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"Lev Manovich: Software Culture. The Common Grammar Of Media." Interview by Giulia Simi.
Digimag (Milan, Italy), issue 54, May 2010.


Giulia Simi: Okay, but can we interpret this kind of work as a sort of semiotics of visual culture through data visualization?

Lev Manovich: That is a very interesting question, because this project comes out of my frustration with semiotics, and now I think it’s actually a way to make semiotics move forward. We have this idea of visual semiotics from, for instance, Roland Barthes, who published his first article around 1956 which is exactly the same year that the first article of computing and processing was published. So for 50 years people have been looking at the image, trying to understand what it means, what are the elements, and then we realized it’s actually very hard because images are not a language where words have a stable meaning, instead the meaning of this dot depends on the whole painting. So it’s difficult. And I said, you know what? We could do something else, instead of looking at one image we’re going to look at many images, and we’re going to look at the changing patterns in texture, color, everything else. It’s a different kind of approach. So I said, I’m going to have dinner, I’m going to look at the fashion show, and then we can leave out the science, which means you take the field of human experience, of human culture, which is kind of analog you know, if I’m listening to music what I want to know is if it sounds well. It’s a process. It’s a sound wave. I would discretize my experience. Let’s look at what computer does. The problem is that most of culture is analog – I make movements and my movements are continuous, like a dancer, the images are continuous. So the way we actually describe and measure a continuous phenomenon is by using computer visualization. So it’s a process that actually starts exactly where semiotics kind of runs into a wall. It’s a way to understand continuous processes, for example if we look at a feature film and can visualize the rhythm of movement in the whole film, which would be impossible to do with semiotics. The problem with semiotics is that it uses the very old technology of language. I mean, you can talk about the rhyzome, but you can’t use language to talk about continuous phenomena, colors, actions, rhythms…

2010  Interview