The Rhizome Digest merged into the Rhizome News in November 2008. These pages serve as an archive for 6-years worth of discussions and happenings from when the Digest was simply a plain-text, weekly email.

Subject: RHIZOME DIGEST: 03.03.06
Date: Fri, 3 Mar 2006 13:59:47 -0800

RHIZOME DIGEST: March 03, 2006

++ Always online at ++


1. Francis Hwang: Signing off

2. kristina maskarin: International competition for Cyber Arts 2006
3. Marisa Olson: opp: NY solo show (& Visa) for non-US artist
4. Don Sinclair: New Media and Performance Studies positions
5. Julian Bleecker: ACC Postdocs and Visiting Researcher Fellowship,
April 30 2006 Deadline

6. Greg Smith: announcing vague terrain 02:digital landscape
7. urbulence Commission: "Peripheral n°2: KEYBOARD" by
Marika Dermineur

+Commissioned by
8. Jonah Brucker-Cohen: Report from ARS AT ARCO

9. Brett Stalbaum, Geert Dekkers, Myron Turner, curt cloninger, Myron
Turner, Rob Myers, Eric Dymond, Dirk Vekemans: An Interpretive Framework
for Contemporary Database Practice in the Arts

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Rhizome is now offering Organizational Subscriptions, group memberships
that can be purchased at the institutional level. These subscriptions
allow participants at institutions to access Rhizome's services without
having to purchase individual memberships. For a discounted rate, students
or faculty at universities or visitors to art centers can have access to
Rhizome?s archives of art and text as well as guides and educational tools
to make navigation of this content easy. Rhizome is also offering
subsidized Organizational Subscriptions to qualifying institutions in poor
or excluded communities. Please visit for
more information or contact Lauren Cornell at LaurenCornell AT

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From: Francis Hwang <francis AT>
Date: Mar 3, 2006
Subject: Signing off

Hi everyone,

Today is officially my last day at Rhizome, so I wanted to send out a
quick note and officially bid farewell. Actually, this isn't so much a
farewell, since I'll still be around, just as another member. The only
difference, really, will be that you will all have to put up with my
miscellaneous ramblings, without the benefit of me actually writing code
for you. ("Oh, great", I can hear some of you thinking.)

Patrick May has been in the office since February, and the transition has
gone better than I could've hoped. He'll be in touch with y'all soon, but
let me just say that he's hit the ground running and already has a batch
of fresh new ideas to improve the user experience at Rhizome.

Patrick, Lauren, and Marisa make a phenomenal team, and it's going to be a
kick to stand back and watch where they take Rhizome in the future. I'm
happy to be moving on, but I have to admit I will miss working with and
for the other folks on staff.

I will also miss working with the Rhizome community, many of whom I've had
the privilege of getting to know well over the last three-and-a-half
years. I've enjoyed having so many people to learn from as the field has
continued to grow. And although some of our discussion about Rhizome
policy has been, mm, how you say, contentious, I always kept in mind that
it is mostly driven by the desire to see Rhizome, and the entire field of
new media arts, succeed. Without its opinionated users, Rhizome wouldn't
be what it is today, so thanks to all of you.

As for my plans in the near future: Still unfixed, and right this minute I
suppose I like it that way. I'm actually going to be vacationing a bit
next month, with old friends to visit in Barcelona, a friend's wedding in
Minneapolis, and then quality time with my family in Washington State.
After that, who's to say? I'll be sure to keep y'all posted, in between
posting here about hallucinogenics and XML and everything in between.

Thanks, everyone. And keep in touch,

Francis Hwang
ex-Director of Technology

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From: kristina maskarin <kristina_tina AT>
Date: Feb 26, 2006
Subject: International competition for Cyber Arts 2006

Prix Ars Electronica - International competition for CyberArts 2006

Submissions deadline March 17, 2006.

- Computeranimation / Visual Effects
- Digital Musics
- Interactive Art
- Net Vision
- Digital Communities
- [the next idea]

Main website for online submitions & furtther details:

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Support Rhizome: buy a hosting plan from BroadSpire

Reliable, robust hosting plans from $65 per year.

Purchasing hosting from BroadSpire contributes directly to Rhizome's
fiscal well-being, so think about about the new Bundle pack, or any other
plan, today!

