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Michael Brodsky

Transmission Interrupted

Transmission Interrupted is concerned with: FORMAL ART ISSUES including pattern & palette, figure & ground, and object & image; TECHNICAL ISSUES of digital image capture, transformation, coding, compression, and asynchronous communications; and CONCEPTUAL ISSUES of digital distribution, fair use, censorship, and the ability of the mind to decode images based upon limited visual information. This work, Transmission Interrupted, a compilation of images first begun in 1991 and disseminated in digital form at that time, was created during the process of downloading "public domain Graphics Interchange Format (.GIF) files" from on-line underground pornographic Bulletin Board System networks, to my home based computer.

The formal disjunction produced by the INTERFERENCE PATTERN is created during the procedure of downloading and decoding files. This is affected by introducing an alteration to the default-protocol-transfer of the encoded binary file as it is downloading in real-time from the host computer, to the computer in my studio. This alteration causes the images to deconstruct yielding a colored interference pattern from the desynchronization of an improperly deciphered image.

This pattern becomes a decorative element, as well as a documentary image-pixmap of the colors contained in the original picture. It also functions as a barrier to the complete viewing of the original image which in these pictures becomes a form of censorship.

How do we know just what kind of image we are viewing? With only a small percentage of the image visible, how are we to know the complete content behind the barrier? But, we DO know. How is that possible? How is it that we can understand the true meaning of images based only on a small fraction of the image presented. How much basic information is needed for our minds to decode the completed image? Is this raw brain-processing-power, or is it the result of our brain matching similar images stored deeply in the neural networks where our memories are deeply held? Are we matching the small portion of the recognizable image before us with every similar image that we have ever seen, or is this where our imagination, dreams, fears, and desires, take over?

I am intrigued by how we process images in our mind. How much do we need to see of ANY image before we have enough of the information needed to complete it in the way that we presume it to be? What are the key gestures, iconographic symbols, and structural elements needed in any image for us to understand its true meaning? What happens when we have only limited information? Does this lead to feelings of frustration? Do we give that image an incomplete and wrongful reading, or does it only result in an error message with the image being discarded.

I fully expect that in the future there will be a move to implement Optical Image Recognition systems (such as those being developed by the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles) which will incorporate fuzzy logic and artificial intelligence to decode and quantify visual content along with image structure. But, to what end? Will these "smart systems" mark certain images as classics suitable for viewing? Will other images be marked as unsuitable, or instantly deleted from the image storage data base (and subsequently our collective unconscious)?

There is currently a political controversy in America that reflects the Puritan nature at the core of American culture which is ambivalent regarding sexual activity and imagery. This combination of sex and the interactive nature of new digital technologies has already sparked the imagination and the fear of the lawmakers in the United States. In June 1995, the U.S. Senate passed the Communications Decency Act which makes many types of current constitutionally-protected speech in public and the free press (including "lewd, lascivious, filthy and indecent" speech) criminal, when transmitted through telecommunications device. In August 1995 the U.S. House of Representatives passed a landmark telecommunications reform legislation requiring the insertion of computer (V-CHIP) circuitry in all television sets coupled with a rating system for television programs which would enable the sets to be programmed to block out objectionable material. Yet how are we to define objectionable?

Whether it is possible to regulate free speech and the distribution of images on the Internet--decentralized, borderless, and global in nature--is debatable and difficult for any single government to control. Yet, what are our responsibilities regarding the access to children and the possible damage that access to such imagery may produce? These questions are not easily answerable.

The appropriated source material for the images in Transmission Interrupted are stored by the millions on underground pornographic BBS servers and on thousands of sites connected to the Internet. While it is estimated that these images account for only 1/2 of 1% of the traffic on the Internet, it is also estimated that they are among the most widely downloaded of all accessed graphics files.

Images of passion, beauty, sexuality, depravity, violence, and exploitation can be accessed from a private isolated computer in an attempt to use technology to facilitate the need to euphemistically "touch someone" or to voyeruristically fantasize about a life vastly different from our own. This image grazing phenomenon via computer networks--in the privacy of one's home--seems to be the consequence of the persistent male gaze which is becoming increasingly disavowed in society. It is also one based as much on fear, anxiety, curiosity, and confusion regarding sex, as it is on an honest appreciation of genuine eroticism.

Transmission Interrupted seeks to illuminate the mystery, helplessness, and barriers between time and space that dissociate individuals from truly touching each other and thus increasingly separate ourselves from society. One of my considerations with this work was to create images that express that sense of division and separation.

In recent years with the popular adoption of the Internet as a means for digital computer based telecommunications, virtual on-line communities are growing based upon common interests and experiences that transcend national borders. Just as photographers previously could travel from country to country to roam the streets and alleys, photographing storefronts, billboards, and passersby, the digital imagemaker today can surf the Internet, to document and comment on this new virtual world without ever leaving his or her studio. What will our rights be to access this digital image world for fair use and comment, and what will be the protections afforded intellectual properties in this new landscape?

Will a NO-TRESPASSING sign be posted or will there be a software-based-firewall that protects these new resources from us; or is it rather, that are we trying to protect us from them; or in the end, are we really just trying to protect us...from OURSELVES?

Michael Brodsky

Iz serije Prenos prekinjen / From the Transmission Interrupted