“Some men see things as they are and say why? I dream of things that never were and say, why not?” . George Bernard Shaw.
BY LISA DONOVAN
fran·tic (fr n t k) adj.
1. Highly excited with strong emotion or frustration; frenzied: frantic with worry.
2. Characterized by rapid and disordered or nervous activity: made a frantic last-minute search for the lost key.
3. Archaic Mad; insane.
I don’t know what to say or where to start. There is so much I want to read, so much I want to learn, so much I want to absorb. But I also have a growing awareness, encouraged by reading modern art texts and critical theory, that meaning doesn’t exist; that interpretations are all subjective, that my words are just black and white symbols on a page that represent nothing other than the absence of everything else (Barthes, 1967). I’m stuck. How do I overcome the stagnation of incomplete and inadequate knowledge? I am suffering from nausea; from the vertigo I get when I look over the edge of what-I-know into the vortex of everything-I-don’t-know that contains every word ever written, every thought pondered upon, every image created; all swirling together, indistinguishable, equal, equally insubstantial. An infinity of information. What do I do? To step into the vortex would be to commit intellectual suicide. My ‘self’ would be torn to pieces by the violence of the word-storm. But to stay where I am would be to give up on investigation; to concede that there is no point in exploration other than as an attempt at dissolution. I long for a Logos. For a Truth, a Being, an authentic self in an authentic world. Where each bit of information is recognisable, exclusive, and fits the pattern. Where complexity is simple still; where the confusion at the edges is accessible but not obligatory. I want to stand in the eye of the storm, protected from Everything, standing comfortably on Something. And I feel I am not alone in this.
rob·o·rant (r b r- nt)
adj. Restoring vigor or strength.
n. A roborant drug; a restorative or tonic.
Of course, there is an answer to the problem. There always is. Recent times have brought us the end of art (Danto, 1984), history (Fukiyama 1989), the world (Baudrillard, 1987), and humanity (Bostrom, 2003). These endings are, paradoxically, great opportunities. We are now free to create what we want, act pretty much as we please, adapt our surroundings to suit ourselves and redefine our bodies in ways that were unthinkable even 50 years ago. Although this is a world where “everything is possible and almost nothing is certain” (Havel, 1994) the answer to confusion lies within the problem itself. Nothing stays the same. I can pick any future I want.
One future offered is a technological one and it is one that could take many forms. Technology may be for us a “mode of revealing … where truth happens” (Heiddegger 1954), or a means of controlling reactions between ourselves and nature (Marx, 1967), a “species of power” (Jonas, 1979), the new “judge of morality” (Ellul, 1980), or the harbinger of a world of cyborgs which “suggest a way out of the maze of dualisms” (Haraway, 1991). Or all of the above. And if the future, one of the possible futures, is interactive, scientific and technological then there is a need to confront this fact in the ‘real’ world. If I were to throw up my hands and stand back while the future unfolds I risk losing control over any external definition of myself and my world. We are all cyborgs, whether we realise or not. The perfect human, perfect that is in unmediated physical humanity and living in a state of nature, never existed. We are now augmented, improved, replaced, enhanced. We need to acknowledge this and go forward with technology, not despite it. With experimentation and thought we could actively control the direction of our social and physical development, and there is no better environment to question our relationship to technology than that of art. It is a playground of possibilities. “…the emergence of new technologies, like the Internet and multimedia systems, points to a collective desire to create new areas of conviviality and introduce new types of transaction with regard to the cultural object. “(Bourriaud, 2002)
e·qui·pon·der·ance ( kw -p n d r- ns, k w -) n.
Equality of weight; equipoise.
“…the punctum of new high tech languages revitilizes our consciousness in much the same way that great art has always revitalised it’s audiences, and in this respect allows us to rediscover the register of “the classics” albeit from a distinctively contemporary point of view.” (Zurbrugg, 2000).
There is a difference between using technology to create art and using it as art. In the former the artist is subservient to the machine; their art can only exist through the use of computers or the internet etc. In the latter, the roles are in a state of balance and neither is subservient. The artist uses technology to create the object which in turn creates the artist. The object can only be made by the artist (as opposed to using scripts and programmes) and the artist uses it as a means of bringing forth the truth immanent in the technology itself. Here the only limitation is the space that contains both artist and object. And in the search for this balance, we are becoming more technological and technology is becoming more human. We are pursuing machine intelligence, have developed machine languages. We want our robots to look like us. Eventually we will be one and the same. Full cyborgs where the artistry lays in the creation of ourselves. Technology allows us to recognise other kinds of “world-forms” (Bourriaud, 2002) that were once unimaginable. “[It’s] impact is therefore understood to extend far beyond immediate questions of sensory apprehension, for in providing the new conditions of cultural meaning, technologically mediated images colonize the subject and reorganize the terms of its cognitive and political engagement with the world.” (MacPhee, 2002)
war·ran·tors (wôr n-t r, -tôr , w rz-) n.
One that makes a warrant or gives a warranty to another.
So, who are the players in this hi-tech sandpit?
