essay

Computer and Visual Research - Ways of Thinking and Scope of Acting

An essay by Matko Meštrović from his book Dispersion of Meaning - The Fading Out of the Doctrinaire World? (Cambridge Scholars Publishing):

In his letter addressed to the Zagreb Museum of Contemporary Art, in June last year, Frieder Nake asked a curious question: How did it happen that Zagreb for a few years became a very important place for this kind of art and visual research … (Frieder Nake, June 16, 2003).
When I recently received a copy of his letter I was quite embarrassed: How a man who visited that city for several times and regularly participated in activity of its museum from 1968 to 1973 could ask such a question? But trying to react, I found myself uncertain of what really was happening there in those five years.



1. Nowhere else in the given moment 

All histories have their pre-histories, their preconditions. Nake probably did not take account enough of what was going on through five or seven years before that famous year 1968. I had no relation with Frieder Nake before. I remember of an open debate we had with Alberto Biasi who was unique from the New Tendencies movement to take part in the colloquium Computers and Visual Research on August the 3rd and 4th of that year. Nake was defending the principle of rationality in service of man against Biasi's critical observations concerning the confusing situation in which NT members found themselves confronted with the reality of capitalist economic world. /1/

I was surprised by Frieder Nake and impressed by his discussion. I highly appreciated the clarity of his attitudes in that moment. It was the first meeting with which started an entire year long program (till August 31 of next year) of activities of the Zagreb museum dealing with the topic of international collaboration in the field of visual research by means of computers. I did not know how he came, who invited him. I was a member of the organisational committee but had no practical responsibility in organising those manifestations. 

But I have been responsible and deeply involved in the pre-history of that story, in organising of three previous Zagreb exhibitions of the New Tendencies in the years 1961, 1963 and 1965. That is the reason why I felt myself able to accept your kind invitation to attend this symposium in Stuttgart. The experiences of those years are still vivid in my memory. Too much vivid may be so that I prefer now to let the art historians speak about. There are unfortunately only few of them that considered these events deserved serious attention.

 In the huge volume quite recently published by the MIT Press under the title Impossible Histories – Historical Avant-gardes, Neo-avant-gardes, and Post-avantgardes in Yugoslavia, 1918-1991, (edited by Dubravka Djurić and Miško Šuvaković) we can find in the chapter 8th Inside or Outside «Socialist Modernism»? Radical Views on the Yugoslav Art Scene, 1950-1970, written by Jerko Denegri, /2/ this resolute historical judgement and explanation:

 " We are, indeed, dealing with the last international art movement whose representatives still have hopes (and illusions) for the possibility of change in the social, the political, and, ultimately, the total vision of the contemporary world, based on the mediating and guiding role of art and the artist. This hope (and illusion) evaporated shortly after 1968, when it must have become clear to all of them that there would never be any radical change in the relationship between society, politics and art in contemporary world" (204).

 The appearance of New Tendencies in the early 1960s took place in a brief period of the Yugoslav social, economic and cultural prosperity, Denegri says; in an environment that was imbued with an optimistic mood of belonging to the modern world and contemporary civilisation. Nowhere else in the given moment – in the West, ruled by a powerful art market, or in the East, where art was oppressed by an exceedingly rigid ideology - was it possible to find such a centre for the New Tendency movement (205-206).

 Please, do not forget we are in the still not ended Cold War period. It is clearly reflected in the "technical terms" of description/distinction/classification which Donald Egbert a professor at Princeton University uses in his big book Social Radicalism and the Arts - Western Europe, A Cultural History from the French Revolution to 1968. Its writing was finished on December 31 of that same year, 1968 and published two years later by Alfred A. Knopf in New York. /3/

 Donald Egbert found it significant that in 1959 Vasarely wrote an introduction to the catalogue for an exhibition of the works of three modern artists from revisionist Marxist Yugoslavia, held at the Galerie Denise René in Paris. Not unlike Marx, he says, Vasarely has attacked contemporary society as decadent for failing to "derive a collective conception of art that comes up to its needs." Vasarely also has rejected the idea of the apolitical artist, and the modern artist’s behaviour of selling himself for money and fame. Vasarely has sought, Donald continues, a new science of the arts and wanted an art suited to the modern age of mass production. Because of his emphasis on “research” Vasarely was regarded by the members of the Parisian Groupe de recherche d’art visuel (founded 1960 and dissolved 1968) as one of their chief predecessors (371). Important was the influence of the Bauhaus tradition that partly came from Vasarely (his teacher in Budapest had been trained at the Bauhaus). The avant-garde groups that have revived the Bauhaus tradition in the 1950’s and early 1960’s have also been likely to have a similar tone of social utopianism, though mixed now with elements of New Left Marxist revisionism, Donald Egbert points out (369).

