How we Became Metadata

University of Westminster, London
ArtistsMartin John Callanan, Corby & Baily and Jonathan Mackenzie, Eunju Han, Eduardo Kac, susan pui san lok, Ruth Maclennan and Uriel Orlow, and Thomson and CraigheadWhat is Metadata? As the exhibition outlines, it is data about data, information about information. It facilitates the retrieval, use, and mis-use of data, information, and knowledge. It is at the heart of our age: it underpins, drives, and shapes information economies, societal networks, search engines, communication technologies, systems of knowledge, websites, online images, maps, archives, catalogues and indexes, stock markets, and especially capitalism, commerce, and consumption. It is the structure, the organizing principle, the ecology that governs us.Metadata shapes experience – through data, information, knowledge. It shapes our sense of privacy, identity, security, civic-ness, labour, sharing, peer to peer-ness, being together, and being itself even. It shapes who we are and what we are.In the past, we used to shape data and information. Now it’s shaping us. It trawls through our searches, monitors our buying habits, its GPS systems tracking us, its cookies shadowing us, tagging us, accumulating data and information along the way, for its own sake, for purposes ominous or as yet unanticipated, even earning capital off the back of our labour as we manage our Facebook sites, all the while accumulating, number-crunching, processing, and then offering our desires back to us. Threefold. Buying a book on Amazon? ‘Customers who bought items in your Recent History also bought…’In this exhibition the artists locate and challenge the logic, the status, and the nature of data, information, and knowledge. By way of the informational (Callanan), the communicable (Han), the environmental/ecological (Corby & Baily and Mackenzie), the bio-cultural (Kac), the searchable (Thomson and Craighead), the historical (lok), and the archival as itself a mechanical super-structure of data (Maclennan and Orlow), they find new and unique languages to articulate visually and poetically how such systems and networks of data/information/knowledge that constitute and are constituted by metadata might be brought to light, questioned, and, perhaps most pressingly, how they might be disrupted.‘How We Became Metadata’ is a political and ethical move in that direction: it is a move to highlight the creation, organization, presentation, and control of data and metadata, and, even more so, to interrupt the rhythm of such insidious logic.
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