Coming up: the Society for Literature, Science and the Arts annual conference in Indianapolis (28-31 October), the Reimagining the Archive conference at UCLA (12-14 November), and a two-week stay in San Diego (UCSD) in the middle. I’m looking forward to all three!
The first talk, in Indianapolis, will focus on the production, handling, and dissemination of images of art at the Rijksakademie for the visual arts in Amsterdam – a setting where new, networked technologies blend with existing documentation practices. I am interested in the entanglement of images and art works with the institute’s image database. In addition, I focus on how the visual documentation relates to the complex experience of making/seeing art objects. And how do these documentation practices relate to other electronic settings and networks in which the images might circulate (artist’s website, Flickr, sites galleries, etc.)?
The talk at the science studies colloquium at UCSD will center around our project label “Network Realism:” a new form of visual knowing, taking place at the intersection of digital images and computer networks at the point where they purport to convey the ‘real’. I will discuss results from our fieldwork at four sites where network realism is central: the Rijksakademie for the visual arts; the Tropenmuseum (an ethnographic museum); real estate database Funda; and Flickr as used by scholars who study street art. At each of the fieldsites, images are part of databases and circulate in complex electronic networks in ways that are not reducible to, but are intimately related to their digital format. The manipulation of digital images in networks enables other kinds of knowledge than those possible by physical co-presence with the objects represented.
At the UCLA conference, our contribution will focus on networked knowledge and epistemic authority in the development of virtual museums, based on the fieldwork pursued at the Tropenmuseum. In light of the popular claim that new technologies will radically reconfigure existing socio-technical relations and dramatically alter the basis for scientific and scholarly authority, we will argue that it is important to draw attention to emerging forms of epistemic authority in relation to pre-existent institutional and infrastructural elements.
This morning I was watching vimeo footage forwarded by Nick, one of our colleagues at the Virtual Knowledge Studio. Designer Hendrik-Jan Grievink presented his book project on Wiki Loves Art at the CPOV conference in Amsterdam, held on March 27 and 28.
After interviewing Coralie Vogelaar at the Rijksakademie in January, and hearing Kim de Groot (Jan van Eyck Academy) present her work at last week’s VKS Maastricht workshop, it struck me that there’s a lot of synergy between their individual projects and our work on Network Realism. It is very interesting how their work really embodies the idea that images are not merely tools, but are themselves sites of knowledge production and dissemination. In the case of Hendrik-Jan, his forthcoming book on Wiki Loves Art (see also our two earlier blog posts on the topic) promises to be a critical reflection on WLA and Wikimedia Commons in general and an artistic re-use of images under CC-license at once. He hopes this will ‘create a never-ending loop’ of cultural capital. Coralie’s work – and her cooperation with Tinkebell is perhaps the most well-known example – also clearly reveals how the re-use of images and other sources on the web produces new, at times controversial, knowledge. Lastly, Kim de Groot is currently studying ‘the inverted relation between image and reality’ at the Jan van Eyck, in a project that specifically focuses on the performativity of images. Kim is coming to the Virtual Knowledge Studio on May 6th. I am really looking forward to exploring these and other links between our respective projects.
“New media and new technologies – these not only require critical analysis but may be treated as occasions for exploring and testing assumptions embedded in social science and everyday understandings of the world.” (Moser & Law 2001, p. 12)
The quote is taken from an article by Ingunn Moser and John Law, in which they discuss the ‘Othering’ of disabled people. This is an enactment of personhood, the authors argue, that fits a grander modernist narrative of the romantic vs. the rational subject. Moser and Law call this a ‘trap’, “because it romanticises that Other [in this case, the disabled] by telling stories which celebrate Otherness, difference and passivity by telling of the desirability of silence, nature, immanence and the feminine. The body and emotions are lauded against the cognitive, the rational, and the verbal (…).” (p. 12) Obviously, these dynamics are also common elsewhere. I was reminded of it when I came across this video, in which artist Bradley Pitts and scientist Raymond van Ee discuss their mutual interest in Pitt’s Ellipsoidal Introspective Optic (EIO). The EIO is an optical device, a mirror that reflects the image of the one eye into the other and vice versa. In this case, both Pitts and Van Ee are heavily involved in this ‘Othering’ game, by drawing and re-affirming boundaries between Pitt’s artistic (individual, creative, subjective) and Van Ee’s scientific research (collective, quantifiable, objective). Ironically, while their co-operation was anticipated as an opportunity to build bridges between art and science, the two protagonists in the video inadvertently end up reifying the boundaries between their ‘two cultures’.
On Thursday 12 and Friday 13 November ’09, a conference will be held in London that seems very interesting for our project. It is organised by CHArt (Computers and the History of Art; Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King’s College London). This year’s topic is Object and Identity in a Digital Age. We hope to be presenting preliminary results from fieldwork at the Rijksakademie. In the paper, we analyze how artists and employees at the Rijksakademie invest themselves in practices of representation and documentation. We are especially interested in the entanglement of images and art works with the institute’s networked image database. Using recent STS literature on relational ontology (Marres, 2008; Mol, 2002; Stirling, 2008), we will argue that these entities are best understood as temporary outcomes of inter-related modes of engagement. In addition, we focus on how the visual documentation relates to the complex experience of making/seeing art objects. When and how are art works recognized as such, do they get documented, databased? What purposes does the database have for different users/producers (i.e. resident artists, employees, visitors, curators, researchers)? How does the networked context in which the images function as digital representations, shape the status of art objects themselves? Is this status fixed or fluid? And how do these documentation practices relate to other electronic settings and networks in which the images might circulate (artist’s website, Flickr, sites galleries, etc.)? We expect that our ethnographic study of interactions with the Rijksakademie database will provide insight into the ways in which the images are produced, treated, and valued as things that can be acted upon in mediated, distributed contexts.