 The Bauhaus influence came also from a revival of Bauhaus teaching methods at the Hochschule fur Gestaltung in Ulm, and his first director Max Bill. “Like such leaders of the Bauhaus as Gropius and Mies, Bill himself has been essentially non political. But his belief that the artist should be governed by a high sense of moral duty to the community and his desire for a cultural synthesis through the arts could attract those who held an organic point of view toward culture and society, as the Bauhaus has done earlier” (700).

 The ideal of the Hochschule fur Gestaltung, as expressed by Tomas Maldonado, was to achieve an education that would synthesise or integrate the humanities and arts with the physical sciences, the behavioural sciences, and technology to form a school of environmental design, a school of human ecology. The word “environmental” is intended to include the total social, cultural, and mental, as well as physical environment Egbert explains (702).

 The Hochschule fur Gestaltung proved able to exert an international influence both among avant-garde artists and designers sympathetic to more or less revisionist Marxism. Its influence was felt in various ways across the continent of Europe and abroad, in Argentina, Japan, and the United States. But under sharp attack by conservative elements who considered that the Hochschule was leftist to the point of being “Red”, by the beginning of 1968 its days were numbered (703). In the same year, 1968, there was organised at Stuttgart a mammoth survey of Bauhaus achievements to be shown also at London, Paris, Chicago, Toronto, and perhaps in California and Japan, in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Bauhaus in March 1919. An irony, it may be said.

 There is one more point in Egbert’s book that should be mentioned here. In the last subdivision, The New Alienation of the Avant-Garde on the Continent, of the final chapter 13  he says (I quote selectively):  “In Western Europe, however, by 1967 so completely had avant-garde art been adopted by the bourgeois Establishment that the Yugoslav critic Matko Meštrović gave up all idea of holding a fourth New Tendency exhibition at Zagreb in that year … Nevertheless, it was later decided to hold at Zagreb a year-long program on the subject of The Computer and Visual Research …That its subject had acquired international interest outside of the Soviet and Red Chinese spheres of influence … was indicated by an exhibition held in the summer of 1968 at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. For this, like the program at Zagreb, was devoted to the subject of art aided by machines – especially computers …” .(710-711).

 To this Donald Egbert added an interesting comment that could be linked to Biasi’s warning: in the affluent industrialised societies of the West a reaction somewhat related to the New Left was setting in against certain social values associated with technology, pollution, and the computers …(711).

 Egbert was exceptionally accurate of including the latest events and news in his book.

Among the notes to pages 705-726 we can read: 

130.    On the colloquium that began the program at Zagreb, see the first three numbers of a new periodical, Bit international, published at Zagreb in 1968. The first two of these were devoted respectively to essays by Abraham Moles and Max Bense on "The Theory of Information and Aesthetics", and to essays by computer experts on "Computers and Visual Research". The third number published the discussions at the colloquium. (The fourth will discuss the Hochschule fur Gestaltung, Ulm.) 

131.    The London exhibition was called "Cybernetic Serendipity": a report on it, by Radoslav Putar, was published at Zagreb in Bit international 1 (1968), pp. 91-100. It was scheduled to be shown at Washington in 1969. In the fall of 1968 the Museum of Modern Art in New York put on an exhibition of "The Machine as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age". A part of which was a special section on the new technology prepared by members of E.A.T. (Experiments in Art and Technology), an organisation of more than four thousand artists and engineers founded in 1966.

2. A science of art? 

Among members and groups belonging to the New Tendencies movement the most pronounced as "researchers" were the members of Parisian group GRAV. In their written declaration they added two letters rc - for recherche continuelle - to the appellation (in singular!) of the movement. /4/  "La nouvelle tendance est surtout la recherche de clarté ". It is under this angle that they put their consideration of the non-definite work. They wanted an appreciation in the more appropriate terms of the "creative act" and the transformation of the plastic activity into a continual research.

What kind of research did they mean? And what did motivate them? Two principle reasons of their artistic research were identified: the need of public in large to participate in "creation" and to give material to the aestheticians - men of science, mathematicians and psychologists in the same time - that will jot down a new science of art. 

