Anarchives: Connection-machines

A conference on issues of archiving, databases and related software for Content Management.

Anarchives: Connection-machines

Anarchives flyer

Jul 2002
14:00 to 22:00
location: V2_, Eendrachtsstraat 10, Rotterdam

In our information and knowledge based society archives once again attract the interest of artists, art institutes, scientists and others. Archives and databases have become the basis for the development of knowledge.

The opening up and ordering of archives is a time-honored way of reflecting on the social and cultural cohesion of groups of people and communities and the role of the individual therein. Concepts of this vary from the 17th century ‘Wunderkammer’ model to the metadata theories in our information and knowledge based society.

The present application of digital technology makes it possible to arrive at a drastic linking of a great diversity of information, uncovering complex relationships and connections. Data about the genes of humans, animals and plants, about our social and political preferences, our Internet behavior; everything is stored digitally and everything can be linked. Based on this information all sorts of economic, social and cultural scenarios and realities are being devised. It also raises essential social questions: Which databases and archives are being linked, and which are not? Which information either is or is not stored in these databases and who decides this? Which information can be applied by specific interest groups only? What is the public significance of these knowledge systems?

Besides a technological and scientific aspect this development also has a social and cultural element dominated by the notion that it is essential for the individual to be able to interact within this complex social and cultural (media) reality and to be able to transform it. In this situation there is a growing need for strategic tools and agents to play an active role in the way information is entered, edited and opened up. A growing number of artists and architects are developing (software) systems to (re)organize data into complex knowledge systems that offer their users insight and interaction. Databases, software engines and archives are increasingly involved in artistic interventions. Artists are looking into the cultural and artistic possibilities for redefining and/or reusing existing archives. Via the artworks that apply archives and databases new interpretations and archiving concepts are being generated, as well as new aesthetic experiences. How do failures occur in the (dis)connections between archives and what is the artistic potential of these breakdowns?

In this process, artists and computer scientists share an interest in the development of software that can be applied to the field of art and culture. The conference Anarchives: connection-machines brings together a choice of scientists and artists who will present their research and their projects.

The evening program will focus on more active elements, highlighting the use of databases and archives in music and performances.

Data objectiles, semantic gaps and archi(ves)tectures

A report by Sandra Fauconnier


Archiving and "data knitting" is V2_'s yearly theme for 2002, although it might be a rather atypical topic for an institute for unstable media. In his introduction to the conference "Anarchives: connection-machines", Alex Adriaansens explained this decision by showing how we permanently live in archives; the world itself can be considered an archive, essential for our acting in the present. V2_ is fundamentally interested in the short-circuits established through unforeseen connections between information clusters, and in the role of interactivity in this.

The Anarchives conference dealt with these interests. A very diverse group of scientists and artists presented their respective views on archiving; an equally broad and differentiated audience attended the program. Michael Punt, one of the moderators, emphasized this by expressing his own interest in the difference between experience and describing it, the paradox between the apparatus and the subjective, mirrored into the diverse views expressed during this conference.

Ben Schouten, the first lecturer, visual artist and researcher, presented his research areas within the Centre for Mathematics and Computer Science (CWI), in the field of image analysis and content-based image retrieval. Here, the research team tries to establish "visual intelligence" that enables computers to adequately recognize visual material. At this point, this problem is tackled by combining low-level, content-dependent metadata (image features such as color, structure) with semantics – content-independent annotations established by archivists. Schouten here pointed to a third aspect – ordering archives through emotions and meaning (Maturana) – or, the importance of enabling the user to reorganize the database in an entirely subjective way. Bridging the "semantic gap" between image features and personal, historical and generally cultural metadata is still a largely unsolved problem.

The project Polar by Marko Peljhan and Carsten Nicolai deals with subjectivity in an entirely different way. Polar (2000) is an installation whose aim is to materialize the exchange of data, through network protocols, into a tactile experience, approaching the internet ("the matrix") in an organic sense. The installation is designed as a physical place, with a clear inside and outside, featuring a visual tracerouting display, a skin cell growth module (the biological element) and a water module for visualizing vibrations. The installation draws upon an analogy with Solaris – a science fiction novel by Stanislaw Lem and a motion picture by filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky. The story of Solaris describes a planet as a living being, influenced by observation; the installation Polar treats data flows in a similar way. The Polar system contains a dictionary which grows by analogy, sending the dictionary words to a large number of search engines and incorporating the search results as new entries in the dictionary. Marko Peljhan describes how such a space triggers surprising situations, even if one knows the system very well.

Margarete Jahrmann then presented the Nybble Engine, a project she developed together with Max Moswitzer. The Nybble engine is a nonlinear program framework in which nybble engine movies (NEMs) – real-time network movies – are generated as a result of so-called nybble engineering. Nybbles or tetrads stand for 4 bits, enough to represent any number and a conventional idea in natural science. In the nybble engine, three-dimensional data objectiles result from the data generated through nybble engineering. Both users and bots within the system can influence its architecture; thus enabling co-authorship of the machinic.

In a very contrasting presentation, Arnold Smeulders spoke about the archive as a "sleeping giant." Like Ben Schouten, Smeulders focused on the difficulties and even impossibilities of content-based image retrieval. Smeulders emphasized the difficulties that computers ("dull translators") have with the attachment of meaning to image data. For very specific domains, such as the study of the structure of the human brain, so-called dedicated segmentation (recognition of reoccurring patterns) is a step in the right direction, but in this way, each new topic would need a new computational model. Smeulders ended his presentation by re-emphasizing the semantic gap between words and images.

Thecla Schiphorst then presented the whisper project – currently an artist in residence project at the V2_Lab. The project is still in its conceptual phase and is based on engineering small wearable devices and handheld technologies, resulting in a participatory installation which will be first presented during DEAF_03. The whisper system constructs networked messages, based on inferred states of the participating bodies. Schiphorst mentioned the concept of "pulp fashion", coined by Susan Kozel, as a metaphor for the impermanence of physical states. The context of whisper is experiental body practice – methodologies in theater practice for creating a certain body state. Older research projects of Schiphorst include experiments in choreographical composition and movement notation, together with e.g. Merce Cunningham, and archival projects. whisper incorporates the notion of "future memory" – the project incorporates a living semantic data archive, making it possible to dynamically represent memories; the computational equivalent of precognition or electronically enhanced telepathy. This allows the devices and participants to anticipate potential future behaviors and state.

The panel discussion at the end of the program dealt with the large difference and the common issues between these presentations. Anne Nigten outlined a few crucial subjects of this day – the importance of domain-specificity as touched upon by Arnold Smeulders; the meaning of objects; the notion of subjectivity, which returned in one way or another in several presentations. There was some discussion about the importance of authority and leadership within archives, where most panelists took a different stance, but the need for at least preparatory data analysis was commonly clear. Next, the issue of contextualization was mentioned as one of the attributes necessary for introducing meaning into a system. In the Nybble engine, contextualization is a spontaneous process; Ben Schouten referred to the need for communication as a guiding principle and a necessity for the creation of context, also being less authorative than mere leadership. Finally, the topic of self-organizing systems, mentioned by many of the speakers, was discussed.

Sandra Fauconnier, 2002


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