Drexel CCI MS in Information Webinar: “Art as Information”

Drexel CCI MS in Information Webinar: “Art as Information”


hello everybody and welcome to the
Drexel University College of Computing and informatics master’s of information
in webinar series today is our third in this series today Professor Tim Gorichanaz will present “art as information.” my name is
Denise Agosto I’m the moderator of this series and I’m a professor here at the
College of Computing and informatics. So take it away, Tim. all right thank you
like Dr. Agosto said my name is Tim Gorichanaz. I’m assistant teaching
professor here and today I’m going to be talking about some of my work on the
concept of art and information it’s not gonna be two research-y but I just wanted
to open us up to some new ways of thinking and some new concepts around
this topic so to get us started you’ve probably
seen this before if not actually used to app yourself this is Google’s art selfie
app that was released early in 2018 and it gained steam as the year went on
particularly towards the end of the year it seems like everybody was using it
what this app allows you to do is either submit a picture of yourself or take a
selfie and Google searches their database of art images to see if it can
find a match for your face what I think is really interesting about this is if
we look at Google’s mission which is organizing the world’s information and
we might ask if we hear that you know what are they doing with making an app
like this well Google seems to be on to something if you ask me thinking about
art as a kind of information and this art selfie app is just one of many
examples at the intersection of art and digital information this is a best and
fast growing fields there’s a huge trend at the intersection here I’m just going
to talk about a few of these fields but just fair warning that these are
contested names contested definitions and constantly shifting but just to give
you an idea of what this space is like one of the earliest forms we’ve seen
here is just broadly called digital art this is using digital tools to create
art it can be today as simple as drawing a picture on your iPad but this goes
back as long as there have been digital computers since the 1940s or you know
conceptually even earlier next there’s information art or data art
is it sometimes called this is using data and information to produce art this
is somewhat similar to information visualization which you might be
familiar with information visualization is just using some form of data
maybe it’s numerical or textual maybe there’s millions of rows of numbers and
you need some way to digest them easier you know people are much better at
spotting visual patterns than they are at doing mental math on millions of
lines of data and so if you create a visualization that can help you find new
scientific discoveries and short conclusions so information art kind of
takes that same idea but uses it for artistic purposes next is software art
this is basically the creation of software as a form of art one example we
see nowadays is code poems which are written poems and they look like poems
and you can read them but they’re actually also executable programs which
do something is which is also part of the poem next Internet art which is
broadly just using the web to create some kind of art this is interactive
participatory multimedia it’s not just that you have art that
you’ve posted onto the internet but that you’re actually using the technology of
the web or the internet more broadly create art okay
and last probably the newest entrance to this field is AI art or algorithm art
which is basically using algorithms to make art an example is machine learning
recipes there’s an artist Janelle Shane who has basically taken a bunch of
recipes show them to an algorithm and have the algorithm create its own
recipes for you know chocolate chip cookies and they’re you know sort of
hilarious and a lot of fun so this is as you can kind of see from from all these
examples there’s a long history of the intersection of information and arts a
lot of people point to this exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art or MoMA in
New York City as kind of the foundational moment in it information
arts in this sense was rooted in the conceptual art movement which sort of
flourished throughout the 20th century and of course if we look through the
history of our artists I’ve always been at the forefront of experimenting with
new technologies and so we shouldn’t be surprised to see that information
technology is no different so when we look at the press release for
this information art exhibit at MoMA we see things like the artists trying to
extend the idea of art beyond traditional categories they said several
of the pieces in the exhibition can only be realized with the active
participation of people either in or outside of the museum this was one of
the first exhibitions to use photography and television recording as part of the
exhibit and they also showed these recordings back to participants in a
sort of feedback loop and so if this was the first exhibit it’s far from the last
actually right now in Philadelphia there’s this exhibit called “Designs for
Different Futures” which shows, according to the press release: “an electrifying
landscape of designs that respond to the future and surprising ingenious and
occasionally unsettling ways.” If you live in Philadelphia or you’re able to travel
I think it’s up for another month or two all right so the point here with all
these examples is just that we’re being invited to think of art in terms of
information more and more and so what does that mean on one hand sure we can
take a painting and scan it right turn this painting to bits
