I make the “artistic practice” my research field, but always as a dilettante, the person who loves and hates at the same time (or else I love it because I hate it), the person who faces the dominant culture, who challenges perception and convention, who demystifies authority. I don’t make art, I look at it. I am a participant observer (also known as nerd) motivated by the same obsession that drives a collector to action, the one doing everything to get the stamp missing in the collection (a stamp that probably doesn’t exist).
My current dilettante investigation is driven by a major operational concept called PetaByte Age, as defined by author Chris Anderson in an article published in Wire magazine: “The End of Theory: the data deluge makes the scientific method obsolete” (June 2008). Chris Anderson starts his thought by quoting the so proclaimed statistician George Box, who, 30 years ago, said that ”all models are wrong, but some are useful”. And then he explains why this assumption is even more accurate in nowadays informational society:
“Only models, from cosmological equations to theories of human behavior, seemed to be able to consistently, if imperfectly, explain the world around us. Until now. Today companies like Google, which have grown up in an era of massively abundant data, don’t have to settle for wrong models. Indeed, they don’t have to settle for models at all. Sixty years ago, digital computers made information readable. Twenty years ago, the Internet made it reachable. Ten years ago, the first search engine crawlers made it a single database. Now Google and like-minded companies are sifting through the most measured age in history, treating this massive corpus as a laboratory of the human condition. They are the children of the Petabyte Age.
The Petabyte Age is different because more is different. Kilobytes were stored on floppy disks. Megabytes were stored on hard disks. Terabytes were stored in disk arrays. Petabytes are stored in the cloud. As we moved along that progression, we went from the folder analogy to the file cabinet analogy to the library analogy to — well, at petabytes we ran out of organizational analogies.
At the petabyte scale, information is not a matter of simple three- and four-dimensional taxonomy and order but of dimensionally agnostic statistics. It calls for an entirely different approach, one that requires us to lose the tether of data as something that can be visualized in its totality. It forces us to view data mathematically first and establish a context for it later. For instance, Google conquered the advertising world with nothing more than applied mathematics. It didn’t pretend to know anything about the culture and conventions of advertising — it just assumed that better data, with better analytical tools, would win the day. And Google was right.”
My research, better said, my “theoretical experimentation” is driven towards the idea of a meta-University, being grounded on a massive data-sharing display that should be and has to be global, or universal, an overly interactive virtual platform for meta-artistic thinking, that is, a “cloud university”, an everlasting and infinite place where everybody can not only have access to, but democratically contribute to as well. A way to reconcile the university mission to its roots: to overcome the so-called crisis of specialization, as it was thoroughly investigated by the American author Bill Readings in his book “The University In Ruins”, by embracing the totality of knowledge and universal culture in one single cross-disciplinary corpus of subjects. A MULTIVERSITY.
“A specialist is someone who learns more and more about a restrict subject, in such a way that its perfect fulfillment is knowing everything about nothing”. (Chesterton would say)
University should be “universal”. Again.
The self-referential university may be an educational platform for the sharing of artistic and non-artistic knowledge built around the tension between physical and virtual, and also a laboratory for the research of VIRALITY as a sort of new “avant-garde”. The information is as much useful, globally and universally speaking, as far as it can be disseminated in some sort of augmented reality. A Pop University, or a university where “pop culture”, in its more profound and transdisciplinary assumption, is the only subject matter. Modern University should embrace this. I would only believe in a low-brow university. I would only believe in a God that knows how to dance. To pop music! (Sorry, Nietzsche…) I would only believe in a Pop University.
I envision a meta-educational project built upon a collaborational platform organized in a non-hierarchical system, where processes of e-writing, e-learning and free data sharing are the core methodologies. Aesthetically speaking, the project may get direct inspiration from a site-specific project developed by Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn — “The Precarious Museum”, Albinet, France (2004). The most important artistic action was to bring well-known works of art to the highly unprotected environment of the streets, for everybody to experience them outside the framework of big cultural institutions. Another visual artist and researcher I would like to bring along is Mark Dion, whose science-based work proposes non-artistic methodologies in order to mirror the abundance of information we are all plunged in. Quoting: “Never in History the world has a culture been so based on stuff”.
To organize and to systematize that amount of stuff is then the final goal of University, by collaborating with a group of artists, designers and thinkers who may be able to build a new taxonomy for the brand new art practices of today. University aims to be this “artistic simulated universe” where a group of self-proclaimed students and teachers (or students that are teachers, or teachers that are students) are invited to collaboratively create a a universal university, or a Multiversity, despising all the misleading confusions between Art and Tourism, Sports, Culture (and Cultural Heritage), Aesthetics, Design, Anthropology, Sociology, Museology, Art History, Art Criticism, Curatorship, Handicraft, Childcare, Spirituality, Religion, Therapy, Pedagogy, Engineering, Psychology, Drama, Economy, Political Propaganda, Merchandising, Advertising, etc., etc., etc.. By despising the aforementioned fields, the university mission will probably be confused with them. That’s the charming price to pay if we want to build a university out of its own debris… At the university scientific laboratory, Art should be surgically separated from Entertainment as well. But we should not throw Entertainment in the trash bin. TV series and reality shows are the literature of the new century (Salman Rushdie once said in an article for Telegraph…).
University aims to create a “collaborative trans-thinking platform” (both virtual and physical) capable of integrate different departments and people coming from different areas of expertise, a hybrid space where the art practice will be intertwined with the realms of science and technology, leading to some sort of hyper-surveilled system. An academic environment where we are always “seen”, within a physical-virtual display that I like to call: a prison without walls.
We have always been “technological”. There is no epistemological difference between the prehistoric paintings on Lascaux’s cave walls and the post-historic posts on Facebook’s virtual walls. The mission behind these eminently social inscriptions have always been the same: if you don’t show me the picture, then it never happened! Quoting Paul Virilio: “Screen against screen, the home computer terminal and the television monitor find themselves in a face-off for the domination of the market global perception. This is a market of the icon rather than the idol; control of it will open a new era whose novelty will be as much ethical as aesthetic”. The “prison without walls” is a fictitious playground for me to build a project that is, again, fictitious. Quoting Slavoj Zizek: “TV was supposed to offer — as the ultimate escapist entertainment — the fictional world far from our actual social reality. However, in reality soaps, reality itself is recreated and offered as the ultimate escapist fiction.” [both quotes in CTRL [SPACE]. Rhetorics of surveillance from Bentham to Big Brother].
While working out a new collaborative methodology and expanding into a durational design of distinct yet concentric “groups of knowledge”, modern University should underline some distinctive characteristics of contemporary art (should I say “culture”?): the permanent quarantine period; the obsession with rationalizing risks, flaws, inefficiency, ephemerality (or to do that in a more intelligent way than what museums are already doing); assigning meaning to the original ideas, sketches, drafts, introductory information, and elements at stake; the inevitable Duchampian mise-en-abyme of constant enunciation; the overestimation of the caption (more than the captioned object); the almost infinite extensibility of the “process”; and then the post-modernist question par excellence: what is left to say, when everything has already been said.
Rogério Nuno Costa