About BroadSpire

BroadSpire is a mid-size commercial web hosting provider. After conducting
a thorough review of the web hosting industry, we selected BroadSpire as
our partner because they offer the right combination of affordable plans
(prices start at $14.95 per month), dependable customer support, and a
full range of services. We have been working with BroadSpire since June
2002, and have been very impressed with the quality of their service.

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From: Marisa Olson <marisa AT>
Date: Feb 27, 2006
Subject: opp: NY solo show (& Visa) for non-US artist

From: Sixten Kai Nielsen <sixten AT>


Wooloo Productions and White Box present AsylumNYC: an opportunity for
non-US artists to exhibit and live in New York City. AsylumNYC will
provide a talented artist with both a solo show at a recognized New York
institution and the legal aid necessary to obtain an artists visa in the
United States of America.

White Box
525 West 26th Street (between 10th and 11th Avenues)
New York, New York 10001

April 24, 2006, 8PM ? April 29, 2006

All interested artists are encouraged to apply before April 1, 2006 at:

Based on the concept under exploration by Wooloo Productions in, which addresses the difficulties faced by asylum seekers
in Europe, AsylumNYC targets the challenge faced by artists interested in
working in the United States.

After an online application process, White Box?s gallery space will become
a creative asylum where successful applicants will be invited to develop a
work/project from April 24 to April 29, 2006. Projects must actively
challenge a regime(s) of exclusion in New York by including otherwise
excluded individuals from cultural, economic or physical structures in the

Once an artist?s project is selected, AsylumNYC will provide a free lawyer
to try to obtain a O- artist visa. If successful, the artist will be
awarded the opportunity to stay in New York for three years.

February 8, 2006 marks the launch of the where
interested artists may apply until the April 1 deadline. To apply for
asylum, artists must be able to be present at White Box, 525 West 26th
Street (between 10th and 11th Avenues), New York, New York 10001 on April
24th, 2006 at 8 PM and STAY until 6:00pm on April 29th, 2006. While
staying at White Box, the artists will be provided with lodging and food,
but cannot leave the premises for the duration of the week.

Wooloo Productions is a provider of public and experimental spaces. Acting
on the level of facilitation, every Wooloo production aims to encourage
new forms of interaction and agency among members of diverse communities.

AsylumNYC is produced and organized by Wooloo Productions
( in close collaboration with White Box
( and the Franklin Furnace Archive
( in New York.

For more information, please email Martin Rosengaard, Media Manager:
Martin AT or call: +49 (0) 30 6676 3097

Please visit for all project details.

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From: Don Sinclair <dws AT>
Date: Mar 1, 2006
Subject: New Media and Performance Studies positions

Full Time Tenure Stream - Assistant Professor - New Media
Fine Arts Cultural Studies, Faculty of Fine Arts, York University
Toronto, Canada.

Deadline: March 29, 2006
Start Date: July 1, 2006

The Fine Arts Cultural Studies program, Faculty of Fine Arts, York
University invites applications for a tenure-track appointment at the
Assistant Professor level in New Media, to commence July 1, 2006. We seek
applicants who are engaged with new media arts and who are eager to teach
at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

The successful candidate will be a creative producer-researcher in new
media arts with a strong background in new media theory and/or cultural
studies. He/she will have a terminal degree, a PhD and/or an MFA.
Applicants must be suitable for prompt appointment to the graduate
Faculty. Candidates must demonstrate excellence in teaching as well as a
recognized record of accomplishments in their field. The candidate will
contribute to the expansion of the new media stream in the program and be
required to teach new media studio and studies courses.

Full Time Tenure Stream - Assistant Professor - Performance Studies
Fine Arts Cultural Studies, Faculty of Fine Arts, York University
Toronto, Canada.

Deadline: March 29, 2006
Start Date: July 1, 2006

The Fine Arts Cultural Studies program, Faculty of Fine Arts, York
University invites applications for a tenure-track appointment at the
Assistant Professor level in Performance Studies, to commence July 1,
2006. The program seeks applicants who are engaged with performance in the
broadest sense and who are eager to teach at both the undergraduate and
graduate levels.

Applicants will have the ability to contextualize performance as an
activity that transcends disciplines and to consider it in view of the
concerns of cultural studies. In addition, a strong background in the arts
and knowledge of the methodologies of interdisciplinarity are required for
appointment to this program.

