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C5 Field Mediation: 16 Sessions

C5, 1999
Brett Stalbaum: What I'm getting at is that the structure, which enables the datum to have any sort of unity, is reliant on the linguistic environment. It may have a self-perpetuating structure in one linguistic context but not in another. So although the datum may have expressionistic behavior, the meaning changes in a different context. There may not be a consistency of identity for the data.

Jan Ekenberg: Not through the contextual levels.

Brett Stalbaum: Through the changing of context. Unlike the autogenic unity, it is unable to maintain its identity.

Joel Slayton: This seems to be a very good summary point. In some ways this isn't relevant to the project. The data are the data. But because of the contextual change, what you are suggesting is that there is also an identity shift.

Brett Stalbaum: The datum has this new meaning. What is interesting here is that it maintains its expressionist behavior, but it changes meaning at the same time.

Jan Ekenberg: What's interesting is what it maintains, I suppose.

Brett Stalbaum: The conflict between what it maintains ...

Jan Ekenberg: ... and the environment. Between the environment of what changes and what's kept.

Joel Slayton: So there are relationships and, now maybe dealing specifically with this instance, certain relationships that are preserved across the transformation. The 3-D data collected from the interaction with the cube in the motion tracking system no longer are three-dimensional data. But in the 16 Sessions project, there are relationships in terms of attributes and agencies perhaps that were in both projects.

Jan Ekenberg: Right. You can also say the three-dimensionality of the data is purely contextual, of course, because data are just data. The data in terms of the phone book [list of IP addresses in 16 Sessions], the phone book if the datum is aligned, or the phone book if the datum is the dots, or if the data are there, the phone book is still maintained as a phone book.

Brett Stalbaum: Something we haven't really addressed is that the datum carries similar attributes between the different manifestations -- the attributes are similar, but the meaning is different between the two projects. The first question is, How is it moved? What is our role in this transition from one medium to another? Where were we in the process? Was it a collaborative process between us and the data? Another question is, If we move the datum to a third space -- and I like Jan's example of the phone book -- if we move this data in its present form into a phone book, would it still express those attributes and agencies?

Joel Slayton: Isn't that in fact what we are doing?

Brett Stalbaum: Yeah.

Joel Slayton: We're creating a phone book.

Brett Stalbaum: Yeah.

Joel Slayton: And then we're moving the data into it. I think that this is perfectly apropos.

Brett Stalbaum: But even just printing the data out, though, printing out the raw data streams as we have them on a piece of paper, does it still manifest itself in that particular form? And my argument would be that it worked on the underlying data-mining routines. Having dealt a lot with the streams of data, I thought about the ways to allow it to transform itself into something else. Those agencies and those attributes are actually manifesting in the raw data stream itself. Open up this data in a text and look at them and you can almost see the attributes, even though the meaning of the stream of numbers is obviously quite different. When we began to reduce it or allow it to manifest itself in ways that involve averaging and doing different things with it, it became even more apparent.

So, where is the artist, I guess, is my question. Data are doing their own thing. I happen to have with me a quote from Kittler that is quite interesting to consider in terms of this problem -- which I don't really think is exactly a problem. He says, "I rather envision artists and populations of autonomous software agents interacting with one another in complex ways. As with most complex systems that cannot be controlled in detail, the question is to find ways to maneuver or shepherd this spontaneous behavior in the system. For example, the materials an artist uses toward some goal, the process of production of form needs to be half planned and half self-organized. The materials, whether hardware or software, must be allowed to have their say in the final form that is produced." I don't think it's futuristic to say at this point that's something we've already achieved in this particular project.

Joel Slayton: We have to be very careful that that notion isn't misinterpreted, as in letting the paint speak. Because that's not what he's saying at all. I mean, I think it's strongly reinforcing and endorsing many of the ideas that we've talked about tonight, in terms of how self-organizing systems function.

Brett Stalbaum: In other words, we're not ...

Joel Slayton: Whenever you work with data, that's what happens.

Brett Stalbaum: Right.

Joel Slayton: I guess that's my point of view about it. That's the consequence of working with data.

Brett Stalbaum: It's the shepherding that becomes interesting.

