The aesthetics of the humanities: towards a poetic knowledge production
The increasing use of digital tools and interfaces to represent scholarly materials has once again drawn our attention to both the importance of aesthetics in the (digital) humanities and to questions of form, design and poetics in relationship to our systems and practices of knowledge production. In this respect, imagining how creativity, reasoning, interpretation, and aesthetics are intrinsically entangled, would be the start of a critique of what can still be seen as one of the major oppositions structuring humanities scholarship: an opposition between on the one hand more rationalistic, conceptual and objectifying tendencies in knowledge production and representation and on the other hand, the role played by subjectivity, artfulness, feeling, experience and sensory aspects in research practices as well as in their media of dissemination and communication.
This critique has been triggered amongst others by new data visualisation tools and methods. These tools and methods offer alternative ways of representing information and of thinking about information aesthetics or ‘infosthetics’. But what does this mean for our conventional ways of reading, understanding and analysing data and information? What is the role of design and aesthetics in knowledge formation? And what is gained or lost at the hands of these new ways of extracting and representing data? These are just some of the questions that will be addressed by our international cast of speakers.
In the process, this seminar will examine how such developments relate to the humanities in particular, as a field with a history of resistance to more visual forms of knowledge representation and production. Here, as Johanna Drucker argues, an underlying fear for the subjective, the intuitive, and the speculative comes to the fore, favouring the logical and systematic where it comes to knowledge representation, which, as she argues, might be useful for the sciences but perhaps not for more intuitive and interpretative fields such as the humanities. This conservatism on the part of the humanities is intrinsically bound-up with its textual condition – what Jessica Pressman has called its ‘aesthetics of bookishness’. At the same time the multimodality of the digital medium has fuelled the idea that scholarly content is separate from its material instantiation or presentation. There is a felt need to again emphasise how a media’s materiality or specific format influences its meaning and use. From this point of view, if we pay more attention to the performative aspects of materiality, of media, and of design, we might be more receptive to seeing the ideology that is inherent in our representations and the politics that is instantiated in our continued practical iterations of these representations. Interfaces are not merely representing our information and data, they are creating and interpreting it too. Design is not only about turning cognitive materials into visual, when, as Katherine Hayles has argued, in acts of medial translation—i.e. from print to digital—interpretation already takes place. Yet how is this interpretation being represented and performed? And how is information’s meaning altered through its conditions of use, reading and interpretation?
One response would be to extend our visual epistemologies by stimulating humanist training in visual representation, interface critique, and design tools and methodologies? Related to that, Tara McPherson argues that we as scholars should be more interested in the actual design, visualisation, and performance of our materials. How can we as scholars be more involved in designing writing and forms of communication and publishing that better accommodate visual materials, and that allow new relationships between visual materials and analysis, between data and interpretation, to explore a new poetics of scholarship?
14:50 Introduction (Janneke Adema – Coventry University)
15:00 Erin Manning (Concordia University)
This paper will explore how a radically empirical approach opens up the relationship between making and thinking.
15:20 Søren Pold (Aarhus University)
Ink After Print Literary Interface Criticism
Currently literary media are changing again with the read-write controlled consumption interfaces of e-books, smart phones, tablets and web 2.0 reading-writing platforms. In this short talk, I aim to sketch out how we can apply an interface criticism to these changes in order to find out how the contemporary literary and cultural interfaces are structured and how they can be explored critically and reflexively in art practice.
16:15 Tea break
16:45 Johanna Drucker (UCLA)
Diagrammatic Form and Performative Materiality
Theories of materiality include attention to the literal, forensic, formal, and distributed–to which categories the “performative” adds another dimension, one that is premised on the instantiated and situated experience of an aesthetic work rather assuming its existence as a self-evident, autonomous object defined by inherent properties. The idea of performativity is also crucial to diagrams–drawings that work, that are generative in their activity because of structural features that spatialize semantic relations and make spatial relations semantic. Because diagrams are exemplary–even paradigmatic–they offer a way to reconceptualize approaches to design and reading/viewing aesthetic artifacts across a broad range of artistic works and practices. This paper proposes that the “diagrammatic” and “performative” concepts offer a way to think aesthetic practice from a theoretical perspective that draws on non-representational and new materialist perspectives that embody crucial principles of humanistic epistemology relevant to the creation of knowledge in the digital environment. Examples from the history of information visualization, poetics, book arts, and digital arts will be used to illustrate these principles.
