An Interpretive Framework for Contemporary Database Practice in the Arts

Posted by Brett Stalbaum | Fri Feb 24th 2006 7:51 p.m.

An Interpretive Framework for Contemporary Database Practice in the Arts

Introduction

There are two common notions regarding the nature (or ontology) of data
and information that are important for us to think about when we are
considering artistic practice with database. The first is the notion
that information is disembodied from its subject, and the second is
somewhat of a conflation of the terms "data" and "information".
Political concern stemming from the first notion may be most responsible
for stimulating "database art", but current art practice with database
can be broadly divided into three generally recognizable, though not
mutually exclusive modes of practice: database politics, data
visualization (the latter related also to sonification, and haptics),
and what I will term database formalism. The second notion represents
more of a noise in our at-large cultural understanding regarding the
meaning of the terms "data" and "information" that when clarified, may
sharpen the critical focus on an aspect of data visualization practice.
Honing these two notions will provide us with a critical basis for the
interpretation contemporary database art practices, perhaps especially
as they interact with emerging geospatial and location aware media
practices. In this writing, interpretation is distinguished from
definition and evaluation, as it is in the tradition of analytic
aesthetics. I write from the perspective of a practicing artist; not a
trained philosopher or art historian. Thus I demur, at least somewhat,
on the issue of defining database practice (beyond the obvious), and I
avoid any qualitative evaluation of the examples I give. I only hope to
chart the terrain of a contemporary practice with which I am familiar,
including the work of many colleagues and collaborators. I hope to form
an interpretation of the approaches contemporary artists are taking to
database that I hope will be useful in evaluating this territory.

Data Body and Data Politics

I will start by considering works that emphasize the contemporary
consequences of disembodiment of data/information from its referent,
regardless of whether we are speaking about the human body and its
disembodied 'data body', or other material manifestations of reality and
the data which refers to it. "Information" and "data", in this narrow
context, are viewed as descriptions of the thing described, and are
somewhat conflated terms. (See next section.) Christiane Paul patently
describes the issues that seem to have been in play for artists
surrounding the issue of disembodiment:

"In the digital age, the concept of 'disembodiment' does not only apply
to our physical body but also to notions of the object and materiality
in general. Information itself to a large extent seems to have lost its
'body', becoming an abstract 'quality' that can make a fluid transition
between different states of materiality. While the ultimate 'substance'
of information remains arguable, it is safe to say that data are not
necessarily attached to a specific form of manifestation. Information
and data sets are intrinsically virtual, that is, they exist as
processes that are not necessarily visible or graspable, such as the
transferal or transmission of data via networks."(174)

I will argue that the case is subtly yet importantly different, as this
type of disembodiment is not actually a new phenomenon to the digital
age. Information/data have always been disembodied, and in fact we do
see that the interaction between the virtual with the real is more
tightly bound today, and indeed is more materially generative (yet
contra-abstract), than at anytime in history. Disembodiment is not the
difference making difference that the digital age brings. In order to
demonstrate this, I will take a double tact. First I will look into
history for precedents of disembodied data and information, hoping to
show that "disembodiment" is not a new issue just because we have
entered a digital era. Then I will try to show that it is not the
disembodiment of the referrer from the referent that creates the radial
difference that the digital era has brought, but rather that it is the
nature of distributed, high speed data processing that makes all the
difference because it radically motorizes, automates and makes
ubiquitous the potential for data and information to impinge on daily
life. After presenting this idea, I will make reference to a few
database artworks that I think map to the various assumptions outlined
by Paul, which I think expresses an interpretive critical model in which
artistic practice can be specified in terms of 'database politics'.

It only requires a few examples from history to dispel the notion that
disembodiment is a novelty specific to the digital era. Edwin Hutchins,
in his study of how representations are propagated in systems of
cultural computation, points out that the use of bearing logs in sea
navigation dates back at least 4500 years, and that "Sumerian
accountants developed similar layouts for recording agricultural
transactions as early as 2650 B.C." (124) Cuneiform Tablets, a clay
tablet inscribed with ideograms and numerals (multipliers), organized in
the now familiar column and row format, formed the material basis for
the disembodiment of material reality into a clay media for data storage
of mundane business transactions. And certainly, the notation on a
tablet of "18 unproductive trees" is no more the actual 18 unproductive
trees than some contemporary individual's poor credit history (a common
example of a 'data body') constitutes the breath of individual
personhood. Yet, both such representations are similarly disembodied
data representations utilized for economic control and management. In a
loose sense cuneiform tablets were the first spread sheets, and one
could go further to argue that the first written words and images
instantiate a similar disembodiment of referent and referrer, not to
mention the disembodiment inherent in language itself! This has been a
constant issue in aesthetics from Plato (mimesis) through semiotics
(sign as combination of signifier/signified), and in postmodern thought;
perhaps most notoriously in the writings of Jean Baudrillard where the
sign becomes ascendant and begins itself to relplace reality through
precession.

Similarly, data has for a long time exhibited the quality of being
fluidly transferable between forms of materiality in different
representational media, and in fact transferal and transmission of data
via pre-industrial 'networks' show that data transferal is in no way a
novel phenomenon or a creation specifically of the digital age. Hutchins
gives the chip log and the methods of using it as just one example of
the propagation and transmission of representational states. The chip
log is device consisting of a reel, a rope line, and the "chip": a piece
of wood that would be thrown overboard to remain stationary in the water
while knotted line was let out. The passage of time would be marked by
crew members singing a hymn (maintaining the system's clock speed), and
notations regarding the number of knots unrolled would be recorded in a
log at a regular fix interval. The knots would measure the distance that
the ship had traveled, from which the term "knots" as a measurement unit
for maritime speed is derived. Importantly, Hutchins shows how the chip
log was utilized to perform an analog to digital conversion:

"The log gave rise to a computational process that begins with
analog-to-digital conversion, which is followed by digital computation,
then either digital-to-analog conversion for interpretation or
digital-to-analog conversion followed by analog computation." (103)

Through these conversions, the propagation of representations between
various crew members aboard ship was enabled. Chip logs were utilized as
dead reckoning instrumentation allowing the projection of the ship's
future position on nautical charts; nautical charts which are themselves
analog computers designed expressly for position-fixing calculations.
Logs and analog-to-digital conversions allowed data to be transported,
often in digital form, through a ship wide network of crew members
utilizing different media to perform their tasks; for example from the
memory of the log keeper into the log, then from the log to navigator
who would project the future position of the ship onto a chart at some
fixed interval, and then from the media of the chart to the mind of the
captain who is responsible for the larger journey.

Data and information have qualities of their own, as calculable symbolic
representations capturing measurable aspects of material systems. Data
and information are not only disembodied in some material form of
representational abstraction from their subject (whether clay tablet or
digital electric impulses), but can be recorded and transferred from one
state to another, propagated from person-to-person in local, perhaps
totally linguistic, networks of social computation, or from
place-to-place via encoding into media mobilized by material
transportation consisting of technology such as sailing ships, or more
recently, undersea fiber optic cables. Importantly, this mobile property
of data and information has been at play in human culture long before
the digital era - perhaps as long as linguistic messages have been
carried from place to place by foot and shared among different groups,
and certainly since written (doubly coded) and numeric representations
began to be transported. Additionally, the example of cuneiform as a
particular clay media implementing informational disembodiment from the
material world emerged well before the development of the algebraic
analysis (as early as 1800 B.C.) and the discrete mathematics concepts
(congealing nicely in the figure of George Boole in the 19th century),
that would serve as the catalysts for the development of digital
communications and computational technologies during the 20th century.
The disembodiment of data and information from the real clearly predates
the digital era.

Disembodiment does not mean that data and information, and their
material reality, do not influence one another. In fact the case is
rather the opposite, forming is the basis of the fundamentally
materialist-formalist analysis I am trying to forge here. As I have
indicated in the past:

"This position is supported by Paul Virilio's theory of information as
the third dimension of matter, (energy being the second), in that
information and its effect on identity are not disembodied from the
real, but rather become a integral part of the real world projecting
directly into the body: a network of people hyperactivated by
information machinery which has joined with the body no more or less
conspicuously than the pacemaker or the telephone handset." (1998)

The significant difference making difference that does arrive with the
digital era is the speed with which the relations between information
technology and material systems are implemented: the move from the speed
of hand inscribed clay tables, to ships, to trains, to telegraph, to the
speed of light on fiber optic and radio networks. (This trajectory
roughly paraphrases Virilio's analytic project.) The process has been a
teleological one; the move from writing data on clay storage devices and
the associated literacy to retrieve and utilize those notations in a
local economy has progressed to 'writing' data in informatic media such
CPU's, RAM, magnetic storage, optical and wireless networks, and of
course this too assumes an associated literacy, in the contemporary case
one required to utilize digital media in a global economy. As the
transmission speed of the media becomes faster, the ability of data and
information to impinge upon or embed itself in material systems itself
expands. While clay-based inscription systems improved the management of
a local orchards in Sumeria, information systems today, which wrap the
Earth in fiber optic cable and paint it with electromagnetic carrier
waves, facilitate the transmission of data and information around the
world in milliseconds, allowing a global scope of impact for data and
information. For example, as Geri Wittig points out regarding the
relationship between geographic information systems and the Earth as a
complex system:

"With the increasing use of GIS technologies in a wide variety of
fields, including art, the data networks generated will disseminate into
the expanding networks of information technology. I speculate these GIS
generated data networks have the potential to act as bifurcations and
coadaptive systems..." (2003)

This means that systems which operate, transport and calculate at the
speed of light have greater power become co-operative in the
distribution and creation of the real, causing the disembodiment of data
itself to bifurcate into something more powerful and integrated with
life on Earth due to the speed and intensity of data flows. This allows
data and information to play a more immediate, acute, synchronized role
in the daily life of persons, as well as non-human ecosystems and flows
of materials. It is not disembodiment per se, but rather machinic
catalysis of the relations between virtual and real that is the
difference making difference in the digital era. Further it is the
discrete properties of the digital that enable this speed, as well as
enabling the exact quantification of information, ala Claude Shannon. It
is the catalytic properties inherent in the material basis of digital
technology that allows the analysis of the difference (that information
is) to have a radical transformational impact on every aspect of
culture, society, biota, climate, and to some degree, even geology. The
disembodiment of information from its referent, which is an archaic and
fundamentally ontological aspect of data and information, is now
hyper-activated in real time at the speed of light. And indeed, it is
the consequences of this speed which many artists working around the
issues of 'database politics' have responded to.

A small but representative selection of artists who have notably
responded to the sudden imposition of database as a mediator of power
and social control include the Critical Art Ensemble, Natalie
Jeremijenko, Graham Harwood, and Diane Ludin. The Critical Art Ensemble
were perhaps the first artists to see the looming threat of database on
matters of privacy and power, and to present issues relating to database
theoretically in terms of an agent of social control. In their 1994 book
The Electronic Disturbance, CAE states:

"As the electronic information-cores overflow with files of electronic
people (those transformed into credit histories, consumer types,
patterns and tendencies, etc.), electronic research, electronic money,
and other forms of information power, the nomad is free to wander the
electronic net, able to cross national boundaries with minimal
resistance from national bureaucracies. The privileged realm of
electronic space controls the physical logistics of manufacture, since
the release of raw materials requires electronic consent and direction."
(CAE, 1994)

While we do read here a direct reference to the concerns of
disembodiment in terms of "electronic people", we also see a clear focus
on new forms of pan-capitalist power and control over the economy
through processes where "electronic space controls the physical
logistics of manufacture." This inference on the part of CAE certainly
maps to the notion of data and information as disembodied control
systems of management, but disembodiment is placed in a context that
makes the change less attributable to the original sin of disembodiment
than it is to the speed and ease through which social power and control
over the material world is deployed via contemporary, digital, highly
distributed database systems. CAE's words may be the first shots fired
in the art of database politics.

Natalie Jeremijenko's and Graham Harwood's recent work with database
share a consistent theme: an attempt to address the asymmetry of power
between those who model and manipulate the world through data, (thus
enjoying most of the rights to benefit from information garnered from
that data), and those who are modeled and manipulated by data. A
representative example of Jeremijenko's recent work is the Bit
Antiterror Line project, which allows "every phone [home/cell/booth] to
act as a networked microphone... For collecting live audio data on civil
liberty infringements and other anti-terror events." The files are made
available in a simple database of audio files on the bit antiterror line
web site (Jeremijenko), one of which recounts the story of a stewardess
who threatened a couple with arrest by armed Air Marshal if they
continued to draw silly pictures and laugh at her. Harwood's 9 project
is a website modeled around the simple square shaped layout of 9 media
elements. It allows people to represent themselves, their neighborhoods,
their identity, and their interests, via media elements arranged in this
simple, easy to use layout strategy, including a notion of proximity and
thus juxtaposition with neighboring 9's. The ease of use at the
interface level belies a sophisticated custom database under the covers,
coded by the artist. 9 encourages not only self representation, but the
exploration of the self representations of others in a shared data
commons creating connections between/within communities defined both
geographically and informatically, while Jeremijenko's project creates a
data commons as both an emergency antidote to, and cultural and social
analysis of, the growing fascism apparent in the United States as the
"War on Terrorism" progresses. As I write this (original draft, April
2004), CAE's Steve Kurtz is being investigated by a grand jury in
Buffalo, NY, essentially for daring to make provocative art works with
biological materials. Although he (and CAE) have presented this work
publicly in high profile art institutions for many years, his research
and materials stored in his home became the subject of a wasteful and
misguided anti-terror investigation after being noticed and reported by
first-responders following the tragic death of Hope Kurtz from natural
causes.

The prevalence of database in biotechnology research has led to many
projects dealing with genomic data analysis or critique of the systems
in which nature becomes private property. Diane Ludin's "i-BPE,
i-Biology Patent Engine" takes on issues of intellectual property and
ownership in the high-tech era by setting up a context where real United
States patents on genes are themselves claimed as a kind of public
property/context for remixing and play with the language of patents,
resulting in a "aggressive take-over by i-BPE agents... i-BPE gene
patents will return bio-rights to non-governmental, cultural agents for
revision." (Ludin) In a presently unpublished manuscript, Ludin
discusses, somewhat ironically, how speed has (with its own certain
irony), allowed the disembodiment of data from its referent to return
directly and literally to the site of our bodies, for which the only
prior art is billions of years of evolution. "With the rise of ibiology
the circuit between code and patent becomes part of the super speed
ecology of Bio Capitalism. Ibiology establishes the next level of
command and control culture where artificial selection becomes a
post-human, globalizing, gene profit system." (Ludin) In Ludin's, and
indeed all of the above examples, speed is the difference making
difference that the art of database politics ultimately must address
across a range of practice; regardless of whether the artist is using
database as media to help along the emergence of shared understanding
within a culturally mixed global culture, or responding defensively
(with database) to the onslaught of database driven assaults on civil
rights committed by corporatist or fascist governments.

Data Visualization, Beautiful Information and Sublime Data

A formal aspect of data and information that is often overlooked in
western culture at large is that the terms "data" and "information" have
meanings that are quite different from one another. Although
Dictionaries such as Webster's accurately define the terms; information
as "an informing or being informed; esp., a telling or being told of
something", and data as in "facts or figures to be processed; evidence,
records, statistics, etc. from which conclusions can be inferred;
information", (Webster's, italics mine), popular uses of the terms often
overlap somewhat more than their dictionary definitions allow. Note that
"information" is above embedded in the definition of data, across the
semi-colon boundary behind which "conclusions can be inferred", but
without a cadence or emphasis that would mark information's definitional
difference with the same clarity as it is most commonly defined in
computer science. Information as described above could easily be misread
as synonymous with "facts or figures to be processed", even given
position of the semi-colon. As I will discuss in the next paragraph,
there is in fact an issue of transitory states. Nevertheless,
information is most usefully defined as the conclusions or news of
significant difference that is inferred from the logical processing of a
collection data. Data is defined essentially as being raw facts; whereas
information is mined from processing those facts.

Of course, the situation it is not that simple. At any one time the same
representations (I do not take "representation" to mean exclusively
"visual"), might exist in different terminal states (as either data or
information) on a larger conveyor belt of ubiquitous digital processing.
A simple example: it is common for the output of one program (nominally
"information") to be the input data for another, as in the unix command,
ps -ef | grep brett, which pipes the somewhat lengthy output of the ps
program (information about all processes) to the grep filter such that I
might know only of my processes; information can become data to be
filtered into more specific information. Another potential breakdown in
the distinction occurs due to the graphical user interface, which does a
better job of 'making invisible' the user's control data (another kind
of input), for example in the form of pointing as interactive input
(mouse clicks, mouse drags, etc.) These are definitely forms of control
data input, but they are processed more invisibly than control commands
given on a command line interface, because the visual half life of
clicks and drags as pixel residue on the screen is not buffered as are
commands that remain visible in the terminal shell (visible on screen)
after being issued in a CLI. Nevertheless, ignoring interactive input
and its own important implications, it is still true that data plays its
most common social 'role' in the form of input to programs, and it is
information that is derived from processing data as output; even if the
information is later transitioned by being reprocessed as input back
into some other program (potentially somewhere else in the world). The
ontology of data and information as input and output is contextually
mediated and transitory; existing alternatively between states of data
and information. Yet data is still associated in an important way with
input and information with output, even if the terms data and
information are treated more loosely in culture at large, perhaps due to
being seen adjacent to each other so often, a result of their status as
quite inseparable siblings or perhaps a digital yin/yang.

A good question for the impatient reader at this point would be "What
does this have to do with contemporary database practice in art?" After
all, there is no shortage of clarification regarding the distinction
between "data" and "information" in engineering and the sciences. The
answer is that the conflation of terms seems to pool especially commonly
in the humanities discipline areas, such as art. To be fair, it is a
common linguistic conflation in culture at large and this is indeed
where artists operate, but I do think it merits our attention in any
analysis of the works of artists who are working with database, and
particularly for artists that are working specifically with data
visualization, or the related disciplines of data sonification and data
haptics (as in ambient computing).

Lev Manovich has made a very important observation about the aesthetic
strategies of Data Visualization practice in an essay titled The
Anti-Sublime Ideal in Data Art, (2002), in which he critiques
contemporary data visualization practice in art as adhering to a pursuit
of beauty in the transformation (or processing) of large datasets into
the visual field: the "Anti-Sublime" aesthetic. Beauty is the pursuit of
clarity, balance and transparent form, and data visualization is often
pursued for the sake of understanding or making clear the behavior of
data and the systems represented by data. Beauty in data visualization
is opposed to the sublime: the condition under which the data overwhelms
its viewer, and the viewer's senses are mobilized in a special kind
cognition that allows them to carry on with the formation of an
understanding that is, as it turns out, more likely to be satisfactory
than a random guess. There are many names for this kind of cognition:
intuition, anticipation, instinct, or a sixth sense. The sublime is of
considerable interest to the artificial intelligence discipline in
computer science. Human intelligence seems able to deal with the sublime
condition and can continue to operate intelligently even when
overwhelmed or subjected to context shifts, while discrete computational
machines have not yet proven this ability. In a sense, the holy grail of
artificial intelligence is to create machines that can behave with human
like intelligence when similarly thrown by excessive amounts of data
under variable context.

Interestingly, the definitions of the terms "beauty" and "sublime" have
also been culturally conflated, perhaps even more so, than the terms
"information" and "data". Just as information and data are sometimes
interchangeable terms in common usage, (often taken to mean
information), the meanings of beauty and sublime are today similarly
conflated, (often to mean beauty). The notion of beauty, revealing form
and making cognizable, as the goal of data visualization art works
dealing with large data sets is clearly described by Christiane Paul,
writing of Benjamin Fry's 1999 work "Valence":

"The software visually represents individual pieces of information
according to their interactions with each other. Valence can be used for
visualizing almost anything, from the contents of a book to website
traffic, or for comparing different data sources. The resulting
visualization changes over time as it responds to new data. Instead of
providing statistical information ... Valence provides a feel for
general trends and anomalies in the data by presenting a qualitative
slice of the information's structure. Valence functions as an aesthetic
'context provider', setting up relationships between data elements that
might not be immediately obvious, and that exist beneath the surface of
what we usually perceive." (177, 178)

I do not choose to wade into any aesthetic debate regarding the
beautiful and the sublime in data visualization; I am sticking to my
promise to hold fast to an interpretive framework in this writing. Lisa
Jevbratt has written an essay titled The Prospect of the Sublime in Data
Visualizations, responding in part to Manovich's use of the 1:1 project
(1999, 2002) as an example of the anti-sublime aesthetic. (Jevbratt) For
now, I merely want to point out that in terms of how we interpret the
art practices engaged in data visualization, beauty as opposed to the
sublime is the most critical contemporary interpretive framework in
which such art may be evaluated aesthetically. The criterion for
analysis shifts from the effectiveness of any particular visualization
(and its ability to facilitate an understanding of the data through
beauty), to the roll of the user or communities of users in interpreting
a visualization via their own ontological thrownness, their own
conceptual, computational or cultural methods for processing data, and
their own ability to perceive when facing conditions of sublimity. At
its extremes, the sublime analysis suggests that access to raw,
unmediated data replace visualizations, and that communities should take
democratic control of their own data interpretation in a way that best
balances their exposure to quantities of data against their need to
reduce it to useful information; all of which might only become
practical if formal languages for processing data become standard
educational assumptions for a baseline notion of what it means to be
literate in post-industrial, high tech societies. Microsoft Excel(TM)
can not save us. Artists might be able to play an important role in this
regard: as guides in data exploration more so than as experts in data
visualization.

Additionally, the formal definitions of data and information imply
another framework tightly coupled to the issues raised by the beautiful
and the sublime. Data visualization practice is certainly bound to the
transition of representations between states of being data and states of
being information; and as Manovich points out, most contemporary artists
working in data visualization are seemingly committed to visualization
as information. This is essentially congruent with Paul's discussion of
Fry's work Valence as well as her overall discussion of database
practice; further implying that much data visualization practice in the
arts today seemingly pursues beauty. Interpretively, we may extract from
all of this that the pursuit of information is the pursuit of the
beautiful and that the pursuit of data is the pursuit of the sublime.
The former implies a struggle for understanding, the later an impulse
for exploration, including the collection and generation of new data.
How artists implement their forms of expression between information and
data, and possibly in the transitory states between them, is an
aesthetic issue that maps to the transitory states between the sublime
and the beautiful. Speaking personally, this seems to be an unresolved
area in data visualization as artistic practice, as well as in the
related formal practice that I discuss in the next section.

Virtual and Materialist Data Formalism, Data Mining

In this section, my interpretive framework comes full circle back near
the issue of disembodiment. In the first section of this essay, I
believe that I was able to demonstrate that data and information have
always been disembodied from their referent, and I did so by arguing
from a materialist stance that views data as an important virtual
reality that actually impinges on material reality. In a previous text
titled Database Logic(s) and Landscape Art (original, 2002), I presented
a more radical, though consciously very speculative and provisional view
that data is embedded and operative within the actual through a process
in which humans/data/Earth are inextricably implicated: humans mediate
the landscape with the assistance of data about the landscape, and the
data itself mediates that mediation, not necessarily intentionally, but
in such a way that the actual material Earth now speaks through
scientific data, thereby expressing a voice in conversation with human
culture. In the same essay, I indicate how the term 'virtual' is also
often misunderstood as referring to the imaginary interfacial illusions
that computational systems can create, rather than (more appropriately)
the abstract mathematics of reality (that can be modeled
computationally, well beyond 3 dimensions), that in some sense produces
the actual. In other words, the virtual is itself a real space of
possible physical states for any system that crystallize into the
actual, which is precisely what allows computational models of physical
systems (such as engineering or atmospheric simulations) to have
predictive power. I made this case in order to suggest that artists
should utilize the notion of the virtual for predictive or analytical
practices that reveal knowledge about the world, or better, that emerge
new behavior, exploration and experience. I think this holds for the
humanities. I am in no way concerned if what is revealed functions as
conceptual and performance art, and not as science.