But what was not clear to them was already very clear to Giulio Carlo Argan, a great Italian intellectual and art critic who fully participated in these historic changing of artistic considerations. The idea that art should be a research takes profile when the art itself is not stably inserted in a knowledge system, and when the knowledge itself is not conceived as a closed and unitary system any more. The art as research does not start from the given values, Argan argued. /5/ Art process which is directed to the determination of a value is not ordained in relation to a prefixed and predictable result. Artist operates, but his operating is only intentioned, not preordained one.  The scientific research can serve only as a research-guide and as a necessary connection of art with general knowledge. Artistic research has different finality and is not dependent of scientific research. But the research process is qualified in itself as a way of thinking and doing that is of behaviour.

The visual-kinetic research Argan historically relates to industrial design theory and the use of material produced by modern industry, but deprived of any application intention. Namely, it does not tend to improve the aesthetic standard of a one already directed by market law, but to enable the user to a lucid critical perception; to give him a psychological defence against the continual mystification of visual information utilised as a means of persuasiveness. /6/

Abraham Moles seems to have had some different idea in his mind when he spoke about artistic research, not only its relation to industrial design methodology. Moles's approach, in addition to being materialistic and collectivistic, is wholly based on scientific research. As Donald Egbert has already observed: "He believes computers and other electronic machines for information processing and communication are giving rise to a more important revolution than one that inspired Marx" (705).

Human spirit is too weak for the ideas conceived by him, Abraham Moles believed. A machine should be used as an amplifier of complexity, to clear the way to realisation of our wishes. Similar enthusiastic insistence accompanies Moles's long contribution in the catalogue NT3 where he tried to elaborate his understanding of a cybernetic approach to art creation. «… nous savons qu'il convient de toutes façons d'y mettre, d'une côté, un répertoire d'éléments, de l'autre une manière de choisir ou d'assembler ces éléments; enfin qu'il faudra a la sortie de la machine repasser de sa langage propre au langage de nos sensations…».* /7/ This is the essential instruction that could have been of fundamental importance for evoiding the multiplication of misunderstandings and of countless fruitless efforts of the various artists and/or scientists, who tried to explore those enigmatic promises, regarding both the notion of arts in confrontation with these new powerful instruments, and the value of science itself. In the same contribution he warned: «…jusqu'a présent, jamais l'home n'avait disposé de ce relais d'intelligence et de travail et ses essais dans ce domaine étaient restés extrêmement limites. Il y a donc quelque chose de nouveau: une voie s'est ouverte ou l'art peut s'engouffrer.»**

Perhaps it was then, August 1965, during Moles's state in Zagreb and discussion in Brezovica, where vital decisions about the fate of further manifestations were reached. The fourth exhibition of NT will be dedicated to the field and problems of computer and visual explorations. This is what Jerko Denegri concluded in his book Constructive Approach Art – Exat 51 and New Tendencies (184-185), written as his dissertation during the 1980s in Belgrade, published 2000 in Zagreb, the shorten English version of which just appeared by the same publisher Horetsky. /8/

 

3. Whose victory?

«We salute the initiative of the organisers of the international Symposium on Computers and Visual Research, and its related exhibitions ...» Gordon Hyde, Jonathan Bental and Gustav Metzger wrote in their letter which will be published as Zagreb Manifesto together with other contribution to the Symposium in the book Dialogue with the Machine as the fifth issue of Bit international. /9/ A Computer Art Society has been formed the same year 1968 in London. It is now evident, Manifesto says, that where art meets science and technology, the computer and related disciplines provide a nexus. 

If you read this document today, you will be surprised by the scope of envisaging the significance of a crucial historical moment. I quote: «Artists are increasingly striving to relate their work and that of technologists to the current unprecedented crisis in society. Some artists are responding by utilising their experiences of science and technology to try and resolve urgent social problems. Others, researching in cybernetics and neuro-science, are exploring new ideas about the interaction of the human being with the environment, Other again are identifying their work with the concept of ecology which includes the entire technological environment that man has imposed on nature. There are creative people in science who feel that the man/machine problem lies at the heart of making the computer the servant of man and nature. Such people welcome the insight of the artists in this context, lest we loose sight of humanity and beauty». 

Who were the artists, who were the scientists capable of pursuing such an arduous task? What was the common understanding of the current social crisis? How adequate was it to historical reality?  The most fundamental questions that were raised in those days of riots and anxieties pierced the dominating ideological membranes allowing for hope projections and for clairvoyance just to make visible how illusory all that expectations were. Imagination au pouvoir! Why not, tomorrow! 