Working with “technological asceticism” Maurizio Bolognini uses machines to encourage contemplation on the nature of spiritual existence and reflection. In his piece Sealed Computers (1) he placed on the floor of a gallery a series of networked computers, each creating simple graphical images which the viewing public were unable to see as no monitors or screens were attached and the monitor sockets were sealed with wax. An installation consisting of sculptural objects and noise (the humming and whirring of the computers themselves as they work through their programmes) leaves us isolated from the internal life and ‘dreams’ of the machine. They are not aware of or concerned about us and we are unable to see what they are ‘thinking’ about. It takes away the ‘usability’ of the object and turns the computer into an isolated thinking entity. “It points us to an ‘aesthetics of the machinic’ whose aesthetical experiences are effected by such machinic structures in which neither artistic intention, nor formal or controllable generative structures, but an amalgamation of material conditions, human interaction, processual restrictions, and technical instabilities play the decisive role.” (Broeckmann, 2007).
My own work (ii) also promotes a questioning discourse with the equipment in the piece. Three sets of speakers placed in a small dark room play three separate audio files. The first is that of an electronic voice reading 4280 names for god, the second reading the human genome sequence, and the third reads binary code. Standing in the middle of the space places you at within the machine itself, surrounded by cables/intestines, listening to three attempts by the machine to express it’s own idea of what would constitute sacred texts. It aims to encourage the participant to think about possible (mis) communication. Can we ever really understand each other.
Adam Bartholl (iii), a German artist, steps away from the physicality of the technical object itself to imposing in the ‘real’ world an image that doesn’t actually exist outside of the internet. Using the pin from Google Maps he placed a replica in a Berlin housing estate. Here we have a suggestion that perhaps our immediate surroundings are not in fact real and if the estate is part of a map, who is reading the map. Technology in this instance echos Nick Bostroms thesis that this is in fact a simulation run on computers of such power that to us they would appear as omni-present, omniscient. Where do we stand in this possible technological future?
guar·an·tee (g r n-t ) n.
1. Something that assures a particular outcome or condition.
2.a. A promise or an assurance, especially one given in writing, that attests to the quality or durability of a product or service.
b. A pledge that something will be performed in a specified manner.
3. a. A guaranty by which one person assumes responsibility for paying another’s debts or fulfilling another’s responsibilities.
b. A guaranty for the execution, completion, or existence of something.
These three artists, three of many operating in the borders between art, science and technology, are employing artistic methods to reposition technology at the centre of artistic thought; having taken it from it’s current perceived role in society as a that of a ‘simple’ tool. They are playing with possible futures and possible approaches to technology that help us to query the moral and ethical issues that exist once the technological object is seen as something that is not, as Douglas Adams once quipped, “the name we give to things that don’t work yet”. As flesh and machine become closer, and as we gain the power of machinery and machines incorporate the organic complexity of humanity, we will be getting closer to approximating gods. Supermen. The art I have referenced here allows us to take small steps in pretending that this event is near. And to have a technical logic and certitude, to choose a path to explore rather than being buffeted around in strong winds is the closest I can get to avoiding the pertrification of postmodernism.
§ Danto, Arthur (1998), After the End of Art,
§ Fukayama, Francis (1992), The End of History and the Last Man, New York, Free Press.
§ Baudrillard, Jean, (1987), Cool Memories 1980-1985 (Trans.) Chris Turner, New York, Verso
§ Bostrom, Nick,(2002), Are you living in a computer simulation?, Published in Philosophical Quarterly (2003), Vol. 53, No. 211, pp. 243-255.
§ McPhee , Graham (2002) The Architecture of the Visible, New York, Continuum Books
§ Havel, Vaclav, (1994), The Need for Transcendence in the Postmodern World, speech in Independence Hall, Philadelphia, July 4, 1994 – http://www.worldtrans.org/whole/havelspeech.html accessed 12/12/08
§ Bourriaud, Nicolas (2002) Relational Aesthetics, (trans.) Simon Pleasance and Fronza Woods with the participation of Mathieu Copeland., Paris, Les Presses du Reel.
§ Baudrillard, Jean (1993), The Transparency of Evil, cited in Critical Vices by Nicholas Zebrugg
§ Barthes, Roland, (1978), Death of the Author, Image, Music, Text, Hill & Wang.
§ Broeckmann Andreas (2007), Software Art Aesthetics, in D. O. Lartigaud (ed.), Art orienté programmation, Paris, Sorbonne, 2007
§ Heidegger, Martin, The Question Concerning Technology, Basic Writings Ed. David Krell, New York, HarperCollins Publishers, 1993, 321.
§ Zurbrugg, Nicholas, (2002), Critical Vices,
§ Marx, Karl, Capital: a Critique of Political Economy, ed. F, Engels, NY, International Publishers (1967)
§ Ellul, Jacques, Autonomy: The technological system, trans. Joachim Neugroschel, NY: continuum publishing.
§ Jonas, Hans (1979) Hastings Centre report 9/1
§ Haraway, Donna, (1991) Simians, Cyborgs and Women: the reinvention of nature. New York, Routledge.