There are many database art projects that demonstrate this analytical
and productive practice which engage with data utilizing an ethos that
maintains an interest in the embodiment (contra disembodiment) that is
implied in the relationship between data and its material, actual, real
world referents. Although I have avoided definition, I would argue that
the preceding does constitute something close to a definition of
database art in the bigger picture, the relationship to materialist
embodiment being the key. In any case, it clearly fits into my
interpretive framework for contemporary database practice as database
formalism. These projects are interested in the actual materials that
are modeled by data, and seek new, exploratory methods of interacting
with the material world that reveal new knowledge about the materials,
or the interactions with them, and that allow data to become a
cooperative co-participant in the performance. For example, Lev
Manovich's Soft Cinema (2001-) uses metadata to dynamically organize a
Mondrian inspired screen layout for videos shot by the artist in his
travels, in which "every clip is assigned 10 different parameters, which
are both semantic and formal, so for example one is geographical
location... how much motion there is in a clip, which is assigned a
number... the contrast, the average brightness, the subject matter...",
and so forth. (Manovich, 2003) The parameters are utilized by custom
software to control the editing of the video clips and their
organization in the layout, allowing data about the (video) data (the
metadata) to manifest itself through being granted some level of
decision making authority and authorship. Manovich's cinema edits
itself; revealing itself in unexpected and often poetic ways that
require one to apply a thrown and sublime mode of paradigmatic
viewership to its interpretation.

David Rokeby's Giver of Names (1990-) and George Legrady's Pockets Full
of Memories (2001) both ask users to interact with real objects in the
gallery space, which are scanned and input into a database system for
further classification and comparison. While Rokeby's approach utilizes
an AI computer vision technique and artificial language processing, and
Legrady's uses a clustering algorithm designed to situate the personal
objects offered up by the audience with their statistically nearest
neighbors, both projects are literally concerned with the relation
between real objects and how they are thus mediated (either by naming
them or associating them with another) as they undergo analog-to-digital
(material to reference) conversion, insertion into a database, and
subsequent data analysis. Importantly, an emphasis on the materiality of
the objects is maintained in the exhibition space. The materiality is
directly experienced by the audiences who interact with Rokeby's
collection of objects lying around the exhibition space that they may
situate on a pedestal for scanning and interpretation by an artificial
intelligence system. In Legrady's case, a personal object if offered up
for analysis. Both systems connect rather literally with the real as an
embodied space to be contextualized.

The near unification of referrer and referent is even more literal in
recent C5 work, (a group of which I am a member), where geographic
information system data (a digital 3D map of the landscape) is mined
through the preprocessing of the primary data into a layer of metadata
characterizing large areas of topography (currently the State of
California), that can be searched via a relational database and related
Java API. (The C5 Landscape Database API.) Mirroring the
Input/Processing/Output pattern common in classic, non-interactive data
processing, C5 takes input samples (collected with GPS), and processes
them to identify the most similar landscapes to the original, but that
exist somewhere else. As preparatory work for The Other Path (2004-)
Geri Wittig set out on a month long trek along the Great Wall of China,
starting in the northwest desert and following the Wall eastward to
where it runs to the edge of the Yellow Sea. GPS data was collected from
twelve separate trekked locations along the length of the Great Wall.
Using pattern-matching search procedures developed at C5 (Amul Goswamy
and Brett Stalbaum), the 12 most similar corresponding terrains in
California were identified. After determining the blocks representing
the most similar matching terrains in California, phase two of the Other
Path search process identified discrete paths within those terrains
expressing similar statistical characteristics, such as simple distance,
cumulative distance, and elevation change. To do this, a swarm of
virtual hikers, implemented as experimental features of the C5 Landscape
Database API 2.0, were unleashed in the virtual California landscape to
explore and generate tracklogs, which were then compared to Wittig's
original "input" Great Wall of China tracklogs. The results of this
search identified the most closely matching virtual tracklogs, which
were then exported to tracklog files, uploaded to GPS devices, and
physically realized by C5 in a performance of tertiary (after the
original, after database) exploration of what is now known as The Great
Wall of California. In this performance, walking works in the tradition
of Richard Long, Hamish Fulton and perhaps even Dominique Mazeaud are
reconceived as input, processed by via database applications that have
been granted the ability to tell us where to go by outputting GPS
coordinates that we are conceptually bound to follow with our feet. This
generates alternative experience and exploration of the landscape at a
time when everything (on the landform surface of the Earth) has already
been explored and modeled. It emphasizes not the disembodiment of
datascapes from their referents, but their intimate connection and
productive capability.

Conclusion

I have outlined three modes of practice, database politics, data
visualization, and database formalism (the latter contra disembodiment)
in which contemporary database practice can be interpreted. The later
formalist tendency, in which database is conceived as virtual context
for implementing a data co-operative mediation of the world, perhaps
most interestingly overlaps in the final analysis with the database
politics. Though largely apolitical at first glance, the formalist
interpretative mode of database art practice is similar to that of
database politics in that the goal of both is to realign the power of
database to distribute the real, albeit for different reasons, as
opposed to data visualization's dominant (but perhaps not universal)
desire to better understand data. Though formalist practice may not
self-consciously attempt to intercede in pan-capitalist distribution of
power, data formalism and artistic data mining practices do conceive of
agency returning back to the hands (or for C5 the feet) of the people
who interact with such systems, although perhaps in a perverse way by
tactically ceding a certain level of arbitrary control to the database
applications themselves. But as long these are at least neutral with
regards to power, and hopefully designed and performed by autonomous
users of the systems in non-coercive ways, there are advantages to be
found - perhaps even political ones.

For one, formalist database practice is in alignment conceptually with
the ubiquity of database in our culture, perhaps encouraging individuals
to develop related expertise for apolitical ends (recreation, hobbies)
that produce ecologies of knowledge that become useful when political
conditions become too onerous for the majority of people. Formalist
practice could be aware that discovering the possibilities and building
novel alternatives (especially when done so by communities instead of
for them), might be just as effective as directly resisting the
distributed, nomadic power of systems of mass subjugation. Also,
database formalism allows aesthetic analysis to move toward and explore
truly interesting, purely formal issues of database itself as a medium.
For example, the relational database model trades maximum processing
efficiency for the ability to maintain ad hoc queries, which may be
consequential in terms of how the material world is ultimately mediated
in particular instances. All three of these conceptual modes of artistic
practice with database are important of course, and they certainly
overlap in practice. None is mutually exclusive.

Interpretively, there is perhaps a fourth mode of practice that it may
be argued that I have ignored. The only other mode of database practice
that is perhaps not necessarily some derivation founded in database
politics, data visualization, or a database formalist practice is
seemingly a multimedia practice that assembles and processes a
'database' of multimedia materials, mixing or remixing them into some
other media forms such as web video, animation, real time video
processing, music, etc. The multimedia assumption insists that the core
of digital media art practice is manifest as pixels on a screen, or some
other output such as speakers, or as interaction at an interface that
produces some kind of visceral or otherwise magically mediated
experience. The mediation is viewed as ultimately flowing from the
identity of "the artist" of course, who is assumed to produce some kind
of political awareness or aesthetic/cultural experience in the minds of
the audience. Often, this kind of very traditional orientation toward
art practice does not consider the elements in the database as data with
their own ontology, and suppresses data's identity into being mere media
elements or samples to be processed, remixed, and assembled by the
artist in an expressive configuration of individual artistic style and
message. Media tools such as digital video editing and multimedia
authoring platforms are commonly employed, and often these are used
pretty much the way that their designers (large corporations) intended
them to be used. There is no reason to think that such software
applications can not be used in other ways (in fact, there are many
delightful examples on runme.org), but in practice such conceptual
repurposings are all too rare. When they do happen, they seem to
transcend multimedia and map to conceptual art practices (often termed
"software art"), and I suspect that my categorical distinctions
regarding database practices would support these. But I am veering
dangerously toward making an evaluation of multimedia practices here.
That is not my goal, so this is a good place to conclude.

References

1. Critical Art Ensemble, The Electronic Disturbance, Autonomedia,
New York.
2. Jeremijenko, Natalie, Homepage for the bit antiterror line
project http://www.bureauit.org/antiterror/, accessed April 25th, 2K4.
3. Jevbratt, Lisa, The Prospect of the Sublime in Data
Visualizations, YLEM Journal, Artists using Science and Technology,
Volume 24, Number 8, August 2K4.
4. Ludin, Diane, i-BPE project website
http://www.thing.net/~diane/i-BPE/index.html, accessed June 6th, 2K4.
5. Ludin, Diane, Deep Harmonization i-BPE, unpublished manuscript, 2K4.
6. Manovich, Lev The Anti-Sublime Ideal in Data Art, (2002)
http://www.manovich.net/DOCS/data\_art.doc
7. Manovich, Lev, Lev Manovich / Interview at DEAF 2003, quoted from
a video
8. interview, selection transcribed by myself. Paul, Christiane,
Digital Art, (c) 2003, Thames and Hudson Ltd, London, ISBN 0-500-20376-9
9. Stalbaum, Brett, Aesthetic Conditions in Art on the Network:
beyond representation to the relative speeds of hypertextual and
conceptual implementations, Switch, the new media journal of the CADRE
digital laboratory, 1998, http://switch.sjsu.edu/web/v4n2/brett/
10. Stalbaum, Brett, Database Logic(s) and Landscape Art, Noemalab -
t ecnologie & societa, 2003,
http://www.noemalab.org/sections/ideas/ideas\_articles/stalbaum\_landscape\_art.html
11. Webster's New World Dictionary and Thesuarus, Accent Software
International, Macmillian Publishers, Version 2.0 - 1998, Build #25

(Original, 2004), first presented at the College Art Association 94th
annual conference, Boston MA, 2006
Panel - From Database and Place to Bio-Tech and Bots: Relationality
versus Autonomy in Media Art
Thursday, February 23
Chair: Marisa S. Olsen, University of California, Berkeley

This essay is dedicated to the memory of Eric Gray, who is responsible
more than any other for helping me establish my interest in computing as
a young person. In 1981, Eric showed me a war dialer he had written in
BASIC on a TRS-80 computer, along with custom hardware enabling his tape
drive remote control output to perform pulse dialing on the plain old
phone network, which he was using (while his parents were away, of
course) to war dial for local modem connections to hack into. I was
hooked. And the hours of playing "Adventure" did not hurt either. On
behalf of your family and friends, we love and miss you Eric.

Also, thanks to Warren Sack. I wrote this after presenting and hanging
out with him in Karlsrue in January 2004, talking about these kinds of
things, and it is really very cool that we both ended up presenting on
Marisa's panel together. Tad and Helen too:-)

\_\_END\_\_

--
Brett Stalbaum, Lecturer, PSOE
Coordinator, Interdisciplinary Computing and the Arts Major (ICAM)
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, SAN DIEGO
Department of Visual Arts
9500 GILMAN DR. # 0084
La Jolla CA 92093-0084
http://www.c5corp.com
http://www.paintersflat.net
  • Geert Dekkers | Sat Feb 25th 2006 4:28 a.m.
    Thanks Brett --- I read through your essay. First and foremost, I
    wish to say that I really appreciate theory on this subject,
    especially now, as I am doing a show along the theme of embodiment
    this September in Amsterdam, including works by Mogens Jacobsen,
    Foofwa d"immobilite, Alan Sondheim, myself and others.

    I realise though, that we differ somewhat in our consideration of
    (the concept of the word) art. I'll try to articulate this in the
    following.

    http://nznl.com, my own work, is evolving into a model of an
    imaginary nznl.com exhibition hall, complete with its own "board of
    directors", "nznl.com workers", "management culture", "history",
    etc. So it is to be a "picture of a world", and is, as such, also
    what I think art should be.

    In the coming (as yet untitled) show, I'm trying to metaphorise the
    passage between the virtual (which is, in the realm of nznl.com, to
    be understood as the "idea" phrase of the work and the body (very
    literally, the object in the gallery). For example, in Mogens
    Jacobsens work "I Hear Denmark Singing" [http://www.artnode.org/art/
    jacobsen/art/pom2/] that I hope to present, the potatoes producing
    the electricity represent the passage or perhaps evolution of the
    idea phrase. Foofwa's BodyToy [http://foofwa.com] (if I may so
    interpret it) traces the passage from our understanding of our body
    (the "our" understood as a cultural whole -- so its "our collective
    body") to 3d rendering software through Foofwa's rendering of this
    output in his presentation. Jan Robert Leegte's work [http://
    leegte.org] recreates the window and desktop metaphore in the
    gallery, and in doing so, rebuilds the relationship with "real"
    space. and "real" windows. And thus objectifies the metaphore, making
    it again understandable for what it is.

    So I think I'm using the virtual world of data, or information in
    quite a different way. I see very interesting concepts in your essay
    (perhaps I should just call them "pictures") -- the "datascape", or
    the "self portrait as data", incidentally, just as I'm interested in
    the picture that results from "paper trail". I'm not so much
    interested in the difference between the data and information -- I
    see data as "counting events", I see information as a sentence,
    perhaps using data as a quantifier of referers -- this would be my
    "idea phrase" culminating in a "paragraph" of meaning.

    I'm perhaps not so much interested in technology as I think you are.
    For me, computer technology is a metaphore for a self-built world,
    built in our collective image, with its known objects, and a language
    or languages describing and/or creating these objects -- a closed
    system in fact, where the relationship with the "real" world
    "outside" is problematic to say the least. While I found the GPS work
    recreating the Great Wall fascinating, and the walks you guys made
    very conscientiously thought through, I don't see how this work fits
    into a bigger "picture of the world". You can't get away with saying
    something like "generates alternative experience and exploration of
    the landscape at a time when everything (on the landform surface of
    the Earth) has already been explored and modeled" (I personally don't
    think this will ever happen, but that's beside the point) -- I
    actually think that this is a declaration after the fact, and not a
    movitation and/or inspiration for the work. The works by Richard Long
    and Hamish Fulton are in fact much closer to the simple art of
    walking somewhere and telling us about it, and are therefore (imho)
    more revealing on the subject of representation.

    To conclude somewhat hastily -- I do think data and information are
    important pieces of the puzzle, but I think that any good work of art
    recreates a complete and full world, a reflection of our world, and
    in doing so fundamentally grasps the interdependance between our
    bodies, our language and culture. This is at least what I am trying
    to do.

    Geert
    http://nznl.com

    On 25-feb-2006, at 3:51, Brett Stalbaum wrote:

