[iDC] "Wikipedia Art"
Geoffrey Alan Rhodes
garhodes at garhodes.com
Wed Feb 18 05:50:37 UTC 2009
(I am not doing my grading, either)
David's comments about the Encyclopedia reminded me of a profound
exchange at the end of Lev Manovich's talk at ISEA in Singapore this
past year. It was one of those questions that just dropped into the
stuffy air of a tired cramped audience and brought nothing out, but
later I kept returning to it. Lev had just gone through his
presentation on the new wave of media study— "media analytics" where a
very real critical problem of media study, the fact that it is hard to
justify any limited sample of cultural product as being definitive in
the eve of the broadcast age, is approached through a science of
pattern recognition, number crunching, and visualization of data (bear
with me, I am getting to the Encyclopedia). This brings up some
fundamental critical questions of the relationship between
representation, translation, and knowledge... questions that I think
are new to this computational age.
But one questioner put his finger on it. He asked, Isn't the concept
of graphical representation extinct... born in an age when the
totality of data could not be accessed or sorted? Which is really the
question that Google asked the librarian. It made me also think of
Borges' maps, and of the medieval project of the Museo and the
Encyclopedia... not just the impossibility of perfect representation,
but the inutility of it. The medieval project has been re-approached
in the past decade. We see the story covered lightly everywhere:
Netflix's efficient rejection of cataloging practices, Ebay's
rejection of stock-in-trade models, and Wikipedia's rejection of
traditional editing, authorship, and publication editions.
It reminds me of a utopian (typical Aquarius) vision I had in the
early 90's... of a government office that would re-approach the
project of the medieval encyclopedia for the digital age. Each 18
year old, instead of doing military service, would serve in the
government Encyclopedia for a year... maybe working on Kel... to
Kha... In time an encyclopedia of everything would be created...
something that you could refer to in order to find out what watch
battery your particular model of Timex takes, to the known history of
Sumaria, to the current weather patterns in France. When Wikipedia
gained popularity, I realized the project was much simpler, and that
I, too, had not fully captured the new net paradigm. I think that
Wikipedia is experiencing growing pains largely due to its role in a
capitalist economy and political society (like Ebay), but in its
spirit remains medieval... a desire for a book of everything.
On Tue, Feb 17, 2009 at 8:14 PM, davin heckman <davinheckman at gmail.com> wrote:
> Well, I suppose if one were to write a sort of meta level on "Wikipedia
> Art," you could justify an entry, in the same way that you can justify an
> entry on Mariliths and Dungeons and Dragons. The D&D entry does not present
> the Marilith as a "real" creature, but rather it defines it as an object
> that exists within a fictional or imaginary world. In the case of Wikipedia
> Art, "Wikipedia Art" is an invented concept that is being hashed out by a
> bunch of people, and as such, it would seem to merit an entry on the topic.
> But, off the cuff, I would say, the entry is not the art itself, any more
> than conceptual art is ever contained strictly within a discrete artifact.
> But more important than the concept of Wikipedia Art is the concept of
> Wikipedia itself. As always, the question is the difference between the
> thing and its representation, or about Borges' and the uselessness of a 1:1
> scale map. To be useful, the map must represent the totality of a territory
> within a fraction of its total space. To be useful, the map must also
> provide a sufficient amount of detail in order to achieve the desired
> An encyclopedic entry maps an area of knowledge. A "good" encyclopedic
> entry should provide the reader with a lay of the land which is more
> efficient than the text to which it refers, it is a way of putting a big
> idea or concept into a manageable nutshell. Otherwise, what's the point of
> the encyclopedic entry in the first place? But, if the concept in the
> nutshell, is larger than the concept out of the nutshell, then I would say
> that it fails as an encyclopedia entry. Wikipedia, as a community, has a
> right to correct failed entries.
> In the case of "Wikipedia Art," either the term refers to a larger set of
> conceptual problems, in which case, it is not "performed" on Wikipedia...
> but rather, it is being performed outside of the encyclopedia, and, like a
> good encyclopedia should, Wikipedia only provides a limited map to the
> actual "art." But, if "Wikipedia Art" is strictly performed on Wikipedia,
> then it falls out of consideration as a proper Wikipedia entry and becomes
> an appropriation of Wikipedia by artists (which may or may not be a good
> thing, depending on your opinion of Wikipedia and the ideology that it
> expresses). And, Wikipedia has a right, as an experimental community of
> intention, to protect the integrity of its community's intention through its
> own internal logics... Otherwise it becomes something other than
> wikipedia. One way or another, it will come down in favor of a particular
> definition of wikipedia, and this will inevitably challenge one set of
> priorities and affirm another.
> So, I think that Wikipedia Art needs to figure out what it is. Is it an
> encyclopedia entry documenting a conceptual project which has played out
> over a larger landscape? Or, is it a conceptual project attempting to
> describe itself, and struggling with each iteration of its representation?
> Does the Wikipedia entry provide a metacomment on an imaginary idea? Or is
> the metacommentary what we are engaging in just confused rumination over
> what amounts to a "trap street," the desire to personally mark, what is
> otherwise a pretty good map?
> To state it differently: This is not a pipe, but we are all smoking it,
> anyway. And, though I don't know the first thing about the artists, I
> guess it's more interesting than what I was planning to do right now (grade
> papers). So, aside from my scrupulous quibbles about the essence of an
> encyclopedia entry, I do have to say, "thank you," whoever you are, in spite
> of myself.
> Davin Heckman
> P.S. Check out this essay on Encyclopedias:
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