Selected Courses on Digital Art-UOWM

13 Νοεμβρίου 2014

Turning on Technology

Filed under: ΚΕΙΜΕΝΑ — admin @ 09:29
Turning on Technology
by Roy Ascott

Art’s affair with technology has led to more than a marriage of materiality, and more than the augmentation of intelligence that high-speed computing power and ubiquitous networks bring to the human condition. The significant outcomes are as much spiritual as biological or social. In this reconfiguration of ourselves and our culture, the process of transformation lies between what I call cyberception,1 technologically extended cognition and perception, and the technoetic aesthetic,2 art allied to the technology of consciousness. As for the social impact of new media, it is well over thirty years since McLuhan pointed out that “we are…suddenly nomadic gatherers of knowledge, nomadic as never before, informed as never before, free from fragmented specialism as never before–but also involved in the total social process as never before.”3
Nowadays, we are more likely to describe this as the telemadic navigation of hypermedia and the net, but the point remains: we are engaged in a new social process. This in turn flows from the new thinking that circulates in, around, and as a consequence of the convergence of computers, communications, and biotechnologies, which is leading to the reinvention of the self, the transformation of the body, and the noetic extension of mind. In the process, art has shifted its concern from the behavior of forms to forms of behavior. While artists engage optimistically with this shift, some are not uncritical. Speaking of our bionic ambitions for the body, for example, Michael Joo feels that “our demand…for hyperextensions of our physical selves…is tragically ironic.”4 Critical and poetic responses can co-exist, and multimedia can be “structured around extremes–extreme behavior, irrational actions, or illogical technology” (Susan Otto). There is no doubting the sensitivity, vitality, and invention that informs the highly diversified field of technology-based art.
Of course there are exceptions. When art is no more than craft, when the artist engages in little more than exploring what a machine can do, the output can be banal. In fact, most early computer-based art took this route, a kind of digital extension of modernism. Not so in the case of Techno-Seduction. Here the conceptual base is substantial, and human values predominate. Questions of gender, race, power, identity, the body, and the environment are raised at interactive interfaces and within responsive installations that enrich the viewer’s transactions with significance and sensibility. Narrative structures are reexamined. All is under the sign of transformation and within the cannon of uncertainty: “identities are not fixed, but contingent and mutable” (Christine Tamblyn).
The rubric under which the exhibition is presented may imply that technology is inherently seductive, or that it is an instrument of seduction, drawing us into a less than human world without art or values. But I would argue that the reverse is true. We artists are trying to seduce the machine: we wish to embrace it with our ways of thinking and feeling. We want computers that emote, networks that are sentient, robots that care. We stroke their screens, play with their mice, run our fingers over their keyboards, to entice them into our field of consciousness. At the same time, powerful claims are presented for the emotional capacity of technology: “With a pulsed laser and the metaphysical medium of holography, I wanted to dig out of those bodies a taste of human passion and angst” (Harriet Casdin-Silver).
Ever since Rosenblatt’s Perceptron,5 with many false starts we have been trying to seduce the intelligent machine into a more human way of thinking. What are neural networks if not the measure of our determination to bring artificial learning and associative thought into line with our own cognitive processes? This principle of seduction is best exemplified in the technology of artificial life,6 whereby we invite technology into the living world. Can artificial consciousness be far behind?
Henri Bergson wrote: “Consciousness seems proportionate to the living being’s power of choice. It lights up the zone of potentialities that surround the act. It fills the interval between what is done and what might be done.”7 In short, it is the space of art. Bergson, properly admired for his affirmation of the Heraclitean flux and flow, lacked only the dynamics of our networked hypermedia to complete his model of mind. The cognitive rhythms, the jumps and leaps, the hyperlinks, tunneling from mind to mind, image to sound, sound to text, from real locations to virtual places, from people in the street to identities in cyberspace, these characterize the desires and ambitions of artists caught up in this techno-seductive dance of the mind.
Seven years ago, when I wrote “Is there Love in the Telematic Embrace?” for Art Journal,8 it was to identify attraction, affinity, love, or, as we say, “connectivity” as central to art’s concern and its augmentation by telematic media. I argued that the artist’s responsibility was now toward context rather than content, with meaning emerging from the interactions of the viewer and their necessarily unstable relationship. The principle of open-endedness and indeterminacy, extending to every part and player in the technoetic arts, is even more insistent today.
“Meaning, like the body and its culture, is fleeting, transitory, and has no center or hierarchy” (Jenny Marketou).
Just as intelligence is spreading everywhere, leaking out of our brains and spilling into our homes, our tools, our vehicles, so too is connectivity. We are about to see the environment as a whole come online–a global networking of places, products, ideas, with the Internet as a kind of hypercortex. Increasingly, artists like Jessica Irish seek to link their installations and electronic sculptures inextricably with the World Wide Web. While for Adrianne Wortzel cyberspace is where the present can be “archaeologically” excavated from a virtual place in the future.
With everything connected, everything can be shared, including, of course, responsibility. Poignantly, Duane Slick reminds us:
“Everything I see, everything I hear, I have become responsible for.”
As this exhibition demonstrates, art can be propositional and computational as much as visual or metaphorical. Janet Zweig speaks for a whole generation of artists when she claims to be “more interested in the possibilities of using the computer as a thinking device than as an imaging device.” It may at first appear strange to be told that the “game of images”9 is over. There never was a time when the image was so fecund, so insistent. But while it remains substantially visual, art is increasingly based in concepts, constituting in many ways a kind of philosophical process. It is more street smarts than grand narrative, attuned to what lies beneath the surface of things, questioning the why more than the what: “It is the unseen, interior structures of nature and thought that interest me” (Kathleen Ruiz). Melinda Montgomery enlists science-fiction to explore questions of mind-body identity.
In this technoetic culture, the art we produce is not simply a mirror of the world, nor is it an alibi for past events or present intensities. Engaging constructively with the technological environment, it sets creativity in motion, within the frame of indeterminacy, building new ideas, new forms, and new experience from the bottom up, with the artist relinquishing total control while fully immersed in the evolutive process. The viewer is complicit in this, interactively adding to the propositional force that the artwork carries. It is seduction in semantic space: Barthe’s juissance all over again.10 And it is a noetic enticement, an invitation to share in the consciousness of a new millennium, the triumphant seduction of technology by art, not the seduction of the artist by technology.

1 See Roy Ascott, “The Architecture of Cyberception,” in M. Toy, ed., Architects in Cyberspace (London: Architectural Design, 1995), 38-41.
2 “Noetic” is from the Greek nous, mind.
3 Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964), 358.
4 Unless otherwise cited, quotations from artists in the Techno-Seduction exhibition are from their artist’s statements.
5 See Frank Rosenblatt, Principles of Neurodynamics (New York: Spartan Books, 1962).
6 Artificial life is concerned with generating lifelike behavior, artificial intelligence with intelligent behavior. See Christopher G. Langton, ed., Artificial Life(New York: Addison-Wesley, 1989), 1-47.
7 Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution, trans. Arthur Michell (New York: Holt, 1922), 179.
8 Roy Ascott, “Is There Love in the Telematic Embrace?” Art Journal 49, no. 3 (Fall 1990): 241-47. See also Kristine Stiles and Peter Selz, eds., Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 489-98.
9 The phrase belongs to Deleuze: “But a game of images never replaced the deeper game of concepts and philosophical thought for Nietzsche.” Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy, trans. Hugh Tomlinson (London: Athlone Press, 1983), 31.
10 See Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text, trans. Roland Miller (New York: Hill and Wang, 1975).

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