Visible and Invisible Archives: The Database Aesthetics of The Atlas Group Archive and haikU

Critical Writing
Record Status: 
Abstract (in English): 

Although many works of electronic literature use databases in some form, “not all new media objects are explicitly databases” (Manovich 41, my emphasis). I analyze two works of electronic literature, The Atlas Group Archive (Raad) and haikU (Wylde), as examples of different material and conceptual databases. I approach and compare the works within the framework of Digital Hermeneutics, continuously considering the relationship between text and context, between parts and whole.

Walid Raad's 1989-2004 The Atlas Group Archive (AGA) is a multimedial, fictional 'archive' which encompasses supposedly donated testimonies on the war in Lebanon (1974-1991), including diary logs, photographs with notes, and videos. The narrative is structured as a database, in which the layering of content in individual texts and images as well as in the database as a whole becomes the key feature.

Nanette Wylde's 2002 haikU is a haiku generator, which uses sentences submitted by readers on the website. These sentences all end up in the same pool of sentences that the generator draws from when creating a poem. When arriving on the website, the reader can read poems; a new one is generated each time the reader refreshes the page.

Both works highlight a database aesthetics, although the methods in which they do so are polar opposites. I demonstrate how AGA is an explicit database supposedly showing a ‘complete’ archive, whereas haikU is an implicit one that hides the collection of sentences. Moreover, I show the sociality of the databases, thematizing the human process behind database formation: AGA created a fake collective, the Atlas Group, and the illusion of donated testimonies and haikU includes its readers in creating texts that will supposedly become part of the work. Database structures are both fragmented and relational. I combine my database aesthetics reading with a close reading of individual texts in the works, considering how the interpretation is determined by the structure as a whole as well as how the individual elements influence how to regard the overall database.

Finally, I take my findings to a broader perspective and consider what AGA and haikU can teach us about the materiality, conceptuality, and sociality of the omnipresent structure of the database.

(Source: Abstract in Programme)

Works referenced:

The permanent URL of this page: 
Record posted by: 
Hannah Ackermans