Indexical Ambivalence

Lecture | January 29 | 6:30-8 p.m. | Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Osher Auditorium

 Kris Paulsen, Associate Professor at Ohio State University

 Berkeley Center for New Media, History and Theory of New Media Lecture Series

Interfaces are boundaries and dividing lines. They are surfaces that maintain the distinction between discrete portions of matter and space, but they also create the site for their encounter and interaction. The interface is a place where opposites touch: here and there, now and then, I and you, actual and virtual, true and false. Screens make for particularly troubling interfaces, for they enact a great leveling, and these opposites can become uncannily confused or indistinguishable. All things, all times, all places are reduced to the pulsing electronic mosaic of the raster grid. Everything flattens on to a single surface, all made of the same electronic matter regardless of the existential or ontological status of what it represents. It might seem that the age of screens and digital about would have killed the index, the semiotic register that once seemed to ground our ideas about materiality and truth, but instead it has revitalized and resurrected it. The index is not dead in the digital age; it is more vital than ever, but it is exposed as the ambivalent and dubious sign it has always been and is the operative tool for understanding mediated information, digital doubt, and experiences through interfaces. On the screen, the index is a forensic tool not a guarantor of any truth.