Connecting, Changing and continuing: how do media arts interact in perceptual and responsive environments?
By Yvonne Spielmann
“In the plethora of publications and discussions of networked information and communication technologies, which hardly anybody can keep track of any longer, the provenance of commentary on all conceivable facets of the interaction of media, humans, and machines is predominantly American-European. From a transcultural viewpoint, the multifacetted spectrum of hardware and software in Asia, right up to digital media arts in Japan, for example, make them highly influential in many areas of development in information and communication technology that address contemporary issues of complexity and connectivity.
Departing from Western conceived conceptual frameworks that have promoted to augment human capacity with computers, I propose to take a closer look at creative practices that foster thinking in complexity and promote a higher level of connectivity. The focus lies on artistic practices that take a critical stance and pursue creative intervention into networked processes of the present, a presence that is characterised by ambient computing, smart devices and a surrounding where everything can be traced, connected, surveilled and controlled, supervised and monitored.
In this view, inventive intervention into the present works on the creation of participatory and dialogical models in perceptual and responsive environments. When discussing creative intervention, we need to remind that our conceptual understanding of complexity and networks is rooted in the Western thought processes with the goal to enhance territory, dataspace from West to East. However, the idea of networking is rather rooted in the Asian thinking und unfolds a permeable quality and circular structures rather than dualities. In view of the task to identify aesthetic ways of intervention, I suggest it is worthwhile to look more carefully at the cultural components and how they interact and travel transculturally, globally.”
Yvonne Spielmann (Ph.D., Dr. habil.) is presently Research Professor and Chair of New Media at The University of the West of Scotland, previously Professor of Visual Media at Braunschweig University of Art. Her work focuses on interrelationships between media and culture, technology, art, science and communication, and in particular on Western/European and non-Western/South-East Asian interaction. Milestones of publish research output are four-authored monographs and about 90 single authored articles. Her book, ‘‘Video, the Reflexive Medium’’ (published by MIT Press 2008, Japanese edition by Sangen-sha Press 2011) was rewarded the 2009 Lewis Mumford Award for Outstanding Scholarship in the Ecology of Technics. Her most recent book ‘‘Hybrid Culture’’ was published in German by Suhrkamp Press in 2010, English edition from MIT Press in 2012. Spielmann’s work has been published in German and English and has been translated into French, Polish, Croatian, Swedish, Japanese, and Korean. She holds the 2011 Swedish Prize for Swedish-German scientific co-operation.
Art & Agency
By Andrew Pickering
“I would like to come at art from a new angle, to add something to our ways of thinking about and making art. I want to give an ontological reading of several classes of artworks; I want to conjure them up as ontological theatre.
Ontology is about questions of what the world is like, and I begin by briefly rehearsing some conclusions from recent work in science and technology studies. The sciences themselves paint us a picture of the world as dualistically split between the human and the nonhuman, a world in which humans are the only genuine agents, in command of machine-like, knowable and predictable nonhumans; but studies of scientific practice offer us a different image—of life in the thick of things; of a posthumanist decentring of humans and nonhumans at the level of performance; and of the world as a place of becoming and the continuous emergence of the new. I call this a Taoist ontology. Traditional Chinese philosophy got it right; decentred becoming—that is how the world is; though this is veiled from us by the stories the modern sciences tell; the sciences have it wrong.
I move from that to an ontological reading of cybernetics, picking out threads that point to a non-modern vision of the world as ultimately unknowable, and discussing some of the real-world projects that acted that vision out. My examples here run from brain science and robotics to the anti-psychiatry movement, and the pivot to art comes in a consideration of cybernetic artworks. I then widen the frame to embrace an otherwise heterogeneous spectrum of artworks that variously thematise nonhuman agency, the coupling of human and nonhuman agency, and, indeed, transformations of the human evoked by material technologies of the self. I think of this work as exemplifying a sort of agency realism, in contrast to the representational realism of the Western tradition; as acting out and performing an understanding of how things go in the world, rather mimicking what they look like. This reading—as ontological theatre—is what I want to add to the works in question.