    > An Interpretive Framework for Contemporary Database Practice in the
    > Arts
    >
    > Introduction
    >
    > There are two common notions regarding the nature (or ontology) of
    > data and information that are important for us to think about when
    > we are considering artistic practice with database. The first is
    > the notion that information is disembodied from its subject, and
    > the second is somewhat of a conflation of the terms "data" and
    > "information". Political concern stemming from the first notion may
    > be most responsible for stimulating "database art", but current art
    > practice with database can be broadly divided into three generally
    > recognizable, though not mutually exclusive modes of practice:
    > database politics, data visualization (the latter related also to
    > sonification, and haptics), and what I will term database
    > formalism. The second notion represents more of a noise in our at-
    > large cultural understanding regarding the meaning of the terms
    > "data" and "information" that when clarified, may sharpen the
    > critical focus on an aspect of data visualization practice. Honing
    > these two notions will provide us with a critical basis for the
    > interpretation contemporary database art practices, perhaps
    > especially as they interact with emerging geospatial and location
    > aware media practices. In this writing, interpretation is
    > distinguished from definition and evaluation, as it is in the
    > tradition of analytic aesthetics. I write from the perspective of a
    > practicing artist; not a trained philosopher or art historian. Thus
    > I demur, at least somewhat, on the issue of defining database
    > practice (beyond the obvious), and I avoid any qualitative
    > evaluation of the examples I give. I only hope to chart the terrain
    > of a contemporary practice with which I am familiar, including the
    > work of many colleagues and collaborators. I hope to form an
    > interpretation of the approaches contemporary artists are taking to
    > database that I hope will be useful in evaluating this territory.
    >
    > Data Body and Data Politics
    >
    > I will start by considering works that emphasize the contemporary
    > consequences of disembodiment of data/information from its
    > referent, regardless of whether we are speaking about the human
    > body and its disembodied 'data body', or other material
    > manifestations of reality and the data which refers to it.
    > "Information" and "data", in this narrow context, are viewed as
    > descriptions of the thing described, and are somewhat conflated
    > terms. (See next section.) Christiane Paul patently describes the
    > issues that seem to have been in play for artists surrounding the
    > issue of disembodiment:
    >
    > "In the digital age, the concept of 'disembodiment' does not only
    > apply to our physical body but also to notions of the object and
    > materiality in general. Information itself to a large extent seems
    > to have lost its 'body', becoming an abstract 'quality' that can
    > make a fluid transition between different states of materiality.
    > While the ultimate 'substance' of information remains arguable, it
    > is safe to say that data are not necessarily attached to a specific
    > form of manifestation. Information and data sets are intrinsically
    > virtual, that is, they exist as processes that are not necessarily
    > visible or graspable, such as the transferal or transmission of
    > data via networks."(174)
    >
    > I will argue that the case is subtly yet importantly different, as
    > this type of disembodiment is not actually a new phenomenon to the
    > digital age. Information/data have always been disembodied, and in
    > fact we do see that the interaction between the virtual with the
    > real is more tightly bound today, and indeed is more materially
    > generative (yet contra-abstract), than at anytime in history.
    > Disembodiment is not the difference making difference that the
    > digital age brings. In order to demonstrate this, I will take a
    > double tact. First I will look into history for precedents of
    > disembodied data and information, hoping to show that
    > "disembodiment" is not a new issue just because we have entered a
    > digital era. Then I will try to show that it is not the
    > disembodiment of the referrer from the referent that creates the
    > radial difference that the digital era has brought, but rather that
    > it is the nature of distributed, high speed data processing that
    > makes all the difference because it radically motorizes, automates
    > and makes ubiquitous the potential for data and information to
    > impinge on daily life. After presenting this idea, I will make
    > reference to a few database artworks that I think map to the
    > various assumptions outlined by Paul, which I think expresses an
    > interpretive critical model in which artistic practice can be
    > specified in terms of 'database politics'.
    >
    > It only requires a few examples from history to dispel the notion
    > that disembodiment is a novelty specific to the digital era. Edwin
    > Hutchins, in his study of how representations are propagated in
    > systems of cultural computation, points out that the use of bearing
    > logs in sea navigation dates back at least 4500 years, and that
    > "Sumerian accountants developed similar layouts for recording
    > agricultural transactions as early as 2650 B.C." (124) Cuneiform
    > Tablets, a clay tablet inscribed with ideograms and numerals
    > (multipliers), organized in the now familiar column and row format,
    > formed the material basis for the disembodiment of material reality
    > into a clay media for data storage of mundane business
    > transactions. And certainly, the notation on a tablet of "18
    > unproductive trees" is no more the actual 18 unproductive trees
    > than some contemporary individual's poor credit history (a common
    > example of a 'data body') constitutes the breath of individual
    > personhood. Yet, both such representations are similarly
    > disembodied data representations utilized for economic control and
    > management. In a loose sense cuneiform tablets were the first
    > spread sheets, and one could go further to argue that the first
    > written words and images instantiate a similar disembodiment of
    > referent and referrer, not to mention the disembodiment inherent in
    > language itself! This has been a constant issue in aesthetics from
    > Plato (mimesis) through semiotics (sign as combination of signifier/
    > signified), and in postmodern thought; perhaps most notoriously in
    > the writings of Jean Baudrillard where the sign becomes ascendant
    > and begins itself to relplace reality through precession.
    >
    > Similarly, data has for a long time exhibited the quality of being
    > fluidly transferable between forms of materiality in different
    > representational media, and in fact transferal and transmission of
    > data via pre-industrial 'networks' show that data transferal is in
    > no way a novel phenomenon or a creation specifically of the digital
    > age. Hutchins gives the chip log and the methods of using it as
    > just one example of the propagation and transmission of
    > representational states. The chip log is device consisting of a
    > reel, a rope line, and the "chip": a piece of wood that would be
    > thrown overboard to remain stationary in the water while knotted
    > line was let out. The passage of time would be marked by crew
    > members singing a hymn (maintaining the system's clock speed), and
    > notations regarding the number of knots unrolled would be recorded
    > in a log at a regular fix interval. The knots would measure the
    > distance that the ship had traveled, from which the term "knots" as
    > a measurement unit for maritime speed is derived. Importantly,
    > Hutchins shows how the chip log was utilized to perform an analog
    > to digital conversion:
    >
    > "The log gave rise to a computational process that begins with
    > analog-to-digital conversion, which is followed by digital
    > computation, then either digital-to-analog conversion for
    > interpretation or digital-to-analog conversion followed by analog
    > computation." (103)
    >
    > Through these conversions, the propagation of representations
    > between various crew members aboard ship was enabled. Chip logs
    > were utilized as dead reckoning instrumentation allowing the
    > projection of the ship's future position on nautical charts;
    > nautical charts which are themselves analog computers designed
    > expressly for position-fixing calculations. Logs and analog-to-
    > digital conversions allowed data to be transported, often in
    > digital form, through a ship wide network of crew members utilizing
    > different media to perform their tasks; for example from the memory
    > of the log keeper into the log, then from the log to navigator who
    > would project the future position of the ship onto a chart at some
    > fixed interval, and then from the media of the chart to the mind of
    > the captain who is responsible for the larger journey.
    >
    > Data and information have qualities of their own, as calculable
    > symbolic representations capturing measurable aspects of material
    > systems. Data and information are not only disembodied in some
    > material form of representational abstraction from their subject
    > (whether clay tablet or digital electric impulses), but can be
    > recorded and transferred from one state to another, propagated from
    > person-to-person in local, perhaps totally linguistic, networks of
    > social computation, or from place-to-place via encoding into media
    > mobilized by material transportation consisting of technology such
    > as sailing ships, or more recently, undersea fiber optic cables.
    > Importantly, this mobile property of data and information has been
    > at play in human culture long before the digital era - perhaps as
    > long as linguistic messages have been carried from place to place
    > by foot and shared among different groups, and certainly since
    > written (doubly coded) and numeric representations began to be
    > transported. Additionally, the example of cuneiform as a particular
    > clay media implementing informational disembodiment from the
    > material world emerged well before the development of the algebraic
    > analysis (as early as 1800 B.C.) and the discrete mathematics
    > concepts (congealing nicely in the figure of George Boole in the
    > 19th century), that would serve as the catalysts for the
    > development of digital communications and computational
    > technologies during the 20th century. The disembodiment of data and
    > information from the real clearly predates the digital era.
    >
    > Disembodiment does not mean that data and information, and their
    > material reality, do not influence one another. In fact the case is
    > rather the opposite, forming is the basis of the fundamentally
    > materialist-formalist analysis I am trying to forge here. As I have
    > indicated in the past:
    >
    > "This position is supported by Paul Virilio's theory of information
    > as the third dimension of matter, (energy being the second), in
    > that information and its effect on identity are not disembodied
    > from the real, but rather become a integral part of the real world
    > projecting directly into the body: a network of people
    > hyperactivated by information machinery which has joined with the
    > body no more or less conspicuously than the pacemaker or the
    > telephone handset." (1998)
    >
    > The significant difference making difference that does arrive with
    > the digital era is the speed with which the relations between
    > information technology and material systems are implemented: the
    > move from the speed of hand inscribed clay tables, to ships, to
    > trains, to telegraph, to the speed of light on fiber optic and
    > radio networks. (This trajectory roughly paraphrases Virilio's
    > analytic project.) The process has been a teleological one; the
    > move from writing data on clay storage devices and the associated
    > literacy to retrieve and utilize those notations in a local economy
    > has progressed to 'writing' data in informatic media such CPU's,
    > RAM, magnetic storage, optical and wireless networks, and of course
    > this too assumes an associated literacy, in the contemporary case
    > one required to utilize digital media in a global economy. As the
    > transmission speed of the media becomes faster, the ability of data
    > and information to impinge upon or embed itself in material systems
    > itself expands. While clay-based inscription systems improved the
    > management of a local orchards in Sumeria, information systems
    > today, which wrap the Earth in fiber optic cable and paint it with
    > electromagnetic carrier waves, facilitate the transmission of data
    > and information around the world in milliseconds, allowing a global
    > scope of impact for data and information. For example, as Geri
    > Wittig points out regarding the relationship between geographic
    > information systems and the Earth as a complex system:
    >
    > "With the increasing use of GIS technologies in a wide variety of
    > fields, including art, the data networks generated will disseminate
    > into the expanding networks of information technology. I speculate
    > these GIS generated data networks have the potential to act as
    > bifurcations and coadaptive systems..." (2003)
    >
    > This means that systems which operate, transport and calculate at
    > the speed of light have greater power become co-operative in the
    > distribution and creation of the real, causing the disembodiment of
    > data itself to bifurcate into something more powerful and
    > integrated with life on Earth due to the speed and intensity of
    > data flows. This allows data and information to play a more
    > immediate, acute, synchronized role in the daily life of persons,
    > as well as non-human ecosystems and flows of materials. It is not
    > disembodiment per se, but rather machinic catalysis of the
    > relations between virtual and real that is the difference making
    > difference in the digital era. Further it is the discrete
    > properties of the digital that enable this speed, as well as
    > enabling the exact quantification of information, ala Claude
    > Shannon. It is the catalytic properties inherent in the material
    > basis of digital technology that allows the analysis of the
    > difference (that information is) to have a radical transformational
    > impact on every aspect of culture, society, biota, climate, and to
    > some degree, even geology. The disembodiment of information from
    > its referent, which is an archaic and fundamentally ontological
    > aspect of data and information, is now hyper-activated in real time
    > at the speed of light. And indeed, it is the consequences of this
    > speed which many artists working around the issues of 'database
    > politics' have responded to.
    >
    > A small but representative selection of artists who have notably
    > responded to the sudden imposition of database as a mediator of
    > power and social control include the Critical Art Ensemble, Natalie
    > Jeremijenko, Graham Harwood, and Diane Ludin. The Critical Art
    > Ensemble were perhaps the first artists to see the looming threat
    > of database on matters of privacy and power, and to present issues
    > relating to database theoretically in terms of an agent of social
    > control. In their 1994 book The Electronic Disturbance, CAE states:
    >
    > "As the electronic information-cores overflow with files of
    > electronic people (those transformed into credit histories,
    > consumer types, patterns and tendencies, etc.), electronic
    > research, electronic money, and other forms of information power,
    > the nomad is free to wander the electronic net, able to cross
    > national boundaries with minimal resistance from national
    > bureaucracies. The privileged realm of electronic space controls
    > the physical logistics of manufacture, since the release of raw
    > materials requires electronic consent and direction." (CAE, 1994)
    >
    > While we do read here a direct reference to the concerns of
    > disembodiment in terms of "electronic people", we also see a clear
    > focus on new forms of pan-capitalist power and control over the
    > economy through processes where "electronic space controls the
    > physical logistics of manufacture." This inference on the part of
    > CAE certainly maps to the notion of data and information as
    > disembodied control systems of management, but disembodiment is
    > placed in a context that makes the change less attributable to the
    > original sin of disembodiment than it is to the speed and ease
    > through which social power and control over the material world is
    > deployed via contemporary, digital, highly distributed database
    > systems. CAE's words may be the first shots fired in the art of
    > database politics.
    >
    > Natalie Jeremijenko's and Graham Harwood's recent work with
    > database share a consistent theme: an attempt to address the
    > asymmetry of power between those who model and manipulate the world
    > through data, (thus enjoying most of the rights to benefit from
    > information garnered from that data), and those who are modeled and
    > manipulated by data. A representative example of Jeremijenko's
    > recent work is the Bit Antiterror Line project, which allows "every
    > phone [home/cell/booth] to act as a networked microphone... For
    > collecting live audio data on civil liberty infringements and other
    > anti-terror events." The files are made available in a simple
    > database of audio files on the bit antiterror line web site
    > (Jeremijenko), one of which recounts the story of a stewardess who
    > threatened a couple with arrest by armed Air Marshal if they
    > continued to draw silly pictures and laugh at her. Harwood's 9
    > project is a website modeled around the simple square shaped layout
    > of 9 media elements. It allows people to represent themselves,
    > their neighborhoods, their identity, and their interests, via media
    > elements arranged in this simple, easy to use layout strategy,
    > including a notion of proximity and thus juxtaposition with
    > neighboring 9's. The ease of use at the interface level belies a
    > sophisticated custom database under the covers, coded by the
    > artist. 9 encourages not only self representation, but the
    > exploration of the self representations of others in a shared data
    > commons creating connections between/within communities defined
    > both geographically and informatically, while Jeremijenko's project
    > creates a data commons as both an emergency antidote to, and
    > cultural and social analysis of, the growing fascism apparent in
    > the United States as the "War on Terrorism" progresses. As I write
    > this (original draft, April 2004), CAE's Steve Kurtz is being
    > investigated by a grand jury in Buffalo, NY, essentially for daring
    > to make provocative art works with biological materials. Although
    > he (and CAE) have presented this work publicly in high profile art
    > institutions for many years, his research and materials stored in
    > his home became the subject of a wasteful and misguided anti-terror
    > investigation after being noticed and reported by first-responders
    > following the tragic death of Hope Kurtz from natural causes.
    >
    > The prevalence of database in biotechnology research has led to
    > many projects dealing with genomic data analysis or critique of the
    > systems in which nature becomes private property. Diane Ludin's "i-
    > BPE, i-Biology Patent Engine" takes on issues of intellectual
    > property and ownership in the high-tech era by setting up a context
    > where real United States patents on genes are themselves claimed as
    > a kind of public property/context for remixing and play with the
    > language of patents, resulting in a "aggressive take-over by i-BPE
    > agents... i-BPE gene patents will return bio-rights to non-
    > governmental, cultural agents for revision." (Ludin) In a presently
    > unpublished manuscript, Ludin discusses, somewhat ironically, how
    > speed has (with its own certain irony), allowed the disembodiment
    > of data from its referent to return directly and literally to the
    > site of our bodies, for which the only prior art is billions of
    > years of evolution. "With the rise of ibiology the circuit between
    > code and patent becomes part of the super speed ecology of Bio
    > Capitalism. Ibiology establishes the next level of command and
    > control culture where artificial selection becomes a post-human,
    > globalizing, gene profit system." (Ludin) In Ludin's, and indeed
    > all of the above examples, speed is the difference making
    > difference that the art of database politics ultimately must
    > address across a range of practice; regardless of whether the
    > artist is using database as media to help along the emergence of
    > shared understanding within a culturally mixed global culture, or
    > responding defensively (with database) to the onslaught of database
    > driven assaults on civil rights committed by corporatist or fascist
    > governments.
    >
    > Data Visualization, Beautiful Information and Sublime Data
    >
    > A formal aspect of data and information that is often overlooked in
    > western culture at large is that the terms "data" and "information"
    > have meanings that are quite different from one another. Although
    > Dictionaries such as Webster's accurately define the terms;
    > information as "an informing or being informed; esp., a telling or
    > being told of something", and data as in "facts or figures to be
    > processed; evidence, records, statistics, etc. from which
    > conclusions can be inferred; information", (Webster's, italics
    > mine), popular uses of the terms often overlap somewhat more than
    > their dictionary definitions allow. Note that "information" is
    > above embedded in the definition of data, across the semi-colon
    > boundary behind which "conclusions can be inferred", but without a
    > cadence or emphasis that would mark information's definitional
    > difference with the same clarity as it is most commonly defined in
    > computer science. Information as described above could easily be
    > misread as synonymous with "facts or figures to be processed", even
    > given position of the semi-colon. As I will discuss in the next
    > paragraph, there is in fact an issue of transitory states.
    > Nevertheless, information is most usefully defined as the
    > conclusions or news of significant difference that is inferred from
    > the logical processing of a collection data. Data is defined
    > essentially as being raw facts; whereas information is mined from
    > processing those facts.
    >
    > Of course, the situation it is not that simple. At any one time the
    > same representations (I do not take "representation" to mean
    > exclusively "visual"), might exist in different terminal states (as
    > either data or information) on a larger conveyor belt of ubiquitous
    > digital processing. A simple example: it is common for the output
    > of one program (nominally "information") to be the input data for
    > another, as in the unix command, ps -ef | grep brett, which pipes
    > the somewhat lengthy output of the ps program (information about
    > all processes) to the grep filter such that I might know only of my
    > processes; information can become data to be filtered into more
    > specific information. Another potential breakdown in the
    > distinction occurs due to the graphical user interface, which does
    > a better job of 'making invisible' the user's control data (another
    > kind of input), for example in the form of pointing as interactive
    > input (mouse clicks, mouse drags, etc.) These are definitely forms
    > of control data input, but they are processed more invisibly than
    > control commands given on a command line interface, because the
    > visual half life of clicks and drags as pixel residue on the screen
    > is not buffered as are commands that remain visible in the terminal
    > shell (visible on screen) after being issued in a CLI.
    > Nevertheless, ignoring interactive input and its own important
    > implications, it is still true that data plays its most common
    > social 'role' in the form of input to programs, and it is
    > information that is derived from processing data as output; even if
    > the information is later transitioned by being reprocessed as input
    > back into some other program (potentially somewhere else in the
    > world). The ontology of data and information as input and output is
    > contextually mediated and transitory; existing alternatively
    > between states of data and information. Yet data is still
    > associated in an important way with input and information with
    > output, even if the terms data and information are treated more
    > loosely in culture at large, perhaps due to being seen adjacent to
    > each other so often, a result of their status as quite inseparable
    > siblings or perhaps a digital yin/yang.
    >
    > A good question for the impatient reader at this point would be
    > "What does this have to do with contemporary database practice in
    > art?" After all, there is no shortage of clarification regarding
    > the distinction between "data" and "information" in engineering and
    > the sciences. The answer is that the conflation of terms seems to
    > pool especially commonly in the humanities discipline areas, such
    > as art. To be fair, it is a common linguistic conflation in culture
    > at large and this is indeed where artists operate, but I do think
    > it merits our attention in any analysis of the works of artists who
    > are working with database, and particularly for artists that are
    > working specifically with data visualization, or the related
    > disciplines of data sonification and data haptics (as in ambient
    > computing).
    >
    > Lev Manovich has made a very important observation about the
    > aesthetic strategies of Data Visualization practice in an essay
    > titled The Anti-Sublime Ideal in Data Art, (2002), in which he
    > critiques contemporary data visualization practice in art as
    > adhering to a pursuit of beauty in the transformation (or
    > processing) of large datasets into the visual field: the "Anti-
    > Sublime" aesthetic. Beauty is the pursuit of clarity, balance and
    > transparent form, and data visualization is often pursued for the
    > sake of understanding or making clear the behavior of data and the
    > systems represented by data. Beauty in data visualization is
    > opposed to the sublime: the condition under which the data
    > overwhelms its viewer, and the viewer's senses are mobilized in a
    > special kind cognition that allows them to carry on with the
    > formation of an understanding that is, as it turns out, more likely
    > to be satisfactory than a random guess. There are many names for
    > this kind of cognition: intuition, anticipation, instinct, or a
    > sixth sense. The sublime is of considerable interest to the
    > artificial intelligence discipline in computer science. Human
    > intelligence seems able to deal with the sublime condition and can
    > continue to operate intelligently even when overwhelmed or
    > subjected to context shifts, while discrete computational machines
    > have not yet proven this ability. In a sense, the holy grail of
    > artificial intelligence is to create machines that can behave with
    > human like intelligence when similarly thrown by excessive amounts
    > of data under variable context.
    >
    > Interestingly, the definitions of the terms "beauty" and "sublime"
    > have also been culturally conflated, perhaps even more so, than the
    > terms "information" and "data". Just as information and data are
    > sometimes interchangeable terms in common usage, (often taken to
    > mean information), the meanings of beauty and sublime are today
    > similarly conflated, (often to mean beauty). The notion of beauty,
    > revealing form and making cognizable, as the goal of data
    > visualization art works dealing with large data sets is clearly
    > described by Christiane Paul, writing of Benjamin Fry's 1999 work
    > "Valence":
    >
    > "The software visually represents individual pieces of information
    > according to their interactions with each other. Valence can be
    > used for visualizing almost anything, from the contents of a book
    > to website traffic, or for comparing different data sources. The
    > resulting visualization changes over time as it responds to new
    > data. Instead of providing statistical information ... Valence
    > provides a feel for general trends and anomalies in the data by
    > presenting a qualitative slice of the information's structure.
    > Valence functions as an aesthetic 'context provider', setting up
    > relationships between data elements that might not be immediately
    > obvious, and that exist beneath the surface of what we usually
    > perceive." (177, 178)
    >
    > I do not choose to wade into any aesthetic debate regarding the
    > beautiful and the sublime in data visualization; I am sticking to
    > my promise to hold fast to an interpretive framework in this
    > writing. Lisa Jevbratt has written an essay titled The Prospect of
    > the Sublime in Data Visualizations, responding in part to
    > Manovich's use of the 1:1 project (1999, 2002) as an example of the
    > anti-sublime aesthetic. (Jevbratt) For now, I merely want to point
    > out that in terms of how we interpret the art practices engaged in
    > data visualization, beauty as opposed to the sublime is the most
    > critical contemporary interpretive framework in which such art may
    > be evaluated aesthetically. The criterion for analysis shifts from
    > the effectiveness of any particular visualization (and its ability
    > to facilitate an understanding of the data through beauty), to the
    > roll of the user or communities of users in interpreting a
    > visualization via their own ontological thrownness, their own
    > conceptual, computational or cultural methods for processing data,
    > and their own ability to perceive when facing conditions of
    > sublimity. At its extremes, the sublime analysis suggests that
    > access to raw, unmediated data replace visualizations, and that
    > communities should take democratic control of their own data
    > interpretation in a way that best balances their exposure to
    > quantities of data against their need to reduce it to useful
    > information; all of which might only become practical if formal
    > languages for processing data become standard educational
    > assumptions for a baseline notion of what it means to be literate
    > in post-industrial, high tech societies. Microsoft Excel(TM) can
    > not save us. Artists might be able to play an important role in
    > this regard: as guides in data exploration more so than as experts
    > in data visualization.
    >
    > Additionally, the formal definitions of data and information imply
    > another framework tightly coupled to the issues raised by the
    > beautiful and the sublime. Data visualization practice is certainly
    > bound to the transition of representations between states of being
    > data and states of being information; and as Manovich points out,
    > most contemporary artists working in data visualization are
    > seemingly committed to visualization as information. This is
    > essentially congruent with Paul's discussion of Fry's work Valence
    > as well as her overall discussion of database practice; further
    > implying that much data visualization practice in the arts today
    > seemingly pursues beauty. Interpretively, we may extract from all
    > of this that the pursuit of information is the pursuit of the
    > beautiful and that the pursuit of data is the pursuit of the
    > sublime. The former implies a struggle for understanding, the later
    > an impulse for exploration, including the collection and generation
    > of new data. How artists implement their forms of expression
    > between information and data, and possibly in the transitory states
    > between them, is an aesthetic issue that maps to the transitory
    > states between the sublime and the beautiful. Speaking personally,
    > this seems to be an unresolved area in data visualization as
    > artistic practice, as well as in the related formal practice that I
    > discuss in the next section.
    >
    > Virtual and Materialist Data Formalism, Data Mining
    >
    > In this section, my interpretive framework comes full circle back
    > near the issue of disembodiment. In the first section of this
    > essay, I believe that I was able to demonstrate that data and
    > information have always been disembodied from their referent, and I
    > did so by arguing from a materialist stance that views data as an
    > important virtual reality that actually impinges on material
    > reality. In a previous text titled Database Logic(s) and Landscape
    > Art (original, 2002), I presented a more radical, though
    > consciously very speculative and provisional view that data is
    > embedded and operative within the actual through a process in which
    > humans/data/Earth are inextricably implicated: humans mediate the
    > landscape with the assistance of data about the landscape, and the
    > data itself mediates that mediation, not necessarily intentionally,
    > but in such a way that the actual material Earth now speaks through
    > scientific data, thereby expressing a voice in conversation with
    > human culture. In the same essay, I indicate how the term 'virtual'
    > is also often misunderstood as referring to the imaginary
    > interfacial illusions that computational systems can create, rather
    > than (more appropriately) the abstract mathematics of reality (that
    > can be modeled computationally, well beyond 3 dimensions), that in
    > some sense produces the actual. In other words, the virtual is
    > itself a real space of possible physical states for any system that
    > crystallize into the actual, which is precisely what allows
    > computational models of physical systems (such as engineering or
    > atmospheric simulations) to have predictive power. I made this case
    > in order to suggest that artists should utilize the notion of the
    > virtual for predictive or analytical practices that reveal
    > knowledge about the world, or better, that emerge new behavior,
    > exploration and experience. I think this holds for the humanities.
    > I am in no way concerned if what is revealed functions as
    > conceptual and performance art, and not as science.
    >
    > There are many database art projects that demonstrate this
    > analytical and productive practice which engage with data utilizing
    > an ethos that maintains an interest in the embodiment (contra
    > disembodiment) that is implied in the relationship between data and
    > its material, actual, real world referents. Although I have avoided
    > definition, I would argue that the preceding does constitute
    > something close to a definition of database art in the bigger
    > picture, the relationship to materialist embodiment being the key.
    > In any case, it clearly fits into my interpretive framework for
    > contemporary database practice as database formalism. These
    > projects are interested in the actual materials that are modeled by
    > data, and seek new, exploratory methods of interacting with the
    > material world that reveal new knowledge about the materials, or
    > the interactions with them, and that allow data to become a
    > cooperative co-participant in the performance. For example, Lev
    > Manovich's Soft Cinema (2001-) uses metadata to dynamically
    > organize a Mondrian inspired screen layout for videos shot by the
    > artist in his travels, in which "every clip is assigned 10
    > different parameters, which are both semantic and formal, so for
    > example one is geographical location... how much motion there is in
    > a clip, which is assigned a number... the contrast, the average
    > brightness, the subject matter...", and so forth. (Manovich, 2003)
    > The parameters are utilized by custom software to control the
    > editing of the video clips and their organization in the layout,
    > allowing data about the (video) data (the metadata) to manifest
    > itself through being granted some level of decision making
    > authority and authorship. Manovich's cinema edits itself; revealing
    > itself in unexpected and often poetic ways that require one to
    > apply a thrown and sublime mode of paradigmatic viewership to its
    > interpretation.
    >
    > David Rokeby's Giver of Names (1990-) and George Legrady's Pockets
    > Full of Memories (2001) both ask users to interact with real
    > objects in the gallery space, which are scanned and input into a
    > database system for further classification and comparison. While
    > Rokeby's approach utilizes an AI computer vision technique and
    > artificial language processing, and Legrady's uses a clustering
    > algorithm designed to situate the personal objects offered up by
    > the audience with their statistically nearest neighbors, both
    > projects are literally concerned with the relation between real
    > objects and how they are thus mediated (either by naming them or
    > associating them with another) as they undergo analog-to-digital
    > (material to reference) conversion, insertion into a database, and
    > subsequent data analysis. Importantly, an emphasis on the
    > materiality of the objects is maintained in the exhibition space.
    > The materiality is directly experienced by the audiences who
    > interact with Rokeby's collection of objects lying around the
    > exhibition space that they may situate on a pedestal for scanning
    > and interpretation by an artificial intelligence system. In
    > Legrady's case, a personal object if offered up for analysis. Both
    > systems connect rather literally with the real as an embodied space
    > to be contextualized.
    >
    > The near unification of referrer and referent is even more literal
    > in recent C5 work, (a group of which I am a member), where
    > geographic information system data (a digital 3D map of the
    > landscape) is mined through the preprocessing of the primary data
    > into a layer of metadata characterizing large areas of topography
    > (currently the State of California), that can be searched via a
    > relational database and related Java API. (The C5 Landscape
    > Database API.) Mirroring the Input/Processing/Output pattern common
    > in classic, non-interactive data processing, C5 takes input samples
    > (collected with GPS), and processes them to identify the most
    > similar landscapes to the original, but that exist somewhere else.
    > As preparatory work for The Other Path (2004-) Geri Wittig set out
    > on a month long trek along the Great Wall of China, starting in the
    > northwest desert and following the Wall eastward to where it runs
    > to the edge of the Yellow Sea. GPS data was collected from twelve
    > separate trekked locations along the length of the Great Wall.
    > Using pattern-matching search procedures developed at C5 (Amul
    > Goswamy and Brett Stalbaum), the 12 most similar corresponding
    > terrains in California were identified. After determining the
    > blocks representing the most similar matching terrains in
    > California, phase two of the Other Path search process identified
    > discrete paths within those terrains expressing similar statistical
    > characteristics, such as simple distance, cumulative distance, and
    > elevation change. To do this, a swarm of virtual hikers,
    > implemented as experimental features of the C5 Landscape Database
    > API 2.0, were unleashed in the virtual California landscape to
    > explore and generate tracklogs, which were then compared to
    > Wittig's original "input" Great Wall of China tracklogs. The
    > results of this search identified the most closely matching virtual
    > tracklogs, which were then exported to tracklog files, uploaded to
    > GPS devices, and physically realized by C5 in a performance of
    > tertiary (after the original, after database) exploration of what
    > is now known as The Great Wall of California. In this performance,
    > walking works in the tradition of Richard Long, Hamish Fulton and
    > perhaps even Dominique Mazeaud are reconceived as input, processed
    > by via database applications that have been granted the ability to
    > tell us where to go by outputting GPS coordinates that we are
    > conceptually bound to follow with our feet. This generates
    > alternative experience and exploration of the landscape at a time
    > when everything (on the landform surface of the Earth) has already
    > been explored and modeled. It emphasizes not the disembodiment of
    > datascapes from their referents, but their intimate connection and
    > productive capability.
    >
    > Conclusion
    >
    > I have outlined three modes of practice, database politics, data
    > visualization, and database formalism (the latter contra
    > disembodiment) in which contemporary database practice can be
    > interpreted. The later formalist tendency, in which database is
    > conceived as virtual context for implementing a data co-operative
    > mediation of the world, perhaps most interestingly overlaps in the
    > final analysis with the database politics. Though largely
    > apolitical at first glance, the formalist interpretative mode of
    > database art practice is similar to that of database politics in
    > that the goal of both is to realign the power of database to
    > distribute the real, albeit for different reasons, as opposed to
    > data visualization's dominant (but perhaps not universal) desire to
    > better understand data. Though formalist practice may not self-
    > consciously attempt to intercede in pan-capitalist distribution of
    > power, data formalism and artistic data mining practices do
    > conceive of agency returning back to the hands (or for C5 the feet)
    > of the people who interact with such systems, although perhaps in a
    > perverse way by tactically ceding a certain level of arbitrary
    > control to the database applications themselves. But as long these
    > are at least neutral with regards to power, and hopefully designed
    > and performed by autonomous users of the systems in non-coercive
    > ways, there are advantages to be found - perhaps even political ones.
    >
    > For one, formalist database practice is in alignment conceptually
    > with the ubiquity of database in our culture, perhaps encouraging
    > individuals to develop related expertise for apolitical ends
    > (recreation, hobbies) that produce ecologies of knowledge that
    > become useful when political conditions become too onerous for the
    > majority of people. Formalist practice could be aware that
    > discovering the possibilities and building novel alternatives
    > (especially when done so by communities instead of for them), might
    > be just as effective as directly resisting the distributed, nomadic
    > power of systems of mass subjugation. Also, database formalism
    > allows aesthetic analysis to move toward and explore truly
    > interesting, purely formal issues of database itself as a medium.
    > For example, the relational database model trades maximum
    > processing efficiency for the ability to maintain ad hoc queries,
    > which may be consequential in terms of how the material world is
    > ultimately mediated in particular instances. All three of these
    > conceptual modes of artistic practice with database are important
    > of course, and they certainly overlap in practice. None is mutually
    > exclusive.
    >
    > Interpretively, there is perhaps a fourth mode of practice that it
    > may be argued that I have ignored. The only other mode of database
    > practice that is perhaps not necessarily some derivation founded in
    > database politics, data visualization, or a database formalist
    > practice is seemingly a multimedia practice that assembles and
    > processes a 'database' of multimedia materials, mixing or remixing
    > them into some other media forms such as web video, animation, real
    > time video processing, music, etc. The multimedia assumption
    > insists that the core of digital media art practice is manifest as
    > pixels on a screen, or some other output such as speakers, or as
    > interaction at an interface that produces some kind of visceral or
    > otherwise magically mediated experience. The mediation is viewed as
    > ultimately flowing from the identity of "the artist" of course, who
    > is assumed to produce some kind of political awareness or aesthetic/
    > cultural experience in the minds of the audience. Often, this kind
    > of very traditional orientation toward art practice does not
    > consider the elements in the database as data with their own
    > ontology, and suppresses data's identity into being mere media
    > elements or samples to be processed, remixed, and assembled by the
    > artist in an expressive configuration of individual artistic style
    > and message. Media tools such as digital video editing and
    > multimedia authoring platforms are commonly employed, and often
    > these are used pretty much the way that their designers (large
    > corporations) intended them to be used. There is no reason to think
    > that such software applications can not be used in other ways (in
    > fact, there are many delightful examples on runme.org), but in
    > practice such conceptual repurposings are all too rare. When they
    > do happen, they seem to transcend multimedia and map to conceptual
    > art practices (often termed "software art"), and I suspect that my
    > categorical distinctions regarding database practices would support
    > these. But I am veering dangerously toward making an evaluation of
    > multimedia practices here. That is not my goal, so this is a good
    > place to conclude.
    >
    > References
    >
    > 1. Critical Art Ensemble, The Electronic Disturbance,
    > Autonomedia, New York.
    > 2. Jeremijenko, Natalie, Homepage for the bit antiterror line
    > project http://www.bureauit.org/antiterror/, accessed April 25th, 2K4.
    > 3. Jevbratt, Lisa, The Prospect of the Sublime in Data
    > Visualizations, YLEM Journal, Artists using Science and Technology,
    > Volume 24, Number 8, August 2K4.
    > 4. Ludin, Diane, i-BPE project website http://www.thing.net/
    > ~diane/i-BPE/index.html, accessed June 6th, 2K4.
    > 5. Ludin, Diane, Deep Harmonization i-BPE, unpublished
    > manuscript, 2K4.
    > 6. Manovich, Lev The Anti-Sublime Ideal in Data Art, (2002)
    > http://www.manovich.net/DOCS/data\_art.doc
    > 7. Manovich, Lev, Lev Manovich / Interview at DEAF 2003, quoted
    > from a video
    > 8. interview, selection transcribed by myself. Paul, Christiane,
    > Digital Art, (c) 2003, Thames and Hudson Ltd, London, ISBN
    > 0-500-20376-9
    > 9. Stalbaum, Brett, Aesthetic Conditions in Art on the Network:
    > beyond representation to the relative speeds of hypertextual and
    > conceptual implementations, Switch, the new media journal of the
    > CADRE digital laboratory, 1998, http://switch.sjsu.edu/web/v4n2/brett/
    > 10. Stalbaum, Brett, Database Logic(s) and Landscape Art,
    > Noemalab - t ecnologie & societa, 2003, http://www.noemalab.org/
    > sections/ideas/ideas\_articles/stalbaum\_landscape\_art.html
    > 11. Webster's New World Dictionary and Thesuarus, Accent Software
    > International, Macmillian Publishers, Version 2.0 - 1998, Build #25
    >
    > (Original, 2004), first presented at the College Art Association
    > 94th annual conference, Boston MA, 2006
    > Panel - From Database and Place to Bio-Tech and Bots: Relationality
    > versus Autonomy in Media Art
    > Thursday, February 23
    > Chair: Marisa S. Olsen, University of California, Berkeley
    >
    > This essay is dedicated to the memory of Eric Gray, who is
    > responsible more than any other for helping me establish my
    > interest in computing as a young person. In 1981, Eric showed me a
    > war dialer he had written in BASIC on a TRS-80 computer, along with
    > custom hardware enabling his tape drive remote control output to
    > perform pulse dialing on the plain old phone network, which he was
    > using (while his parents were away, of course) to war dial for
    > local modem connections to hack into. I was hooked. And the hours
    > of playing "Adventure" did not hurt either. On behalf of your
    > family and friends, we love and miss you Eric.
    >
    > Also, thanks to Warren Sack. I wrote this after presenting and
    > hanging out with him in Karlsrue in January 2004, talking about
    > these kinds of things, and it is really very cool that we both
    > ended up presenting on Marisa's panel together. Tad and Helen too:-)
    >
    > \_\_END\_\_
    >
    > --
    > Brett Stalbaum, Lecturer, PSOE
    > Coordinator, Interdisciplinary Computing and the Arts Major (ICAM)
    > UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, SAN DIEGO
    > Department of Visual Arts
    > 9500 GILMAN DR. # 0084
    > La Jolla CA 92093-0084
    > http://www.c5corp.com
    > http://www.paintersflat.net
    >
    >
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    > 29.php
  • Myron Turner | Sat Feb 25th 2006 8:48 a.m.
    As usual, Brett Stalbaum gives us a lot to think about in this essay.