The organisers of the former New Tendencies exhibitions thought that by a single radical cut they could overcome the crisis of the New Tendencies movement. It already existed, Denegri says in his book, as one of numerous art trends, but not more as an orientation promising incursion into some new cognisance (189). 

Curious is the bewilderment reflected in this Denegri's opinion. The polemics with Alberto Biasi, that happened at the first colloquium on computers in visual research at the beginning of August 1968, Denegri commented in his book twenty years later harshly. «After the student and youth unrest occurred all over Europe and following the Paris upheaval, to speak in the second half of 1968 of 'rationality in service of humanity', as did Nake, or of 'the world unity' and 'on a technical ground', as did Meštrović, was incomprehensible escaping from the reality of the historical moment. Never before – Denegri continues – had the world been so shaken in it's scientifically based rationalism, never before has it been so divided in its interests and goals of the authorities and the energies wanting to depose them. It was the time when exactly the opposite was aspired to: an absolute liberation of sensuality, dominance of the 'principle of pleasure', an affirmation of an individual with his entire instinctive and innate human wants» (189-190). 

What rationality we defended? In awaking of the sensuality there was something that Donald Egbert has recognised as the strong influence of Herbert Marcuse's teaching. We should not forget the political role of the most profound critic of «one-dimensional man». Even Abraham Moles was close to denounce «le Citoyen de Boneur» in the sociodynamic cycle of the consumer society culture. /10/ Moles had a far-sighted notion of individual man differenciations normalised through the multiplication of numerical parameters that define them according to the differential psychology. Just as he considered that the final study of human social science will be the complete insertion of man into the physical-chemical universe. This idea does not seem so strange today. 

Denegri was not ready to defend Moles against alleged attacks from his students at the Strasbourg University. After all, we could say, rage and anger do not respect rationality of any kind. The fate of the XIV Triennale di Milano that was stormed on May 30th 1968 would be enough to illustrate that. The energies of thwarted historical aspirations are destructive if they do not find socially productive channels for constructive action. 

That was the reason, I suppose, why Frieder Nake has made preliminary remark in his paper, read a year later, at the second Zagreb symposium on computer and visual research. « In a given situation of society I am aware of the fact that, writing an article on aesthetics doesn't improve the living conditions of the working and oppressed classes. I am doing this is because I maintain a position of rationality. I am prepared to defend this position. I declare my solidarity with the extra-parliamentary opposition in the Federal Republic of Germany». /11/ 

Few years later Frieder Nake will take the resolute position also toward another problem complex: "I don't see a task for the computer as a source of pictures for the galleries. I do see a task for the computer as a convenient and important tool in the investigation of visual (and other) aesthetic phenomena as part of our daily experience."

There is a third important point at which Nake's position was very clear - conceptual and methodological one. It concerns the mathematical model of art production that could serve as a basis for the automatic production of aesthetic objects. He recognised that valuation function and goal representation in such a generative aesthetic theory lies outside of the mathematics domain. The penetration of discursive thinking (exact science) into the sphere of intuitive thinking has being crucial for the further progress.

Nake stressed the need for endeavours originating in the New Tendencies movement to be linked with those of computer art and to be socially progressively oriented. It was encouraging attitude of a young scientist who came to Zagreb from an important institution the Rehenzentrum, Technische Hochscule at Stuttgart. But what progressive orientation did really mean in that moment? I was preparing the fourth issue of the Bit international dedicated to the Hochschule fur Gestaltung at Ulm /12/ with the selection of writings that contained the essence of the most advanced contemporary thought on design as an activity of rational analysis and creative synthesis. I was wondering why such unique educational and scholarly institution had to cease. Whose victory was it, which were the forces standing behind that victory, and whose defeat was it? What were the truth and reality involved?

 

4. The essential nature of creativity

Parallel to T-4 program at Zagreb, the Cybernetic Serendipity exhibition started by the ICA at London. As Radoslav Putar had argued in the introductory text of Zagreb manifestation, /13/ "the machines have, as it were, proposed the possibility of assignment and solutions which the followers of the New Tendencies did not take into account. Everything has been shifted sideways and everything has being illuminated by a new light we had not expected. And yet, there are threads linking the events within the frames of the NT and the new stage dominated by computers. Although it might seem that a tradition choked in its own projection of futurity has been brutally stopped, its positive negation is possible: in a new effort of organised penetration into unknown".

