Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Boy Scout's Guide to the Situationist International (Part 1), Tom Vague

The Boy Scout's Guide to the Situationist International: The Effect The S.I. Had On Paris '68 And All That, Through The Angry Brigade And King Mob To The Sex Pistols


Constructed Situation: a moment of life concretely and deliberately constructed by the collective organization of a unitary ambiance and game of events.

Situationist: having to do with the theory or practical activity of constructing situations. One who engages in the construction of situations. A member of the Situationist International.

Situationism: a meaningless term improperly derived from the above. There is no such thing as situationism, which would mean a doctrine of interpretation of existing facts. The notion of situationism is obviously devised by anti-situationists.

Psychogeography: the study of the specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviour on individuals.

Psychogeographical: relating to psychogeography. That which manifests the geographical environment's direct emotional effects.

Psychogeographer: schoolteacher who hacks up his pupils...Sorry! One who explores and reports on psychogeographical phenomena.

Derive: a mode of experimental behavior linked to the conditions of urban society: a technique of transient passage through various ambiances. Also used to designate a specific period of continuous deriving.

Unitary Urbanism: the theory of the combined use of arts and techniques for the integral construction of a milieu in dynamic relation with experiments in behaviour.

Detournement: short for: detournement of pre-existing aesthetic elements. The integration of present or past artistic production into a superior construction of a milieu. In this sense there can be no situationist painting or music, but only a situationist use of these means. In a more primitive sense, detournement within the old cultural spheres is a method of propaganda, a method which testifies to the wearing out and loss of importance of those spheres.

Culture : the reflection and prefiguration of the possibilities of organization of everyday life in a given historical moment; a complex of aesthetics, feelings and mores through which a collectively reacts on the life that is objectively determined by it's economy. (We are defining this term only in the perspective of the creation of values, not in that of the teaching of them.

Decomposition: the process in which the traditional cultural forms have destroyed themselves as a result of the emergence of superior means of dominating nature which enable and require superior cultural constructions. We can distinguish between an active phase of the decomposition and effective demolition of the old superstructure - which came to an end around 1930 - and a phase of repetition which has prevailed since then. The delay in the transition from decomposition to new constructions is linked to the delay in the revolutionary liquidation of capitalism.

You'll find the term 'Situationist' liberally sprinkled throughout contemporary agit-prop/pop culture. A lot of people name drop it but what it actually means and where it comes from is never properly explained and mapped out for people. This particular effort is going to be no exception to that. However "Situationist" is most definitely not some arty term that Malcolm Mclaren dreamed up to con people. It goes back many years before Talky Malky's reign of terror and had already been used to far greater effect.

The term came to the attention of certain sectors of the British populus, 5 years before Malcolm Mclaren borrowed some situationist ideas for the Sex Pistols, when on the night or January 12th, 1971 the country, and more specifically the house of Robert Carr, Ted Heath's Secretary of State for Employment, was rocked by two bomb explosions. Old Blighty had, of course, already felt the anti-imperialist anger of the I.R.A. in a similar way. But this was different. The IRA used bomb attacks for very specific purposes; troops out and home rule. The Carr Bombing was undoubtedly connected with Carr's controversial industrial relations bill, but the people responsible were not part of any traditional revolutionary group. All Special Branch had to go on was a communiqué from an organization calling itself "drumroll." "The Angry Brigade- Robert Carr got it tonight. We're getting closer."

Special Branch had heard or them before, but always dismissed them as (relatively) harmless anarchistic cranks. After the Carr Bombing they took them rather more seriously, asking themselves if this was the beginning of something big - the Revolution that people had been predicting throughout the 60's? Special Branch informants and files on political groups were useless. In fact the only real clue they had was a list of targets included in an earlier communiqué: "Embassies, High Pigs, Spectacles, Judges, Property." The third from last term "Spectacles" intrigued one enterprising Special Branch sergeant, who started visiting Liberatarian bookshops and sifting through underground magazines and literature.

The enterprising Special Branch sergeant found that the word Spectacle was a popular slogan, used by a Paris based group known as Situationists, to describe capitalism, the state, the whole shooting match. Owing as much to the Surrealists and Dada as Marx and Bakunin, the Situationists starting point was that the original working class movement had been crushed, by the Bourgeoisie in the West and by the Bolsheviks in the East; Working class organizations, such as Trade Unions and Leftist political parties had sold out to World Capitalism; And furthermore, capitalism could now appropriate even the most radical ideas and return them safely, in the form of harmless ideologies to be used against the working class which they were supposed to represent.

Unlike the Special Branch sergeant, Malcolm Mclaren obviously did'nt do his homework properly (Or maybe, schoolboy prankster that he is, he did'nt care about the exam results as long as he became a personality cult). However in 1957 the soon to be Situationists did not accept this as the way things would remain, not if they had anything to do with it. In opposition to this process they formed 'the Situationist International': a group consisting mostly of artists, intellectuals and the like (it has to be said), which set out to develop a new way of interpreting society as a whole. (Prior to the S.I. the Lettrists, who predated Punk by almost 30 years sporting trousers painted with slogans).

On the surface the Situationists appear as extremely cynical fatalists. They began by condemning as redundant and articulately destroying anything that came before them. Everything from the Surrealists and the Beat Generation fell in their wake. Yet they had a fundamental, utopian belief that the bad days will end. Their criteria was basically, "if we explain how the nightmare works, everyone will wake up!" An inevitable optimism absent, by the very fact of their existence, from traditional political groups: who always operate on the premise that people are too thick to decide for themselves.

This was how (and why) leading Situationist, Guy Debord formulated his theory of The Spectacle. He argued, in their journal ('Internationale Situationniste') that through computers, television, rapid transport systems and other forms of advanced technology capitalism controlled the very conditions of existence. Hence the World we see is not the Real World but the World we are conditioned to see: THE SOCIETY OF THE SPECTACLE (the name of Debord's book). The Spectacle's audience is the lumpen proletariat, the bourgeoisie, even the bosses now merely look at the Show: Real Life: thinking about it as spectators, not actually participating or experiencing it.

Debord saw the end result as Alienation. Separation of person from person; crowds or strangers, laughing and crying together but ultimately isolated from everybody and everything. The Spectacle makes spectators of us all, because we've been conned into substituting material things for Real experiences. However, Debord felt this feeling of alienation could eventually break the stranglehold of the Spectacular society. People were already rebelling against being kept apart by mass culture/ commodity/ consumer society. In the early 60s thousands of young americans questioned their role in middle morality America and dropped out in the anonymous tenements of Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco. In 1965, in the Watts suburb of Los Angeles, thousands of black kids burnt down their schools and factories.

To Debord these unconscious revolts against the Spectacle were evidence of it's vulnerability. It wasn't as invincible as it seemed. But before the Spectacle could be overcome it's safety net, Recouperation, had to be dealt with: to survive Spectacular Society has to have strict social control. This is retained, without much fuss, by it's ability to recouperate a potentially revolutionary situation. By changing chameleonlike it can resist an attack, creating new roles, cultural forms and encouraging participation in the construction of the world of your own alienation into the bargain.

For example alternative lifestyles can be turned into commodities. The Haight-Ashbury hippies were eventually packaged off into commodity culture, as, of course, the London punk rockers were a decade later. And, with a lifestyle safely recouperated, after a certain amount of time it can be dusted off and sold back to people, inducing a yearning for the past. The Spectacle had gone that whole step further. For those bored with the possession of mere things, it was now capable of packaging even the possession of experiences: package holidays, community schemes, pop culture.

Spectacular Society is made complete by the recuperation of the environment in which all this must be experienced: The Recouperators realized that people would no longer accept the damage the growth of the Spectacle: heavy industry: was doing to their physical surroundings: the world. Hence environmental recuperation or "Urbanism." This consists of replacing disordered urban-sprawl with more manageable structures; factory-towns, new-towns, shopping-malls, super-markets. Huge areas designed solely for the purpose of work and the creation of profit, with total disregard for the needs or the people forced to service it. The workers kept apart in 'new architecture, traditionally reserved to satisfy the ruling class...for the first time, directly aimed at the poor: 'Dwelling Unit, Sweet Dwelling Unit.' Rabbit hutches designed soullessly to isolate and instill formal misery.