yes but I’d like to ask a little more deeply what does it mean to think of art
as information or as informational now first we have to ask this famous
question what is information what are we talking about in the first place when we
ask ourselves this may be the first thing that comes to mind is information
in terms of knowledge we probably think of facts right I have the information
that I need to make a decision or have this information about when the next
train is coming or whatever maybe I have this information because a good class or read a textbook right
but their form of knowledge or of information which is information as
thing this is information which is you know particle it’s stored in things like
textbooks or articles right but there’s a third form of information which is
what I’m most interested in and which sort of comes to the fore when we talk
about art this is information as a process now this word we don’t use it
this way much anymore it’s a bit archaic but we can see it if we look at the word
formation for example it kind of gives us this idea of a process and so just
like we can talk about information in terms of knowledge and things we can
also talk about the process of becoming informed in this way information is
shaping us and we’re invited to think of how we are changed through and with
information I tried to keep this a little accessible so we don’t go into
too many citations and things but I couldn’t not give this one this sort of
tripartite definition of information comes from Michael Buckland and it’s
been as one of the most influential papers in information science it’s
information is thing published in 1991 so if you’re interested in these ideas
I’d encourage you to check out that paper so if we talk about information is
processed in this way it’s something that changes you that it shapes you well
of course art has always been informational in a
sense this is nothing new the notion that art changes us shapes us in some
way that we can learn something from art explains how we come away from certain
works of art feeling that we’ve learned something right we see this really well
in great literature maybe you’ve come away from reading
Proust or George Eliot or Dostoevsky and we feel like we’ve learned something
but what have we learned it’s not that we’ve learned facts historical facts
about life that we can trust necessarily right but maybe we’ve learned something
about what it means to live a good life what it means to live morally or richly
or whole and evidence of this is seen in how we have sort of books commenting on
this very fact such as “How Proust Can Change Your Life” or “My Life in
Middlemarch” all right so the question then if art is informational you know
why do we have a special word for art what makes art special as a kind of
information to discuss this I’d like to point us to a sort of contrasting
example this is an electric print out which is basically a
representation of a heartbeat so it’s informational but it’s not art
at least an artist until an artist gets their hands on it and you know does
something with it get us to see it in a different way but if you look at it
as an EKG printout it is not yet art so why is that one thing that sets our
apart is what we can call its inexhaustible quality this comes from a
wonderful quote from philosopher Catherine Elgin and in one of her recent
books she’s discussing art in comparison to
other representations such as the EKG printout she says when you’re looking at
an EKG only two things matter the shape of the wave and the frequency with which
it repeats in art on the other hand such as in a drawing any of a vast number of
features might matter the size shape color and the intensity of the line the
weave texture and material of the paper differences however subtle and shading
from one part of the picture to the next and so on and so the picture she says is
inexhaustible there’s always more to be found so when we look at an EKG printout
for example as an EKG printout for the purpose it was made for we only are
looking at two features of it but with art there’s an endless number of
features that we can attend to there’s another quote that I love which comes
from Karl Ove Knausgård, a Norwegian author memoirist, and in his first book
of my struggle which is sort of his long famous epic memoir he’s talking about
visiting many different art museums around Europe and he says I was always
unsettled when I left them because of what they possessed the core of their
being was inexhaustibility and what that raw in me was a kind of desire I can’t
explain it any better than that a desire to be inside the inexhaustibility though
there’s something about art which can keep offering more and more that’s
because we’re always different people at every moment to some extent we’re
changing our context is changing our situations are changing and so great art
has this inexhaustible quality that it can never run out alright so the next
question is you know given our to give an art as information what can it offer
us and I’ve broken this down into three categories that we’ll talk about in more
detail that’s moral knowledge semantic capital and then belonging and meeting
so first let’s talk about moral knowledge so moral knowledge is
knowledge of how to live and be to have the best life that you can now this
people debate on you know whether more knowledge ultimately exists or whether
it’s kind of a personal thing but the point here is that even if art is not
explicitly moralistic it does show us what to notice it provides us with some
knowledge about how we might be in the world potential actions potential
situations that could come up and how we can attend to them one really
interesting example that we’re seeing nowadays is about seeing the effects of