Similarly an intonation of courage and caution permeates Jasia Reichardt's introduction to London exhibition published in the special issue of Studio Art International: /14/ "Cybernetic Serendipity deals with possibilities rather then achievements, and in this sense it is prematurely optimistic. There are no heroic claims to be made because computers have so far neither revolutionised music, nor art, nor poetry, in the same way that they have revolutionised science."

Reasons for that are clearly outlined in Putar's report of the London exhibition published in first issue of Bit international./15/ "The number of people who are in direct contact with the general problems of the new technology and its special and social implication is still relatively small. Because of this the whole range is still rather diffuse and the organisation of knowledge about it is still not caught-up in any clearly expressed trends of development."

But there were more than one hundred participants, and a great number of sponsors that Putar has not remarked. He highly evaluated the action of the Institute of Contemporary Art that will be able to develop very fruitful work in the sense of spreading a general interest for computeristics and cybernetics. What is more, he saw a chance to trace the elements of a new work for museums.

The organisers of T-4 were aware of the complex implications of this approach. The comprehensive understanding must include technological, psychological, sociological and not only aesthetic aspects. This presupposed the necessity of intense and organised efforts, new forms of work, which will assemble individuals and inspire international institutional co-operation. But not purpose and not elementary principles were defined yet. Thus the international jury for the competition of the works exhibited within the frame of T-4 program was obliged to make some preliminary explanations:  "... in our opinion, in view of the experimental nature and completely open domain represented by the material exhibited, criteria for judging  the entries, e.g. aesthetic quality, complexity of programming or mathematical ingenuity, cannot be established for the time being, this is so especially if we consider the fact that the goal of computer-aided aesthetic research is to suggest new aesthetics parameters in the future".

In fact, the essential nature of creativity has been brought to question. In the line with Moles's view, Frank Popper /16/ called creativity the mind's capacity to reorganise elements in the field of consciousness, nourished by perception and knowledge, in such a way that new and original operations take place there. A different approach to the creative process is the psychoanalytic one, which takes full account of the ambiguities of the unconscious. In this light, creativity appears alternately as the highest form of psychic activity and as a pathological manifestation, says Popper invoking writings of Anton Ehrenzweig (221).

While the computer deserves consideration for its direct use to artist, Popper continues, the implications with regard to creativity are even more far-reaching. Cybernetics is a science of controlled action. The genuine object of cybernetics is the abstract realm. It is not concerned with the concrete systems operating on information as such, but with the logical structure of their functioning (223). Popper finally suggested this crucial question: is the machine alone, or hardware and software combined, capable of giving rise to new information, new knowledge, new object and aesthetic events?

As John Searle, a Professor of Philosophy at Berkley has showed with his famous "Chinese Room" Analogy, /17/ in a paper published 1980 the mind is not a computer. "You can describe many brain processes in a precise enough way that you can simulate them on a computer. But the computability of these processes at the formal level is not what is essential to the corresponding physical processes at the biological level. At the biological there are actual causal mechanisms that produce consciousness, intentionality, and all the rest of it. (...)  We are all physical systems capable of behaving in certain ways. The point, however, is that unlike the standard robots of science fiction, we are actually conscious. We actually have conscious and unconscious form of mental life. The robots we are imaging, I take it, have no consciousness whatever. They are simply computer simulations of the behaviour patterns of human beings."

 

5. The fate of classification

I always wondered how large was the meaning of the word "vision"? What kind of seeing it covers? What is it as a process, where as such is it located and how its dynamics can be defined? How to differentiate exactly its subjective/objective aspects and identify the intentionality involved?

Forty years ago I believed the artists' emphasis on the purely visual would strengthen the perceptive capability of the viewer, allowing the development of a mental attitude which will permit him to perceive reality with greater clarity, and more lucid awareness of its meanings. And above all the opportunity which it offers to act. But what reality and what action were involved? That seems to be not more clearly today than it was yesterday!

 Forty years ago Paolo Bonaiuto /18/ defended an approach that could deepen a discourse on the phenomenological structure and on the quality of viewed/lived, against the physiologist conceptions of perceptive and cognitive facts. He argued that the "field effects" used by the New Tendencies enter into order of those always "employed in the creative and fruitful seat, also if the techniques and finalities were revolutionised".

