W0rdM4g1x, Nina Wenhart

Nina Wenhart

Or how to put a spell on Media Art Archives

Aaa, sdafsda, sxjhk hfjk asfjkl. What reminds of onomatopoeia or a poem by Ernst Jandl, are actually tags that can be found as descriptive metadata in archives of Media Art. They describe and depict the contents of these archives. I call these words magical because they conjure up works and knowledge from the depths of the archive. Magical also, because who but a magician would know about the “spell” sxjhk hfjk asfjkl? What and if we actually find something in an archive significantly depends on the quality and accessibility of the descriptive metadata assigned to the artworks. “Word magic” provides insights into ways of capturing ephemeral Media Art via descriptive metadata and creating a system of order.

Main Text
The objects of investigation of this paper are database archives for Media Art. As such I define databases that are mainly documentation archives and have in large parts taken over the role of the classical archive for the field of Media Art; archives that do not necessarily refer to a parallel physical storage/collection, but the (online accessible) documentation archive that can also exist on its own. For in Media Art, what is left to archive very often only consists of documentation material. In this definition of the database archive, I mainly follow the definition proposed by V2_, for example as used in their introductory text (http://framework.v2.nl/archive/general/default.xslt).
Such a database archive is about creating order by managing sense, by making statements through this order, by creating a grammar through the words used (morphology) and the structure applied (syntax). Database archives for Media Art can vary greatly in scope and focus. Some collect physical assets like art works or documentation material, others just describe them; some include their own institution's projects only, others group their archive around research topics. However they differ, what they all have in common is that they contain data and data about this data – metadata. The part of metadata that is interesting in this context are descriptive metadata, metadata based on interpretation that are used to describe the artworks. This kind of descriptive metadata is also what is the concern in the discussion about a standard terminology for Media Art. The database archive typically makes intensive use of language, of terms to manage and describe the assets. These terms serve to find (on the output/user side) and describe (on the creator/input side). For the system itself, the term is just functional, an index to correlate the assigned data with. On the human (input and output) side, these words also have meaning. The differences in meaning are what make the words such a crucial issue. In these database archives, knowledge and histories are not only stored and managed, but also created and constructed. Because of this, there needs to be a thorough consideration of the processes involved and of how these systems are created. In addition to describing content, a database archive also manages assets and creates order by naming and relating. Most databases are still organized in the manner of a shelf, although no physical constraints force them to re-implement what was only meant as a metaphor in data-space. “The categorization scheme is a response to physical constraints on storage, and to people's inability to keep the location of more than a few hundred things in their mind at once.”(1) What might have been useful at a time when digital storage was new – using a metaphor to have something familiar around – now proves to be a real obstacle for the sustainability and further development of the archives: “Now it means that the user has to adopt to the creator's specific view of the world, it has become a dogma. It seems that the GUI and all its metaphors has come into our way. It seems natural. How terrible.”(2)

1. The Lack of a Standard Terminology
One of the major problems discussed in the context of descriptive metadata is most widely known as “the lack of a standard terminology” for describing Media Art, as defined in “Capturing Unstable Media” by Sandra Fauconnier and Rens Frommé from V2_(3). I question whether this really is a problem or if the observed “lack” offers the key to a new concept for “capturing” and describing Media Art. A lack generally means an undesirable condition. Something is missing, and therefore something else is impossible to achieve. The lack has to be removed. In this case it would mean that, without a standard terminology, it is impossible to correctly and comprehensively describe Media Art. Over the years, several attempts have been made not only to describe Media Art, but also to capture the correct terms and their interrelations; attempts to settle the preconditions for any valid description hence on. As for now, this goal has not been reached; and looking back at the histories of these attempts, it can legitimately be assumed that it never will. For good. No final standard terminology could ever be assumed, as no final point of knowledge can ever be fixed. However, the problem addressed in the “lack of a standard terminology” is a question of language, the necessity of using it, the observation that the existing methods are not sufficient for the task at hand, the fact that language is an unclosed system, and the difficulties arising from dealing with this fact.

Terminologies do more than just name objects and stick labels on them. By not just being assigned to the artworks, but also being ordered themselves, they create structures, a “Grammar of New Media“. This creates a set of rules for how to read Media Art. On the creator-side, it means making interpretations, picking the rules, turning what was first an interpretation amongst others into the preferred way of seeing and thereby turning (arbitrary) interpretation into order=command.
The goal of a standard terminology is to find the agreed meaning of a term and its (unique) place in this world, of the correct assignment between an entity and a word (= function of a manual) in order to decrease semantic heterogeneity. The term is treated like a physical object. The standard terminology should make meaning and order clear and self evident - “natural”, not to be doubted, but being attributed universal validity, truth value, true or false, following a bivalent logic, black or white, no gray in between, good or bad – it is, in short, a simplifying model that is achieved by a reduction of complex situations. By offering a limited number of preferred ways of naming and ordering, by creating unambiguity, by erasing doubt, belief in this “god” equals belief in the creator of the database archive. The creators are interpreters of the existing sources. For the descriptive metadata, their selection is based on their own interpretations mostly (fact is dealt with separately). Essence and interpretation are both problematic when it comes to creating order, because they appear to be natural instead of culturally constructed. The resulting system is absolute.

Semantics on the other hand consist of creating a dense network of interrelations, of having multiple – even conflicting – relations, of creating meanings through nets of relations and of revealing sense and meanings on a context-dependent base. A standard terminology would erode multiplicity and density that are necessary ingredients of semantic networks in favor of the preferred way of reading. Homogeneity instead of heterogeneity, hegemony instead of free and open choice, creation of one for many and not of many for many, static instead of variable media through static instead of variable language. In the end, this is a question of exercising power and authority; it becomes, it is political from the very beginning.

Where is the Media in Media Art Databases?
In his 1970 book “Expanded Cinema”, Gene Youngblood mentions a newly emerging kind of artist and the changing role of technology and the audience as the main aspects that characterize the new genre of Computer Art (4) Almost 40 years later, what Youngblood identified as characteristics of the new art form is still not adequately represented and acknowledged – if at all. If crucial aspects like these are missing in database archives, what else is excluded? And if the terminology of these database archives is built on the literature of the field, then it has to be asked which topics are covered by it and which are ignored? To each generation of Media Art historians and theorists, different aspects of the medium seemed interesting or relevant. Each generation made its own contribution to the field. In consequence, it is only logical that future generations will do the same and have to be able to contribute their own research or re-discover things previously neglected. This must not only be the commitment of the community, but also of its knowledge systems. As database archives become more and more relevant as knowledge systems, they, too, have to systematically enable modifications, new additions, even new categories. They have to systematically remain open. A (systematically) static database archive is nothing but a book in electronic form and at best mirrors the evaluation of a specific time, author and perspective. As can be seen in existing database archives, early revisions of the systems have already become inevitable.

The Grammar of New Media
“Grammar is the field of linguistics that covers the rules governing the use of any given natural language. It includes morphology and syntax, often complemented by phonetics, phonology, semantics, and pragmatics”, so the common grammar definition as found on Wikipedia (5). To see how and if this applies to database archives for Media Art, if these database archives constitute a grammar in the above sense, if they construct rules that govern the use and via this the meaning, a closer look at the morphology and syntax of these systems will be taken. Two influential aspects should be considered separately: the database archive's/the content's syntax resulting from relations of terms and the specialty of a database archive of a mostly noun-based morphology.

Some database archives only have a list of non-interrelated keywords. However, many others use relations to order their keywords semantically. Words are grouped in categories and relations are constructed between the individual terms, for example by introducing “broader term”, “narrower term”, “associated term”,... The order created is absolute and exclusive and each asset is assigned a unique place and function. It neglects that terms can have multiple meanings and varying relations in different contexts, that in most cases the “natural” habitat of a term is a “social knitwork” and not forced by a law of nature. The order commonly met in a database archive rather suggests this second approach, that the terms were found instead of constructed (the Wittgenstein-chapter will go into detail about this and the topic of essences). To avoid this naturalistic appearance, a database archive has to be able to represent relative, flexible and content-dependent order. Whenever writing about something, we take a specific perspective, reducing complexity for the sake of highlighting one special aspect. But by reducing relations systematically, generally and not just for a single purpose, we erode knowledge permanently. Complexity cannot be solved by reduction and by deletion if it does not want to result in over-simplification.

Database archives' terminologies are mostly noun-based. The problem with this is:
• We try to find the one word that is capable of expressing the whole situation. If not in a database, we would probably just use a sentence or a group of words to express that situation, not just one single noun. The resulting word creation often has nothing to do with real life experience, but resembles a jackalope. The noun, this mythical animal, that is invented especially for the database archive in many cases is a compromise, not the best option. It is not what we actually want to express. This search for the essential element will not deliver satisfying results when what actually can be found is not one thing, but a complex mix of equally relevant features, no matter if they fit in a scheme or not.
• Culturally, this bias poses a problem as not all languages are so focused on the use of nouns.
• Nouns are invented faster than verbs, they are less time-stable, they are fashionable at a certain time and age with their technologies (for example in the early 90s Virtual Reality was used excessively and the same things would be called something else today).

From the above, we see that the seemingly arbitrary choice of descriptive metadata creates the morphology and syntax of the whole system. Because of the scope of their influence, these data need careful handling and consideration.

Dealing with Diversity
The “lack of a standard terminology” does not mean that there are no terminologies. There are many different vocabularies in use, in different database archives, created by different authors, covering different aspects,... So the problem of the “lack of a standard terminology” is in fact a problem of how to deal with diversity of expression. It is a matter of perception and interpretation. And it has various effects: the process of perception is influenced by multiple factors, like previous knowledge, the culture of the interpreter, awareness, different goals and contexts,... The second problem is that different interpreters perceive different aspects and name them differently. The same term can have multiple meanings for different people or in different disciplines and contexts. Diversity is a matter of meaning, of the use of language. As mentioned before, in a database archive words not only have a naming function, but these names/labels are structured and structuring. They are functionally implemented in the database archive, language gets a technical imprint. The result is that out of technological necessities of the database models applied, the many meanings and places of a term are reduced and narrowed down so that preferably only unambiguity remains. This is then called the “preferred way of reading”. These aspects have massive impact on openness, the character of the resulting knowledge base and finally its sustainability and therefore need to be analyzed critically. Looking at these database archives and their methods of structuring, one can easily get the impression that diversity is bad and should be avoided or eliminated whenever met. In the end, far from resulting in a perfect representation and understanding of its contents, very often the result is a mixed-up representation which in the end leads to incommensurability in content as well as structure, a mix of „apples and oranges“. They resemble, as Jorge Luis Borges put it in "John Wilkins' Analytical Language”(6):

“[...] a certain Chinese Encyclopedia called the Heavenly Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge. In its distant pages it is written that animals are divided into: (a) those that belong to the emperor; (b) embalmed ones; © those that are trained; (d) suckling pigs; (e) mermaids; (f) fabulous ones; (g) stray dogs; (h) those that are included in this classification; (i) those that tremble as if they were mad; (j) innumerable ones; (k) those drawn with a very fine camel's-hair brush; (l) etcetera; (m) those that have just broken the flower vase; (n) those that at a distance resemble flies.”

To sum up my analysis of current database archives (which due to its extensiveness I cannot include in this paper), the challenges and problems identified in current database archives are:

a. Rigid hierarchical structures that very often are one-directional and exclusive and hard to change once they are implemented. This especially poses problems for the further development of a database archive, which is unavoidable. Each new category challenges the system as a whole.

b. Faking fixed meaning ignores that one word can mean different things and have different connotations in different disciplines and contexts (incommensurability, terms used are relative to a scheme) and also ignores that especially Media Art feeds from various disciplines. A model of fixed meaning results in a narrowing down of perspective, which can in the best case be described as incomplete, in the worst case leads to wrong results.

c. Vocabularies follow the the internal logic of their creators. This poses a very real and practical problem: as people mostly do not enter a database archive from where its creators plan, namely the platform's start-page, but from a search-engine, they will rely on the words and associations they come up with. The logical consequence for database archive creators should be to make a move towards their users and to incorporate as many different associations, meanings, ways of spelling, synonyms, maybe even typos... they can think of. Even if the creators would succeed in finding the perfect expression, how would the users know how to find it? How would they convey their word magix to their audience? Creators of such database archives need to adress these semantic and interpretation issues, if they successfully want to build and sustain their projects.

d. A standard terminology for Media Art contradicts itself. Media Art feeds from various disciplines, crosses boundaries and unites them, resulting in not just a mix of the latter, but also in additional new meanings (“the sum is more than its parts”). Currently applied terminologies reduce the many dimensions to just one (over simplification) or mix what shouldn't be mixed (incommensurability).

2. Descriptive Metadata and Interpretation
For the field of Media Art, the lack of a standard terminology has created a great deal of uncertainty and thus gained priority in research. How can we discuss Media Art when we can't choose the right words and are unsure if their meanings are universally agreed upon? How can we talk about Media Art, when we do not speak the language of New Media?

In all phases of the interpretation process, many results are imaginable, not just one. They are not correct (as in the only one), but can be more or less appropriate. And not all of the equally appropriate interpretations are considered. The database archives build on a small selection of terms and for the sake of slimness and unambiguity try to avoid any kind of redundancy. Terms are used as structural elements in the database archive. This process leads to the solidification of the system by reducing the terms' inherent options. Differing meanings are structurally eliminated and thereby the words' qualities change: they undergo a move from being appropriate to being correct. If interpretation is not about assigning absolute values, such as truth or falsity, but rather about equally acceptable options, it would then be a mistake to build structures on just one interpretation. This would turn the interpretation model with many appropriate results to a scientific model with just one answer being correct.

Interpretation as judgment is influenced by various factors. Pre-existing knowledge, our openness to newness, our time/place/cultural contexts. Unseen and unforeseeable things constitute inevitable change. As these are factors we can count on, but not calculate with, the system developed for Media Art database archives must be apt to likely changes. A system for structuring information/meaning that is based on interpretations must remain corrigible to stay correct. Media Art shares many aspects with traditional art history, but it also introduces newness in content, form and means. These aspects have not been fully acknowledged or captured yet. And the systems often do not allow for newness to be included. The field of Media Art needs systems where continued de/construction remains possible. Right now, too much power lies in the authority of the technological structure used and too little thought is given to its authoritative consequences.

The interpretations in an archive do not seem to be interpretations; they appear to be discovered rather than constructed. The difference here is that the first implies nature's laws and essences, whereas the second shows choice, culture, authorship, a specific view amongst others. Structure in Media Art database archives does not follow a natural law, it is not discovered, but constructed, based on the selection, which itself is based on the creator's aims. The goal of interpretation is to foster understanding and as Schleiermacher pointed out, vocabulary is important in reaching this goal. But – as he also mentions – it is provisional, subject to change. This “dictionary” would not seek to eliminate varying interpretations but “regard the various manners of use as a collection of many loosely connected parts.”(7) Schleiermacher sees both dictionary and grammar as evolving, they begin from a specific point of view, their use must serve to correct and enrich. Interpretation must contribute to the task of furthering knowledge. In both the database archive and semantic network, it is not only about the terminology used, but also about how these terms are linked to the object and to each other. Relations help to further clarify the meaning of a term, its usage. Schleiermacher writes that the sense of every word in a given location must be determined according to its being-together with those that surround it (8). It follows, that the denser this field becomes, the more clearly individual meanings can be determined. Context and relations serve as an aid, the connections can be “organic” (=internal fusion) or “mechanical” (=external stringing together) (9), discovered or constructed. In this regard, the semantic network contributes to the clarification of meaning by relating terms and terms as well as terms and objects, so that one helps to clarify the other. Interpretation remains an approximation of meaning. This act of translation, as it can never be perfect, is a teleological imperative (10), a guideline for adequate interpretation. The goal is to find out and illuminate the meaning of the source, to create some kind of equilibrium between the source and its translation. A standard terminology can only be an aid as a lexical means and as thus suggest but not mandate acceptable meanings. It can exemplify but must not instruct. In short, it will never become a manual for correct interpretation.

According to George Steiner, “no perfections and final stabilities of understanding in any act of discourse” (12) can be reached; translation is always partial. Natural language is polysemic and imprecise. What a standard terminology aims at, a closed-circuit system between works and words, does not exist. The reason why this whole aspect of translation and interpretation is important for Media Art database archives is that the quality of interpretation changes dramatically when implemented in a database. For here, interpretation becomes structural and functional and from one interpretation among many adequate ones, it becomes the only one. It is not even perceived or presented as an interpretation anymore, but as fact. Every structure that behaves this way is inadequate. Interpretation is the active search for meaning, it is a semantic process. Semantic richness therefore is not the extraction of the perfect translation, but the enriching of the semantic field of a term. A standard terminology is not what one authoritative group assembles, but a compilation of how these words are actually used in the community, the community in the Media Arts being all the people participating in the field, the artists, historians, audience,... Meaning creation here depends on “a network of recognition” (13). “Meaning is a process, a consequence of exchange and discourse, correction, and reciprocity.” (14). Meaning is a Language Game.

3. Ludwig Wittgenstein's concept of Family Resemblance

“The idea that in order to get clear about the meaning of a general term one had to find the common element in all its applications has shackled philosophical investigation.” (15)

In the posthumously published Philosophical Investigations, Ludwig Wittgenstein introduces a new paradigm for ordering. His concept is easy to explain: Instead of finding one assumed core element that is necessary and common to all members of a class, they are connected by a whole series of criss-crossing and overlapping features. Not by identity, but similarity. This kind of relationship is what Wittgenstein called Family Resemblance. It offers a solution to what cannot sufficiently be defined by a class-system or – as Wittgenstein wrote - to avoid "the bumps that the understanding has got by running its head up against the limits of language"(16) With this concept, Wittgenstein rejects all taxonomic classification as essentialist and shows the limitations of any hierarchical system with words: That to reach final accuracy in language is an ideal. A class is defined explicitly by a core element, a family on the other hand is described by its rules. And – as he continues in his concept of Language-Games (17) – these rules are not fixed once and for all, but made up and modified “as we go along” (18). They are the (temporary) results of a common activity, and to be effective and meaningful they have to be agreed upon by the “players”. While the traditional classification system was not correct but effective in the times before the computer, now Wittgenstein's model of a non-essentialist ordering system provides a real alternative for descriptive metadata and ordering systems. What does Wittgenstein mean by “rules” and how could this concept be weighed against the concept of classes?

