be architects with a blueprint, and the other examples of this piece really bring that construction and blueprint feeling alive within the work. Ours doesn’t have that same sense because we translated the message differently.

Beyond his expression of communication and the role of ‘noise’ in transmission, this work raises questions of authorship. Because LeWitt worked on and through the changing contexts of modernism and postmodernism it stands to reason that the postmodernist theme of authorship is present in his work. Because regardless of the technicalities in the written process the human’s translating and interpreting those instructions are able to, and subconsciously do, place pieces of themselves into the work.

If LeWitt believed the art was the words on the page does that mean that the lead pencil on the wall is mine? Before Gutenberg and the printing press, the scribes who copied texts onto manuscripts have been known to change, edit or ‘enhance’ the text they are copying. Who becomes the author of that text?  There is a reason there is so many versions of The Canterbury Tales. It was incomplete at the time of Chaucer’s death yet it is his name that is still printed on the cover. 

This type of art work, also raises another postmodern theme of the death of the author. The idea is that once an author releases the book into the world he/she no longer owns it. The author becomes the person reading and interpreting it. It is doubly interesting to consider because since LeWitt’s death 100s of genuine LeWitt’s continue to be created by those who read and follow his procedures.

Because LeWitt expected that an artist should be able to conceive of a work and then either delegate its actual production to others or perhaps even never make it at all.

TheArtStory.org


  • (1) Sol LeWitt cited in Nicholas Baume, ‘The Music of Forgetting’, in Baume ed., Sol LeWitt: Incomplete Open Cubes, Cambridge MA and London 2001, p.27.

A Human Fax Machine

We walked into class and were handed a harmonica, 2 pieces of butchers paper and a set of instructions to research and reproduce the fax machine.

Our “Code”:

We began discussing the potential ways we could communicate images through sound, and immediately ruled out the pixel-by-pixel notation that an actual facsimile machine uses, because to get decent resolution would require a huge number of dots. We considered operating as an etch-a-sketch; signals for up/down/left/right. However, this doesn’t even allow for diagonal lines, let alone curved ones (unless you’re operating on a huge grid).

We settled on communicating coordinates; creating a dot-to-dot image.  A system that proabably had more faults than redeeming qualities.

Our Rationale:

An image, a simple but detailed picture of a mountain-scape, was set in front of half the group. The other half, pen and butchers paper grid ready, must have heard our groans. We would have struggled with curved lines, and this had dimensions and shading.

(I can’t find our actual image but this is similar)
We wanted to reduce our image to a grid

We assumed that we would be able to reduce it to basic lines in a grid, but were unprepared for the complexities.

We were also overlooked the issues that eventually arose when trying to communicate (20,20) on a harmonica in the hands of an asthmatic.

Results?

What we were prepared for was “The Handshake”. We had a system for acknowledging the start and conclusion of a transmission. When communicating with sound (or any medium) however, there is always going to be the issue of noise. In a loud classroom with several groups trying to transmit their images signal differentiation became a bit part of that. Which was fine until our asthmatic transmitter ran out of puff. We just needed to try and control, as best we could the Signal:Noise ratio.

But overall the biggest issue was resolution.

How does the artist ‘code’ the information in the line/ abstract drawing/ prints? For example, what information is being omitted? What is being retained? What determines this process?

medadada.net/workshop-week-2-2/

The original image has already lost resolution. Deliberately. The artist makes decision about what is or isn’t included in an artwork; or what style they chose to communicate that image. And each time we reproduce that artwork we loose more resolution. Just as the original artist reduced perspective, depth and colour to shaded lines ans white space, we reduced his/her artwork to lines and dots.

We like to believe we are retaining the most important information when we compress the image. But that process is completely subjective because have have to interpret where value is placed. And as we began drawing grid lines over someone else’s artwork we made ourselves part of that proccess.

A Lesson in Encoding

SOS SOS CQD CQD. We are sinking fast.

The Titanic’s final message can be interpreted because of an established and successful encoding and decoding method for transmitting messages.

Those ashore would have been significantly less informed of the unfolding tragedy if, like us, they were arguing with furrowed brows and tilted heads if that was a C or an F.

