Starting with his film experiments in the early seventies, Woody has been interested in exploring and developing machine processing functions into programming. In using the electronic signal as "raw material" from which to build up an electronic language system, he found a parallel in the investigation of digital image processing, where the search for the smallest programmable unit is seen as the "point zero" from which a "syntax of binary images" could emerge. Interestingly, this intervening approach toward video and computer took place at a time when each of the two media, analog and digital, were developing out of technological settings to form culturally semiotic expressions that define the level of media specificity. In this regard, I find that the Vasulkas were very aware of the state of media development, namely that a new medium was grasping for articulation and acknowledgement. This awareness guided the early use of image processors, mixers, and computers for modulating, keying, and switching. The concept of generating and organizing electronic signals directly via machine control is grounded in the idea of programmability as a way of interfering and radically transforming the status of an "image." In this view, electronic images when they develop complex layers and produce a spatial order through prioritizing image keys, clearly hold a position that foregrounds the matrix of digital space.
In thinking about a dialogue with hybrid media and the digital simulation machine, for Woody the stress rests on a reinforced conceptualization of "digital space" which, in abandoning formal organizing principles of art forms, departs from the use of the computer to "emulate" traditional forms in favor of environments. In a co-authored "research proposal," David Dunn and Woody Vasulka reflect on the expansion of the dialogic structure in constantly moving and transforming parameters of endless variations through immediate modifications. The proposal was written on the occasion of presenting the media installation, The Theater of Hybrid Automata
(Ars Electronica, 1990, in collaboration with David Dunn), and it reflects the need to reconsider authorship (because of sharing creativity with the computer) and to understand the behavior of interactivity. Accordingly, it describes the development of "digital space": "Our interest and insight into this new perceptual environment results from our many years of creative use of digital technology as an aesthetic tool that has often brought us to a direct confrontation with traditional ways of composing images and sounds. This conflict has not only been initiated by our interest in new forms in general, but specifically, by the profound implications of organizing our materials through a computer code. What becomes apparent from the structural demands of this technology is that there is an ability and even an affinity for a discrete genre to interact through the binary code in ways which transcend linear cause and effect relationships, revealing new compositional concepts with regard to space, perspective, and morphology." (1)
Furthermore, this new type of creativity strongly implements machine behavior on the grounds that interactivity and virtuality are the technologies that are specific to hybrid machines in the digital. As the proposal emphasizes the task of shared creativity lies in the digital space because this space opens up another, appropriate environment for the larger encounter between humans and increasingly complex machines. "What becomes evident is that a kind of digital synaesthesia could emerge from this perceptual environment that which provide an experience of the concept of nonlinear complexity which has become so profoundly significant to the sciences at large." (2)
One concern is to compare the constraints of the television frame and the presentational mode of pixelation in terms of their flexibility in time and space, especially regarding compressing and decompressing the temporal and spatial extensions of the "image object." Another interest is the positioning of oneself in the digital environment and exploring ways in which time and space can become enveloping, and also used to develop features that anticipate immersive media environments of virtualization. In two different experiments with representation of the artists’ handcraft, Woody uses his own hand as a subjective and objective metaphor of a primary creative tool in order to achieve a visual presentation of the transformation process: one time in the analog (Vocabulary,
1973) and the other in the digital (Artifacts,
1980). In these experiments with multiple layers, the idea is to gradually shift the gestalt of the hand, so that the visual object is transformed from realistic recognition to abstract pattern, through the use of feedback tools. Viewed together, the two visual statements on "creativity" explain the shift from analog to digital in the work of the Vasulkas. (a) (b)
In search of a connection between logic operations (algorithms) and a systematic of the visual, Woody analyzes with digitally organized image phenomena in the course of the Digital Image Articulator experiments. In contrast to analog processing, when the analog-digital-converter has translated the analog image information into binary codes, each discrete element, each pixel, can be controlled individually. The size of the pixel that defines the resolution of the image is dependent on the amount of memory capacity. And, in order to gain a high resolution image, a high density of binary codes is necessary, meaning a high amount of bits (the smallest unit of information in the binary mode). These need to be assembled to present values sufficient for presenting a digital image. To start such experiments, the Digital Image Articulator uses a standard computer tool, the Arithmetic Logic Unit (ALU) that is capable of real-time video. While developing the tool, Woody found out that when performing the Boolean algebraic functions, the ALU usually deals with numerical input. And when these functions are applied to an encoded image (that is, an image already converted from analog to digital) the logic functions perform equally, because the notion of the referential is not a distinctive feature. Nonetheless, Woody realized that there was a relevance factor relating to a certain hierarchy that he describes as a "perceptual relationship."
The discovery that the logic steps made "syntactic image sense" (though based on a table of logic functions) led to further examination of a possible "syntax" that expresses specific properties of the code: "What was surprising was to find that the table of logic functions can be interpreted as a table of syntaxes — syntactical relationships between two images — visual or spatial relationships which are not normally thought of as being related to abstract logical functions. Because the logic functions are abstract, they can be applied to anything. That means they become a unified language, outside of any discipline. They are cross-disciplinary." (W.V.) This characteristic applies as well to sound/speech processes, but as Woody emphasizes, he was not particularly interested in imaging as such, "but imaging has the highest time demand — requires the system work at the greatest speed. That is why I am fascinated by it." (W.V.)