Jan Ekenberg: You just mentioned Kittler's point when he talks about who is the artist, and where is the artist as he makes the decision how to switch between the different codes. That's what Kittler says. He talks about just that importance of being able to go between the different systems and codes.

Kristin Cully: And in terms of the system being somehow akin to the context, could you think of the context of the system being influenced by that translation? When you were speaking I was thinking about the fact that I'm sure you can look at the datum in a different context when it maintains a certain identity. It is its own identity, but in doing so can influence the context itself to somehow be reinterpreted or changed.

Jan Ekenberg: Right. The data have that. They have the ability if they have the permission.

Kristin Cully: Yes.


The trajectories of theory and art meet at the apex of research: mutually oriented objectives promoting an intermingling of the two.

There is no inherent philosophical conflict between the function of theory and art and the intent of corporation. Each can be manifest in a mutually shared frame of reference that relies on the particularities of intellectual inferences and aesthetics. Theory as product (at C5) infers an intention of coexistence.

Theorists from the physical, biological, social, and computer sciences, along with philosophers, cultural theorists, literary critics, and artists, have collectively lacerated traditional conceptions of content. They have deconstructed its nature into the "stored," "sorted," "distributed," and "acted upon." The reasoning for this approach is that content, information, and data can be segregated conceptually, with the properties of data being scrutinized through various methodologies involving computation and measurement analysis. However, such a purely structuralist perspective does not suffice in describing a model in which "meaning" can be explicated as a self-deterministic function within a system. That is, one that is not directly the result or product of a structure, but a result of the dynamics of a data agency and attribute.

Inferring by observation the properties of the elemental subsystems of a larger system is a most difficult task. This top-down approach yields an inappropriate analysis. Behavior is not necessarily indicative of the nature of the data agencies and attributes of which a system is composed. At best we can only speculate about the nature of a system as a theoretical construct.

An artwork needs to ask how it is art. For the question to be necessary, the artwork cannot "know" the answer. Therefore, the answer cannot be all-inclusive; if it were all-inclusive, then any answer would be correct and the artwork would thus know the answer. This curse of the artwork repeatedly asking about its ontological status is its means of communication. It is in the asking that it says anything about anything. To address the cultural changes brought on by the use of information technologies, an artwork must ask how it is itself affected by those changes. The artwork "C5" is constantly redefining its question by luring its contexts. Moving among the art world, a research community, and a corporate culture, it never gets an answer on which it can settle.

This is the second C5 Field Mediation on Mingling Theory. The purpose of the mediation is to theoretically consider the nature and function of agencies and attributes in data networks. The objective of the discourse is to provide an appropriate intellectual backdrop to the C5/Walker Art Center project 16 Sessions.

The format for this field mediation involves six position statements written by C5 research theorists. The statements are limited to one page of text. Each will be presented by a randomly selected session participant and will have two respondents: first, the author, who may pose questions or offer clarification, and second, a randomly selected participant who "spins" the argument. Each presentation, including questions, will last 15 minutes.

C5 Field Mediation Participants:

Joel Slayton
Lisa Jevbratt
Jan Ekenberg
Brett Stalbaum
Geri Wittigm
Kristin Cully
Benjamin Eakins
Steve Durie

Additional C5 Members:

Anne-Marie Schleiner
Bruce Gardner
Veronica Ramirez
Jack Toolin



DATUM: The fundamental object that has the denotative power to carry meaning as action, including linguistic behaviors that hold, relate, associate, reference, link, tie, merge, substitute, replace, identify, locate, determine, retrieve, list, and index information.

PERMISSIONS: The transformative nature and inherent possibilities of addressing data, being addressed by other data, or acting upon data.

CONSENSUAL DOMAIN: An ontogenic structural coupling resulting from a network of sequences of mutually triggering interlocked behaviors that are both arbitrary and contextual.

AUTOCATALYTIC ATTRACTOR: A closed chain of processes that display self-stimulation and self-maintenance. Attractors that change their internal structure so that they become more or less receptive to other information events, resulting in perturbation of a system.

ALTERNATE: A mimicked substitution for a datum that ripples through an information structure and serves as the catalyst for dissimulation.

