Armin Medosch on Thu, 10 Nov 2016 19:23:37 +0100 (CET)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

Re: <nettime> Cybernetics and the Pioneers of Computer Art

Hi Thomas

our discussion may seem redundant at times of depressing world
political events. However, let me nevertheless explain a bit where I
am coming from. You insinuate that I just wrote this posting to
'advertise' my book, not taking into consideration that I may have
other motivations as well.

I passionately believe that art history, or any history, cant be done
in the old way, where you have a number of works, which are treated as
mere facts - without any further explanation of how those facts relate
to other events in the world - so that those facts enter a timeline
which fetishises 'firsts' which then come to form a canon. In that way
you will always favour western centric narratives because the
historical records have already been produced within such a scenario;
history is always rigged in favour of certain privileged narratives. I
therefore think we need to 'provincialize' Western art history and
make sure it is not mistaken for art history as such.

Currently at Haus der Kunst Munich der is a large scale exhibition on
Postwar Modernism which tries to recalibrate the narrative on postwar
modern art, a project by Okwei Enwezor who is setting standards in
that regard. I think we cannot fall behind that. However, Okwei is
showing a formally relatively conservative art, his approach does not
include a reflection of art and technology, art and science practices.
When we now do that work we should also take a leaf out of Okwei's
book and throw open the mechanisms of canonisation and what counts as
fact and what enters our timelines. Clinging to a ridiculously narrow
set of four pioneers then, the three N's plus Mohr is not helpful.
Secondly this issue of 'facts' - a work as a datum on a timeline - and
its relation to other issues, to the historical context or the human
lifeworld, for lack of better words. I find it negligent to cut those
networks and present those works against a neutral historical
background, as if you could isolate the art and the technology from
everything else. Both the art and the tech were products of their
time, they carry the imprint of the era and when we write about it now
we have the duty to reconstitute those networks that constituted the
meaning o tose works and artifacts in the first place.

Moreover, part of that history has been the history of science and
technology in the Cold War. I cannot treat cybernetics as a 'neutral'
concept and then look how artists so wonderfully used it to make art.
I cannot do that because, for instance, the inventor of cybernetics,
Norbert Wiener, quickly let his first book follow a second book, The
Human Use of Human Beings, a bestseller at the time, in which he
explained the social ramifications of cybernetic and information
theory. Those works that you present so neutrally have the Cold War
history written all over them. Luckily, other disciplines come to our
aid, such as science studies, technology studies, and the various
sub-branches of it. Another important area connected to computer art
is the history of automation and changes in labour relations. Those
contextual and theoretical issues are part and parcel of 'computer
art' history. Not having them I find dangerous, it contributes to a
society of non-reflection, non thinking.

To give an example of what I mean I present a quote by artist Gustav
Metzger who  wrote about cybernetic serendipity in Studio
International in 1968/69: "At a time when there is a widespread
concern about computers, the advertising and presentation of the ICA's
'Cybernetic Serendipity' as a 'technological fun-fair' is a perfectly
adequate demonstration of the reactionary potential of art and
technology. [...]  No end of computers composing haikus, but no hint
that computers dominate modern war, that they are becoming the most
totalitarian tools ever used in society."

Gustav's writing set an early example how to engage critically with
those artistic endeavours. This is the way to go and this is my
investment. Maybe some people in Zagreb will be disappointed to hear
this but I did not write my book on New Tendenices because I have a
special fascination with their art or with Yugoslavia. I have chosen
that case study because it allowed me to connect the early history of
art and media, art and technology with social issues and thereby
demonstrate the value of applying a historical and technopolitical
methodology to an art historical subject. Unfortunately I can already
sense that the mainstream of digital art and media art histories is
simply going to ignore that and is continuing with its business as
usual, either living in a phanmtasmagorical 'forwever now, forever
new' or writing  decontextualized and depoliticized histories. For
this very reason I do not hesitate to use the possibilities available
to me to 'advertise' my book because I sincerely hope it is about so
much more than just an interesting detail of postwar art history, and
therefore I also post the link again:

and to get a better introduction you can read this one for free online

sincerely yours

On Wed, Nov 9, 2016 at 8:11 PM, Thomas Dreher <> wrote:
> Dear Armin,
> The "and" between cybernetics and pioneers of computer art is relevant
> in my article, but not in your critic. For other relevant artists see
> my "History of Computer Art".


#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime>  is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info:
#  archive: contact:
#  @nettime_bot tweets mail w/ sender unless #ANON is in Subject: