Systems Aesthetics and Cyborg Art: The Legacy of Jack Burnham

In a flurry of activity in the late sixties, Jack Burnham wrote three substantial art-theoretical works: Beyond Modern Sculpture (subtitled: The effects of Science and Technology on the sculpture of this century), The Structure of Art and Great Western Saltworks (subtitled: essays on the meaning of post formalist art) . “The tools of scholarly criticism- stylistics, iconographical analysis, historical context, and formal analysis in the last fifty years- remain as trusted now as ever. Yet they explain with diminishing clarity what has happened after 1800, and almost nothing of what has happened in sculpture in the last sixty years. I am sure that my lack of success with the tools of art scholarship is in part responsible for the present book. Had the tools served their purpose, I might not have sought others less respected." Jack Burnham, BMS. 1999.

View Paper [html]


Agents as Artworks: and Agent Design as Artistic Practice

My intention in this essay is to discuss agent building from the perspective of the visual arts. I will argue for the value of artistic methodologies to agent design. I will not advance some futuristic version of the romantic bohemian artist, agonising over an expressionistic agent in his garret. Nor will I propose the harnessing of artistic minds to the industrial machine. I want to advance another argument which is pertinent specifically to the building of Social Agents. I propose that there are aspects of artistic methodology which are highly pertinent to agent design, a which seem to offer a corrective for elision generated by the often hermetic culture of scientific research. 1999.

View Paper [html]


John Heartfield, where are you when we need you most?

More than one commentator has identified "computer art" as the last bastion of modernism. It has been, by and large, a fairly aesthetised and de-politicised affair. This is all the more strange since the practice arose during a time when activist, socially engaged art practice became a major movement. On the other hand, it is not surprising given that half the impetus for the practice came from the discipline of computer science, which, having made its Faustian bargain with the military-industrial complex, is condemned to permanent erasure of social conscience. 1998.

View Paper [html]


The Virtualisation of Art Practice: Body Knowledge and the Engineering World View

When artists engage electronic and particularly digital tools, a negotiation occurs between methodologies of traditional art practice and the value system inherent in the tools themselves. This negotiation is implicit and rarely discussed. The nature of artistic practice, the artistic product and the consumption of the work is thereby changed and is at variance with conventional understandings in pre-electronic artwork. The goal of this essay is to make explicit some of the characteristics of the value system which structures these new tools and thus the nature of the negotiation that is taking place, on the level of both individual practice and historical trend. The virtualisation of artistic practice by the use of simulatory tools implies the eradication of kinesthetic or somatosensory awarenesses and skills. I will argue that an holistic relation to the self (mind/body) is central to traditional artistic practice, but that the philosophical tradition around which the computer is built inherently affirms the Cartesian duality. Contrary to the popular rhetorics of ‘convergence’, a dramatic philosophical collision is occurring because the goals and methods of the discipline of engineering are at odds with traditional artistic methodologies. 1997.

View Paper [html]


Embodied Cultural Agents: at the intersection of Art, Robotics and Cognitive Science

This paper outlines the development over several years of Petit Mal, an autonomous robotic artwork, and discusses a new project arising from it. Central concerns are an holistic approach to the hardware/software duality, the construction of a seemingly sentient and social machine from minimal components, the generation of an agent interface utilising purely kinesthetic or somatosensory modes which `speak the language of the body' and bypasses textual,verbal or iconic signs. General goals are exploration of the `aesthetics of behavior', of the cultural dimensions of autonomous agents and of emergent sociality amongst agents, virtual and embodied. The research emerges from artistic practice and is therefore concerned with subtle and evocative modes of communication rather than pragmatic goal based functions. A notion of an ongoing conversation between system and user is desired over a (pavlovian) stimulus and response model. 1997.

View Paper [html]


From A to D and back again: The emerging aesthetics of Interactive Art

Interactive art represents a radical phase-shift in western esthetics. Artists are confronting unexplored territory: the esthetics of machine mediated interactivity. Designing the interactive experience adds an entire dimension to the esthetic endevour, one without precedent in the visual and plastic arts. In the west, the visual arts have no tradition of an esthetics of interactivity. Six hundred years of painting has resulted in a rich esthetics of the still image, of color and line, shape and area, of representational geometry and perspective. The effect of six hundred years of enculturation is that we know how to read images (which observe the conventions of renaissance perspective) before we can read text. One hundred years of moving image has given us a culturally established set of cinematic conventions: we can read cinema. But as yet we have no culturally established esthtetic of real time interaction. 1996.

View Paper [html]


The Darwin Machine: Artificial Life and Interactive Art

This paper is a consideration of the emerging discipline of Artificial Life, viewed from two perspectives. On the one hand, Artificial Life is considered from the perspective of the history and philosophy of science. One the other, ALife is examined from the perspective of cultural practice, particularly from the perspective of an artist concerned with the implications of these ideas in the formation of an esthetic of interactivity. 1995.

View Paper [html]


Why do we want our machines to seem alive?

The two impulses which I want to focus upon are the twin drives of mimesis and anthropmorphism. Although we consider mimesis and anthropomorphism to be concerns of the visual arts, I contend these drives cut through disciplines and find expression in the most advanced technology available at any particular historical moment. 1995.

View Paper [html]


Consumer Culture and the Technological Imperative: The Artist in Dataspace

In many discussions of computer arts, the conversation has focused upon a dialectic between the sciences and the arts, a recapitulation of C. P. Snow's somewhat dated dualism.[1] I want to insert a third term, without which such a discussion can have only limited relevance to contemporary culture: consumer commodity economics. 1995

View Paper [html]


Virtual Reality As The End Of The Enlightenment Project

Virtual Reality, like any other technology, is embedded in a cultural history which lends to the enterprise a worldview. In the first part of this paper I will attempt to unearth aspects of that system by, firstly, constructing a pre-history of VR; and secondly, examining VR's comtemporary cultural context. 1992–94.

View Paper [html]


Fred Truck's ArtEngine: a case study in the problematics of software art

ArtEngine is menu driven at the front end, but attempts a more complex interactivity. It requires the operator to create original lists of objects in the Scheme programming language. Thus it immediately engages the question of ‘depth’ of interactivity: how much learning should be required of the user before they can usefully interact, and the corollary: how rich can the harvest of this interaction be made to be. 1990

Download Paper [pdf]