The computer as an irrational cabinet
This thesis and its accompanying project are concerned with the use of digital technology in the representation of material culture. The thesis aims to find ways of using such technology that are appropriate to our present needs and to its potential. The computer is a technology which we understand, interact with and relate to through metaphor. I propose that many of the metaphors through which we understand it invoke the idea of an enclosed space. The use of such a trope might seem suitable when using computers for representing museum collections, or material culture in general, since it invokes the enclosed space of the museum. I examine how this idea of enclosure is manifested in computer developments such as virtual reality and artificial intelligence. I also look at how these developments are congruent with perspectival modes of visual representation privileged in the modern era. I argue that such metaphors and forms of representation, whether manifested in visual arts, the museum, or computer applications are problematic, bound up as they are with modern western ideas of mastery and transcendence, which are presently being subjected to critiques from various quarters. Throughout the modern era there have been forms of representation which have contested the dominant visual mode of modernity. These include the art of the Baroque in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and, in this century, the work of the Surrealists. In contrast to the rational, orthogonal space of modernity, both these deal with complex and fragmented representations of spaces and time. Such developments have been discussed as forms of representation appropriate to contemporary concerns about knowledge They also have a corollary in computing developments, such as multimedia and hypermedia, Yet, I argue, those working in multimedia have in the main failed to exploit the potential of such developments to enable new ways of representing knowledge. I propose looking to both the Baroque and Surrealism to find possible models and strategies for use in multimedia in the representation of material culture. In relation to this I describe practical work done in conjunction with this thesis which uses these models as the basis of a piece of multimedia software for the representation of material culture.