[-empyre-] scalable relations-- how does this matter? (orde-materialize?)

Sheldon Brown sheldon.brown at gmail.com
Sat Feb 14 05:50:42 EST 2009

Of the term "scalable", used in the title of this exhibtion, and has
been part of the title of my project "Scalable City" as it has
developed over a few years. For my work, the use of the term Scalable
with City is to push the morphological implications of scalability
against a structure where it isn't typically considered. Scalability
as a spatial/temporal transformation is readily available with digital
activities, as facile as other gestures such as translation and
rotation and as simple as a cinematic cut.  Scalability is not as
available a gesture in the material world, and produces some tensions
with the physical domain, abstracting certain conditions, and
presenting other possibilities of consideration while keeping a
symbolic connection to the original. Toys, games, simulations, are of
course one way this is used.
But my work isn't meant to be bound up by the use of the world
Scalable, other terms could be used (emergent, algorithmic) rather I
hope it is a nod towards the mutability of the processes of data
collection, algorithmicization and dynamics simulation which provide
for our emerging schemes of representation.  And recognizing that our
schemes of representation are not simply reflective but they are

Sheldon Brown

Sheldon Brown
Professor of Visual Arts
Director - Center for Research in Computing and the Arts - 0037
Director, UCSD Experimental Game Lab
University of California at San Diego

>>I want to start by asking Christiane about how she may place the 'scalable'
>> morphology as a significant discovery?
> In fact I would not call scalable relations or morphology a significant
> discovery at all -- it simply is an intrinsic quality of the digital medium,
> which has the capacity to establish relations between large quantities of
> data through filtering and processing according to different criteria.
> Perhaps this scalability was a 'discovery' at the time the relational
> database was formalized in the 1960s -- as a data structure that is
> organized and accessed according to relations between tables. The relational
> database implies a certain flexibility and scalability in generating new
> relations from existing records that meet specified criteria.
>>Is 'scalable' like 'granularity' or is it something more like a series of
>> cascading iterations?
> Definitions of scalability would include the ability of a computer
> application or product (hardware or software) to continue to function well
> as it (or its context) is changed; and the property of a system that can
> accommodate changes in transaction volume without major changes to the
> system. As such, I would see scalability as very different from granularity,
> which could be defined as the relative size, scale, level of detail, or
> depth of penetration that characterizes an object or activity. Granularity
> cannot adapt to context changes of the object or activity, and cascading
> iterations would be more like single-moment snapshots of a scalable system.
>>Are these qualities valuable for us as a use factor-- or as something
>> intrinsically beautiful, or both?
> Scalable Relations can be a use factor (when it comes to empirical
> investigations of data) and they can be beautiful (for me, the works in the
> exhibition are). I identified the concept of 'scalable relations' as a
> common denominator of the wide range of works that was submitted to this
> show (which started with a call for submissions to the UC faculty) and what
> interested me, in particular, was the question how these scalable relations
> affect both the production of meaning and the understanding of aesthetics of
> a work of art.
> I am not looking for a single, simple answer to this question - although our
> discussion this month might provide some answers. I'm more interested in how
> this question manifests in the different works. To use just a couple of
> examples (I hope the artists can chime in and we can discuss the works in
> more detail):
> Sheldon Brown's "Scalable City" (http://scalablecity.net) transforms
> real-world data through algorithms and makes it shape elements (roads /
> houses / cars) of an urban condition. In this case, issues of scalability
> both literally and metaphorically play out with regard to urban development
> and how our world is being shaped through algorithms and databases (think
> the algorithmic determination of distribution of chain stores; or databases
> that construct a social profile of a neighborhood that in turn solidifies or
> enhances that very profile etc.)
> In a more metaphorical way, Sharon Daniel's works "Public Secrets"
> (http://vectors.usc.edu/issues/04_issue/publicsecrets/) and "Blood Sugar"
> (http://arts.ucsc.edu/sdaniel/bordertech/bloodsugar/bloodsugar.html) examine
> the social and political construction of justice/injustice, poverty,
> alienation and addiction through relations between individual testimony and
> public evidence and social theory.
> I'm interested in how these relations between shifting contexts affect how
> we understand art or the world. How can meaning be 'grounded' (or does it
> have to be)? Is there an increased need for stable belief systems (from
> religion to others) and b&w interpretations of the world because of the
> relativity of meaning resulting from scalable relations?
> Christiane

Sheldon Brown
Professor of Visual Arts
Director - Center for Research in Computing and the Arts - 0037
Director, UCSD Experimental Game Lab
University of California at San Diego
9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, CA 92093-0037
sgbrown at ucsd.edu
voice (858)534-2423
fax (858)534-7944

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