Information and Form
The contrast between form and information is one of the fundamental cultural dimensions which accompanies the shift from industrial to information society; or from modernism to what I would like to brand “informationalism” What search for good form was for modernism, information networking is for our own society. And if the first usually resulted in solid objects – geometric abstractions, sculptures and 3-D constructions, chairs and teapots, office skyscrapers and photographs – the second is by its very nature dynamic, never thickening into something solid and fixed.
And yet, as the word inFORMation implies itself, there is a hidden form-making impulse in information society. Or at least, we can say that information processes often leaves material residues. Or, to be more brutal but more honest, that information processes can be forced to leave material forms. Artistic networks made possible by Internet leave behind some kind of material activity: Web sites, written manifestos (or at least email postings), exhibition catalogs. And Web sites can be reduced to screen shots or listings of computer code, be it XML, CGI or ASP.
Since modern art, modern aesthetic theory, the museum complex, and the capitalist economy at large are designed to deal with material objects rather than with immaterial information networks, our first automatic response can be to try to force information networks into material traces and objects. More challenging is to figure out how to represent, document, and ultimately support social networking as a genuine cultural practice in its own right; how to present in a museum or gallery setting information networks and processes while giving justice to their dynamic character; in short, the ways to translate information into form which are intrinsic rather than alien to this information.
Following a few experiments where a contemporary art festival became a setting for a real-time social networking activity (such as Workspace at Documenta X, 1997), 2000 edition of Ars Electronica Festival presented electrolobby --“a dedicated area inside the Ars Electronica Festival designed expressively for the net-inspired digital culture and lifestyle.” Skillfully morphing between various speech genres of contemporary culture, Paris-based TNC network which organized electroloby introduced it as “a marketplace of opinions, projects, branded cultural commodities and their pirated bootlegs — a networked showroom where ideas are on display and communication is the coin…Genetic researchers meet experimental entertainers, food jockeys mingle with MP3 mixers, game designers kibbutz with concept engineers.” Following its I.P.O. (Initial Public Opening), electrolobby run for the whole duration of festival. I did not see any “food jockeys” in the program, but other announced residents indeed represented an exiting mix of net-inspired culture: Kodwo Eshun, the author of More Brilliant Than The Sun; Lincoln Stein who used Napster paradigm to create a program for publication of genome data; Eric Zimmerman, the author of super-addictive SISSY FIGHT 2000; and a dozen or so other personalities and groups, including the bad boys of the Net, the ever present etoy.