Author Archives: Catherine Cromer

Environmental Art: Human Cognition of Nature Through Museums

By Catherine Cromer

A key tool in interpreting media and digital culture is forming a narrative or language of how to read the how human symbolic systems have been passed down through language and remediated in different formats as we attempt to make sense of them. One of the ideas found globally in every culture is an attempt to cognize—through speech, painting, writing, photography, film and many other mediums– the social function of “being one with nature” or exhibiting a sense of despair at the loss of connection with the natural world. For the purposes of this paper, I define “being one with nature” in the art world as a social function of utilizing materials of the earth or depicting nature through a creative means that is symbolic of the relationship between humans and the environment. Nature as art and nature in art has been a symbolic practice for over 75,000 years; the burgeoning of the mythology of mankind and the earth. Furthermore, the semiotics of earth and the environment in visual culture and media theory provides a cultural encyclopedia that varies in form, social significance and structure. The institution of the museum is one that mediates the interaction of complex ideas such as these by categorizing and organizing them in a familiar and socially significant venue that can communicate the complex intertextual nature of many artworks.

Based on the recognition of the museum as a form of cultural transmission, I aim to discover how the human desire to capture nature is mediated through art exhibits across the U. S. I believe that although the creators of artworks bring forth their own interpretations based on cultural norms, history and geographic location, they are inevitably remediated and defined by the U.S. museum structure through westernized social constructs and ideologies of race, religion and ethnicity. To research the validity of this claim, I will analyze three museum exhibits displaying artwork focused on humanity’s relationship with earth and the environment. These case studies will focus on the representation of “environmental art” from three different geographic locations mediated through three American cultural institutions.

The case studies include:

Because of the limitations of time and length, this paper limits its scope to these case studies because of their diverse geographic and cultural origins and their position as a mediator of nature and the human symbolic faculty. These are compelling examples of how the westernized art institutions in the U.S. frame understanding of earth and nature based on westernized cultural encyclopedias. Firstly, by defining the human-environmental relationship such as “being one with nature” and inevitably the a loss of connection with the natural world, this essay will contextualize the environmental art movement in its discursive practices and the cultural networks of each case study through Roland Barthes’ “Mythologies.” Then, through the application of Andre Malraux’s Museé Imaginaire, I will explore the way curatorial framework of the museums impose a western cultural encyclopedia of meaning to contentious and interpretative issues surrounding nature in order to communication to a popular audience. Case studies from Africa, Asia and the U.S. will help to demonstrate the imposition of western narratives of earth and the environment to “primitive” art forms and the semiotics of cultural differences. Finally, analyzing the mediation of the artworks through cultural lenses of climate, nature and the earth through the relations between the senders, receivers and intermediaries of the message will aid in understanding the function of the museum in the cognitive interpretations of environmental metaphors. To do this, Yuri Lotoman’s “Incompleteness Theorem” and theory of cultural semiotics will be used to reveal the sign systems that make up the memory of communities.

Earth as a linguistic metaphor has been a symbolic function of mankind since the paleolithic era, one that has been remediated from depictions of mother earth as seen below to modern reproductions which are concerned with the degradation of nature and loss of the earth.

Chausidis, p.8

The creation of pictorial representations in Africa and Asia thousands of years ago are the fundamental source in the human cognitive process in making sense of the environment outside of the mind and into a metaphor that we can process into language. Unlike people today, the creators of the artifacts above “did not possess objective, i.e. scientifically based, representations of the shape of the earth.

“Every culture formed personal representations regarding this question based on the characteristics of the local environment and the specific treatment of the culture towards it.” (Chausidis, p.6)

Thus, each culture began their understanding of nature by generating a cultural encyclopedia that has been reused and expanded upon to become a part of a global narrative that has common thematic elements yet differs by the mythology and semiotics of each culture.

Mythology and Nature

Barthes uses defines myth as a system of communication and mode of signification; a myth is not a concrete object or idea, but a message which is determined by its social usage and semantics. The study of semiology tells us that these myths are a form of speech and that the meaning we garner from them are “already made of a material which worked on so as to make it suitable for communication: it is because all the materials of myth (whether pictorial or written) presuppose a signifying consciousness, that one can reason about them while discounting their substance.” (Barthes, p.115. Mythologies) The implementation of nature in art is based on a myth of the earth and mother nature is based on a sacred idyll that has inconsistent meaning through localized, nationalized and global contexts.

Nyaba Leon Ouedraogo b. 1978, Burkina Faso. Earth Matters

The “Earth Matters” exhibit at the National Museum of African Art focuses on art dating back to the 1800’s that look at the human relationship with environment, land and nature ” through the lens of Africa, focusing on the very creative and visual ways in which individuals and communities negotiate complex relationships with the land beneath their feet and the earth at large.” As a continent full of rich natural resources yet economically and politically unstable,  the issues “that shape our times” and “lie at the heart” of the exhibition are structured around Africa as a less developed nation are more connected and understanding nature than developed counterparts. Drawing from origin myths of mankind and its birth from “mother nature,” (Chausidis, p.7) the exhibit     presents the different forms of art as a way to make sense of the environment that from its origin, the place where humans and nature evolved together and still holds some sort of mythical power of  creation and reverence. Furthermore, the categorical organization of the exhibit –Material Earth, Power of Earth, Imagining the Underground, Strategies of the Surface, Art as Environmental Action and Earth Works–facilitates the metaphor of Africa not just for the artists or the citizens, but to recall previous semantic meaning to signify the art works.

The picture to the above is one example of the way in which a art work gains meaning through the narrative of how the earth and human relationship that is not based on the myth, but on the cultural encyclopedia and semiotics of the institution. The burning of a computer by the young man in Africa shows discontent between modernization and nature, but it is mediated through simply more than the photo and photographer, it is processed through viewers symbolic function.

In “Going Green-New Environmental Art From Taiwan,” we see another construction of earth and environment from a non-western nation that uses the symbolic functions of the myth to call attention to the danger and degradation of the land. The exhibit summary itself sets up a cultural and institutional structure that activates the art as a social function not just for the environment, but for the social and political institutions as well as seen in the exhibit description”

The exhibition offers to the USA audiences an international perspective on environmental art and reflects the unique viewpoint and approach to nature of Taiwan’s contemporary artists who are just beginning to focus on the environment as an important issue for their country and the world. Taiwan is a very urban and highly developed technological country with many contemporary artists specializing in video art and new media. It is only recently that artists in Taiwan have begun to focus on the environment, and re-introduce to contemporary art the use of natural materials and a focus on the natural world that has always been of major importance in traditional Chinese art and culture.