Applicants must have a PhD, a recognized record of research in performance
studies, and be able to demonstrate excellence in teaching. Experience
teaching large lecture classes as well as seminar courses will be an
asset. Applicants must be suitable for prompt appointment to the graduate

The Fine Arts Cultural Studies Program (FACS) considers the fine,
performing and new media arts and offers a unique opportunity to explore
them from various interdisciplinary perspectives. Courses consider
relationships between the arts, the artistic forms which may emerge when
boundaries are blurred, and the place of the arts in both local and global
contexts. Within the Faculty of Fine Arts, FACS provides an integrated
approach to the study of the arts in culture through a balanced curriculum
of Western and non-Western content.

York University is an Affirmative Action Employer. The Affirmative Action
Program can be found on York's website at or a copy can be obtained by calling the
affirmative action office at 416-736-5713. All qualified candidates are
encouraged to apply; however, Canadian citizens and Permanent Residents
will be given priority.

The deadline for receipt of application is March 29, 2006. All York
University positions are subject to budgetary approval. Qualified
applicants are invited to submit a letter identifying their research and
teaching interests and indicating how these might be compatible with the
Fine Arts Cultural Studies program, together with a curriculum vitae, a
one-page statement of teaching philosophy, and the names of three
referees, including addresses, phone numbers and email addresses, to:

Fine Arts Cultural Studies, Attention Christine Gooljar, 283 Winters
College, York University, 4700 Keele Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M3J
1P3. E-mail cgooljar AT

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Rhizome ArtBase Exhibitions

Visit "Net Art's Cyborg[feminist]s, Punks, and Manifestos", an exhibition
on the politics of internet appearances, guest-curated by Marina Grzinic
from the Rhizome ArtBase.

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From: Julian Bleecker <julian AT>
Date: Mar 2, 2006
Subject: ACC Postdocs and Visiting Researcher Fellowship, April 30 2006

Please post and distribute:

The Annenberg Center for Communication (ACC) ( at the
University of Southern California invites applications for up to eight
postdoctoral positions and one visiting scholar position. These Visiting
Research fellows will take part in a major multi-disciplinary research
initiative to explore the "The Meaning of the New Networked Age:
Innovation, Content, Society, and Policy." We welcome researchers from
various disciplines including anthropology, architecture, the arts,
business, communications, computer science, design, economics,
engineering, history, international relations, law, library science,
neurosciences, political science, rhetoric, and sociology.

ACC is a research institute devoted to the study of new media from a
multi-disciplinary perspective. We are in a period of fundamental
transformation in the nature of the networks that connect people,
information, objects, and locations. But, what does it mean and what, if
anything, should be done to guide the process? The ACC research program
will explore the drivers of these changes, their meaning, and their
implications for business and government policy.

The 2006-2007 theme investigates the structure and evolution of today's
political, social, cultural, technological, and knowledge networks. Topics
of interest include, but are not limited to:

* How new technology is transforming politics and citizen engagement
* Communication law and policy
* New models of intellectual discourse and citation,
* Peer-to-peer cultural production and distribution,
* The emergence of pervasive mobile and wireless networks.

The ACC intends to convene a multi-disciplinary cohort of scholars to
focus on a topic of pressing concern not well addressed in more
established disciplinary and departmental institutions. The visiting
fellows will work with the ACC's senior fellows and also will be expected
to pursue their research in residence at the Annenberg Center during the
2006-2007 academic year. They will collectively be responsible for
organizing one conference and a monthly speakers series, and to attend two
weekly Fellows' seminars of graduate, postdoctoral, and faculty fellows on
the theme of the meaning of the new networked age. They may not hold any
other appointment during the period of the fellowship.

The postdoctoral fellowship is intended for scholars who have completed
their Ph.D since 2001, but we also will consider researchers with at least
four years of relevant, real- world experience. The ACC fellowship carries
a stipend of $45,000 in addition to a limited amount of funds to support
research and relocation expenses.

The visiting scholar position is intended for a mid-career scholar with a
well -established track record and demonstrated leadership and expertise
related to the theme. The stipend will be commensurate with the scholar's
current position. ACC will also provide a limited amount of funds to
support research and relocation expenses.