The Situationists' answer to "Urbanism" 'was the reconstruction or the entire environment, according to the needs of the people that inhabit it. Their answer to modern society was to be nothing short of the "REVOLUTION OF EVERYDAY LIFE" (the title of the companion book to 'The Society Of The Spectacle' by Raoul Vaneigem). Unlike traditional revolutionary groups, the Situationists were not concerned with the improvement of existing society, or reforming it. They were interested in destroying it completely and pulling something new and better in it's place. No half measures. No gestures. No immediate solution.

The Situationist programme began where art ended. They argued that mechanization and automation had potentially eliminated the need for all forms of traditional labour: leaving a gaping hole, now known as leisure time. Rather than fill this hole with 'Specialist Art', the Situationists wanted a new type of creativity to come out of it, which would be inseparable from everyday life. This new environment has to be brought about by the 'construction of situations'. Never an easy one to grasp that. Basically it's confronting the Spectacle with it's own irrelevance;

"To make the World a sensuous extension of man rather than have man remain an instrument of an alien world, is the goal of the Situationist Revolution. For us the reconstruction of Life and the rebuilding of the World are one and the same desire. To achieve this the tactics of subversion have to be extended from schools, factories, universities, to confront the Spectacle directly. Rapid transport systems, shopping centers, museums, as well as the various new forms of culture and the Media, must be considered as targets for scandalous activity."

Areas For Scandalous Activity; Strasbourg University, 1966.

So by appropriating a bit of Marx, a bit of anarchist practice, plenty of Dadaism (Situationist practice owes more to Groucho Marx than Karl), even some Rimbaud, and by refusing absolutely to have anything to do with traditional hierarchies and the transfer of power from one ruling elite to another, the Situationists were ready to become a social force. By the mid-60's they were looking around for opportunities to intervene in existing radical situations; in order to speed up the inevitable collapse of the Spectacular Society.

Their first major opportunity arose in 1966 at Strasbourg University; a notoriously inactive careerist student body but with a leftist student union. 5 Pro-situ students infiltrated the union and set about scandalizing the authorities. They formed an anarchist appreciation society, appropriated union funds for situationist inspired flyposters and invited the SI to write a critique of the university and society in general. The resulting pamphlet, "On The Poverty Of Student Life (Ten Days That Shook The University)" was designed to wind up the apathetic students by confronting them with their subservience to the Family and the State. And it was none too subtle about it;

"The whole of (the Student's) life is beyond his control, and for all he sees of the World he might as well be on another planet...Every student likes to feel he is a bohemian at heart; but the student bohemian clings to his false and degraded version of individual revolt. His rent-a-crowd militancy for the latest good cause is an aspect of his real impotence...he does have marginal freedoms; a small area of liberty which as yet escapes the totalitarian control of the Spectacle; his flexible working hours permit adventure and experiment. But he is a sucker for punishment and freedom scares him to death: he feels safer in the straightjacketed space-time of the Lecture Hall and the weekly essay. He is quite happy with this open prison organized for his benefit...The Real poverty of his Everyday Life finds it's immediate phantastic compensation in the opium of cultural commodities...he is obliged to discover modern culture as an admiring spectator...he thinks he is avant-garde if he's seen the latest Godard or 'participated' in the latest 'happening'. He discovers modernity as fast as the market can provide it: for him every rehash of ideas is a cultural revolution. His principal concern is status, and he eagerly snaps up all the paperback editions of important and 'difficult' texts with which mass culture has filled the bookstore. Unfortunately, he cannot read, so he devours them with his gaze.'"

The pamphlet went on to dismiss the university as "The Society for the propagation of ignorance...high culture with the rhythm of the production line...With out exception the lecturers are cretins...bourgeois culture is dead...all the university does is make production-line specialists. But on the positive side, it pointed out that away from student life, in the Real World, working class kids were already rebelling against the boredom of everyday life;

"...the 'delinquents' of the world use violence to express their rejection of society and its sterile options. But their refusal is an abstract one: it gives them no chance of actually escaping the contradictions of the system. They are it's products - negative, spontaneous, but none the less exploitable. All the experiments of the new social order produce them: they are the first side-effects of the new urbanism; or the disintegration of all values; or the extension of an increasingly boring consumer leisure; of the growing control of every aspect of everyday life by the psycho-humanist police force; and of the economic survival of a family unit which has lost all significance.

"The 'young thug' despises work but accepts the goods. He wants what the spectacle offers him - but NOW, with no down payment. This is the essential contradiction of the delinquent's existence. He may try for a real freedom in the use of his time, in an individual assertiveness, even in the construction of a kind of community. But the contradiction remains, and kills (on the fringe old society, where poverty reigns, the gang develops it's own hierarchy, which can only fulfill itself in a war with other gangs, isolating each group and each individual within the group). In the end the contradiction proves unbearable. Either the lure of the product world proves too strong, and the hooligan decides to do his honest day's work: to this end a whole sector of production is devoted specifically to his recuperation. Clothes, records, guitars, scooters, transistors, purple hearts beckon him to the land of the consumer. Or else he is forced to attack the laws of the market itself either in the primary sense, by stealing, or by a move towards a conscious revolutionary critique of commodity society. For the delinquent only two futures are possible: revolutionary Consciousness, or blind obedience on the shop floor."

However existing student rebels, such as The Dutch Provos, the British 'Committee of 100' and the Berkeley students got the thumbs down: Basically for fighting the symptoms (Nuclear Arms/ the Vietnam war/ Racism/ Censorship) not the disease: And specifically for their tendency to sympathize with western society's apparent enemies; China especially whose cultural revolution pamphlet considered "a pseudo-revolt directed by the most elephantine bureaucracy of modern times." (it did begrudgingly have a good word for the Committee of 100's "Spies for Peace" scandal: where, in 1963 the anti-nuke movement invaded secret fallout shelters reserved for the British government.)

Summing up, "On the Poverty..." outlined the solution as confronting the present social system with the negative forces it produces;

"We must destroy the Spectacle itself, the whole apparatus of the commodity society...We must abolish the pseudo-needs and false desires which the system manufactures daily in order to preserve it's power."

Using appropriated union funds, 10,000 copies of the pamphlet were printed and handed out at the official ceremony, to mark the beginning of the Strasbourg academic year. There was an immediate outcry. The local, national, and international press condemned it as incitement to violence, which of course it unashamedly was. The Rector of the University said they should be in a lunatic asylum. The students responsible were expelled and the student union closed by court order.

The presiding Judge pronounced; "The accused have never denied the charge of misusing the funds of the student union. Indeed, they openly admit to having made the union pay some 650 pounds for the printing of 10,000 pamphlets, not to mention the cost of other literature inspired by the 'International Situationniste'. These publications express ideas and aspirations which, to put it mildly, have nothing to do with the aims of a student union. One only has to read what the accused have written, for it is obvious that these five students, scarcely more than adolescents, lacking all experience of real life, their minds confused by ill-digested philosophical, social, political and economic theories, and perplexed by the drab monotony of their everyday life, make the empty, arrogant and pathetic claim to pass definitive judgements, sinking to outright abuse, on their fellow students, their teachers, God, religion, the clergy, the governments and political systems of the whole world, rejecting all morality and restraint, these cynics do not hesitate to commend theft, the destruction of scholarship, the abolition of work, total subversion and a worldwide proletarian revolution with 'Unlicensed pleasure' as it's only goal.

"In view of their basically anarchist character, these theories and propaganda are eminently noxious. Their wide diffusion in both student circles and among the general public, by the local, national and foreign press, are a threat to the morality, the studies, the reputation and thus the very future of the students of the University of Strasbourg."

Areas For Scandalous Activity; Paris '68 And All That.

"This work is part of a subversive current of which the last has not yet been heard. It's significance should escape no one! In any case, as time will show, no one is going to escape its implications!"

-Raoul Vaneigem, "The Revolution Of Everyday Life"

above copied from:

The Boy Scout's Guide to the Situationist International (Part 2), Tom Vague

Part 2 of:

The Boy Scout's Guide to the Situationist International: The Effect The S.I. Had On Paris '68 And All That, Through The Angry Brigade And King Mob To The Sex Pistols

At first the events in Strasbourg didn't seem to have much effect. But in the following months the ideas and tactics of the Situationist International (or at least a fair old bit of discontent, fueled by the Strasbourg pamphlet spread like wildfire through the universities of France.