 After many years of using a modality-specific "sense by sense" approach, the researchers across different disciplines in neuroscience and psychology now recognise that perception is fundamentally a multisensory experience. This is a finding cited in The Handbook of Multisensory Processes, published this year. /19/

 According Nake's historical classification of computer use for aesthetic production, the third period from mid 1990s to the present day is called the interactive or the media period. /20/ At Bremen, with a small group of students and researchers, he is working on "a collection of bottom-up separate projects of which we hope that they will eventually grow together and build a great, wild and beautiful whole: an encompassing hypermedium for  (visual) computer art."  He further explains: "We partition the compArt medium space into four subspaces: the space of data, the space of artefacts, the space of art works, and the space of study. This differentiation includes a simple theoretical assumption. It says that the artist is producing a work (an artefact) whereas the public is turning the artist's work into a work of art. The artefact is an individual creation; the work of art is a social creation".

It sounds perfect, as a solution for all contradiction, as perfect as an artificial solution may be, possible only in the splendid isolation of a small community based on ethical rigor. But Nake has a precise answer: "1. Whenever you classify something in the real world, you by necessity introduce something wrong. 2. Despite the shortcomings of any classification, in the science we are forced to do so, for otherwise, it becomes impossible to define precise terms and concepts. Such is the fate of classification and of concepts building. We achieve progress in concept building only by sacrificing a bit of reality description".

But what about which is scientifically indescribable? Should it be of our concern also?  Forty years ago Paolo Bonaiuto observed: "It is as a heritage of the metaphysics that appears the ambiguity of absolute 'consciousnessation' of doing as an ultimate scope to be proposed for the operators".

 

6. Art is about transgression

 As Nake pointed out, with the Internet, computers left behind their traditional machine-like existence. They then really turned from classical into trans-classical machines, or rather: media. It is recently that Lev Manovich /21/ put an interesting question: Can 'digital art' be considered a branch of contemporary art? He considers that modern art has become fundamentally a conceptual activity, formed not on medium or techniques but on concepts. Artist who was educated in the last two decades is no longer making painting or video. She is making "projects". Artistic practice has become about organising agents and forces around a particular idea, goal or procedure. There is also a fundamental paradox: what collectors collect are exactly old-fashioned objects rather than projects. Artists selling their works for highest prices in contemporary art market do produce such objects. These artists always employ a staff of assistance and technicians, but collective nature of production is concealed in favour of individual artists' "brand names".

 Since it is firmly focused on its medium rather than medium-free concepts, 'software art' cannot be considered 'contemporary art, Manovich elaborates his thesis. The logics of 'contemporary art' and 'digital art' are fundamentally at odds with each other. If there is one social field whose logics is similar to the logics of 'digital art' or 'new media art' in general, in Manovich's view this field is not contemporary art, but computer science. Like digital artists, computer scientists working with "cultural" parts of computer science are true formalists. They continually translate their ideas into working demos and prototypes which often do not have life outside their own professional domain. Digital artists need to treat their works as statements if they are to enter the larger cultural conversation. 

Recently, computer software, once a purely functional element of digital technology, has come under the scrutiny of media theoretical and cultural research. It is shown that software is a medium and a cultural artefact that is being designed in a special way which carries a particular social-cultural meaning, says Andreas Broeckmann, /22/ from the Berlin-based international media art festival, Transmediale. This festival has hosted a whole series of discussions and lectures in order to foster the dialogue between programmers and artists, sociologists and media researchers. This initiative is meant as a heuristic intervention that seeks to stimulate the discourse in this important socio-cultural field, Broeckmann explains. It raises the question in how far software art can be described as a form of 'autonomous' artistic practice. Coding is highly personal activity. Program code thus becomes a material with which artist works self-consciously. Software art is highly concerned with artistic subjectivity and its reflection and extension into generative systems. 

Broeckmann argues that software has now come into view as a cultural technique whose social and political impact ought to be studied carefully. It is necessary to understand the procedural specificity of the computer program employed, and the cultural and political ‘rules’ coded into them. 

The social practices will increasingly be determined by software configurations of the available infrastructure, and the degree and types of latitude that they offer. Thus, software is not understood as a functional tool serving the ‘real’ artistic work, but as a generative means for the creation of machinic and social processes. 

Broeckmann’s idea of art practice in this context is opposed to bland visualisations and transitions from one formal system to another. “Art is about the transgression of boundaries, about making familiar experiences strange, about dramatising what pretend to be innocent and about exploring the virtualities, the potentialities of technologies and human relationships”.

