|Friday, October 25, 2002|
The Power of Information, as merely Information
In his work A Book from the Sky artist Xu Bing created books and other documents using fictitious Chinese characters. The work looks like it could contain perfectly understandable text, but it does not. There is no attempt to hide this fact, the viewer understands the words hold no direct meaning.
University at Albany's University Art Museum has a nice walk through.
I was lucky enough to see the work in a gallery and it is impressive. Not being able to read Chinese anyway didn't matter. The format the non-information is presented in is just like one would expect of some important text, carefully rendered, indexed, with possible notations on the side.
The mind leaps to the idea that there is something there, yet there is not. That there is understanding to be had, yet there is not. The only understanding is in the larger, meta, context. Yet the format the non-information is presented holds much power as it is the way many important things are discussed.
This work exemplifies a type of information aesthetic. It demonstrates the power, or presence, Information can have, without there being anything to it.
The Power of Unknown, Encoded Information
Does one need to understand the information presented in order for the work to have a presence?
Well, yes, but also, no... If the material is know to contain information, the content of which is not known, it can bring up aspects of being a puzzle which appends a notion of challenge to the work, as well as mystery.
In Calrin Romano's review of Michael Daneis' book The Puzzle Instinct Romano summerizes several aspects of why people like puzzles that I think lend themselves to the information on art that we've been looking at here.
When he leans to the philosophical, Danesi offers multiple explanations for why puzzles appeal. They "generate a feeling of suspense that calls out for relief." The ancients associated them with "mystery, wonder" and "portentous challenges and events." Puzzles hint at having "occult power and secret aesthetic qualities." They behoove us to exercise our best insight and cleverness, making the "Aha!" payoff of solving them worth the effort.
Yes, I feel a bit sheepish quoting a review of a book instead of the book myself, but hey, it's late.
Meanwhile, back at the Ranch...
I'm still digesting the information-art definitions and other material from the sites mentioned yesterday.
I think there is something to information-art but it does not capture all that I want to say about a piece or maybe it says too much. More on that, later.