climate change for example so the photograph here is from a piece of
performance art called mermaid tear factory where the artist in some of the
instances this is a photograph from from Miami where she sort of touring around
and then has the the main part of the show where she’s basically shedding
tears because of the destruction of her environment and humans are wreaking all
this havoc because they’re not paying attention to the mermaids who live in
the ocean alright the next one is semantic capital semantic capital is a
concept from the philosopher Luciano Floridi
and basically it’s a type of capital so capital and its root is a kind of
valuable resource historically the word referred to heads of cattle so you know
you if you have many cattle you have a lot of capital nowadays maybe our best
example is money right we think of money right when we think of capital semantic
capital is kind of valuable resources we have around meaning so for example these
are our beliefs our memories our cultural practices right things that
help us solve problems and that’s why semantic capital is so valuable so when
we talk about problems some some problems and questions can be answered
by simple observation some can be answered by doing arithmetic in your
head but some problems design problems with the problems they can only be
solved by using some measure of imagination and and what are the
ingredients for imagination but semantic capital so the image here that I’m
showing as a detail of one of Edward Hopper
paintings and I like this one because it shows some subtle examples of where we
might get semantic capital right so at first it seems to be a very simple image
of a woman looking out a window right but we’re drawn to sort of the play of
the shadows right and we’re also drawn to ideas about loneliness and maybe part
of the urban experience and so when we engage with images like this all of
those ideas are part of our semantic capital and maybe they’ll come into play
in forming architectural design or urban design urban planning in the future all
right we can never quite know but the idea is that we’re getting all this
fodder for problem solving so I have to capital that we build by engaging with
art in the last way that art effects us is in terms of belonging and meaning ok
so one of the things is that art helps us see how we fit into the world and
it’s part of this it strengthens community bonds and identity public art
is a really good example of performing this kind of role this image I’m showing
is from a mural in Philadelphia which explores the history of slavery it
was produced actually by two artists one who was an inmate in a collaboration
with other inmates and also five public schools and so there’s dozens of people
over all who were involved in making this it includes over 1 million glass
tiles and it’s over 10,000 square feet and so we can see how the content of it
the act of its creation allowed for the participant allows for the citizens of
Philadelphia to reflect on who we are where we’ve been where we’re going and
thereby strengthen our bonds of you know what makes us us the point here is that
I want us to see art in terms of how it shapes us right maybe you know and I’m
guilty of this too when we see art we might think of well is it good or bad
right do I like it or not maybe we say is it beautiful or is it ugly right
those are good questions sure but we should also think about how art is
informational so what the next part of the talk here I want to focus in on what
information professionals can do with art and I’m going to talk about some
examples from libraries because to me libraries are sort of the information
institution par excellence but information professionals I mean
nowadays that is such a broad role it can be anything from UX and technology
designers to you know designers of all sorts so some of the examples will be
from libraries but I encourage you to look at the concepts and see how they
can be applied to so the first one the first way that information professionals
might engage with art is by simply increasing access to art so the problem
is now it is that art may be inaccessible
maybe that’s physically inaccessible because it’s in a fancy museum that not
everyone can afford to enter to or it’s far away right or it could be
conceptually inaccessible because even if you can see the art you just have no
idea what to do with it because it’s too abstract or it doesn’t speak to you
through components in which we can increase access to art one is simply
organization right if we think back to the Google art selfie app we have
broader efforts like Google art and culture and digitization efforts trying
to organize and describe and classify and bring art and images of art to wider
audiences next is education helping people understand or learn to approach
art and incorporate art in their lives in a really great example of information
institutions that are already doing this are with art lending libraries this has
been a trend over the past few decades particularly at university libraries but
we’re seeing it more and more just in the past couple years so the photo here
is from the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver it’s called the Octopus
Initiative and what they’re trying to do is offer any resident of Denver the
chance to borrow and live with a work of art made by a Denver-based artist for
ten months and it’s completely free no one pays anything to take part in this
so that’s a really wonderful example another trend we’re seeing is artists
and residents at public libraries and so here’s an image of the artist in
residence at a library in Texas and basically the artist has studio space
they might put on some kind of programming and this gives community