 

7. Sterile empire of machines? 

In the late 60s the computer serviced society was projected as possible new utopia, destined for oblivion or success in proportion to man’s capability to chart and control his own evolution. The seriousness of that assumption was for me sufficiently demonstrated in such a book like Harold Sackman’s Computers, System Science and Evolving Society (1967). /23/ It is obvious today that ‘human nature’ comprises the whole of the capacities which our species distinguishes from other living species. What is not evident enough is the fact that human nature has become the stake of the postfordist capital, but in the same time also of the global movement, as Paolo Virno observed. /24/ 

Recent literature on the environmental impact of information and communication technologies and Internet identifies three main types of effects: direct impacts, indirect impacts and structural behavioural impacts. There is a need to move beyond the dichotomy between pessimism and optimism, Hans Berkhaut and Julia Hertin recommend. /25/ Instead, the relationship ICT-environment must be recognised as complex, interdependent, deeply uncertain and scale dependent. Economic, social, institutional and cognitive barriers are likely to prevent technical potentials for resource efficiency from being fully exploited. 

The digital economy is embedded in the material and economic world and physical infrastructures, both its own and those that it co-ordinates and motivates. Whether intelligent systems, product and services will reduce the environmental impact of the economy depends largely on how they were designed, used and supported by transport, energy and other systems, the two authors conclude. 

Their position may be labelled as mild critical. There are more radical ones such as presented in the writings of Philip Graham, /26/ who says: “Each communication technology, like each faith, has its historically unique form and content, but their intended purposes remain consistent, persistent, and predictable throughout history: that of social control. Their actual, world historical consequences are an entirely different matter”.  

The illusory system of monetary value is, quite naturally, Cyber society’s organising principle, Graham underlines. The information age is more about speculation than about emancipation. Less than 0,1 percent of people own computers, and less than 400 of the world richest people own more than the poorest 2.3 billions. The bulk of the international trade, by value, carried on within realm of the Internet constitutes more than 100 times the amount of trade carried on within physical realm. The advantages of new communication technologies advance the interest of the ‘one class … which enjoys world citizenship – the international investors!  

Like all previous electronic media developments - the physical infrastructure of emerging media is centrally owned. Their most useful and powerful content is the property of proprietary interest.

The Internet feigns interactivity, an ostensible social phenomenon, but it is intrinsically individualising, repressive, and self-valorising, Philip Graham sharpens his critical point. "It apes the extension of the whole human consciousness, but it is merely an extension of the authoritarian grasp and gaze extended into the most intimated aspects of its users' consciousness".  

The most provocative view is offered by Ken Wilber of where we are not just within the historical process but also in the wider macro process of cosmic evolution. He gives a plausible explanation also why Western culture became unbalanced and dangerous, says Richard A. Slaughter /27/, his most informed interpreter (528). 

Wilber argues that Western culture mistakenly assumed that rationality was the culmination and the end of evolution. In his view it is seen as a stage which may be transcended and included in a larger synthesis. In human terms, the achievements and the disaster of modern world is what Wilber calls 'the disengaged ego'. Namely, 'the big three', that is the world of 'I', that of 'we' and that of' it', became dissociated each from other and the great task of post-modernity is to re-integrate them (522-523). 

How can the external world of nature, science and technology be reconciled with the inner world of intersubjectivity? The breadth of Wilber's metanarrative and vision is as ambitious as it is impressive, but it should be seen as suggestive, not prescriptive, Slaughter warns. "It is model for a more balanced account of human culture. As such, it provides a basis for a renewed world story; an account of reality that gives real hope and inspiration, provides multiple pathways into futures beyond Dystopia, the vast and sterile empire of machines" (528). 

In Wilber's perspective, the purpose and goals of futures studies is to facilitate personal and social evolution beyond the present mental-egoic, capitalist-hegemonic, technical-narcissistic stage to other stages of personal development and the corresponding new stages of civilised life. The possibilities for further transformation of human life and culture, Slaughter believes together with Wilber, come from inner work, daily practice not mere intellectualism. The path of social innovation runs from the clear understanding of particular individuals, their commitment to whatever form of practice that will elevate their consciousness from the mental-egoic to that of vision-logic and beyond. From here the outputs of higher order engagement are expressed in a variety of practices in social innovation of many kinds, inner and outer (530-531). 

