GESAMTDATENWERK: Connectivity, Transformation, and Transcendence

by Roy Ascott

networking is particularly suited to take on the great challenge of late twentieth-century art, which can be seen as the overarching project of our time: to make the invisible visible. That is, to bring to our senses, to make available to our minds, within the human constraints of space and time, what is otherwise beyond our reach, outside of our perceptual range, the far side of the mind. Pg 222

Computer networking, in short, responds to our deep psychological desire for transcendence—to reach the immaterial, the spiritual—the wish to be out of body, out of mind, to exceed the limitations of time and space, a kind of biotechnological theology. Pg 223

To network is to be engaged with mind at large, to amplify individual thought and imagination through the dynamic interaction with oth- ers in the network. Pg 224

The subject of computer science is the transformation of infor- mation, and data are its object. Data exist in streams; data flow is ephemeral, transient, shifting. Data is everywhere and nowhere. Pg 224

Similarly, our gathering of images, music, and texts, for example, from the endlessly flowing data stream of creative interactions with networks around the world, should be understood as a kind of data harvest, a form of accessing and selecting and dis- playing that will not confuse the identity or role of the interface with that of a painting, book, or film screen—for they propose quite diaerent aesthetics. 225

We search, in short, for what I call, in German, Gesamtdatenwerk, or “integrated data work,” echo- ing the Gesamtkunstwerk, or “total artwork,” conceived by Richard Wagner. Whereas Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk was performed in an opera house, however, the site of the Gesamtdatenwerk must be the planet as a whole, its data space, its electronic noosphere. Pg 226

Ultimately, it is a matter of artists and technologists collaborating, with or without institutional support, to bring the interface into the full sensorium of human experience and engagement. Pg 226