ONTOGENIC UNITY: An inferencing structure that can pass from one proposition, statement, or judgment to another whose truth is believed to follow from that of the former. An adaptive tendency of a datum that can be described in linguistic terms.

Research Theorist: Jan Ekenberg
Presenter: Kristin Cully
Spinner: Lisa Jevbratt

The word "datum" is, of course, the singular form of the plural "data" and is sometimes used in combinations such as "sense-datum" (visual sense-datum, olfactory sense-datum, etc.). In the German and Scandinavian languages, it means "date," though it can be used in various combinations. In current C5 research, "datum" refers to an "information object," whichis a carrier of meaning in a data flow. Temporality is here introduced as a foundation for semiosis. The denotative properties of a datum -- that is, its ability to relate, reference, replace, retrieve, link, list, and index information -- positions it ontologically within families of linguistic agencies. It can therefore be examined and understood through analysis of syntagmas, rhythms, and tropes, etc. Once slippery and erratic data units suddenly become tangible and comparable.

Language, though, is just one way in which a datum can manifest itself. Another way is as a structural object, as a thing with attributes, an object in the world.

One way to analyze a datum is to look at it in specific topographies of agencies and attributes -- agencies and attributes as a proposed system to "capture" the denotative power of the datum.

One problem occurs, however: A datum is highly contextual. A framework, scale, or environment must be specified for the datum to take on meaning. Without association to a topography, the linguistic structural coupling has no meaning and the datum is free to assume roles in an alternative system.

The phone book. A mapping of information. Question: Where is the datum to be found in the phone book? Answer: The various ways of looking at the data determine the datum. If you are trying to find a phone number, each person and his or her number (one line) is a datum. If you are learning the alphabet, each character is a datum. If you are a printing technician, each dot that makes up a character is a datum.

A datum is meaningful only in a context.

But it is the unique duality of the datum that gives the concept its true power. A datum's ability to function as both language and object creates a possibility for the datum to span the seemingly unbridgeable gap between words and objects. The concept thus helps us understand how the objects one perceives can be transformed into language. As the objects are given linguistic form, they also become commands and prohibitions.

Research Theorist: Lisa Jevbratt
Presenter: Jan Ekenberg
Spinner: Brett Stalbaum

The idea of data having the ability to refer to, or to be referred to by, other data -- that data are either a sign of something (language) or something that can be signified (reality) -- is at the heart of most philosophical constructs and conflicts of the 20th century. It is the reason for the miscommunication between discourses stemming from analytical philosophy (most scientific research) and those building on continental philosophy (most cultural theories). As these discourses are forced to intermingle through the construction of semantic environments and networked space, the agreed-upon differences lose their strength. The following model for how a datum carries and transforms meaning is designed to enable an analysis of referentiality in these spaces where a collapse of the sign/signified continuum has occurred.

Datum Permissions: A datum can address data, be addressed by data, and act upon data. It can have any of these abilities simultaneously, and it can change its permissions depending on its current state. A datum is not a static entity with a linguistic dynamic relationship to other data, but is itself dynamic in its ability to directly address or be addressed. The relationships among data thus reflect not their ontology (as in a reality vs. simulation/language construct), but the agreements made among them. A datum can "choose" to give access to one datum but not another. A set of data can invite another set of data to cause action while being invited to cause action by a third set. The relationships among data or sets of data are rarely symmetrical and are mostly multidirectional, meaning that while the main concept introduced to data analysis would be one of access, it would also be interesting to consider concepts such as intention, trust, secrecy, and initiation.

Research Theorist: Geri Wittig
Presenter: Benjamin Eakins
Spinner: Joel Slayton

I would propose that principles of autopoiesis -- a form of systems organization in which the system as a whole continually produces and replaces its own components and differentiates itself from its environment -- have the capacity to emerge in the "16 Sessions" project, particularly the elements of consensual domain and structural coupling.

