Systems, Process, Art, and the Social

Systems, Process, Art and the Social
Friday, February 4, 2011 / 1:00 – 5:00 pm
Edgerton Hall – Room 34-101

Systems, Process, Art and the Social forum examined the long shadow of cybernetics and systems theory in art and design from the 1950s until today, with particular focus on a decisive shift that took place in the later phase of the development. “Systems esthetics” became a catchphrase in the 1960s, popularized by artists such as Hans Haacke and Jack Burnham, both of whom found MIT to be an important venue for their attempts to craft systemic art and theory and both of whom, post-MIT, turned dramatically toward a social approach to their artistic work.

How do we get from wartime simulators to contemporary architectural algorithms and interactivity? What does the weather have to do with philosophies of reception in contemporary art? When does an architecture pavilion become a recursive semiotic universe? Scholars, artists, and designers look at the aesthetic and programmatic impact of ideas that at first appeared to have nothing to do with art and that may have had their most intense articulation (if not their origin) at MIT during and after the war: systems and cybernetics (Norbert Wiener, Jay Forrester), but also computer language design (Muriel Cooper), process-driven urbanism (György Kepes and Kevin Lynch), and computer-driven visualization of data and embodied interfaces (the Media Lab).

Moderated by Caroline A. Jones, professor of Architecture at MIT and Director of the Program in History, Theory and Criticism.

1:00 pm – Caroline A. Jones: Introduction and Welcome
Caroline Jones is Director of History, Theory and Criticism in MIT’s Department of Architecture.

1:20 pm – João Ribas: An Industrial-Metaphysical Revolution
Speaking of his recent research into visionary media artist Stan VanDerBeek (1927-1984), Ribas explores the perceived role of technology in making art productive in the transformation of everyday life. VanDerBeek’s pioneering ‘expanded cinema’ work was suffused with a unique vision of the mutability of perception and knowledge in an electronic age, and the socially emancipatory potential of new forms of visual communication. Technologically-mediated consciousness, and the extension of the senses, would function for VanDerBeek to correct the dehumanizing proliferation of the technology of the Nuclear Age. VanDerBeek saw in the artistic development of emergent information and communication technologies a coming “industrial metaphysical revolution.” Ribas will discuss VanDerBeek’s artistic practice within the context of the work of György Kepes, cybernetics, systems theory, and the politics of the 1960s.

1:40 – Matthew Wisnioski: Aesthetic Virtue in the Defense Institute
Wisnioski studies the many collaborations between artists, engineers, and scientists in the 1960s from the engineers’ and scientists’ perspective. His paper will examine the dramatic transformations in MIT’s art scene in the postwar period, when the Institute created art courses for engineers, opened the Hayden Gallery, established a faculty Committee on the Visual Arts, and pioneered art/science/technology collaboration in the Center for Advanced Visual Studies. He argues that for scientists and engineers, art was not a neutral or incidental pursuit; it conjured contradictory values of hybridity and purity; elite expertise and participatory democracy; the neutrality of knowledge and its inherent politics. Scientists, engineers, and artists alike shared the discordant desire to make technology human.

2:00 – Michelle Kuo: Test Sites: Experiments in Art and Technology
Kuo’s talk is drawn from her extensive research on the relationship between art, technology, and corporate research and development — as specifically realized in the organization Experiments in Art and Technology. Known as E.A.T., the group was founded in 1966 by Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Whitman, and Bell Laboratories engineers Billy Klüver and Fred Waldhauer to facilitate collaborations between artists and engineers. E.A.T. posed art as a specific type of research, a model of experimentation and production parallel to engineering, invention, and nonlinear systems. Its ambitious scale and structure provided the possibility of alternate, unforeseen paths — leading beyond the increasing foreclosure of key aesthetic strategies in the postwar period, but also allowing for the exploration of systems already in place for technocratic expansion and control.

2:20 pm – Benjamin Aranda: Instructions for Assembly
Speaking of the architectural and media practice he shares with Chris Lasch, Aranda will explore the use of algorithms and systems theory in contemporary design. Well known for examining dynamics such as “Tooling” and “Flocking,” the team has revisited classic “real-time systems” — such as bird flight – only to determine the non-linear functions that torque them. Shifting from organic to inorganic systems, the partnership has recently begun to investigate crystalline structures in modeling architecture. Aranda’s intervention will be less an historical overview than a plunge into contemporary praxis, exemplified in the large-scale pavilions (Morning Line, Evening Line, and Midnight Line) recently designed in collaboration with Matthew Ritchie.

2:40 pm – Matthew Ritchie: Systemic Thinking and Making 
Ritchie will speak on the “historic, conceptual and practical uses of systems, how I see systemic thinking and making in relation to debated concepts such as expression, universalism, allegory and finitude, the ‘difference equation’ and how historically heterarchical, holarchical, super-positional and semasiographic systems are used in my own practice,” with particular reference to his recent collaborative project The Morning Line in its interaction with viewers, documented in film footage of visitors’ interactions with the pavilion in its recent installation in the dense urban center of Istanbul.




Caroline Jones, Moderator of Systems, Process, Art and the Social
Caroline Jones is Professor of Architecture at MIT and Director of the Program in History, Theory and Criticism. A filmmaker as well as art historian, she specializes in modern and contemporary art, with a particular focus on its technological modes of production, distribution, and reception. An award-winning author, her forthcoming book, Desires for the World Picture: the global work of art, concerns globalism and new media art. Jones’ exhibits and/or films have been shown at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington DC, The Hara Museum in Tokyo, among other venues. She is the author of several award-winning books in the field, including Machine in the Studio: Constructing the Postwar American Artist and Bay Area Figurative Art, 1950-1965.