Su-chen Hung’s ‘Tree with Arteries’ (2009)                                                                                                         Trees have arteries; they can feel the pain when we human beings are killing them.-Hung


Umberto Eco states that metaphors are the tools that help us truly understand encyclopedic properties (270) and in the case of metaphors of nature and environment, the myths we conceive through the symbolic faculty of our culture shapes how we see our own relationship to nature in light of others, particularly those from different non-westernized continents. 

The metaphor of tress having arteries displayed out in a literal fashion in the Hung’s art piece and spiritual metaphors and depictions, such as another piece by artist Cho-chung Lee called Everything is Buddha’ places the cultural semiotics of nature from one nature into that of our own view of Asian philosophy.  

Finally, the American exhibit “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine) is presented within a cultural encyclopedia already familiar to western ideologies, including the pop culture reference to the identically titled song by the band REM. The concept of western industrialization versus the environment is not a new phenomenon, but it has become a naturalized framework. The conquering and destruction of land that coincides with economic prosperity has become a given as the U.S. in particular is far more detached from the myths of nature surrounding those of African and Asian cultures.The piece from the Rampao Gallery above is far more reminiscent of displaying classical art, an example of the differentiating myths on cultural connections to the Earth that are less provocative and more modern/industrial focused.

It’s the End of the World as We Know it (and I Feel Fine)

The myth of earth and connotations of a culture’s connection has been remediated constantly over time to the point where the concept has become blackboxed and taken for granted. The depoliticizating effect of myths, as Barthes describes, “purifies the assumptions, makes them innocent,  gives them a natural and eternal justification, and a clarity which is not that of an explanation but that of a statement of fact.” (p.143) Therefore, our understanding of environmental art, although described by curators as a new perspective into art, still holds onto the semantics we have developed through our contexts of art, location, ethnicity and race in the U.S. as well as through the overarching effect of the museum as a legitimized and elite institution.

Museé Imaginaire & Cultural Semiotics 

The three examples above are curated by different institutions yet when combined within the same symbolic framework  can still be understood with the same “conceptual-organizational system ” maintained by the museums as institutions. Malraux’s concept of the Museé Imaginaire as a postmodern process museums and art history  is one way to place this collection of environmental art and humans in perspective.  As Malraux states:

 the collecting of works from diverse cultures and histories, and presenting them as a coexisting totality or unity, with the consequence that a contemporary work inserted into the collection modifies the concept of the whole.

Earth Matters brings forth art objects from the 1800s and from several locations throughout Africa to present a curatorial framework that is representing African views on the environment as a whole. Overall, the concept of the project attempts to bring together a collection about Africa, Earth and Art and that signifies history of humankind’s relationship with the nature, yet receivers of the message are already predisposed to understand a cultural encyclopedia based on western definitions of how people in Africa and Asia view and are connected to nature.

This remediation of artwork to fit into our own symbolic functioning system is an automatic process that happens within culture; rarely is it a mindful practice. According to Yuri Lotman, in order for culture to function it is vital for societies to create unified constructive principles and that our cultural expressions work as a “nonhereditary memory of the community,a memory expressing itself in a system of constraints and prescriptions.” (p.214)  As we look at the pieces of the work in each exhibit, we see not what the artist sees, but the history of our own cultural and context in which our mind has come to categorize concepts and ideas into language.  Asking what the word “earth” means is to delve into the mediums of communication, history and language, one that is not similar among individuals, much less cultures. 

Thus, if we look at Lotman’s “Incompleteness Theorem” we see that people are continuously “searching  for new ways to make their cultural experience whole through the development of new works, new interpretations, commentaries.” (Lotman) The metaphors, meaning and symbolism behind nature and earth are in a state of constant remediation and evolution in all cultures, not only our own. However, it is key to remember that the institutions providing the exploration in Africa, Asia and U.S. views of the environment have a history of social, political and economic contexts as do the viewers, the cultural encyclopedia is what enables use to make sense of our cognitive processes. A person viewing exhibitions such as ‘Earth Matters’ and ‘Going Green,’ will be susceptible to their exposure to “being one with nature” as a social function as experienced by their own culture, yet, at the same time will always be looking for new ways to understand the semantic context of the content to fulfill a desire of cultural mastery.


Works Cited

André Malraux, “La Musée Imaginaire (The Imaginary Museum)”.

Chausidis, Nikos, “Mythical Representations of ‘Mother Earth’ in Pictorial Media” Archaeology of Mother Earth Sites and Sancturies Throughout the Ages. 2012. 

Debray, Regis Transmitting Culture, trans. Eric Rauth. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000. Excerpts in pdf: From Chaps. 1-2; from Chap. 7, “Ways of Doing.”

Earth Matters: Land as a Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa. Exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art.

Eco, Umberto. “Metaphor, Dictionary, and Encyclopedia.” New Literary History: 15:2 (1984): 255-71.

Going Green: New Environmental Art From Taiwan. Travelling Art Exhibition.

It’s the End of the World as We Know it (and I Feel Fine). Exhibition at the Rampao College, New Jersey.

Kate Wong, “The Morning of the Modern Mind: Symbolic Culture.” Scientific American 292, no. 6 (June 2005): 86-95.

Roland Barthes, “From Work to Text

Roland Barthes, Mythologies, “Myth Today” (excerpt from Mythologies, trans. Annette Lavers, 1984, pp. 107-45).

Yuri Lotman, “On the Semiotic Mechanism of Culture



Google Glass: A “New” Reality?

By Catherine Cromer

It is because our brains, more than those of any other animal on the planet, are primed to seek and consummate such intimate relations with non-biological resources that we end up as bright and as capable of abstract thought as we are.

It is because we are natural-born cyborgs, forever ready to merge our mental activities with the operations of pen, paper, and electronics, that we are able to understand the world as we do.