Our lesson on encoding was to visually send a coded message to a group of peers standing 150 metres away. We then, in turn, received their message via their code.

We had paper, we had pens and we had the key. But we couldn’t decode their message.

So rather than becoming a lesson on encoding this became a lesson on ‘noise’. Those things that stopped us from successfully receiving a transmission. The issues that arose were the small and similar gestures that their code included. By the time we had discussed in the group the nuances between ‘O’ and ‘P’ we had missed a number of letters. There needed to be a signal for “Please repeat”.

All we captured was O/P? C _ C __KG__. It doesn’t really convey the same sense of urgency.

And part of this was our unfamiliarity with the other team’s key. Morse Code is sent incredibly quickly, and consists of only 1 (arguably 2) elements, and yet remains the most effective audio transmission. The benefit of established and well known codes.

There was other noise in the transmission too. The other groups were a distraction. The light was fading. The self-conscious giggling amongst the group when we knew we were getting it very wrong.

Our group opted for a very different type of code.

It was interesting to see the just the number of different approaches our peers came up with to respond to the same in class assessment (with varying levels of success)

Reflecting on my first video

When I saw Michael Wesch’s lecture on an anthropological approach to YouTube and “context collapse” I was intrigued. That lecture (and the resulting paper) was written in 2008, since then YouTube has grown, and vloggers have only become more popular. I decided I wanted to look into vloggers and their audience, but present my opinions as a video so I could really experience the context collapse that the “recording webcam” it is meant to create. Here are some of the things I learnt about the process and the industry by creating my first video.

More research is needed.

The interesting fact about researching YouTubers is that there are a lot of opinions out there, but very little research, particularly from a communications disciplinary approach. This meant that my video had to become an opinion piece; it was unavoidable with the time and resources I had. However, I made sure that my opinions and views were still grounded in research and data. I would love to conduct further research at a later date.

Talking to a camera takes practice.

My footage from the end of the filming was already significantly better than the first minutes of filming. I actually refilmed the first few points once I had warmed up to the camera. However, when I got to the editing stage I noticed: I read too much; I had too many notes; I looked at the screen not the camera, I said ‘um’ 1000 times…

Equipment.

I didn’t have a camera available, so I just used my computers in built webcam. Though the quality was poorer than I would have liked, the fps were good and I was still able to export a HD version.  I decided to record audio separate and I am glad I did. Though it meant for an extra step in the editing process the quality of audio was infinitely better. I used natural lighting so because I recorded in the afternoon I lost the light as the video progressed. I think if I was to continue with videos I would invest in good lighting equipment.

Editing is a process.

It took far longer than I ever thought. And I knew it would take a while.

Find a program that suits you.

Most have free trials online. Use them. Using a basic program like Movie Maker meant I didn’t need particularly advanced skills. But it limited what I could do. However, I made far more mistakes using Adobe Premiere Pro. There were techniques I wanted to use, but didn’t have the skills or the time to develop them. I ended up using a combination of both, but ideally I am still looking for a program that is somewhere between the two.

Overall

It’s annoying because you have the idealised image in your mind of how it will look, how it should look. And, especially because I was learning the skills as I went along, it was taking too long to get to that level. So I had to find the middle ground. After weeks of research, filming and editing, and a lot of hard work I am happy with the video I produced.

Check it out and let me know what you think:

Unpacking YouTube: Vloggers and their Audience || Video

This video is about the relationship between those YouTube vloggers who have found celebrity status and their subscribers.

I love following YouTube Channels, have my favourites who I feel connected with. However, I am very aware that for a lot of these people this is their income, which means their intentions are not entirely pure. As an increasing number of YouTubers began releasing books I began to looking into the topic of YouTube monetary and marketing aspects. This is what I concluded.