Applicants should clearly indicate whether they are applying for a
postdoctoral position or the visiting scholar position. Applications
should include a CV, a cover letter including a personal statement, and a
brief statement of research goals in relation to the theme. Three letters
of recommendation are to be sent directly by the writers (letters may also
be faxed to 213-747-4981). Address all application materials to Elizabeth
Harmon, Annenberg Center for Communication, University of Southern
California, 734 West Adams Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90089-7725. Email
contact: [eharmon at annenberg dot edu].
The deadline for receipt in our office is April 30, 2006.

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + 2005-2006 Net Art Commissions

The Rhizome Commissioning Program makes financial support available to
artists for the creation of innovative new media art work via
panel-awarded commissions.

For the 2005-2006 Rhizome Commissions, eleven artists/groups were selected
to create original works of net art.

The Rhizome Commissions Program is made possible by support from the
Jerome Foundation in celebration of the Jerome Hill Centennial, the
Greenwall Foundation, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and
the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. Additional support has
been provided by members of the Rhizome community.

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From: Greg Smith <smith AT>
Date: Mar 1, 2006
Subject: announcing vague terrain 02:digital landscape

announcing vague terrain 02:digital landscape the Toronto-based digital arts quarterly, has just
released its second issue: vague terrain 02: digital landscape. This
issue is dedicated to and exploration of the landscape as read, written,
and reconfigured by contemporary tools and discourse.

This diverse body of work contains contributions across multiple mediums
by: akumu, andra mccartney, dominique pepin, frank lemire, gavin mcmurray,
greg smith, melanie kramer, michael sargent, nathan mcninch, neil wiernik,
nokami, patricia rodriguez, sans soleil, sarah mooney, tim hecker, and

For more information please visit


greg smith
smith AT

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From: <turbulence AT>
Date: Mar 1, 2006
Subject: Turbulence Commission: "Peripheral n°2: KEYBOARD" by Marika

March 1, 2006
Turbulence Commission: "Peripheral n°2: KEYBOARD" by Marika Dermineur with
Maud Palmaerts
Requires Flash Player 7, Speakers, and Fast Connection. Presented in
English and French

"Peripheral n°2: KEYBOARD" reflects anew on the keyboard, this strange
object which we have beneath our eyes without really seeing it. It
explores writing and language and the articulation of the voice and hands;
and examines their importance for data processing and media classification
(images, texts, sounds). "KEYBOARD" is about automation, keyboards as
primitive interfaces, a tool that makes it possible for us to write,
capture, note, structure, communicate, index, research, etc.; and to
navigate into virtual spaces, in computer games for example, where the
four arrows are used to move and other keys are assigned to specific
actions. It is one of a series of works exploring material devices that
are connected to the computer of the Net-surfer.

"Peripheral n°2: KEYBOARD" is a 2005 commission of New Radio and
Performing Arts, Inc. (aka Ether-Ore) for its Turbulence web site. It was
made possible with funding from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual
"Peripheral n°2: KEYBOARD" was made during a residency at La Chambre
Blanche, Montreal, Canada.


Net artist, Marika Dermineur focuses on questions/issues/subjects related
to the network, the ability (for instance) of a program to produce
languages, images or sounds and to effect us. Graduated from la Sorbonne,
the Arts Décoratifs and the Arts et Métiers (Paris), she is a member of
the experimental web platform; a teacher at the University of
Rennes 2. She has conducted workshops and lectures about newmedia. Her
installations and net art works, such as Keyboard, Googlehouse, The
Inhabitants (Impakt production), There! (V2 residence) have been presented
in numerous exhibitions and festivals: Videoformes 06, "Nuit Blanche" in
Roma and Paris 05, "Translation" (Basekamp Gallery, Philadelphia), File
festival 05 Sao Paulo, "Bis Repetita Placent" (Espace d'art Contemporain,
Ruart), "Download" and "Blackout" (exhibition, Paris); Vancouver's New
Forms Festival 2004, Ars Electronica, Instants Vidéo 04. She won first
prize fo net art in 2003 in Filmwinter (de), and has received funding from
Impakt Online (nl), (us), La Chambre Blanche (ca), and

For more information about Turbulence, please visit

Jo-Anne Green, Co-Director
New Radio and Performing Arts, Inc.:
New York: 917.548.7780 ? Boston: 617.522.3856
New American Radio:
Networked_Performance Blog:
Upgrade! Boston:

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From: Jonah Brucker-Cohen <jonah AT>
Date: Mar 3, 2006
Subject: Report from ARS AT ARCO

+Commissioned by

Report from ARS AT ARCO
Madrid, Spain
Feb 8-9, 2006
by Jonah Brucker-Cohen (

During a temperate February in Madrid, the 25th annual ARCO Art fair
descended on the Spanish Capital with close to 180,000 visitors, including
museum and art centre directors, gallery owners, and representatives of
international institutions. The work of over 2,000 artists was included in
the event. From artwork in booths at the convention center to those
scattered in galleries around the city, as well as many speaking
engagements, the fair was a massive homage to the art industry as both a
global business venture and a cultural phenomenon. This year's
specially-invited country was Austria, which brought along a wide array of
digital art projects curated by the Ars Electronica center in Linz.
Accompanying this exhibition was a symposium on the theme of the "Future
of Media Arts" with artists from Austria and other invited international
visitors, curators, and theorists.

Located north west of downtown Madrid, the Conde Duque complex housed the
"Digital Transit" show featuring interactive projects in an exhibition
curated by the Ars Electronica Center. Included in the show were some
projects from the interactive art canon, such as Camille Utterback's "Text
Rain" and Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau's "Life Species II."
Other projects in the show included John Gerrard's "Watchful Portrait,"
two 3D portraits whose gazes follow the sun or moon through each day and
night, and in the bio-art domain was DNA-Consult's "GFPixel ? Portrait," a
painting of 4000 Petri-dishes filled with genetically transformed bacteria
that produce green light. Also in the show was Christian Moller's
"Cheese," a video installation of six young actresses attempting to hold a
"smile" for over an hour while video tracking measures the "sincerity" of
their smiles. An alarm sounded if their "happiness" fell below a certain
level. Most of the projects in the exhibition had strong visual
components, including Norbert Pfaffenbichler, Michael Aschauer and Lotte
Schreiber's "24!," a spatial audio-visual installation consisting of 24
pedestals in a grid formation with a projection of a black pixel on the
surface of each. The pixel's movement is based on a simple mathematical
structure giving it 24 possible movements to cover all corners of the
square, thus creating a cascade of sounds during these movements.
Examining public data sets was's "Vote Auction," a website
that offered US citizens a chance to sell their presidential vote to
online bidders during the 2000 elections which resulted in several states
issuing temporary restraining orders for "illegal vote trading."

Across the plaza from the Digital Transit show was the "Condition
PostMedia" show curated by Elisabeth Fiedler y Christa Steinle. This
exhibition featured projects attempting to bridge boundaries between
preconceived notions of media art and more traditional art forms. A
highlight of this exhibition was the "Shockbot Corejulio," by Austrian
artists Emanuel Andel and Christian Guetzer, which consisted of a computer
that ran a program instructing it to "shock" itself by lowering a metal
instrument on top of its exposed video card. The result was garbled video
output that attested to the frailties of modern technology and its
obedience to succumb to its own demise. This project also recently won an
award at the Transmediale 2005 festival in Berlin.

North of the city, the Ars AT ARCO symposium got underway at the ARCO fair.
The intent of the panelists was to give their vision of where Media Art
will be in the next five to ten years. Gerfried Stocker, director of Ars
Electronica and organizer of the panels and exhibitions began the day by
stating that the term "media art" is problematic because it harbors too
many definitions such as "cyber art," "digital art," "virtual art,"
"software art," "," or "interactive art." The main focus seemed to
be that digital art had moved away from the gallery as the only way of
seeing the work and was now more integrated in arenas such as the Internet
and other "happenings" in public spaces. Heidi Grundmann opened the panels
with a presentation of her work in "Radio art."

Focusing on media art in an international context, the second panel
featured artists, curators, and facilitators representing work from
Africa, Asia, South America, and India. Jose Carlos Mareitegui, from Peru,
spoke on how technology enables the "de-materialization" of information
that has created a new artistic space for artists who can update their
work on a continuous basis. Geetha Narayanan, director of the Srishti
School for Art and Technology in Bangalore, India spoke about how new
media art from post-materialistic societies will be different than those
from developing countries by shifting from "consumption" to "quality of
life" oriented approaches. Elaine Ng, director of Art Asia Pacific
Magazine, spoke on how Japan is not reflective of the greater art scene in
Asia and how Korea and Taiwan are beginning to follow the technological
lead of Japan. Focusing on the African continent, Marcus Neustatter,
curator and artist in the "Trinity Session" of Johannesburg, South Africa,
spoke about how future media artists are a mixture of everything from
entrepreneurs, to musicians, to filmmakers and how the distinction between
media artists and those trained technically is decreasing.