    But I'm not sure I am convinced by his argument that speed is the differentiating element in current information technology. As he points out human beings have from earliest times sought to abstract data from the material world, and the Sumerian accountant is a case in point--accounting is historically one of the most important instances of data abstraction. But the issue for the ancient Sumerian, if he had wanted for some reason to communicate his data to others, was not speed alone. By showing his tablets to his neighbor, he could very speedily communicate his data, just as he very speedily could tell his neighbor what what on his mind by talking face to face with him.

    The issue for the ancient Sumerian would be communicating his data and his ideas to increasingly larger numbers of others. How would he deal with this? He could gather interested parties into a large group and speak his ideas to them. Or he could get on his horse and using its greater capacity for speed go from farm to farm. In other words, I feel that the issue isn't speed but numbers and space. His horse would enable him to carry his data to one neighbor at a time over considerable distances (as he understood them) at the speed of a horse. His convocation of interested parties would enable him to communicate his ideas as widely as his voice could carry. The problem of numbers is really a problem of space. How much space can you cover in a given time.

    If we move ahead into the industrial era, we see that we've had speed for a long time -- the telegraph, the telephone. But they had the same limits as the ancient Sumerian -- limits in how much space could be traversed at one time. These technologies could do it faster than the ancient Sumerian's horse, but they were still largely face to face technolgies:

    "Hello. That you, Jack? I have 30 bushels of corn. Have to run. Still have to call Sam and Wayne. Bye."

    But we've had other technologies which have addressed in different ways the issues of space, numbers and speed: printing, the phonograph, photography, radio, tv--each of which could communicate to large numbers of people with various degrees of speed. An interesting technology in this context is the teletype which communicated the same data to large numbers of people across a wide geography and as fast as the wires could carry the words(and later the pictures).

    I really don't have answers as to what distinguishes digital culture from earlier technogologies. It seems to me more than just differences of degree--greater speed, greater numbers, more geography. My feeling is that it has to do with networking and the nature of networks and how networks have been organized.

    Myron Turner
  • Rob Myers | Sat Feb 25th 2006 9:21 a.m.
    On 25 Feb 2006, at 15:48, Myron Turner wrote:

    > But I'm not sure I am convinced by his argument that speed is the
    > differentiating element in current information technology.

    As an aside, for Paul Virilio speed is the differentiating element in
    contemporary society.

    > But the issue for the ancient Sumerian, if he had wanted for some
    > reason to communicate his data to others, was not speed alone. By
    > showing his tablets to his neighbor, he could very speedily
    > communicate his data, just as he very speedily could tell his
    > neighbor what what on his mind by talking face to face with him.

    To take a non-database example, it was only possible to render
    fragments of fractal sets by hand when they were first discovered.
    The speed of computer calculation allowed the Mandlebrot set to be
    rendered not just once but many times in less than a human lifetime.
    Speed here makes what would otherwise be impossible (not exist)
    possible (exist).

    This speed has had a great impact not just on maths, but on science
    (the genome project for example), and culture (synthesisers,
    samplers, and computer graphics) in general.

    > I really don't have answers as to what distinguishes digital
    > culture from earlier technogologies. It seems to me more than just
    > differences of degree--greater speed, greater numbers, more
    > geography. My feeling is that it has to do with networking and the
    > nature of networks and how networks have been organized.

    Speed, perfect reproducibility, and the follies of Wired magazine. :-)

    - Rob.
  • Geert Dekkers | Sat Feb 25th 2006 10:43 a.m.
    No, Geert hasn't. But he shall!

    Geert
    http://nznl.com

    On 25-feb-2006, at 18:08, Myron Turner wrote:

    > I'm not sure if Geert had read Manovich's article on the sublime
    > and data. Brett's essay sent me to it because I wanted to clarify
    > for myself what Manovich (and Brett) had in mind when they were
    > talking about the sublime. Manivoch is contrasting Romantic
    > aritsts, who aimed beyond the senses, aimed at the sublime, to data
    > artists who seek to create beauty by making mapping data to a form
    > that the senses can grasp. But he is concerned, like Geert I
    > belive, that such art leaves out the human dimension, leaves out
    > subjectivity. Manivoich concludes his essay with a personal plea
    > which is very affecting and worth repeating:
    >
    > "For me, the real challenge of data art is not about how to map
    > some abstract and impersonal data into something meaningful and
    > beautiful - economists, graphic designers, and scientists are
    > already doing this quite well. The . . .more important challenge is
    > how to represent the personal subjective experience of a person
    > living in a data society.. . .How [can] new media. . . represent
    > the ambiguity, the otherness, the multi-dimensionality of our
    > experience. . ? In short, rather than trying hard to pursue the
    > anti-sublime ideal, data visualization artists should also not
    > forget that art has the unique license to portray human subjectivity."
    >
    > Myron
    >
    >
    >
    > Geert Dekkers wrote:
    >
    >>
    >> To conclude somewhat hastily -- I do think data and information are
    >> important pieces of the puzzle, but I think that any good work of art
    >>
    >> recreates a complete and full world, a reflection of our world, and
    >> in doing so fundamentally grasps the interdependance between our
    >> bodies, our language and culture. This is at least what I am trying
    >> to do.
    >>
    >> Geert
    >> http://nznl.com
    >>
    >>
    >
    > +
    > -> post: list@rhizome.org
    > -> questions: info@rhizome.org
    > -> subscribe/unsubscribe: http://rhizome.org/preferences/
    > subscribe.rhiz
    > -> give: http://rhizome.org/support
    > +
    > Subscribers to Rhizome are subject to the terms set out in the
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    > 29.php
  • Christina McPhee | Sat Feb 25th 2006 6:08 p.m.
    >> Subject: Re: Re: An Interpretive Framework for Contemporary
    >> Database Practice in the Arts
    >>
    >>
    >>>
    >>>>> please see also/ on the sublime and data....
    >>>
    >>>
    >>>
    >>>> www.cosignconference.org/cosign2004/papers/McPhee.pdf
    >>>
    >>>
    >>>
    >>> or in another iteration,
    >>>
    >>>
    >>> http://www.christinamcphee.net/slipkonza/
    >>> SlipstreamKonzaSemiotics.htm
    >>>
    >>>
    >>>
    >>>
    >>>>> The . . .more important challenge is how to represent the
    >>>>> personal subjective experience of a person living in a data
    >>>>> society.. .
    >>>>> .How [can] new media. . . represent the ambiguity, the
    >>>>> otherness, the multi-dimensionality of our experience. . ?
    >>>
    >>>
    >>>
    >>> exactly.
    >>>
    >>>
    >>>
    >>> -cm
    >>>
    >>>
    >>>
    >>> On Feb 25, 2006, at 9:43 AM, Geert Dekkers wrote:
    >>>
    >>>> No, Geert hasn't. But he shall!
    >>>>
    >>>> Geert
    >>>> http://nznl.com
    >>>>
    >>>>
    >>>> On 25-feb-2006, at 18:08, Myron Turner wrote:
    >>>>
    >>>>> I'm not sure if Geert had read Manovich's article on the
    >>>>> sublime and data. Brett's essay sent me to it because I wanted
    >>>>> to clarify for myself what Manovich (and Brett) had in mind
    >>>>> when they were talking about the sublime. Manivoch is
    >>>>> contrasting Romantic aritsts, who aimed beyond the senses,
    >>>>> aimed at the sublime, to data artists who seek to create beauty
    >>>>> by making mapping data to a form that the senses can grasp.
    >>>>> But he is concerned, like Geert I belive, that such art leaves
    >>>>> out the human dimension, leaves out subjectivity. Manivoich
    >>>>> concludes his essay with a personal plea which is very
    >>>>> affecting and worth repeating:
    >>>>>
    >>>>> "For me, the real challenge of data art is not about how to
    >>>>> map some abstract and impersonal data into something
    >>>>> meaningful and beautiful - economists, graphic designers, and
    >>>>> scientists are already doing this quite well. The . . .more
    >>>>> important challenge is how to represent the personal subjective
    >>>>> experience of a person living in a data society.. . .How [can]
    >>>>> new media. . . represent the ambiguity, the otherness, the
    >>>>> multi-dimensionality of our experience. . ? In short, rather
    >>>>> than trying hard to pursue the anti-sublime ideal, data
    >>>>> visualization artists should also not forget that art has the
    >>>>> unique license to portray human subjectivity."
    >>>>>
    >>>>> Myron
    >>>>>
    >>>>>
    >>>>>
    >>>>> Geert Dekkers wrote:
    >>>>>
    >>>>>>
    >>>>>> To conclude somewhat hastily -- I do think data and
    >>>>>> information are
    >>>>>> important pieces of the puzzle, but I think that any good work
    >>>>>> of art
    >>>>>>
    >>>>>> recreates a complete and full world, a reflection of our
    >>>>>> world, and
    >>>>>> in doing so fundamentally grasps the interdependance between our
    >>>>>> bodies, our language and culture. This is at least what I am
    >>>>>> trying
    >>>>>> to do.
    >>>>>>
    >>>>>> Geert
    >>>>>> http://nznl.com
    >>>>>>
    >>>>>>
    >>>>>
    >>>>> +
    >>>>> -> post: list@rhizome.org
    >>>>> -> questions: info@rhizome.org
    >>>>> -> subscribe/unsubscribe: http://rhizome.org/preferences/
    >>>>> subscribe.rhiz
    >>>>> -> give: http://rhizome.org/support
    >>>>> +
    >>>>> Subscribers to Rhizome are subject to the terms set out in the
    >>>>> Membership Agreement available online at http://rhizome.org/
    >>>>> info/29.php
    >>>>
    >>>> +
    >>>> -> post: list@rhizome.org
    >>>> -> questions: info@rhizome.org
    >>>> -> subscribe/unsubscribe: http://rhizome.org/preferences/
    >>>> subscribe.rhiz
    >>>> -> give: http://rhizome.org/support
    >>>> +
    >>>> Subscribers to Rhizome are subject to the terms set out in the
    >>>> Membership Agreement available online at http://rhizome.org/info/
    >>>> 29.php
    >>>
    >>
    >
  • curt cloninger | Sat Feb 25th 2006 10:19 p.m.
    It's funny. I keep a running list of quotations here:
    http://lab404.livejournal.com

    So far Manovich has only made the list once:
    http://lab404.livejournal.com/32638.html
    [added 10/06/2004]

    A model for this "more excellent way" is Laney in William Gibson's novels -- water-witching the data to suss out and delineate the human intention embedded within it. Sure there is an intrinsic relationship between abstracted data and the real world, but just abstracting the data and looking at it isn't going to reveal that relationship. The goal is to somehow make the data resonant by transforming it into narrative, thus mapping it back to the real in an experientially transformative way.

    But if you buy into Baudrillard, you're not looking for a "real/intrinsic" connection back to the real, because the abstracted data has its own simulated, relative, hyper- (I'd say quasi-) "truth." So you just recontextualize the data a bit and claim you've created meaning. Such work is still largely stuck on the disembodied data side of the fence -- along with the abstract control structures, materialist systems, generative abstract visualizations (and of course, the 'puters themselves) -- which seems to me an increasingly dead-end side of the fence. I agree that "data impinges on reality" in some generalized way (a la McLuhan or Virilio), but that doesn't ensure that one's singular database artwork will de facto impinge on reality. It's the artist's task to craft or explore this connection with reality in some more intentional (dare I say "idiosyncratic") way.

    Similarly, I agree with Brett's statement that, "artists should utilize the notion of the virtual for predictive or analytical practices that reveal knowledge about the world, or better, that emerge new behavior, exploration and experience." But this isn't going to just automatically happen simply because there exists some materialistic relationship between the real world and abstracted data. The Rokeby and Legrady pieces mentioned work because they start off with simple objects of immediate, subjective knowability and relevance to the participants. Giver of Names and Pockets Full of Memories work not because they successfully mediate between the real/particular and the simulated/aggregate. On the contrary. They work precisely because they foreground the humorous limitations of trying to abstract the real. It's not simply that stuff gets transfered over the fence. It's that stuff gets transfered over the fence in a way that tells a story about subjective human knowing. Manovich's soft cinema is less interesting precisely because it lacks this subjective element. Sure, the user provides subjective meaning by making her own connections while passively viewing the generative piece, but then the user also provides subjective meaning by making her own connections while passively viewing Man With a Movie Camera (or Ace Ventura, Pet Detective for that matter).

    I can't help but compare The Great Wall of California project to Generative Psychogeography ( http://socialfiction.org/psychogeography/dummies.html ). Both use technology to navigate "real" space. The latter appeals to me because its emphasis is less on the conceptual act of mapping and more on the subjective human experience of drifiting around a city full of people. Taking a map of Chicago and using it to negotiate Manhattan is going to cause cognitive subjective growth in the drifter. Taking GPS coordinates of China and using them to negotiate the California desert foregrounds a coneptual observation regarding the ontology of data, but causes what kind of subjective growth or awareness in the hiker? Last summer, after hiking all day to a particularly amazing view in the middle of Slickrock Wilderness here in western North Carolina, I came upon another group of hikers at the top. As I watched the sun set, they computed the GPS coordinates of their campsite in relation to their current location and tried to get their cell phones to work, occasionally pausing to snap a few digital pictures. It was all so much extra, imported interference -- obscuring rather than illuminating the real. Not *concurrent with*, but *beneath* the paving stones lies the beach.

    The "art" of database art is to take what you've gleaned from that aggregated/abstracted realm and tie it back in to the soulish human realm by storytelling (in the broadest sense of the word). Our data may illuminate us, but they don't fully delimit or construct us. If you think they do, you are liable to spend a lot of time on the semio-centric, techno-wanking side of the fence.

    these seem related:
    http://spurse.org/
    http://lab404.com/data/
    http://lab404.com/abstract/
    http://deepyoung.org/permanent/science/

    peace,
    curt

    > in short, rather than trying hard to pursue the
    > anti-sublime ideal, data visualization artists should also not
    > forget that art has the unique license to portray human subjectivity.
  • Geert Dekkers | Sun Feb 26th 2006 2:05 a.m.
    On 25-feb-2006, at 17:52, Brett Stalbaum wrote:

    >
    >
    > Geert Dekkers wrote:
    >
    >> Thanks Brett --- I read through your essay. First and foremost, I =

    >> wish to say that I really appreciate theory on this subject,
    >> especially now, as I am doing a show along the theme of
    >> embodiment this September in Amsterdam, including works by Mogens
    >> Jacobsen, Foofwa d"immobilite, Alan Sondheim, myself and others.
    >> I realise though, that we differ somewhat in our consideration
    >> of (the concept of the word) art. I'll try to articulate this in
    >> the following.
    >> http://nznl.com, my own work, is evolving into a model of an
    >> imaginary nznl.com exhibition hall, complete with its own "board
    >> of directors", "nznl.com workers", "management culture",
    >> "history", etc. So it is to be a "picture of a world", and is,
    >> as such, also what I think art should be.
    >
    > Hi Geert, thanks. Is the "picture of a world", the "model", in this
    > case moving toward a performative simulation (a kind of theater) of
    > the systems you are picturing - i.e. do you have
    > "actors" (directors for example) in some from or forum playing out
    > the various roles involved, or will it be all software? A model of
    > a system is a model of a system, (although resolution and
    > properties vary), and I think can be instantiated in many forms -
    > as a performance perhaps, or by allocating some memory to some
    > objects in a simulation, or an idea or proposal (these are real!),
    > or a hybrid combination... Or is your thinking evolving still?

    Thinking evolving still. But up till now, it is a collection of
    images and other works, sometimes software (ie javascript, php etc).
    Produced daily, published at exactly 00:00 AM each day. A piece at a
    time (so I might do a plan of the plumbing one day, then the next a
    picture of the way the light plays on a wall of the main hall, then a
    "still" of a board meeting, then a javascript simulation of a leaky
    faucet the next). I'm not considering the whole (there is no grand
    plan), and the whole thing might stlll veer off in a different
    direction)

    >
    >> In the coming (as yet untitled) show, I'm trying to metaphorise
    >> the passage between the virtual (which is, in the realm of
    >> nznl.com, to be understood as the "idea" phrase of the work and
    >> the body (very literally, the object in the gallery). For
    >> example, in Mogens Jacobsens work "I Hear Denmark
    >> Singing" [http://www.artnode.org/art/ jacobsen/art/pom2/] that I
    >> hope to present, the potatoes producing the electricity represent
    >> the passage or perhaps evolution of the idea phrase. Foofwa's
    >> BodyToy [http://foofwa.com] (if I may so interpret it) traces the
    >> passage from our understanding of our body (the "our" understood
    >> as a cultural whole -- so its "our collective body") to 3d
    >> rendering software through Foofwa's rendering of this output in
    >> his presentation. Jan Robert Leegte's work [http:// leegte.org]
    >> recreates the window and desktop metaphore in the gallery, and
    >> in doing so, rebuilds the relationship with "real" space. and
    >> "real" windows. And thus objectifies the metaphore, making it
    >> again understandable for what it is.
    >> So I think I'm using the virtual world of data, or information
    >> in quite a different way. I see very interesting concepts in your
    >> essay (perhaps I should just call them "pictures") -- the
    >> "datascape", or the "self portrait as data", incidentally, just
    >> as I'm interested in the picture that results from "paper
    >> trail". I'm not so much interested in the difference between the
    >> data and information -- I see data as "counting events", I see
    >> information as a sentence, perhaps using data as a quantifier of
    >> referers -- this would be my "idea phrase" culminating in a
    >> "paragraph" of meaning.
    >
    > Kant associated the sublime with quantity and the beautiful with
    > quality. These are related to data and information respectively. So
    > when you say data is "counting events" and that information as a
    > sentence quantifying referers (which I take to mean, counting
    > things in already counted in order to understand it in a laconic
    > form such as a "sentence" digestible as a "idea phrase"), it leads
    > me to suspect that you *are* actually interested in the difference
    > between data and information... and that in fact we might agree here.

    Might this be incorporated in the Manovich piece I didn't read? I
    have now read it -- there's no reference to Kant though. I'd have to
    re-read Kant's essays on the sublime to offer any critique.

    This bit from the Manovich piece Myron kindly sent me (The Anti-
    Sublime Ideal in Data Art):

    > One way to deal with this problem of motivation is to not to hide
    > but to foreground the arbitrary nature of the chosen mapping.
    > Rather than try to always being rational, data art can instead make
    > the method out of irrationality.11 This of course was the key
    > strategy of the twentieth century Surrealists. In the 1960s the
    > late Surrealists
  • Brett Stalbaum | Sun Feb 26th 2006 11:15 a.m.
    Manovich's intro to new media reader is very interesting... here is a
    provocative snip that maps to the distinction you make between painting
    and tool:

    "That is, not only have new media technologies
  • Dirk Vekemans | Sun Feb 26th 2006 6:42 p.m.
    With all due respect, even to Manovich himself for the work he's done with
    his Language of New Media, but this is one rhetorical load of horse manure.
    I was gonna read up on your piece and subsequent discussion here, Brett, its
    title had a nice ambitious ring to it, but after this i think, yawn, i'll
    put it off till tomorrow. My god, he's actually trying to put us to sleep,
    wanting us to share his wet soft cinema dreams. If it's a joke you got me
    fooled. If not,dear o dear, i must conclude you might be an Agent, know then
    that our dog's name is Neo and he's getting quite good at catching those.
    Darn, did i write this before? They are making changes...Aaargh!!!

    Dirk Vekemans, poet - freelance webprogrammer,
    Central Authoring Process of the
    Neue Kathedrale des erotischen Elends
    http://www.vilt.net/nkdee

    dv@vilt.net

    http://www.vilt.net
    http://www.viltdigitalvision.com

    > -----Oorspronkelijk bericht-----
    > Van: owner-list@rhizome.org [mailto:owner-list@rhizome.org]
    > Namens Brett Stalbaum
    > Verzonden: zondag 26 februari 2006 19:15
    > Aan: list@rhizome.org
    > Onderwerp: Re: RHIZOME_RAW: An Interpretive Framework for
    > Contemporary Database Practice in the Arts
    >
    > Manovich's intro to new media reader is very interesting...
    > here is a provocative snip that maps to the distinction you
    > make between painting and tool:
    >
    > "That is, not only have new media technologies-computer
    > programming, graphical human-computer interface, hypertext,
    > computer multimedia, networking (both wiredbased and
    > wireless)-actualized the ideas behind projects by artists,
    > they have also extended them much further than the artists
    > originally imagined. As a result these technologies
    > themselves have become the greatest art works of today. The
    > greatest hypertext is the Web itself, because it is more
    > complex, unpredictable and dynamic than any novel that could
    > have been written by a single human writer, even James Joyce.
    > The greatest interactive work is the interactive
    > human-computer interface itself: the fact that the user can
    > easily change everything which appears on her screen, in the
    > process changing the internal state of a computer or even
    > commanding reality outside of it. The greatest avant-garde
    > film is software such as Final Cut Pro or After Effects which
    > contains the possibilities of combining together thousands of
    > separate tracks into a single movie, as well as setting
    > various relationships between all these different tracks-and
    > it thus it develops the avant-garde idea of a film as an
    > abstract visual score to its logical end, and beyond. Which
    > means that those computer scientists who invented these
    > technologies-J. C.
    > R. Licklider (05), Douglas Engelbart (08. 16), Ivan
    > Sutherland (09), Ted Nelson (11, 21, 30), Seymour Papert
    > (28), Tim Berners-Lee (54), and others-are the important
    > artists of our time, maybe the only artists who are truly
    > important and who will be remembered from this historical period."
    >
    > http://www.mrl.nyu.edu/~noah/nmr/book_samples/nmr-intro-manovi
    > ch-excerpt.pdf
    >
  • Eric Dymond | Sun Feb 26th 2006 10:18 p.m.
    I saw Virilio mentioned here, and thought this extract (from Micheal Taormina's translation of The Accident of Art - Sylviere Lotringer/ Paul Virilio) added something, and he is so very clear and easy to understand.