members the opportunity to see an artist in action it’s not you know some weird
genius who lived in the 1500s right somebody who’s alive today and you know
learn to understand how to how to live with art basically all right next is
offering art making experian so one obvious way is to offer
programming that centered around art and art making experiences but importantly
this needs to involve recognizing the knowledge generating function that art
making has it’s not just a diversion it’s not just something to do you know
because you have some spare time or because you need to occupy the kids it
actually serves this role that I’ve been talking about so a few examples of that
are maker spaces we see maker spaces nowadays in a lot of libraries and
universities and in more and more different types of organizations
oftentimes these are sort of digital tech focused but sometimes they are are
also artistic we focused in another example I wanted to highlight comes from
my own dissertation research which I did in summer 2018
in my research I studied artists creating self-portraits and sort of a
lot of academic questions are on that but as part of the project I was able to
have an exhibition on campus here at Drexel and we showed the sub portraits
that were created as part of the project and at the closing reception community
members were invited to come and take part in workshop where they created
their own self-portraits so first they were led through a sort of self self
questioning introspective exercise and then they were given a lot of time and
food and drinks to create self portraits and at the end of the workshop attendees
were invited to sum up their experience in a single word and so we heard a lot
of really interesting words here tragic celebration collaboration introspection
confusing calming many people express that they learned new things about
themselves just from doing this seemingly simple activity some people
chose to share that and other people just said thank you so that was really
nice the next way that information professionals can engage with art is by
watching artists and seeing what they’re doing as I mentioned before artists are
often at the forefront of technological change experimenting and seeing what we
can do with new technologies so because of that artists often pave the way to
new ways of doing things and so the question here is can we learn from the
artists can we take some of their ideas and implement them
into systems that we’re building so a really interesting example of this is
this project astronaut you can look at it online at astronaut dot IO and what
this does is it presents an alternative way to filter and find the contents so
astronaut if you go to this website what it will do is it will show you some
little snippets of YouTube videos that were uploaded in the past week or two
that haven’t had any views yet or maybe they’ve had only very few views you
might know oh that every minute several $100 I don’t know the exact
number it’s always increasing astronomically but you know multiple
hundred hours of video are being uploaded on YouTube every minute and
there’s no possible way other people to watch those compounded with the fact
that our recommendations are given to us based on what’s already popular what
people are already talking talking about and what you’re already likely to like
based on what you’ve watched before so that’s you know how Amazon works how
YouTube all these recommendation systems how they work and so what this astronaut
project invites us to do is think about is there a different way to organize and
present content right this is an art project but maybe there’s a way that we
can leverage it right another example of this is this project by Leo Selvaggio
which is called the You Are Me Prosthetic Mask as you might know facial
recognition technology and surveillance are becoming increasingly important and
urgent to think about and so this artist basically created a prosthetic mask of
his own face which was designed so that facial recognition algorithms and
surveillance cameras and the like would recognize it as his face
so it will fool these cameras and so yeah he offers these for sale you can
buy them and so this is a really interesting artistic intervention and it
raises questions about surveillance and facial recognition what these
technologies mean so this is the kind of thing that artists can do when it comes
to new technologies and basically my point here is that we should pay
attention to what they’re doing and take them seriously
next and last is that we can use art to shine a light on important issues okay
so as I’ve kind of been saying art can show us what’s possible and what
actually in the culture today does our attention so whether that’s facial
recognition technology or whatever and another piece of this is that art
operates at a slower pace so we’re hearing you know all these things about
information overload and the attention economy and we don’t have time to think
and all this the 24-hour news cycle right all these things are constantly
happening our Twitter feeds they’re blowing up but art as I said it operates
at a slower pace and so engaging with art gives us the opportunity to look at
these important issues in a sort of a more calmer reflective way so one simple
and interesting way that we can use art to shine a light on an important issues
is as simple as putting together a display in the public library on fiction
which includes LGBTQ characters for example showing that these ways of life
are possible and accepted as we know from research on identity formation
people need to see what identities are possible and at play in a given cultural
setting and you know displaying them is one way to do that
I should note here that such displays are famously controversial especially in