In the mid-60's the French University system was heading for trouble anyway - largely due to overcrowding. The government tried to deal with the crisis by setting up overspill colleges in the provinces and slum-outskirts of Paris. This made matters worse. One of the Paris overspill colleges in particular, Nanterre, situated amidst waste disposal tips and the spanish immigrant ghetto, was almost perfect for intervention. There was already a strong feeling of alienation amongst the students; uprooted from their former teeming cafe lifestyle in the Latin Quarter and dumped in council flat style blocks; separate residential blocks for males and females, no recreational facilities, everything controlled by a faceless centralized bureaucracy in Paris. It was all straight out of Debord's Society of the Spectacle.

However Nanterre did have one of the few Sociology departments in France and, at the beginning of 1968, a lot of radical students were concentrated there. In due course a list of reforms was drawn up. Quite reasonably they wanted to specialize in subjects of their own choice, but that wasn't all by any means. They deliberately pressed on with claims they knew would be rejected, and all talk of reform was soon forgotten: As they used to say, be realistic demand the impossible.

The students involved became known as 'LES ENRAGES' because of their theatrical nature and the violence of their demonstrations (the name originally comes from an 18th Century revolutionary group led by Jacques Roux, who ended up being guillotined by the Revolutionary Tribunal). To support their reforms they began disrupting lectures, breaking down all communication between lecturers and students: then escalating the ensuing disorder by spreading rumours that plain-clothes police had infiltrated the campus to compile a black-list of trouble-makers. The SU protested. The situation was developing.

The first major incident occurred when the Minister of Sport came to open a new olympic-swimming pool. A vandal orgy had been planned for the opening ceremony and the minister's route was sprayed with graffiti. But nothing happened until the minister was about to leave. Then, so the story goes, a red-haired youth stepped out from the crowd and shouted;

"Minister, you've drawn up a report on french youth 600 pages long but there isn't a word in it about our sexual problems. Why not?"

The minister replied, "I'm quite willing to discuss this matter with responsible people, but you are certainly not one of them. I myself prefer sport to sexual education. If you have sexual problems, I suggest you jump in the pool."

To which Danny Cohn-Bendit countered, "that's what the Hitler Youth used to say!" and immediately shot into the headlines and secret police files (if he wasn't in the latter already.)

Les Enrages capitalized on this development by parading up and down the hall of the Sociology building, with placards displaying blown-up pictures of alleged plain-clothes police. One of the staff complained and tried to enforce the college ban on political demonstrations. There was a scuffle and the Dean called the police.

This was just what Les Enrages were waiting for. Within an hour 4 truck loads of armed police were let into the University by the Dean. Les Enrages threw everything they could lay their hands on at them, luring them into the University so everybody could see exactly what was going on. The Police were no longer a rumour, they were very much fact. Moderate students duly joined in to drive the police out of the University. Provocation had drawn repression, which in turn had rallied mass support. It was a classic Situationist victory.

Les Enrages continued to build on this emotional reaction to the authorities repression, until 3 anti-Vietnam War bombings took place in Paris. 5 members of 'The National Committee For Vietnam' were arrested. On March 22nd, as a protest against the arrests, a group of Les Enrages and some anti-Vietnam war demonstrators occupied the administration offices at Nanterre and decided to get a real Movement going. "THE MOVEMENT OF MARCH 22nd" was to have no organization as such, no hierarchy and no hard and fast programme. Obviously it was political, but it did'nt follow one political doctrine. There were anarchists, Marxists, Leninists, Trotskyists, all manner of -ists, and of course, a bit of Situationist in there somewhere.

Dany Cohn-Bendit soon established himself as the principal spokesman; describing himself as 'a megaphone' for the Movement and 'an anarchist by negation'. He said he despised authoritarian Marxist-Leninist hierarchies almost as much as capitalism itself but, "I don't live in Russia, I live here, so I carry on the fight against the French Bourgeoisie." Cohn-Bendit and the situationists wanted a horizontal, federal organization of Workers' Councils, who act together but preserve their autonomy, Direct Democracy. The hard-line Leftist factions did'nt always share this view but the Movement was held together simply by a desire to change society.

They had no illusions of overthrowing Bourgeois Society in one foul swoop. No Revolution. The plan was to stage a series of revolutionary shocks. Each one setting off a irreversible process of change. The March 22nd Movement acting as detonator but not attempting to control the forces it unleashed. They realized such a revolt could not last, but at least it would provide a glimpse of what was possible. If they failed it was just a matter of time before another situation developed in another place in another way.

Anyway, at Nanterre the threat of The March 22nd Movement and what the Dean described as "a real war psychosis", led to the University being closed down and Red Danny and some others being summoned before a disciplinary tribunal. On May 3rd hundreds of left wing students gathered at the Sorbonne, the originally overcrowded University in Paris, to protest. The Rector of the University became worried, especially when he heard that a group of right-wing students were gathering nearby. He rang the Minister of Education and together they decided to bring in the police, despite what happened at Nanterre.

Silently groups of students were bundled into police trucks. Then, as the first load was being driven away, shouting and jeering broke out from the assembled crowd. Someone threw a stone through the windscreen of the truck and hit one of the police. The students surged forward and tried to liberate their comrades (woops!...friends). Tear gas was fired and the violence escalated: The police beating innocent by-standers and street fighters alike. The students setting light to cars and tearing up paving stones, iron gratings, traffic signs, anything that could be hurled at the police.

The rioting spread throughout the Latin Quarter and at the end of the day 597 people had been arrested and hundreds more injured. The Authorities heavy handling of the situation had provided tens of thousands of young parisians with something concrete to release their pent-up anger/ frustration/ alienation/ resentment on. The cry of 'Liberez nos Camarades!' went up and the students held their ground for a week; during which more and more young people joined their increasingly militant demonstrations. Finally, on May 11th, M. Pompidou withdrew the police from the Latin Quarter and said the case of the arrested students would be reconsidered and the University reopened.

As news of the Events spread, via TV-footage of the burning barricades and street battles, thousands of young people from, not just France but, all over Europe made for Paris. Many of them from affiliated student groups but also individuals drawn by something relevant to their own situation. Amongst the English contingent were John Barker, Anna Mendelson and Christopher Bott, who would put the ideas they experienced into practice back home and go down in history (as well as literally) as part of "The Stoke Newington Eight" Also, if you believe the story, Malcolm McLaren was given a guided tour of the barricades by his art school buddy Fred Vermorel and returned to put the ideas in practice in a different way.

"A good time to be free," was how Christopher Bott described it, "Imagination was seizing power" ' The Sorbonne was transformed from an institutionalized bureaucratic conditioning centre to "a Volcano of revolutionary ideas". Everything was up for debate, everything was being challenged. Day and night every lecture hall was packed. Passionate debates on every subject went on continuously. The spirit of Arthur Rimbaud had returned. The Paris Commune had become a reality. Nothing like it had been seen before anywhere.

This is how another english student described it in 'Solidarity': "First impression was of a gigantic lid being lifted, pent-up thoughts and aspirations suddenly exploding, on being released from the realm of dreams into the realm of the Real and Possible. In changing their environment people themselves were changed. Those who had never dared to say anything before suddenly felt their thoughts to be the most important thing in the world and said so. The helpless and isolated suddenly discovered that collective power lay in their hands...People just went up and talked to one another without a trace of self-consciousness. This state of euphoria lasted throughout the whole fortnight I was there."

It was then that the inspiration for the Sex Pistols best lyrics and t-shirt slogans was written, on the walls; "GO AND DIE IN NAPLES WITH THE CLUB MEDITERRANEE,"

But while the Sorbonne became the hip place to be in '68, all the Centre Censier members of the Situationist International, Les Enrages and some others were forming 'The Council For The Maintenance Of The Occupations. Their aim was to set up Worker/Student Action Committees to maintain the many sit-ins and strikes that had spread from Paris to the rest of France.

By May 21st, 10 million french workers were on strike, most factories were occupied, the french transport system had come to a standstill, everybody from pro-footballers to film directors (though not Polanski) were supporting the students. But nobody seemed to know what to do next: they had taken over the factories; the means of production and thrown open the doors to the institutions. But where to from there?

The SI and Les Enrages at the Centre Censier tried to show how it could be followed up by producing leaflets on self-management and workers' councils. Whilst, at the same time, denouncing the leftist recouperators who were trying to take the credit and manipulate things for their own party political ends. The Communist Party, who refused to acknowledge any individual revolutionary activity actually by the people, were having decidedly unproductive dialogue with Cohn-Bendit. Dany the Red ended up calling them "Stalinist Filth" and the big Communist Trade Union, the CGT, refused to back the Revolution because it wasn't under the control of their central committee. The same story as the Spanish Civil War where the communists blew it because it wasn't on their terms. But at least they did'nt back the elections called for by the opposition.