The importance of rules or of following rules is one of Wittgenstein's main interests in his analysis of games. Rules are conventions. They are not right or wrong in a logical sense; they are just useful. The meaning of a word is the result of following rules. So to fix the meaning of a word by linking it to a thing is just one particular view, not the view. What makes a rule different from a definition is that it describes an action, a move, gives direction, but remains flexible. The sum of rules, all statements that tell us how to make meaningful statements constitute a grammar. A definition on the other hand cements the flexibility of a rule by locking the meaning. Deviant usage of words means that “you are not playing the same game”. Rules are related and linked to each other and form families rather than strictly defined classes. In that way, a rule differs fundamentally from a definition: To fall under a definition, necessary and sufficient characteristics have to be fulfilled. A rule on the other hand is much more open. This is what makes the difference between a family and a class, an open system and a closed one. The members of both family and class are interlinked with each other. But instead of resulting in a hierarchy, a fixed order, a non-extendable model and ideal, that is based on mental entities, a family is a network that can grow by sharing and passing on parts from one member to the other, remixing characteristics and adding new ones. To paraphrase the parent-child metaphor of class-subdivision: Unlike in a traditional classification, in the model of Family Resemblance, reproduction can happen naturally: sex instead of in vitro fertilization. Isn't that more realistic? Things are connected and sufficiently ordered by the connections that are established by Family Resemblance. This is radically different from the essentialist tradition. Precisely defined classes are not necessary to understand what a thing is or what relations it can have. To follow a rule is an action and an expression of a specific view of the field. As there are many ways of interpretation, there are also multiple families a thing can be part of, multiple connections that can but need not be shared by all members of a family. There are different uses for a word, and all the different uses are collected in the concept of Family Resemblances.

“And the result of this examination is: we see a complicated network of similarities overlapping and criss-crossing: sometimes overall similarities, sometimes similarities of detail.“ (19)

What still makes the prospect of a standard terminology so attractive is its relative lack of complexity. It reduces the different perspectives to just one, something simple and easily comprehensible and takes away the burden of making a decision. Family Resemblance on the other hand results in a complex network and is rhizomatic. It shows a huge number of connections between things, very general as well as very particular ones; it does not weigh what is important and what is not. This is a subjective decision and thus part of the process of filtering (on the user side).

In Media Art archives we sort knowledge that is already present. The order is not implemented to discover new relations, new qualities, but the result of pre-perceived classes and pre-assumed relations between them. New things have to fit in an already established world order, which is created and manifested in technology before the assets are filed in. The effect is that we do not compile everything we know about all the pieces of Media Art; we order what we have known before. We remain in already established Language-Games, that have not been developed for Media Art (20). Instead of developing its own language, the field of Media Art plays these pre-existing Language-Games in the context of Media Art archives. This does not mean that the order created is entirely wrong. What is wrong is that it presents itself as the only true way of looking at Media Art when it is in fact only one perspective. Only one dimension is highlighted while most information remains in the dark. It is in the nature of such models of (a piece of the) world, that they demand universal validity. We have to remind ourselves that with descriptive metadata we are dealing in the realms of language, something that is not precise. Again, Wittgenstein reminds us of this when he writes:

“We want to establish an order in our knowledge of the use of language: an order with a particular end in view; one out of many possible orders; not the order.” (21)

Because of this limitation of perspectives, archives are filters. In current archives, filtering and thus reduction is part of the data-entering phase. Filtering is an important part of getting qualified information. The crucial question is: when does this filtering happen? To avoid this narrowing down of possible perspectives, this process should be an option that is up to the user. Applying the concept of family resemblance would allow as many connections as possible to be entered rather than filtering in the dataentering phase. The filtering process, the temporary closure, the particular world-view, would all be better suited to being options at the end point of a user accessing the assets of a Media Art archive rather than being fixed when data is entered into the archive.

Wittgenstein's concept of Family Resemblance is opposed to an approach that presents idealism as fact and accepts the resulting errors. The rules of grammar he proposes instead are guidelines for how to make meaningful statements, they result from the use of language. If we deal without definitions, without something that counts as a “hard fact” and if rules can be changed, a question remains: are the relations established reliable and stable enough? Like in a rope or a net, both strength and reliability come from the interweavement of several features, the family network:

“And we extend our concept of number as in spinning a thread we twist fibre on fibre. And the strength of the thread does not reside in the fact that some one fibre runs through its whole length, but in the overlapping of many fibres.” (22)

Translating this thought to Media Art, we learn to understand a piece of art in this interweavement of several features, facets and perspectives instead of in terms of one singular, simplified or 'true' essence. There is a multiplicity of different kinds of languages. In using a language we create meaning, and this activity is what Wittgenstein calls a form of life (23). “So you are saying that human agreement decides what is true or false?” - It is what human beings say that is true or false; and they agree in the language they use. That is not agreements in opinions but in form of life.(24) Grammar as the sum of rules is the expression and result of a particular form of life, not an abstraction from it. Misunderstandings lie in language, not in the things themselves. Instead of a search for a standard terminology for Media Art, the research focus should concentrate on finding a system that enables us to link these different forms of life. Not to erase one for the other, but to make them comparable and to enrich the system with more views.

“Our investigation is ... a grammatical one. Such an investigation sheds light on our problem by clearing misunderstandings away. Misunderstandings concerning the use of words, caused, among other things, by certain analogies between the forms of expression in different regions of language.” (25)

Necessarily, the conceptual model of Family Resemblance is open. New features can always arise and continue to be included. As no list can be compiled that names all features imaginable, the concept of Family Resemblance's ability to incorporate new features presents a significant strength and advantage over other models. Only as seen from particular views or forms of life are the concepts closed. As a result of the open concept caused by Family Resemblance, the boundaries of a group will sometimes be more clear and sometimes more blurry. Even without a core feature for membership, boundaries between concepts can be drawn, as Wittgenstein points out in §68 of the Philosophical Investigations. It can temporarily be thought of as closed to make it workable for a specific use:

“I can give the concept 'number' rigid limits ... that is, use the word 'number' for a rigidly limited concept, but I can also use it so that the extension of the concept is not closed by a frontier. And this is how we do use the word 'game'. For how is the concept of a game bounded? What still counts as a game and what no longer does? Can you give the boundary? No. You can draw one; for none has so far been drawn. (But that never troubled you before when you used the word 'game'.)“ (26)
4. Conclusion
If the hierarchical structure of vocabulary means a limitation – as Toni Peterson pointed out (27) – why has this remained the building principle for so many database archives' terminologies? I want to recall what Petersen wrote: “The semantic network of a hierarchical structure stretches just over broader and narrower terms and through synonyms and near variant lead-in terms. Building a network of related terms [...] takes on additional significance, especially for the representation of knowledge in a field.” (28). Hierarchies cannot just be turned over into semantics without a significant amount of additional efforts. Semantics and density of the net are a result of bringing together actual uses of language, from merging vocabularies and allowing multiple relations for each term. A standard thesaurus for Media Art and a semantic net are therefore, in my opinion, two oppositional and conflicting concepts. The semantic net can inform a lexical corpus, but a lexical corpus will not result in a semantically dense net. This investigation is centered around the question of a standard terminology for Media Art or what the lack of such a terminology means for the field. It showed, that contrary to expectations of a solution, a standard terminology poses new and even more severe problems by narrowing, excluding meaning and thereby closing the concept of art. The impact of a decision for such a model is underestimated, as descriptive metadata not only have a naming/labeling, but also a structuring function in the knowledge base. When the weight of a whole system is put on a rather arbitrary choice of words, when meaning is fixed and the number of the building blocks closed, one can not endlessly build upon the resulting structure without experiencing the limitations of weight it can carry. To avoid limited and limiting database archives, I argued for an alternative model of structuring and labeling, an open framework instead of a closed and rigid structure, one that is based on Ludwig Wittgenstein's concept of Family Resemblance. With an open concept of art and a polythetic approach to descriptive metadata, we comply with the constant changes in and the interdisciplinary nature of Media Art. A network of relations frees us from the threats of collapsing, overstrained hierarchical systems. Applying and adapting the concept of Family Resemblances values and sustains the conceptual openness and rhizomatic interconnectedness of Media Art. We need to get rid of apriori schemes all together and shift from a fixed corpus to an open framework to develop a sustainable model for descriptive metadata.

Nina Wenhart is a Media Art historian, artist and independent researcher. She graduated from Prof. Oliver Grau's Media Art Histories program at the Danube University in Krems, Austria with a Master Thesis on Descriptive Metadata for Media Arts. For many years, she has been working in the field of archiving/documenting Media Art, recently at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Media.Art.Research and before as the head of the Ars Electronica Futurelab's videostudio, where she created their archives and primarily worked with the archival material. She was teaching at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and the Media Art Histories program at the Danube University Krems.

