Back to Archive
July 6 - August 5, 2006
Before the advent of computers, web crawlers, and double miles for grocery and gasoline purchases, data mining was either an in-house file-card system or a sordid early morning affair, limited to one company keeping track of its customers or tabloid detectives combing through garbage cans. In the digital era, with its vast and integrated information networks, data mining has flourished as marketing tool, as social science, and as surveillance, tracking everything from our eating habits and entertainment preferences to our phone logs and medical histories. As such, data mining is one of the most pervasive, efficient and profitable ways for powerful entities to maintain their hold on things.
As an information gathering system, data miningês organizing principle is similarity rather than difference. It works by gathering massive amounts of information from witting and unwitting participants and then groups like patterns with like patterns. In other words, data mining finds and measures conformity and repetition. Anomalies are discarded because they represent behaviors that are too irregular to make efficient sense of. Consequently, not only does data mining deem aberrant behavior unprofitable (and therefore useless), it also sets that small percentage of people off against the majority, whose behavior data mining deems both useful and profitable. And the greater the majority, the more influential they are in determining what gets made, seen, distributed, consumed.
The big difference lately is that the influence is beginning to flow both ways. When one person (Michael Paranzino) with 900 dollars and a website can stop a billion-dollar television network from broadcasting a program he is personally unhappy with, and when another person (Markos Moulitsas Zuniga) can have nearly every 2008 democratic presidential candidate flattering him because his blog is a liberal bellwether, then itês a great day for small-scale initiative. Whither artists in this brave new world of mountain-moving, tin horn subjectivity?
Unfortunately many artists are down on exerting influence these days, which is both odd and sad. Sad in that power has become so suspect among artists that few dare say they want it, let alone admit they have any. Odd because there has never been a time when the words and images of individuals — however puny or underfunded — can be as powerful as they are today. If artists at the moment seem to have lost their voice and their bearings in relation to the culture at large, maybe itês because so many of us think our work is trivial and incapacitated — not because it is, but because that makes it easier to live with.
Luckily some artists believe their actions still matter, and think that a little research and a lot of leeway (and vice versa) can get noticed, maybe even be effective. Data Mining presents work by eight artists who take matters into their own hands by reframing aesthetics and retelling stories — in general, asserting their power as aberrant individuals inhabiting a conformist technology. Because their works draw stark contrasts between political content and modest creative means, all of the artists in Data Mining might be characterized as –folk politicians" or, if you will, –craft activists." Whether armed with video cameras or embroidery needles, glue guns or pocket knives, the artists in Data Mining aestheticize politics and politicize aesthetics.
But this is not 1971. This is not an index of typewritten instructions pinned to spare white walls. Nor is this 1999. This is not a gaggle of international artists "critiquing" art institutions, only to leave the institutions (and themselves) intact. Rather, this is 2006. This is a subversive, affectionate, grass roots show — one especially aware that not a little craftsmanship is necessary to being persuasive.