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NEW-MEDIA-CURATING  2004

NEW-MEDIA-CURATING 2004

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Subject:

Re: NEW-MEDIA-CURATING Digest - 3 Sep 2004 to 4 Sep 2004 (#2004-135)

From:

Myron Turner <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Myron Turner <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sun, 5 Sep 2004 11:59:02 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

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I've been using computers in my work for 15 years and working with the
Internet since the first Mosaic browser, about 1994. And I've never had any
doubts about the exciting possibilities for using these forms in art. On
the other hand, I've always been beset by the fundamental questions about
the nature of this art, the kinds of questions people have been addressing
in this recent discussion. I've never been convinced of the efficacy of
taxonomic approaches, and  not as an artist.

First, I have to admit that, temperamentally, as a critic, taxonomy has
never appealed to me. I remember years ago, in my life as a literary
scholar, having read some of the Russian formalists and feeling that I
hadn't really gotten very far, that is, I hadn't really understood very
much more than when I started about the nature of literature and literary
works, because they seemed to me to be dealing with external structures,
not with the kinds of large terms which appealed to me then, like
"ontology". That is, reading them, I didn't feel that I got to know about
the "inner being" of literature or literary works.

Their methods seemed to me to be a misapplication of scientific methods in
an attempt to scientize aesthetic phenomena. In science small categorical
differences may be of enormous importance but not in art, where it is not
of great moment to be able to decide whether something is a novel or
novella, collage or mixed media. At the time, as I still do, I found it
more amenable to think of form as the embodiment of ideas--which means that
we don't define forms by their devices, rather their devices are simply
means by which the ideas are manifested.

Secondly, speaking now as an artist, a media artist, I might become
intrigued by some new technique and a little light bulb might go off, as
happened to me almost two years ago, when I discovered the z39.50
information protocol for accessing library databases, and I thought to
myself "Wow!--what an amazing tool!". I didn't ask myself what it's
taxonomic position was in a hierarchy of database forms or how I might
fashion a work within the parameters of such definitions. Rather, I thought
of it as a window into a vast cultural resource of language and ideas.

But 'resource' doesn't really do justice to my feelings at the time--the
word "space" would be more accurate, and if we add "technological" to the
formulation, we'd have what I think of as the Internet: a vast cultural and
technological space. So, the little light bulb was about an exciting
technique that plugged into my understanding of the Internet. The Z39.50
protocol is not interesting to me in and of itself, or taxonomically, as a
device for new media database art, but because it opened up the possibility
of creating an art object, a form, that could express my sense of the
Internet.

I did create such a project and I'll say a few words about it and how it
fits into my way of thinking about form:

bigQuestions.com (http://www.room535.org/bigQuestions.com ) mines web sites
and library catalogues for words which signify "big" questions of
philosophy and religion, and then creates a searchable database; currently
it holds circa 65,000 library and 45,000 web entries. Typically, you search
for terms other than the "big" terms to see how they live in the contexts
of our culture, and then link to the web sites or library catalogues to
further explore these contexts. There's also a "real time" window where the
results of the data-mining can be watched, both the raw accumulation of
found data and the software code itself as it moves through its paces.

One of the taxonomical/formal "devices" in this project is the use of
"code", both behind the scenes and in the display. The code combines with
my interest in language and its cultural contexts and with an attempt to
mirror in a web project the experience of the Internet, or at least my
experience. On the one hand, the Internet reaches out, as I said above,
into a vast cultural and technological space that can only be imagined. On
the other hand, there are the depths, the inner workings, the code. Both
kinds of space are hidden from view; yet they intersect in the experience
of the person sitting at the monitor. And this intersection has a parallel
in the intersection of public and private space that also goes into the
making of the Internet experience.

The closest analogy to this kind of space is the architecture of large
structures, which is also a technological and cultural space that can't be
taken in all at once but at best imagined, which also has its hidden
technological depths and is the nexus of public and private experience.
Space understood in this way, as a psychological phenomenon, is not
taxonomically accessible. It's too subjective a phenomenon. In fact, I
still like to think of it in phenomenological terms, the mind reaching out
to grasp an externality consisting of an infinity of points and hence never
fully graspable. The parallel between this formula snf my view of the
Internet is obvious, and it's this experience of reality that I am trying
to address in bigQuestions.com and in terms of which its form (I would
hope) can be understood.

Myron Turner
http://www.room535.org/

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