more conservative areas for example but this is also an important role of art
being controversial so I know that this is a very touchy subject and there can
be a lot of you know political and practical issues but I just wanted to
raise it as as one of the functions of art another example sort of related to
the facial recognition type of technology is this project this person
does not exist this came out of some research that was done by NVIDIA where
basically they took a lot of photographs of humans faces and showed them to an
algorithm to the point where the algorithm was able to generate its own
fictional people so on one hand that sort of a science project if you want to
put it that way but by creating this website this person does not exist calm
which you can go to right now what happens when you go to this website is
you’re confronted with an image of a person who does not exist and so on one
hand this looks like a real person it’s extremely lifelike you know it looks
like I mean there’s what else can we say about that but the name of the website
really gives us pause so that’s an interesting way that art can shine a
light on you know we have this technology what does it
mean we don’t really think about these questions too much sometimes and then
lastly I just wanted to show this again if you were looking at my title slide
you saw this his images this is from a Korean art duo Shinseungback Kimyonghun and it’s called Cloud Face basically
what they did was they used facial recognition systems and showed pictures
of clouds to them and basically the machine made an error obviously seeing
faces in the clouds and what’s really interesting is that humans also see
faces in the clouds a lot of these you can probably see as faces and so they
talk about how the machines error and the human imagination are meeting in
this project so this is a really another interesting example so what I’ve showed
today are just a few examples of what might happen if we can see art as
actually informative and not just a pleasant diversion and I hope they spark
some ideas maybe even questions before we move on to questions I just wanted to
give a few examples if you’re interested in in exploring these ideas further
there’s three books which came out in the past couple years
written by artists the first one actually the first and the last one just
came out last year the middle one came out a few years ago so 2016 the first
one “How to Disappear” is thinking about you know we’re in this time of sharing
everyone’s trying to share and so what are we losing what is important about
having a private space just for me and how can we reclaim that the middle one
wasting time on the Internet actually comes from a course that
Kenneth Goldsmith taught maybe he still teaches but it’s called
exactly that “Wasting Time on the Internet” and so speaking of internet art
this book has a lot of really interesting examples and reflections on
how we can use computers and the Internet generally as a sort of artistic
intervention and then the last one by the artist Jennie Odell how to do
nothing is really how to reclaim some of this time and space by engaging with the
world a little more artfully that’s all thank you for your attention you can get
in touch with me at these addresses as you see here I don’t think so should
have time for questions so if anybody on the chat I don’t know exactly how we
should handle this you’re on the chat if I can manage to
the chat wouldn’t know they asked a question there you should read it out
loud that’s good right so this is not a question this is coming from Denise this
is not a question about something that really excited me when I toured Brandeis
University a few months ago the tour guide said that students could check out
a pieces of art from the University Art Museum to put in their dorm rooms to
enjoy and share I thought it was a fantastic way to make art a function
part of the community absolutely yeah depending on the museum they have
anywhere from you know less than 10 percent of their art actually on display
at any given moment so they have so much stuff in storage so I mean I mean
there’s you know legal and liability insurance type issues that need to be
you know considered here but yeah absolutely universities were among the
first I think you know the first to pioneer this idea of art lending library
for the students to put in their dorms and so I mean when we think about how
stressful College can be right having some wonderful art on your wall that can
stimulate you in all the ways that I was talking about absolutely valuable yeah Jenna can you tell us where information
and art fit into the typical Library and Information science curriculum is it a
free-standing course or embed or more embedded orthogonal II that is a really
interesting question so one thing that we’re doing here at Drexel we just
reorganized our masters program and where we’re requiring all the students
in their first year to take a design class so it’s a it’s called design
thinking through information in gosh oh my gosh all these courses have long long
titles right design thinking information innovation through design thinking
that’s the title and so design and art I mean we can have a lot of discussions on
the relationship between design and art but at least the way I approach it and
I’m teaching it this quarter which is extra embarrassing that I can’t remember
the name of the actual course it has a lot of these sort of artistic exercises
and I get the students drawing and you know reflecting on their on their work
in the practice I think there absolutely is a lot of ways that’s we can
incorporate artistic art making in our reflection in the classroom more
orthogonally as you mentioned for example for those who don’t know and