(3)http://archive.v2.nl/v2_archive/projects/capturing/1_2_capturing.pdf, p.12: “There is a lack of standard terminology for practices, activities and components in electronic art and for the types and genres of documentation that describes those.”
(4)Gene Youngblood, Expanded Cinema, Dutton & Co, New York, 1970, p.193
(6)Jorge Louis Borges, “The Analytical Language of John Wilkins”, in: Selected Non-Fictions, New York, Penguin Books, 1999, p.231
(7)Friedrich Schleiermacher, Hermeneutics and Criticism, Cambridge University Press, 1998, p.34
(8)Ibid., p.44
(9)Ibid., p.46
(10) George Steiner, After Babel, Oxford University Press, 1998 (3rd edition), p.326f
(11) Ibid., p.256
(12) Ibid., p.428
(13) Ibid., p.314
(14) Ibid., p.172
(15) Ludwig Wittgenstein, 'The Blue and Brown Books', Harper Torchbooks, 1965, p.17
(16) Ludwig Wittgenstein, 'Philosophical Investigations', Blackwell Publishing, 2001 (3rd edition) p.41e, §119
(17) Ibid., p.4e, §7: „I shall also call the whole, consisting of language and the actions into which it is woven, a 'languagegame'“.
(18) Ibid., p.33e, §83: „And is there not also the case where we play and-make up the rules as we go along? And there is even one where we alter them-as we go along.“
(19) Ibid., p.27e, §66
(20) For example by adapting existing standard terminologies like the Getty Art & Architecture Thesaurus (ATT), http://www.getty.edu/research/conducting_research/vocabularies/aat/
(21) Ludwig Wittgenstein, 'Philosophical Investigations', Blackwell Publishing, 2001 (3rd edition), § 132
(22) Ibid., p.27e, §67
(23) Ibid., p.10e, §23
(24) Ibid., p.75e, §241
(25) Ibid., p.37e, §90
(26) Ibid., p. 28E, §68
(27) Petersen, Toni, “Developing a New Thesaurus for Art and Architecture”, Library Trends, Vol. 38, No. 4, Spring 1990, p.651
(28) Ibid., p.651


Michel Foucault, The Order of Things, 1966

excerpt, p. 60f

"All this was of the greatest consequence to Western thought. Resemblance,
which had for long been the fundamental category of knowledge
– both the form and the content of what we know – became
dissociated in an analysis based on terms of identity and difference;
moreover, whether indirectly by the intermediary of measurement, or
directly and, as it were, on the same footing, comparison became a
function of order; and, lastly, comparison ceased to fulfil the function
of revealing how the world is ordered, since it was now accomplished
according to the order laid down by thought, progressing naturally
from the simple to the complex. As a result, the entire episteme of Western
culture found its fundamental arrangements modified. And, in
particular, the empirical domain which sixteenth-century man saw as a
complex of kinships, resemblances, and affinities, and in which language
and things were endlessly interwoven – this whole vast field was
to take on a new configuration. This new configuration may, I suppose,
be called ‘rationalism’; one might say, if one’s mind is filled with
ready-made concepts, that the seventeenth century marks the disappearance
of the old superstitious or magical beliefs and the entry of
nature, at long last, into the scientific order. But what we must grasp
and attempt to reconstitute are the modifications that affected knowledge
itself, at that archaic level which makes possible both knowledge
itself and the mode of being of what is to be known.
These modifications may be summed up as follows. First, the substitution
of analysis for the hierarchy of analogies: in the sixteenth
century, the fundamental supposition was that of a total system of correspondence (earth and sky, planets and faces, microcosm and
macrocosm), and each particular similitude was then lodged within
this overall relation. From now on, every resemblance must be subjected
to proof by comparison, that is, it will not be accepted until its
identity and the series of its differences have been discovered by means
of measurement with a common unit, or, more radically, by its position
in an order. Furthermore, the interplay of similitudes was hitherto
infinite: it was always possible to discover new ones, and the only
limitation came from the fundamental ordering of things, from the
finitude of a world held firmly between the macrocosm and the microcosm.
A complete enumeration will now be possible: whether in the
form of an exhaustive census of all the elements constituting the envisaged
whole, or in the form of a categorical arrangement that will
articulate the field of study in its totality, or in the form of an analysis
of a certain number of points, in sufficient number, taken along the
whole length of a series. Comparison, then, can attain to perfect certainty:
the old system of similitudes, never complete and always open
to fresh possibilities, could, it is true, through successive confirmations,
achieve steadily increasing probability; but it was never certain.
Complete enumeration, and the possibility of assigning at each point
the necessary connection with the next, permit an absolutely certain
knowledge of identities and differences: ‘Enumeration alone, whatever
the question to which we are applying ourselves, will permit us always
to deliver a true and certain judgement upon it’.9 The activity of the
mind – and this is the fourth point – will therefore no longer consist in
drawing things together, in setting out on a quest for everything that might
reveal some sort of kinship, attraction, or secretly shared nature within
them, but, on the contrary, in discriminating, that is, in establishing their
identities, then the inevitability of the connections with all the successive
degrees of a series. In this sense, discrimination imposes upon
comparison the primary and fundamental investigation of difference:
providing oneself by intuition with a distinct representation of things,
and apprehending clearly the inevitable connection between one element
in a series and that which immediately follows it. Lastly, a final
consequence, since to know is to discriminate, history and science will
become separated from one another. On the one hand there will be
erudition, the perusal of written works, the interplay of their authors’ opinions; this interplay may well, in some cases, possess an indicative
value, not so much because of the agreement it produces as because of
the disagreement: ‘When the question at issue is a difficult one, it is
more probable that there were few rather than many to discover the
truth about it.’ Over against this history, and lacking any common unit
of measurement with it, are the confident judgements we are able to
make by means of intuitions and their serial connection. These and
these alone are what constitute science, and even if we had ‘read all the
arguments of Plato and Aristotle, . . . what we would have learned
would not be sciences, it appears, but history’.10 This being so, the
written word ceases to be included among the signs and forms of
truth; language is no longer one of the figurations of the world, or a
signature stamped upon things since the beginning of time. The manifestation
and sign of truth are to be found in evident and distinct
perception. It is the task of words to translate that truth if they can; but
they no longer have the right to be considered a mark of it. Language
has withdrawn from the midst of beings themselves and has entered a
period of transparency and neutrality."


"... but rather a link with the mathesis which, until the end of the
eighteenth century, remains constant and unaltered. This link has two
essential characteristics. The first is that relations between beings are
indeed to be conceived in the form of order and measurement, but
with this fundamental imbalance, that it is always possible to reduce
problems of measurement to problems of order. So that the relation of
all knowledge to the mathesis is posited as the possibility of establishing
an ordered succession between things, even non-measurable ones.
In this sense, analysis was very quickly to acquire the value of a universal
method; and the Leibnizian project of establishing a mathematics of
qualitative orders is situated at the very heart of Classical thought; its
gravitational centre. But, on the other hand, this relation to the mathesis
as a general science of order does not signify that knowledge is
absorbed into mathematics, or that the latter becomes the foundation
for all possible knowledge; on the contrary, in correlation with the
quest for a mathesis, we perceive the appearance of a certain number of
empirical fields now being formed and defined for the very first time.
In none of these fields, or almost none, is it possible to find any trace of
mechanism or mathematicization; and yet they all rely for their foundation
upon a possible science of order. Although they were all dependent
upon analysis in general, their particular instrument was not the
algebraic method but the system of signs. So there first appeared general
grammar, natural history, and the analysis of wealth, all sciences of
order in the domain of words, beings, and needs; and none of these
empirical studies, new in the Classical period and co-extensive with it
in duration (their chronological frontiers are marked by Lancelot and
Bopp, Ray and Cuvier, Petty and Ricardo, the first group writing around
1660 and the second around 1800–10), could have been founded without the relation that the entire episteme of Western culture maintained
at that time with a universal science of order.
This relation to Order is as essential to the Classical age as the relation
to Interpretation was to the Renaissance. And just as interpretation in the
sixteenth century, with its superimposition of a semiology upon a
hermeneutics, was essentially a knowledge based upon similitude, so
the ordering of things by means of signs constitutes all empirical forms
of knowledge as knowledge based upon identity and difference. The
simultaneously endless and closed, full and tautological world of
resemblance now finds itself dissociated and, as it were, split down the
middle: on the one side, we shall find the signs that have become tools
of analysis, marks of identity and difference, principles whereby things
can be reduced to order, keys for a taxonomy; and, on the other, the
empirical and murmuring resemblance of things, that unreacting
similitude that lies beneath thought and furnishes the infinite raw
material for divisions and distributions. On the one hand, the general
theory of signs, divisions, and classifications; on the other, the problem
of immediate resemblances, of the spontaneous movement of the
imagination, of nature’s repetitions. And between the two, the new
forms of knowledge that occupy the area opened up by this new split."


michel foucault, archaeology of knowledge, 1969, excerpts

excerpt from part II, chapter 1: the unities of discourse

and on http://aaaaarg.org/text/5278/archaeology-knowledge

[...] to master time through a perpetually reversible relation between an origin and a term that are never given, but are always at work. There is the notion of ‘spirit’, which enables us to establish between the simultaneous or successive phenomena of a given period a community of meanings, symbolic links, an interplay of resemblance and reflexion, or which allows the sovereignty of collective consciousness to emerge as the principle of unity and explanation. We must question those ready-made syntheses, those groupings that we normally accept before any examination, those links whose validity is recognized from the outset; we must oust those forms and obscure forces by which we usually link the discourse of one man with that of another; they must be driven out from the darkness in which they reign. And instead of according them unqualified, spontaneous value, we must accept, in the name of methodological rigour, that, in the first instance, they concern only a population of dispersed events.

