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Database Aesthetics

Database Aesthetics: Art in the Age of Information Overflow

Volume: 20
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    Database Aesthetics
    Book Description:

    Database Aesthetics examines the database as cultural and aesthetic form, explaining how artists have participated in network culture by creating data art. Contributors: Sharon Daniel, Steve Deitz, Lynn Hershman Leeson, George Legrady, Eduardo Kac, Norman Klein, John Klima, Lev Manovich, Robert F. Nideffer, Nancy Paterson, Christiane Paul, Marko Peljhan, Warren Sack, Bill Seaman, Grahame Weinbren.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-5409-3
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

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  1. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xx)

    In 1999, I compiled a special issue for the journal AI &Societytitled “Database Aesthetics: Issues of Organization and Category in Art.” To work with the authors more efficiently, I replicated the progress of the book on the Web as it was emerging and continually updated the Web site until completed. As with many academic journals, AI &Societywas printed in limited numbers and distributed primarily in the UK. The working site remained online and was soon discovered by a number of people and cited frequently. Even one of the editors of the Electronic Mediations series, Mark Poster,...

  2. Part I. Database Aesthetics

    • 1. Seeing the World in a Grain of Sand: The Database Aesthetics of Everything
      (pp. 3-38)

      Some thirty years ago, as a young artist to be, I was being trained in a most classical way at the Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade. The painting program was designed to follow the European tradition of having anatomy at its core. We spent many hours for over two years drawing every bone, every muscle, of the human body, and stopped just short of dissection. We spent the rest of the time in front of nudes or doing portraiture. Looking back, I realize that this was the beginning of my journey to delve deeper into the human body and...

    • 2. Database as Symbolic Form
      (pp. 39-60)

      After the novel and subsequently, cinema privileged narrative as the key form of cultural expression of the modern age. The computer age introduces its correlate—database. Many new media objects do not tell stories; they don’t have a beginning or end; in fact, they don’t have any development, thematically, formally, or otherwise, that would organize their elements into a sequence. Instead, they are collections of individual items, where every item has the same significance as any other.

      Why does new media favor database form over others? Can we explain its popularity by analyzing the specificity of the digital medium and...

    • 3. Ocean, Database, Recut
      (pp. 61-85)

      The Story Ocean pictured by Salman Rushdie is an inspiration for interactive narrative. It combines the metaphor (by now drained of meaning) of surfing—in this case riding a single story current to take in its narrative line—with the idea of fluid dynamics. Turbulences created by the surfer’s activity cause individual story streams to combine, forming new stories out of elements of the old. “It is not dead but alive,” as Iff, the guide to the Ocean, expresses it.¹

      Haroun and the Sea of Stories, Rushdie’s only published children’s book, is an elaborate but disguised allegory. The story of...

    • 4. Waiting for the World to Explode: How Data Convert into a Novel
      (pp. 86-94)

      Our civilization has reshaped data into a form of storytelling. In the eras of the Enlightenment (1680–1820), data increasingly exemplified the scientific process. They revealed natural law. Rarely do data turn into a novel. Since 1895, it is nearly impossible to cite a narrative film (other than documentaries) dominated by laundry lists and asteroid belts of data. Soviet factography of the 1920s may be the rare exception. By 2004, however, data have been recast as a form of storytelling—in scripted spaces, in computer games, on the Internet, in mapping. This transition, this anomaly, suggests other changes, particularly the...

    • 5. The Database as System and Cultural Form: Anatomies of Cultural Narratives
      (pp. 95-109)

      The term “database aesthetics” has become a catchword of the digital realm and poses interesting semantic questions that seem to outline the field of research and art relating to databases itself. What exactly do we mean by “database aesthetics”? In discourse on digital art, the term is frequently used to describe the aesthetic principles applied in imposing the logic of the database to any type of information, filtering data collections, and visualizing data. In that sense, database aesthetics often becomes a conceptual potential and cultural form—a way of revealing (visual) patterns of knowledge, beliefs, and social behavior. The term...

    • 6. The Database Imaginary: Memory_Archive_Database v 4.0
      (pp. 110-120)

      In 1968, in a report to the Rockefeller Foundation during a residency at SUNY Stony Brook, Nam June Paik argued that 97 percent of all electronic music was not recorded and that “a simple measure would solve the whole problem. An information center for unpublished electronic media should be created.” At the time, this meant such a center would “provide a Xerox copy and a tape copy of musical pieces, at the request of performers, students, and organizers from all over the world.”¹ Convert analog to digital, and the dream lives on, perhaps more vibrant than ever, of a universal...

    • 7. Recombinant Poetics and Related Database Aesthetics
      (pp. 121-141)

      An embodied approach to computing acknowledges the importance of the physicality of experience as it falls within the continuum that bridges the physical with the digital. To illuminate the operative nature of database aesthetics, one needs to point at a number of human processes—memory, thought, association, cataloging, categorizing, framing, contextualizing, decontextualizing, and recontextualizing, as well as grouping. The production of boundary objects,¹ grammars of information, grammars of attention, the production of media constellations, and the exploration of principles of combinatorics² all become potential variables for employment in the creation of interactive works of art. Of critical importance is interface...