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Links Mentioned:

~ My Blog – emilyjward.wordpress.com

~ Wesch’s lecture on YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPAO-lZ4_hU

~ Wesch’s Blog Post – http://mediatedcultures.net/youtube/context-collapse/

~ Feroz Kahn and Vong – Virality over YouTube: an Empirical Analysis – http://bit.ly/1JwzntJ

~ Soukup – Looking at, with and through YouTube – http://bit.ly/1dSiiyE

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Where I sourced videos from (by order of appearance):

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YouTuber’s Greetings:

~ Jim Chapman – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o2MOFbY6Ivw

~ Miranda Sings – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pyazJcC580g

~ Marcus Butler – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sJwgjpFvSng

~ PewDiePie – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZaRRR7b6X0M

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Clicks and Views:

~ DanIsNotOnFire – https://www.youtube.com/user/danisnotonfire

Sponsored Content:

~ Lily Pebbles – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kStZYZtsYyQ

Merch Stores Shown:

~ Jenna Marbles – http://shop.jennamarblesblog.com/

~ Tyler Oakley – https://www.districtlines.com/Tyler-Oakley

~ YDAD – https://www.districtlines.com/You-Deserve-a-Drink

~ Essie Button – http://www.reelstyle.co/collections/essie-button

~ Troye Sivan – https://www.districtlines.com/troye-sivan

~ IISuperWomanII – http://www.unicornisland.ca/

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Releasing Books:

~ Tyler Oakley – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmzWbaGSb7I

~ Marcus Butler – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3cQAMzlon-Y

~ Zoella – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CUFb-wKguvU

~ Grace Helbig – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k2_SoCqihm4

~ Thatcher Joe – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMrZTjW59Xw

~ Connor Franta – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LWclwUQTwWg

~ Sprinkle of Glitter – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PRCOzwTkAgY

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Girl Online:

~ Fastest selling book of the year – http://bit.ly/12mpsVs

~ Zoella’s Channel – https://www.youtube.com/user/zoella280390

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Other YouTuber Spinoffs:

~ Kingsley’s Overexposed – http://www.the-overexposed.com/

~ Pyscho Babble Podcast with Tyler Oakley – https://soundcloud.com/psychobabbletyleroakley

~ Shane and Friends – https://soundcloud.com/shaneandfriends

~ The Grace Helbig Show – http://au.eonline.com/shows/the_grace_helbig_show

~ Novem & Knight – http://novemknight.com/

~ Shaaanxo with Colourpop – https://colourpop.com/product/shaaanxo-x-colourpop/

~ Em cosmetics – http://www.emcosmetics.com/

~ Tanya Burr Cosmetics – http://www.feelunique.com/brands/tanya-burr

~ Zoella Beauty Range – http://www.feelunique.com/brands/zoella-beauty

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Disclaimer: This video is part of an assignment I did for a Media and Communication Class at the University of Wollongong. All opinions are my own. No copyright infringement intended. All secondary sources have been attributed (see above).

I Could Be Anything…

I was in a lecture hall, only half listening to a lecture titled “Who Belongs Where?: Anti-Racism Outside Dominant Media Paradigms” when the lecturer referenced Whoopi Goldberg. It caught my attention.

“When I was nine years old Star Trek came on, I looked at it and I went screaming through the house. ‘Come here, mum, everybody, come quick, come quick, there’s a black lady on television and she ain’t no maid!’

I knew right then and there I could be anything I wanted to be. ”

 – Whoopi Goldberg

I usually try to stay out of race debates.

I grew up in suburban Australia. I lived in a town where only 5% of the population speak a language other that English at home (17% lower than NSW average). And of those, most are European. I was white, my family was white, and all my friends were white. I have no place in talking about the challenges faced by racial minorities because I didn’t have to face them. I never saw them.

I felt that anything I tried to contribute risked further white-washing the issue.

So the quote struck me, but I dismissed the topic (plus attempting to facilitate a racial discussion, especially in an online forum like blogging, is risky).

But, less than 48 hours later, this video popped up in my YouTube subscription feed –

– and it made something click.

The question is no longer whether or not racial minorities face inequality. Because regardless of how progressively anti-racist the world becomes there are still numerous stories of racial inequality, discrimination and hatred.

The question is now where race is visible.

Television is a slowly dying medium. It is through alternative media sources that the next generations will see the representation of race. So by having places where people like Whoopi Goldberg, a famous activist and actor, can reach millions with a personal story about the need for and importance of racially diverse role models, we are creating a space to educate and accept.

The internet is creating those spaces. It is allowing boys and girls all around the world to find their Uhura, to find the person (through blogs, videos, forums…) who will make them realise that they can be anything they want to be.