We must also question those divisions or groupings with which we have become so familiar. Can one accept, as such, the distinction between the major types of discourse, or that between such forms or genres as science, literature, philosophy, religion, history, fiction, etc., and which tend to create certain great historical
individualities? We are not even sure of ourselves when we use these distinctions in our own world of discourse, let alone when we are analysing groups of statements which, when first formulated, were distributed, divided, and characterized in a quite different way: after all, ‘literature’ and ‘politics’ are recent categories, which can be applied to medieval culture, or even classical culture, only by a retrospective hypothesis, and by an interplay of formal analogies or semantic resemblances; but neither literature, nor politics, nor philosophy and the sciences articulated the field of discourse, in the seventeenth or eighteenth century, as they did in the nineteenth century. In any case, these divisions — whether our own, or those contemporary with the discourse under examination — are always themselves reflexive categories, principles of classification, normative rules, institutionalized types: they, in turn., are facts of discourse that deserve to be analysed beside others; of course, they also have complex relations with. each other, but they are not intrinsic, autochthonous, and. universally recognizable characteristics.


"The manifest discourse, therefore, is really no more than the repressive presence of what it does not say; and this ‘not-said’ is a hollow that undermines from within all that is said." [...] These pre-existing forms of continuity, all these syntheses that are accepted without question, must remain in suspense. They must not be rejected definitively of course, but the tranquillity with which they are accepted must be disturbed; we must show that they do not come about of themselves, but are always the result of a construction the rules of which must be known, and the justifications of which must be scrutinized: we must define in what conditions and in view of which analyses certain of them are legitimate; and we must indicate which of them can never be accepted in any circumstances."

on his method:

"I shall take as my starting-point whatever unities are already given (such as psycho-pathology, medicine, or political economy) ; but I shall not place myself inside these dubious unities in order to study their internal configuration or their secret contradictions. I shall make use of them just long enough to ask myself what unities they form; by what right they can claim a field that specifies them in space and a continuity that individualizes them in time; according to what laws they are formed; against the background of which discursive events they stand out; and whether they are not, in their accepted and quasi-institutional individuality, ultimately the surface effect of more firmly grounded unities. I shall accept the groupings that history suggests only to subject them at once to interrogation; to break them up and then to see whether they can be legitimately reformed; or whether other groupings should be made; to replace them in a more general space which, while dissipating their apparent familiarity, makes it possible to construct a theory of them."


"The third purpose of such a description of the facts of discourse is that by freeing them of all the groupings that purport to be natural, immediate, universal unities, one is able to describe other unities, but this time by means of a group of controlled decisions. Providing one defines the conditions clearly, it might be legitimate to constitute, on the basis of correctly described relations, discursive groups that are not arbitrary, and yet remain invisible. Of course, these relations would never be formulated for themselves in the statements in question (unlike, for example, those explicit relations that are posed and spoken in discourse itself, as in the form of the novel, or a series of mathematical theorems). But in no way would they constitute a sort of secret discourse, animating the manifest discourse from within; it is not therefore an interpretation of the facts of the statement that might reveal them, but the analysis of their coexistence, their succession, their mutual functioning, their reciprocal determination, and their independent or correlative transformation."


" ... to play different games? Rather than seeking the permanence of themes, images, and opinions through time, rather than retracing the dialectic of their conflicts in order to individualize groups of statements, could one not rather mark out the dispersion of the points of choice, and define prior to any option, to any thematic preference, a field of strategic possibilities?" --> read p 29ff

ubuweb: An Open Letter to the Frameworks Community

An Open Letter to the Frameworks Community
October, 18, 2010
(responding to this thread on the Frameworks discussion list)

published on: http://ubu.com/resources/frameworks.html

To the Frameworks Community,

I have been reading your thread on UbuWeb's hacking on the list with great interest. It seems that with a few exceptions, the list is generally positive (with reservations) about Ubu, something that makes me happy. Ubu is a friend, not a foe.

A few things: first of all, Ubu doesn't touch money. We don't make a cent. We don't accept grants or donations. Nor do we -- or shall we ever -- sell anything on the site. No one makes a salary here and the work is all done voluntarily (more love hours than can ever be repaid). Our bandwidth and server space is donated by universities.

We know that UbuWeb is not very good. In terms of films, the selection is random and the quality is often poor. The accompanying text to the films can be crummy, mostly poached from whatever is available around the net. So are the films: they are mostly grabbed from private closed file-sharing communities and made available for the public, hence the often lousy quality of the films. It could be done much better.

Yet, in terms of how we've gone about building the archive, if we had to ask for permission, we wouldn't exist. Because we have no money, we don't ask permission. Asking permission always involves paperwork and negotiations, lawyers, and bank accounts. Yuk. But by doing things the wrong way, we've been able to pretty much overnight build an archive that's made publically accessible for free of charge to anyone. And that in turn has attracted a great number of film and video makers to want to contribute their works to the archive legitimately. The fastest growing part of Ubu's film section is by younger and living artists who want to be a part of Ubu. But if you want your works off Ubu, we never question it and remove it immediately; it's your work after all. We will try to convince you otherwise, but we will never leave anything there that an artist or copyright holder wants removed.

Ubu presents orphaned and out-of-print works. Sometimes we had inadvertently host works that are in print and commercially available for a reasonable price. While this is strictly against our policy, it happens. (With an army of interns and students and myself the only one in charge, it's sometimes hard to keep the whole thing together.) Then someone tells us that we're doing it and we take it down immediately and apologize. Ouch. The last thing Ubu wants to do is to harm those who are trying to legitimately sell works. For this reason, we don't host, for example, any films by Brakhage: they're in print and affordable for anyone who wants them on DVD or through Netflix. Fantastic. [The "wall of shame" was a stupid, juvenile move and we removed a few years ago it when we heard from Joel Bachar that it was hurtful to the community.]

Some of the list members suggested that we work with distributors. That's exactly what's starting to happen. Last winter, Ubu had a meeting with EAI and VDB to explore ways that we could move forward together. We need each other. EAI sent a list of artists who were uncomfortable with their films being represented on Ubu. We responded by removing them. But others, such as Leslie Thornton and Peggy Ahwesh insisted that their oeuvres be on Ubu as well as on EAI. You can see Leslie Thorton's Ubu page here (all permissioned).

Likewise, a younger generation is starting to see that works must take a variety of forms and distributive methods, which happen at the same time without cancelling each other out. The young, prominent video artist Ryan Trecartin has all his work on Ubu, hi-res copies are distributed by EAI, The Elizabeth Dee Gallery represent his work (and sells his videos there), while showing in museums around the world. Clearly Ryan's career hasn't been hurt by this approach. You can see his Ryan Trecartin's Ubu page here (all permissioned).

Older filmmakers and their estates have taken a variety of approaches. Michael Snow contacted Ubu to say that he was pleased to have some of his films on Ubu, while he felt that others should be removed. Of course we accommodated him. Having two permissioned films from Michael Snow beats hosting ten without his blessing. We considered it a victory. In another case, the children of Stan VanDerBeek contacted Ubu requesting that we host their father's films. Re:Voir was upset by this, saying that we were robbing his children of their royalties when they in fact had given the films to us. We put a link to purchase DVDs from Re:Voir, regardless. We think Re:Voir serves a crucial function: Many people prefer their beautiful physical objects and hi-res DVDs to our pile of pixels. The point is that there is much (understandable) suspicion and miscommunication. And I'll be the first to admit that, on a community level, I've remained aloof and distant, and the cause of much of that alienation. For this, I apologize.

In terms of sales and rentals ("Ubu is bad for business"), you'd know better than me. But when Peter Gidal approached Ubu and requested that his films be included in our archive, we were thrilled to host a number of them. I met Peter in NYC a few months ago and asked him what the effect of having his films on Ubu had been. He said, in terms of sales and rentals, it was exactly the same, but in terms of interest, he felt there was a big uptick from students and scholars by virtue of being able to see and study that which was unavailable before. Ubu is used mostly by students and in the classroom. Sadly, as many of you have noted, academic budgets don't generally provide for adequate rental or projection money. I know this firsthand: my wife, the video artist Cheryl Donegan -- who teaches video at two prominent East Coast institutions -- is given approximately $200 per semester (if that) for rentals. Good luck.

This summer, Ubu did a show at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center in NYC. I insisted that we show AVIs and MP4s from the site on their giant screen. They looked horrible. But that was the point. I wanted to prove the value of high-resolution DVDs and real film prints. I wanted to validate the existence of distributors who make these types of copies available. Ubu's crummy files are a substitute, a thumbnail for the real thing: sitting in a dark from with like-minded, warm bodies watching an enormous projection in a room with a great sound system. Cinema, as you know too well, is a social experience; Ubu pales by comparison. It will never be a substitute. But sadly, for many -- unable to live near the urban centers where such fare is shown, trapped by economics, geography, career, circumstance, health, family, etc. -- Ubu is the only lifeline to this kind of work. As such, we believe that we do more good in the world than harm.

An ideal situation happened when UbuWeb was asked to participate in a show at the CCA in Montreal. The CCA insisted on showing hi-res films, which they rented from distributors of materials that Ubu hosts. We were thrilled. By having these materials available to be seen on Ubu, it led to rental fees for the artists and income for the distributors. It was a win-win situation. This Ubu working at its best.

Finally, I don't really think it's good for me to join the list. I'm not well-enough versed in your world to keep up with the high level of conversation going on there. Nor do I wish to get into a pissing match. However, I can be contacted here and am happy to respond.

It think that, in the end, Ubu is a provocation to your community to go ahead and do it right, do it better, to render Ubu obsolete. Why should there only be one UbuWeb? You have the tools, the resources, the artwork and the knowledge base to do it so much better than I'm doing it. I fell into this as Ubu has grown organically (we do it because we can) and am clearly not the best person to be representing experimental cinema. Ubu would love you to step in and help make it better. Or, better yet, put us out of business by doing it correctly, the way it should have been done in the first place.

