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The 12hr-ISBN-JPEG Project

Image Trace addresses the nature of interactivity on-line. In particular, Smith focuses on tactile experiences. Traditionally, tactility is caused by or consists of contact with something - it is a state of being derived from or caused by touch. Interaction within physical spaces results in contact with objects; within a spatial construct like the Internet however, users lack the capability to experience contact or touch since the data network of the web (and the images on it) encompasses no physical form. Users may touch their keyboard and/or mouse, but are at a base level, prohibited from touch-based interaction in this environment by the surface of the CRT screen. In addition, the dominating presence of visual and aural elements within the digital environment tends to subordinate, perhaps even nullify, the potential for other sense-based experiences. Thus, although "much has been made about the possibilities of the web as a new form of reality, even a virtual realty," Smith points out that in actuality, the web is "a flattening of reality into a deadened set of tactile experiences."

Image Trace begins with a proposal, which states that the site is "dedicated to the image as a digital tactile experience." Smith's dialogue lends an air of mystery to the piece, prompting viewers to ask, "How can an image transpose itself and become a tactile medium?" Behind Smith's words, one notices pixelated layers of monochromatic colour forming a topographical map. The picture's composition gives the image a sense of depth and height despite the actuality of it only occupying a two dimensional space on screen. Closer inspection of the illustration reveals that it is actually a hand, an object meant to accentuate Smith's focus on touch and interaction. The dialogue continues, saying, "this new reality is [actually just] a set of coordinates projected onto the smooth flat screen of the monitor"3 - a comment that not only refers to how computer visuals are based on vector graphics, but also provides a hint to the audience as what to expect when given the option to "feel [the] images" as well.

When "feeling" one of Smith's images one should consider the approaches and methods used in listening to Cage's 4'33 - with an awareness of the divergent possibilities as to how one can experience the world via the web. This concept is clearly stated through Smith's texts. He states that despite the limitations technology may pose on the senses, "the potentiality of tactile experience remains in the digital environment. It has, however, shifted from direct contact to spatial and numerical coordinates. We feel in this space not through direct contact, but by extending our sense of contact and our hands through the mouse."4

True to the form of Fluxus art, there are ten possible images, or multiples, available for the viewer "to feel." One is immediately struck by how the images in Image Trace resemble Robert Rauschenberg's White Paintings. Like Rauschenberg's blank canvasses, Smith images have been "visually dissipated leaving only their trace forms, or edges, and resultant interior surface dimensions."5 Although Smith warns viewers that his "site does not offer images to see but images to feel,"6 the absence of an actual image reads as somewhat disorientating. The lack of visuals is integral to the concept of Image Trace as it undermines traditional ways of viewing art, causing users to find alternatives to interpreting and understanding it.

By undermining the conventional way of seeing images, Image Trace seems to take a Duchampian approach to art. A central element of Duchamp's artwork was his campaign against what he called "retinal art." According to him, a work of art must contain at least two things: the first of which corresponds to the sign - that is, the visual element; and the second to the signifier - what might be loosely described as the conceptual element.7 Duchamp felt too much importance had been placed on "the visual," thus making art intellectually limited and over-valued as object based. By rejecting retinal art, Duchamp's emphasis in his art-making was on the conceptual. Quite humorously, Smith also seems to reject "retinal art," in that his images are completely devoid of any visuals for the eye to see.

3 http://www.altarts.org/tracker/index.html
4 http://www.altarts.org/tracker/nprojdes.html
5 http://www.altarts.org/tracker/nprojdes.html
6 http://www.altarts.org/tracker/nprojdes.html
7 Smith, Owen. Fluxus: The History of an Attitude. 15 April, 2004. http://www.thing.net/~grist/ld/smith-fl.htm

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