Pigment of the Imagination – Visual Analysis & Dissertation Update

I am currently undertaking my dissertation titled ‘Pigment of the imagination: in what ways is colour information?’. We live in an age of multiple, overlapping ‘informations’ and there is a growing dialogue in the field of LIS on the concepts of information across different domains. (Janich, 2018). In library and information sciences the philosophies of information have a particular focus on communication and semantics. (Ibekwe-SanJuan & Dousa, 2014). Colour, which is semiotic by nature, is integral to artistic research, practice, and communication, and through this research project I hope to understand it is a form of information. Perhaps it is the artist in me too, but I have always been fascinated with colour and the cadences of the senses, and since I started the MSc I have been drawn to the idea of what information means within the context of visual arts.

As part of my own research it felt necessary to carry out some visual analysis to explore these ideas. It will also help me to understand and find any links with the philosophies of information science, colour theory, and aesthetics. I could therefore not have asked for a sweeter treat than the Olafur Eliasson retrospective at the Tate Modern. Eliasson is widely known for his interactive socially engaged art and for exploring the signals and flux of the natural world; all the while twinkling in multi-colours like the jewelled wrappers from a box of quality street. (Godfrey, 2019). Smoke and mirrors aside, ‘In Real Life’ is an important retrospective and full of intriguing ideas relevant to LIS, from immersive experiences, documenting ephemerality, phenomenology, and revealing the vital documentary and studio processes that are an important part of practice-led research.

The first time I saw Eliasson’s work was on a school trip back in 2003. I still remember the awe of standing under the ambient faux-sun of ‘The Weather Project’, the calescent colour limning the turbine hall in amber. Returning to this retrospective filled me with that same giddy schoolboy wonder I had felt over a decade ago; art meets science, technology, and illusion. Din Blinde Passeger ‘Your Blind Passenger’ 2010 was a colour work that especially stood out and got me thinking more abstractly about information, experience, and aesthetics. The installation forms a long, narrow corridor where visitors are temporarily blinded by a brightly illuminated fog, requiring them to rely on other senses to orient themselves. Stepping into the stark white mist I felt excited and afraid, immediately I thought of Stephen King’s novel ‘The Mist’. The power of the threshold should not be underestimated here in terms of creating the experience. The moment I walked through the door I was instantaneously transported into something transitory, metaphysical, and even a little sci-fi. All sense of direction and perception was lost becoming an information black-out with no point of reference other than colour. Moving forward the fog began to change, tinging slowly from powder white, flesh peach, to ochre yellow and through to the densest burnt orange. Bathing in the rusty atmosphere felt uncanny, like I was walking on Mars or through the atmosphere of an alien planet. The strangeness was marked with happiness and laughter too, not just because I could not help but smile as people bumbled past each other in a daze, but because of the overwhelming warmth the colour evoked. Like the warmth of laying under a summer sun with my eyes closed, or the feeling of being embraced by a loved one, this was a powerful and evocative use of colour.

Clearly this work is a highly subjective example of colour, my reaction to it based on my own social, cultural, and personal experiences. However, if colour can communicate an emotion, summon a memory or delight a sense, is that not then informational by nature? Eliasson’s work is interesting in that it draws this tension between feelings and facts, the invisible and communicative, and the mental and physical. During my literature search I have found a pool of interesting texts on information as a physical and fundamental aspect of the universe, information appears to be just everywhere! The physicality of information is an interesting idea in relation to colour; what is the difference between the orange colour of a star, a traffic cone light, and Eliasson’s ‘Your Blind Passenger’? The colour a star emits can indicate the complex alchemy of chemical elements present in the atmosphere, the traffic cone light beams a warning or a indicates a barrier, and the work of art is a subjective and personal experience. All are sources of colour, but what are the distinctions between them being physical, informational or purely aesthetic? Other questions also spring to mind, how do we construct meaning from the perception of colour? How integral is colour to the way we experience documents? Are all aspects of colour well-formed and processes of communication? How is information theory understood in art and semiotics?

The course of reading literature for the dissertation has been like opening Pandora’s box, each time I begin to think I am understanding and starting to answer my research question, the curiosity of engaging with research unleashes a hundred more questions. I will be carrying out a more detailed visual analysis in the dissertation itself, and to help me find my focus I will also carry out a conceptual analysis of Floridi’s General Definition of Information. The next update will coincide with a visit to the Colour Reference Library at the Royal College of Art. I will be looking at more conventional forms of colour information from colour charts and taxonomies, to colour theories and models.

 

References:

Godfrey, M. (2019) Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life. London, UK: Tate Publishing.

Ibekwe-SanJuan, F. & Dousa, T.M. (2014) Theories of Information, Communication and Knowledge: A Multidisciplinary Approach. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer.

Janich, P. (2018) What is information? Minneapolis, USA: University of Minnesota Press.

