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Subject:

taxonomies, definitions, archives, etc.

From:

Myron Turner <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Myron Turner <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 7 Sep 2004 07:31:08 -0500

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I hope I'm not too out of sync with the flow of the discussion, but
as a subscriber to the Digest I get everything in sometimes huge
(and so hard to 'digest') chunks. But I was very taken with Charlie
Gere's posts, and for the wonderful quotations from Derrida and
from Bernard Siegart (with whom I'm not familiar). Charlie defends
taxonomies because of the threat of disappearance (the ultimate
"invisibility") of the art object, of an art (or not art) which,
living in electrons, is both here and not here. But yet he is so
clearly drawn to these transparencies of the real, to that
"spectral" messiancity that Derrida sees as characterizing culture,
because it is known, if at all, only in the future. This has its
analog in the quote from Siegart for whom "The impossibility of
technologically processing data in real time is the possibility of
art" because "art" assumes a "support", i.e. the paper, the canvas,
on which human experience will be "stored intermediately", i.e.
"archived".


There are competing motives in the discussion, so far, of archives
and taxonomies. There is every reason to be concerned with
definitions for someone like Johannes, who has to be able explain to
funders what they are funding, or for the curator of a new media
archive who has to know what goes in and what stays out. On the
other side, there's Patrick Lichty's fear, the artist's side, that
definitions, as Blake would have said, are chains. But if we look at
it from Derrida's viewpoint, definitions are anything but chains,
merely "spectral" promises of something which may or may not have a
future. Perhaps this should be some comfort to Patrick and the
reason why Charlie should not, on his side, be so quick to concede
"that, of course, taxonomies are made in the service of power and
control". The power and control are illusory, the taxonomies
inessential.

I personally prefer essentialist approaches, Platonic, if you will,
Derridean attempts to approach the hidden names of things, whereas
taxonomies are of the real word where--fortunately for the state of
art and culture-- live the archivists and curators and seekers after
funding. What appeals to me so much about the art of the electron is
that it is of the essence of things, radically essential, radically
fluid and malleable at is center and at its peripheries. Which is
why it so effectively frustrates definition. Charlie, in an earlier
post, lists about a dozen elements that go into new media, many of
which others also have named (Interaction, Feedback, Systems, Video,
Networks, and so forth). But I would argue that these are the naming
of parts, the peripheries. I would prefer to look at electronic art
as a cultural phenomenon, in ways, for instance, analogous to the
way we speak about Romanticism or neo-Classicism, or Conceptual art.
If we admire the painterliness of 17th century art, it has to be
more than because we identify impasto as a technique but because we
share something of the indulgent fleshliness of 17th century
appetite.

For electronic art, I think we can do worse than begin with
statements like Derrida's and Siegart's, because they get at the
essential ghostliness of this art which, from the point of view
both of viewer and creator, begins in the self seated before a
monitor, as before a mirror, peering into a world beyond the self
that it is in the process of absorbing into itself and that world is
itself mere process.  As Siegart says, it is not, like
the art that comes to us on supports, "available":

   "it is nonsensical to speak of the availability of real-time processing
   insofar as the concept of availability implies the human being as
   subject. After all, real-time processing is the exact opposite of being
   available. It is not available to the feedback loops of the human
   senses, but instead to the standards of signal processors, since
   real-time processing is defined precisely as the evasion of the senses."

In this a.m.'s post (I switched from digest to regular to keep up
this discussion), Pete Petegome looks at some early cinematic
definitions that might apply to electronic art. But Siegart's idea
of real time excludes film as a defining analogy for electronic art
because you will always find Rhett, forever the 38 year old Gable,
in the same place at the same time on the celluloid support turning
his back on Scarlett, exclaiming "Frankly my dear, I don't give a
damn." Film was, like every art, both a product of and creator of its
time. It was with photography the quintessential art of memory
that the rhetoricians of the 16th century had
so eagerly sought after, expounding their architectural, i.e.
visual, aids to remembering.

But electronic art, the art of the Internet in particular, is not an
art of memory.  It is not an art of repeatability.  The other day
someone announced a "new work" on Rhizome which consists of two little
bot-like (and bottle shaped) figures moving like wind-up toys into
a mechanically (a)sexual embrace with each click of the mouse.
Comic to the right age-group perhaps but certainly not "electronic"
art, rather a parody of film, of Rhett always turning away.
Electronic art, I am particularly concerned with the art of the
Internet, is an art of unrepeatability, or more precisely an art in
the mood of unrepeatability.  This is the fascination of so
many artists with coding randomness; of art that reconstructs,
often on the fly, the content of web sites; or more recently
locative art, an art of encounters. Databases and art deriving from
them might seem on the surface to contradict this view of things,
being repositories. But a word like "repository" is misleading,
because the data in a database is never in repose. A database is a set
of passive categories subject to the unsettling motions of insertion
and deletion, one of the characterizing forms of a culture enticed by
categorical definitives but beset by the awareness of their
dissolution, by a theory of reality founded in randomness and chaos.

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