The Case for Knowledge Art: A Cybersemiotic Analysis of Space-Time Aesthetics in the Meta-Environment


Through my reflective artistic practice developing interactive hybrid environments that aim to expand information into knowledge, I realized that in the implementation of digital interfaces, information is mostly translated to the user through a design environment that assumes embodiment. That realization led me to investigate the space and time aesthetic characteristics of these environments looking for possible alternatives to improve the system.

In order to better understand the space and time aesthetic characteristics, I saw the need to define what were the elements in an interactive digital environment. In my understanding the three core elements are: user, information and interface, which may be understood in the following way:
The dictionary defines user as “one that uses.” I assume this refers to one who uses something and propose that the “something” in this case refers to the interface as well as digital information.
Norbert Weiner (1948) defined digital information as zeros and ones transmitted by electromagnetic signals with infinite options of decisions, communication and control. Claude Shannon (1959) added entropy to quantify information in any form of communication. Based on Weiner and Shannon’s concepts of information, I adopt digital information as the entropic transmission of data and metadata in binary format that generates communication as a whole.

Interface is described in physics as a “surface separating two phases of matter.” As matter can only be used to characterize machines but not digital applications, my use of the term interface reflects a concept in computer science where interface encompasses the physical machine – computer, cell phone, tablet, etc. – as well as the software, applications and processes utilized by these machines to facilitate interaction between humans and information.

Although these three elements–user, information and interface—may be isolated for analysis, in reality they comprise a complex adaptive system, which reflects a triadic relationship with different levels of interactions and processes. Consequently, I see the need to call the system not just an environment, but a Meta-environment.

Despite the many theoretical advances in the fields of cybernetics, semiotics, information design, artificial intelligence, computer science, linguistics and digital media, none of them have yet integrated user, information and interface in a manner that accords them equal weight and acknowledges how they dynamically influence one another. The current understanding is that information is either associated with human perception or a computer interface process. This paradigm reductively limits the conceptualization of information, thereby restricting its dynamic potential and preventing a more balanced integration of the elements of Meta-environment.

In order to equally analyze each of the elements in the Meta-environment, as well as the system as a whole, I saw the need to use the integrative framework of Cybersemiotics.

“Cybersemiotics is a transdisciplinary theory of Information, Cognition, Meaning, Communication and Consciousness that integrates Cybernetics and Peircean Semiotic paradigms in a common framework.” Brier, 2008

Through the lens of Cybersemiotics, I was able to observe and analyze in theory and practice the Meta-environment as well as its individual elements. In exploring these elements, I realized that the user’s presumptive need for a language and aesthetics of physicality reinforces the Industrial Revolution’s space-time linear representational paradigm when in reality digital information can be experienced independently of fixed locations and set times. That realization led me to investigate the space and time aesthetic characteristics of these environments and develop visual representations that offered insights on possible alternatives to improve the system.

This broadened understanding of the Meta-environment opens the possibility of discovering each user’s unique and individual perceptions and processes of translating digital information into knowledge. This insight led me to the concept of “knowledge art,” which Albert Selvin (2003) says “involves seeing a problem from multiple perspectives; enabling a kind of multidimensional seeing. . . , and interrelating multiple meanings; aggregating elements and relationships over time, and enabling insight at any level, time, or slice.”

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