    SL
    "The visual arts no longer speak to the eyes...

    PV
    The situation I am describing is totally catastrophic, but I don't think it's the end of the world if we recognize it.
    If we don't, academicism has won. That is what academicism is, standards that are connected to the pressure of special interests...

    SL
    Today there is an entire area of art in which artists work on computers.

    PV
    I have nothing against it.

    SL
    They do visual art, but they know very well that they're using pixels as a medium. Will this art be more legitimate in your eyes?

    PV
    If they are able to penetrate the software. I'm not worried. If the software is still the fruit of anonymous programmers dependent on big corporations, I'm against it. I said as much to architects:so long as you don't design your own software, you guys are losers.What do I expect of architects? That they do not follow the example of Frank O. Gehry, using Mirage 2000 software to design the Bilboa Opera. If architects today want to prove themselves equal to the new technologies, like Paolo Uccello or Piero de la Francesca, they would make the software themselves, they would get back inside the machine. Whereas now they are sold the equipment, and they work with it. That's what I can't accept. This doesn't mean I am some Luddite eager to destroy machines, not at all. I have always said: Penetrate the machine, explode it from the inside, dismantle the system to appropriate it. here we come back to the phenomena of appropriation.
    "

    As well, how do the rules of normalization fit in? How does the language Codd originally used traceroute to todays social/artistic incorporation of database technology?

    Eric
  • Brett Stalbaum | Sun Feb 26th 2006 11:59 p.m.
    Thanks for transposing that Eric...

    Somewhat an aside, but one of the ugrad majors that I am the coordinator
    for, (ICAM at UCSD, which was developed in the mid/late 1990's by
    Manovich, Sheldon Brown, Adriene Jenik, Miller Puckette, Peter Otto and
    others), has pretty much the same orientation toward artists and
    software as Virilio. As most of you know, Puckette is certainly the most
    notorious in this mode of practice where the artist (or in this case a
    classical musician) is writing software tools that form the basis of new
    modalities of arts practice, in addition to enabling their own work. So
    much of the interdisciplinary rapprochement between music and visual
    arts has been mediated by the software tools that Puckette
    innovated/evolved, (not to mention their extensibility and the
    communities that grew up around those platforms, of course...) I'd argue
    Max/msp over Final Cut Pro as among the greatest art works of the 20th
    Century... Processing and the artists who created it fit this mode
    too... (I talk about Ben Fry's work in the essay...)

    Re ICAM, I'd add that we strongly advise that students in this major
    also take a minor in CS. I'd add also that ICAM is not all tool
    making... many students find that the CS background helps them develop
    more rigorously integrative appraches to things as far flung as
    installtion, sculpture, robotics, music, theater, computer games... you
    name it. (ICAMerals are a diverse bunch - I am always impressed with and
    proud of the breadth of work our students produce...)

    The description of the major and the requirements can be found here:
    http://visarts.ucsd.edu/undergraduate/major/icam

    Eric Dymond wrote:

    > I saw Virilio mentioned here, and thought this extract (from Micheal Taormina's translation of The Accident of Art - Sylviere Lotringer/ Paul Virilio) added something, and he is so very clear and easy to understand.
    >
    > SL
    > "The visual arts no longer speak to the eyes...
    >
    > PV
    > The situation I am describing is totally catastrophic, but I don't think it's the end of the world if we recognize it.
    > If we don't, academicism has won. That is what academicism is, standards that are connected to the pressure of special interests...
    >
    > SL
    > Today there is an entire area of art in which artists work on computers.
    >
    > PV
    > I have nothing against it.
    >
    > SL
    > They do visual art, but they know very well that they're using pixels as a medium. Will this art be more legitimate in your eyes?
    >
    > PV
    > If they are able to penetrate the software. I'm not worried. If the software is still the fruit of anonymous programmers dependent on big corporations, I'm against it. I said as much to architects:so long as you don't design your own software, you guys are losers.What do I expect of architects? That they do not follow the example of Frank O. Gehry, using Mirage 2000 software to design the Bilboa Opera. If architects today want to prove themselves equal to the new technologies, like Paolo Uccello or Piero de la Francesca, they would make the software themselves, they would get back inside the machine. Whereas now they are sold the equipment, and they work with it. That's what I can't accept. This doesn't mean I am some Luddite eager to destroy machines, not at all. I have always said: Penetrate the machine, explode it from the inside, dismantle the system to appropriate it. here we come back to the phenomena of appropriation.
    > "
    >
    > As well, how do the rules of normalization fit in? How does the language Codd originally used traceroute to todays social/artistic incorporation of database technology?
    >
    > Eric
    > +
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    --
    Brett Stalbaum, Lecturer, PSOE
    Coordinator, Interdisciplinary Computing and the Arts Major (ICAM)
    UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, SAN DIEGO
    Department of Visual Arts
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    Info for students, winter quarter 2K6:
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  • Dirk Vekemans | Mon Feb 27th 2006 4:32 p.m.
    Hi Brett,

    It needn't concern you, but i have now gone through your essay a first time.
    I'm very slow at these things but i already concluded it is much more
    balanced than Manovich's latest work(that i feel has a very wrong basis to
    it apart from being way to prescriptive in its self-promotion) and anything
    but the horsething and quite receptible for further scrutiny untsoweiter.
    It's a worthy effort, congratulations. I do see some serious flaws, however,
    in your scheme of things.

    A very basic one, i think, is transcribing the speed of light of
    transmission of data to the systems triggering the transmissions. That is a
    very Virilian way (although i readily admit to not reading the guy i can
    conclude as much from what i gather from second-hand versions- reading
    Virilio is simply sth that didn't happen in my life yet, not sure if it ever
    will) of transcoding a metaphorical perception of things to reality. That's
    just basicly untrue. If things were truly happening at the speed of light, i
    needn't bother writing anything anymore, because the connection would be
    instant. ( see also http://nkdee.blogspot.com/2005/12/fiction-absence.html)
    I suspect this is the very switch that allows him to run the cycles of his
    discours, and although i see some nice things coming out of it by way of a
    positive critique of overcoming what he deems to be a catastrophic state of
    affairs ( to that i would not agree either, -it's bad but only as bad as it
    gets, any talk of catastrophy is easily undone by walking out the door
    and/or having a chat with your neighbour or by pointing at the very real
    catastrophies that crack through our imagined control over things), these
    cycles also seem to be headed to an ideological, normative view on art, like
    what is so obvious from the quote Eric sent in.

    Now i have been postponing a serious investigation of the line of thinking
    Manovich is prescribing for lack of time to do it thoroughly, and here i
    find you adding a more subtle variety to the strain, a higher quality
    product, surely, allowing more openness and avoiding the normative. As much
    as i welcome the soberness and quality of thought in it, it puts me back
    another step in my Laurence Sterne look alike attempt to explain what the
    hell it is i'm talking about. Your essay points to a confusion of terms, i
    see something similar in the confusion of ontology with epistemology, and in
    the obiquitous use of the 'virtual' to avoid the ditches one might fall into
    while taking the step. As much as i agree with discerning a flow from the
    virtual towards the material, so rather an embodiment instead of an
    disembodiment, i cannot agree with what it is in fact that is getting
    'magically' materialised and certainly not with the catastrophic speed you
    seem to ascribe to the process, leaving the artist with a very meagre
    possibility as a fourth wheel on the database wagon. Relational databases
    are very important in our business, but they needn't be the all explaining
    base to how we deal with data. They are mere grids, results from (already)
    an algorhytmic categorisation belonging to the upper end of episteme. Taking
    them for the essence of things is an ontological move into the fictional,
    spatialised representation of events, an arresting of energies that is, in
    my book, ethically illegal. Basicly it's wishfull thinking, the same
    wishfull thinking that inspires Wolfram to a similar ontological move, doing
    away with time because he doesn't need it, using science as a
    business-driven super scriptograph enscribing his fiction into reality.

    In that way, Virilio, or any other theory of catastrophy, is right in
    assigning urgency to the matter at hand, because we are dealing with an
    ontological disfiguration on a global scale. Time remains, however, there's
    always time, because things only get as bad as they get.

    Again, there's nothing thorough here,only some hints at what i think could
    be substantial objections. I'm hoping i 'll get there some other time
    around.

    Respectfully,

    dv

    Dirk Vekemans, poet - freelance webprogrammer,
    Central Authoring Process of the
    Neue Kathedrale des erotischen Elends
    http://www.vilt.net/nkdee