De Gaulle formally (and characteristically) called on the Army. On May 28th he made a secret flight to Baden-Baden in West Germany, where General Massu, the Commander of the French troops, was stationed on NATO exercises. The following day he returned to Paris with Massu's assurance that the army was still loyal enough to support him in any confrontation. First he called M. Pompidou and his Cabinet to tell them he was going to dissolve the National Assembly and call an election. Then, at 4:30 that afternoon, he addressed the Nation and basically lied that the Country was threatened by a "communist dictatorship" to rally support for the Republic. Promised to give greater powers to the Prefects of the Provinces and, that if necessary, he would have no hesitation in calling in General Massu and his troops (as if anyone thought he would have anyway). Vive La France!

And that was it. Of course it worked, the old communist bogeyman was all that was needed to whip up enough patriotic fervour to get the Centre to join with The Right and recouperate the situation. Extra petrol rations and free coaches were laid on and they came from all over France to La Place De La Concorde (De Gaulle's face?), for a carefully orchestrated march to The Eternal Flame at L'Arc De Triomphe; the symbol of Nationalism. In the elections that followed De Gaulle was returned to power by the biggest majority in recent french history... well and truly recuperated.

Despite the millions on strike and the hundreds of thousands on the streets, it was always true that the Movement was basically the work of an intellectual elite and at the end of the day the silent majority couldn't be lured away from the capitalist carrot. They did'nt understand the intellectual repression felt by the students and their theories were all so much idle rubbish compared with the day to day reality of earning a crust. But having said that, De Gaulle had been lucky. Maybe not so lucky next time. The students had succeeded in bringing out the discontent in French Society at the ever increasing distance between the bureaucrats and those whose lives they control.

The physical recuperation took several months: State property had to be reclaimed, slogans painted over and foreign students deported; including Dany Cohn-Bendit and John Barker. But with France back in the grip of a right-wing, nationalistic fervour (which it has never really shook off to this day), the show was over. (The Situationist International itself, which had already split in 2, was further decimated by various expulsions, resignations and scissions until it's eventual demise in 1972 - It seems that half the fun of having an International in the first place is so you can expel people). From this point on the action moved with John Barker and chums, to England. A certain group of germans also incorporated some situationist ideas and, in America, groups such as the Yippies, Motherfuckers, SLA and The Weathermen (but by 1969 the hippies had been recuperated to such an extent that there wasn't anywhere much to intervene in America).

The legacy of May '68 was to be felt for some time yet. The nights on the barricades and the exhilaration of new ideas had proved to the people there that revolution/ change was possible, not only possible but inevitable, and that capitalist society was in it's death throes. The situationist idea of intervening in a situation, with deliberate and systematic provocation, as put into practice by the 22nd March Movement, had been proven to work very effectively and very dramatically.

Where Paris had succeeded and the most important lesson of May '68 was final proof that the traditional revolutionary groups were now as outmoded, institutionalized and oppressive as the capitalists in power and were just as much slaves of the Spectacular Society. Final proof, that since the halcyon days of Marx, Bakunin and Lenin, they too had been recouperated and indeed become recouperators in their own right. They lost face to thousands of young people when they came out in their true colours, against the anti-hierarchy, self-management notions of the 22nd March Movement. And especially when it was proved, contrary to communist dogma, that self-management does in fact work. Why not let the people decide?

"People who talk about revolution and class struggle without referring explicitly to everyday life, without understanding what is subversive about love and what is positive in the refusal or constraints, such people have a corpse in their mouth."

-Raoul Vaneigem, The Revolution Of Everyday Life.

Above copied from:

Friday, November 27, 2009

A Short Manifesto on the Future of Attention, Michael Erard

In 1971, the oft-quoted political scientist Herbert Simon predicted that in an information age, cultural producers (that's designers, but also filmmakers, theater types, musicians, artists) would quickly face a shortage of attention. "What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients," he wrote. The more information, the less attention, and "the need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it."

Now we have a wide-ranging discussion about what is and what can't be free (Malcolm Gladwell on Chris Anderson, Virginia Postrel on Chris Anderson), which is basically about the future of profit. Maybe we should be considering a dilemma of a human nature: the future of attention.

Because there's a connection between the two.

Making something "free" is obviously an allocation strategy. "Free" attracts attention. Making things brief is an allocation strategy as well. The problem is that free isn't sustainable, and that brief is underpriced.

We need a Ronald Reagan of attention, someone to inspire us away from the fight over smaller and smaller pieces of the attention pie. Someone who will inspire us to make the attention pie bigger.

I imagine attention festivals: week-long multimedia, cross-industry carnivals of readings, installations, and performances, where you go from a tent with 30-second films, guitar solos, 10-minute video games, and haiku to the tent with only Andy Warhol movies, to a myriad of venues with other media forms and activities requiring other attention lengths. In the Nano Tent, you can hear ringtones and read tweets. A festival organized not by the forms of the commodities themselves but of the experience of interacting with them. Not organized by time elapsed, but by cognitive investment: a pop song, which goes by quickly, can resonate for days; a poem, which can go by more quickly, sticks through a season. A festival in which you can see images of your brain on knitting and on Twitter.

I imagine a retail sector for cultural products that's organized around the attention span: not around "books" or "music" but around short stories and pop songs in one aisle, poems and arias in the other. In the long store: 5,000 piece jigsaw puzzles, big novels, beer brewing equipment, DVDs of The Wire. Clerks could suggest and build attentional menus. We would develop attentional connoisseurship: the right pairings of the short and long. We would understand, and promote, attentional health.

I imagine attention-based pricing, in which prices of information commodities are inversely adjusted to the cognitive investment of consuming them. All the candy for the human brain — haiku, ringtones, bumper stickers — would be priced like the luxuries that they are. Things requiring longer attention spans would be cheaper — they might even be free, and the higher fixed costs of producing them would be covered by the higher sales of the short attention span products. Single TV episodes would be more expensive to purchase than whole seasons, in the same way that a six-pack of Oreos at the gas station is more expensive, per cookie, than a whole tray at the grocery store.

I imagine an attention tax that aspiring cultural producers must pay. A barrier to entry. If you want people to read your book, then you have to read books; if you want people to buy your book, then you buy books. Give your attention to the industry of your choice. Like indie musicians have done for decades, conceive of the scene as an attention economy, in which those who pay in (e.g., I go to your shows) get to take out (e.g., come to my show). It would also mitigate one oft-claimed peril of the rise of the amateur, which is that they don't know from quality: consuming many other examples from a variety of sources, even amateur producers would generate a sense of what's good and what's bad: in other words, in their community they'd evolve a set of standards. This might frustrate the elitists, who want to impose their standards. But standards would, given enough time, emerge. (In this I have faith.)

I imagine software, a smartphone app, perhaps, you can use to audit your attentional expenditures. So that before you embark on trying to write a book, you will be able to see how much time you spent reading books over the last month or year. So that before you design a marketing campaign that assumes that people aren't doing much else with their time until you show up, you will be able to see what you yourself were doing with your time, which was something perfectly good. This will show you that you're a savvy allocator of your attentional resources — and so is everybody else.

And yet I can't shake fantasizing about attention that has no price, that can't be bought or sold, but is given freely: a gift. I buy and read books because I want to give the gift of my attention to the attention economy I'm (as a writer) a part of. I'm inspired by Lewis Hyde in The Gift, who says that what distinguishes commodities is that they're used up, but what distinguishes gifts is that they circulate — the gift is never trapped, consumed, used up, contained or confined. That seems like the best basis for cultural production to thrive.

So this is what it's come to: when an attention gift economy seems more practical and sustainable than an exchange economy for information commodities, which is being rotted by the gift's ugly negation: the free.

Above copied from:

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Due to the fact that I have painted monochromes for fifteen years,

Due to the fact that I have created pictorial immaterial states,

Due to the fact that I have manipulated the forces of the void,

Due to the fact that I have sculpted with fire and with water painted with fire and with water,

Due to the fact that I have painted with living brushes - in other words, the nude body of live models covered with paint: these living brushes were under the constant direction of my commands, such as "a little to the right; over to the left now: to the right again, etc.."By maintaining myself at a specific and obligatory distance from the surface to be painted, I am able to resolve the problem of detachment.

