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IN HIS 1997 BOOK INTERFACE CULTURE, Steven Johnson suggests that the interface, the structure that allows us to make "sense of information in its raw form," is no longer the arcane domain of HCI (human-computer interaction) specialists, but has become a dominant cultural paradigm. And "information in its raw form"--the engine of twenty-first-century culture, if you will--is a database. As media theorist Lev Manovich writes, "following art historian Erwin Panofsky's analysis of linear perspective as a symbolic form' of the modern age, we may even call database a new symbolic form of a computer age ... a new way to structure our experience of ourselves and of the world."

Antecedents of what artist Victoria Vesna calls "database aesthetics" range from Roy Ascott's Wagnerian concept of the Gesamtdatenwerk to my personal favorite, Leo Steinberg's identification of a shift ca. 1950 from a vertical, perspectival orientation in painting to the matrix structure of the "flatbed picture plane"-"any receptor surface on which objects are scattered, on which data is entered, on which information may be received, printed, impressed." Steinberg was describing the innovations of Rauschenberg and Dubuffet, but his formulation applies equally to current practice. The database is the plumbing of interface, and many artists are working with its structures to transform what Hal Foster has referred to as "a repository of the given" into compelling experiences that may even approach knowledge with a point of view, if not wisdom.

Steve Dietz is director of New Media Initiatives at the walker Art Center, Minneapolis.
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Publication:Artforum International
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2000
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