Scene from Cory Arcangel installation Super Mario Clouds, 2002
Representation of three-dimensional forms through the single-point, single-plane perspective of the cathode-ray tube projection used for most views and projections of Internet urls has long been problematic for designers of Web pages intended to convey concepts of collected information. Understanding three-dimensional objects with only one viewpoint can be deceptive. In the context of viewing information displayed on Web pages, either for casual browsing or deep contemplation, users understand the limitations of what is seen and unconsciously process the limitations in experiencing volume, texture, space, gravity, mass, and weight, inherent in computer screen displays.
The technology created in 2001 by Pennsylvania-base CubicEye.net thus seems at first a movement toward unconventional and forward-thinking information display yet proves ultimately to be severely limited in scope, execution, and fundamental concept.
According to a story from an August 13, 2001, business news wire routing service for press releases, “The CubicEye metaphor of content management and delivery is based on effectively harnessing the mind’s ability to quickly and easily utilize spatial context.” What this means, basically, is that CubicEye displays linked, related Web pages in a perspectival format that appears to create depth as it theoretically reveals the content of numerous pages upon a single computer screen.
In fact CubicEye presents a visual organization system that is biologically, as well as logically, counterintuitive; this is likely the reason this “new” technology has not taken off. Viewed in light of Edward Tufte’s theories of graphic display, CubicEye is fails several of his stated criteria for good Web page organization and design. While CubicEye does show a lot of data, it does so clumsily and with a great deal of redundancy. The human eye cannot distinguish easily which marks, texts, and colors are critical to comprehension and which are irrelevant.
Some of Tufte’s principles are not directly applicable to the CubicEye program since the pageview system is user-generated and not limited to a specific collection of data or search parameter. Thus the “blame” for unattractive, unfriendly displays lies partially with the information manipulator. However, some violations of Tufte are inherent in the CubicEye interface. Some text by default will run along a vertical axis; graphics, when displayed out of their intended plane, are repulsive and ugly; and incongruent, viewer-deficient color combinations are unavoidable. Examples replicate an old-fashioned Autocad type of architectural rendering, shows how confusing a perspectivally disoriented amalgam of discrete Web pages can be when viewed using CubicEye’s system.
As an aside, when doing research for this project it was interesting to note that very few citations in mainstream or academic literature actually exist for CubicEye.net, disproportionate to its widespread word-of-mouth familiarity to library and information sciences students and educators. It turns out that CubicEye, along with more viable information organization programs and sites, was referenced in an edition of Library Technology Reports, authored by and subsequently repeatedly referenced by the American Library Association. The CubicEye.net site itself is today largely inert, citing just the few aforementioned press clippings.
Artists have long been fascinated by the presentation of the three dimensional in two dimensions and one plane. Tomasso Masaccio and Paolo Uccello were two painters of the early Florentine Renaissance who worked to develop realistic approximations of depth for use in painting. During the early Fifteenth Century, Masaccio and Uccello worked to develop mathematical parameters for the presentation of perspective. Masaccio pursued his research in the area of points of reference as experienced by the viewer while Uccello developed algebraic equations for the representation of depth perception in painting. The three primary directions for visual representation of depth are horizontal, vertical, and transverse, while the basic observational points experienced by the viewer are frontal, side, and planar.
The advent of computer imaging software has obviously made possible the presentation of not only depth but the visual rendering of 360 degree views and thus total virtual environments.
An interesting comparison to the work done by CubicEye is the output generated by another collaborative effort with the word the word “eye” in it, eyebeam.org, the technology and art collective. Eyebeam.org, a collective of artists mostly working in the “new media” of video and computer art have mounted extensive work employing ways of seeing and organizing information as leitmotifs. The work of one Eyebeam artist, Cory Arcangel, provides a counterpoint for CubicEye.net’s renderings in that it explores perspectival anomalies in computer animations and video games.
The work of one Eyebeam artist, Cory Arcangel, provides a counterpoint for CubicEye.net’s renderings in that it explores perspectival anomalies in computer animations and video games. Arcangel reinterprets the way information is organized for video game players by reducing, rather than increasing, the pieces of data available for inspection. One of Arcangel’s most well-known works, “Super Mario Clouds” was created by cracking open an old version of the popular Nintendo NES game and extracting all of the game’s visuals save the scrolling clouds of the background to the action. Exhibited as an installation on a large computer screen, the piece reveals itself as a devolution of the complicated narrative to the simplified, unstoried background. Arcangel’s other investigations have used the textual features of Nintendo games to compose random phrase fragments and unintended interpretations and perspectives of the video game “world,” reminding viewers of the two-dimensional nature of these created interfaces.
Eyebeam artist Cory Arcangel’s work is concerned with visual perception and perspectival anomalies as revealed through video games’ video game “world,” reminding viewers of the two-dimensional nature of these created interfaces.
When considering programs that seemingly offer new capacities for the organization and visualization of knowledge, library and information science students may actually find a gainful example in CubicEye.net, even though the site and technology itself offers a dubious product in terms of visual appeal and functionality. Examination of the site serves as an exercise in developing criticality around technology.
In an artist’s statement citing the motivation for his work, Arcangel said: “Modern software and hardware configurations often dictate a process of presenting the user with limitless options, thereby eliminating the need for invention. Exponentially growing options do not necessarily represent artistic progress or greater potential. In fact, they might do quite the opposite: mediocrity may stem from user-friendliness.”
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