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Foundation of Computational Visualistics

by Jörg R. J. Schirra
DUV. Wiesbaden, 2005
294 pp., illus. 128 b/w. $65
ISBN: 3-8350-6015-12.

Reviewed by Martha Patricia Niño Mojica
Pontificia Universidad Javeriana de Bogotá
Facultad de Artes Visuales


Some years ago, the department of computer science at the University of Magdeburg developed a completely new diploma called "Computational Visualistics" as an alternative for studies in digital media. Visualistics is a blend of visual and linguistic studies that include how humans express what they perceive, feel, experience, and create with their computational mediations. It has points of intersection also with a myriad of fields, such as computer vision, cognitive science, communication, mathematics, neuroscience, philosophy, psychology, history of art, aesthetics and semiotics. This book is conceived as a map of questions, such as what images are for computer science and their uses. Other topics treated in the book include image processing, object models, interactivity, image database, virtual architecture and mental images.

Inside you can find an introduction to the old concerns regarding the relationship between symbol and icon, word and image, chains of signs and field of signs, time and space that has caused different degrees of unrest and also academic, cultural and religious quarrels throughout the years. Our symbols will continue to question our concepts of the universal and the particular, material and spiritual and our current scientific paradigms.

Schirra also explains how images have become a central part in our culture that not only transform information but also connect and simultaneously separate people. There are discussions about various aspects of the image such as resemblance, mimicry, perception, reflection, and deception. Computational Visualistics has practical information for computational graphics and interactive installations. The main interest is not just data but the process of acquiring knowledge and its scientific application in a communicational context.

It is common to have discussions about whether the text is more adequate to represent reality and acquire knowledge or if it has an unfair prevalence over the image both in the text based computer code and the academic discourse. The text in the book uses word signs in order to understand picture signs. The book does not favor word over image or vice versa but deals with the formalization of what can be called an image data type that deals with pictures represented by algorithmic artifacts borrowing some linguistic terms such as syntax: the order of words, semantics: the meaning of words, and pragmatics: the use of language for communication on a social context. Thus, the data type "image" is defined using picture syntax that deals with image processing and the order of pixels, picture semantics that deal with geometric models, visual gestalts, and computer vision assimilated as "image understanding" and finally picture pragmatics that deal with authenticity (whether the apparent sender of a message is the real sender or not) and interactivity.

The general approach is hybrid, but it is more focused towards graphic engineers. It also concisely analyses some interactive artworks in chapter four entitled The Generic Data Type "image": general aspects, under the section pragmatic aspects and in chapter 5 entitled Case Studies: Using the data type "image", in particular A Border Line Case: Immersion. The artworks displayed are from Picasso, Escher, and later on from Char Davis and Harold Cohen, Fieder Nake Jane Prophet, Manfred Mohr, Perry Hoberman, Tom Banks, and Melinda Rackman. It would be up to artists to find the relationship between the concepts of computational visualistics and other art works not included in the text such as Christa Sommerer’s Verbarium, David Rokeby’s The Giver of Names, Jeffery Shaw’s The Legible City, Camille Utterback’s Text Rain, The Apartment by Marek Walzac and Martin Wattenberg, Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin’s Listening Post, Jenny Holzer, Young Hae-Chang, and many other artists that work at the crossroads between language and image.

The book has a good deal of both new and specialized terminology so is suitable for a class curriculum in the topic that can expand the ideas described with more examples. Although you can find algorithms for image processing and information visualization, it is not required to have a deep mathematical background to read it.




Updated 1st July 2006

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