    dv@vilt.net

    http://www.vilt.net
    http://www.viltdigitalvision.com

    > -----Oorspronkelijk bericht-----
    > Van: owner-list@rhizome.org [mailto:owner-list@rhizome.org]
    > Namens Brett Stalbaum
    > Verzonden: zaterdag 25 februari 2006 3:51
    > Aan: list@rhizome.org
    > Onderwerp: RHIZOME_RAW: An Interpretive Framework for
    > Contemporary Database Practice in the Arts
    >
    > An Interpretive Framework for Contemporary Database Practice
    > in the Arts
    >
    > Introduction
    >
    > There are two common notions regarding the nature (or
    > ontology) of data and information that are important for us
    > to think about when we are considering artistic practice with
    > database. The first is the notion that information is
    > disembodied from its subject, and the second is somewhat of a
    > conflation of the terms "data" and "information".
    > Political concern stemming from the first notion may be most
    > responsible for stimulating "database art", but current art
    > practice with database can be broadly divided into three
    > generally recognizable, though not mutually exclusive modes
    > of practice: database politics, data visualization (the
    > latter related also to sonification, and haptics), and what I
    > will term database formalism. The second notion represents
    > more of a noise in our at-large cultural understanding
    > regarding the meaning of the terms "data" and "information"
    > that when clarified, may sharpen the critical focus on an
    > aspect of data visualization practice.
    > Honing these two notions will provide us with a critical
    > basis for the interpretation contemporary database art
    > practices, perhaps especially as they interact with emerging
    > geospatial and location aware media practices. In this
    > writing, interpretation is distinguished from definition and
    > evaluation, as it is in the tradition of analytic aesthetics.
    > I write from the perspective of a practicing artist; not a
    > trained philosopher or art historian. Thus I demur, at least
    > somewhat, on the issue of defining database practice (beyond
    > the obvious), and I avoid any qualitative evaluation of the
    > examples I give. I only hope to chart the terrain of a
    > contemporary practice with which I am familiar, including the
    > work of many colleagues and collaborators. I hope to form an
    > interpretation of the approaches contemporary artists are
    > taking to database that I hope will be useful in evaluating
    > this territory.
    >
    > Data Body and Data Politics
    >
    > I will start by considering works that emphasize the
    > contemporary consequences of disembodiment of
    > data/information from its referent, regardless of whether we
    > are speaking about the human body and its disembodied 'data
    > body', or other material manifestations of reality and the
    > data which refers to it. "Information" and "data", in this
    > narrow context, are viewed as descriptions of the thing
    > described, and are somewhat conflated terms. (See next
    > section.) Christiane Paul patently describes the issues that
    > seem to have been in play for artists surrounding the issue
    > of disembodiment:
    >
    > "In the digital age, the concept of 'disembodiment' does not
    > only apply to our physical body but also to notions of the
    > object and materiality in general. Information itself to a
    > large extent seems to have lost its 'body', becoming an
    > abstract 'quality' that can make a fluid transition between
    > different states of materiality. While the ultimate 'substance'
    > of information remains arguable, it is safe to say that data
    > are not necessarily attached to a specific form of
    > manifestation. Information and data sets are intrinsically
    > virtual, that is, they exist as processes that are not
    > necessarily visible or graspable, such as the transferal or
    > transmission of data via networks."(174)
    >
    > I will argue that the case is subtly yet importantly
    > different, as this type of disembodiment is not actually a
    > new phenomenon to the digital age. Information/data have
    > always been disembodied, and in fact we do see that the
    > interaction between the virtual with the real is more tightly
    > bound today, and indeed is more materially generative (yet
    > contra-abstract), than at anytime in history. Disembodiment
    > is not the difference making difference that the digital age
    > brings. In order to demonstrate this, I will take a double
    > tact. First I will look into history for precedents of
    > disembodied data and information, hoping to show that
    > "disembodiment" is not a new issue just because we have
    > entered a digital era. Then I will try to show that it is not
    > the disembodiment of the referrer from the referent that
    > creates the radial difference that the digital era has
    > brought, but rather that it is the nature of distributed,
    > high speed data processing that makes all the difference
    > because it radically motorizes, automates and makes
    > ubiquitous the potential for data and information to impinge
    > on daily life. After presenting this idea, I will make
    > reference to a few database artworks that I think map to the
    > various assumptions outlined by Paul, which I think expresses
    > an interpretive critical model in which artistic practice can
    > be specified in terms of 'database politics'.
    >
    > It only requires a few examples from history to dispel the
    > notion that disembodiment is a novelty specific to the
    > digital era. Edwin Hutchins, in his study of how
    > representations are propagated in systems of cultural
    > computation, points out that the use of bearing logs in sea
    > navigation dates back at least 4500 years, and that "Sumerian
    > accountants developed similar layouts for recording
    > agricultural transactions as early as 2650 B.C." (124)
    > Cuneiform Tablets, a clay tablet inscribed with ideograms and
    > numerals (multipliers), organized in the now familiar column
    > and row format, formed the material basis for the
    > disembodiment of material reality into a clay media for data
    > storage of mundane business transactions. And certainly, the
    > notation on a tablet of "18 unproductive trees" is no more
    > the actual 18 unproductive trees than some contemporary
    > individual's poor credit history (a common example of a 'data
    > body') constitutes the breath of individual personhood. Yet,
    > both such representations are similarly disembodied data
    > representations utilized for economic control and management.
    > In a loose sense cuneiform tablets were the first spread
    > sheets, and one could go further to argue that the first
    > written words and images instantiate a similar disembodiment
    > of referent and referrer, not to mention the disembodiment
    > inherent in language itself! This has been a constant issue
    > in aesthetics from Plato (mimesis) through semiotics (sign as
    > combination of signifier/signified), and in postmodern
    > thought; perhaps most notoriously in the writings of Jean
    > Baudrillard where the sign becomes ascendant and begins
    > itself to relplace reality through precession.
    >
    > Similarly, data has for a long time exhibited the quality of
    > being fluidly transferable between forms of materiality in
    > different representational media, and in fact transferal and
    > transmission of data via pre-industrial 'networks' show that
    > data transferal is in no way a novel phenomenon or a creation
    > specifically of the digital age. Hutchins gives the chip log
    > and the methods of using it as just one example of the
    > propagation and transmission of representational states. The
    > chip log is device consisting of a reel, a rope line, and the
    > "chip": a piece of wood that would be thrown overboard to
    > remain stationary in the water while knotted line was let
    > out. The passage of time would be marked by crew members
    > singing a hymn (maintaining the system's clock speed), and
    > notations regarding the number of knots unrolled would be
    > recorded in a log at a regular fix interval. The knots would
    > measure the distance that the ship had traveled, from which
    > the term "knots" as a measurement unit for maritime speed is
    > derived. Importantly, Hutchins shows how the chip log was
    > utilized to perform an analog to digital conversion:
    >
    > "The log gave rise to a computational process that begins
    > with analog-to-digital conversion, which is followed by
    > digital computation, then either digital-to-analog conversion
    > for interpretation or digital-to-analog conversion followed
    > by analog computation." (103)
    >
    > Through these conversions, the propagation of representations
    > between various crew members aboard ship was enabled. Chip
    > logs were utilized as dead reckoning instrumentation allowing
    > the projection of the ship's future position on nautical
    > charts; nautical charts which are themselves analog computers
    > designed expressly for position-fixing calculations.
    > Logs and analog-to-digital conversions allowed data to be
    > transported, often in digital form, through a ship wide
    > network of crew members utilizing different media to perform
    > their tasks; for example from the memory of the log keeper
    > into the log, then from the log to navigator who would
    > project the future position of the ship onto a chart at some
    > fixed interval, and then from the media of the chart to the
    > mind of the captain who is responsible for the larger journey.
    >
    > Data and information have qualities of their own, as
    > calculable symbolic representations capturing measurable
    > aspects of material systems. Data and information are not
    > only disembodied in some material form of representational
    > abstraction from their subject (whether clay tablet or
    > digital electric impulses), but can be recorded and
    > transferred from one state to another, propagated from
    > person-to-person in local, perhaps totally linguistic,
    > networks of social computation, or from place-to-place via
    > encoding into media mobilized by material transportation
    > consisting of technology such as sailing ships, or more
    > recently, undersea fiber optic cables. Importantly, this
    > mobile property of data and information has been at play in
    > human culture long before the digital era - perhaps as long
    > as linguistic messages have been carried from place to place
    > by foot and shared among different groups, and certainly
    > since written (doubly coded) and numeric representations
    > began to be transported. Additionally, the example of
    > cuneiform as a particular clay media implementing
    > informational disembodiment from the material world emerged
    > well before the development of the algebraic analysis (as
    > early as 1800 B.C.) and the discrete mathematics concepts
    > (congealing nicely in the figure of George Boole in the 19th
    > century), that would serve as the catalysts for the
    > development of digital communications and computational
    > technologies during the 20th century.
    > The disembodiment of data and information from the real
    > clearly predates the digital era.
    >
    > Disembodiment does not mean that data and information, and
    > their material reality, do not influence one another. In fact
    > the case is rather the opposite, forming is the basis of the
    > fundamentally materialist-formalist analysis I am trying to
    > forge here. As I have indicated in the past:
    >
    > "This position is supported by Paul Virilio's theory of
    > information as the third dimension of matter, (energy being
    > the second), in that information and its effect on identity
    > are not disembodied from the real, but rather become a
    > integral part of the real world projecting directly into the
    > body: a network of people hyperactivated by information
    > machinery which has joined with the body no more or less
    > conspicuously than the pacemaker or the telephone handset." (1998)
    >
    > The significant difference making difference that does arrive
    > with the digital era is the speed with which the relations
    > between information technology and material systems are
    > implemented: the move from the speed of hand inscribed clay
    > tables, to ships, to trains, to telegraph, to the speed of
    > light on fiber optic and radio networks. (This trajectory
    > roughly paraphrases Virilio's analytic project.) The process
    > has been a teleological one; the move from writing data on
    > clay storage devices and the associated literacy to retrieve
    > and utilize those notations in a local economy has progressed
    > to 'writing' data in informatic media such CPU's, RAM,
    > magnetic storage, optical and wireless networks, and of
    > course this too assumes an associated literacy, in the
    > contemporary case one required to utilize digital media in a
    > global economy. As the transmission speed of the media
    > becomes faster, the ability of data and information to
    > impinge upon or embed itself in material systems itself
    > expands. While clay-based inscription systems improved the
    > management of a local orchards in Sumeria, information
    > systems today, which wrap the Earth in fiber optic cable and
    > paint it with electromagnetic carrier waves, facilitate the
    > transmission of data and information around the world in
    > milliseconds, allowing a global scope of impact for data and
    > information. For example, as Geri Wittig points out regarding
    > the relationship between geographic information systems and
    > the Earth as a complex system:
    >
    > "With the increasing use of GIS technologies in a wide
    > variety of fields, including art, the data networks generated
    > will disseminate into the expanding networks of information
    > technology. I speculate these GIS generated data networks
    > have the potential to act as bifurcations and coadaptive
    > systems..." (2003)
    >
    > This means that systems which operate, transport and
    > calculate at the speed of light have greater power become
    > co-operative in the distribution and creation of the real,
    > causing the disembodiment of data itself to bifurcate into
    > something more powerful and integrated with life on Earth due
    > to the speed and intensity of data flows. This allows data
    > and information to play a more immediate, acute, synchronized
    > role in the daily life of persons, as well as non-human
    > ecosystems and flows of materials. It is not disembodiment
    > per se, but rather machinic catalysis of the relations
    > between virtual and real that is the difference making
    > difference in the digital era. Further it is the discrete
    > properties of the digital that enable this speed, as well as
    > enabling the exact quantification of information, ala Claude
    > Shannon. It is the catalytic properties inherent in the
    > material basis of digital technology that allows the analysis
    > of the difference (that information
    > is) to have a radical transformational impact on every aspect
    > of culture, society, biota, climate, and to some degree, even
    > geology. The disembodiment of information from its referent,
    > which is an archaic and fundamentally ontological aspect of
    > data and information, is now hyper-activated in real time at
    > the speed of light. And indeed, it is the consequences of
    > this speed which many artists working around the issues of
    > 'database politics' have responded to.
    >
    > A small but representative selection of artists who have
    > notably responded to the sudden imposition of database as a
    > mediator of power and social control include the Critical Art
    > Ensemble, Natalie Jeremijenko, Graham Harwood, and Diane
    > Ludin. The Critical Art Ensemble were perhaps the first
    > artists to see the looming threat of database on matters of
    > privacy and power, and to present issues relating to database
    > theoretically in terms of an agent of social control. In
    > their 1994 book The Electronic Disturbance, CAE states:
    >
    > "As the electronic information-cores overflow with files of
    > electronic people (those transformed into credit histories,
    > consumer types, patterns and tendencies, etc.), electronic
    > research, electronic money, and other forms of information
    > power, the nomad is free to wander the electronic net, able
    > to cross national boundaries with minimal resistance from
    > national bureaucracies. The privileged realm of electronic
    > space controls the physical logistics of manufacture, since
    > the release of raw materials requires electronic consent and
    > direction."
    > (CAE, 1994)
    >
    > While we do read here a direct reference to the concerns of
    > disembodiment in terms of "electronic people", we also see a
    > clear focus on new forms of pan-capitalist power and control
    > over the economy through processes where "electronic space
    > controls the physical logistics of manufacture." This
    > inference on the part of CAE certainly maps to the notion of
    > data and information as disembodied control systems of
    > management, but disembodiment is placed in a context that
    > makes the change less attributable to the original sin of
    > disembodiment than it is to the speed and ease through which
    > social power and control over the material world is deployed
    > via contemporary, digital, highly distributed database
    > systems. CAE's words may be the first shots fired in the art
    > of database politics.
    >
    > Natalie Jeremijenko's and Graham Harwood's recent work with
    > database share a consistent theme: an attempt to address the
    > asymmetry of power between those who model and manipulate the
    > world through data, (thus enjoying most of the rights to
    > benefit from information garnered from that data), and those
    > who are modeled and manipulated by data. A representative
    > example of Jeremijenko's recent work is the Bit Antiterror
    > Line project, which allows "every phone [home/cell/booth] to
    > act as a networked microphone... For collecting live audio
    > data on civil liberty infringements and other anti-terror
    > events." The files are made available in a simple database of
    > audio files on the bit antiterror line web site
    > (Jeremijenko), one of which recounts the story of a
    > stewardess who threatened a couple with arrest by armed Air
    > Marshal if they continued to draw silly pictures and laugh at
    > her. Harwood's 9 project is a website modeled around the
    > simple square shaped layout of 9 media elements. It allows
    > people to represent themselves, their neighborhoods, their
    > identity, and their interests, via media elements arranged in
    > this simple, easy to use layout strategy, including a notion
    > of proximity and thus juxtaposition with neighboring 9's. The
    > ease of use at the interface level belies a sophisticated
    > custom database under the covers, coded by the artist. 9
    > encourages not only self representation, but the exploration
    > of the self representations of others in a shared data
    > commons creating connections between/within communities
    > defined both geographically and informatically, while
    > Jeremijenko's project creates a data commons as both an
    > emergency antidote to, and cultural and social analysis of,
    > the growing fascism apparent in the United States as the "War
    > on Terrorism" progresses. As I write this (original draft,
    > April 2004), CAE's Steve Kurtz is being investigated by a
    > grand jury in Buffalo, NY, essentially for daring to make
    > provocative art works with biological materials. Although he
    > (and CAE) have presented this work publicly in high profile
    > art institutions for many years, his research and materials
    > stored in his home became the subject of a wasteful and
    > misguided anti-terror investigation after being noticed and
    > reported by first-responders following the tragic death of
    > Hope Kurtz from natural causes.
    >
    > The prevalence of database in biotechnology research has led
    > to many projects dealing with genomic data analysis or
    > critique of the systems in which nature becomes private
    > property. Diane Ludin's "i-BPE, i-Biology Patent Engine"
    > takes on issues of intellectual property and ownership in the
    > high-tech era by setting up a context where real United
    > States patents on genes are themselves claimed as a kind of
    > public property/context for remixing and play with the
    > language of patents, resulting in a "aggressive take-over by
    > i-BPE agents... i-BPE gene patents will return bio-rights to
    > non-governmental, cultural agents for revision." (Ludin) In a
    > presently unpublished manuscript, Ludin discusses, somewhat
    > ironically, how speed has (with its own certain irony),
    > allowed the disembodiment of data from its referent to return
    > directly and literally to the site of our bodies, for which
    > the only prior art is billions of years of evolution. "With
    > the rise of ibiology the circuit between code and patent
    > becomes part of the super speed ecology of Bio Capitalism.
    > Ibiology establishes the next level of command and control
    > culture where artificial selection becomes a post-human,
    > globalizing, gene profit system." (Ludin) In Ludin's, and
    > indeed all of the above examples, speed is the difference
    > making difference that the art of database politics
    > ultimately must address across a range of practice;
    > regardless of whether the artist is using database as media
    > to help along the emergence of shared understanding within a
    > culturally mixed global culture, or responding defensively
    > (with database) to the onslaught of database driven assaults
    > on civil rights committed by corporatist or fascist governments.
    >
    > Data Visualization, Beautiful Information and Sublime Data
    >
    > A formal aspect of data and information that is often
    > overlooked in western culture at large is that the terms
    > "data" and "information" have meanings that are quite
    > different from one another. Although Dictionaries such as
    > Webster's accurately define the terms; information as "an
    > informing or being informed; esp., a telling or being told of
    > something", and data as in "facts or figures to be processed;
    > evidence, records, statistics, etc. from which conclusions
    > can be inferred; information", (Webster's, italics mine),
    > popular uses of the terms often overlap somewhat more than
    > their dictionary definitions allow. Note that "information"
    > is above embedded in the definition of data, across the
    > semi-colon boundary behind which "conclusions can be
    > inferred", but without a cadence or emphasis that would mark
    > information's definitional difference with the same clarity
    > as it is most commonly defined in computer science.
    > Information as described above could easily be misread as
    > synonymous with "facts or figures to be processed", even
    > given position of the semi-colon. As I will discuss in the
    > next paragraph, there is in fact an issue of transitory
    > states. Nevertheless, information is most usefully defined as
    > the conclusions or news of significant difference that is
    > inferred from the logical processing of a collection data.
    > Data is defined essentially as being raw facts; whereas
    > information is mined from processing those facts.
    >
    > Of course, the situation it is not that simple. At any one
    > time the same representations (I do not take "representation"
    > to mean exclusively "visual"), might exist in different
    > terminal states (as either data or
    > information) on a larger conveyor belt of ubiquitous digital
    > processing.
    > A simple example: it is common for the output of one program
    > (nominally
    > "information") to be the input data for another, as in the
    > unix command, ps -ef | grep brett, which pipes the somewhat
    > lengthy output of the ps program (information about all
    > processes) to the grep filter such that I might know only of
    > my processes; information can become data to be filtered into
    > more specific information. Another potential breakdown in the
    > distinction occurs due to the graphical user interface, which
    > does a better job of 'making invisible' the user's control
    > data (another kind of input), for example in the form of
    > pointing as interactive input (mouse clicks, mouse drags,
    > etc.) These are definitely forms of control data input, but
    > they are processed more invisibly than control commands given
    > on a command line interface, because the visual half life of
    > clicks and drags as pixel residue on the screen is not
    > buffered as are commands that remain visible in the terminal
    > shell (visible on screen) after being issued in a CLI.
    > Nevertheless, ignoring interactive input and its own
    > important implications, it is still true that data plays its
    > most common social 'role' in the form of input to programs,
    > and it is information that is derived from processing data as
    > output; even if the information is later transitioned by
    > being reprocessed as input back into some other program
    > (potentially somewhere else in the world). The ontology of
    > data and information as input and output is contextually
    > mediated and transitory; existing alternatively between
    > states of data and information. Yet data is still associated
    > in an important way with input and information with output,
    > even if the terms data and information are treated more
    > loosely in culture at large, perhaps due to being seen
    > adjacent to each other so often, a result of their status as
    > quite inseparable siblings or perhaps a digital yin/yang.
    >
    > A good question for the impatient reader at this point would
    > be "What does this have to do with contemporary database
    > practice in art?" After all, there is no shortage of
    > clarification regarding the distinction between "data" and
    > "information" in engineering and the sciences. The answer is
    > that the conflation of terms seems to pool especially
    > commonly in the humanities discipline areas, such as art. To
    > be fair, it is a common linguistic conflation in culture at
    > large and this is indeed where artists operate, but I do
    > think it merits our attention in any analysis of the works of
    > artists who are working with database, and particularly for
    > artists that are working specifically with data
    > visualization, or the related disciplines of data
    > sonification and data haptics (as in ambient computing).
    >
    > Lev Manovich has made a very important observation about the
    > aesthetic strategies of Data Visualization practice in an
    > essay titled The Anti-Sublime Ideal in Data Art, (2002), in
    > which he critiques contemporary data visualization practice
    > in art as adhering to a pursuit of beauty in the
    > transformation (or processing) of large datasets into the
    > visual field: the "Anti-Sublime" aesthetic. Beauty is the
    > pursuit of clarity, balance and transparent form, and data
    > visualization is often pursued for the sake of understanding
    > or making clear the behavior of data and the systems
    > represented by data. Beauty in data visualization is opposed
    > to the sublime: the condition under which the data overwhelms
    > its viewer, and the viewer's senses are mobilized in a
    > special kind cognition that allows them to carry on with the
    > formation of an understanding that is, as it turns out, more
    > likely to be satisfactory than a random guess. There are many
    > names for this kind of cognition:
    > intuition, anticipation, instinct, or a sixth sense. The
    > sublime is of considerable interest to the artificial
    > intelligence discipline in computer science. Human
    > intelligence seems able to deal with the sublime condition
    > and can continue to operate intelligently even when
    > overwhelmed or subjected to context shifts, while discrete
    > computational machines have not yet proven this ability. In a
    > sense, the holy grail of artificial intelligence is to create
    > machines that can behave with human like intelligence when
    > similarly thrown by excessive amounts of data under variable context.
    >
    > Interestingly, the definitions of the terms "beauty" and
    > "sublime" have also been culturally conflated, perhaps even
    > more so, than the terms "information" and "data". Just as
    > information and data are sometimes interchangeable terms in
    > common usage, (often taken to mean information), the meanings
    > of beauty and sublime are today similarly conflated, (often
    > to mean beauty). The notion of beauty, revealing form and
    > making cognizable, as the goal of data visualization art
    > works dealing with large data sets is clearly described by
    > Christiane Paul, writing of Benjamin Fry's 1999 work "Valence":
    >
    > "The software visually represents individual pieces of
    > information according to their interactions with each other.
    > Valence can be used for visualizing almost anything, from the
    > contents of a book to website traffic, or for comparing
    > different data sources. The resulting visualization changes
    > over time as it responds to new data. Instead of providing
    > statistical information ... Valence provides a feel for
    > general trends and anomalies in the data by presenting a
    > qualitative slice of the information's structure. Valence
    > functions as an aesthetic 'context provider', setting up
    > relationships between data elements that might not be
    > immediately obvious, and that exist beneath the surface of
    > what we usually perceive." (177, 178)
    >
    > I do not choose to wade into any aesthetic debate regarding
    > the beautiful and the sublime in data visualization; I am
    > sticking to my promise to hold fast to an interpretive
    > framework in this writing. Lisa Jevbratt has written an essay
    > titled The Prospect of the Sublime in Data Visualizations,
    > responding in part to Manovich's use of the 1:1 project
    > (1999, 2002) as an example of the anti-sublime aesthetic.
    > (Jevbratt) For now, I merely want to point out that in terms
    > of how we interpret the art practices engaged in data
    > visualization, beauty as opposed to the sublime is the most
    > critical contemporary interpretive framework in which such
    > art may be evaluated aesthetically. The criterion for
    > analysis shifts from the effectiveness of any particular
    > visualization (and its ability to facilitate an understanding
    > of the data through beauty), to the roll of the user or
    > communities of users in interpreting a visualization via
    > their own ontological thrownness, their own conceptual,
    > computational or cultural methods for processing data, and
    > their own ability to perceive when facing conditions of
    > sublimity. At its extremes, the sublime analysis suggests
    > that access to raw, unmediated data replace visualizations,
    > and that communities should take democratic control of their
    > own data interpretation in a way that best balances their
    > exposure to quantities of data against their need to reduce
    > it to useful information; all of which might only become
    > practical if formal languages for processing data become
    > standard educational assumptions for a baseline notion of
    > what it means to be literate in post-industrial, high tech
    > societies. Microsoft Excel(TM) can not save us. Artists might
    > be able to play an important role in this
    > regard: as guides in data exploration more so than as experts
    > in data visualization.
    >
    > Additionally, the formal definitions of data and information
    > imply another framework tightly coupled to the issues raised
    > by the beautiful and the sublime. Data visualization practice
    > is certainly bound to the transition of representations
    > between states of being data and states of being information;
    > and as Manovich points out, most contemporary artists working
    > in data visualization are seemingly committed to
    > visualization as information. This is essentially congruent
    > with Paul's discussion of Fry's work Valence as well as her
    > overall discussion of database practice; further implying
    > that much data visualization practice in the arts today
    > seemingly pursues beauty. Interpretively, we may extract from
    > all of this that the pursuit of information is the pursuit of
    > the beautiful and that the pursuit of data is the pursuit of
    > the sublime.
    > The former implies a struggle for understanding, the later an
    > impulse for exploration, including the collection and
    > generation of new data.
    > How artists implement their forms of expression between
    > information and data, and possibly in the transitory states
    > between them, is an aesthetic issue that maps to the
    > transitory states between the sublime and the beautiful.
    > Speaking personally, this seems to be an unresolved area in
    > data visualization as artistic practice, as well as in the
    > related formal practice that I discuss in the next section.
    >
    > Virtual and Materialist Data Formalism, Data Mining
    >
    > In this section, my interpretive framework comes full circle
    > back near the issue of disembodiment. In the first section of
    > this essay, I believe that I was able to demonstrate that
    > data and information have always been disembodied from their
    > referent, and I did so by arguing from a materialist stance
    > that views data as an important virtual reality that actually
    > impinges on material reality. In a previous text titled
    > Database Logic(s) and Landscape Art (original, 2002), I
    > presented a more radical, though consciously very speculative
    > and provisional view that data is embedded and operative
    > within the actual through a process in which
    > humans/data/Earth are inextricably implicated: humans mediate
    > the landscape with the assistance of data about the
    > landscape, and the data itself mediates that mediation, not
    > necessarily intentionally, but in such a way that the actual
    > material Earth now speaks through scientific data, thereby
    > expressing a voice in conversation with human culture. In the
    > same essay, I indicate how the term 'virtual' is also often
    > misunderstood as referring to the imaginary interfacial
    > illusions that computational systems can create, rather than
    > (more appropriately) the abstract mathematics of reality
    > (that can be modeled computationally, well beyond 3
    > dimensions), that in some sense produces the actual. In other
    > words, the virtual is itself a real space of possible
    > physical states for any system that crystallize into the
    > actual, which is precisely what allows computational models
    > of physical systems (such as engineering or atmospheric
    > simulations) to have predictive power. I made this case in
    > order to suggest that artists should utilize the notion of
    > the virtual for predictive or analytical practices that
    > reveal knowledge about the world, or better, that emerge new
    > behavior, exploration and experience. I think this holds for
    > the humanities. I am in no way concerned if what is revealed
    > functions as conceptual and performance art, and not as science.
    >
    > There are many database art projects that demonstrate this
    > analytical and productive practice which engage with data
    > utilizing an ethos that maintains an interest in the
    > embodiment (contra disembodiment) that is implied in the
    > relationship between data and its material, actual, real
    > world referents. Although I have avoided definition, I would
    > argue that the preceding does constitute something close to a
    > definition of database art in the bigger picture, the
    > relationship to materialist embodiment being the key. In any
    > case, it clearly fits into my interpretive framework for
    > contemporary database practice as database formalism. These
    > projects are interested in the actual materials that are
    > modeled by data, and seek new, exploratory methods of
    > interacting with the material world that reveal new knowledge
    > about the materials, or the interactions with them, and that
    > allow data to become a cooperative co-participant in the
    > performance. For example, Lev Manovich's Soft Cinema (2001-)
    > uses metadata to dynamically organize a Mondrian inspired
    > screen layout for videos shot by the artist in his travels,
    > in which "every clip is assigned 10 different parameters,
    > which are both semantic and formal, so for example one is
    > geographical location... how much motion there is in a clip,
    > which is assigned a number... the contrast, the average
    > brightness, the subject matter...", and so forth. (Manovich,
    > 2003) The parameters are utilized by custom software to
    > control the editing of the video clips and their organization
    > in the layout, allowing data about the (video) data (the
    > metadata) to manifest itself through being granted some level
    > of decision making authority and authorship. Manovich's
    > cinema edits itself; revealing itself in unexpected and often
    > poetic ways that require one to apply a thrown and sublime
    > mode of paradigmatic viewership to its interpretation.
    >
    > David Rokeby's Giver of Names (1990-) and George Legrady's
    > Pockets Full of Memories (2001) both ask users to interact
    > with real objects in the gallery space, which are scanned and
    > input into a database system for further classification and
    > comparison. While Rokeby's approach utilizes an AI computer
    > vision technique and artificial language processing, and
    > Legrady's uses a clustering algorithm designed to situate the
    > personal objects offered up by the audience with their
    > statistically nearest neighbors, both projects are literally
    > concerned with the relation between real objects and how they
    > are thus mediated (either by naming them or associating them
    > with another) as they undergo analog-to-digital (material to
    > reference) conversion, insertion into a database, and
    > subsequent data analysis. Importantly, an emphasis on the
    > materiality of the objects is maintained in the exhibition
    > space. The materiality is directly experienced by the
    > audiences who interact with Rokeby's collection of objects
    > lying around the exhibition space that they may situate on a
    > pedestal for scanning and interpretation by an artificial
    > intelligence system. In Legrady's case, a personal object if
    > offered up for analysis. Both systems connect rather
    > literally with the real as an embodied space to be contextualized.
    >
    > The near unification of referrer and referent is even more
    > literal in recent C5 work, (a group of which I am a member),
    > where geographic information system data (a digital 3D map of
    > the landscape) is mined through the preprocessing of the
    > primary data into a layer of metadata characterizing large
    > areas of topography (currently the State of California), that
    > can be searched via a relational database and related Java
    > API. (The C5 Landscape Database API.) Mirroring the
    > Input/Processing/Output pattern common in classic,
    > non-interactive data processing, C5 takes input samples
    > (collected with GPS), and processes them to identify the most
    > similar landscapes to the original, but that exist somewhere
    > else. As preparatory work for The Other Path (2004-) Geri
    > Wittig set out on a month long trek along the Great Wall of
    > China, starting in the northwest desert and following the
    > Wall eastward to where it runs to the edge of the Yellow Sea.
    > GPS data was collected from twelve separate trekked locations
    > along the length of the Great Wall.
    > Using pattern-matching search procedures developed at C5
    > (Amul Goswamy and Brett Stalbaum), the 12 most similar
    > corresponding terrains in California were identified. After
    > determining the blocks representing the most similar matching
    > terrains in California, phase two of the Other Path search
    > process identified discrete paths within those terrains
    > expressing similar statistical characteristics, such as
    > simple distance, cumulative distance, and elevation change.
    > To do this, a swarm of virtual hikers, implemented as
    > experimental features of the C5 Landscape Database API 2.0,
    > were unleashed in the virtual California landscape to explore
    > and generate tracklogs, which were then compared to Wittig's
    > original "input" Great Wall of China tracklogs. The results
    > of this search identified the most closely matching virtual
    > tracklogs, which were then exported to tracklog files,
    > uploaded to GPS devices, and physically realized by C5 in a
    > performance of tertiary (after the original, after database)
    > exploration of what is now known as The Great Wall of
    > California. In this performance, walking works in the
    > tradition of Richard Long, Hamish Fulton and perhaps even
    > Dominique Mazeaud are reconceived as input, processed by via
    > database applications that have been granted the ability to
    > tell us where to go by outputting GPS coordinates that we are
    > conceptually bound to follow with our feet. This generates
    > alternative experience and exploration of the landscape at a
    > time when everything (on the landform surface of the Earth)
    > has already been explored and modeled. It emphasizes not the
    > disembodiment of datascapes from their referents, but their
    > intimate connection and productive capability.
    >
    > Conclusion
    >
    > I have outlined three modes of practice, database politics,
    > data visualization, and database formalism (the latter contra
    > disembodiment) in which contemporary database practice can be
    > interpreted. The later formalist tendency, in which database
    > is conceived as virtual context for implementing a data
    > co-operative mediation of the world, perhaps most
    > interestingly overlaps in the final analysis with the
    > database politics. Though largely apolitical at first glance,
    > the formalist interpretative mode of database art practice is
    > similar to that of database politics in that the goal of both
    > is to realign the power of database to distribute the real,
    > albeit for different reasons, as opposed to data
    > visualization's dominant (but perhaps not universal) desire
    > to better understand data. Though formalist practice may not
    > self-consciously attempt to intercede in pan-capitalist
    > distribution of power, data formalism and artistic data
    > mining practices do conceive of agency returning back to the
    > hands (or for C5 the feet) of the people who interact with
    > such systems, although perhaps in a perverse way by
    > tactically ceding a certain level of arbitrary control to the
    > database applications themselves. But as long these are at
    > least neutral with regards to power, and hopefully designed
    > and performed by autonomous users of the systems in
    > non-coercive ways, there are advantages to be found - perhaps
    > even political ones.
    >
    > For one, formalist database practice is in alignment
    > conceptually with the ubiquity of database in our culture,
    > perhaps encouraging individuals to develop related expertise
    > for apolitical ends (recreation, hobbies) that produce
    > ecologies of knowledge that become useful when political
    > conditions become too onerous for the majority of people.
    > Formalist practice could be aware that discovering the
    > possibilities and building novel alternatives (especially
    > when done so by communities instead of for them), might be
    > just as effective as directly resisting the distributed,
    > nomadic power of systems of mass subjugation. Also, database
    > formalism allows aesthetic analysis to move toward and
    > explore truly interesting, purely formal issues of database
    > itself as a medium.
    > For example, the relational database model trades maximum
    > processing efficiency for the ability to maintain ad hoc
    > queries, which may be consequential in terms of how the
    > material world is ultimately mediated in particular
    > instances. All three of these conceptual modes of artistic
    > practice with database are important of course, and they
    > certainly overlap in practice. None is mutually exclusive.
    >
    > Interpretively, there is perhaps a fourth mode of practice
    > that it may be argued that I have ignored. The only other
    > mode of database practice that is perhaps not necessarily
    > some derivation founded in database politics, data
    > visualization, or a database formalist practice is seemingly
    > a multimedia practice that assembles and processes a
    > 'database' of multimedia materials, mixing or remixing them
    > into some other media forms such as web video, animation,
    > real time video processing, music, etc. The multimedia
    > assumption insists that the core of digital media art
    > practice is manifest as pixels on a screen, or some other
    > output such as speakers, or as interaction at an interface
    > that produces some kind of visceral or otherwise magically
    > mediated experience. The mediation is viewed as ultimately
    > flowing from the identity of "the artist" of course, who is
    > assumed to produce some kind of political awareness or
    > aesthetic/cultural experience in the minds of the audience.
    > Often, this kind of very traditional orientation toward art
    > practice does not consider the elements in the database as
    > data with their own ontology, and suppresses data's identity
    > into being mere media elements or samples to be processed,
    > remixed, and assembled by the artist in an expressive
    > configuration of individual artistic style and message. Media
    > tools such as digital video editing and multimedia authoring
    > platforms are commonly employed, and often these are used
    > pretty much the way that their designers (large corporations)
    > intended them to be used. There is no reason to think that
    > such software applications can not be used in other ways (in
    > fact, there are many delightful examples on runme.org), but
    > in practice such conceptual repurposings are all too rare.
    > When they do happen, they seem to transcend multimedia and
    > map to conceptual art practices (often termed "software
    > art"), and I suspect that my categorical distinctions
    > regarding database practices would support these. But I am
    > veering dangerously toward making an evaluation of multimedia
    > practices here.
    > That is not my goal, so this is a good place to conclude.
    >
    > References
    >
    > 1. Critical Art Ensemble, The Electronic Disturbance,
    > Autonomedia, New York.
    > 2. Jeremijenko, Natalie, Homepage for the bit antiterror
    > line project http://www.bureauit.org/antiterror/, accessed
    > April 25th, 2K4.
    > 3. Jevbratt, Lisa, The Prospect of the Sublime in Data
    > Visualizations, YLEM Journal, Artists using Science and
    > Technology, Volume 24, Number 8, August 2K4.
    > 4. Ludin, Diane, i-BPE project website
    > http://www.thing.net/~diane/i-BPE/index.html, accessed June 6th, 2K4.
    > 5. Ludin, Diane, Deep Harmonization i-BPE, unpublished
    > manuscript, 2K4.
    > 6. Manovich, Lev The Anti-Sublime Ideal in Data Art,
    > (2002) http://www.manovich.net/DOCS/data_art.doc
    > 7. Manovich, Lev, Lev Manovich / Interview at DEAF 2003,
    > quoted from a video
    > 8. interview, selection transcribed by myself. Paul,
    > Christiane, Digital Art, (c) 2003, Thames and Hudson Ltd,
    > London, ISBN 0-500-20376-9
    > 9. Stalbaum, Brett, Aesthetic Conditions in Art on the Network:
    > beyond representation to the relative speeds of hypertextual
    > and conceptual implementations, Switch, the new media journal
    > of the CADRE digital laboratory, 1998,
    > http://switch.sjsu.edu/web/v4n2/brett/
    > 10. Stalbaum, Brett, Database Logic(s) and Landscape Art,
    > Noemalab - t ecnologie & societa, 2003,
    > http://www.noemalab.org/sections/ideas/ideas_articles/stalbaum
    > _landscape_art.html
    > 11. Webster's New World Dictionary and Thesuarus, Accent
    > Software International, Macmillian Publishers, Version 2.0 -
    > 1998, Build #25
    >
    > (Original, 2004), first presented at the College Art
    > Association 94th annual conference, Boston MA, 2006 Panel -
    > From Database and Place to Bio-Tech and Bots: Relationality
    > versus Autonomy in Media Art Thursday, February 23
    > Chair: Marisa S. Olsen, University of California, Berkeley
    >
    > This essay is dedicated to the memory of Eric Gray, who is
    > responsible more than any other for helping me establish my
    > interest in computing as a young person. In 1981, Eric showed
    > me a war dialer he had written in BASIC on a TRS-80 computer,
    > along with custom hardware enabling his tape drive remote
    > control output to perform pulse dialing on the plain old
    > phone network, which he was using (while his parents were away, of
    > course) to war dial for local modem connections to hack into.
    > I was hooked. And the hours of playing "Adventure" did not
    > hurt either. On behalf of your family and friends, we love
    > and miss you Eric.
    >
    > Also, thanks to Warren Sack. I wrote this after presenting
    > and hanging out with him in Karlsrue in January 2004, talking
    > about these kinds of things, and it is really very cool that
    > we both ended up presenting on Marisa's panel together. Tad
    > and Helen too:-)
    >
    > __END__
    >
    > --
    > Brett Stalbaum, Lecturer, PSOE
    > Coordinator, Interdisciplinary Computing and the Arts Major
    > (ICAM) UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, SAN DIEGO Department of
    > Visual Arts 9500 GILMAN DR. # 0084 La Jolla CA 92093-0084
    > http://www.c5corp.com http://www.paintersflat.net
    >
    >
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  • Brett Stalbaum | Mon Feb 27th 2006 10:15 p.m.
    Dirk Vekemans wrote:

    > Hi Brett,
    >
    > It needn't concern you, but i have now gone through your essay a first time.
    > I'm very slow at these things but i already concluded it is much more
    > balanced than Manovich's latest work(that i feel has a very wrong basis to
    > it apart from being way to prescriptive in its self-promotion) and anything
    > but the horsething and quite receptible for further scrutiny untsoweiter.
    > It's a worthy effort, congratulations. I do see some serious flaws, however,
    > in your scheme of things.
    >
    > A very basic one, i think, is transcribing the speed of light of
    > transmission of data to the systems triggering the transmissions. That is a
    > very Virilian way (although i readily admit to not reading the guy i can
    > conclude as much from what i gather from second-hand versions- reading
    > Virilio is simply sth that didn't happen in my life yet, not sure if it ever
    > will) of transcoding a metaphorical perception of things to reality. That's
    > just basicly untrue. If things were truly happening at the speed of light, i
    > needn't bother writing anything anymore, because the connection would be
    > instant. ( see also http://nkdee.blogspot.com/2005/12/fiction-absence.html)
    > I suspect this is the very switch that allows him to run the cycles of his
    > discours, and although i see some nice things coming out of it by way of a
    > positive critique of overcoming what he deems to be a catastrophic state of
    > affairs ( to that i would not agree either, -it's bad but only as bad as it
    > gets, any talk of catastrophy is easily undone by walking out the door
    > and/or having a chat with your neighbour or by pointing at the very real
    > catastrophies that crack through our imagined control over things), these
    > cycles also seem to be headed to an ideological, normative view on art, like
    > what is so obvious from the quote Eric sent in.

