My main interest is interaction design with a special emphasis on the role of emptiness and silence in the creation of experiences leaving space for the imagination.
As an example can be named comics where the narrative is very much created between the images. The jumps between the images allow the reader to use his imagination and experience the phenomenon of closure allowing the whole to be perceived even though only parts or fragments can be observed.
The project is called Nonformation - the architecture of empty space in the media landscape.
When the future environment which can be described with terms like ubiquitous computing, augmented reality, transparent interface and freedom of time and space and when the information surrounds people everywhere and all the time, empty space becomes a very important element in making sense of this media environment. Empty space and silence can be called "nonformation" allowing framing resulting in the ability to identify the relevant pieces of information in the ever-present information (over)flow.
In this project the aim is to increase awareness for the fact that the challenge of designing interaction becomes even more accentuated in this future environment in which information surrounds people everywhere and all the time.
Comics are an economical way of presenting things.
Comics are about combining different ways of narration. They combine static images with text, like films combine moving images and sound. This union of image and text can be seen as the characteristic of comics because this combination of elements allows a fast and economical storyteling. (Herkman 1998:26) Comics can also be compared to photography, in which the role of cropping is highllighted, too. By using cropping can be chosen what is shown in an image or what is excluded and thus left to be completed by the imagination of the viewer. (Herkman 1998:27)
As John Fiske claims that short news films are metonymies by being chosen and cropped scenes of a rich and multifaceted reality, comics can be seen as parts or cristallisation of a larger story. The charm of comics is perceived as being derived from the fact that the reader needs to fill out the blank spaces between the images. These jumps between the images require him to use his imagination to create the wider framwork of the story. (Herkman 1998:89)
In comics the narration advances sequentially and the blank spaces between images act as a central characteristic of storytelling. According to Erkki Huhtamo the key changes in the story always happen in the transitions between the frames. Thus in comics the transitions between images aalso act as transitions between actions. (Herkman 1998:95)
The importance of the transitions and changes between image frames is based on the idea of beginnings and ends presented by Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan. The beginnings and the ends as cropping elements even within one single image or frame have an impact on the way the narrative is percieved by the reader. (Herkman 1998:110)
In the case of comics the narration is sequential and discontinuous and full of blank, empty spaces between the frames. Since the reader needs to fill in in his mind the "gaps" in the story these blank spaces are called "hermeneutical gaps". According to Rimmon-Kennan most of them are so trivial that the reader fills them automatically. But some empty spaces are ver important from the perspective of the story, because its problem or solution to it can exist inside them. (Herkman 1198:116)
According to many researcher the meanings are created in the relationship between the reader and the text when the reader negociates with the subject positions proposed by the text (Herkman 1998:163). The narration in comics consists of individual still images or static frames and the empty spaces between them. The sequential presentation of the images and the empty spaces in the narration create the textual subject. The subject resides in the empty space between the images and is completed in the mind of the reader. It is in that space where the identity of the reader and the textual subject meet and where the changes in the story from the narrative perspective happen. (Herkman 1998:164)
In addition to the key role of the empty spaces between the frames from the perpective of the storytelling, not even the images and words tell "everything" because they cannot express authentic movement or sound. The images are always cropeed representations or "graphical clues" leading to the meanings and from which the active intertpretation of the reader creates a content. (Herkman 1998:169)
As one interpretation of this universality can be seen the Japanese tradition. While traditional Western storytelling do not "wander" much due to the goal-oriented culture, in the East there is a rich tradition of cyclical and labyrinthine works of art. Japanese computer games may be heirs to this tradition, in the way they often emphasise being there over getting there. Opposing to the Western tradition of emphasising the continuous and connected actions, Eastern culture is equally concerned with the role of silence. As an illustrative example of this I see the differing conception of time and space which becomes highlighted in the story of the differing ways that Japanese gardens are perceived. Western people tend to look at the stones in order to count them, while Japanese people pay attention also on the space between them understanding that what exists between the elements can actually be the most important issue.
Contemporary genres of art as comics, picture stories, photo-essays or photo-novels propose images to be read in an order and throughout a certain period of time. In addition to this insistence on temporal structures the sequential characteristic is undeniable. Will Eisner defines comics as sequential art. Taken individually the pictures are merely pictures but when part of a sequence, the art of image if transformed into the art of comics (McCloud 1993:5).
Scott McCloud gives as a more specific definition of comics the following: "Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer" (McCloud 1993:9).