Kenneth Goldsmith

developing a new thesaurus for art and architecture

Developing a New Thesaurus for Art and Architecture



THE ART AND ARCHITECTURE THESAURUS, currently consisting of almost 40,000 terms, is midway in its development. Methods for constructing the thesaurus were modeled on existing standards and on other thesauri such the National Library of Medicine’s MeSH Thesaurus.It was designed to provide the “hinge” between the object, its images, and related bibliographic material. In the decade since it was begun, however, attitudes toward the use of terminology to describe visual images and museum objects have changed, impelling AAT constructors to develop policies that would make the thesaurus flexible enough to meet the needs of a new generation of database producers. This article describes the processes and policies that were developed to construct a language that would represent knowledge in the field of art and architecture as well as be surrogates for the images and objects being described. The AAT’s presentation of an “atomized” or faceted language is detailed.
In 1979, when the meeting was held that resulted in a proposal to develop a new art thesaurus, vocabulary control in the field of art and architecture was extremely limited. Yet this field had a long history of documenting its objects of study. A strong organization of art librarians, the Art Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS/ NA), had existed for almost a decade. The Research Libraries Group
*Since this article was written, the Art and Architecture Thesaurus was published by Oxford University Press. The thesaurus contains a chapter on the history of the project that includes some of the same material published here.
Toni Petersen, Art and Architecture Thesaurus, 62 Stratton Road, Williamstown, MA
LIBRARY TRENDS, Vol. 38, No. 4, Spring 1990, pp. 644-58 @ 1990 The Board of Trustees, University of Illinois
(RLG) had organized the Art and Architecture Program Committee (AAPC) which comprised a growing group of the largest and most prestigious art libraries in the country to advise RLG in this field. A number of indexing and abstracting services existed, some of them decades old. In addition to these, there were visual resource collections (slides, drawings, and photographs), archival collections, and museums, all of which cataloged art objects, their surrogates in picture form, or documents related to art.
Most art librarians, whether cataloging on RLG’s Research Libraries Information Network (RLIN), the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC), or other bibliographic utilities, used Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) as a source of subject terminology although there was general dissatisfaction with its coverage in the field of art and architecture. Some art libraries, especially those with old and large collections, had developed their own subject authority files or had enhanced LCSH with additional headings according to their needs. The indexing and abstracting services, most of which were automated to some degree, had their own subject lists. Visual resource collections, archives, and museums almost all had manual systems with either no or little subject access and no control of their subject terms.
The advent of the large automated bibliographic utilities, the stricter use of the MARC format in automated cataloging, and the emergence of the microcomputer encouraged the proliferation of online databases and tighter control of collections of materials, whether books, journals, or objects. Automation also allowed vast quantities of data to be stored and retrieved easily and cheaply, and there was the promise of relational databases in which scholars could link a variety of information within one system. All of this new- found functionality had a significant influence on the move toward the automation of collections of materials in the field of art and architecture.
It is often frustration that serves as the catalyst for change. In 1979, Dora Crouch, an architectural historian and professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, found herself increasingly frustrated with the constant difficulties she encountered in trying to assemble slides for her lectures. To solve this problem, Crouch called a meeting in February 1979 of archivists, librarians, prints and drawings curators, and indexers in order to initiate the Universal Access System for Slides (UAS). During this and a subsequent meeting in May 1979, the need for a controlled vocabulary, or thesaurus, was seen as the first and necessary step toward a system for the control of visual resource collections.
A thesaurus would provide for the consistent represen tation of information by determining the preferred ways of referring to
concepts, bringing together synonyms, and noting other relationships such as broader and narrower terms. It would lighten the burden of indexers and catalogers and bring about the most comprehensive retrieval of information possible on a particular topic by linking together terms whose meanings are related.
The May meeting included new participants: Pat Molholt, associate director of Libraries at Rensselaer, and this author, executive editor of RZLA (International Repertory of the Literature of Art). Discussion focused on the need for a means to use the latest technology in these computerized cataloging and indexing projects. Henry Millon, dean of the Center for the Advanced Study of the Visual Arts (CASVA) at the National Gallery of Art, who was unable to attend, sent his recommendation for the ideal thesaurus. His concerns summarized the issues addressed by the committee. He wrote:
A thesaurus for computer needs to be arranged hierarchically, so that it collapses within itself, to make a nest of terms. This is a key problem in making subject categories. Designing such a thesaurus will take real collaboration among architectural historians.
In this statement Millon identified key elements that became guiding principles in the development of the Art and Architecture Thesaurus (AAT)-that it should be hierarchically structured and that it should be basedon the collaboration of scholars in the field. Millon’s understanding and forethought regarding the pivotal role of his colleagues gave him a critical role as chair of the AAT’s Architecture Advisory Group which was established in 1983 to review and guide AAT research and production.
At the time, most thesauri were strictly alphabetical lists of terms, although they contained rudimentary hierarchical structures with broader and narrower term references. They were usually constructed by indexers or librarians to suit the indexing and cataloging needs of a particular application, and their compilers did not often seek the advice of their scholarly communities. As we enter the 199Os, we are witnessing a move toward natural language system interfaces which require sophisticated concept and term mapping. It is actually becoming more essential to have well-structured hierarchical thesauri mounted within natural language processors to form the basis of semantic networks. Millon’s “nest of terms” was not far off the mark.
As it happened, the Universal Access System never materialized, and the group disbanded after the second meeting, but its momentum and the energy it had germinated was captured by the formation of the Art and Architecture Thesaurus. A trio from the UAS meeting consisting of Pat Molholt, Dora Crouch, and this author set to work to prepare grant proposals and to plan the thesaurus.
Our first grant, received from the Council on Library Resources
in early 1980, enabled us to investigate and establish the need for an art and architecture thesaurus. This work prepared the way for the filing of subsequent grant proposals to other funding agencies. The resulting report, Indexing and Abstracting in the Arts: A Survey and Analysis, was finished later that year and was made available through the ERIC document service (Crouch et al., 1981). The report detailed the status of subject indexing lists in the field of art and analyzed each of the major lists. It concluded that, while each was tailored to meet the needs of its own project, none was adequate in itself to provide the comprehensive thesaurus needed for the whole field. It also noted a willingness on the part of the persons who had been approached to cooperate in the production of a new thesaurus.
In September 1980, a one-year planning grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) was received, followed by a second grant for 1981-82 to construct the architecture section. Rensselaer became the administering institution for the grants and agreed to give the infant project a home in its Folsom Library.
The thesaurus was envisioned as a set of terms that would include the history and the making of the visual arts; that is, it would form a hinge between objects and their replicas or representations and the bibliography about them. Its coverage would be geographically and historically comprehensive but would not include terminology for iconographical themes. The terminology would be hierarchically organized, based on the model of the National Library of Medicine’s Medical Subject Headings (NLM, 1990), and optimized for computerized use. Scholars in the field would review the work at all stages.
The initial task was to gather terminology from existing glossaries, subject lists, and thesauri. This underscored yet another basic principle of the Art and Architecture Thesaurus; that it would build upon vocabulary already in use in the field. In this way, we hoped to maximize its relevance and enable indexing and cataloging organizations to absorb the new thesaurus easily. With this in mind, priority was to be given to LCSH as a source for AAT terms.
As the work progressed over the next decade, however, more and more differences began to emerge between Library of Congress Subject Headings and the developing AAT. Basic differences in the way terms were chosen and structured were analyzed in a 1983 article in which issues such as inverted versus natural word order as well as other more serious problems that violated thesaurus standards for term construction (such as inconsistencies. in LCSH’s syndetic structure) were raised: -The Art and Architecture Thesaurus is hierarchically arranged
according to a rigorously constructed, internally consistent
structure. This allows terms to be graphically displayed in a nested conceptual array with terms that are broader and others that are narrower or more specific in meaning (see Figure 1 for an example of the AATS hierarchical structure). LCSH terms are available only in an alphabetical array, leading to omissions and inconsistencies in the syndetic structure.
-AAT terms are chosen from available sources to make a conceptual whole within their hierarchical arrays. This does not mean that there are not general terms in the AAT “Houses” is an available term as are numerous narrower terms related to it such as “country houses” and “bungalows.” LCSH terms are often general because they are used to describe the subject of whole books rather than a specific object in an image or the subject of a periodical article. They are also generated only when a need for a term arises. Thus many terms available in the AAT will not be found in LCSH.
-Rather than expressing single concepts, LCSH terms are often “precoordinated”-that is, they are complex concepts put together at the time the heading is generated, and they remain in the authority list in that specific combination. For example, “Wooden doors” is an LCSH heading as is “Renaissance painting.” In the AAT, because of its faceted structure, “wood” is found in the Materials hierarchy, “doors” in the Built Works Components hier- archy, “Renaissance” in the Styles and Periods hierarchy, and “painting” in the Disciplines hierarchy. Indexers are free to use terms separately or to combine them into headings that are precoordinated at the time of indexing to match the item they are describing (Petersen, 1983).
Despite these divergencies, the AAT still sought to give priority to LCSH terms because of LCSHS long-term preeminence as an indexing vocabulary, so long as the term form met the strict requirements for thesaurus construction set out in national and international standards. However, when necessary, LCSH terms were modified. Each concept in LCSH, whether adopted intact or modified, was noted in the corresponding AAT term record. It was hoped that this would enable libraries that used the AAT to track their older bibliographic records containing LCSH headings and to connect bibliographic records for like subjects.
After gathering the terminology, all the categories or possible hierarchies that would be necessary to cover the field of architecture and associated areas were identified and a computer program was written to generate term sheets for each term from the computerized lists that had been generously supplied to the AAT by the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, the Auery Index to
Architectural Periodicals, the Picture Division of the Public Archives of Canada, RILA, and the Architectural Periodicals Index of the Royal Institute of British Architects. Since there was no computerized LCSH file available at the time, relevant terms had been painstakingly identi- fied in the printed LCSHvolumes and a computerized file made.
VD.l VD.2 VD.3
M.5 VD.6 VD.7
M.8 VD.9
M.11 vD.12
M.14 VD.15 VD.16
M.24 VD.25 VD.26
M.28 VD.29
M.31 VD.32 vD.33
M.36 vD.37
M.43 VD.44 VD.45 VD.46 VD.47 VD.48 VD.49