    I actually disagree with Virilio's thesis that speed necessarily leads
    to catastrophe... a bigger more dangerous crash... because speed also
    allows solutions. I am speculating here that speed leads to more
    frequent catastrophe but also more frequent optimization/control and
    indeed some crash avoidance. I'm glad for example that we can track bird
    flu, and maybe this system of surveillance and control will be
    appreciated if the virus does cross species or something catastrophic
    like that. But if it does so, and it transmits between people as readily
    as it does birds, it will be simply because that is what viruses do -
    and not due to the speed of information technology. Yet if information
    tech does actually prevent the catastrophe through surveillance and
    control - that would be an example of IT mediating something very real
    (lives) and I would call that a material difference. Information
    technology is in the material loop - and of course IT itself (machinery
    of simulation) is very real. (I note, bird flu is not now a catastrophe
    for anyone other than people who are having their flocks culled and a
    few unfortunate individuals who have contracted it...)

    So I don't think that I made the mistake - because I only use Virilio to
    track the trajectory of speed through different faster technologies in a
    teleological sense, in order to show that speed is the difference, which
    helps me to point out that disembodiment is not. That is all I am doing
    with Virilio... who I do very much enjoy reading. I should have been
    more careful - some of his argument that I don't agree with rode into
    mine as a parasite. Even though I did not talk about catastrophe.

    Now if you want to talk about politics and my country in particular - we
    can talk about catastrophe! But it comes from hubris not database.

    >
    > Now i have been postponing a serious investigation of the line of thinking
    > Manovich is prescribing for lack of time to do it thoroughly, and here i
    > find you adding a more subtle variety to the strain, a higher quality
    > product, surely, allowing more openness and avoiding the normative. As much
    > as i welcome the soberness and quality of thought in it, it puts me back
    > another step in my Laurence Sterne look alike attempt to explain what the
    > hell it is i'm talking about. Your essay points to a confusion of terms, i
    > see something similar in the confusion of ontology with epistemology,

    yes!

    > and in
    > the obiquitous use of the 'virtual' to avoid the ditches one might fall into
    > while taking the step. As much as i agree with discerning a flow from the
    > virtual towards the material, so rather an embodiment instead of an
    > disembodiment, i cannot agree with what it is in fact that is getting
    > 'magically' materialised and certainly not with the catastrophic speed you
    > seem to ascribe to the process, leaving the artist with a very meagre
    > possibility as a fourth wheel on the database wagon.

    See above re my view on catastrophe, I don't adhere to that... but also,
    as a materialist let me point out that I am very anti-magic. All kinds
    of magic - including the notion that an artwork and by proxy the artist
    is a strong social mediator between "an audience" and their beliefs,
    attitudes, experience and political opinions. Especially when we are
    thinking about the act of art making as exclusively representational,
    presentation layer, image, output, interaction, interface, etc, which I
    relate non-judgmentally to superficiality as in the surface
    representations produced by computational machinery. (The presentation
    layer is ontologically superficial, not epistemologically superficial.)
    I am interested in a holistic analysis - the cycle between
    database->data access->application logic->network->presentation
    layer->user->world->sensor network/surveillance systems->back to
    database, as a cycle. In other words, how computation, social and
    material worlds now constantly mediate each other with information
    technology in a loop. It is possible that artists are in a very meager
    situation relative to what I have just said, but I don't (more honestly,
    probably can't) believe it. (I think we share this.) I think if we focus
    our investigations on reconfiguring the above cycles to make them do
    things that they were never intended to do, that the role of the artist
    is very secure. If we use them to make pictures and think that showing
    those to someone else will have any kind of deep impact just because we
    are artists and artists should be taken seriously due to our special
    social status... I worry about that!

    > Relational databases
    > are very important in our business, but they needn't be the all explaining
    > base to how we deal with data. They are mere grids, results from (already)
    > an algorhytmic categorisation belonging to the upper end of episteme. Taking
    > them for the essence of things is an ontological move into the fictional,
    > spatialised representation of events, an arresting of energies that is, in
    > my book, ethically illegal. Basicly it's wishfull thinking, the same
    > wishfull thinking that inspires Wolfram to a similar ontological move, doing
    > away with time because he doesn't need it, using science as a
    > business-driven super scriptograph enscribing his fiction into reality.

    That is a valid critique - I am with you. I am also opposed to
    Baudrillard in that I don't believe the sign surpasses or replaces the
    signified - I agree that taking them for the essence of things is a
    mistake. I am also anti-Platonist, as in, I believe that there there are
    no essences. Delanda replaces essences with Deleuzian abstract
    machines... putting us right back at exploring the relationships between
    the virtual and the actual and their cooperative generation in a
    material sense. So I guess I am saying that we take database very
    seriously as a mediator of the real, because the virtual is closer to
    the real than fiction - in fact, the virtual and the real are
    co-adaptive in C5's thinking. I don't care about fiction actually, it is
    more interesting for me to take on the virtual/real axis as something to
    contest (database politics) or something to work with and explore
    (database formalism).

    >
    > In that way, Virilio, or any other theory of catastrophy, is right in
    > assigning urgency to the matter at hand, because we are dealing with an
    > ontological disfiguration on a global scale. Time remains, however, there's
    > always time, because things only get as bad as they get.
    >
    > Again, there's nothing thorough here,only some hints at what i think could
    > be substantial objections. I'm hoping i 'll get there some other time
    > around.
    >
    > Respectfully,
    >
    > dv
    >
    >
    >
    > Dirk Vekemans, poet - freelance webprogrammer,
    > Central Authoring Process of the
    > Neue Kathedrale des erotischen Elends
    > http://www.vilt.net/nkdee
    >
    >
    > dv@vilt.net
    >
    > http://www.vilt.net
    > http://www.viltdigitalvision.com
    >
    >
    >

    --
    Brett Stalbaum, Lecturer, PSOE
    Coordinator, Interdisciplinary Computing and the Arts Major (ICAM)
    UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, SAN DIEGO
    Department of Visual Arts
    9500 GILMAN DR. # 0084
    La Jolla CA 92093-0084
    http://www.c5corp.com
    http://www.paintersflat.net

    Info for students, winter quarter 2K6:
    -ICAM and Media (computing emphasis) faculty advising:
    Tuesday 1-2PM, VAF 206, Contact via email stalbaum@ucsd.edu
    -Vis 40/ICAM 40 (Introduction/Computing in Arts) office hour:
    Tuesday 2-3PM, VAF 206, Contact via WebCT
    -Vis 141A (Computer Programming/Arts I) office hour:
    Tuesday 3-4PM, VAF 206, Contact: via WebCT
    - Notes:
    Week 7 (Feb 21st) No office hours today
    Finals Week (March 21st) Yes.
  • curt cloninger | Tue Feb 28th 2006 3:34 a.m.
    Brett Stalbaum wrote:

    > the virtual is closer to
    > the real than fiction - in fact, the virtual and the real are
    > co-adaptive in C5's thinking. I don't care about fiction actually, it
    > is
    > more interesting for me to take on the virtual/real axis as something
    > to
    > contest (database politics) or something to work with and explore
    > (database formalism).

    Hi Brett,

    This is where your position asserts a neutrality it doesn't seem to actually occupy. Neither activism nor "database formalism" sidestep fiction. Tactical media is a performative form of fiction, and "database formalism" seems a philosophical form of fiction (more like an essay -- albeit with a kind of performative object lesson as its footnote). Even "real science" is fiction, as David Wilson celebrates.

    The only thing not fictional is the ontological one to one relationship that exists betwen the world and its hypothetical lifesize map. But as soon as Borges observes and describes that abstract relationship, his observational "research" becomes narrative (and a resonant narrative, since Borges is a crafty writer). As soon as you write an artist statement or a paper explaining the "meaning" of your GPS experiments, your experiments become their own genre of fiction (particularly when your para-art texts are written prior to the enacted experiments). The virtual may in some sense be closer to the real than fiction (unless crafty fiction is a lie that tells the truth), but your research itself is not the "actual" virtual. It can't escape being a kind of obtuse fiction about the virtual.

    best,
    curt
  • Brett Stalbaum | Tue Feb 28th 2006 1:47 p.m.
    One more quick thing that I thought of when I was driving around doing
    some errands... re the issue that Curt has identified. Jeremy Hight has
    a text that I think is somehow related. Certainly, it is related to the
    issue of space and narrative. A good read in any case.

    Narrative Archaeology, Xcp: Streetnotes: Summer 2003
    http://www.xcp.bfn.org/hight.html

    Brett Stalbaum wrote:

    >
    >
    > curt cloninger wrote:
    >
    >> Brett Stalbaum wrote:
    >>
    >>
    >>> the virtual is closer to
    >>> the real than fiction - in fact, the virtual and the real are
    >>> co-adaptive in C5's thinking. I don't care about fiction actually, it
    >>> is
    >>> more interesting for me to take on the virtual/real axis as something
    >>> to
    >>> contest (database politics) or something to work with and explore
    >>> (database formalism).
    >>
    >>
    >>
    >>
    >> Hi Brett,
    >>
    >> This is where your position asserts a neutrality it doesn't seem to
    >> actually occupy.
    >
    >
    > Neutrality? I hope the work is not neutral... at least in terms of the
    > kinds of emerging spaces we are seeking to explore or what the
    > implications are.
    >
    >> Neither activism nor "database formalism" sidestep fiction. Tactical
    >> media is a
    >
    > > performative form of fiction, and "database formalism" seems a
    > philosophical form
    >
    >> of fiction (more like an essay -- albeit with a kind of performative
    >> object lesson as its footnote). Even "real science" is fiction, as
    >> David Wilson celebrates.
    >
    >
    > I don't know Wilson's work... but my best guess in terms of an issue
    > that might be used to peel back the layers of this problem is
    > autopoiesis... ie, real science reveals data and information about the
    > real, a real which exists externally and removed from our (second and
    > third order) autopoiesis (biological processes through which humans and
    > societies produce and maintain our experience... which are more or less
    > congruent with the outside, but not a representation, nor a fiction.)
    >
    > But I don't know if we are on the same track here. Your thought about (I
    > will substitute) database as a "performative form of fiction" is
    > interesting (indeed, it is at least operational if not performative),
    > but I think that (I may be wrong - don't want to put meanings in your
    > text that are not there), substituting "fiction" for "simulation"
    > ignores the generative (in a material sense) relationship that computer
    > simulation can achieve (allowing predictive power through action on the
    > possibilities revealed). Fiction seems something else to me... a very
    > different way of producing possibilities, (no value judgment here...)
    > perhaps because it is not bound to actual in the same way. Fiction and
    > science are both rigorous in their application toward the real, but
    > seemingly with very different methods. Do you disagree? The relation
    > between them is certainly due more consideration... maybe you can
    > speculate about how David Wilson might respond.
    >
    >> The only thing not fictional is the ontological one to one
    >> relationship that exists betwen the world and its hypothetical
    >> lifesize map. But as soon as Borges observes and describes that
    >> abstract relationship, his observational "research" becomes narrative
    >> (and a resonant narrative, since Borges is a crafty writer). As soon
    >> as you write an artist statement or a paper explaining the "meaning"
    >> of your GPS experiments, your experiments become their own genre of
    >> fiction (particularly when your para-art texts are written prior to
    >> the enacted experiments). The virtual may in some sense be closer to
    >> the real than fiction (unless crafty fiction is a lie that tells the
    >> truth), but your research itself is not the "actual" virtual. It
    >> can't escape being a kind of obtuse fiction about the virtual.
    >
    >
    > You are correct that there is the virtual in a Deleuzian sense of
    > abstract machines and that there is computational simulation of it.
    > Simulation allows a new kind of interaction with those (a predictive
    > one) that has revolutionized science (or maybe more accurately, speed it
    > up... caused a phase shift.) We are interested in the spaces where these
    > computational virtual realities come back to and impinge upon the real
    > as a way of returning to the real, because simulation has such
    > interesting material effects that are not new, but the scale they have
    > achieved (participating in rearranging the surface of the Earth), is
    > something considerable. I hold to that and suggest that there is a role
    > for artists to play in exploring these spaces - which can unite
    > data/information with communications, social processing, performance,
    > the body, location, and ultimately re-representation. (I think I have
    > just described my colleague Jack Toolin's project - which he led - "The
    > Perfect View" - http://www.c5corp.com/projects/perfectview/index.shtml)
    >
    > If you want to equate fiction with simulation (or in our case simulation
    > as "para-art text") and assume these have the same kinds of material
    > effects, then I don't think anyone can argue with your position. But I
    > don't believe that they can be easily equated. Curt you *almost* have me
    > wanting to do some research in this area! (I'm so easy to bait;-) But,
    > I'll freely admit that I don't care about parsing the issues relative to
    > fiction quite as much as many other artists might... but I would
    > certainly love to read the work.
    >
    > best,
    > Brett
    >
    >>
    >> best,
    >> curt
    >> +
    >> -> post: list@rhizome.org
    >> -> questions: info@rhizome.org
    >> -> subscribe/unsubscribe: http://rhizome.org/preferences/subscribe.rhiz
    >> -> give: http://rhizome.org/support
    >> +
    >> Subscribers to Rhizome are subject to the terms set out in the
    >> Membership Agreement available online at http://rhizome.org/info/29.php
    >>
    >

    --
    Brett Stalbaum, Lecturer, PSOE
    Coordinator, Interdisciplinary Computing and the Arts Major (ICAM)
    UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, SAN DIEGO
    Department of Visual Arts
    9500 GILMAN DR. # 0084
    La Jolla CA 92093-0084
    http://www.c5corp.com
    http://www.paintersflat.net

    Info for students, winter quarter 2K6:
    -ICAM and Media (computing emphasis) faculty advising:
    Tuesday 1-2PM, VAF 206, Contact via email stalbaum@ucsd.edu
    -Vis 40/ICAM 40 (Introduction/Computing in Arts) office hour:
    Tuesday 2-3PM, VAF 206, Contact via WebCT
    -Vis 141A (Computer Programming/Arts I) office hour:
    Tuesday 3-4PM, VAF 206, Contact: via WebCT
    - Notes:
    Week 7 (Feb 21st) No office hours today
    Finals Week (March 21st) Yes.
  • Dirk Vekemans | Tue Feb 28th 2006 4:20 p.m.
    There seems to have occured a slice in the fold of discussion here, which is
    a bit of a pity because you two are circling some subjects that are very
    important to me. I can't be sure if i'm not missing parts here, so i can
    only guess and add somewhat generalising and sketchy as usual:

    - that Curt is stressing the importance of fiction correctly from my point
    of view along with the bio-evolutionary link to autopoeisis that can't be
    thought away from any concept of virtuality, not in the Deleuzian sense
    anyway, because the Deleuzian virtual was carefully constructed along the
    lines of his 'Bergsonism' in a quite succesful attempt to break free of the
    Weismann germ-plasm reductionism (and subsequent reification of the DNA)
    before it sort of entered its expansion, explosion into meaning in A
    Thousand Plateaus ( i haven't gotten there yet in my Sternean quest, just a
    few forward flashes into that book throwing me further backwards)

    - that however there's more to the fictional than narration (thanks though,
    Brett for the link to Jeremy's work, i wasn't aware of it and it looks very
    promising at first glimpse) fiction is both a strategy of codification and
    one of liberation of the real, localising time in language (or cinema, for
    that matter, soft or hard:-) ,linearising events in recompilable code,
    enabling it to create interiors, become autonomous and hence, paradoxically
    enabling it to become a force of deterritorialisation. In that way i suspect
    fiction surpasses any Peircian model of communication by interiorising the
    virtual, producing time while killing it (cf. Thomas Berger's novel),
    perhaps Jeremy's work is along that lines towards a supreme fiction, a
    perfect Wallace Stevens link to the next point

    - that apart from the fictional one could also posit the poetical (i would
    prefer lyrical to differentiate it strictly from biological autopoeisis, at
    least for the time being) right in the midst here, where there is no attempt
    present to localise time, but instead a more immediate link with the real is
    mediated through algorhytmically working with resonances and the platina
    inherent in the word itself. Here too any reference to language may be
    substituted with equal intensities in the visual, although from a cognitive
    point of view we're talking about a totally different process, great
    painters can write and great poets can paint but not at the same time unless
    perhaps they have acquired a Zen control of sorts and calligraphy kinda
    entails that possibility. Here the affect would be to spatialise time as
    opposed to localising it, but i won't go deeper here into my private
    theories of recursive embodiment and energizing garbaging, i suppose it
    sounds sufficiently convoluted as it is.

    - that i do notice, (this, Brett, in spite of some inspirations we obviously
    share) that in dealing with databases people attempting to theoretically
    incorporate the tremendous importance they have in a broader perspective
    almost automatically transcode C5 habits to approaches of the ontological,
    establishing levels of meaning, equating similar constructions denoted with
    different terms, reducing the process of reality to managable objects. I see
    you avoiding this and trying to escape it, succeeding mostly, but not
    entirely getting rid of it. Well, i think its rather funny anyway because it
    was Manovich himself who brought attention to that process of transcoding in
    the Language of New Media, and that now he seems to be missing the point
    that it takes time to query a database and that therefore he needs to get
    real mighty quick to avoid simulating the simulated. Still i admire him
    much.

    For what it's worth, i'd like to thank you both for your insights that are
    very helpfull to me because they testify to a clarity of thinking that i do
    not possess, with a quote from D.H. Lawrence's 'Poetry of the Present',
    written in 1920, a tribute to life itself, and poetry of course:

    "The poetry of the beginning and the poetry of the end must have that
    exquisite finality, perfection which belongs to all that is far off. It is
    in the realm of all that is perfect. It is of the nature of all that is
    complete and consummate. This completenes, this consummateness, the finality
    and the perfection are conveyed in exquisite form: the perfect symmetry, the
    rhythm which returns upon itself like a dance where the hands link and
    loosen and link for the supreme moment of the end. Perfected bygone moments,
    perfected moments in the glimmering futurity, these are the treasured
    gem-like lyrics of Shelley and Keats.

    But there is another kind of poetry: the poetry of that which is at hand:
    the immediate present. In the immediate present there is no perfection, no
    consummation, nothing finished. The strands are all flying, quivering,
    intermingling into the web, the waters are shaking the moon. There is no
    round, consummate moon on the face of running water, nor on the face of the
    unfinished tide. There are no gems of the living plasm. The living plasm
    vibrates unspeakably, it inhales the future, it exhales the past, it is the
    quick of both, and yet it is neither. There is no plasmic finality, nothing
    crystal, permanent. If we try to fix the living tissue, as the biologists
    fix it with formalin, we have only a hardened bit of the past, the bygone
    life under observation. "

    greetings,
    dv

    > -----Oorspronkelijk bericht-----
    > Van: owner-list@rhizome.org [mailto:owner-list@rhizome.org]
    > Namens Brett Stalbaum
    > Verzonden: dinsdag 28 februari 2006 21:47
    > Aan: list@rhizome.org
    > CC: jeremy hight
    > Onderwerp: Re: RHIZOME_RAW: Re: Re: An Interpretive Framework
    > for Contemporary Database Practice in the Arts
    >
    > One more quick thing that I thought of when I was driving
    > around doing some errands... re the issue that Curt has
    > identified. Jeremy Hight has a text that I think is somehow
    > related. Certainly, it is related to the issue of space and
    > narrative. A good read in any case.
    >
    > Narrative Archaeology, Xcp: Streetnotes: Summer 2003
    > http://www.xcp.bfn.org/hight.html
    >
    > Brett Stalbaum wrote:
    >
    > >
    > >
    > > curt cloninger wrote:
    > >
    > >> Brett Stalbaum wrote:
    > >>
    > >>
    > >>> the virtual is closer to
    > >>> the real than fiction - in fact, the virtual and the real are
    > >>> co-adaptive in C5's thinking. I don't care about fiction
    > actually,
    > >>> it is more interesting for me to take on the virtual/real axis as
    > >>> something to contest (database politics) or something to
    > work with
    > >>> and explore (database formalism).
    > >>
    > >>
    > >>
    > >>
    > >> Hi Brett,
    > >>
    > >> This is where your position asserts a neutrality it
    > doesn't seem to
    > >> actually occupy.
    > >
    > >
    > > Neutrality? I hope the work is not neutral... at least in
    > terms of the
    > > kinds of emerging spaces we are seeking to explore or what the
    > > implications are.
    > >
    > >> Neither activism nor "database formalism" sidestep
    > fiction. Tactical
    > >> media is a
    > >
    > > > performative form of fiction, and "database formalism" seems a
    > > philosophical form
    > >
    > >> of fiction (more like an essay -- albeit with a kind of
    > performative
    > >> object lesson as its footnote). Even "real science" is
    > fiction, as
    > >> David Wilson celebrates.
    > >
    > >
    > > I don't know Wilson's work... but my best guess in terms of
    > an issue
    > > that might be used to peel back the layers of this problem is
    > > autopoiesis... ie, real science reveals data and
    > information about the
    > > real, a real which exists externally and removed from our
    > (second and
    > > third order) autopoiesis (biological processes through which humans
    > > and societies produce and maintain our experience... which
    > are more or
    > > less congruent with the outside, but not a representation, nor a
    > > fiction.)
    > >
    > > But I don't know if we are on the same track here. Your
    > thought about
    > > (I will substitute) database as a "performative form of fiction" is
    > > interesting (indeed, it is at least operational if not
    > performative),
    > > but I think that (I may be wrong - don't want to put
    > meanings in your
    > > text that are not there), substituting "fiction" for "simulation"
    > > ignores the generative (in a material sense) relationship that
    > > computer simulation can achieve (allowing predictive power through
    > > action on the possibilities revealed). Fiction seems
    > something else to
    > > me... a very different way of producing possibilities, (no value
    > > judgment here...) perhaps because it is not bound to actual in the
    > > same way. Fiction and science are both rigorous in their
    > application
    > > toward the real, but seemingly with very different methods. Do you
    > > disagree? The relation between them is certainly due more
    > > consideration... maybe you can speculate about how David
    > Wilson might respond.
    > >
    > >> The only thing not fictional is the ontological one to one
    > >> relationship that exists betwen the world and its hypothetical
    > >> lifesize map. But as soon as Borges observes and describes that
    > >> abstract relationship, his observational "research"
    > becomes narrative
    > >> (and a resonant narrative, since Borges is a crafty
    > writer). As soon
    > >> as you write an artist statement or a paper explaining the
    > "meaning"
    > >> of your GPS experiments, your experiments become their own
    > genre of
    > >> fiction (particularly when your para-art texts are written
    > prior to
    > >> the enacted experiments). The virtual may in some sense
    > be closer to
    > >> the real than fiction (unless crafty fiction is a lie that
    > tells the
    > >> truth), but your research itself is not the "actual" virtual. It
    > >> can't escape being a kind of obtuse fiction about the virtual.
    > >
    > >
    > > You are correct that there is the virtual in a Deleuzian sense of
    > > abstract machines and that there is computational simulation of it.
    > > Simulation allows a new kind of interaction with those (a predictive
    > > one) that has revolutionized science (or maybe more
    > accurately, speed
    > > it up... caused a phase shift.) We are interested in the
    > spaces where
    > > these computational virtual realities come back to and impinge upon
    > > the real as a way of returning to the real, because simulation has
    > > such interesting material effects that are not new, but the
    > scale they
    > > have achieved (participating in rearranging the surface of
    > the Earth),
    > > is something considerable. I hold to that and suggest that
    > there is a
    > > role for artists to play in exploring these spaces - which
    > can unite
    > > data/information with communications, social processing,
    > performance,
    > > the body, location, and ultimately re-representation. (I
    > think I have
    > > just described my colleague Jack Toolin's project - which he led -
    > > "The Perfect View" -
    > > http://www.c5corp.com/projects/perfectview/index.shtml)
    > >
    > > If you want to equate fiction with simulation (or in our case
    > > simulation as "para-art text") and assume these have the
    > same kinds of
    > > material effects, then I don't think anyone can argue with your
    > > position. But I don't believe that they can be easily equated. Curt
    > > you *almost* have me wanting to do some research in this
    > area! (I'm so
    > > easy to bait;-) But, I'll freely admit that I don't care
    > about parsing
    > > the issues relative to fiction quite as much as many other artists
    > > might... but I would certainly love to read the work.
    > >
    > > best,
    > > Brett
    > >
    > >>
    > >> best,
    > >> curt
    > >> +
    > >> -> post: list@rhizome.org
    > >> -> questions: info@rhizome.org
    > >> -> subscribe/unsubscribe:
    > >> -> http://rhizome.org/preferences/subscribe.rhiz
    > >> -> give: http://rhizome.org/support
    > >> +
    > >> Subscribers to Rhizome are subject to the terms set out in the
    > >> Membership Agreement available online at
    > >> http://rhizome.org/info/29.php
    > >>
    > >
    >
    > --
    > Brett Stalbaum, Lecturer, PSOE
    > Coordinator, Interdisciplinary Computing and the Arts Major
    > (ICAM) UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, SAN DIEGO Department of
    > Visual Arts 9500 GILMAN DR. # 0084 La Jolla CA 92093-0084
    > http://www.c5corp.com http://www.paintersflat.net
    >
    > Info for students, winter quarter 2K6:
    > -ICAM and Media (computing emphasis) faculty advising:
    > Tuesday 1-2PM, VAF 206, Contact via email stalbaum@ucsd.edu
    > -Vis 40/ICAM 40 (Introduction/Computing in Arts) office hour:
    > Tuesday 2-3PM, VAF 206, Contact via WebCT -Vis 141A (Computer
    > Programming/Arts I) office hour:
    > Tuesday 3-4PM, VAF 206, Contact: via WebCT
    > - Notes:
    > Week 7 (Feb 21st) No office hours today
    > Finals Week (March 21st) Yes.
    > +
    > -> post: list@rhizome.org
    > -> questions: info@rhizome.org
    > -> subscribe/unsubscribe:
    > http://rhizome.org/preferences/subscribe.rhiz
    > -> give: http://rhizome.org/support
    > +
    > Subscribers to Rhizome are subject to the terms set out in
    > the Membership Agreement available online at
    > http://rhizome.org/info/29.php
    >
  • curt cloninger | Tue Feb 28th 2006 6:58 p.m.
    Hi Brett,

    [I already sent this to you offlist, but now I guess we're back
    onlist, so here it is again to the list.]