Ontogeny, the history of structural change in a unity without loss of organization in that unity, is of primary concern in autopoietic systems analysis. Ongoing structural change occurs in a unity from moment to moment, as change triggered either by interactions with its environment or by internal dynamics. The result is that the ontogenic transformation of a unity ceases only with its disintegration. Two or more autopoietic unities can undergo coupled ontogenies when their interactions take on a recurrent or more-stable nature. In a structural coupling, interactions between a unity and another unity or a unity and its environment will consist of reciprocal perturbations. In these interactions, the structure of the environment only triggers changes in autopoietic unities; it doesn't specify or direct them. Likewise, unities can only trigger change in the environment. Mingling, the bringing together of components in close association, is a mechanism that seems particularly suited to enabling structural coupling because mingling usually, but not always, suggests no fundamental loss of identity.

As it relates to data, autopoiesis would most likely be realized primarily in linguistic, consensual domains. Language, as such a domain, is a patterning of behavior that possesses a shared orientation. When observers operate in a linguistic domain, as we have done here in the development of the "16 Sessions" project, they operate in a domain of descriptions -- or agencies and attributes. What observers do is make linguistic distinctions of linguistic distinctions -- ontogenically generated descriptions. Observing arises with language as a co-ontogeny in descriptions of descriptions. The observer is a languaging entity, operating in language with other observers. This entity generates the self and its circumstances as linguistic distinctions of its participation in a linguistic domain. Meaning arises as a relationship of linguistic distinctions, and meaning becomes part of our domain of conservation and adaptation. It is our history of recurrent interactions, or minglings, that makes possible our ontogenic drift in a structural coupling and that affords interpersonal coordination of actions. This takes place in a world we share because we have specified it together through our actions, our data minglings.

Note: Descriptions of concepts related to autopoiesis, such as ontogeny, coupled ontogenies, structural couplings, observers, and consensual domains, are quoted from "The Tree of Knowledge: The Biological Roots of Human Understanding," by Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela.

Research Theorist: Brett Stalbaum
Presenter: Lisa Jevbratt
Spinner: Jan Ekenberg

Contemporary evaluations of art practice and ontology often are sorted into categories that emphasize incompatibility or opposition. Examples of this tendency are the science vs. art debate and the polemics surrounding the virtual form and traditional object-making. Rather than generate another argument on the relative merits of oppositional stances concerning art and technology, it is important to identify the processes by which stratification in art discourse occurs in the first place. It is through such an analysis that many of the assumptions regarding the incompatibility of art and other fields can be accounted for and perhaps encouraged to self-modify to meet contemporary cultural phase states. The key concepts necessary to perform this analysis derive from the work of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guttari. They have been nicely focused, however, by Manuel De Landa in his recent book "One Thousand Years of Non-Linear History." The fundamental idea is that there exist abstract processes that manifest themselves in similar ways within extremely different natural systems. This idea is what allows De Landa, for example, to compare the non-linear organizational processes behind geological, biological, and linguistic histories. Among the abstract "machines" that De Landa describes are a sorting machine and a meshwork machine. Put simply, sorting machines are stratifying forces that taxonomize, categorize, classify, and ultimately "glue" things into stable structures. Sorting machines, De Landa says, have yielded hierarchical systems such as sandstone, centralized bureaucracies, societal class structures, and major languages such as English.

Meshwork machines are forces that organize around "autocatalytic attractors." They can integrate processes in closed loops of mutually beneficial stimulation. De Landa's examples include granite, chemical clocks, markets, and various networks. Significantly, he does not view hierarchies and meshworks as contradictory processes. There can be hierarchies of meshworks and meshworks of hierarchies, all of which can take extremely complex forms. Nevertheless, tensions between these forms of organization do exist. But De Landa views these as productive tensions that stimulate necessary drift. Further, he says, the history of the structures formed by these abstract processes is also that of the material interaction of those processes. Viewed in this way, it is possible both to account for the non-linear material forces that shape a discourse, and to potentially shepherd the meshwork of structures in such a way that novel spaces for artistic agency emerge. This includes the possibility of nonbiological matter or raw data being participants in, or even autonomous creators of, fine art.