Due to the fact that I have invented the architecture and the urbanism of air - of course, this new conception transcends the traditional meaning of the terms "architecture and urbanism" - my goal from the beginning was to reunite with the legend of Paradise Lost. This project was directed toward the habitable surface of the Earth by the climatization of the great geographical expanses through an absolute control over the thermal and atmospheric situation in their relation to our morphological and psychical conditions.

Due to the fact that I have proposed a new conception of music with my "monotone - silence - symphony,"

Due to the fact that I have presented a theatre of the void, among countless other adventures...

I would never have believed, fifteen years ago at the time of my earliest efforts, that I would suddenly feel the need to explain myself - to satisfy the desire to know the reason of all that has occurred and the even still more dangerous effect, in other words - the influence my art has had on the young generation of artists throughout the world today.

It dismays me to hear that a certain number of them think that I represent a danger to the future of art - that I am one of those disastrous and noxious results of our time that must be crushed and destroyed before the propagation of my evil completely takes over.

I regret to reveal that this was not my intention; and to happily proclaim to those who evince faith in the multiplicity of new possibilities in the path that I prescribe - Take care! Nothing has crystallized as yet; nor can I say what will happen after this. I can only say that today I am no longer as afraid as I was yesterday in the face of the souvenir of the future.

An artist always feels uneasy when called upon to speak of his own work. It should speak for itself, particularly when it is valid.

What can I do? Stop now?

No, what I call "the indefinable pictorial sensibility" absolutely escapes this very personal solution.


I think of those words I was once inspired to write. "Would not the future artist be he who expressed through an eternal silence an immense painting possessing no dimension?"

Gallery-goers, like any other public, would carry this immense painting in their memory (a remembrance which does not derive at all from the past, but is solely cognizant of the indefinable sensibility of man).

It is necessary to create and recreate a constant physical fluidity in order to receive the grace which allows a positive creativity of the the void.

Just as I created a "monotone - silence - symphony" in 1947, composed in two parts, - one broad continuous sound followed by an equally broad and extended silence, endowed with a limitless dimension - in the same way, I attempt to set before you a written painting of the short history of my art, followed naturally by a pure and effective silence.

My account will close with the creation of a compelling a posteriori silence whose existence in our communal space, after all - the space of a single being - is immune to the destructive qualities of physical noise.

Much depends upon the success of my written painting in its initial technical and audible phase. Only then will the extraordinary a posteriori silence, in the midst of noise as well as in the cell of physical silence, operate in a new and unique zone of pictorial immaterial sensibility.

Having reached today this point in space and knowledge, I propose to gird my loins, then to draw back in retrospection of the diving board of my evolution. In the manner of an Olympic diver, in the most classic technique of the sport, I must prepare for my leap into the future of today by prudently moving backward, without ever losing sight of the edge, today consciously attained - the immaterialization of art.

What is the purpose of the retrospective journey in time?

Simply, I wish to avoid that you or I fall under the power of that phenomenon of dreams, which describes the feelings and landscapes provoked by our brusque landing in the past. This psychological past is precisely the anti-space that I put behind me during the adventures of these past fifteen years.

At present, I am particularly excited by "bad taste". I have the deep feeling that there exists in the very essence of bad taste a power capable of creating those things situated far beyond what is traditionally termed "The Work of Art". I wish to play with human feeling, with its "morbidity" in a cold and ferocious manner. Only very recently I have become a sort of grave digger of art (oddly enough, I am using the very terms of my enemies). Some of my latest works have been coffins and tombs. During the same time I succeeded in painting with fire, using particularly powerful and searing gas flames, some of them measuring three to four meters high. I use these to bathe the surface of the painting in such a way that it registered the spontaneous trace of fire.

In sum, my goal is twofold: first of all, to register the trace of human sentimentality in present-day civilization; and then, to register the trace of fire, which has engendered this very same civilization - that of the fire itself. And all of this because the void has always been my constant preoccupation; and I believe that fires burn in the heart of the void as well as in the heart of man.

All facts that are contradictory are authentic principles of an explanation of the universe. Truly, fire is one of these principles, essentially contradictory, one from the other, since it is both the sweetness and torture that lies at the heart and origin of our civilization. But what stirs this search for feeling in me through the making of super-graves and super coffins? What stirs this search in me for the imprint of fire? Why search for the Trace itself?

Because every work of creation, regardless of its cosmic place, is the representation of a pure phenomenology - all that is phenomena manifests itself. This manifestation is always distinct from form and it is the essence of the Immediate, the Trace of the Immediate.

A few months ago, for example, I felt the urge to register the signs of atmospheric behavior by recording the instantaneous traces of spring showers on a canvas, of south winds, and of lightning (needless to say, the last-mentioned ended in a catastrophe). For instance, a trip from Paris to Nice might have been a waste of time had I not spent it profitably by recording the wind. I placed a canvas, freshly coated with paint, on the roof of my white Citron. As I drove down Route National 7 at 100 kilometers an hour, the heat, the cold, the light, the wind, and the rain all combined to age my canvas prematurely. At least thirty to forty years were condensed into a single day. The only annoying thing about this project is that for the entire trip I was unable to separate myself from my painting.

My atmospheric imprints of a few months ago were preceded by vegetal imprints. After all, my air is to extract and obtain the trace of the immediate from all natural objects, whatever their origin - be the circumstance human, animal, vegetable, or atmospheric.

I would like now, with you permission and close attention, to divulge to you possibly the most important and certainly the most secret phase of my art. I do not know if you are going to believe me - it is cannibalism. After all, is it not preferable to be eaten that to be bombed to death? I can hardly develop this idea that has tormented me for years. I leave it up to you to draw you own conclusions with regard to the future of art.

If we step back again, following the lines of my evolution, we arrive at the moment when I conceived of painting with the aid of living brushes. That was two years ago. The purpose of this was to be able to attain a defined and constant distance between myself and the painting during the time of creation.

Many critics claimed that by this method of painting I was doing nothing more that recreating the method that has been called "action painting". But now, I would like to make it clear that this endeavor is distinct from "action painting" in so far as I am completely detached from all physical work during the time of creation.

Just to cite one example of the anthropometric errors found within the deformed ideas spread by the international press - I speak of that group of Japanese painters who with great refinement used my method in a strange way. In fact, these painters actually transformed themselves into living brushes. By diving themselves in color and then rolling on their canvases, they became representative of ultra-action-painters! Personally, I would never attempt to smear paint over my body and thus to become a living brush; to the contrary, I would rather put on my tuxedo and don white gloves.

It would never cross my mind to soil my hands with paint. Detached and distant, the work of art must be completed under my eyes and under my command. As the work begins its completion, I stand there - present at the ceremony, immaculate, calm, relaxed, perfectly aware of what is taking place and ready to receive the art being born into the tangible world.

What directed me towards anthropometry? The answer can be bound in the work that I make during the years 1956 to 1957 while I took part in the giant adventure, the creation of pictorial immaterial sensibility.

I had just removed from my studio all earlier works. The result - and empty studio. All that I could physically do was to remain in my empty studio and the pictorial immaterial states of creation marvelously unfolded. However, little by little, I became mistrustful of myself, but never of the immaterial. From that moment, following the example of all painters, I hired models. But unlike the other, I merely wanted to work in their company rather than have them pose for me. I had been spending too much time alone in the empty studio; I no longer wanted to remain alone with the marvelous blue void which was in the process of opening.

Though seemingly strange, remember that I was perfectly aware of the fact that I experienced none of that vertigo, felt by all my predecessors, when they found themselves face to face with the absolute void that is, quite naturally, true pictorial space.

But how long could my security in this awareness endure?

Years ago, the artist went directly to his subject, worked outdoors in the country, had his feet firmly planted on the ground - it was healthy.

Today, easel-painters have become academics and have reached the point of shutting themselves in their studios in order to confront the terrifying mirrors of their canvases. Now the reason I was pushed to use nude models is all but evident: it was a way of preventing the danger of secluding myself in the overly spiritual spheres of creation, thus breaking with the most basic common sense repeatedly affirmed by our incarnate condition.

The shape of the body, its lines, its strange colors hovering between life and death, hold no interest for me. Only the essential, pure affective climate of the flesh is valid.

Having rejected nothingness, I discovered the void. The meaning of the immaterial pictorial zones, extracted from the depth of the void which by that time was of a very material order. Finding it unacceptable to sell these immaterial zones for money, I insisted in exchange for the highest quality of the immaterial, the highest quality of material payment - a bar of pure gold. Incredible as it may seem, I have actually sold a number of these pictorial immaterial states.

