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11-02-2022 image

on the visual representation of ecologies in digital media

Recently I have been thinking a lot about how living things are visually represented in digital environments. Going about our lives online we are constantly exposed to pictures, sounds, and other representations of other living beings. I probably encounter more species and ecologies in digital worlds than in real life. I most likely have closer personal relationships with digital representations of beings which have been extinct for millennia than a lot of the living beings that inhabiting the park down the street.

So, representations of living things are clearly abundant in digital spaces. But how do different communities visually represent nature in digital spaces, and why do they represent ecologies in this way? I believe asking these questions are important.

Our understanding of what nature is is increasingly mediated by our experience of digital worlds and our experience of ecologies are increasingly facilitated by digital environments. Additionally, one only needs to consider the urgency of the climate crises to appreciate that the way we represent living things online will inform the form and shape of climate action. However, asking this question only because of climate change misses the point.

Asking this question takes as a given that values give rise to visual representations and that visual representations in turn act on and influence values. So, asking how why and nature is represented digitally is really asking what our values about nature are? In the end asking this question is about the cultural relationships we have with non-humans.

Reductionism versus Relationism Instrumentalism Legibility versus Illegibility Anthropocentrism versus Pluriverse non-agency versus Agency Scale

  1. The grid-based ecology of xxx created by foreign objects
  2. The lidar landscapes of forensic architecture and Liam Young
  3. The binary essentialism of game of Life
  4. The romantic and elegant representation of Flower by thatgamecompany
  5. The knotty entanglements of feral atlas
  6. The passive backgrounds of super Mario
  7. The chaotic audiovisual landscapes of orca
  8. The bot assemblages of Tega Brains xxxx
  9. The scale bending aesthetics of Hermippe
  10. The colonialist extractivism of mining and farming games
  11. The speciesism of Pokémon(perhaps there is a better example?)
  12. The static nature of most game environments
  13. The temporal orientation of trash garden game

The way ecologies are represented digitally are historically continguous and constructed by the assemblages of affordability of digital media and computation more broadly.

Considering the exhibits it becomes clear that there are certain representations which are structurally encouraged. These include but are not limited to:

  1. Reductivism. An over-emphasis on individual species and under emphasise on networks, relationships, assemblages.
  2. Anthropocentrism. An over-emphasis on the agency of humans and an under-emphasis on the agency of non-humans and the non-living.
  3. Extractivism. An over-emphasis on singular or quantifiable benefits.

The tendencies outlined above are dominant, yet they are not unchallenged. A number of digital currents are actively probing the possibility of ecologically aware representations of nature online.

Communities within environmental media studies and environmental Humanities more broadly are actively demonstrating what low-carbon, assemblages oriented representations of ecologies might look like The programming and artistic movement around permacomputibg are questioning the very basis of computation as as medium.