The third panel featured artists and art historians working in various
media arts fields. I spoke about my work in deconstructing network
relationships and how the future of media arts relates to open systems and
reconfigurable rule-sets that change dynamically based on user
interaction. Beijing-based game artist Feng Meng Bo spoke about his work
in alternative gaming interfaces and his project "Q3," in which he
digitally inserted himself carrying a camcorder into the Quake 3 gaming
environment. Also on the panel was Dr.Katja Kwastek, an assistant
professor of Art History at the University of Munich, who spoke about
media arts from an historical perspective. Derrick De Kerkove, director of
the Marshall McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology, at the University
of Toronto, wrapped up the session saying that "More and more the consumer
has the capacity to modify, shift, and obtain ownership of art," and that
the "Art" is the act of this manipulation itself, where rules are broken
by consumers. In the larger sense, most, if not all, interactive media art
has rules associated with it and the future will see the audience redefine
and break those rules through their interaction. The resulting system will
then be integrated back into the work.

As the ARS AT ARCO event wound down, it was obvious that the future of media
arts remains a difficult subject to clearly articulate. From commercial
and private research centers to art labs releasing projects for the public
domain, to the independent artist working in their studio, the creators of
this type of art propagate from so many different outlets and outlooks.
With trends in the blog-o-sphere pointing at DIY aesthetics and "amateurs"
creating inventive hacks to existing consumer electronics products, the
idea of what "art" consists of, in this field, constantly needs
redefinition. The artists involved in the symposium came to the conclusion
that media art is not only about using a medium to express oneself, it is
also about questioning the very circumstances, time, place, and most
importantly, method and culture in which they are working.

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From: Brett Stalbaum <stalbaum AT>, Geert Dekkers <geert AT>,
Myron Turner <myron_turner AT>, curt cloninger <curt AT>,
Myron Turner <myron_turner AT>, Rob Myers <rob AT>, Eric
Dymond <dymond AT>, Dirk Vekemans <dv AT>
Date: Feb 24 - 28, 2006
Subject: An Interpretive Framework for Contemporary Database Practice in
the Arts

+Brett Stalbaum posted:+

An Interpretive Framework for Contemporary Database Practice in the Arts


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

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

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

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.


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, 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.


1. Critical Art Ensemble, The Electronic Disturbance, Autonomedia, New
2. Jeremijenko, Natalie, Homepage for the bit antiterror line project, 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, 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)
7. Manovich, Lev, Lev Manovich / Interview at DEAF 2003, quoted from a
8. interview, selection transcribed by myself. Paul, Christiane,
Digital Art, (c) 2003, Thames and Hudson Ltd, London, ISBN
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,
10. Stalbaum, Brett, Database Logic(s) and Landscape Art, Noemalab
-tecnologie & societa, 2003,
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. Olson, University of California,

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:-)

+Geert Dekkers replied:+

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., my own work, is evolving into a model of an imaginary exhibition hall, complete with its own "board of directors",
" 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, 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" [ 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
[] (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://] 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.

+Brett Stalbaum replied:+

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)

[....] 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 ? the Situationists
? developed a number of methods for their ?the dérive? (the drift). The
goal of ?the dérive? was a kind of spatial ?ostranenie? (estrangement): to
let the city dweller experience the city in a new way and thus politicize
her or his perception of the habitat. One of these methods was to navigate
through Paris using a Map of London. This is the kind of poetry and
conceptual elegance I find missing from mapping projects in new media art.

appeals to me -- and I agree with Manovich -- this is what I too, find
missing in most data works. The "idea phrase" of the work paraphrased
above is interesting in itself -- humorous, catastrophically dadaistic. A
lot of data work I see is, well, so very seriously concerned with our

I should note that I'm trying to understand Hegel's Philosophy of Spirit
-- through Philip J. Kain's "Hegel and the Other", all this part of a
lifelong reading of Lyotards "Le Differend". I have done some Kant, but
mostly, again, through Lyotard. His rendering of the sublime and the
beautiful has always left me mystifyed. Where I understand "the sublime"
more than I understand "the beautiful".