So much could be said about my adventure in the immaterial and the void that the result would be an overly extended pause while steeped in the present elaboration of a written painting.

Painting no longer appeared to me to be functionally related to the gaze, since during the blue monochrome period of 1957 I became aware of what I called the pictorial sensibility. This pictorial sensibility exists beyond our being and yet belongs in our sphere. We hold no right of possession over life itself. It is only by the intermediary of our taking possession of sensibility that we are able to purchase life. Sensibility enables us to pursue life to the level of its base material manifestations, in the exchange and barter that are the universe of space, the immense totality of nature.

Imagination is the vehicle of sensibility!

Transported by (effective) imagination we attain life, that very life which is absolute art itself.

Absolute art, what mortal men call with a sensation of vertigo the summum of art, materializes instantaneously. It makes its appearance in the tangible world, even as I remain at a geometrically fixed point, in the wake of extraordinary volumetric displacements with a static and vertiginous speed.

The explanation of the conditions that led me to pictorial sensibility, is to be found in the intrinsic power of the monochromes of my blue period of 1957. This period of blue monochromes was the fruit of my quest for the indefinable in painting which Delacroix the master could already intimate in his time.

From 1956 to 1946, my monochrome experiments, tried with various other colors than blue, never allowed me to lose sight of the fundamental truth of our time - namely that form, henceforth, would no longer be a simple linear value, but rather a value of impregnation. Once, in 1946, while still an adolescent, I was to sign my name on the other side of the sky during a fantastic "realistico-imaginary" journey. That day, as I lay stretched upon the beach of Nice, I began to feel hatred for birds which flew back and forth across my blue, cloudless sky, because they tried to bore holes in my greatest and most beautiful work.

Birds must be eliminated.

Thus, we humans will have acquired the right to evolve in full liberty without any physical and spiritual constraint.

Neither missiles nor rockets nor sputniks will render man the "conquistador" of space.

Those means derive only from the phantom of today's scientists who still live in the romantic and sentimental spirit of the XIX century.

Man will only be able to take possession of space through the terrifying forces, the ones imprinted with peace and sensibility. He will be able to conquer space - truly his greatest desire - only after having realized the impregnation of space by his own sensibility. His sensibility can even read into the memory of nature, be it of the past, of the present, and of the future!

It is our true extra-dimensional capacity for action!

If proofs, precedents or predecessors are needed, let me then cite Dante, who in the Divine Comedy, described with absolute precision what no traveler of his time could reasonably have discovered, the invisible constellation of the Northern Hemisphere known as the Southern Cross;

Jonathan Swift, in his Voyage to Laputa, gave the distances and periods of rotation of two satellites of Mars though they were unknown at the time;

When American astronomer, Asoph Hall, discovered them in 1877, he realized that his measurements were the same as those of Swift. Seized by panic, he named them Phobos and Deimos, Fear and Terror! With these two words - Fear and Terror - I find myself before you in the year 1946, ready to dive into the void.

Long Live the Immaterial

And now,

Thank you for your kind attention.


Above copied from:

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What is Generative Art? Complexity Theory as a Context for Art Theory Phil Galanter

In this paper an attempt is made to offer a definition of generative art that is inclusiveand provides fertile ground for both technical and art theoretical development. Firstthe use of systems is identified as a key element in generative art. Various ideas fromcomplexity theory are then introduced. It is noted that systems exist on a continuumfrom the highly ordered to the highly disordered. Citing examples from informationtheory and complexity science, it is noted that highly ordered and highly disorderedsystems are typically viewed as simple, and complex systems exhibit both order anddisorder. This leads to the adoption of effective complexity, order, and disorder asorganizing principles in the comparison of various generative art systems. Thisinclusive view leads to the somewhat surprising observation that generative art is asold as art itself. A number of specific artists and studies are discussed within thissystems and complexity theory influenced paradigm. Finally a number of arttheoretical questions are introduced to exercise the suggested generative art definitionand implicit paradigm.

1. Introduction I teach a course titled "Foundations of Generative Art Systems" [1] and the mostfrequent question I am asked is "what is generative art?" Generative art often seemslike a fuzzy notion, and most students don't seem to "get it" until very late in thesemester. And indeed, in forums such as the eu-gene mailing list( this very question has sparked considerable controversy.In opening this paper I would like to gratefully acknowledge the many discussions onthis topic I've had with both my students and the eu-gene online community.Some might wonder whether the attempt to define generative art is an empty pedanticexercise. I hope that this paper will show that it is not. First clarity of languageenhances any discussion, including those about art and specifically generative art.Additionally the discussion of what generative art is stimulates the discussion of otherart critical concerns.

2. Two Views of the Term “Generative Art” First a quick look at the term “generative art” from the bottom up, and from the topdown.

2.1 From the Bottom Up – Clusters of Current Generative Art ActivityWith regard to the "what is generative art?" question one is often reminded of theparable of the blind men and the elephant. One blind man feeling the leg of theelephant says, "Surely an elephant is like a mighty tree". Another blind man, holdingthe trunk of the elephant says, "Surely an elephant is like a large snake". Yet anotherblind man, placing his hands on the sides of the elephant, exclaims, "Surely anelephant is like a great whale". And so on. In a similar way artists seems to all toooften define generative art as being most like the work that is closest at hand, namely their own generative art. And indeed there are clusters of contemporary generative art activity that are, in manyways, worlds onto themselves. Some of these include:

Electronic Music and Algorithmic Composition - Dating at least to the seminal paperby Brooks, Hopkins, Neumann, and Wright in 1957 [2], those in the electronic musiccommunity have explored all manner of generative processes for the creation (at themacro level) of musical scores and (at the micro level) the subtle modulation ofperformance and timbre. This activity has not been limited to academic music. Arecent article in Electronic Musician, a magazine for working musicians, notes morethan a dozen programs using techniques as varied as cellular automata, fractals, a-life,L-systems, chaos, and of course randomization. [3]
Computer Graphics and Animation - Well documented in the vast body of literaturepublished by the ACM SigGraph organization and others, computer graphicsresearchers have contributed to the realm of generative art for decades now.Examples of generative breakthroughs would include Perlin Noise [4] for thesynthesis of smoke, fire, and hair imagery, the use of L-systems to grow enoughvirtual plant life to populate entire forests and valleys [5], and the use of physicalmodeling to create animations that depict real world behavior without requiring theanimator to painstakingly choreograph every detail. These efforts have yieldedresults that reach far beyond the research community. Examples include animatedfeature length films such as those by Pixar and the hugely popular realm of videogame machines.
The Demo Scene and VJ Culture - Borrowing from the above, youth culturemovements are taking generative technology out of the well funded labs, recordingstudios, and animation companies, and adapting low cost alternatives for use innightclubs and other social settings. For such artists and enthusiasts generative art isno longer obscure or esoteric, but rather an everyday method of creation.Randomization is the most frequently discussed technique, but others are workingtheir way into the scene as well.
Industrial Design and Architecture - Design practice has always included theiterative process of creating numbers of samples, selecting among them, making incremental improvements and hybrid samples, again evaluating the results, and soon. This manual practice is quite reminiscent of the evolutionary process of genetic variation and natural selection.It was seemingly inevitable that soon after the adoption of the computer by designers as a manual tool for CAD, there would follow the adoption of genetically inspired algorithms for the creation and selection of variations.
In fact the generative artist William Latham initially used an evolutionary system that existed purely on paper,and only later did he move to computerized versions. [6]Clearly any attempt to define generative art would have to include all of the above, asthere is no obvious reason to privilege one form of contemporary generative artpractice over another. And few would want to stop with just the above. One could also include, for example, robot art and math art as clusters of generative art activity.The fine arts offer a number of challenges in this regard. For example, in the 20thcentury a number of artists such as John Cage, William Burroughs, and Marcel Duchamp embraced randomization as a fecund generative principle. Minimalistssuch as Carl Andre, Mel Bochner, and Paul Morgenson used simple mathematical principles to generate compositions. The conceptual artist Sol Lewitt usescombinatorial systems to create complex works from simple components, andconceptual artist Hans Haacke explored physical generative systems in his early work.And indeed some have wondered whether a painter like Kenneth Noland should beconsidered a generative artist given his “systemic art” practice, or whether JacksonPollock's drip and splash method qualifies as the kind of randomization that wouldplace his work in the realm of generative art. I, in fact, don't consider Noland andPollock to be generative artists. But given the dizzying variety generative art offers itis an entirely legitimate question to ask
2.1 From the Top Down – Generative Art Considered LiterallyThe term generative art can also be explored from the top down by considering itsliteral abstract meaning.I often joke with my students that it is easy to tell if something is generative art. Firstit must be art, and second it must be generative. The joke here is, of course, I ambegging the question. One difficult question is replaced by two difficult questions.What do we mean by art, and what do we mean by generative?The "what is art?" question is often brought up to mock and sound a cautionary noteabout the perils of intellectual discourse rather than to pose a serious question. Butthis is mostly unfair. The discussion spawned by the question "what is art?" can infact be productive and useful. It has perhaps been best considered by specialists inaesthetics in the analytic school of philosophy found primarily in the U.S. and U.K.A recounting of this debate is beyond the scope of this paper but is well-summarizedelsewhere, for example Carrol’s book “Philosophy of Art”. [7]