 

Illustration:

Bell, A. (2019) Din Blinde Passeger. [photograph]. UK

Electric Waterfalls – A.I & The Cascade of Consciousness

If all our yesterdays, todays and tomorrows are nothing but electric waterfalls and we continue to assimilate floods of information and experiences into the silvery metallic chatter of digital consciousness, then how do we retain our humanity, individuality and take control of the big data?

As Lyn Robinson and David Bawden steer us to the shore of our Data, Information and Technology classes, I find myself on the precipice of the deep seas and the deeper questions. As tempting as it is to paddle back upstream, perhaps this is a chance to reflect and find some resolution. There are many lessons learnt from our enlightening classes, but the ones that stick with me most are the principles for Librarians to employ empathy, understanding, and a marginal level of order over our messy data. Some of these virtues are clearly achievable, like showing the insight and patience in teaching information literacy to service users. Whilst others, like casting a net of accountability over Google, algorithms and the internet, are infinitely more complex.

Human nature is a whirlpool of disordered, emotive and spontaneously generated data. Despite our best intentions and the efforts to mechanise our day to day lives, we cannot swim away from the physical laws that bind us as creatures of stardust, clay, fire and thundering heartbeats. The mobile phones in our pockets and iPads in our palms are decoys that will try to fool you otherwise.
The maelstrom of the world and everyday life is full of rather perplexing lessons and for most individuals, interactions with nature, faith, the sublime and fellow human beings no longer present all the answers. The inclusion of a digital online space has complicated matters increasingly. We are lured to the internet and social media to seek answers. Facebook, Twitter, Apple and Microsoft are monolithic giants. Far from babbling brooks, they offer individuals open access and the opportunity to overflow, rant and rave their innermost thoughts and beliefs into the database driven algorithmic systems.(Sutton, D. et al 2007).

The cognitive scientist Marvin Minsky defined A.I by stating ‘Artificial intelligence is the science of making machines do things that would require intelligence if done by men.’ (Warwick, K. 2012). What A.I is able to achieve through digital technology, is a transformation and immersion of reality, and the potential to extract information could go beyond anything a human could achieve. It alters the individual’s experiences from traditional interaction and observation to an instantaneous and accessible digital consciousness. A.I is a river that has carved and hewn its existence onto the internet, virtual reality, galleries, museums and libraries.

One of the big ethics for Library and Information professionals is to question whether the invasion of A.I into our day to day lives is a blessing or whether there are sea monsters lurking in its hidden depths?
A.I technologies are increasingly relied upon by big data companies with massive capital. There is a risk that creating such A.I for marketing products, influencing behaviour, sparking beliefs, challenging crimes or gaining profit will certainly detriment how we are able to access open and free information. (Floridi, L. 2016). So far none of this technology is fully independent and in all cases the A.I requires a human creator and is a product of a human designed experience. So long as companies are challenged to actively represent the best of inherently human traits, combining logic, creativity and compassion, then so will our A.I.

The cynical among us will see the flood of A.I as the beginning of a Terminator style takeover, but I am ever the romanticist and optimist. This is a turning point for the Library and Information profession and a chance for us to be a guiding hand in the management and control of the big data. Librarians are striving for knowledge, but it is a fruitless path if we do not also have the wisdom to share it. We cannot just sit behind issue desks, loaning out resources like machines. After all, people are remarkably fascinating, beautiful and complex and it takes a certain talent for kindness and activism to reach out to them, work with them and help them grow. Technology as a tool may come and go, but a Librarian with a warm smile and a cargo full of information can never be lost. So let’s get out there, hoist the sails, shout from our ships and share a little of our wisdom with the world!


References:

Floridi, L. (2014). Should we be afraid of A.I?. Aeon. Available at:
https://aeon.co/essays/true-ai-is-both-logically-possible-and-utterly-implausible. (Accessed: 05 December 2017).

Sutton, D. Brind, S. & McKenzie, R. (2007). The State of the Real: Aesthetics in the Digital Age. I.B. Tauris. London. UK.

Warwick, K. (2012). Artificial Intelligence: The Basics. Routledge. Abingdon. UK.


Bibliography:

Floridi, L. (2014). The 4th Revolution: How the Infosphere is Reshaping Human Reality. Oxford University Press. Oxford. UK.

Floridi, L. (2010). Information: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. Oxford. UK.


Images:

Bell, A. (2017). Tomorrow’s Mind. [collage]. UK.

Swept Away with the Tide – The Big Picture in an Ocean of Images

Two inspiring and highly topical classes by Lyn Robinson have left my mind feeling expanded, excited and terrified! After the second class, there was a huge temptation to run home, burn all my technology, grab my favourite Terry Pratchett novel and flee to a cabin in the woods. What I am starting to grasp is that data, documents, and images, are everywhere. In my last post, I pondered romantically over the notion that data is simply a ‘sea of information’. A rookie mistake, data is much more like a vast swirling galaxy, set in the black velvet of deep space, reaching to infinity and beyond. Data is omnipresent!

Time to weigh my options:
1) Carry out the ‘cabin in the woods’ plan and live my days in blissful ignorance of technology and the inescapable data.
2) Buy a Cat.
3) Let myself be swept away with the tide, explore, read, soak up what I am learning like a sponge, and try to find the bigger picture.

