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  • Special Section Introduction:Hybridity: Arts, Sciences and Cultural
  • Yvonne Spielmann and David Bolter

Presenting selected papers from a special section of the 93rd Annual Conference of the College Art Association, Atlanta, GA, 19-16 February 2005.

Hybridity has become a term commonly used in cultural studies to describe conditions in contact zones where different cultures connect, merge, intersect and eventually transform. More specifically, hybridization denotes the two-way process of borrowing and blending between cultures, where new, incoherent and heterogeneous forms of cultural practice emerge in translocal places—so-called third spaces. Here, the interaction of different practices produces hybrid forms that stand in between the poles of merging. These contact zones, in-between and third spaces are socially and culturally determined. In the case of digital environments, we must also address communicative interaction in the convergence of real and virtual spaces. Digital hybridity works across and integrates a diverse range of modes of representation, such as image, text, sound, space and bodily modes of expression. The study of digital cultures as fields of hybrid interaction allows us to consider different users and agents in electronic (mass) media environments. In particular, it allows us to examine the culturally mixed expertises that combine different aspects of theory and practice at work in locally produced and globally distributed media forms and the convergence of network-based science and knowledge technologies with creative-arts practices. The metaphor of hybrid zones and spaces also addresses the (trans)formation of individual disciplinary scientific and aesthetic patterns through communication processes in a global, networked media context.

Edmond Couchot suggests that the terms hybridity and hybridization characterize the profound changes to traditional media through digitization.

So much so that it is scarcely relevant to continue applying some concepts, notably that of "intermediality," to digital media without losing what constitutes their novelty.... Once interest shifts to the analysis of digital media, the author proposes the term hybridisation. It allows various, almost genetic operations on the media unrealisable with traditional technologies. Numerous forms of hybridisation are available to digital media, affecting the morphogenesis of media as much as their distribution. One of the most decisive examples in the evolution of arts and culture is the subject-machine hybrid, which shatters the traditional standing of the work, the spectator and the author. A technological process specific to interactivity, hybridisation also characterises a transversal aesthetic proper to the digital [1].

It is important to examine hybridity in the arts, sciences and media cultures because hybrid practices are basic tools in collaborative research and in the emergent intersections of sciences and arts—for example, in research in visual and cognitive perception, in the design of computer interfaces and their visualization, and in knowledge-based methods for understanding the transfer and transformation of information in systems of higher complexity. Knowledge becomes a more important research tool than vision with regard to digitization where all possible combinations that are technically realizable with the computer cannot be visually recognized. With regard to virtuality and interactivity in particular, hybridity is an important element in the construction of new and digital media forms. Cultural practices are changing rapidly in contemporary society under the influence of broad social, economic and technological developments. Societies cannot represent themselves (in arts, crafts, science and technology or public forms) without their technical tools. The transformation into a knowledge-based society increasingly depends on digital technologies as the contemporary resources of representation, of the production of meaning, for the generation of information, knowledge, communication and interaction.

Some of these issues were discussed in the Leonardo panel at the 2005 College Art Association Conference, in Atlanta, Georgia. This section is drawn from the presentations of the Leonardo panel and aims to address new forms of encounter, dialogue and interaction indicative [End Page 106] of larger shifts in the arts, sciences and culture in the face of digital technologies and the hybridization of media and media forms.

We start with the premise that science, art and technology were closely connected in early modernity: New technologies (especially film) were regarded as the starting point for a new era of progress and an age of visuality. The European avant-garde movements developed the vision of a future...


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