data.anatomy [civic] is a audiovisual installation created by acclaimed Japanese artist Ryoji Ikeda in collaboration with Mitsuru Kariya, the development leader of the new Honda Civic. The work is exhibited as a 3-screen video projection derived from the entire data set of the car. Ikeda has taken the hidden or secret raw production data of automotive production to display the inner workings and outer surface of a car. The images were compressed and animated into a series of scans which were then most impressively sited in the vast and uncompromising space of a former power station in Berlin.
data.anatomy and its use of raw data has strong echoes of early pictographs. Pictographs evolved in two ways: First, they were the beginning of pictorial art--the objects and events of the world were recorded with increasing fidelity and exactitude as the centuries passed; second, they evolved into writing. The images, whether the original pictorial form was retained or not, ultimately became symbols for spoken-language sounds. Throughout their long evolution as a means of communicating, images have developed their own rhetoric--techniques of composition, style, and content--which increase their ability to move us, or to convey information. In this instance, the subject matter of data.anatomy is strong echoes of a car advert and key components of the car design seem to be highlighted in red. It might be argued that there is nothing new about the juxtaposition of text and image: from Medieval illuminated manuscripts to propaganda posters and glossy magazine ads, our culture has developed the combination of text and image to a high art. In many ways, the juxtaposition of text and image signifies a persuasive visual argument: we expect to be prompted towards a belief, a fear, or a desire satisfied.
In order to develop 'data.anatomy [civic]', Ryoji Ikeda spent one year poring over the information pertaining to the development of the car. He was given the computer aided design (CAD) data, which detailed every component of the vehicle. It was through this compilation of data that ikeda and his team were able to craft a visual exploration of the inner workings of honda's engineering philosophy in action. Ikeda, assisted by a team of five technicians, analyzed the information supplied by honda in order to develop 'data.anatomy [civic]' in both his paris and tokyo studios. the artist's comprehension of the expansive data set allowed him and the researchers to create an abstracted automobile, understood as not the blueprints for an object, but an experiential installation.
But the piece data.anatomy raises serious questions about the role of art and the relationship of fine art to that of art and design often utilised by corporate concerns. The use of images pre-dates all forms of writing, and the power of images to convey information has been used by most cultures on their path towards greater complexity and sophistication. Consider the power these images have to affect your emotions and colour your thoughts. Now, imagine that artists, advertisers, propagandists, or politicians--all technicians of the power of images and words--work overtime to communicate with your deepest emotions through powerful images. They appropriate images, icons, archetypes, and cultural codes to move us, sometimes consciously, sometimes from the unconscious. Combining text with these images shifts the technique of persuasion because text engages our analytical reasoning in ways that images can by-pass. Knowing something about the distinctive and overlapping rhetorics of images and text--and paying attention to how these rhetorics have been composed--will help us avoid being motivated unconsciously against our best interests.
For example data.anatomy is exhibited as a 3-screen video projection and completely immerses the viewer in an intricate yet vast audiovisual composition derived from the entire data set of the car. Ryoji Ikeda states: "As a composer and artist, I compose music, visuals, materials, physical phenomena and abstract concepts. For this project, the invisible multi-substance of data is the subject of my composition'" In the installation Apple computers channel information into three projectiondesign F32 projectors with a brightness of up to 8000 lumens and outfitted with WUXGA resolution contrast ratio of 7500:1 in order to portray the meticulous detail of each piece of the civic's reinterpreted construction information. The sheer scale of both the space and also the project has the effect of shrinking your presence, not least because the projections of the inner workings of the car are so greatly scaled up. This is all done with a strong emphasis on aesthetics and utilizes highly persuasive techniques through the creation of a transcendental moment where the audience float through three renderings of the inner workings of a car. At moments the spectator is able to tell where they are being led, at other moments your only awareness is one of expansive space. There is a strong resemblance to a car showroom aesthetic or glossy product launch.
So the work data.anatomy might be understood as an example of commodity fetishism as Art. In Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes, Jacques Ellul argues that propaganda and the technological society are interdependent. Whatever the variety of propaganda, it is always associated with effectiveness: "Ineffective propaganda is no propaganda". As an instrument of indoctrination arising from the "will to action," propaganda is a technique of social influence that treats society as a machine that can be tuned up, re-engineered, or re-programmed. Ellul argues that the technological imperative--the reliance on technology to provide solutions and progress--corresponds to the rapid growth of propaganda in the 20th C." Not only is propaganda itself a technique, it is also an indespensible condition for the development of technical progress and the establishment of a technological civilization. And, as with all techniques, propaganda is subject to the law of efficiency". Modern propaganda is intimately linked with the rise of mass culture and mass culture is formed through the actions of mass media, capable of broadcasting messages quickly and effectively and thus influencing opinion and attitude across a nation, or even across national borders to a global audience. Mass-production of images and messages by industrial techniques forges the mass audience. Without mass media, the scope of propaganda is limited; without propaganda, the technological imperative is less effective.