The above quote by Andy Clark has never been so relevant as our technologies truly have become  an extension of ourselves  not only physically through our senses, but by holding our memories, thoughts and pieces of  our identity. The notion of “natural-born cyborgs” has never been so obvious than when one looks at the new Google Glass. The hype  buzzing around the internet and tech worlds describes the device as the next step in the fusion between the “real” world and the digital world, ultimately what many media reports are deeming a “true form” of augmented reality. However, upon further attempt to deblackbox this the Google Glass, it appears this technology is not as novel or innovative as many have made it out to be. 

The medium of a wireless invisible interface is a hot topic among a number of technologies and based on the theories of communication and mediums McLuhan, is an evolution of the integration of human and technological integration. McLuhan expresses the need for us to look at “the function of technologies under the paradigm of extensions of man,” asking us to look past the image or item that is front of us, or in the case of Google Glass, on us. The medium of Google Glass is continuing our pattern of discarding the noise to create an experience that is harder than ever before for critics to define as solely digital as the digital has become the real and the real the digital. Taking a picture or recording video from a first person perspective prevents any division of what many think of as two separate worlds. 

Furthermore, when you look at the history and development of the Google glass and similar technologies, the utopian/dystopian uproar among opposing sides seems like the typical old versus new arguments that are often found in evolving technologies. For example, before going to work   at Google Babak Amir Parviz wrote a paper, giving a greater deconstruction of the technology and its production called self-assembled crystalline semiconductor optoelectronics on glass and plastic.” Google Glass suddenly sounds a lot less exciting or innovative. The title within itself is a recognition that the technology should not be seen as a miraculous device by grounding it in scientific language that makes it seem simply as computerized eyewear

This image above taken from Steve Mann’s article “My Augmented Life” presents a deblackboxed diagram of how Google Glass works with basic knowledge of light refraction and computer science. The social impact and narrative that Google has created with their commercials is a way that the human symbolic faculty gives new technologies meaning. 

Also of interest is the idea of surveillance and the meaning that many critics have ascribed to Google glass as an invasion of privacy and step to far from Google. However this “invasion of privacy” that people claim Google Glass will perpetuate is already happening. Many of us are aware that Google and Facebook collect data on us and many of us complain, but just the same, many of us now recognize it as a necessary evil to make our lives easier and to continue to use the technologies and web services we want. While there are several arguments between the notion of utopian versus dystopian uses, the blog site “The State” says it well:

This data is already out there, being collected daily. It will not spontaneously arrive with Google Glass, nor is it limited to the massive data combine that is Google itself. Each and every one of us has already given up more data than a bus full of Google Glass wearers could collect. -Adam Rothstein, www.

Our life is now lived through data and as Clark proposes a number of times throughout his writings, is a extension of the human cognitive process the same way in which we now use our computers and smartphones as a part of our identity, and the ways in which people used to rely on pen and paper to express themselves and their identity in the world through letters, diaries and stories.

Diving into Design: Website Management

By Catherine Cromer

I by no means consider myself an expert in IT, coding or the computing world. I have worked the past two years in within the realms of social media marketing and web content management, working behind the scenes of the web interfaces I had taken for granted and never thought twice about my daily usage of the different mediums. I took the notion of software as an extension of our cognitive expressed by Andy Clark earlier this semester as a way to understand how I interact not only with the interface of web browsers, but the web content management systems that I have utilized, creating content on the inside and viewing the content on the outside.

As Manovich states “we live in a software culture – a culture where the production, distribution, and reception of most content and increasingly, experiences is mediated by software.”  I found the entire idea of cultural software particularly striking as it ties into my former work at Whole Planet Foundation managing web content and social media, as well as my current position working on the revamp of the Student Affairs websites at Georgetown. The co-existence of authoring and accessing functions that this experience gave me made me aware of the noise that disrupted the interface. Looking back on both past experiences and analyzing my current ones, I can understand how relationships are mediated through interface with the media, organization and people represented on the page. This is taken to an even more extensive level when analyzed on social media outlets such as Facebook and twitter where the relationship between creator and user is blurred even further. 

Taking my work at Whole Planet Foundation as an example, the website and its colorful interface is forming a relationship with visitors as well as a vibrant representation of the organization as a whole. The facts of human culture being mediated here are numerous from the Whole Foods Market brand and ideology it contains, the pictures of women and their businesses,the metrics, the biographies giving narrative and life to the microcredit clients. Browsing through the site, there is milieu of meanings, values, beliefs, ideologies, rituals, dress and behavior codes contained within the pictures, their placement, the text, the social media links and so on. What I find even more interesting after examining the readings of Manovich and Clark is that after working on the creation the Whole Planet website interface through the interface of a web content management system, is that our world view is for the most part always connected to software, if not constantly through the screens we interact with. Working on the website, I was made away of the noise that disrupted the interface whether it be through the glitches in website browsers such as Google Chrome not loading Youtube videos or problems with the management system in displaying awkwardly spaced text, misplaced photos or bad website layout. These issues disrupt communication and interfere not only with the impact of the message, but with the ability to extend our cognitive processes to interact with it. As a creator of content for the website, I was surprised at how easily the generation of web content became second nature to me and began to feel like a natural extension of my thinking, an idea that makes Clark’s theory of the extended mind and mindware upgrades all the more intriguing. 


Internally Inspecting iPhones

A major theme in our dissection of the worlds of media and digital artifacts that becomes clearer and clearer is that on the surface, we view our interactions with objects such as the iPhone as a given process of society and that these “new” technologies provide us with easier and quicker communication than ever before. The majority of people do not question the screen interface, media functions of their apps or the mediation of the policies, production, capitalism and cultural message that go into making and distributing the iPhone. Manovich states that our use of the digital has “become an assumed part of the everyday existence, something which does not seem to require much reflection about” summing up our tendencies to blackbox things as we have discussed throughout the course.

