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INFORMATION AND FORM
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INFO-AESTHETICS MANIFESTO [ updated 3/3/01]
is not only the aesthetics of data.
can we use new media to represent human experience
INFO-AESTHETICS scans contemporary culture to detect emerging aesthetics and computer-based cultural forms specific to information society. Its method is a systematic comparison of our own period with the beginning of the 20th century when modernist artists created new aesthetics, new forms, new representational techniques, and new symbols of industrial society. How can we go about searching for their equivalents in information society and does this very question make sense? Can there be forms specific to information society, given that software and computer networks redefine the very concept of form as something solid, stable and limited in space and time? There are radically new representational techniques unique to own time, given that new media has largely been used in the service of older visual languages and media practices: Web TV, electronic book, interactive cinema? Can information society be represented iconically, if all its most characteristic activities information processing, interaction between a human and a computer, telecommunication, networking are dynamic processes? How does the super-human scale of our information structures from 16 million lines of computer codes making Windows OS, to forty years which would take one viewer to watch all video interviews stored on digital servers of the Shoah Foundation, to the Web itself which cannot be even mapped as a whole be translated to the scale of human perception and cognition? In short, if the shift from modernism to informationalism (the term of Manual Castells) has been accompanied by a shift from form to information, can we reduce information to forms, meaningful to a human?
Arguing against post-modernist analysis of the 1980s according to which the modernist logic of the new has become exhausted, INFO-AESTHETICS suggests that new media culture picks up the constructive energies of the modernist project (while discarding its demand to forget the past) but these energies now work in a different way. This difference is mapped out in the first part of the book, Avant-garde as Software. I first show that the 1920s avant-garde techniques became transformed into the conventions of modern human-computer interface and software, thus functioning as a foundation of post-industrial labor. I also claim that new media does represent a new avant-garde of information society even though it often uses old modernist forms. If the 1920s avant-garde came up with new forms for new media of their time (photography, film, new printing and architectural technologies), the new media avant-garde introduces radically new ways of using already accumulated media. Thus the new avant-garde is the computer-based techniques of media access, manipulation and analysis. In other words, information society may not need new visual languages, new forms and new representational techniques because it can use computers to re-configure the old ounces in radically new ways.
The second part of the book Info-Aesthetics analyses new medias potential to enable fundamentally new types of representations and forms, apart from its ability to reconfigure what already exists. I again use the comparison with the 1920s to help us see where the logic of computer culture maybe already at work. Early twentieth century modernists believed that that the new aesthetics of industrial society emerged in the industrial realm. They admired the forms of motorcars, bridges, grain elevators, aircraft propellers; and they begun the project to carry over the logic of these forms into the realm of design, architecture and art. Ornament is Dead, The House is a Machine for Living, Form Follows Function is some of the slogans they designed to describe this new industrial aesthetics. Following this strategy, INFO-AESTHETICS suggests that the new aesthetics already exists in information interfaces and information tools that we use in everyday life. In other words, new aesthetics of information culture manifests itself most clearly in computer software and it interfaces. Similarly, I argue that computer applications employed in industry and science simulation, visualization, databases are the new cultural forms of information society. The challenge before us is to figure out how to employ these tools to create new art; in short, how to interface them not to quantified data but to human experience, subjectivity and memory.
WHAT IS INFO-AESTHETICS ? (BOOK OUTLINE)
1. New representational and communication techniques?
Where are the new representational and communication techniques
appropriate for IT society?
Why do we still use old modernist techniques from industrial era (photography, montage, etc.)?
Text segment: Avant-garde as Software [8/1999]
2. New Forms?
Industrial society: Bauhaus aesthetics, "form follows function."
What are the new spatial/visual forms appropriate for IT society? example: Guggenheim Bilbao
Thesis 1: "customisable form, customisable function." example: skins
Thesis 2: "information as play." example: imac
3. New Symbols? Representing Information Society
How can IT society be represented symbolically?
How can information be turned into forms?
If the key aspects of IT society are NOT visual (computation, network, distributed processes), can visual strategies still work?
What would a monument to IT society look like?
example: Manetas's paintings
example: visual representations of cyberspace)
4. Computer as a New Representational Engine
A novel and a fiction film became new cultural forms for industrial society.
What are the new cultural forms for a computer age?
Database? text segment: Database as a Symbolic Form [10/98]
Computer visualization? example: information spaces
Computer simulation? example: the sims
5. Information as Form?
Can telecommunication and information access, these two key forms of work in IT age,
be turned into new cultural forms?
Can we have culture without objects?
Text segment: Information and Form [spring 2001]
Text segment: Culture without Objects, or Representation versus Telecommunication [from The Language of New Media]
6. Work into Art
If IT info-labor becomes play (see #2), what about IT culture?
Should art and culture of IT society adopt the conventions/interfaces of IT work such as
GUI, multitasking, search engine (as the interface), quantitative data displays, etc.?
Text segment: Work into Art [GUI / spatial montage]. [from The Language of New Media]
7. From Figuration vs. Abstraction (modernism) to Figuration vs. Data (informationalism)
New Concepts of Form in Information society
Form as distributed representation (Internet, neural netwroks)
Form as emergence (AL)
Software represents any object as set of parameters - therefore form is never fixed
From figure/ground (modernism) to information/noise (informationalism)
Reception: New modes of perception
From Visual Culture to Information Culture
Using the concepts of software / information architecture / interface to think about cultural history
Text segment: Post-media Aesthetics [7/2001]
11. Representing INFO-subjectivity
Text segment: Jump over Proust 
FROZE 01 for Electronic Orphanage
DATA BEAUTIFUL for Mapping the Web Infome
Helsinki Map [9/00]
Graduate Seminar Description [10/00]
IMAGES FOR THE BOOK:
Avant-garde as Software: visual summary /1998
Time Square / NYC / 6/00
Helsinki / Fall 00
Info-Aesthetics Workshop for MA students, Media Lab, University of Art and Design
Student Projects Proposals
San Diego / Fall 00
Info-Aesthetics Graduate Seminar, Visual Arts Department, UCSD
Diego / Fall 00
Info-Aesthetics Undergraduate Seminar, Visual Arts Department, UCSD