canporite drawinp
cutaway drawings
exploded dnwinp
piaorial drawings
acale drawings
full-scale drawings
axonometricdrawings dimetric drawkg isometric drawinp oblique drawings
eldon oblique drawings cabinet oblique dmwinp cavalier oblique drawing8 general oblique drawings
plan oblique drawings aimuric drawings
orthographicdrawings auxiliuy vim elevationr
exteriorelendona interior elevations laid-out elevationr partial elevations
half elevationr sectional elevations

body planr outboard profilea rigging planr sail planr rheaplanr
city planr
rite plans block planr grading plan8 Iandrcaping planr
planting planr traca (area planr)
floorplanr ground planr typical floorplans
foundation planr
May be used in combination with other descriptors (e.g., Japanese -k watercolors;
ink +drawings; brush +drawings; landscape 4-drawings).
Source: AAT Thesaurus, 1990.
Figure 1. Example of AAT's hierarchicalstructure
This first gathering of potential candidate terms for the AAT resulted in a stack of approximately 30,000 separate term sheets. The
terms were studied for overlaps and omissions as well as style of headings. Term sheets for like concepts were merged, and the sheets were arranged in rough stacks according to about eighteen hierarchical categories.
The next job was to arrange each stack of term sheets into hierarchies, a process called “shingling.” By May 1983, a great deal ofprogress had been made. The first rough hierarchical arrangements were completed, and the staff began to edit them.
It had been thought that the matching and merging task would generate every known term for the cataloging and indexing of architectural materials. However, the most striking fact that emerged from this first attempt to create hierarchies was the presence of large gaps throughout. The tens of thousands of term sheets that had been generated &d not, in fact, provide a complete set of terminology. The explanation was twofold. First, when terms that have been developed for an alphabetically arranged list are rearranged by concepts, missing terminology quickly becomes apparent. As Molholt said: “When the parts of a bicycle are laid out by size it’s hard to see what may be missing. When those parts are laid out in the form of a bicycle, missing parts are easy to detect.” The second reason for gaps was that most subject lists derived from indexing and cataloging systems contain only those terms needed to index or catalog actual documents or objects encountered.
To gain some idea of the proportion of the problem, a small experiment in “infill” was conducted; that is, terms felt to be absolutely necessary to provide a comprehensive set that would be acceptable to the scholarly community were added to one subsection of one hierarchy. That section more than doubled in size as a result. This was a major watershed for the Art and Architecture Thesaurus for it was now clear that the original set of lists could not be depended upon to provide a comprehensive set of terms in a hierarchical array. The scholarly mandate of the AAT required a decision to search out missing terms in reference works and scholarly monographs, a costly and labor-intensive task.
A number of other important problems were identified in this early stage, including issues of term form, pre- and postcoordination, and subdivisions. It quickly became apparent that many of the combinations of terms provided from the original sources could not be maintained in the AAT because of enumeration problems. The most frequently used combinations in the indexing of art and architectural materials were those of style or period and object name, or material and object name, such as “Victorian cottages” or “marble floors.” To have enumerated all such possible combinations, the size of the thesaurus would have burgeoned uncontrollably. It was relatively simple to make a first decision to group style and period
and material terms in what were then called “quasi-hierarchies” of their own rather than keep them precoordinated with other terms. Indexers and catalogers could then choose their own combinations as required using a standard set of rules and instructions. However, as work progressed, the more difficult task of fully articulating rules for other types of pre- and postcoordination had to be undertaken.
Another problem was the fact that there is often no “real” indexing term to use as a broader or collocating term under which to array a group of like terms or siblings. The AAT followed the lead of some other thesauri in establishing node labels or “guide terms”-terms within brackets that express the broader concept but are not suitable as indexing terms.
We also found, surprisingly, that organizing terms into hierarchies limits their classification as well. The semantic network of a hierarchical structure stretches just over broader and narrower terms and through synonyms and near variant lead-in terms. Building a network of related terms-the next step in the process and a feature that will be added once the Art and Architecture Thesaurus is completed in the next few years-takes on additional significance, especially for the representation of knowledge in a field. In a sense, one builds alternative hierarchies from the paths made by related terms. For example, in the architecture hierarchies, all single architectural structures are classified within their genus-species relationships-“chapel” is a type of “church” as is a “cathedral.” Through related term references, one is able to add the ability to construct the parts of the whole. “Pews” and “pulpits” will point to “chapels,” “churches,” and other religious structures.
To sum up the basic operating principles developed for the Art and Architecture Thesaurus in this first stage, the following points can be enumerated:
-The AAT would be constructed using standard thesaurus conventions, such as those outlined in the American National Standards Institute’s (1980) Guidelines for the Construction of Monolingual Thesauri.
-It would be structured hierarchically, drawing on the model of Medical Subject Headings MeSH for its tree structures and alphabetical displays.
-It would be based on terminology that is current, that is warranted for use in standard literary sources, and that is validated by the scholarly community. If possible, it would incorporate existing lists that may be enhanced or modified.
-It would be responsible to its constituency and take cognizance of the needs of that constituency in the depth and scope of its terminology.
-The data comprising the thesaurus would be made available in
machine-readable forms lending themselves to a variety of
automated systems. -The necessary financial commitment would be sought, not only to build the original vocabulary but to maintain it over the long term. -A commitment would be made to the user groups that the
vocabulary would not be changed arbitrarily. Although change
is inevitable, it should be planned for and promulgated with the
agreement of the user community.
Scholarly input has turned out to be crucial to the AAT Its staff is composed of a combination of art historians and information scientists. All of the editors who choose the terminology and construct the hierarchies are art historians and/or architects. Most of the authority work on the terms and the management of the thesaurus system is done by information scientists/librarians. Regular editorial meetings to develop policies and to review work in progress include both elements of the staff.
During the editorial process, editors often call on outside experts to answer specific questions about terms. During the course of authority work on terms, scholarly literature as well as general reference works are consulted to make sure that the term is in use and to determine its scope and definition.
Scholarly review groups are assembled during the final stage in the construction of hierarchies. Twenty-eight of these reviews, lasting from a half to two and a half days, have occurred between 1983 and 1989. The most cohesive and enduring of the review teams is the Architecture Advisory Group, chaired by Henry Millon, comprising five other scholars and architects representing all elements of the field. This group met seven times between 1984 and 1989 to review the architecture hierarchies in their development and has played a major role in the way these sets of terms are structured and chosen.
Work with the scholarly community and with a growing group of Art and Architecture Thesaurus test users has underscored the conviction that, while comprehensiveness and standardization of vocabulary is an important goal, successful thesauri can be neither stagnant nor dictatorial. They must be able to respond to the living, evolving language from which they are drawn-to assimilate both the language of scholars in the field and the more popular language found in basic literary sources. The AAT seeks to maintain a delicate balance between providing standardization of a body of terms that is as full a representation of an area or field as possible, and responding to patterns of usage and the subtleties of language. It must be understood that total comprehensiveness is not truly possible, given the restraints of time and resources and the changeable nature of
language itself. A thesaurus must be seen as a living tool; a body of language that can be added to and changed as it responds to the needs of its users.
It was only with the advent of J. Paul Getty Trust support in 1983 that resources became available to carry out some of the more important methodological decisions that had been made. Prior to this, with a very small staff and with the NEH mandate to complete the architecture section in a year, there had been no opportunity for the rigor that was subsequently applied to the research aspects of choosing terms and conceptualizing them into hierarchies. From this point on, the rule of literary warrant was emphasized for each term. Rather than accept terms, even with modifications, as they were received from various indexing sources, each term was also researched in several reference sources, including scholarly monographs, glossaries, and catalogs. A record was kept of all sources consulted, and definitions of the term as found in the sources were noted. Variant forms were included as lead-in terms. Definitions or scope notes were added to many terms. These data became the basis for the AATS alphabetical index entries (see Figure 2).
~A T
L elevation
SN Drawings showing the vertical elements
SCOPE NOTE of a building, either exterior or interior,
as a direct projection to a vertical
plane. (DAC)
c -
UF drawings, elevation
LEAD-IN TERMS elevation drawings
Figure 2. Sample from alphabetical display
In 1985 the Art and Architecture Thesaurus entered a new phase with the formation of the Getty Art History Information Program (AHIP) under the direction of Michael Ester. Half a decade of work had not generated a product that could be officially distributed. With AHIP’s help, a series of more realistic goals were set. The scope of
the thesaurus was narrowed to focus on Western art and architecture. Work on the decorative arts and fine arts sections was suspended until architecture, and all its supporting sections, could be completed. By the fall of 1989 a contract had been signed with Oxford University Press to publish twenty-three of the projected forty hierarchies by spring 1990 (see Figure 3 for a list of AAT hierarchies). The publication will consist of a set of three printed volumes and an electronic edition on floppy discs.
AAT Facets and Hierarchies Obiects Facet Buzlt Enuzronment
Associated Concepts Facet Settlements, Systems and Landscapes Built Complexes and Districts Physical Attributes Facet Single Built Works and Open Spares Design Attributes Building Division and Site Elements Design Elements Built Works Components Colors
