More on Tags

I soon realised after writing the post, What to do with Tags?, that not all tags were showing in the cloud. I subsequently found out that WordPress will only show the top 45 tags in the cloud. This limit can be circumvented with a bit of coding but it requires messing with the php of some templates and this I am not prepared to do with my insufficient knowledge. In any case, it is some sort of blessing: I have come to realise that putting down any number of tags is somewhat crazy; akin to throwing a box full of things in the air hoping that they fall in a neat ordered arrangement. I know this analogy is flawed, in that a heuristic approach is not random but it would create an awful lot of work curating the avoidable. Time better spent on other things.

The upshot of this is that, I shall have to go through my posts and select out the words contained within them or that best describe them. I know that in academic papers, the abstract is followed with five keywords. This is probably a good practice to adopt for each blog. The limit this puts on the number of keywords should have two desirable outcomes: a simpler and more consistent systemisation throughout the blog site and, perhaps more importantly, make me think more deeply about the content of each post. Some flexibility is required here: for short posts fewer that five keywords may be more appropriate and for long posts the number could perhaps be stretched to six or even seven if the content demands it. However, I have a feeling I should stick to a limit of five in any case. I shall see how I get on.

What to Do with Tags?

I decided to start using them today and soon found myself with a problem, which words to select. I know that it should be significant words but which ones are significant and which ones can be left out?

I put the problem to Janet and we had a long conversation where it was raised that the problem lay in my view of the process. You see, I have a tendency to view the search for certainty as somewhat futile. Everything I do tends to point to my trying to demonstrate this. But is that not trying to find a kind of certainty? Not entirely but I see the point. Using the tag cloud at first sight looked like a futile activity. This brings me back to what I said in my Symposium presentation, I am full of contradiction.

The clue in how tags work lies in the term tag cloud. A cloud’s shape is contingent on unpredictable meteorological conditions. The shape changes in a dynamic process that is beyond one’s control. Meta tags work in an analogous way. Put them in and they start to acquire an order, albeit simpler than those in the sky. They fall into a hierarchy depending on their frequency across blogs regardless of what you think. It is spontaneous.

For this algorithm to be of any use, to have a meaning, the tags have to be chosen without prejudice. Selecting words in or out, consciously or not, defeats the object of the exercise. The whole value of the tag cloud is that it is out of your hands, unpredictable. The tag hierarchy takes shape in unexpected ways outside of your control. This can have a number of positive consequences:

  • Contact with others you might otherwise not have made
  • Insight into one’s own thoughts and ideas
  • Spinning conceptual threads and links that can inform and connect in new ways
  • Fostering an open mind

I have decided to put down all words that confer meaning to a blog and see what comes. I have become somewhat indiscriminate. I cannot put in enough tags. This is much more exciting and interesting than putting down only what I think is interesting or significant.

Now what does this have to do with my work? Simply this, that my whole practice is like a tag cloud. I have worked in so many mediums with a wide variety of themes in disparate contexts and they continually move around in my mind, shuffling like marbles in a bag. They are tags, but for what? Perhaps they represent ideas, experiences, feelings, events. They obviously are connected but how. It is my aim in this MA to find those connections. The way I put it is, to uncover the connective tissue of my practice.

This is not to say that this is my sole aim. It is part of finding connective tissue that can stabilise the internal architecture of my practice as I  reach out to the outside.

The Bowerbird’s Creation

I had been writing about art and machines, all rather heavy stuff when for some reason, the family of bowerbirds came to mind: perhaps as a reaction to thinking about artificial intelligence. Distantly related to the crows probably means they are quite bright possessors of natural intelligence. They live in the islands of New Guinea and around Northern Australia where they have evolved rather elaborate courtship behaviours. I have in mind a particular bird, the satin bowerbird.

During the mating season, the male spends a great deal of time and energy collecting coloured and shiny objects from the forest such as petals, berries, leaves and the odd plastic bottle cap. These are assembled into glorious arrangements neatly arrayed in the shadow of an architectural grass chamber. The bird then expends more energy dancing an intricate and exhausting display which includes spreading feathers and stomping around in a repetitive, somewhat aggressive, rhythmic ritual. All this in the hope of attracting a rather dull looking female. But it is she who does the choosing, usually after three visits, although it is thought that she decides on her first.

For all intents and purposes, what the bowerbird does looks very much like art. Not the daubs of a chimpanzee in a primatologist’s hut, but something far more spectacular, albeit on the scale of a black bird. The whole installation includes sculpture, engineering, design and a choreographed performance in a complete show of avian creativity. It is aesthetic, has meaning, to the female bird at least, and requires skill and hard work.

But what is the bird’s prime aim, is it to create an aesthetic that gives pleasure and meaning beyond sex, to inspire bird thoughts and feelings such as, how tall and wonderful the trees are, or does it do it to attract a mate? The process might be rewarding in itself, why else would the bird put so much effort into such an endeavour without the certainty of successfully attracting a female. But the underlying purpose, the sought for outcome, is to mate and reproduce. We may perceive it as aesthetically wonderful, but is it art? I hope there are not too many artists out there for whom art is the sole way of getting a date.