According to McCloud all of us perceive the world as a whole through experience of our sense and yet our senses can only reveal a world that is fragmented and incomplete. Our perception of "reality" is an act of faith based on fragmented. This phenomenon of observing the parts but perceiving the whole is called closure. We often commit closure, mentally completing that which is incomplete based on past experience. Some forms of closure are deliberate inventions of storytellers to produce suspense or to challenge audiences, while others happen automatically, without much effort. (McCloud 1993:62-63)
McCloud shows how closure can take many forms, some simple, some more complex. In film closure takes place continuously and our minds transform a series of still pictures into a story of continuous motion, while comics is a medium of communication and expressions where the audience is a willing and conscious collaborator and closure is the agent of change, time and motion. (McCloud 1993:64-65)
Comics panels fracture both time and space, offering a jagged, staccato rhythm of unconnected moments. Closure allows us to connect these moments and mentally construct a continuous, unified reality. (McCloud 1993:67)
McCloud states that participation is a powerful force in any medium and for example film makers have realised the importance of allowing the viewers to use their imaginations. But while film makers according to him use of audiences imaginations for occasional effects, comics must use it more often because the reader's deliberate voluntary closure is comics' primary means of simulating time and motion. (McCloud 1993:69)
By showing little or nothing of a given scene and offering only clues to the reader, the artist can trigger numerous images in the reader's imagination (McCloud 1993:86). Comics is a mono-sensory medium relying on only one of the senses to convey a world of experience, but between the panels none of our sense are required, which is why all of our senses are engaged. (McCloud 1993:89)
The comics creator asks the readers to join a silent dance of the seen and the unseen, the visible and the invisible. According to McCloud this dance is unique to comics because no other artform gives so much to its audience while asking to much from them as well. (McCloud 1993:92)
Martha Braun has stated that "the sequence (of images) endows its component parts with movement because we believe any sequence to be inherently orderly, logical, and progressive. It is the sequence that cues us to believe that the action represented was ongoing and that it took place in exactly the order we see reproduced. (...) Our faith in the sequence allows us to suspend our disbelief" (Picturing Time, Chicago UP, 1992, p. 137-138 on website: http://www.cws.unimaas.nl/blok34v/2part1.html).
A sequence of images, through the use of narrative, aspires to help the viewer understand something more than what one single image can display. The use of text together with the images can give the viewer or the reader more information, but still does not reveal everything thus leaving more space for imagination.
It is said that postmodernism with its suspicion of the great narratives, has reintroduced in art an aspiration for all types of small stories and narratives.
Brenda Dervin declares that "Information is a tool designed by human beings to make sense of a reality to be both chaotic and orderly" (Dervin 1999:39). She suggests that for information design the important perspective to adopt is the one looking at humans constructing a sense of their worlds and the ways in which it works and treating them as ordered and chaotic entities moving through an ordered and chaotic reality and constructing or making sense by designing and redesigning of their world as they move (Dervin 1999:40-41). Information design should therefore be perceived as a metadesign assisting people to make and unmake their information and thus sense that individuals can share the ways in which they have coped individually and collectively with order and chaos (Dervin 1999:43).
Elizabeth Reid sees the "virtual reality" as an experience including cultural constructs and imaginative experience. She defines virtual reality as constructs within the mind of human beings. She states that virtual worlds do not exist only in the technology used to represent them nor in the mind of the user bur rather in the relationship between internal mental constructs and technologically generated representations of these constructs and that the illusion lies in the user's willingness to treat manifestations of her own imaginings as if they were real. (Reid:1995:164-166)
McCullough states that "rich information spaces resemble well-directed theatrical productions in their appeal to our imagination" (McCullough 1996:148). He refers to Brenda Laurel and "Computers as Theatre" (1991) that the representation is the important element for the user, not the actions that happen behind it (McCullough 1996:151). The major similarity between human-computer interactivity and theatre lies in the notion of performance; "the representation is all there is"(Laurel 1993:15). Laurel says that like theatre the domain of designing human-computer experience employs representations as contexts for thought and therefore actually is "about creating imaginary worlds that have a special relationship to reality, worlds in which we can extend, amplify, and enrich our own capacities to think feel and act" (Laurel 1993:32-33).
The challenge of designing interaction becomes even more accentuated in the future environment which can be described with terms like ubiquitous computing, augmented reality, transparent interface and freedom of time and space due to the fact that information surrounds people everywhere and all the time. Empty space becomes a very important element in making sense of this media environment.
Empty space and silence can be called "nonformation" as the opposition of information. Its function can be to allow framing in order to be able to find the relevant pieces of information in the ever-present information (over)flow.
Like play always involves imagination, experience requires free space to be created because after all it happens in people's heads as a result of the interaction.
- Brenda Dervin, "Chaos, Order, and Sense-Making: A Proposed Theory for Information Design" in Jacobson, Robert, ed. Information Design. The MIT Press 1999.
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