In conclusion we can go in several directions. One would be to make connections back to traditional Chinese philosophy and art (bonsai, rocks). Another would be to venture into the politics of ontology and how understandings of what the world is like hang together with specific patterns of action. This, in turn, could shade into a discussion of environments: artworks as themselves micro-environments and what they suggest for ways of conducting ourselves in the macro-environment: other people, nature, civil engineering.”
Andrew Pickering is internationally known as a leader in the field of science and technology studies. He is the author of ‘Constructing Quarks: A Sociological History of Particle Physics,’ ‘The Mangle of Practice: Time, Agency and Science’ and ‘Kybernetik und Neue Ontologien,’ and he is the editor of several collections of research essays, including ‘Science as Practice and Culture’ and (with Keith Guzik) ‘The Mangle in Practice: Science, Society and Becoming.’ He has written on topics as diverse as post-World War II particle physics; mathematics, science and industry in the 19th-century; and science, technology and warfare in and since WWII. His most recent work has focussed on the history of cybernetics in Britain, and his latest book, ‘The Cybernetic Brain: Sketches of Another Future’ was published in 2010. The book analyses cybernetics as a distinctive form of life spanning brain science, psychiatry, robotics, the theory of complex systems, management, politics, the arts, education, spirituality and the 1960s counterculture, and argues that cybernetics offers a promising alternative to currently hegemonic cultural formations. His current research focusses on contemporary artworks that thematise the agency of matter and the construction of the human self.
Pickering has held fellowships at MIT, the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, Princeton University, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford and, most recently, Institutes for Advanced Study at the Universities of Durham and Konstanz. With PhDs in physics (London) and science studies (Edinburgh) he moved from Britain to the United States in 1984, and was for many years professor of sociology and director of an interdisciplinary STS graduate programme at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, before moving to the University of Exeter in 2007.
Centrifugal Cybernetics: Art as Organism
By Roy Ascott
“Whereas, since the Enlightenment, the isolated, solitary self had been a feature of western culture, and the mind’s capacity for managing identity was socially constrained, we can see a generative self emerging from mind in its creative search for variety. As private paranoia is erased by social telenoia, a hypercortex may be seen to evolve, and access to the field of consciousness deepening: the single-self organism is transforming into the multiple self.
As we acquire a more syncretic sensibility and a faculty of cyberception, our use of technoetic systems and moistmedia allow us to move seamlessly through a variable reality, whereas, until very recently, our dominant ontology divided the experience of the world out into separate states of being – the real, the artificial, the virtual – each construed as impermeable worlds and discrete domains.
In this variable reality, immaterial connectedness defines both quantum reality and the spiritual domain; interactive digital media parallel psychoactive chemical technology; the centrifugal architecture of the organism defies the centripetal forces of State and Market. And in the realm of biophysics, it may be more than simply poetic to see the biophotonic information network of the body paralleling the telematic flows of electrons and photons across the planet.
I shall trace the conjunction and convergence of these cultural tendencies through my own work in art and in education, from its roots in cybernetics towards its future foliage, through its formative metaphor of the organism.”