> I'm perhaps not so much interested in technology as I think you are.

I tried to make that clear, albeit by referencing the work of my colleague
Geri Wittig and her thoughts on coadaptation... see "Landscape data and
complex adaptive system Earth: Holism in complexity and network science"

> You can't get away with saying something like "generates [....]

Another essay, to be published soon, actually covers more on this point...
dealing a lot with ideas from Robert Smithson. I don't know if you will
agree if I get away with it or not after reading it, we will see - (and I
love you either way:-) - but we will have to wait a bit for it to be

But one thing is must disagree with is the "declaration after the fact".
C5 works the other way - we meet in "field mediations" to present papers
to each other, then emerge work which entails us in the experience which
feeds back into new theory and new field mediations. "Database Logic(s)
and Landscape Art", (2002), "Landscape data and complex adaptive system
Earth: Holism in complexity and network science" (Wittig, 2003) and I
would argue "Ontology of Organization as System" (Slayton/Wittig, 1999),
and "Expansive Order Situated and Distributed Knowledge Production in
Network Space" (Wittig, 2000?), all contain key concepts that are part of
the Landscape Initiative projects that predate well predate the

> 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.

I agree - these artists still hold onto the notion of control over the
subject - C5 is giving some (much) of this responsibility over to data in
collaboration. Ultimately, there will be an interface that allows anyone
to produce their own hikes and experiences... and to decide what the
subjectivity of those hikes means to them.

This is, however, a very important difference. This part of current
artistic practice is so open -- of course everyone may decide "what the
subjectivity of the hikes/dances/images/software experiences mean to
them". Art becomes a tool. But a hammer is not a painting.

[....] I have (re)created (well, explored in a tertiary sense) no fuller
world than this very painful one:

+Brett Stalbaum added:+

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."

Geert, which Hegel are your reading?

Geert Dekkers wrote:
> On 25-feb-2006, at 17:52, Brett Stalbaum wrote:
>> Geert Dekkers wrote:

<!-- clip -->

>> I agree - these artists still hold onto the notion of control over
>> the subject - C5 is giving some (much) of this responsibility over to
>> data in collaboration. Ultimately, there will be an interface that
>> allows anyone to produce their own hikes and experiences... and to
>> decide what the subjectivity of those hikes means to them.
> This is, however, a very important difference. This part of current
> artistic practice is so open -- of course everyone may decide "what the
> subjectivity of the hikes/dances/images/software experiences mean to
> them". Art becomes a tool. But a hammer is not a painting.

+Myron Turner replied:+

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

+curt cloninger replied:+

It's funny. I keep a running list of quotations here:

So far Manovich has only made the list once:
[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 ( ). 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 relatio!
n 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

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:

+Myron Turner replied:+

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.

+Rob Myers replied:+

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

[....] 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. :-)

+Brett Stalbaum replied:+

I sent this reply directly to Myron yesterday instead of to the list...
and already have a really thoughtful personal response... and he reminded
me to send it to the list as I had intended... thanks Myron. I also found
some info on Malakoff Diggins.

Hi Myron... I do think I do index linguistic networks that transport data
and information at foot speed... but did not very deeply treat automation
and speed. More below but two things here: I owe it to note debt to Paul
Virilio (good reading - and a better source to address questions than I,
and to point out that much communication now is human to machine or
machine... so neighbors don't always matter in the distribution of
material reality. (I'm not celebrating that... btw. That political issue
is the job of database politics to solve - my paper is a humble attempt at
interpreting a range of artistic practices that include database

> 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.[....]

He might not want to communicate confidential business data to large
number, but if he did, would he do so by going faster to reach those at
greater distances instead of having them come to him? (There is a well
known relationship between distance and speed...)