Viable contemporary definitions of art generally include a notion akin to fuzzy set theory so that some things may be considered more fully art than others. In a similar way we can expect that some works are more fully generative art than others. In addition current notions about art recognize it as a social and historical notion that changes over time. To the extent generative art is art surely this must apply there as well. But I hope to show that the generative aspect can be fixed in a more stable way.The word "generative" simply directs attention to a subset of art, a subset where potentially multiple results can be produced by using some kind of generating system.It is important to note here that if generative art also included art produced by any kind of generating idea, then generative art would include all art, and it would loose its utility as a distinct term.
3. Generative Art Defined So a useful definition of generative art should (1) include known clusters of past and current generative art activity, (2) allow for yet to be discovered forms of generative art, (3) exist as a subset of all art while allowing that the definition of "art" can be contested, and (4) be restrictive enough that not all art is generative art.Whether considered from the top down or the bottom up, the defining aspect of generative art seems to be the use of an autonomous system for art making. Here is the definition I've been using in my class:Generative art refers to any art practice where the artist uses a system, such as a set of natural language rules, a computer program, a machine, or other procedural invention, which is set into motion with some degree of autonomy contributing to or resulting in a completed work of art.The key element in generative art is then the system to which the artist cedes partial or total subsequent control. And with this definition some related art theory questions come quickly to mind. A hint as to how that conversation might go will be offered at the end of this paper.For now here are some observations about this definition. First, note that the term generative art is simply a reference to how the art is made, and it makes no claims as to why the art is made this way or what its content is. Second, generative art is uncoupled from any particular technology. Generative art may or may not be “high tech”. Third, a system that moves an art practice into the realm of generative art must be well defined and self-contained enough to operate autonomously.So if systems are in a sense the defining aspect of generative art, it is worth asking if all systems alike, or if there is a useful way to sort them out and thus, by implication,sort out various kinds of generative art. This is the topic of the next few sections.

4. Complexity Science as a Context for Understanding Systems [27] Over the last 20 years or so scientists have attempted to create a new understanding of systems. Under the general rubric of "complexity science" and “complexity theory”various systems, and various kinds of systems, have been studied, compared,contrasted, and mathematically and computationally modeled. An abstract understanding of systems is beginning to emerge, and given that systems are a defining aspect of generative art, complexity science has much to offer the generative artist. And indeed a great deal of the work presented at this very conference in past years is, explicitly or implicitly, rooted in complexity science.Science generally proceeds in a reductive manner, the thinking being that by breaking down complicated phenomena into its figurative (or literal) atomic parts one gains predictive and explanatory power. The problem with reductionism, however, is that it is often difficult to put the pieces back together again.This is especially true of complex systems. When scientists speak of complex systems they don't mean systems that are complicated or perplexing in an inform alway. The phrase "complex system" has been adopted as a specific technical term.Complex systems typically have a large number of small parts or components that interact with similar nearby parts and components. These local interactions often lead to the system organizing itself without any master control or external agent being "in charge". Such systems are often referred to as being self-organizing. These self-organized systems are also dynamic systems under constant change, and short of death or destruction, they do not settle info a final stable "equilibrium" state. To the extent these systems react to changes in their environment so as to maintain their integrity, they are known as complex adaptive systems.In common language one is reminded of the saying that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Local components will interact in “nonlinear” ways, meaning thatthe interactions do more than merely add up…they exponentiate. Examples of complex systems are familiar to everyone. The weather, for example, forms coherent patterns such as thunderstorms, tornados, and hot and cold fronts, yet there is no central mechanism or control that creates such patterns. Weather patterns “emerge”all over and all at once. In the near term weather can be predicted with some accuracy, but beyond more than a few days the weather becomes quite unpredictable.The stock market is similarly a complex system with emergent properties. Billions of shares and transactions are linked in a finite chain of cause and effect, and patterns such as booms and busts emerge from the overall system. Yet no one factor dominates or “plans” the market, and even with all of the relevant information available to the public, the stock market generates surprising and unpredictable behavior.Additional examples of complex systems include the brain (as studied by biologists)and the mind (as studied by psychologists), the predation and population cycles of animals in an ecosystem, the competition of genes and resulting evolution of a given species, and the rise and fall of cultures and empires. Each of these systems consists of many components (such as cells, chromosomes, citizens, etc.) that interact with other nearby components, and form a coherent pattern or entity without any central control or plan as to how that should happen.Thus complex systems often develop in ways that are dramatic, fecund, catastrophic,or so unpredictable as to seem random. Complexity science is a relatively new, and at times controversial, attempt to understand such systems by bridging a number of traditionally distinct disciplines. The ambition is to understand the commonalities systems exhibit across all scales and hierarchies.Note that the study of complex systems also provides context and perspective for understanding simple systems. And the notion of generative art offered here includes both complex and simple systems.
5. Chaotic Systems and Random Systems Generative artists often use randomization. Complexity scientists often speak of chaos. In many cases a chaotic system may seem random because its behavior is so unpredictable. But it is important to keep in mind that there is a difference.Complex systems often include chaotic behavior, which is to say that the dynamics of these systems are nonlinear and difficult to predict over time, even while the systems themselves are deterministic machines following a strict sequence of cause and effect.The non linearity of chaotic systems results in the amplification of small differences,and this is what makes them increasingly difficult to predict over time. This is usually referred to as sensitivity to initial conditions or "the butterfly effect", from the notion that a butterfly flapping its wings in Hawaii can result in a tornado in Texas.[8]It is important to remember, especially within the context of generative art, that chaotic systems are not random systems. Natural chaotic systems may be difficult to predict but they will still exhibit structure that is different than purely random systems.For example, even though it is difficult to predict the specific weather 6 months from now, we can be relatively sure it won't be 200 degrees outside, nor will we be getting30 feet of rain on a single day, and so on. The weather exists within some minimum and maximum limits, and those expectations are a sort of container for all possible weather states. This is what scientists call the phase space, and it describes a sort of consistent general shape the chaotic system eventually traces out even though it remains unpredictable in precise detail.What about day to day weather transitions? The best predictor of tomorrow’s weather is today’s weather. Even in my hometown of Chicago, known for its crazy weather, a cold day is usually followed by another cold day. And a hot day is typically followed by a hot day. And so on. The transition from one weather state to another can bethought of as a path within the state space. Those paths are continuous (no instantaneous jumps are allowed) and exhibit this form of local auto-correlation. In other words unlike purely random systems chaotic systems have a sense of history.I find life to be more like a complex chaotic system and less like a simple random one. There is uncertainty, but there is still a sense that cause and effect are at play. Imay not be able to make a specific prediction for a specific time, but I can know how things tend to go. And I can often consider some things as impossibilities. There are surprises, but not at every single turn because there are also correspondences.In a related way, artificial chaotic systems seem more like nature, and more like real life, than artificial random systems. There is likely a lesson there for generative artists.
6. Notions of Order and Disorder in Information Theory While we have an intuitive sense of what we mean when we refer to a system as"simple" or "complex" developing a formal technical measure of complexity thatcorresponds well to our intuitive sense is not easy.An earlier related attempt to better understand communication systems was initiatedby Claude Shannon in the form of information theory. [9] For the purposes ofanalyzing the capacity of a given communication channel, the core idea is that themore "surprise" a given communication can exhibit the more information it contains.For example, consider a channel that can only send the letter "A" at regular intervals.


