NetArtWorks: The Database, the Datacloud, and the Public (Data) Domain

Published on January 28th, 2011

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SKOR has a superb reputation in the field of art and the public space. Until now artworks and discussions about them have mainly focused on public art in the ‘real’ world. Although just as real, the virtual world has received little attention. New technologies and online services, together with the proliferation of high-speed Internet connections and mobile Internet connectivity, have radically changed the public space over the past few years. The most important change is the merging of the real and the virtual worlds, which has significantly influenced the ways in which people communicate, as well as on their experience and use of spatial and public dimensions. For SKOR the connection between the offline and online public space is an interesting area to explore.

By commissioning new content/artworks that address or exploit the online space and the characteristics of networks, SKOR wants to critically engage with this space. The SKOR NetArtWorks are a place for project-driven exploration through digital media. This includes artist commissions, interface experiments, community discussions, essays and interviews, filtered links, and collaborations with others.

NetArtWorks: The Database, the Datacloud, and the Public (Data) Domain

The current widespread availability of data has led to an explosion of creative practices formulated around the collection, analysis, and creative visualization of data. The result is at times astonishing, with visualisations that provide an unusual aesthetic perspective onto knowledge areas which were previously hidden or taken for granted. At the same time questions arise about the inevitable back-end of these exercises, the database. How and who are constructing databases? Does its structure already imply specific information or visualisation outcomes, or more importantly can it influence behaviour? Where are databases kept and how much access and control can be asserted over them?

In the second series of SKOR’s NetArtWorks, the database is fore fronted. Artists who explore the inherent implications of database systems were asked to present their research and projects. Their projects trial novel ways of understanding and interrogating database systems, by transforming and opening up the act of collecting as well as the objects of collection. With these projects SKOR wants to provide a critical background that shows the role of the database as a method for organising and governing knowledge and practice.

This series is produced in collaboration with Impakt Online and presented at Impakt Festival 2011.


YoHa (Graham Harwood and Matsuko Yokokoyi), Data Entry
Part of the research for Database as Documentary. An investigation into databases, birth & power.
YoHa have been investigating databases since 2009 when they were invited to think about art and health in collaboration with Liverpool Primary Care Trust, a division of the UK’s public health service. Rather than work directly with patients YoHa chose instead to work with data analysts, public health intelligence units and abstract models of health.

They noticed that when someone models, creates and implements a database about something, it changes the relationships of those authoring the system to the original thing itself. They initially wondered if this was related to the technicality of the relational database or if it had something to do with some other interaction involving discourse, computing and/or the aggregation of records.

Data Entry reflects on a series of interviews with midwives carried out during the summer of 2011 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Linda Hilfling, A Public Domain
Linda Hilfling’s project A Public Domain is an open wireless network, which anybody can log onto to access the Internet. All the data that passes through the network will be filtered in such a way that texts that are not in the public domain are substituted by empty spaces, i.e. those words or phrases get replaced that, regardless of their graphical representation, are registered as trademarks in the jurisdictional area in which the network is established. A Public Domain is a wireless network intervention that simultaneously adopts and amputates the utopian notion of the net as a public space.

A Public Domain was developed at Impakt Works in the summer of 2011 and presented at Impakt Festival in collaboration with SKOR as part of the discussion The Right to Database.

Metahaven, Cloud Coin
A cloud coin is a virtual symbol that is inserted into the viewing experience of a website. The symbol resembles a coin, token, or jewel. It contains details retrieved from the WHOIS information relating to a particular website, and from a Google search for its domain name. This brings together data about the geographical hosting and ownership of a domain, with information on what that domain may have been involved in or used for, insofar as it is publicly available.

When a viewer accesses a domain through the Cloud Coin website, the system generates ‘currency’ for that particular domain, which becomes visible in the browser window in the form of ‘cloud coins’ that partially obscure the site behind them. Domains that acquire a high correlation of WHOSIS data with Google search results generate more currency than domains for which such correlation is mostly absent.

Cloud Coin assumes that the more a domain name – as an isolated term rather than referring to an organization – is the subject of reporting, speculation, and discussion (as measured through Google search results), the more likely it is that its WHOIS information is more detailed.

Entering a URL into a window on Cloud Coin takes browsers to the intended domain, and shows the ‘currency’ of that domain.

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