Returning to the polemics regarding art and technology, it is critical to begin by intentionally not considering how hierarchical structures such as art institutions and traditional aesthetic theories conflict with emerging networks of independent artists and theorists (or how the heavily stratified processes of contemporary science conflict with the more meshwork-like processes of bricolage and tinkering in the arts). Instead, it is key to consider how stratified structures, such as the institutional art world, meet and self-organize with meshworks of artists and theorists (or how relatively fixed ideas about art or science interact with emerging meshworks consisting of elements of both). As autocatalytic art attractors form new, mutually beneficial networks of heterogeneous elements, they do not constitute a radical challenge to homogenizing art hierarchies. Rather, they are producers of new materials to be sorted or meshed into increasingly novel forms that are compatible with the arts precisely because they emerge from adaptive non-linear processes. In short, this analysis can do much not only to explain the emergence of new fine art media, such as video and network, but to perhaps predict future systems-based art forms, such as legal art, genetic engineering art, and the corporation as art.

Research Theorist: Joel Slayton
Presenter: Brett Stalbaum
Spinner: Benjamin Eakins

Clearly, data are not the output of a procedure. Rather, they are the fundamental pattern of digital activity. According to Douglas Hofstedder, meaning-carrying objects carry meaning only by virtue of their being active, autonomous agents. Conceived as a pattern of action, the datum as agency is most likely content-intensive in terms of its instructional value with respect to other data; that is, in acting as an interfacing agency. As such, a datum patterns with other data to combine (or uncombine) into more (or less) complex prepositional relationships. This linguistic conveyance is an inevitable by-product of such patterning and tends to emerge as apparent coherence in the behavior of data.

A reasoned supposition is that data are necessarily predisposed to particular configurations of pattern and are therefore necessarily delimited. This perspective, even if true, does not account for all potential agencies and attributes spawned by interactions of data. It does not follow that all possible expressions can be identified before the emergence of pattern. It is more likely that data continue to show new capacities for autonomous activity through new aggregate relationships. Data are self-referential.

A feature of networks, in which data appear to interact in seemingly endless ways, is the "alternate," a mimicked substitution for a datum that ripples throughout the semantic domain of network space. Alternates, like data, are capable of self-determination and denotation of meaning through patterned action. Unlike data, however, alternates contort patterning into mirrored equilibriums of data structures that in turn self-organize into replicant-like linguistic performances.

Alternates enable data to simulate their own functionality. It is this characteristic dissimulation that appears as a coherency of data behavior across structures, processes, meanings, and applications.

The outcome of a hyperlogical destiny of homogenized immediacy and interaction is mirrored by all data in the alternate. Only the alternate enables an appearance of differentiation reduced to the continuities of coherence -- clearly, a denotation separate from both signifier and referent. It is the mirror of the alternate that results in the deception that the network cannot enact its own theme. What is interesting is that it may be quite the opposite.

Research Theorist: Benjamin Eakins
Presenter: Joel Slayton
Spinner: Kristin Cully

A 1969 "Art in America" article quotes artist Douglas Heubler as saying, "Art has nothing to do with something. It has to do with everything except what it looks like." The notion of theory and art being essentially the same discourse was at that time hardly new. In the most fundamental ways, what C5 is doing as art has well-established art-historical precedence -- in fact, what saves the whole endeavor from being completely conservative, even somewhat anachronistic, is its engagement with contemporary systems of notation: the coding, discourse, and environment of networked data-processing systems, and the group's embodiment in the form of a contemporary corporate entity. Its area of engagement and corporate form allow it to be both conceptually fresh and relevant to contemporary issues in society and the arts.

In the engagement with contemporary notation systems, the datum may be seen as the basic element. The behaviors and relativistic functioning of those data are among the foremost concerns of people, ourselves included, who are dealing with these notation systems. The ability of the data to be organized, or to find their own organization, is an important issue. Whether the deductive functioning that data can take on can be seen as an ontogenic unity is questionable. The datum exists as a particular unity, but it cannot have ontogenic unity in that such unity has a structure that allows it to persist in a changing environment; whereas the individual datum has a behavior and collections of data may have behaviors, they have those behaviors only within a given structure. That structure exists only within a particular linguistic structure, within the language of mathematics. By recontextualizing, the data persist in their expressionistic behaviors, but the meaning of those behaviors changes.

C5, 1999. First published by Gallery 9/Walker Art Center for 16 Sessions.