Vensa’s collection of edited essays examines the intersection of art and technology, with a focus on information storage and completion. She argues that artists must make use of the “code of search engines and the aesthetics of navigation” in order to fully embrace the current information and artistic landscape, and in her first chapter shows the historical precedence for the artistic interrogation of ‘non artistic’ systems, starting with the increased understanding of the human body’s systems. This new understanding of human and biological systems, and the increased amount of ‘data about data’ means that we must become more aware of how (and what) data is being collected about us.
Klein (in chapter 4) muses on the genre of the new ‘data-driven’ age, and reminds readers that data can often obscure, manipulate, and control our realities, and that “data remind us that we are being colonized by our own economy, outsourced and psychologically invaded” (p. 87). In addition to these sobering thoughts on the way that data creates our world, Klein also finds opportunity in databases, since they enable the artist/user/viewer to sort and experience information in a variety of ways, and almost all new art/media is based on this structure, even if the artists chooses not to make it visible.
Paul’s chapter 5 tackles the idea of the narrative in the database, and shows how its ability to create a non-linear narrative controlled by the user (or reader, or viewer, depending on the media included) can also “become a consistent visual meta-narrative”, especially when categorizing politically charged data. Paul also spends a significant amount of time discussing the database “back end” or the data container itself, paying specific mind to the “tension between data structure/stream and the visual form” (p. 97). What does the artist control/keep hidden? What is visible/accessible to the viewer?
I think Vensa’s collection still deserves its place on the T&T reading list, as it interrogates the database as not only a system of information storage, but also as a foundation of a vast collection of varied art projects created today. Although some of the later chapters should be paired with more current research on game design and creation, the introductory chapters on databases as foundation and the descriptions of specific art projects that defamiliarize the database and create a conversation are foundational, especially Manovich’s chapter 2, which provides an interrogation of the database as a symbolic form.
For more, check out our Vensa presentation.