> 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

So another difference making difference may be that that speed enables
greater ubiquity and more widespread use and thus greater numbers of
users? I'll sign up with you on that of course... But it occurs to me
that, although this is not a topic I treated, that the issue of who gets
to use these technologies during their initial and arguably most
culturally influential phases is at play. Who gets to use speed (or
Myron's quantity) and for what? Note that the CAE quote in the essay
implies something, to which I will add:

One of the first phone lines in California was used to control the release
of water from damns in the Sierra Nevada to control flumes for very
destructive hydro mining practices, literally changing the landscape.
(Check out Malakov(sp?) Diggings State Park in California.) The
introduction of digital database systems begins in the the 1950's (roughly
contemporary with new random-access storage technologies - the earliest
disk drives...), and Lockheed and IBM developed the first large
hierarchical database system to support supply chain management for the
Apollo moon mission, and Oracle Corporation's first client was
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. So even if quantity of users is the real
issue and not speed, (and I think the case that quantity is enabled by
speed is not really that hard to make, the telephone and books eventually
become ubiquitous right?), the impact of these increasingly fast (or
ubiquitous/quantious) technologies through who is in position to first
adopt them is interesting. Who it is that is in a hurry to be the first
users of "the difference" (whether the difference is speed or quantity or
lethality or marketability) that a new technology brings? In the essay I
deal with the *material and distributive* effects/possibilities of speed
and try to situate a broad range of
practice against it. I identify database politics as part of my
interpretive framework but don't do database politics here...

> I really don't have answers as to what distinguishes digital culture
from earlier technogologies.

I do actually address this, although laconically... when I mention Claude
Shannon. He showed that digital information could be measured in terms of
difference - and that you could measure it in automatic ways (semantically
neutral) that allowed data transmission to be better managed in digital
networks, which later allowed a high degree of automation, which in turn
led to greater speed! Interestingly he worked for the phone company; and
it should be no surprise that AT&T was very interested in the digital
transmission of data, and developed UNIX, which is a very early operating
system used in telephone switches. (And today lives on as
Linux/Mac/Solaris/etc...) So in fact, the digital does allow an increase
in speed through more effective control, even if across "the wire" the
electromagnetic carrier wave of older analog phone
systems, and the carrier waves carrying digital data, both travel at the
same speed of light. It is faster to control and manage digital switching
and data compression (because they are discrete) than it is analog data.
This is another reason that speed makes a difference in the digital.

> 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.

I'd put networks right up there with disembodiment in that we have made
way too much of them... they are archaic too! Networks existed on sailing
ships as I pointed out, (including digital-to-analog and analog-to-digital
conversions!), but also in archaic economies long before digital
computation. Some archaic networks can be reconstructed... for example
much is known about prehistoric trade networks in western north America
from studying lithics - obsidian in particular. However, I agree, how a
network is designed is of course a formal influence on how it it used.
TCP/IP vs UDP (and their limits) can be thought of as formal foundations
of the net we know of as "inter", but it is a mistake to look at the
Internet as if if the mother of all networks, or the only network, or that
the net in Internet is the difference making difference. It is just very
fast and digital which in many ways closes distances faster. And the flow
and shape of the material world changes because of it - from where you get
to live to the freshness of your carrot juice. (I hasten to add, we can't
forget energy as the second dimension of matter as Virilio has it... which
interacts with information as the third...) But, there were archaic
networks of Egyptians that carried business records and messages around on
scrolls... it is important to understand the ontology of various networks
- but speed is the difference that makes the Internet...

+Eric Dymond replied:+

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.

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

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...

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

I have nothing against it.

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?

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?

+Brett Stalbaum replied:+

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

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:

+Dirk Vekemans replied:+

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 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
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

+Brett Stalbaum replied:+

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.

> [....] 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
> 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.
> 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,
> 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).

+curt cloninger replied:+

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.

+Brett Stalbaum replied:+

> 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 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.
> [....]
> 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" -
> 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.

+Brett Stalbaum added:+
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

+Dirk Vekemans replied:+

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. "

+Curt Cloninger replied:+

>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... [?.]

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 ( ). 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 --

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. (

Mysticism. Evelyn Underhill. ( )
Orthodoxy. GK Chesterton. ( ,
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.

+curt cloninger added:+

>You are tweaking one of any number of devised, esoteric,
>man-constructed relationships (in this instance, the relationship
>between land and abstracted/virtual data).

>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.

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.

>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.

>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

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.

>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...

Definitely. Likewise, if you're ever in Asheville, we can hike over Black
Balsam Knob ( ) to
Shining Rock (the very root of all things shiing). Batteries not

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

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.

>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.)

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

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):
[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.

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