 

References: 

/1/ Bit international No. 3 1968 – International colloquy computers and visual research, Zagreb August 3-4 1968 

/2/ Jerko Denegri: Inside or Outside «Socialist Modernism»? Radical Views on the Yugoslav Art Scene, 1950-1970, in Djurić, Dubravka and Miško Šuvaković (Eds) Impossible Histories – Historical Avant-gardes, Neo-avant-gardes, and Post-avantgardes in Yugoslavia, 1918-1991, The MIT Press, 2003 

/3/ Egbert Drew Donald: Social Radicalism and the Arts - Western Europe, A Cultural History from the French Revolution to 1968, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1970 

/4/ Groupe de recherche d’art visuel, Paris, 1962; see also: Manfredo Massironi: critici sugli apporti teorici all’interno della nouva tendenza, in the catalogue of the exhibition Nove tendencije 3, Gallery of the Contemporary Art. Zagreb, 1965, (pp. 27-36)

/5 / Giulio Carlo Argan: Arte come ricerca, in the catalogue Nove tendencije 3, 1965 (pp. 19-22)

/6/ Giulio Carlo Argan: L’arte Moderna 1770/1970, Firenza: Sansoni, 1971, (p. 666)

/7/ Abraham Moles: Cybernetique et oeuvre d’art, in the catalogue Nove tendencije 3, 1965 (pp. 91-102)

/8/ Jerko Denegri: Constructive Approach Art – Exat 51 and New Tendencies, Zagreb: Horetsky, 2004

/9/ Boris Kelemen and Radoslav Putar (Eds): Dialog with the machine, Gallery of the Contemporary Art, Zagreb, 1971

/10/ Matko Meštrović: L’observateur observe, Bit international, No. 1, Gallery of the Contemporary Art, Zagreb, 1968, (pp.7-16)

/11/ Frieder Nake: On the Inversion of Information Aesthetics, in Dialogue with the machine, Gallery of the Contemporary Art, Zagreb, 1971, (pp. 59-66)

/12/ Bit international, No. 4  design, edited by Matko Meštrović, Gallery of the Contemporary Art, Zagreb, 1969

/13/ Tendencije 4, Gallery of the Contemporary Art, Zagreb, 1970 (unpaged)

/14/ Cybernetic Serendipity - the computers and arts, Studio International special issue, 1968, edited by Jasia Reichardt

/15/ Radoslav Putar: Cybernetic serendipity, an exhibition in the Institute of contemporary arts in London, August 2. - October 20.  1968, Bit international No. 1, 1968 (pp. 91-100)

/16/ Frank Popper: Art – action and participation, London: Studio Vista, 1975

/17/ Generation5 at the forefront of artificial intelligence, Interview with John Searle http://www.generation5.org/content/2001/searle.asp

/18/ Paolo Bonaiuto: Il discorso fenomenologico sull’attivita di “nuova tendenza”, in the catalogue of exhibition Nova tendencija 3, Gallerie of the Contemporary Art, Zagreb, 1965  (pp. 83-84)

/19/ Gemma Calvert, Charles Spence, and Barry E. Stein, (Eds): The Handbook of Multisensory Processes, The MIT Press, 2004

/20/ Frieder Nake and Susi Grabowski: Computers in fine art, aspects of history and aesthetics http://www.agis.informatik.uni-bremen.de/LERNEN/Aktuell/webArt/01.pdf

/21/ Lev Manovich: Don't Call it Art: Ars Electronica 2003 http://amsterdam.nettime.org/Lists-Archives/nettime-l-0309/msg00102.html

/22/ Andreas Broeckmann: Runtime Art: Software, Art, Aesthetics, in the catalogue of the exhibition RUNTIME ART, Gallery VN, Zagreb, 1-5 June, 2004, http://runtimeart.mi2hr 

/23/ Harold Sackman: Computers, System Science and Evolving Society - The challenge of man-machine digital systems, New York - London - Sydney: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 1967 

/24/ Paolo Virno: De la diagnosis a la prognosis,  MULTITUDES Web http://multitudes.samizdat.net/article.php3?id_article=1512 

/25/ Hans Berkhaut and Julia Hertin: De-materialising and re-materialising: digital technologies and the environment, Futures Vol. 3 No. 8. 2004 (pp. 903-920) 

/26/ Philip Graham: Hypercapitalism - Political economy, electric identity, and authorial alienation, paper presented at Cybersociety, Northumbia University, July 1999 http://www.cddc.vt.edu/host/lnc/papers/graham_hyperc.htm

/27/ Slaughter, A. Richard: Transcending Flatland - Implications of Ken Wilber's meta-narrative for futures studies, Futures Vol. 30 No. 6 1998 (pp. 519-533)

*« … we know that anyway there should be, on one side, a repertory of elements and, on other side, a manner to chose or select these elements; finally, that it should at the exit of the machine language pass through into a language of our sensations …”

**« … until now, man never had at his disposal this relay of intelligence and work and his trials in this domain remained extremely limited. There is therefore something new: a road is opened where the art can be engulfed.”

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