Collections: Architecture, Algorithms and Art
by Tom Borgas
Think back to when you were six or seven years of age. I bet you had a collection. Maybe it was a rock collection, a sticker collection, a stamp collection or some kind of trading cards. It is around this stage of life that our brain’s physiology is still rapidly developing and as a concrete data set, collections help assist this growth. The selection, classification and arrangement of fragments of the world is something that helps us deal with the complexity of what is otherwise an intensely chaotic cloud of stimulus.
Consider architecture. Architecture is what happens when we define and arrange a collection of spaces. Its aim is to establish and maintain a site where physical and psychological shelter is assured. There is comfort in the way that architecture limits our experience of the wider world. It allows us to be selective about how the world impacts us.
But these selective, comfortable spaces are also what allow us to move out into less defined spaces. As we encounter new places we move from the known to the unknown. Like starting a new collection these encounters reveal a different set of fragments. I value both kinds of spaces. My collecting references familiar things but I work towards reframing these as new arrangements, new experiences and new points of view.
The appeal of digital technology also exploits our predisposition towards a limited engagement with the world. It’s so good at collecting and arranging our experiences for us. It makes life so convenient, so manageable. Have you noticed how your Facebook feed seems to be full of people with the same political views as you? Isn’t it amazing how your Youtube account knows you want to watch more cat videos? Isn’t it great that your phone can tell you exactly where you are in that Portugese city? Digital technology has provided us with unprecedented access to information and ideas but it also likes to anticipate our activity. Metadata loves to remind us who we already are. Algorithms pull us back to our existing collections. The world looks the same albeit in a lower resolution.
Whether virtual or physical, collections delimit our world but their real value is as a point of departure– as a foundation for the discovery of new collections and ideas.