Let us go for option 3… it sounds like that could be an exciting odyssey.


Swept Away with the Tide – The Big Picture in an Ocean of Images.

Before the arrival of our dear friend the internet, viewing images required much more physicality than that of our digital generation. To see one of J. M. W. Turner’s beautifully elemental paintings, you would have to traverse to a gallery or visit a library to find a book on him. Master painters were singular content creators, and in the solace of their studio this was a solitary process. Cue scene… here comes the tidal wave… meet… the Internet!

The advancement of technology and open access to the world wide web has been a sweeping tide for the contemporary art practice. Art is now part of a collaborative and multidisciplinary digital world. No longer does art have a restricted creation within its own industry. Anyone with access to technology and the internet can create and share visual content. (Arbelo, M. 2014).
It is also now possible to follow practising artists on social media, feasting your eyes on real time art and infinite content. It does not end there too, endless newsprint, television, and smartphones bombard our eyes daily with images.

What does this all mean for the Library & Information Science profession?
Firstly, we must question the boundaries of contemporary art as a document. Visual literacy explores Paintings as a document and the ways in which they contain historical, social and political context. As the Fine Art practice has expanded into conceptual, installation and performance based work, we will have to develop new ways of documenting and making art accessible in the Library.
Secondly, information literacy, copyright, and censorship have become important ethics that Library and Information professionals must be aware of.
The IFLA Code of Ethics for Librarians and other Information Workers states that “Librarians and other information workers reject the denial and restriction of access to information and ideas most particularly through censorship whether by states, governments, or religious or civil society institutions.” (IFLA. 2017).
To provide freedom of information is what every Librarian should aspire to, however, in an academic library is this truly possible? The two mighty leviathans that are Safeguarding and Equality, Diversity & Inclusion are a legal requirement and moral responsibility within the education sector. Balancing freedom of information alongside safeguarding and EDI is not easy.

Recently in my own workplace, I encountered a group of Fashion & Textiles students who were having trouble accessing images from the Vogue Archive, within our virtual learning environment. It is not uncommon for images to hit the firewall and become censored. Unavoidably, fashion and art often explore sensitive content (also read as… nudity!). I am contractually obliged to safeguard students from sensitive material. Is the service then restricting learning if it is unable to provide uncensored access to images? The truth is I am not sure I know the answer yet. I hope further studies at CityLIS will bring clarity to my obligations as a Librarian and help me find the bigger picture in a complex ocean of images, data and ethics.


References:

Arbelo, M & Franco, J. (2014). “Towards Digital Art in Information Society”. CLCWeb Comparative Literature and Culture. Volume 16, Issue 5.

IFLA. (2017). Code of Ethics for Librarians and other Information Workers. Available at: https://www.ifla.org/publications/node/11092#colleague. (Accessed: 09 October 2017).

A Sea of Information

Oceans are vast bodies of water surrounding continents and are critical to the survival of humankind. Water sustains us and the very origin of life is found in it. What would you think if I said the same about Libraries?

We immerse ourselves in oceans every day, from the deep seas of the internet to the tides and chapters of books, the ebb and flow of social media and the sweep and pull of news and television. Gone are the days of dusty tomes, inks, and quills in Libraries. In our digital world Librarians take a central role in helping navigate the torrent of information.
In the same way as water, these seas of digital information sustain and record human life. They have become vessels where human memory and experiences are documented and can exist eternally (providing no one pulls the off switch!).
In a billion years will Twitter be the bedrock in which we sift for the fossils or traces of humanity? Are the complex digital systems we have surrounded our lives with really all that different from the cave paintings of our ancestors?
Ok, let me stop there… these are huge questions and the little boat I am adrift on is nowhere near big enough to answer them, but they are certainly ideas to paddle over.

Hello! Let me introduce myself, I’m Alex. The human body is made of water, a trace of our oceanic past, so here are a couple of insights into my own sea, the very information that makes up me:
– I am currently studying Library Science MSc part-time at City University.
– I also work in a Learning Resource Centre at West Kent College supporting students with a whole range of library related services.
– Fine Art is my academic discipline and I hope to use this subject knowledge to one day work as a Subject Librarian in the arts.
– I am left handed. Interestingly there was some obscure research carried out to prove that left-handed people adjust to sight underwater better than their right-handed kin (I am sure a scientist will tell you that is hocus pocus though).

So speaking of Science, I have always thought of Science and Mathematics as my personal Loch Ness monster, a subject full of intrigue but slightly mythical and out of my comprehending. So here I am, an artist on a Science Masters! Naturally, this feels like quite the big dive, but I have an open mind and very much look forward to seeing where the tides of science, information, and art meet.
Swimming down the river of the Masters course, I hope to pursue research on developing an information literacy programme for art and design students in academic libraries, as well as research into image collections and the boundaries of art as a document.

Here is to hoping I can stay adrift, reach an island and answer some big Library related questions along the way!