At first glance, the interface of my iPhone 4 was nothing more than a bunch of icons on a screen that quickly informed me of its function and allowed to fulfill my goals of calling, texting, using social media, taking photos, checking the weather and etc. However, after taking into account the type of theories proposed by McLuhan and Barthes, the semantics and reproduction found on the screen were much evident such a microphone for voice memos, an address book for contacts and musical note for music. All of these not only represent culturally significant items that have been reproduced into the digital interface and functions, but continue a set of pre-established rules and symbols as in the cultural encyclopedia and recycling of mediums within one another. Manovich goes further in explaining this in “New Media from Borges to HTML” when he says “all culture, past and present, is being filtered through a computer, with its particular human-computer interface. Human-computer interface comes to act as a new form through which all older forms of cultural production are being mediated.” Pg.7

Looking at McLuhan’s theory that the medium is the message alongside Manovich’s analysis in “Media After Software,” the iPhone, media functions are more than playing a youtube video or snapping a photo and uploading it onto Facebook. Using the example of photographs presented in the reading, the point of contact and immediacy met as the light hit camera, capturing an immediate moment in time. Now, images are captured by the software within the iPhone, which is in sync with the software from Facebook to which we can immediately upload a post and let our friends know what we were doing a few seconds beforehand. While the software is faster and presents a new form of immediacy, it is framed within the cultural, social and political context of its predecessor.

The notion of remediation discussed by Bolter and Grusin reaches farther in explaining the lack of discussion and recognition of iPhones as a technology that has developed based on past creations. “Our culture wants both to multiply its media and to erase all traces of mediation: ideally, it wants to erase its media in the very act of multiplying them. (p.5) Their statement rings true as our iPhones are updated and proliferated with new apps to make our lives easier and to essentially place our entire lives onto a single device, a path that is created in part to Apple’s marketing, software development and business practices. Once the touch-screen became a popular feature, it helped to eliminate another barrier in the human-computer interaction experience.  Bolter and Grusin state,”virtual reality should come as close as possible to our daily visual experience and transparent interface is one that erases itself.” As we see the proliferation of media interfaces that enable touch and 3D technology, we are seeing the movement to erase acknowledgement of the technology. For example this new screen cover for the iPhone 5 allows for 3D viewing without wearing glasses or any other device that would intrude upon reality. We are drawn even deeper into the technology as a given object of reality.

More information on 3D iPhone covers:


Tweets Aplenty: Power of 140 Characters

By Catherine Cromer

Transmission and the social, political and cultural embeddedness of media is evident in our constant need to connect instantaneously and formation of an online presence. Twitter is an interesting example of a media form that has been shaped through past and present institutional standards. For example, the 140 character limit of Twitter and it’s transmission of short messages heralds back to the days of the telegraph when the messages were concise and to the point, and for the time period transcended the notions of time and space. Twitter and other social media outlets present us with a live feed of what is going on in the world and is obviously shaped by different social and cultural agencies than its predecessor. The mediology of Twitter needs to be analyzed in its usage of real-time communication, the position of the users, communicators and interpreters, and the effect of Twitter’s institutional background in context of ideologies, memory, traditions and values. 

March marks the 7th year anniversary of Twitter’s launch in 2006 during SXSW Interactive in Austin, TX . Below are several quick facts of Twitter’s development over the past several years.

Courtesy the

The numbers above shows the combination of transmission and cultural of this media format as both a proliferation of institutions while also displaying Twitter’s power as an institution. The number of uses and tweets sent everyday is an indication of our need to communicate and have our voices heard. The use of tweets by politicians as Barack Obama, who currently holds the record for the most retweets, indicates the utilization of social media within the institution of government. It is not Twitter or smartphones that are simply giving the messages agency, it is the people and organizations within our societal structures that give it power.

The bottom-up model that Twitter enables and its model geared toward smartphone usage, puts in Twitter in a different mediological context than other social media outlets like Facebook. The real-time transmission of 140 character messages, the kind of brevity used in other institutions like businesses, politicians, activists and so forth to create a succinct marketing/branding message, has created a new type of platform. Without the focus on the personal and friends list that Facebook promotes, Twitter as an institution has become a transmission of ideas, news and opinion from an array of people from celebrities, journalists, political figures, artists, businesses, activists and even the Pope.

Courtesy The Huffington Post

The idea of the Pope on Twitter, while at first seeming quite bizarre, is perpetuated not just by the popularity of Twitter as media and technology, but reaches back in our human history and culture of meaning-making in which we evolve to reach out, send our message to have others interpret it just as people did with the invention TV, newspapers, telephones, telegraphs, letter delivery systems, messengers and etc.

Another example of mediology within the twittersphere is usage of the platform for research, public opinion and free speech within society. It also raises the question of privacy within our institutions like many technologies these days. The link below shows an interactive location-based map from USA Today of tweets about the Supreme Court hearing on gay marriage based on GPS location systems and hashtags. The tweets represent people on both sides of the ruling and again attests the real-time communication factors, citizen involvement and now the political and social connotations involved within the Twitter world and all of its components such as access to the website, use of smartphones and political and cultural ideologies in an increasingly shrinking network of discourse.





The Musée Imaginare

Contemplating the realization of André Malraux’s Musée Imaginare through the Google Art Project, I am left debating the consequences of our construction of art and the museum structure. I am torn in weighing the pros and cons of the physical entity of a museum and all it entails and the digital museum presented by the Google Art Project. Initially, my first response that the Google Art Project  was hesitant because I felt it detracted from the experience of actually “seeing” the art, the authenticity of seeing the actual art piece in person was gone. Looking at the Post-Impressionist gallery from the MOMA  after a recent visit to the museum, idea of presenting only 17 of the museum’s more famous pieces appeared to be a negative aspect of the technological reproduction of art for mass consumption that was spoken about by Benjamin and Malraux. However, thinking back to the physical structure and presentation of these pieces in the MOMA, I wonder how much the impact these famous pieces such as Van Gough’s Starry Night actually had. First of all, the majority of the paintings displayed in Google’s interface could mostly be found on the 5th floor of the MOMA, the top floor. Secondly, I found myself better able to explore the photos with the zoom in/zoom out focus than I did while actually at the museum, in which crowds of people surrounded paintings, particularly the famous ones. While this gave me the chance to explore artworks within the museum I was unfamiliar with, it leads me to wonder how much the experience of museum is a form of gaining Bordieu’s cultural capital and how much is truly appreciating and experiencing the art. Using Baudrillard;s notions of simularca and simulation as an example, the Mona Lisa at the Louvre has been reproduced thousands, if not millions of times. We are used to seeing it on stamps, on TV and in books among other media outlets, reality of actually seeing it in person is diminished and at times it appears nothing more than a commodity in which western society has attached cultural capital.