    >Neutrality? I hope the work is not neutral... at least in terms of
    >the kinds of emerging spaces we are seeking to explore or what the
    >implications are.

    I'm not saying the work itself is neutral (let's say "the work" here
    is your Great Wall of California). It's too quirky to be neutral
    (that's a compliment). You get brurises on your knees and you get
    fatigued and possibly lost and disoriented. It's not like you're
    sending bots out to scale the terrain, or projecting a 3D hollogram
    of one terrain onto another (a la Lozanno-Hemmer). The virtual
    re-enters the real in the same ways as a situationist applying a map
    of Chicago to a derive of New York -- it re-enters via subjective
    human experience.

    I'm saying your paper position claims an impossible
    neutrality/objectivity given the nature of your topic (abstracted
    data). More below.

    >I don't know Wilson's work... but my best guess in terms of an issue
    >that might be used to peel back the layers of this problem is
    >autopoiesis... ie, real science reveals data and information about
    >the real, a real which exists externally and removed from our
    >(second and third order) autopoiesis (biological processes through
    >which humans and societies produce and maintain our experience...
    >which are more or less congruent with the outside, but not a
    >representation, nor a fiction.)

    We're definitely coming from two different cosmological perspectives
    here (an extreme matereialist explanation of phenomena vs. a hybrid
    materilist/spiritual explanation of phenomena), but I don't think my
    perspective is as easily dismissed as you would like, because it is
    germane to the assertions you want to make. Science "works" (atom
    bombs blow stuff up), but your GPS experiments don't "work" in the
    same way. You're not tweaking abstracted physics equations about
    matter and sending them back to have some direct physical result on
    matter. You are tweaking one of any number of devised, esoteric,
    man-constructed relationships (in this instance, the relationship
    between land and abstracted/virtual data). I hope you'll allow this
    necessarily metaphysical assertion -- without humans to cognitively
    translate between the real and the virtual, there is no virtual. The
    real tree never falls in the virtual forest, so to speak.

    So a dispassionate, quasi-scientific exploration of the relationship
    between the real and the virtual from a purely materialist
    perspective -- dismissing Plato as irrelevant to your inquiry,
    senamtically dismissing cognitive forms of human subjective knowing
    as second and third order autopoesis -- seems slippery, or at least
    fraught with contradictions you haven't really addressed. Our
    biological processes are by no means congruent with outside
    phenomena. They vary wildly from subjective individual to subjective
    individual. This subjectivity is not something to quarantine and
    ojbectively neutralized out of art. On the contrary, such
    subjectivity is one of the things that makes art "mean" differently
    than science "means." Your work intrinsically "knows" this, but you
    as its spokesperson wants to play it down. I don't think the Great
    Wall of California piece would have been as successful and
    interesting had you used bots to collect the great wall coordinates
    and bots to "walk" the coordinates out in California. Yet your
    position seems to claim that it would have made little difference.

    >But I don't know if we are on the same track here. Your thought
    >about (I will substitute) database as a "performative form of
    >fiction" is interesting (indeed, it is at least operational if not
    >performative), but I think that (I may be wrong - don't want to put
    >meanings in your text that are not there), substituting "fiction"
    >for "simulation" ignores the generative (in a material sense)
    >relationship that computer simulation can achieve (allowing
    >predictive power through action on the possibilities revealed).
    >Fiction seems something else to me... a very different way of
    >producing possibilities, (no value judgment here...) perhaps because
    >it is not bound to actual in the same way.

    You're missing an important distinction I'm trying to foreground.
    "Database" itself is not a performative form of fiction. Nor is "the
    virtual" a form of fiction in and of itself (although it's getting
    closer). "Tactical media art uses of database" are a performative
    form of fiction. And even your "formalist database art" is a
    performative form of fiction. You seem to want "simulation" to mean
    "the abstracted virtual." But "simulation" (verb) is not
    "simulacra" (noun). Simulation is a performative action. And, as
    database interface art foregrounds, this performative act of
    abstraction can be mapped into the virtual by any number of
    subjective means. As tactical/political database art foregrounds,
    the virtual can then be recontextualized and mappend back into the
    real by any number of subjective means.

    But to claim that "database formalism" is exploring a pure, material,
    ontological relationship between the real/virtual is a dicey claim.
    Your inquiry into simuation requires you to practice simulation,
    making subjective choices that are by definition performative (and
    thus fictive) choices. Call it a Heisenberg principle of
    abstraction. To recognize and foreground an abstract relationship is
    to subjectivise it. There are an infinite number of potential
    relationships "pre-existing" in the cosmos between things and their
    potential abstractions, but once you recognize one of those
    relationships (land vis map, for example), and you begin exploring
    the back and forth of it, you simulate/enact/make real that
    relationship, necessarily bringing yourself into the equation and
    altering the "purity" of the (no longer) potential abstraction. It's
    one of those hermeneutical catch 22s of deconstruction.

    >Fiction and science are both rigorous in their application toward
    >the real, but seemingly with very different methods. Do you
    >disagree? The relation between them is certainly due more
    >consideration... maybe you can speculate about how David Wilson
    >might respond.

    I agree. And I'm saying the Great Wall of California is more fiction
    than science. And I'm saying science is a kind of fiction (much
    moreso than fiction is a kind of science). I wouldn't presume to
    fathom the mind of David Wilson ( http://mjt.org ). I just bought
    the t-shirt.

    >We are interested in the spaces where these computational virtual
    >realities come back to and impinge upon the real as a way of
    >returning to the real, because simulation has such interesting
    >material effects that are not new, but the scale they have achieved
    >(participating in rearranging the surface of the Earth), is
    >something considerable. I hold to that and suggest that there is a
    >role for artists to play in exploring these spaces - which can unite
    >data/information with communications, social processing,
    >performance, the body, location, and ultimately re-representation.

    I agree. And I don't see anything inherently materialist about
    database art that disqualifies it from benefiting from the
    contribution of the "aesthetic" artist. In several ways, databases
    seem to invite such a contribution. But that's another topic.

    >If you want to equate fiction with simulation (or in our case
    >simulation as "para-art text") and assume these have the same kinds
    >of material effects, then I don't think anyone can argue with your
    >position. But I don't believe that they can be easily equated.

    Again, I'm asserting that simulation is by its very nature a
    performative act intrinsically dependent on subjective human
    cognition for its encoding and decoding (or abstraction/reification,
    or whatever you want to call it). Thus it is a kind of fiction.

    >Curt you *almost* have me wanting to do some research in this area!
    >(I'm so easy to bait;-) But, I'll freely admit that I don't care
    >about parsing the issues relative to fiction quite as much as many
    >other artists might... but I would certainly love to read the work.

    An (appropriately) idiosyncratic start might be --

    FIction:
    Baudolino. Umberto Eco.
    The Third Policeman. Flann O'Brien.
    Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. Haruki Murakami.
    Faust. Jan Svankmajer.
    "Del Rigor en la Ciencia" (On Exactitude in Science). Jorge LuisBorges.
    Madcap Laughs. Syd Barrett.
    A Child's Garden of Verses. Robert Louis Stevenson. (
    http://www.poetryloverspage.com/poets/stevenson/collections/childs_garden_of_verses.html
    )

    Non-fiction:
    Mysticism. Evelyn Underhill. (
    http://www.ccel.org/u/underhill/mysticism/mysticism1.0.html )
    Orthodoxy. GK Chesterton. (
    http://pagebypagebooks.com/Gilbert_K_Chesterton/Orthodoxy/ ,
    particularly the section entitled "The Ethics of Elfland").
    The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. Oliver Sacks.
    Lipstick Traces on a Cigarette. Greil Marcus.

    peace,
    curt
  • curt cloninger | Tue Feb 28th 2006 8:24 p.m.
    c:
    >You are tweaking one of any number of devised, esoteric,
    >man-constructed relationships (in this instance, the relationship
    >between land and abstracted/virtual data).

    b:
    >Also though, we include the social and individual in that
    >relationship between land and abstracted data... although the
    >individually meaningful resources have hardly been released. My hope
    >is that soon you will be able to go to a website and produce virtual
    >hikes to follow and so forth. Right now, the closest thing is
    >probably any uses to which you might put the 1.0.3 version of the
    >API (which is public, GNU), or anyone can download the tracklogs for
    >the Rush Creek Wilderness Trail and go.

    c:
    This open source aspect of the project (research project as
    art-making meta-tool) at least allows for a subjective element to be
    injected by other artists/users/participants later down the line.
    And perhaps if you had enforced your own more overt subjective
    narrative from the beginning, your bias would have been embedded into
    your tool/approach, and would have limited variable uses later on.
    Yes, that seems a fair point.

    c:
    >I hope you'll allow this necessarily metaphysical assertion --
    >without humans to cognitively translate between the real and the
    >virtual, there is no virtual. The real tree never falls in the
    >virtual forest, so to speak.

    b:
    >Possibly no. Delanda (rereader of Deleuze who makes a good case to
    >recapture Deleuze for the analytic side of the
    >continental/analytical split), makes a case for abstract machines
    >replacing essences. Every system has manifold possibilities (and
    >some impossibilities), but crystallizes or slips into an actual
    >state. The actual state is what we tend to call real, but the other
    >possibilities for any system are a kind of reality too... and for
    >Delanda and Deleuze, these too have qualities and tendencies that
    >are important to note. In fact, contemporary computational
    >techniques allow their simulation and exploration of real spaces
    >that are not yet actual, but which might become. To ref your nuclear
    >example - the US no longer tests actual atom bombs - but does them
    >in simulation. We can know how a new design will function without
    >shaking up the state of Nevada... So I guess our point is that in so
    >many ways these predictive technologies now play a role in producing
    >both the social and the real material world. (Using software to
    >determine if a dam will work there, how fast it will silt up, etc
    >plays a role in the decision making about what actually happens...
    >and the virtual allows the landscape to enter into the social
    >conversation...)

    c:
    You seem to be implying that the connection between simulated nuclear
    tests and the real world is the same (or negligably different) than
    the connection between simuated social art projects and the real
    world. I'm saying there is a great difference. Just as physics
    isn't sociology, simulating the physical world doesn't work the same
    way as simulating the social world (although a materialist might have
    reason to hope, in x number of years, given Moore's law, etc.). Yes,
    you can run predictive virtual analysis on both physics and society;
    but encoding, simulating, analyzing, and reifying the social world is
    a whole lot more subjective and sloppy than encoding, simulating,
    analyzing, and reifying the world of quantum physics. Virtual
    environments have helped physicists make better bombs, but they
    haven't helped us solve our social problems. It's a garbage in /
    garbage out conundrum. How do you quantify, abstract, and binarily
    encode the wonder that is human society? Good luck (especially
    without the input of the subjective/aesthetic artist).

    This quote from Chesterton seems particularly applilcable:

    +++++++++++

    Here is the peculiar perfection of tone and truth in the nursery
    tales. The man of science says, "Cut the stalk, and the apple will
    fall"; but he says it calmly, as if the one idea really led up to the
    other. The witch in the fairy tale says, "Blow the horn, and the
    ogre's castle will fall"; but she does not say it as if it were
    something in which the effect obviously arose out of the cause.
    Doubtless she has given the advice to many champions, and has seen
    many castles fall, but she does not lose either her wonder or her
    reason. She does not muddle her head until it imagines a necessary
    mental connection between a horn and a falling tower. But the
    scientific men do muddle their heads, until they imagine a necessary
    mental connection between an apple leaving the tree and an apple
    reaching the ground. They do really talk as if they had found not
    only a set of marvellous facts, but a truth connecting those facts.
    They do talk as if the connection of two strange things physically
    connected them philosophically. They feel that because one
    incomprehensible thing constantly follows another incomprehensible
    thing the two together somehow make up a comprehensible thing. Two
    black riddles make a white answer.

    +++++++++++

    Simply abstracting some observable physical data from a mystery
    doesn't in and of itself put me any closer to understanding the
    metaphysical nature of the mystery.

    b:
    >For example, what a great time we would have on one of these hikes -
    >as I age I am enjoying increasing levels of pain on the longer
    >hikes;-) Seriously, if you are ever passing through SD...

    c:
    Definitely. Likewise, if you're ever in Asheville, we can hike over
    Black Balsam Knob (
    http://lab404.com/plotfracture/whorl/misc/black_balsam_knob.html ) to
    Shining Rock (the very root of all things shiing). Batteries not
    included.

    b:
    >Btw, we are not making science - we are artists... but the Great
    >Wall of California is Art, not fiction.

    c:
    Ah, but "Lev" himself says that narrative occurs any time something
    changes stasis (like walking in and out of a room). This is
    admittedly too loose a definition of narrative, even for me. I have
    this mental picture of Manovich sitting in the Tate watching the
    Turner-prize-winning The Lights Going on and Off and getting his
    fiction on. I think what y'all have going on is a meta-fiction, a
    fiction-making tool. But it's the nature of open source that allows
    your GPS experiments to (almost) sidestep fiction, not the inherent
    nature of database abstraction.

    b:
    >I have no problem with aesthetic artists - but they are all so much
    >more interesting when they do make that contribution instead of
    >playing with their pixels... I look at data visualization practices
    >as inherently different from multimedia, or visualizing
    >algorithms... data vis penetrates down to the data which is derived
    >from the real. (Regardless of sublime or anti-sublime aesthetic.)

    c:
    Fair enough. Although I'd still assert that the best abstract art
    can be so strong in its pursuit of pure formal aesthetic that it
    actually achieves a kind of involuntary, anti-denotative concept.
    Klee comes to mind.

    Here is a database work I'm doing that refuses to fit neatly into the
    final dismissive section of your paper (about aesthetic-centric
    database art not being in dialogue with the ontological nature of the
    data itself):
    http://computerfinearts.com/collection/cloninger/bubblegum/ornamental/
    [click on a card and then it will autogenerate itself every few
    seconds by pulling semi-randomly from a source database of prepared
    images.]

    The idea is to break down this ornamentation into formal elements,
    and then instruct the software to reconstruct those elements within a
    given set of controlled parameters. In a way, it is trying to make
    visible a kind of quantum field of possible ornamental outcomes. I
    am assuming that there is something inherently "meaningful" about
    abstract ornamentation. Not denotatively meaningful, not binarily
    quantifiable, but still explorable via software. It is a simulated
    exploration of patterned aesthetics. If you simply took a static
    screenshot of a single iteration, you would have something pretty,
    but you would be missing an important aspect of the piece.

    Just because something looks good doesn't mean it's not exploring the
    real/virtual divide in a meaningful way. Pretty moving pixels aren't
    inherently meaningless. "When I am working on a problem, I never
    think about beauaty... but when I have finished, if the solution is
    not beautiful, I know it is wrong." - Bucky Fuller

    Thanks Brett. I have enjoyed our conversation as well.

    best,
    curt
  • Eric Dymond | Sat Mar 4th 2006 10:58 p.m.
    Bret,
    You never responded to my query (accept the pun) re. the rules of normalization and Codd's view of database dyanamics.
    It would seem to me to a very important point.
    Is the query the fiction or the silo that contains the data.
    The database isn't a simple silo of information. It has a langauge of it's own and rules that create releatiunships. These are restrictive rules and impact largely on the fiction that is created.
    If I query the Rhizome database for users who live within 200 miles of Schenecdaty, whose age is the same as Ryans, and whose education includes new media, I have a result set that is bound by the rules of my query, but my query was based upon exisiting SQL rules and standards.
    How do triggers (in Oracle), functions and stored procedures get processed into fiction in the loose view of the database that you describe.
    You make databases sound like simply stored information (repositories of information), but the containers all have explicit rules and are in Oracle and other advanced vendors very specific. Shouldn't that be taken as an overriding rule of engagement?
    How can I ignore the container and deal with the data? It seems pretty slack.
    Eric
  • curt cloninger | Wed Mar 8th 2006 2 p.m.
    I came across this, which seems related to the "ontological" nature of data.

    +++++++++++++++++

    "Let us begin with a show of hands. How many people here play an instrument, including voice? [All hands are raised]. Thanks, now put your hands down. Of those who just raised their hands, how many play notes on your instrument? [Many hands]. Now, please raise your hand if you raised your hand the first time but not the second time. [A few]. Why?

    A: I play music.

    You play music itself, not notes. We have two different things: T-O-N-E and N-O-T-E. A tone is an actual sound, a physical gesture that you make with an instrument or voice, while a note is an abstract, culturally defined notation that may be a representation of a tone and may be the stimulus for playing a tone. But it is impossible to play a note on an instrument. You cannot do it. Korzybski, a philosopher in the early part of the last century, was famous for the important epistemological statement that the map is not the territory. The menu is not the meal. If you were to go downstairs to one of the restaurants that surround Carnegie Hall, and sink your teeth into the menu, you'd be spotted as nuts. So the map is not the territory and the notes are not the music. They have great usefulness, as do all maps, but they are not music."

    - Stephen Nachmanovitch ( from http://www.freeplay.com/Writings/NewYorkImprovLecture022405.htm )

    ++++++++++

    So the particular, idiosyncratic translation from the abstracted data realm into the "real" realm unavoidably colors the abstracted data in a way that can only be described as fundamentally transformative and necessarrily subjective. (It's a good thing.)

    Here it gets epistemological and we're back to the parable of the three (grammatically challenged) umpires:
    1. There's balls and there's strikes, and I calls 'em like they is.
    2. There's balls and there's strikes, and I calls 'em like I sees 'em.
    3. There's balls and there's strikes, but they ain't nothin' till I calls 'em.

    John Coltrane might have said, "There's sharps and there's flats, but they ain't nothin' till I plays 'em." Is reading the transcribed score (abstracted data reified as notes on a grid) of John Coltrane's improvisational schemings the same as listening to him play? If you think so:
    http://lab404.livejournal.com/5420.html

    To put a kind of punk rock fine point on it, "It's the performance, stupid."

    http://lab404.com/ghost/defense.html
    http://rec.horus.at/music/gabriel/Lyrics/so.html#6

    curt
  • Eric Dymond | Wed Mar 8th 2006 8:32 p.m.
    no, its not the performer, its the venue. Punk rockers are always solipsitic.
    But my point wasn't about an abstract interpretation of information storage. It was about the complexity of the system that contains it, which exists through the needs of systems to do better than pack and unpack rows of data. The word "database" exists through the efforts of many. They set about to create a system that stores data based upon rules. We can't suddenly remove it from that environment because it seems poetic to do so.
    Rules that determine how and where data gets stored. Those rules developed over the 80's and 90's (from Cobb to Kolodny) by corporate designers.The thread is very good. But I need more substance.
    Eric
  • curt cloninger | Thu Mar 9th 2006 8:53 a.m.
    Hi Eric,

    My post about improvisation wasn't in response to your post. It just happened to appear in the thread chronologically after your post.

    In response to your post, the standard relational structures of Excel-like databases are indeed powerful; and if one's database art involves such structures, I agree that those rules play an important role in that art. Vannevar Bush's "As We May Think" seems the spiritual godfather of such database structures -- in which case the web is a big database (albeit a loose, wonky, lumpy one).

    It seems Brett has been talking about database in a broader (and arguably more "substantive") sense -- beyond the constrains of standard database relational structures -- because oftentimes in database art, the artist writes her own non-standard relational rules. For example, http://lab404.com/cards/ is database art, but there's no relational database "backend." No storage hierarchies are involved. For each card, there is a simple folder of prepared gif images (a base of data). Observe its flat unsexiness -- http://computerfinearts.com/collection/cloninger/bubblegum/ornamental/graf/1.gif [through 14.gif]. Yes, there are DHTML rules governing the semi-random selection and visual re-composition of this data. But those rules aren't the "venue." They are more like the script of a performed play (or the instructions for a happening). It's the resultant performance (the compositional/symbolic results) that interests me most.

    As an aside, these two exhibits ( http://artport.whitney.org/commissions/codedoc/ and http://artport.whitney.org/commissions/softwarestructures/ ) do foreground the script in relationship to the performance. But the "storage venue" is inapplicable in these instances, since there is no source "data" from which these softwares draw. So they don't technically qualify as database art.

    best,
    curt

    ++++

    Eric Dymond wrote:

    no, its not the performer, its the venue. Punk rockers are always solipsitic.
    But my point wasn't about an abstract interpretation of information storage. It was about the complexity of the system that contains it, which exists through the needs of systems to do better than pack and unpack rows of data. The word "database" exists through the efforts of many. They set about to create a system that stores data based upon rules. We can't suddenly remove it from that environment because it seems poetic to do so.
    Rules that determine how and where data gets stored. Those rules developed over the 80's and 90's (from Cobb to Kolodny) by corporate designers.The thread is very good. But I need more substance.
    Eric
  • Eric Dymond | Thu Mar 9th 2006 10:52 p.m.
    Thanks for the examples Curt, It clears a few things up for me.
    It would be of interest to see a work that plays with the corporate database structures that oracle, DB2 and MSSQL are designed for.
    Etoys on steroids or something of that ilk.
    Eric
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