Visual Semiotics, Media Theory, and Cultural Analytics
Introduction for Lev Manovich, Теории софт-культуры [Theories of Software Cultures] (Нижний Новгород: Красная ласточка, 2017).
My methodological shift from studying single visual artifacts to analyzing massive collections of such artifacts parallels the shift in how we experience visual culture. Single-artifact research and “close reading” was logical for 20th century when as cultural consumers we also were focusing on single works. We went to cinema to see a particular movie, or to a museum to see particular artworks, or listened to a single music recording at home over and over. The media available to us was limited in numbers and we would spend significant time with individual artifacts. I remember, for example, that as a teenager looking hundreds of times though the same books with art reproductions in our home library. A few images of modern art from these books that particularly touched me would be imprinted in my memory.
And now? Visual search and recommendations in Google, Yandex, YouTube, Instagram or Pinterest expose us to endless images and video, while websites of major museums, invite us to browse hundreds of thousands of digitized artworks and historical artifacts. A visual “message” or a “sign” (to use semiotic terms) is now never is isolation but instead is a part of the large series which we experience as infinite. (Do you have a feeling for how two billion images people share daily look like? If it was four billion, would you notice?)