The Google Art Project on the other hand, gives access to art from all over the world the the interface to explore and discover history that they would not have otherwise and to an extent curate a collection of their own that is entirely based the museum structure. Below are possible implications of the The Google Art Project and Google’s involvement in art interface from a blog site for Curator Journal in an article entitled The Google Art Project: a new generation of museums on the web?

  • The gigapixel scans enable a kind of encounter with the art that is not even possible in the galleries. As Julian Raby, director of the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler Galleries, recognized, the ability to engage with the work of art in this way transforms the web experience from an informational one to an emotive one. High definition/high resolution video and images are a good example of how the web and digital media can be used to complement, rather than imitate, the encounter with the artwork in the gallery.
  • Image recognition may just be the answer to how we’ll deliver location-based services in museums. These can be based on a combination of panoramas (Street View or Photosynth or other: may the best technology win!); image recognition à la Google Goggles; and OCR of labels. Lost in the Louvre? Stop, look around with your phone’s camera, and it will recognize where you are and show you your location on a map.
  • Museums will collaborate more on the web: sharing content, links, and enriching each others’ online experiences; however, for this to be workable, we need a technology solution that makes our content “phone home” so we can accurately track traffic to our assets, and also a cross-platform CMS that allows us to manage our content on multiple sites and platforms, both those under our control and not, from a single central point.
  • MAYBE we’ll get Google maps of the interiors of museums from this, and our visitors can enjoy a consistency of interface and quality from museum maps that is not possible today.

All of these new technological transformations have a huge impact in the way we experience art. Image recognition, Google maps and the ability to use web/smartphone resources takes the notions of hyperreality, simulation and the museum without walls in the type of technological revolutions referred to by Benjamin, Malraux and Baudrillard. By using technology in association with museum trips could foster more interactivity and perhaps make the experience of viewing are more “real” by providing background and insight that allows for a self-created experience and navigation of the museum rather than a more passive experience.


Intertextuality, Musicals and Love

Recognizing that the creation of all media relies on our ability to understand narrative and that culture works are a dialogue which create a network of semiotics for us to make meaning, the first cognitive comprehension of these ideas came to me in the form of one of my all time favorite movies. Baz Luhrmann’s film Moulin Rouge is very much a musical and cultural mosaic that in exemplifies the idea of remix/hybridity by not only utilizing a plethora of popular music, but by reusing culturally symbolic genres such as the “star-crossed lover” motif found in Romeo & Juliet. To synthesize the rules, genres, and codes used to understand the post-digital cultural production I focused on one of the most popular scenes/songs of the movie: Elephant Love Medley

The term medley itself already contains cultural connotations both as a hybrid of music as well as a cultural connotation music with Broadway and other large scale musical numbers. This particular clip of the movie is more than a reproduction  of grand musical theater but demonstrates the capability of remix culture to connect with the audience in a nonlinear fashion. The hodgepodge of musical nodes to Elton John, The Beatles and Phil Collins all focused on the meaning of the word “love” allows for an unlimited amount of possible interpretations and connections as network theory demonstrates. For example, upon first watching this scene there were cultural interpretations behind the songs in which I recognized, yet the majority of them I did not know the original artist or origination of the song. For me, the songs took meaning based on usage in other media texts of TV and movies where songs such as “I Will Always Love You” was used in a dramatic love sequences or a parody of the dramatic sequences.

Taking the Bakhtinian approach, this digital artefact uses dialogism  to combine a myriad of musical references which are already subjective to the audience in their own right, to create a new discourse and community of meaning. The songs within this one song, alongside the numerous other pop song references such as Madonna, Nirvana and The Police turn the film into more of  the type of tragic love story we are all familiar with, but in a cultural encyclopedia of music that anyone familiar with popular American music can relate with. 



Community-Lesson in Culture and Myth

As far as the comprehension of semantic meaning in current American culture, very few shows hit the level of meta analysis and awareness as the TV show Community. The show relies on the knowledge and understanding of different genres in TV and movies and utilizes those meanings and theories to create a\parody that is self-aware of  Barthes notion of  “recycling previous texts and especially mythological ones,” in order to create a semiology that recognizes the signs and signification within its own content. Moreover, Yuri Lotman’s definition of culture as made up of special features and sign systems gives us an understanding of how the show plays off of niche subcultures in it’s sign system and also plays off our understanding of text in different genres much like the play on words (a feature the show sometimes uses) is used in language to create jokes and  point out hypocrisy or stereotypes. Community is a mash-up of pop culture references and parody that can be best understood by viewers who have familiarity with the majority of cliches found in  movies, TV shows, video games, music, celebrities. For that reason, the show  draws from the idea of language, showcasing that our comprehension of parody is built upon existing knowledge of  structures  that help us to interpret the semantics of the jokes or genres. However, unlike language as Lotman points out, culture is nonhereditary and a social phenomenon which is indicative of Community’s presence on TV. It has a small audience but maintains a huge fanbase.

The video above displays an instance of Community utilizing meaning-making to make commentary on movie genres knowing that many viewers are aware of the classic semiotics of these texts. However, it is also important to realize that like many TV shows Community’s relevance is defined by the cultural longevity of the people. If people no longer remember the pop culture or genre references defined in the video, it is no longer relevant.

This clip is an obvious parody of morning talk shows, such as Good Morning American, and uses little details such as the individuals behind the glass door holding up signs, as a sign system to help the viewer interpret the sign. Additionally, the set up of the chairs, the “happy talk” of Troy and Abed, and the mugs are all ways using the semiosphere of TV shows to make fun of it on another TV show. Community is very much a blatant depiction of intermedial and uses the viewers cultural encyclopedia of pop culture to create a symbolic dialogue. The show is harder for people to grasp when they have little knowledge of the semitoics of pop culture which limits its popularity as cross-globalized text unless the viewer is very familiar with American culture. The myths and textual pastiche that for the show Community are specific in determining the viewers mapping system of the program. Without previous structure or recognition of signs relevant to the show, it is difficult to get the show as long-running pop culture joke.

