Lev Manovich

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Lev Manovich
Lev Manovich — How to analyze culture using social networks.jpg
Professor Lev Manovich
at Strelka Institute in 2015
Born 1960
Moscow, Russia
Notable work Software Takes Command, Soft Cinema: Navigating the Database, Black box - white cube, The Language of New Media
Website www.manovich.net

Lev Manovich (born 1960) is an author of books on new media theory, professor of Computer Science at the City University of New York, Graduate Center, U.S. and visiting professor at European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland. Manovich's research and teaching focuses on digital humanities, social computing, new media art and theory, and software studies[1]

His best known book is The Language of New Media, which has been widely reviewed, translated into ten languages and used in classes around the world. According to reviewers, this book offers "the first rigorous and far-reaching theorization of the subject"[2] and "it places new media within the most suggestive and broad ranging media history since Marshall McLuhan".[3] Manovich's latest book Software Takes Command was published in 2013 by Bloomsbury and the earlier draft was released under a Creative Commons license.

His research lab Software Studies Initiative (2007-) pioneered computational analysis of massive collections of images and video ("cultural analytics"). His lab was commissioned to create visualizations of cultural datasets for Google, New York Public Library, MoMA, and other institutions and received support from Twitter, National Science Foundation, National Endowment for Humanities, and Andrew Mellon Foundation, among others.

Manovich is one of the editors of Software Studies book series (The MIT Press) and Quantitative Methods in Humanities and Social Science (Springer).

His current research interests are cultural analytics, social computing, big data and society, data visualization, digital humanities, history and theory of media, and software studies.


Manovich was born in Moscow, USSR, where he studied painting, architecture, computer science, and semiotics.[4] After spending several years practicing fine arts, he moved to New York in 1981. His interests shifted from still image and physical 3D space to virtual space, moving images, and the use of computers in media. While in New York he received an M.A. in Experimental Psychology (NYU, 1988) and additionally worked professionally in 3D computer animation from 1984 to 1992. He then went on to receive Ph.D. in Visual and Cultural Studies from University of Rochester 1993, under the supervision of Mieke Bal. His Ph.D. dissertation The Engineering of Vision from Constructivism to Computers traces the origins of computer media, relating it to the avant-garde of the 1920s.[5]

Manovich has been working with computer media as an artist, computer animator, designer, and programmer since 1984. His art projects include Little Movies, the first digital film project designed for the Web (1994-1997), Freud-Lissitzky Navigator, a conceptual software for navigating twentieth century history (1999), and Anna and Andy, a streaming novel (2000). He is also well known for his insightful articles, including ”New Media from Borges to HTML” (2001) and ”Database as Symbolic Form” (1998). In the latter article, he explains reasons behind the popularity of databases, while juxtaposing it to concepts such as algorithms and narrative. His works have been included in many key international exhibitions of new media art. In 2002 ICA in London presented his mini-retrospective under the title Lev Manovich: Adventures of Digital Cinema.

Manovich has been teaching new media art since 1992. He has also been a visiting professor at California Institute of the Arts, UCLA, University of Amsterdam, Stockholm University, and University of Art and Design Helsinki. In 1993, students of his digital movie making classes at the UCLA Lab for New Media founded the Post-Cinematic Society which organized some of the first digital movie festivals based on his ideas about new media such as database cinema.[6]

In 2007 Manovich founded Software Studies Initiative. The lab is developing Cultural Analytics: computational analysis and visualization of massive cultural visual datasets in the humanities. The lab's past and present collaborators include Museum of Modern Art in NYC, Getty Research Institute, Austrian Film Museum, Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision and other institutions who are interested in using its methods and software with their media collections.

Joining The Graduate Center, City University of New York (2013)[edit]

On November 8, 2012, it was announced that Lev Manovich would be joining the faculty of the City University of New York's Graduate Center in January 2013, with the goal of enhancing the graduate schools' digital initiatives.[7] He will teach the course "Big Data, Visualization and Digital Humanities", which traces how the explosive growth of social media, combined with the digitization of artifacts by libraries and museums, opens up exciting new possibilities for the study of cultural processes. Students will be introduced to popular open-source tools for data analysis and visualization of large sets of images and video.

In the press release announcing the appointment, Manovich expressed excitement about the digital initiatives and grants going on at Graduate Center, and the tremendous pool of intellectual talent in its students and faculty.[7] The research at Manovich’s Software Studies Initiative (SSI) at the University of California, San Diego, will be the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2), to be housed at the Graduate Center.

Selected Books and Projects[edit]

Software Takes Command[edit]

Manovich's most recent book is Software Takes Command (2013).[8] It is part of the series International Texts in Critical Media Aesthetics,[9] founded by series editor Francisco J. Ricardo. In 2007 Manovich founded Software Studies Initiative to develop methods and software for the analysis and visualization of massive cultural data sets.[10]

This book says it offers a theory of daily used technology, software for media authoring, access, and sharing. The book cover says: "Software has replaced a diverse array of physical, mechanical, electronic technologies used before 21st century to create, store, distribute and interact with cultural artifacts. It has become our interface to the world ... What electricity and combustion engine to the early 20th century, software is to the early 21st century."[11]

Soft Cinema[edit]

His digital art project Soft Cinema was commissioned by ZKM for the exhibition Future Cinema (2002–03; traveling to Helsinki, Finland, and Tokyo, Japan, in April 2003. "At the heart of the project is custom software and media databases. The software edits movies in real time by choosing the elements from the database using the systems of rules defined by the authors".[12] Each Soft Cinema run offers a unique viewing experience for the audience; the software works with a set of parameters that allow for almost every part of a film to change.

