[-empyre-] scalable relations --> hung up on scalability

Christiane_Paul at whitney.org Christiane_Paul at whitney.org
Wed Feb 18 13:35:03 EST 2009

Hi Antoinette,

Antoinette wrote:
"it appears that although my brain scales reasonably well (!) to information overload, the 24-hour day does not scale at all..."

Likewise, which explains some of the sketchiness in my previous posts ;) 

Antoinette wrote:
"I keep getting hung up on two aspects of this discussion. One, the sense that the term 'scalable relations' is being used presumptively as to both its definition and its applicability. Sheldon's breakdown was very helpful, but each time the term is used, it seems to carry a slightly different sense. Mainly it seems to refer to the handling of ever larger data sets gracefully. But I wonder, do all the software infrastructures we are using in this exhibition really exhibit this property? Or only certain ones? Or only the ones being used in certain (normative) ways? I am somewhat puzzled to make this concept fit my own project, for one."

Good points. Christina raised some questions about definitions in the beginning of this discussion, and I think we agreed that we use the term scalability for approaching / describing different phenomena. I previously mentioned one of the standard definitions of scalability -- 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. But as I pointed out earlier, the exhibition treats the concept of scalability not only in strictly technological, but also in metaphorical, conceptual ways. In a broader sense, scalability can refer to a "cultural condition" that is informed by more relational approaches -- an emphasis on relations between entities or knowledge -- rather than quantitative methods. (I'm just mentioning one of the more conceptual understandings here)

In your project Playing the Rapture (Point of View), you incorporate computer games, which obviously create 'scalable,' simulated worlds (Sheldon talked about this a bit) and relate them to the physical world and religion, in particular, which also creates a 'virtual,' imagined world and makes use of rule sets, rituals, and metaphors. For me, Playing the Rapture (Point of View) makes belief systems 'scalable' and shows how they can adapt to different social conditions without major changes to the system itself. The way you approach 'the rapture' in this gaming context seems to be very much informed by current information culture.

Antoinette wrote:
"Secondly: I see a tendency to focus on the technology rather than its use-- on the system and dataset rather than the information, as if systems-with-datasets were neutral objects from which information spontaneously arises.  Scalability as a "spatial/temporal transformation." "Gestures such as translation and rotation." "The mutability of the processes of data collection, algorithmicization and dynamics simulation." Acknowledgment is made that these do affect "the production of meaning" and create "fundamental changes in representation", but absent any specifics, one is left rather with the sense that the techne itself is in the driver's seat." 

I think that technology and its use are always inextricably interconnected -- we have created the technologies we are using with an agenda in mind, so we are driving the technology as much as it drives us. (And one of the main questions that Micha brought up earlier concerned the 'human element' in the experience of technological mediation, the dissatisfaction with a disconnect from visceral experience etc.)

I hope I'll be able to contribute more on this in a future post but, as I previously mentioned, one of the main shifts in representation is the fact that -- with the use of digital technologies as a medium  -- representation of the world is not necessarily photographic or filmic (I want to avoid using the term 'indexical' and the discussion how digital photos might mean a loss of indexicality) but calculated: the representation of reality can be algorithmically calculated (Lev Manovich has written about this new form of data representation in the context of database). And yes, what we do with the data sets used in this process and how we construct the relations between them and our reality can have good and bad effects (urban planning would be a nice example for illustrating this).

The effects of scalability (as opposed to, let's say, the cinematic cut) on temporality and spatiality are a complex topic in itself. The cut potentially takes us to a different time and space (consecutively), scalability can represent spatial transformation throughout time in more condensed conditions (art+com's The Invisible Shapes of Things Past (1995-2007) might be one example of illustrating aspects of this change -
http://www.artcom.de/index.php?option=com_acprojects&page=6&id=26&Itemid=144&details=0&lang=en). I realize there is a lot left to be said when it comes to differences in the production of meaning.


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