Introduction idea of flatness= planner, simplicity, functionality not aesthetic
Bodies of Inscription
Stone Clay Flexible Mediums Codex/binding Vismann Pops and Hisses Bad Weather
crary how we see the world zeilinski globes as remediating maps
The creation of flat media is still in existence, however now flatness is created as an aesthetic choice. Because flatness has become a choice in the creation of media and not just the way things are, to call this mode of mediation simply “flatness” would ignore many things that separate it from previous forms of flatness. Thus this remediation of flatness, we can refer to as deliberate flatness. Deliberate flatness can be used to call attention to call attention to either the medium or the content of the medium depending on how it is used. In either case the use of deliberate flatness is recognized and considered for its effects on the way in which we interact with any medium.
By calling attention to itself as flat, deliberately flat media are created with an acknowledgement (if only winkingly so sometimes) that flatness has become part of the functional nonsense of media. That is, we use flatness now as not just something that is a given in media, but that by having flatness within media we are able to produce a very specific message. Deliberate flatness is rarely the content, but the form media take. This is use of deliberate flatness will only work so long as it remains obvious that flatness is a trait of the medium.
Deliberate flatness in media does not actually produce flat media. Many modern media that are made to appear flat have complex content which produces a juxtaposition within the user of the media. In this way, deliberate flatness can be thought of as artificial simplicity. The effects of this are to either produce a metadialogue about the media or to avoid that kind of discussion as much as possible. Effectively, this choice comes to whether or not media producers want their consumers to be dazzled by their creations or to consider them as creations.
Deliberate Flatness in Art
While flatness has always been a trait of painting, it is only with Modernist painting that we begin to see painting’s flatness as something to be aware of. In his essay Modernist Painting, Clement Greenberg describes flatness as one of the distinctive features of pictorial art. Flatness, for Greenberg is also the thing that all Modernist is commenting on and bringing to the front. This is a drastic parting from older traditions which “acknowledged [flatness] only implicitly or indirectly” (Greenberg). Flatness was not something that had to be worked around by a painter any more, it had become something to cherish. With this new freedom artists then were able to abandon the illusion of space produced by art to force their audiences into thinking about the art’s flatness. This turns the discussion of work of art into a discussion of art itself.
With all of this revelry in flatness, Greenberg also acknowledges that with any sort of brushstroke on a canvas there is the distraction of flatness. When a Modernist painter makes anything she produces a “strictly optical third dimension” which “can only be seen into; can be traveled through, literally or figuratively, only with the eye (Greenberg). This turns painting into a purely visual medium with any kind of escapist ability, once again bringing the art back to being in many ways a commentary on itself.
So here within art, maybe one of the most complex modes of mediation, deliberate flatness is produced, but it is created with a purpose. By using flatness Modernist painters were able to make deep commentary on not just the techniques of art, but on art as a way of seeing the world.
Deliberately Flat Technology
While it could be seen as a purely practical use of flatness, the way in which data is stored for computers has become increasingly flat. While machine-readable data was stored on something flat, these things never seemed flat to us thanks to the surface of the medium itself, such as the grooves of the vinyl record. Flatness was never an issue with records because the text of the record was within the grove, thus making flatness into blankness. And in other forms of machine-readable data, such as magnetic tape, flatness existed, but in a similar fashion to the scroll as a fundamental quality of the medium. Both media paradigms make flatness seem strange to even consider.
With the introduction of the compact disc flatness suddenly was brought to the front of media. The CD changed the way information was stored and, with this change, turned flatness into a language. Of course, this is not technically true. CDs have very small impressions on their surface, but to the unaided human these impressions are impossible to notice (Pohlmann). While the use of machine-written storage media had already created a public comfortable with machines that could “read themselves” as representing technology, the media before CDs were still reading a text which, even if not quite perceivable, was at least connected to a cinematic understanding of media (Gitelman 64). The CD then was hailed as revolutionary because of its deliberate flatness while changing the way we think about memory. To remember something requires a way to see patterns in a place where there is no visible pattern. It is as if all the marks ever made on Freud’s magic writing pad could only be seen on the bottom surface and never the top. To read the pad one would have to know how to lift the top layer and read carefully the constantly written over indentations. This turns flatness into a barrier that must be lifted before memory (much less the memories content) can be revealed.
This deliberate flatness makes things look like they are much simpler to understand and operate though. So much so is this the case that other forms of media are working toward flatness as a way of manufacturing a flatness that represents simplicity. Probably the most recent example of this is the Apple iPad. While a highly complex piece of technology, it is leverages its flatness as a way of making the public more comfortable with using it. Deliberate flatness for the iPad is used in a way to exceed our understanding of how it works in order for it to seem “magical” (iPad). As the iPad’s advertisement even says, “It is hard to see how something so simple, so thin, and so light could possibly be so capable” (iPad). The iPad, like most other consumer electronics, is flat to give the machine’s functions a sense of great depth of wonderment while creating a black box which protects the consumer from being forced to know just how anything works.
Gitelman, Lisa. Scripts, Grooves, and Writing Machines. Standford University Press: Stanford. 1999.
Greenberg, Clement. Modernist Painting. Forum Lectures. Voice of America: Washington D.C. 1960.
iPad Video. Apple. Accessed April 10, 2010.
Pohlmann, Ken C. The Compact Disc Handbook. A-R Editions Inc: Middleton. 1992.