Distributed Cognition as Artistic Strategy

I had assumed there was only one model of distributed cognition; that which is largely associated with the work of Edward Hutchins and which describes how individual human knowledge can be distributed across a group or network of people, tools or environments. So I was somewhat taken aback when Katherine Hayles, Professor of Literature at Duke University introduced four more in her lecture “How We Think” at the University of Nottingham earlier this evening. She outlined the embodied, extended, autonomous, and appropriated perspectives alongside the embedded model to which I am familiar. She then went on to explain how these are used to varying degrees by writers, artists and designers working in the digital domain; highlighting the print-based work of authors Mark Z Danielewski (‘House of Leaves’), and Steven Hall (‘Raw Shark Texts’), the electronic and interactive texts of Deena Larsen and Steve Tomasula, and an algorithmic engine from multimedia artist Talan Memmott. She discussed the roles of narrrative and spaciality (of texts / images etc.), and the temporality of embodied reading, and concluded by referring to Lev Manovich’s notion that narrative is in direct conflict with what he terms ‘database’ (i.e. that which is relational, spatial or conceptual).

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