Can’t Miss the Atomic Bomb

By Catherine Cromer                                                                                                                          The concept of music videos in relation to semiotics is an interesting case study as the visual signs provide meaning to the music that may not have previously perceived by the listener. The lyrics to a song are subjective in that even though a listener understands the words, what the listener identifies the words with can take a different meaning or symbolize different events for every person. Songs have different meanings to different people and even when all people can cognitively make sense of the lyrics linguistically/grammatically and we can comprehend it in the semiosphere, it is not possible for anyone to interpret the song through the same mediation of meaning. When a music video is thrown into the fray, it presents a infinite slew of signs and symbols as structured by the songwriter/band and video director, and meaning making in this context can is dependent not only on easily interpreted signs, but also on the structure of interpretation by the viewer based on prior social and cultural experience. For instance, the song and music video for the The Killers single “Miss Atomic Bomb” relays a number of signs and metaphors through it’s name and lyrics alone. Looking at the segment of lyrics below, including the song title, there are numerous linguistic signs and metaphors for the listener to interpret.

Miss Atomic Bomb
Making out we’ve got the radio on
You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone
You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone

In the instance “Miss Atomic Bomb,” the use of the understood title of Miss typically as a young single female is a signifier for Atomic Bomb, turning it into the signified concept of a person, one who has a dramatic and explosive effect on the singer.

Racing shadows in the moonlight
We’re taking chances on a hot night
And for a second there we’d won
Yeah we were innocent and young

Adding to this, we can look at Beneviste’s notion of the duality of the individual and the other and the time and reality that the discourse represent. The use of I, you, and we help to establish the transition between past and present and are symbolic forms of narrative relating the point of view of the singer that is familiar to listeners from the old boy meets girl, star-crossed lovers genre.

The dust cloud has settled, and my eyes are clear
But sometimes in dreams of impact I still hear
Miss Atomic Bomb, I’m standing here
Sweat on my skin
And this love that I’ve cradled
Is wearing thin (Miss Atomic Bomb)
But I’m standing here and you’re too late
Your shock-wave whisper has sealed your fate

This last verse uses the symbolism of the metaphor Miss Atomic Bomb to create further meaning indicating a less-than happen ending in the singers memory. Words such as impact, shock-wave and dust-cloud have sociocultural connotation when interpreted under the context of the words “atomic bomb” in creating a devastating and irreversible effect. Using Pierce’s theory of first, second and thirdness, first the words begin abstractly as a group of letters strung together. Second, the words are recognized and a perceived meaning of each word is understood. Third, the possibility of the meaning of the lyrics takes place in each individuals understanding of the mediation between the words.

In my own personal experience, my interpretation of the song changed drastically once I watched the music video and learned about the meaning imposed by the The Killers in relation to their other music. The semiotics involved in the visual aspects of the video alone provide infinite amounts of signs to be deciphered.

The Killers-Miss Atomic Bomb-Battle Born 2012

This video allows for a lot of discussion on the different forms of mediation that communicate meaning in the video. Several dualities present themselves such as the switch between past and present, the transition between animation and real-life and the the juxtaposition between the  world of the animation and desolate desert landscape of the real-world. There are several instances of icon, indexes and symbols that give new meaning-making in the video, such as the symbolic nature of the diamond ring as sign for engagement and love, the image of the spinning clock to indicate the passage of time. The way in which we interpret the signs whether through Peirce’s model or Saussure’s model, allow us to understand the story of music video even if we turned off the sound by recognizing the different segmentation of the video, one that is very familiar to our culture of stories of lost loves or Romeo & Juliet scenarios. The combination of song and video propose a new meaning for the song and a new way for watchers/listeners to interpret it, or to combine their previous interpretation of the song with the symbols presented in the music video.

To add one more note of complexity to the semiosis of “Miss Atomic Bomb,” the video is a follow-up to the single “Mr.Brightside” that the The Killers released on their first album in 2004. The meaning making behind this video and the continuation of its story in “Miss Atomic Bomb” provide a whole new segment to analyze. 

The Killers-Mr. Brightside-Hot Fuss 2004

New Media, Medium and the Message

By Catherine Cromer                                                                                                                 Access to new media, particularly social media, is now taken for granted much like other media objects of the past despite the increased complexities and mediums in a highly digital, or electronic, culture. The popularity and widespread use of smartphones has created a different kind of digital and media culture that is mediated through a number of institutions and social processes that are embedded in a history of changing technology and adaption of media landscapes by the social, political and economic landscape. For example, Instagram provides an interesting case study of how new media functions not merely through user-generated content, but through the medium as the message that ties the ubiquity of such media sharing and communication to notions of space and time, power and authority. Originally a mobile phone app, Instagram presents a metamedium interface that as McLuhan would say “works by making itself invisible.” Through a phone, millions of people are able to receive, send and upload data through a blink of an eye to these photography website, now owned by social media mogul Facebook. However, it is not just just the numerous pictures of food, cats and photo-filtered landscapes that make the meaning behind Instagram, it is its medium and mediation of photos, internet, phone, production and history.


In “Always Already New,” Gitelman points out that new media “is never entirely revolutionary: new media are less points of epistemic rupture than they are socially embedded sites for the ongoing negotiation of meaning as such.” The examples of the printing press and telegraph demonstrate how the information and communication produced from these technologies reconstructed the format of daily life by change the mode in which humans perceived and experience symbols. While perhaps not as groundbreaking as either of the aforementioned artefacts, Instagram lies within the greater medium of smartphones and social media with the additional revamping of the prior media technology of the camera and photography.  It’s position as part of the world of “user-generated media” makes the mediology of application hard to distinguish from its content. However, in order for Instagram to function, is important to understand the institutional-social structures, such as the creation and proliferation of smartphones for instant media gratification, companies like Apple and Facebook among others who have invested into the program and the desire of users for a sense of “power and authority” in producing self-generated media content. Instagram’s logo itself depicts a camera, yet one that symbolizes the notion of producing digital media through social media through the lens of a phone that can than be manipulated to look like an “authentic” photograph is an interesting of the extension of creating a picture and reality of ourselves though this medium. As it’s name implies, Instagram has changed the idea of time and space by allowing for automatic pictorial updates that are complex not only as a still moment of life,but one that can be altered through filters and cropped in matter of seconds.