Soft Cinema projects mines the creative possibilities at the intersection of software culture, cinema, and architecture. Its manifestations include films, dynamic visualization, computer-driven installations, architectural designs, print catalogs, and DVDS. In parallel, the project investigates how the new representational techniques of soft (ware) cinema can be developed to address the new dimensions of our time, such as the rise of mega-cities, the "new" Europe, and the effects of information technologies on subjectivity. The results of their three-year explorations are three 'films' presented on this DVD. Although the films resemble the familiar genres of cinema, the process by which they were created demonstrates the possibilities of soft(ware) cinema. A 'cinema' that is, in human subjectivity and the variable choices made by custom software combine to create films that can run infinitely without ever exactly repeating the same image sequences, screen layouts, and narratives.[13]

The Language of New Media[edit]

Lev Manovich is a new media artist as well as a theorist of new media. This informs his interest in the 'cultural form' of digital media, that is he addresses the dominant technical and aesthetic structures and conventions of software and the media objects and texts produced with it. As film theorists of the twentieth century were concerned with the narrative structure of a Hollywood movie, or its assembling of plot, mise-en-scene and character through the manipulation of shots in the edit suite, Manovich identifies the 'new' cultural forms that shape and are shaped by new media applications and processes.

His book, The Language of New Media, covers many aspects of cultural software: for example, he identifies a number of key tools or processes (he calls them 'operations') that underpin commercial software from word processing to video editing programs. These include the conventions of 'cut and paste' copy, find, delete, transform, etc. The extracts we have chosen highlight significant 'new' aspects of the new media Manovich is concerned with. He is often concerned with visual culture and especially with moving image, so the first sections, 'The Database' and "Database and Algorithm', explore something of the distinct ways in which computers store and manipulate information (here, for example, moving image footage). He compares this with traditional techniques of manipulating and editing film stock. The 'Navigable Space' extract is also concerned with the moving image, but this is the moving image as a mapping or modeling of virtual space. From architectural 'fly-throughs' to the visceral and violent pleasures of exploring the corridors of the videogame Doom, virtual space is discussed as a significant new cultural form that draws on pre-digital visual and cinematic culture.[14]

In this book Manovich describes the general principles underlying new media:

  • Numerical representation: new media objects exist as data
  • Modularity: the different elements of new media exist independently
  • Automation: new media objects can be created and modified automatically
  • Variability: new media objects exist in multiple versions
  • Transcoding: The logic of the computer influences how we understand and represent ourselves.

In "New Media from Borges to HTML" (2001), Manovich describes the eight definitions of "new media":[15]

  1. New Media versus Cyberculture
  2. New Media as Computer Technology Used as a Distribution Platform
  3. New Media as Digital Data Controlled by Software
  4. New Media as the Mix Between Existing Cultural Conventions and the Conventions of Software
  5. New Media as the Aesthetics that Accompanies the Early Stage of Every New Modern Media and Communication Technology
  6. New Media as Faster Execution of Algorithms Previously Executed Manually or through Other Technologies
  7. New Media as the Encoding of Modernist Avant-Garde; New Media as Metamedia
  8. New Media as Parallel Articulation of Similar Ideas in Post-WWII Art and Modern Computing

Database as a Symbolic Form[edit]

In 1998, Lev Manovich published an article "Database as a Symbolic Form". Manovich contrasts database and narrative forms, pointing out that the web tends to privilege databases over narratives. Manovich uses the example of Man with a Movie Camera by Dziga Vertov, and describes it as "the most important example of database imagination in modern media art". Manovich also discusses the concepts of paradigm and syntagm and explains how new media reverses their original relationship. Instead of syntagm being explicit and paradigm implicit, the paradigm (database) is given material existence and the syntagm (narrative) is de-materialized.

Cultural analytics[edit]

Cultural analytics refers to the use of computational methods for the analysis of massive cultural data sets and flows. The term "cultural analytics" was coined by Lev Manovich in 2007. His Software Studies Initiative, founded the same year, focused on a particular part of analytics paradigm using digital image processing and visualization for the analysis of large image and video collections.

The lab's research is guided by the following questions:

  • How do we navigate massive visual collections which may contain billions of images?
  • How do we research interactive media processes and experiences (evolution of web design, playing a video game, etc.)?
  • What new theoretical concepts and models we need to deal with the new scale of born-digital culture?
  • How can the use of computational techniques and massive cultural data sets help develop cultural theory for the 21st century?

The lab has been developing techniques and software and applying them to progressively larger image and video sets to analyze massive cultural data sets and flows. The techniques can also be used in digital humanities, art history, cinema studies, game studies, media studies, ethnography, exhibition design, and other fields.


All articles and some books can be downloaded from Manovich.net and Academia.edu.


Key Articles[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lev Manovich faculty profile at European Graduate School, Saas-Fee.
  2. ^ CAA reviews
  3. ^ Telepolis
  4. ^ http://manovich.net/index.php/about
  5. ^ Lev Manovich, The Engineering of Vision from Constructivism to Computers"
  6. ^ http://pixels.filmtv.ucla.edu/
  7. ^ a b "Renowned Digital Humanities Expert Lev Manovich Joining Graduate Center (CUNY) Faculty". BusinessWire. 8 November 2012. Retrieved 27 December 2013. 
  8. ^ "Software Takes Command". Bloomsbury Academic. Retrieved 27 December 2013. 
  9. ^ http://www.bloomsbury.com/us/series/international-texts-in-critical-media-aesthetics/?pg=2
  10. ^ http://lab.softwarestudies.com/2007/05/about-software-studies-ucsd.html
  11. ^ Software Takes Command (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013).
  12. ^ http://www.softcinema.net/
  13. ^ Soft Cinema (Karlsruhe: ZKM Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe, 2002).
  14. ^ The Language of New Media (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2001).
  15. ^ *”New Media from Borges to HTML” (2001)

External links[edit]