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The New Epistemic Space

Vasulka Woody
  23. říjen 2007

The relationship with a technological environment invokes a new creative potential for human discourse. The utilization of technology largely dictates its own aesthetics, provokes a constant generational process of rediscovery and confrontation with the past. Machines established their lineage outside of art or strict aesthetic considerations, their languages are derived primarily by the intrinsic modalities within technological systems. Hollis Frampton talks about writing in relation to the artistic process which attempts to expand the written language to include the articulation of an environment of symbiotic interaction between all of our sensory modalities and those of technology. (Summary by L.D.)

The New Epistemic Space

While the agenda of a modernist has been to Innovate, to Negate, to Abolish, this effort to undermine all traditional art forms (expended by artists, critics and audiences) has been driven by the fear of epigonism and conformity. After all of this tireless probing and experimentation, the final word should be given to the modernist assessment realists) have set out to change the world - instead (regrettably) we changed art..." The excesses of experimentation have piled up at the doorsteps of the Twenty-First Century like monstrous and unforgiving puzzles.

Despite the apparent confusion, a new situation has quietly emerged. We now have a new creative space, a system of esthetic practice, and an audience ready for a new esthetic discourse. We have moved from a relationship with technology where we attempted to invoke the creative potential of a specific tool to a relationship with a technological environment which invokes a new creative potential for human discourse. The more we understand this technological environment, the more we participate in the opening of this new epistemic space.

More recently, through experiments with systems (social, esthetic and technological) and the deconstruction of their rules, a wealth of new principles of patterning and composition has appeared. Incredibly, some of us have chosen technology as an ultimate poetic source, material and promise. We are comfortable with the abandonment of the vulgar "heroes journey" in favor of the delicate exploits of The Machine.

Although the immediate emergence of a new audiovisual esthetic seems unlikely, the existence and usage of an underlying coding system in machine-made or machine-assisted art suggests a "new" and tempting opportunity. By now we see that the utilization of technology largely dictates its own esthetic, if not in the mainstream arts, certainly in its experimental forms. We have learned that esthetic dialog exists without strict regulation through intellectual supervision and consensus. While we can see that there is a constant generational process of rediscovery and confrontation with the past, the validity of ethical prescriptions, asserted by the participants in this process, appear specious when viewed in later historical context. The way this creative process is mediated requires a certain acceptance of technological determinism, its structure being born in a variety of cultural domains that are not specific to developments in art.

Machines which are capable of organizing visual or auditory structures have emerged and established their lineage outside of art or strict esthetic considerations, and their evolution does not necessitate artistic formulation. Watching closely the development of machines designed to articulate esthetic languages, we can see how closely such languages are derived primarily by the intrinsic modalities within technological systems. These systems, presented as tools, summarize the generic options. In a similar way the newest tools try to contain a generic set of mathematical options, some of which are spectacularly fitted to the visualization of numbers.

Since technology provides an essential interface between human and machine, and since the technology proliferates its options rapidly, the technological environment by now exceeds the dimensions of a tool and could be paraphrased as: "...Man is but a guest in the house of technology..."

The criticism of the machine-made or machine-assisted environment has been one form of traditional social dissent. The position of art, while remaining reluctant to embrace such an anti-technological stance in spite of the latest generational effort towards a broad integration with mass culture, has also been in opposition to successful models of social engineering which manifest as uniformist, doctrinaire and oppressive to individual diversity. Today we still hear the dissenting voice of the legitimate art community, made powerless by the social structuring of the machine/state.

And what of the Critic? I do not condone the enthusiastic promoter of the art of the telephone or satellite, who in desperate need of a new rhetoric evokes a gross terminological time shift (called modern to postmodern) and transition from an uncomfortable, doubtful and tortuous technological evil (conveniently called male) towards a more politically exploitable and romantic psychological heaven of consumptive, secure and sentimental values. Instead I await a critic that learns, comprehends, invents and educates in order to see far ahead of the practice of art.

It seems necessary to activate a core of creative excellence in order to oppose the cliché of resentment toward machine-assisted creative processes. While computer assisted works may not yet become the subject of high art, one should expect a new art form to be as challenging to the rest of art genre as was the influence of film in early modernist tradition.

Although any discourse concerning technology may appear to emphasize its physicality, my ambition here is to initiate a cultural interface between the creative processes of writing, imaging, composing and scoring for an electronic stage operating autonomously or interactively under human control. My ambition is to clarify the specialized media nomenclature such that an individual can participate creatively and intimately, with more rigorous control, to organize the stage and execute their vision more authentically. This new understanding would contribute towards the specification of future participatory genres, and more enduringly stable creative strategies.

After a few years experience with computer programming, my good friend Hollis Frampton called the specification of such code - writing. At the time I did not believe him but the intervening years have educated me to an understanding of what he meant. Writing implies more than a literary product. Our current agenda can be viewed as the expansion of written language to include the articulation of an environment where an interaction between all of our sensory modalities and those of technology may symbiotically unfold.

The latest digital graphic flirtation with formal mathematics plays an important role as a model for interpreting and mediating two domains: the auditory and the visual. While it is trivial to point out the daily human experience of perceiving the interaction of these perceptual domains within both the real world and the world of artistic formulation, the privilege of observing the emergence of a unified code system within all modes of perceptual representation is entirely unique. As a practitioner I find this event extraordinary.

The intercourse with the machine has articulated essential coding systems: languages, protocols, scores and procedures. We have constructed a complete set of symbolic and time-perceptional models and emulated the essential operations of analog electronic media (sounds, images, spatial strategies, temporal events, psychomodalities, chaos) through making the computer a total media machine. The consequences of a unity of code are enormous. The material, confined to specific categories by its academic, media or nomenclature particularities, becomes cross disciplinary and cross-referential.

Now, let me pause here and confess that I tire fast of talking this and similar gibberish. Over the years, we have volunteered to give our ears and emotions to the voice of these beliefs. They have originated in the abstract utopian places of our minds and in our struggle to re-define ethics in the shadow of the social and political disaster of the left and emergent terror of religious bigotry.

It's good to remember Feodor M. Dostoyevsky, the master of literary psychopathology, learning the art of understanding the human soul from the professor's testimonies at St. Petersburg's family court. His anti-liberal agenda could not stop the onslaught of an upcoming century. His sincere cry for the true brotherhood of man under the icon of Jesus Christ fell heavy and with great embarrassment under the wheels of socialism. We could not possibly see a lesser scandal ushering in the next (Twenty-First) century! If we cannot see the true giant on the shining path, let us pray for the fool.

Santa Fe, 1989