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Digital Compositing: From the Alpha Channel to the 2.0 Look, Dirt Style
Using digital media to simulate “rough edges, stains, organic textures, and grunge-retro fonts,” can help one avoid the cliché “2.0 look,” argues British designer Elliot Jay Stocks, which he finds aseptic and (too) clean-cut, as voiced in his 2007 tirade, “Destroy The Web 2.0 Look.” Stocks is not alone. Also in support of anti-aseptic (and even a bit dirty) web design is Russian-born net artist Olia Lialina who, in her 2011 talk at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, advocated a future web aesthetic chalked full of unicorns, skulls, simple animated GIFs, personal journal entries, and naïve, amateurlooking home pages. Going back to “amateur graphics,” Lialina argues, resists 2.0’s corporate and professional look, which acts as a disinfectant to personal expression.
But what happens when these alternative methods are placed in the broader context of the history of aesthetic computing and the development of digital graphics? Do these anti-stylistic call to arms suffice as a critical model? In this talk, I answer these questions through an archaeology of digital compositing, beginning with its prehistory in chromakey, the development of the frame buffer in the 1970s, and the alpha channel in 1984. With this history in mind, I then move into an analysis of contemporary web aesthetics, as illustrated in the “2.0 look” and its counterpart in dirt style.
Carolyn L. Kane is the author of Chromatic Algorithms: Synthetic Color, Computer Art, and Aesthetics after Code (University of Chicago Press, forthcoming, February, 2014). Specializing in the history and philosophy of new media and digital aesthetics, she received her PhD from New York University (2011) and is an assistant professor in the Department of Film and Media at Hunter College in the City University of New York.