As a form of cold media, Instagram is highly participatory and therefore depends on its users. However, in the land of the digital, the power and authority of who owns what is a contested social-ideological idea. The concept of ownership recently came into dispute as Facebook, who bought Instagram last year, announced in late 2012 that it “owned” all photos taken by users and had “the right to license all public Instagram photos to companies or any other organization, including for advertising purposes.” ( They quickly took out the language from the policy agreement after user uproar, but the dissemination of personal information is a mediation of the new digital era arising from these “free” social media sites. Additionally, to understand the mediation of digital photos, the evolution of photography, phones, the internet and social media need to be looked at as reconfigured means of communication and human understanding. The medium of the camera and the production of photography changed people’s cognitive and sensory faculties by providing easily reproducible, printable and in general real-life visuals of people, places and things without them actually being there at that exact time. Instagram is extending that notion in combination with social media in which it is common practice now to form digital identities and have multiple modes of instant communication. Many of us, especially younger generations have grown up with smartphones and access to social media, taking this technology and instant media sharing for granted. However, to understand the way that popular applications like Instagram shape our modes of communication, we have to understand the emergence and context of the medium.





Power of Cognition

Storytelling is vital to human cognition in making sense of world and reality that we construct in living our everyday lives. The production of language and symbolic meaning-making in film has many layers from production, mediation, communication within the film and outwards to the audience. In Mindware, Clark presents the mind as a “meat machine” and as a biological computer system that is separated from all other things on this planet by self-awareness and thoughts; our meta flow of thoughts about thoughts and our reason-respecting flow of actions are structured in such a systematic way that we have the ability to watch and comprehend commentary on the degradation of human communication and acknowledge “languages” that we don’t understand. Throughout the readings, I was reminded of the Disney-Pixar film “Wall-E” which can be evaluated by it’s combinatorial meaning systems, grammar and distributed cognition both in it’s creation as a computer animated production and in it’s story and characters. As an example, I will use the clip below to demonstrate how people make sense of the film in it’s current form and how it showcases the three different instances of human symbolism and meaning.

Two major points are to be made of this scene:

1. Wall-E and his robot counterparts do not speak English except for names, yet their beeps and non-verbals are familiar and continue the narrative.   

2. There is obvious meaning to the depiction of humans living cognitively through technology, a warning and foreboding of the loss of “real” human communication system and cognition of the collective group.    

The film follows the life of an A.I that has emotions and “falls in love” with another machine, Eve. The story does not have include a lot of human speaking until Wall-E encounters them on a spaceship. What is intriguing about the movie is the way it moves the story along , knowing or at least expecting that the audience can follow based on verbal and social cues associated with human grammar. The ability to manipulate the movements and “expressions” of the characters through CGI help to make the robots seem “human” with their reasoning and expressive language capabilities despite their machine like experience. Their actions and emotions make sense to us as we follow them on the screen because it plays out a basic narrative that we are all familiar with, boy                                                               meets girl, girl is “kidnapped,” boy goes to save girl. Intriguingly, even though the robots are clearly machines, it is easier to assign them gender roles, provided by the cognitive stimuli in the form of symbolic human tones and actions, to make the story more meaningful and follow the complex and logical structure of the human through process. Or in this case, the belief in lack of logic when involving love. In this sense, and in many other films, this narrative is a form of grammar where the viewer knows the basic story, but as it is reformatted, are able to engage with the people, or in this case robots, based on the affordances of the environment around them.

The second part of the film focuses on Wall-E’s interaction with the humans who live on flying chairs, communicating right next to each other via futuristic skype-like screens rather than face-to-face. This human “dystopia” presents a look into the effects of distributed cognition. Wall-E’s  interactions on the abandoned Earth are mainly with non-living external artifacts, excluding his pet cockroach. He instead watches movies on TV and exhibits a sense of loneliness from lack of communication with others. When he encounters Eve, and later the humans, his cognitive environment changes. Additionally, the humans display an interesting example of the idea of distributed cognition as an interaction between human and technologies and social organization itself as a form of cognitive architecture. (Hollan, Hutchins, Kirsh) Humans have entered a state in which technology has taken over many of the cognitive actions that were once performed face-to-face and mediating all relationships through technology. It is a more extreme example of what many people are arguing today about how technology is rewiring our brain and how we perceive the world and relationships. The entire culture of social practices and interaction with external artifacts has changed in the community of humans in the film, with Wall-E being  more cognitively able than the meat machine of the human brain.

On a side note, this short blog on “The New Yorker” looks into creating a simulation of the human brain in computers: The Brain in the Machine

Andy Clark, Mindware: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Cognitive Science. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Hollan, James, Edwin Hutchins, and David Kirsh. “Distributed Cognition: Toward a New Foundation for Human-computer Interaction Research.” ACM Transactions, Computer-Human Interaction 7, no. 2 (June 2000): 174-196.

Zhang, Jiajie, and Vimla L. Patel. “Distributed Cognition, Representation, and Affordance.” Pragmatics & Cognition 14, no. 2 (July 2006): 333-341.







Linguistics, AI’s and Cowboys, Oh My!

The linguistic skills that develop through childhood, which permeate our culture, media and digital technology are often overlooked in judging media and communication processes. At the same time, the way we interpret boundaries of language in media and how we use sociolinguistics as a cultural identifier goes beyond tthe innateness Chomsky proposes. Two recurring concepts that struck me were the analysis of human language and technology and the formation symbolic systems with sociolinguistics. The examples of word play and the speed in which human cognition can affirm and respond in forming a “coherent”  assemblage found in Pinker’s “How Language Works” was fascinating in understanding the part semantics plays in differentiating human and computer interaction. Pinker gives several examples of the Turing Machine and other human/computer experiments that demonstrate a computer’s or artificial intelligence agent’s inability to “sound human” when attempting to understand abstract concepts that come more naturally in human comprehension and response in making sense of language.

The video below gives a comical and extreme example of two AI systems attempting to have a conversation with each other. While both are “aware” that the other is a robot, it does show that there is more at work than words and grammar. The nonsensical nature of the conversation displays the the power of the faculty of language in how humans comprehend word/grammar meaning and its context all in a manner of seconds.