Furnishings and Equipment
Styles and Periods Facet Tools and Equipment Styles and Periods
Measuring Devices Agents Facet Hardware and Joints People and Organizations Furniture Furnishings
Activities Facet Personal Artifacts Disciplines ContainersFunctions Culinary Artifacts Events Musical Instruments Processes and Techniques
Recreational Artifacts Materials Facet Armament Materials Transportation Artifacts Communication Artifacts
Visual and Verbal Communication
Image and Object Genres Drawings Paintings Prints Photographs Sculpture Multi-Media Art Forms Communication Design Exchange Media Book Arts Document Types
Figure 3. AATfacets and hierarchies
In January 1986, this author assumed the full-time directorship of the Art and Architecture Thesaurus. Pat Molholt returned to her full-time position at Rensselaer, although her association with the AAT remained close. The AAT moved to a long-term site inWil- liamstown, Massachusetts, close to its sister AHIP organization,
RZLA, in summer 1986, where it will remain until its last anticipated move in the mid 1990s to the permanent Getty facility under construction in Brentwood, California.
From the earliest days of the project, financial support was only one kind of support sought by the codirectors. The Art and Architecture Thesaurus, as a thesaurus that is independent of any particular application, is almost unique. It must provide for a wide range of environments, building a vocabulary that fills the needs of such different indexing systems as those for books and periodicals, images, and museum objects. From the beginning, the AAT set itself the task of becoming the standardized vocabulary for these varied constituencies. In order to achieve this, the support of these constituencies had to be sought. Preparing for the NEH grant proposals brought the endorsements of the Society of Architectural Historians, the College Art Association, and ARLIS/NA (Art Libraries Society of North America). In addition to these, many other elements of the art and architecture community that might benefit from the AAT were canvassed for advice and endorsements.
At the 1982 ARLIS annual conference, an Art and Architecture Thesaurus advisory committee was formed with the aim of serving as a liaison between the AAT and the ARLIS membership. The previous year, the Subject Heading Task Force of the Art and Architecture Program Committee had officially endorsed the AAT. At their meeting during the 1982 ARLIS conference, Molholt and Petersen requested further support of AAPC suggesting that the AAT might serve as an alternative subject heading authority file in RLIN (RLG’s Research Libraries Information Network). AAPC’s response was to form a Subcommittee on AAT Implementation which has been working with RLG staff toward this goal since 1984. The AAT was mounted as an authority file on RLIN in June 1990. AAT records in the MARC Authorities Format will be available as well as the ability to scroll through complete hierarchies.
It was not only endorsements and working groups that influenced the direction of the Art and Architecture Thesaurus. The first critique of the project was delivered by Trevor Fawcett in his keynote speech at the International Seminar on Information Problems in Art History at Oxford in 1982, the precursor to the 1984 Pisa Conference. Among his recommendations were that the AAT should be highly prescriptive; with detailed instructions for the application of terms; that there be copious scope notes; and that there be a high degree of specificity qualified by clearly stated constraints. He also stressed the importance of having the AAT accepted by the major producers of bibliographic records. Prophetically, each of these recommendations has proven to be a necessity. Everyone has asked for greater comprehensiveness in the choice of terms and for definitions and scope notes to lay
out clearly the meaning of the terms. Work with test users has emphasized the necessity for training and for guidelines in the use of the AAT.
Seeking the acceptance of the major producers of bibliographic records necessitated several years of preparatory work. Although producers of indexing services like the Auery Index to Architectural Periodicals and RILA have had little problem in adopting the AAT (and indeed have been using the terminology in draft form since late 1984), the art library community, which expressed the most dissatisfaction with its existing subject heading list, LCSH, and had expressed the most need for an art and architecture thesaurus, was the least prepared to adopt it. Millions of its records already existed in national bibliographic networks with LCSH headings. Not only would it be difficult to switch to a new subject authority list, but the costs involved in training catalogers and in having to generate more specific headings to describe the contents of books would be considerable.
In the course of mapping the AAT into MARC, it became clear that the USMARC Authorities Format would need modifications and the addition of new fields to hold and display hierarchically organized thesauri. The AAT, with the support of the AAPC, proposed and successfully shepherded a set of modifications and new fields through the Library of Congress Network Development and Standards Office, and then through the national committee that passes on changes to the MARC format, the MARBI (Machine Readable Bibliographic Information) Committee.
In addition to requiring changes to the MARC Authorities Format, the topical subject field (650)in MARC presented a problem. It was inadequate for coding terms drawn from a faceted thesaurus. This problem was resolved through the implementation of a new subject field (654) for faceted thesauri like that of the AAT. The new field was passed by the MARBI committee in January 1988 and allows catalogers to code and identify uniquely each term that is a component of a more complex heading, noting the facets from which the terms come and also coding a “focus” term-i.e., the term that is the main concept of the indexing string. Seen first as a means of solving the problem of enumeration caused by the combining of concepts like styles and object names, the AAT arrived at its current faceted structure slowly and with some prodding from classification experts.
Some light on the problem had been shed at meetings in London in 1984 with Jean Aitchison, a British thesaurus expert, and then at a gathering of British librarians and classification experts hosted by the British Architectural Library at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). British classification theorists have led the way- following s.R. Ranganathan in the 1930s-in the movement toward
the classification of knowledge into faceted categories. Facets are seen as homogeneous, mutually exclusive units of information which share characteristics that demonstrate their differences from each other. For example, materials are different from the objects of which they are comprised; each is considered a different facet of information. At the RIBA meeting, the simple alphabetic listing of hierarchies hitherto developed for the AAT was roundly criticized. Hurried meetings with some of the attendees at this meeting, especially one or two who had worked with the Bliss Classification System, resulted in a rough arrangement that started with the most abstract concepts and proceeded to hierarchies containing terminology for styles and periods of art, agents, activities, materials, and then object types.
The development of the AAT's faceted classification scheme has been continually refined. In 1989, a classification notation was developed that provides a unique code for each term. The code places a term in its facet and hierarchical location and allows for the machine reconstruction of the hierarchy and for automatic explosion of terms for researchers needing to broaden searches.
With pressure building on the AAT to distribute its terminology to the many automated database producers (especially slide librarians and archivists, who were badly in need of it), at the end of 1984 it was decided that a small test group of AAT users should begin to apply the terminology in their databases. The first seven hierarchies, which were then considered completed in first draft (the Styles and Periods, Drawings, Document Types, and the four architecture hierarchies), were distributed to about twelve organizations that had requested them. By 1989 the test user group had grown to over 150 organizations. It continues to grow at the rate of about five new users per month. This process has had a two-way benefit. Indexing and cataloging organizations in the field of art and architecture which were just beginning to build online databases needed a con trolled vocabulary, and the AAT needed to find out if the vocabulary it was building was adequate and useful.
In spring 1988, visits were made to over fifty AAT users to better understand what kinds of organizations they were, what computer systems they used, and how they were making use of the thesaurus. AAT users at this initial phase tended to be those handling architectural and archival information, not surprising given that these sections of the AAT were the first constructed. There is an especially strong contingent of archival and visual materials collections among them. Archives and slide and photograph collections have little subject access to their manual systems; they are therefore more open to new thesauri as they begin to automate their collections. The AAT has worked with both the Society of American Archivists and with the Visual Resources Association to provide for the special needs
of both of these fields in the areas of subject terminology, giving workshops and demonstrations and meeting with groups within these societies to develop particular areas of the thesaurus.
Although AAT users employ a wide variety of computer systems, most are microcomputer based. The survey has helped to plan for the types of machine-readable distribution of the AAT that will be most desirable and has pointed out that users will need software and training in mounting the thesaurus in their systems.
Through the 1988 survey-and through personal contact with a number of actual and potential AAT users-a clear sense of the need to provide guidance and training in the use of controlled subject vocabulary has developed. Guidelines ranging from general rules on subject analysis and term selection to the use of AAT terms in complex indexing systems are needed. A series of training workshops that began in 1987 will be expanded to reach all constituents who need such guidance. The AAT’s primary focus toward its users has tended to be one of openness and flexibility: openness to a variety of information systems and their particular needs and flexibility to change the AAT as required by both, the user community and new developments in the field of information science. The AAT/user liaison will continue to be an indispensable element of the long- term maintenance and growth of the thesaurus.
American National Standards Institute. (1980). Guidelines for thesaurus structure,
construction, and use (Approved June 30, 1980) (ANSI 239.19-1980). New York:
ANSI. Crouch, D.; Molholt, P.; & Petersen, T. (1981). Indexing in art and architecture: An
investigation and analysis. Report to the Council on Library Resources.
Washington, DC: Council on Library Resources. National Library of Medicine. (1990). Medical Subject Headings (2 vols.). Bethesda,
MD: National Library of Medicine. Petersen, T. (1983). The AAT: A model for the restructuring of LCSH. Journal of
Academic Librarianship, 9(4), 207-210.