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Subject:

reductive and playful taxonomies...

From:

Spencer Roberts <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Spencer Roberts <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Thu, 30 Sep 2004 13:56:01 +0100

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Hi everyone  - my first posting.


I've been reading the list this month with interest. I've been thinking about the notion of
definition/taxonomy in relation to digital/information arts for a while. This seems a strong
context for exploring the oppositions between quantity and quality (as mentioned by Myron
Turner). I think that the quantity/quality issue is pertinent to the classification or measurement of
art in general and trades on much of the debate that ensued early last century  when systems of
measurement began to encroach upon the subjective and experiential (the digital
analogue opposition that we find in much of Henri Bergson's writing in the early 1900's is, I
think, particularly interesting here)


The classification/taxonomy of specifically digital work seems an even better focus for this
discussion - this is in some sense because of the nature of a computer (i.e a means of
reproducing/simulating anything that fits a formal taxonomy of mechanism). There is a sense in
which any piece of digitial work has both a surface (experiential) layer and also corresponding
layer of logic/classification (i.e. the way in which a system has been programmed). In light of this,
there is a sense in which everything executed using a computer as a means has to be capable of
being ‘read’ as a mechanism. Ironically, this formal/modern structural machine appears to be
the ideal device to facilitate the production of postmodern cultural artefacts.  As such the
debate about formal classification versus experiential quality seems particularly pertinent
when given a digital arts focus.

One of the problems that I run into with respect to making work on a computer is related to this
issue of having to use a structural machine for attempting to make work with a post-structural
theme. As such I'm interested in developing strategies for transcending the inherent essentialism/
atomism of a computing device as production tool or art material.

I was interested to read Tom Corby's posting and share his interest in a 'family resemblance'
approach to most issues of definition. The Wittgenstinean approach is very flexible - it allows
for concepts to have a life of their own and to continue developing over time. The documentation
of overlapping similarities does not result in a restrictive form of definition – in this sense
it allows for new forms of work and practice to evolve.

Likewise the Wittgenstinean approach allows for a plurality of related languages to coexist. I think
that this is especially important in relation to digital media where there are so many different
interest groups and communities involved in the production of work. There is a sense in which
each of these communities need their own ways of talking and thinking about digital artefacts -
the Wittgenstinean position allows each linguistic set to flourish.

I think that we move too rapidly if we divide these interest groups into artist/curator/technician -
or Lev Manoviche's 'Turings and Duchamps'. This just results another constrained form of
definition. To illustrate the fragility of this divide, there is a sense in which digital art continues a
trend of informational art which is concerned to a degree with taxonomy as a subject matter - and
I  think we can trace this back to Duchamp. It is interesting to look at Duchampian strategies
(signing/annotating objects - or playing with the formal context of exhibition) as a kind of
subversive taxonomical practice. I have been trying to sketch a way of discussing Turing and
Duchamp from the perspective of taxonomical themes (see below).

I think that the key point with respect to a taxonomy is whether we choose to view it as a means
of capturing a concept (the essentialist/reductive approach) or whether we choose to view it as a
kind of ‘reading’ (a more playful, pluralistic approach)

Perhaps in terms of a way forward for classification we require some kind of mapping of the
overlaps in ways of speaking - a relational classification if you like – this way we might gain some
clarification of tendencies without losing the specifics of nuance. How we might go about this -
or how we might represent the result is another matter - and I'm open to suggestions.

 If you are interested in reading more about Wittgenstinean strategies in relation to digital media,
 or some of the relationships between Turing, Duchamp, surface and process – or just a take on
 taxonomy as a form of reading then please feel free to read the essay that I have been working
on:

 'Would Duchamp Desire a Turing Machine?'
 http://www.anthropo.org.uk/essays/duchampturing.htm

Any comments greatly appreciated.

Thanks
Spencer

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