Roy Ascott has shown at the Venice Biennale, V2 , Milan Triennale, Biennale do Mercosul Brazil, European Media Festival, Musée d’Art Moderne, Paris, etc. Progenitor of Telematic Art, his seminal projects include La Plissure du Texte at Electra, Paris 1984, (, and Aspects of Gaia Ars Electronica, 1989. Retrospective exhibitions of his work have recently been shown at Plymouth Arts Centre, the Incheon International Digital Art Festival, Korea, and at SPACE Studios in London. Roy Ascott: Syncretic Cybernetics is part of the Shanghai Biennale 2012. He is Founding President of the Planetary Collegium, and the DeTao Master of Technoetic Arts at the Beijing DeTao Masters Academy in Shanghai. He is an Honorary Professor of Aalborg University, Copenhagen, and of the University of West London. In 1960s he established the radical Groundcourse in London and Ipswich, and taught at the Slade, Saint Martins and the Central Schools of Art. In the 1970s he was President of Ontario College of Art, Toronto, and later Vice-President of San Francisco Art Institute. He was Professor of Communications Theory, University of Applied Arts, Vienna, in the 1980s, and University of Wales Professor of Interactive Arts in the 1990s. He is a graduate of King’s College, University of Durham. He edits Technoetic Arts (Intellect), and is Honorary Editor of Leonardo (MIT Press). His books include: The Future is Now: Art, Technology, and Consciousness, Gold Wall Press, Beijing, 2012; Telematic Embrace: Visionary Theories of Art Technology and Consciousness, University of California Press, 2003. Technoetic Arts. Yonsei University Press, 2002. Art & Telematics: toward the Construction of New Aesthetics, NTT, Tokyo, 1998. He advises new media centres, festivals and juries throughout Europe, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Japan, Korea, the USA, CEC and UNESCO.
Who Terminated the Cyborg?
The Normalization of Cybernetics, the Loss of Revolutionary Powers and the Rise of the Bureaucrat
By Lanfranco Aceti
“What remains of the revolutionary value of the cyborg? Donna Haraway’s vision that the cyborg would bring a new dawn, challenging the capitalistic, militaristic and patriarchal structures of contemporary society has not come to fruition. Is the failure of the revolutionary potential of technology (as a community and rhizomic force) allowing the cyborg to be subsumed and reined in by those very capitalistic, militaristic and patriarchal social hierarchies?
Rethinking the role that the cyborg and cyborgology play within contemporary society requires an analysis of the realities of the 21st century, beyond the ideological positioning and posturing of Cartesian dualistic approaches. Is there a third order, or any new order for that matter, that by moving beyond the established realities can offer an alternative to the reduction of the cyborg to a mass-marketable aesthetic and to a purchasable and downloadable series of upgrades? The lack of revolutionary value in current cyborgology stems from the fact that the ‘cyborg revolution’ is now offered by a global corporate world and presented as the latest fashionable tech gear. In this socio-political context, what remains of the initial vision of the cyborg are innovative new forms of enslavement and servitude that control the biomechanical parts of the body.
In this context the liberating contribution of the cyborg is nothing more than a controlled societal participation. The cyborg as a disruptive and innovative force no longer exists and with the loss of its revolutionary power comes the rise of the cyborg in a new ‘fashion,’ that of the bureaucrat.”
Lanfranco Aceti works as an academic, artist and curator. He is Visiting Professor at Goldsmiths College, department of Art and Computing, London; teaches Contemporary Art and Digital Culture at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Sabanci University, Istanbul; and is Editor in Chief of the Leonardo Electronic Almanac (The MIT Press, Leonardo journal and ISAST). He was the Artistic Director and Conference Chair for ISEA2011 Istanbul and works as gallery director at Kasa Gallery in Istanbul. He has a Ph.D. from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, University of the Arts London. His work has been published in Leonardo, Routledge and Art Inquiry and his interdisciplinary research focuses on the intersection between digital arts, visual culture and new media technologies.
He is the founder and director of the SMEP (Social Media Exhibition Platform) and of the research center ORADST (Operational Research in Art, Design, Science and Technology) to be launched in 2013.
Lanfranco Aceti is specialized in contemporary art, inter-semiotic translations between classic media and new media, contemporary digital hybridization processes, Avant-garde film and new media studies and their practice-based applications in the field of fine arts.
He has worked as an Honorary Lecturer at the Department of Computer Science, Virtual Reality Environments at University College London. He has exhibited works at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in London and done digital interventions at TATE Modern, The Venice Biennale, MoMA, Neue Nationalgalerie, the ICA and the Irish Museum of Modern Art.
Previously an Honorary Research Fellow at the Slade School of Fine Art, Dr. Aceti has also worked as an AHRC Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Birkbeck College, University of London, School of History of Art, Film & Visual Media and as Visiting Research Fellow at the Victoria and Albert Museum.