Data Knitting

An essay by Arjen Mulder, 2002

In 2002, V2_'s activities center around the theme Data Knitting, culminating in DEAF03.

Media are increasingly becoming means to construct realities, rather than means to represent reality. Media do not depict the existing world, they replace it with a different reality, a 'media reality' or rather 'media realities'. How different media shape reality is a recurrent theme in V2_ programs.

During 2002 and up to and including DEAF03 V2_'s program focuses on the political, economical, social, historical, epistemological and software-based implications of techniques for data clustering and data combination. The program emphasizes the role of interactivity as a method to manipulate, transform and individually shape media realities. V2_ takes a fundamental interest in the present; a present which condenses into an archive in front of our very eyes.

In various contemporary views the archive has proved to be a strong metaphor. Our body has become a genetic archive, now that it has been digitally opened up in the Human Genome Project. Culture, as found in museums and other art institutes and in magazines and cultural supplements as well, has been described as an archive that new art both has to react against in order to be new and has to penetrate in order to be recognized as art. Our language is an archive of meanings that can be unlocked by philological methods. It teaches us who we are and where we come from. The unconscious is an archive of all the traumatic experiences that define our identity. History is a database from which facts can be arbitrarily retrieved, and now lacks a unifying story.

It could be argued that the latter post-modernist view on 'fragmentation' and 'deconstruction' of everything in the archive of history is related to the way in which data was stored and retrieved in the early days of the information age: via non-hierarchical, non-linear search engines. Digitally speaking, all data were equal then, whether they were text, image, sound, protocol, program code or whatever. Since the 1990s a new form of structuring digital archives has emerged. Now it is not just the individual data that are being stored in databases. The relationships and correlations between the various data are now also being stored, by using 'metadata'. Metadata (also known as 'tags') are data that describe and categorize other data. Metadata as means for ordering, hierarchizing, streamlining and evaluating have become increasingly important as social, political and economical instruments in what has been considered an informational sphere free of values for so long.

Information isn't power, but knowledge is. Knowledge is tagged, or intelligently grouped and combined, information. Knowledge is the result of the (private or public, controllable or associative, open or concealed) knowledge management of data and data clusters.

Archives no longer just hold our past for inspection by historians, tax collectors and other researchers. We are permanently living in archives: all the sites we visit on the Internet are being logged by our search engines. All our shopping is being registered by our supermarkets. Each time we perform an electronic act we add information to the running archive of our activities as both individuals and members of target groups. On the basis of such archives the policies for the future are being planned, from marketing strategies to decisions about where to build shops. Behind almost all activities in the hard, material world nowadays there is an immaterial archive, for instance the storage of data from video surveillance and other security equipment. We are living in the world's online archive, or, more to the point: we are living in the world-as-archive, as a constellation of databases.

Because they are continuously available and accessible, archives have become an essential factor in acting in the present. One could even say that archives have become crucial in how the present is created and reflected upon. Archives are becoming just as process-like in character as the present already is. The individual's experience of the present can be increasingly described as the moment when an 'unforeseen' link is forged between dated information clusters that reach him or her through the media. Why does an archive allow one connection to be established and not the other? Through which media and by what software can which connections be made within archives and between them? And which connections are excluded by those media and software? What role does the individual have to play in this?

Knowledge can be imposed upon the users of archives, or it can be developed by them by using strategic tools and agents. A growing number of artists, artists' groups and architects are developing (software based) systems in which data are organizing themselves into complex knowledge systems of which the users are but one of the organizing factors. Databases, software and archives are increasingly the objective of artistic interventions. How are the connections that archives do (or do not) make short-circuited and what is the nature of these short circuits? What is their artistic potential?

In the course of 2002 up to and including DEAF03 V2_ explores our media reality/realities in art projects, performances, lectures, workshops, Internet projects and cinematic screenings.

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