I found Pinker’s notions that “language conveys news” and that “language makes infinite use of finite media” to be extensions of the idea of creating our “humanness” through symbolic meaning. The AI bots attempt to convey an informational conversation but fail to recognize semantic components of the other because they are programmed pieces of technology. While AI’s could continue making infinite sentences, they would do so out of memory or program, not in the same cognitive or meaningful way in which a human constructs sentences, behavior and in some instances, reality. However, as digital technology and AI are continually improved, it will be interesting to see if it is possible to create an artificial being that can copy the innate capacities of language that Chomsky believes we are born with.

The second concept that struck me was the effect of language and how all its components of grammar play into the field of sociolinguistics where our cultural, societal and individual identities are formed. This focuses less on Chomsky’s theories than those that account for the structure and function of a language in society. A recent article from my home state of Texas displays the nature of cultural associations through linguistics.

Is the Texas Twang Dyin’, Y’all? Other Accents Blend In.

This article brings up a number of interesting points and questions that coalesce with this week’s past readings.To some of those who live in Texas and other parts of the south, this “southern slang” represents a way of life and sense of identity of belonging to the southwest.However, these seemingly innocent phrases take different meaning for others who finds the grammar to represent an antiquated less educated form of language that can symbolize a number things such as conservatism, backwardness and cowboys among other stereotypes. This example goes to show it is more than the simple ability to learn a language or regional dialect, but the semantics of how we interpret the users in society. As the article points out, politicians and musicians have used thesouthwest or “Texan” grammatical syntax and slang to their benefit. However, these “trademark” linguistics phrases are, according to the article, being homogenized by the media as well as by the influx of new Latino populations to the area. As linguistics creates meaning between individuals and in  the media, the idea of technology reshaping our perception and learning of language is an interesting concept. So is the process of diverging and growing populations slowly coming together to form new dialects, such as the Spanglish that I heard so commonly in my hometown of El Paso.

Linguistics appeals to me beyond Chomsky’s dissection of grammar and innateness, but as the overall cognitive focus of how live our daily lives in communication with others and in forming our identity, Additionally, it is intriguing to see how language and linguistics is the basis for all functioning technology when you look at code in addition to the attempt to reproduce human linguistic capabilities through our technologies

*On a personal note, I still occasionally say y’all and use the word “wrangle” in conversation and emails. However, the biggest response I have gotten since moving from Texas to Washington DC has been “Oh, you don’t have an accent, you talk like a normal person.”

Courtesy ABC News/Getty Images

John Searle, “Chomsky’s Revolution in Linguistics,” The New York Review of Books, June 29, 1972.

Steven Pinker, “How Language Works.” Excerpt from: Pinker, The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language. New York, NY: William Morrow & Company, 1994

From Andrew Radford, et al. Linguistics: An Introduction. 2nd ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Communication Models, Media and the Inauguration

Throughout the many theories and models of communication and information systems, an often controversial argument is the process of transmission and communicative powers of the mass media. This medium transmits messages that are not only shaped by production, companies and institutions, but through the construction of language and perception that create the reality. In “Encoding/Decoding”, Hall points out that,

“A raw historical event cannot, in that form, be transmitted by a television newscast. Events can only be signified within the aural-visual forms of the television discourse. In the moment when a historical event passes under the sign of discourse, it is subject to all complex formal rules by which language signifies. The event must become a story before it becomes a communicative event.”

This excerpt of Hall’s points out a timely concept that frames the coverage of the 2013 Inauguration in relation to this week’s breakdown of the complexity of mediums and societal effects in communication and the way we process information. As an excited and incredibly fatigued attendee of President Obama’s 2nd inauguration, I found it surreal to turn on the TV or browse online the vast number of accounts and depictions the event I just witnessed on ironically enough on the TV screen of the jumbotrons at the National Mall. This reaches beyond the simple sender/receiver model of Shannon’s Mathematical Communication Theory and showcases how the digital age has provided not only new ways in contextualizing or receiving messages and data, but how it can change our understanding of information systems.

This interactive feature on the New York Times webpage NYTimes-President Obama’s Inaugural Address Dissected dissects and frames the meaning behind Obama’s speech,with the writings of several different NY Times authors in order to provide context and observance. In essence, it is giving the historical event a different observation or perception of reality by time snippet. Not only does this coincide with Hall’s notion of “complex structure of dominance” in which each separation of Obama’s speech is imprinted to readers in the view of the NYT as an institution, but it also provides examples of the use of language and symbolism to facilitate the understanding of media’s role in communication models.

This medium of interactive new media helps us to understand how more complex models of communication that effect the fabric of social, political and cultural creation. In Foulger’s “Ecological Model”, “communication between people (creators and consumers) is mediated by three constructs, with language used to build messages within media.” Barack Obama’s Inauguration speech created by him and a team of speech writers, is a message to communicate his plans for the next four years via words that are then transmitted through a loudspeaker to the public and then broadcast as well as written about. To the many people who watched the event on TV or read about it online or in the newspaper, this historical event was framed around the grand history and story of the United States as well as within the perception of Obama and his first term. Additionally, the idea that“communication is a symbolic process whereby reality is produced, maintained, repaired, and transformed” presented by Carey gives the reproduction of this speech within the context of the NYTimes feature a different understanding of the event than a person actually at the Capitol. It also raises the question of for those in attendance of inauguration of the effect of thousands of flags waving in the air on the jumbotron, providing the crows a medium of communication that reflects themselves live on the screen and to the millions of people watching.

In Floridi’s “Information: A Short Introduction,” he sets up a very methodical process of how humans consume and utilize data in even the most simple contexts. In relation to the production of media and the presentation of media, our ability manipulate and understand data has allowed us to become one with the information. He states that “ICTs have made the creation and the utilization of information, communication, and computational resources vital issues, not only in our understanding of the world and of our interactions with it, but also in our self-assessment and identity.” Today, ICT’s like cellphones are truly apart of self-assessment and identity which is why many people at the inauguration were annoyed to find the cellphone networks jammed due to the amount of people attempting to facebook, tweet, instagram and send text messages live to their family, friends and the world.

Even the first family is a product of the information age which is then framed and placed into reality through the media:

Photo Courtesy of Huffington Post

In a kind of meta-analysis of new media and old media, this photograph demonstrates the overall distribution of information systems and the new avenues of communication in the digital world. The photo, filmed on CNN, posted on the Huffington Post was then posted on my Facebook by a friend. It was created in a story that reflected a representation of the first family and generated numerous stories, creating a new communicative event.