    • 8. The Database: An Aesthetics of Dignity
      (pp. 142-182)

      The term “data” originated as the plural of the Latin word datum, meaning “something given.”¹ In the world of experience, our datum is a culturally constructed social context. This context, and the socio-ideological experience of individuals in the context of contemporary Western societies, is defined by what Katherine Hayles has called the “materiality of informatics”: “the material, technological, economic, and social structures that make the information age possible.” Hayles’s “Informatics” includes “the late capitalist mode of flexible accumulation; the hardware and software that have merged telecommunications with computer technology; and the patterns of living that emerge from and depend upon...

    • 9. Network Aesthetics
      (pp. 183-210)

      Brenda Laurel unearths a potentially mountainous obstacle for interface designers. Most interface designers want to create something that is user friendly. Some of these designers have taken the approach of graphically sophisticated, direct-manipulation interfaces that are intuitive to use.¹ In contrast, artificial intelligence (AI) researchers often insist that the interface perse is not that important for the goal of user-friendly software. If the computer’s “understanding” of the person is a deep and profound understanding, then the computer can anticipate or sensitively perceive what a given person wants and fulfill those wants with minimal interaction with the user. This has been...

    • 10. Game Engines as Embedded Systems
      (pp. 211-230)

      The attention, time, and resources expended in relation to computer games and gaming emerge out of long-standing and diverse cultural traditions rooted in fundamental human needs related to the importance of play, interactivity, and creative experimentation in our social lives. In 2002, roughly 60 percent of Americans older than six years of age (about 145 million people) reported playing computer and video games. More than 221 million computer and video games were sold, almost two games for every American household. By 2006, U.S. computer and video game software sales grew 6 percent in 2006 to $7.4 billion—almost tripling industry...

  3. Part II. Artists and Data Projects

    • 11. Stock Market Skirt: The Evolution of the Internet, the Interface, and an Idea
      (pp. 233-242)

      Dedicated to Brenda Laurel (who asked if she could wear it), this cyberfeminist fashion statement is my response to the convergence of technology, fashion, and feminism. The potential of IPV 6 and wireless access were among the motivating issues underlying this project. Like many of my other media works,Stock Market Skirtpresents a tongue-in-cheek and intentionally ironic exploration of the relationship between the two most interesting, if not most important, expressions of late twentieth-century Western culture and individuality: lust and money.

      A play on Desmond Morris’s theory that the women’s fashion industry responds to fluctuations in the equities market...

    • 12. Pockets Full of Memories
      (pp. 243-248)

      According to the records of Centre Pompidou, approximately twenty thousand visitors viewedPockets Full of Memories(PFOM), an installation on exhibit for four months, resulting in a contribution of more than 3,300 objects in the database archive.¹

      The archive consists of objects that museum visitors carried with them—for example, such common items as phones, keys, toys, fragments of clothing, personal documents, currency, and reading material. The size of the scanning box was the only limiting factor that determined what could be added to the archive. The expectation in the early stages of planning was that the majority of contributions...

    • 13. The Raw Data Diet, All-Consuming Bodies, and the Shape of Things to Come
      (pp. 249-252)

      For the past three decades, I have been fascinated with the construction of identity and how it affects culture: the symbiotic relationship between the real and the virtual, and how identity reacts and shifts when processed through manipulated time. Most of the “bodies” I have used in my work have been female.Synthia Stock Ticker(2000–4),Agent Ruby(1991–2004 ), and DiNA (2004) are my most recent cyber fatales/autonomous agents. These works are in a constant state of change. They morph by cannibalizing information and exist as shifting reincarnated feedback patterns. Their cumulative identities are also a networked...

    • 14. Time Capsule: Networking the Biological [Biotech and Trauma]
      (pp. 253-259)

      New technologies culturally mutate our perception of the human body from a naturally self-regulated system to an artificially controlled and electronically transformed object. The digital manipulation of the appearance of the body (and not of the body itself) clearly expresses the plasticity of the new identity of the physical body. We observe this phenomenon regularly through media representations of idealized or imaginary bodies, virtual-reality incarnations, and network projections of actual bodies (also known as “avatars”). Parallel developments in medical technologies, such as plastic surgery and neuroprosthesis, have ultimately allowed the expansion of this immaterial plasticity to actual bodies; the skin...

    • 15. Aesthetics of ecosystm
      (pp. 260-268)

      Commissioned by Zurich Capital Markets (ZCM),ecosystmwas shown to the public for the first time in the exhibitionBitStreams,curated by Larry Rinder at the Whitney Museum of American Art. The press release for the show provides an introduction:

      John Klima’secosystmwas commissioned by a leading investment bank to represent, artistically, real-time global stock market fluctuations, and currency volatility. Rather than indicate these dynamic economic forces with dry statistics, Klima has created an ecosystem in which market indexes are represented by branching trees, and currencies by birds that swoop and flock according to trading volatility. Connected to the...

    • 16. Polar
      (pp. 269-278)

      Polarwas created during a two-year process at the Artlab Canon, beginning in 1998 at theArtlab 10exhibition, and was installed from October 28 to November 6 at the Hillside Plaza, Daikanyama, Tokyo.

      Polarcan be described as an immersive intermedia environment and architecture. At the start of the process, we had envisioned a 7m×7m×4m networked tactile space, which was defined as a tactile matrix interface that enables the visitor to experience the flow of data in the global and local networks in a completely immersive, yet cognitive, way.¹ The work was inspired by the notion of the cognitive...