Thursday, September 22, 2011

Sack and Manovich (week 5)

Wow... Warren Sack... what an excellent bibliography used so, so poorly.  The goal is noble - to enter data visualization into the art historical and philosophical discourse by asking why and how it is executed.

Throughout the text, Sack gives no useable definition for aesthetics, except to misuse Terry Eagleton's own definition to jump to the conclusion that aesthetics is first and foremost from the body - that is, instead of recognizing it as embodied (a claim set forth by many theorists, including Eagleton himself, Mark Hansen, N. Katherine Hayles, etc.).  Conflating emotional reaction with physiological reaction confuses his description of Freud's uncanny, and muddies his argument.  Why argue that the uncanny is at play here, rather than describe the movement towards self-discipline evident in Foucault's discourse?  Is the "fear" we feel from "Carnivore" that of the doppleganger, or of the mechanisms of control put into play since the 16th and 17th centuries?

What's more, creating a divide between visual and conceptual art is ridiculous and completely arbitrary.  Describing an aesthetics of bureaucracy or governance is ignoring the repeated Frankfurt School claim that "all art is political" (a view shared by Sol LeWitt and the majority of late 20th century artists and theorists).  Buchloh's description of the change in art toward "an aesthetics of administration" is not to define a new form of art, but rather to describe the artist's role in a postmodern commodity capitalist society.  The artist reflects his/her culture, not the other way around.

Other sources, such as Turing’s “On Computable Numbers” and especially Hobbes’ Leviathon, are used completely out of context, and perhaps throw-away quotes that seem to add to the argument only if the reader is not paying proper attention.  The idea of the “collective body” does play into the central argument of Hobbes, but the point is far better served by Foucault, who clearly outlines the movement from mass, to individual, to cybernetic body.  The use of Turing seems simply a loose thread, as the structure of the computer and its metaphorical relationship to bureaucracy is unnecessary and confusing.

Manovich makes similar - and possibly more egregious - mistakes in his text "The Anti-Sublime Ideal in Data Art."  His claim - that data visualization (or dynamic data visualization?) is not considered sublime, but anti-sublime in that it is about clarifying and instructing rather than obscuring or awing - is easily understood, but horribly explained.  For example, his claim that "dynamic data visualization" is a new cultural form "enabled by computing" (1) is never explained, and one is left wondering if "dynamic" refers to an interactive element (which certainly changes the argument) or a kinetic/changing visualization.

Making a distinction between "visualization" and "mapping" is certainly important, though I feel that Manovich misses his chance to emphasize this difference in terms of historical and theoretical discourse.  (Side note:  Sachs points out that "mapping" has a geographical connotation, but quickly follows toward the discussion of aesthetics and its relationship to the body rather than describing geography as simply another larger, but strikingly similar body... a parallel missed opportunity.)  How is “mapping” the more generic term, especially when taking into consideration the breadth of visualizations that use various data and transform them into virtual landscapes?  I can’t help but feel that there is an important link to be forged between the idea of landscape - especially bringing along with it the entire art historical lineage of the landscape - and the field of data visualization.  If we claim that it is a “field” of discourse - once again, a geographical metaphor describing a physical plane of existence - why aren’t we taking advantage of all the cybernetic-related discourse possibilities it offers?

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