Jenna Hartel has a lot of great work on this iSquares project where students
are invited to create a visual representation of the concept
information what is information what is your definition in the form of a picture
and to me that’s you know I mean it it has this sort of scientific quality to
it but it can also be engaged with artfully on that point I mean we can
also engage with an EKG printout artfully right if you’re looking at it
as an EKG it just tells you this data about the hop of the person’s heartbeat
but maybe if you attention to those gridlines in the backgrounds or if you
start looking at the negative space or if you started looking at it in the way
that we see faces in clouds it starts to become art and so to me art is not
necessarily this objective category of things but rather it’s a sort of
relationship you have it’s sort of about that process of information so yeah I
would absolutely love to see course you know specific around art as a type of
information but not sure the the problem with library education and information
science education is there’s so many courses and it’s so hard to pack them
into two years and so that’s an ongoing
challenge but yeah wonderful so Jenna can attest that students at
University of Toronto Faculty of information would love a free-standing
course yes I think maybe more is typing yeah yeah yeah she feels that our
students are artists themselves bursting with creativity and we don’t provide
enough outlets I’ve seen that even in my own courses here at Drexel actually
which is sort of known as being a very computation heavy you know digital
program where we have a lot of students who are who are aching for this kind of
engagement but yeah the curriculum doesn’t seem to offer it I wonder if
there’s you know pressures from the ALA or analogous bodies you know when it
comes to accreditation and it’s a big question and we’ve got a question in the
room here so are there any recommendations for studying art as
information methods have used methods I have used or have learned from studying
art methodologically yeah that’s interesting so there are
there’s a whole area called arts based methods which is a way of doing research
not on art or artists per se but using artistic methods as a form of research
and creating art as a research product and it’s facing a lot of challenges
right now in academia you know being accepted right for example if you write
a poem it’s probably not gonna get published in the top journals in your
field if you create a painting it’s not going to be published right and so at
present the pieces that I’m aware of also have to come with sort of like a
scholarly explanation to make it kind of fit a little more I tried this actually
a couple years ago I wrote a paper that was it ended up getting published in
general documentation but it’s just a sort of dialogue between two people so
it’s sort of silly but the point was it was about information experience and you
know what is it like to engage with information and in this case what is it
like to engage with a piece of scholarship and why why is it that
why does it have to be that way and so instead of just presenting that dialogue
as itself I had a you know introduction in a conclusion which had all the
citations and so yeah there are you know I would encourage you to look at arts
based methods if you’re interested in that there’s a lot of precedent for that
but the challenge is kind of acceptance and really communicating what is the
knowledge that we’re gaining from this to the academic community the question
they kind of forget about but we have another question online so there’s a
case to be made for libraries librarians as collaborators and preparing data from
their collections with artists in minds we have a link to a site which I know
sure what’ll happen if I click the link right now but try it ok linkage as cool
and Tim Siftar, our CCI liaison librarian, for those who don’t know. so
this looks really interesting so yeah so this is one of my sort of ongoing areas
of interest is this link between artists and information professionals the
philosopher Nelson Goodman had this really wonderful book I came out in the
70s called “Languages of the Arts” and towards the end of the book he talks
about how artists organize experience for the rest of us and I thought that
was quite interesting because information professionals organize
experience for the rest of us also so this is only something that I’m just
starting to think about though you know what can information professionals learn
from artists as far as ways of doing their work maybe there’s a lot that we
can look into and maybe this is one example great so all right so I’m gonna
turn it back to Denise for a little closing comment here. Great, thank you so
much. Tim, that was absolutely fascinating of course got me very excited seeing
your ideas for connecting communities to art through libraries because as a
library information science professor of methods closer to my heart and libraries
thank you all for taking part this webinar will be recorded was recorded it
will be edited and will be on our College website in case you’d like to go
back and review it or share it with others also please consider taking part
in our and there webinar in the series on February 4th
which is a Tuesday from noon to 1:00 p.m. we will have a next webinar which
will be called “Saving my Web Things for Me and Others but Not for All” be
presented by Mat Kelly and he will be talking about stuff in the web and how
we use the web to the various preserve stuff it would be a free webinar just
like this one Tuesday February 4th at noon and you can sign up for it on our
website thank you everybody

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