17:05 Silvio Lorusso (IUAV University of Venice)
The Post-Digital Publishing Archive: An Inventory of Speculative Strategies
Recently launched, the Post-Digital Publishing Archive (P—DPA) is an online platform to systematically collect, organise and keep trace of art and design experiences at the intersection of publishing and digital technology. Filling a gap in the discussion, which is generally led by the narrative of innovation, P—DPA focuses on projects that investigate the social, cultural and economic dynamics of publishing through a DIY approach, custom tools and counterintuitive employment of popular platforms. Like every archive, P—DPA embodies a specific attitude that is mainly expressed by the criteria employed to select the works and by the multiple relations among them. How can the materiality of such works be properly defined through a categorisation system? What technological, processual and signifying aspects need to be taken into account? By acting as an inventory of speculative strategies, P—DPA aims to become a reference point for designers and artists interested in publishing and indirectly extend its very notion.
Erin Manning holds a University Research Chair in Relational Art and Philosophy in the Faculty of Fine Arts at Concordia University (Montreal, Canada). She is also the director of the SenseLab, a laboratory that explores the intersections between art practice and philosophy through the matrix of the sensing body in movement. In her art practice she works between painting, dance, fabric and sculpture. Current iterations of her artwork explore emergent collectivities through participatory textiles. Her project Stitching Time will be presented at the 2012 Sydney Biennale and The Knots of Time will open the new Flax Museum in Kortrijk, Belgium in 2014. Her writing addresses movement, art, experience and the political through the prism of process philosophy, with recent work developing a notion of autistic perception and the more-than human.
Publications include Relationscapes: Movement, Art, Philosophy (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2009), Politics of Touch: Sense, Movement, Sovereignty (Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 2007) and Ephemeral Territories: Representing Nation, Home and Identity in Canada (Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 2003). Her forthcoming manuscript, Always More Than One: Individuation’s Dance will be published by Duke University Press in 2012 as will her forthcoming co-written manuscript (with Brian Massumi), Thought in the Act: Passages in the Ecology of Experience (Minnesota UP).
Søren Bro Pold
Søren Bro Pold is PhD and Associate Professor of digital aesthetics. He has published on digital and media aesthetics – from the 19th-century panorama to the interface in its various forms, e.g. on electronic literature, net art, software art, creative software, urban interfaces and digital culture. He took part in establishing the Digital Aesthetics Research Centre in 2002, in 2004 he co-organised the Read_me festival on software art, and he was in charge of the research project “The Aesthetics of Interface Culture” from 2004 to 2007. Later he was research manager in the Center for Digital Urban Living (2008-2012). Currently he is leader of the research programme “Humans and Information Technology” and part of the interdisciplinary research centre Participatory Information Technology. In relation to these research fields and groups, he has been active in establishing interface criticism as a research perspective, which discusses the role and the development of the interface for art, aesthetics, culture and IT.
Søren Pold’s interests cover digital aesthetics broadly, including electronic literature, net art, software art, urban art and activism, and he has participated in founding several of these fields since the mid-1990s. Simultaneously, he is interested in establishing digital aesthetics as a perspective in other IT research fields such as design, HCI, informatics and Internet research.
Johanna Drucker is the inaugural Breslauer Professor of Bibliographical Studies in the Department of Information Studies at UCLA. She is internationally known for amongst others her work on graphic design, artists’ books, typography, digital humanities (or speculative computing), digital aesthetics, and visual knowledge representation. Drucker is a scholar, a writer, a book artist, a visual and cultural theorist and critic, and a poet. Her most recent scholarly works include the collaboratively written and openly available Digital_Humanities (2012) with Jeffrey Schnapp, Todd Presner, Peter Lunenfeld, and Anne Burdick, SpecLab: Digital Aesthetics and Speculative Computing (2009), andGraphic Design History: A Critical Guide (2008).
Silvio Lorusso is an Italian artist and designer. His ongoing PhD research in Design Sciences at Iuav University of Venice is focused on the intersections between publishing and digital technology from the perspective of art and design. He regularly collaborates with the Institute of Network Cultures in Amsterdam. After he received his MA in Visual and Multimedia Communications in 2011, he spent a period of study at the Networked Media course of the Piet Zwart Institute in Rotterdam. He took part in exhibitions, festival and events such as Transmediale (Berlin, Germany), Unlike Us (Amsterdam, Netherlands), Fahrenheit39 (Ravenna, Italy). Some of his works are included in the Rhizome ArtBase Selection. He has written for blogs and magazines such as Progetto Grafico and Doppiozero. Since 2013, he manages the Post-Digital Publishing Archive (p-dpa.net).
Venue and Date
Wednesday June 11th
Ellen Terry Building, Room 34 (ETG34)
CV1 5RW Coventry