Every transmission is the same and allows for no modulation of the signal. It is, in asense, a highly ordered signal to the extreme. But even more, if all a channel can carryis the letter "A" there are no surprises, and thus no information can be transmitted.A channel that allows the sending of English language words like so:


contains variation from character to character, and thus allows information to flow. Itshould be noted that information theory is not fundamentally about the transmissionof meaning, but rather the capacity to transmit symbols. The following nonsensesentence sent via the same channel:


is about the same amount of information even though it is meaningless.

Natural language contains redundancy, which is another way of saying that the texthas consistent patterns, such as statistical frequencies of letter combinations that canpotentially be compressed out. For example, since we can anticipate the structure ofthe English language we might send the following compressed string with relativesuccess:


In the limiting case a signal in a channel that sends random letters is at maximuminformation. For example:


A truly random stream of characters is maximally disordered and has no underlying structure. Thus there are no patterns and redundancy to take advantage of, and no compression is possible.While saying a highly ordered sting of repeating characters has low information seems intuitively correct, saying a highly disordered string of random characters has maximum information seems peculiar. In terms of our human ability to extractmeaning from a given experience we require a mix of surprise and redundancy, i.e. asignal somewhere between extreme order and disorder.In his 1958 book "Information Theory and Esthetic Perception" Abraham Molesapplies these notions, along with findings from the realm of perceptual psychology, to analyze the arts. [10] In line with the above, he attempts to apply various statistical measures to classify musical works on a spectrum from "banal" to "novel"corresponding to the relative order versus disorder of the given information. And indeed one can easily intuit that forms such as, for example, traditional folk music are more ordered and banal than, say, free jazz which encourages more disorder and novelty.At the extremes, however, highly ordered music (e.g. playing the same note over and over again) is of no greater intrinsic aesthetic interest than highly disordered music(e.g. playing entirely random pitches and durations). In terms of the pure esthetics we will quickly lose interest in both. (Such performances might, however, be perfectly legitimate given an appropriate conceptual framework providing context and thus meaning).Working artists understand that an audience will quickly tire of both a highly ordered and a highly disordered aesthetic experience because both lack any structural complexity worthy of their continued attention. The intuition that structure and complexity increase somewhere between the extremes of order and disorder leads us to the consideration of "effective complexity".

7. Algorithmic Complexity and Effective Complexity Complex systems stand in contrast to simple systems, and attempts have been made to invent measures that quantify the relative complexity of given systems. One approach is to consider the algorithmic complexity (AC) of a given system. Algorithmic complexity is also called the algorithmic information content (AIC), and was independently developed by Kolmogorov, Solomonoff, and Chaitin.It is known that in principle any system can be mapped into a smallest possible program running on a universal computing machine generating a growing string asoutput over time. Some systems, such as fractals, require infinite time to generate because they have infinite detail. But that is not to say that fractals have infinite complexity. They are simple in the sense that they exhibit self-similar structure at every scale. And, in fact, a fractal algorithm can be very compact indeed. [11]One might hope that AC or AIC is a good candidate for a measure of what we intuitively consider complexity. Perhaps the larger the algorithmic complexity the more complex the system. Figure 7.1 Unfortunately, in the case of random processes we run into the same paradox as we see in information theory.For our low information example the AIC would be very small, and independent of string length, because the algorithm could be very small. For example:loop: print "A"go to loop For our intermediate information, English language, example the AIC would be a bit larger. The redundancy of natural language allows the use of an algorithm that carries a compressed version of the string and then expands it. For example the algorithm:

print( expand( "NIFNEPOLDFIMDMEUMN" ) )

might result in the string:


unfortunately in the case of a system that generates a purely random result the AIC will be quite a bit larger. Without redundant information in the string, in other words without structure, no further loss less compression is possible. The smallest algorithm would be a program that is a single "print" statement that includes the literal string in question. Thus for a random string the AIC is at least as long as the length of the string. print("APFUYWMVPBXTWLFMCRORNBHTEIYBCMIBUNEPMVU")Similar to what was previously shown, the AIC becomes larger the more random the message is, and this conflicts with our intuitive sense of complexity. As Murray Gell-Mann, one of the founders of the Sante Fe Institute and complexity science, puts it:"This property of AIC, which leads to its being called, on occasion,"algorithmic randomness,” reveals the unsuitability of the quantity asa measure of complexity, since the works of Shakespeare have a Lower AIC than random gibberish of the same length that would typically be typed by the proverbial roomful of monkeys."What is needed is a measure of "effective complexity" (EC) such that systems that are highly ordered or disordered are given a low score, indicating simplicity, and systems that are some where in between are given a high score, indicating complexity, Gell-Mann goes on to say:"A measure that corresponds much better to what is usually meant by complexity in ordinary conversation, as well as in scientific discourse,refers not to the length of the most concise description of an entity(which is roughly what AIC is), but to the length of a concise description of a set of the entity's regularities. Thus something almost entirely random, with practically no regularities, would have effective complexity near zero. So would something completely regular, such as a bit string consisting entirely of zeroes. Effective complexity can be high only a region intermediate between total order and complete disorder"

Figure 7.2 To measure EC Gell-Mann proposes to split a given system into two algorithmicterms, with the first algorithm capturing structure and the second algorithm capturingrandom deviation. The EC would then be proportional to the size of the optimallycompressed first algorithm that captures structure. There are objections to thisapproach, for example some maintain that this notion of structure is subjective andremains in the eye of the beholder. And indeed there are competing proposals as tothe specifics of effective complexity. [12]The important point for the purpose of this paper is that complexity science hasproduced a robust general paradigm for understanding and classifying systems.Systems exist on a continuum from the highly ordered to the highly disordered. Bothhighly ordered and highly disordered systems are simple. Complex systems exhibit amix of order and disorder. 8. Generative Art Systems in the Context of ComplexityTheory Earlier I offered a definition of generative art where the key is the use of systems asan indirect production method. This, taken in combination with the new paradigm forsystems suggested by complexity science, results in a paradigm for understanding andsorting though generative art systems.This paradigm for generative art systems is captured in the following figure, avariation on the previous figures from Gary Flakes wonderful book "theComputational Beauty of Nature". [13]

Figure 8.1 First one should note that complexity is specific to a given system, and the classifications shown here are generalities. Not all genetically inspired evolutionarysystems are going to be equally complex. Some L-systems are going to be moreordered than others, and some stochastic L-systems are going to be more disorderedthan others. Also some L-systems are equivalent to fractals, while others usingparametric and contextual mechanisms are more complex (as shown). [5]But if we accept this paradigm, that generative art is defined by the use of systems,and that systems can be best understood in the context of complexity theory, we arelead to an unusually broad and inclusive understanding of what generative art reallyis.And while it shouldn't be terribly surprising that the earliest forms of generative artused simple systems, some will find it surprising and perhaps even controversial thatgenerative art is as old as art itself.8.1 Highly Ordered Generative Art (and Generative Art as Old as ArtItself)In every time and place for which we can find artifacts, we find examples of the useof symmetry in the creation of art. Reasonable people can disagree as to at what pointthe use of symmetry can be considered an autonomous system. But even among themost so called primitive peoples examples abound in terms of the use of geometricpatterns in textiles, symmetric designs about a point, repeating border designs, and soon. Many of these are well documented in books by authors like Hargittai andHargittai [14] and Stevens. [15]The artistic use of tiling, in particular, is nothing less than the application of abstractsystems to decorate specific surfaces. Leading the most notable examples in thisregard are perhaps the masterworks found in the Islamic world. It is no coincidencethe Islamic world also provided one of the significant cradles of mathematical innovation. It is also worth noting that the word "algorithm" has its roots in theIslamic world.Highly ordered systems in generative art also made their appearance in innovative20th century art. A popular contemporary tile artist, and student of the Islamic roots,is M. C. Escher. While lacking in formal mathematical training, it is clear that he hada significant understanding of the generative nature of what he called "the regulardivision of the plane". Without the use of computers he invented and applied whatcan only be called algorithms in the service of art. [16]In addition, minimal and conceptual artists such as Carl Andre, Mel Bochner, DonaldJudd, Paul Mogenson, Robert Smithson, and Sol Lewitt used various simple highlyordered geometric, number sequence, and combinatorial systems as generativeelements in their work. [17] [18]In my class I frequently remind my students that you don't need a computer to creategenerative art, and that in fact generative art existed long before computers. Withtongue only partially in cheek I also sometimes comment that generative art lead tothe invention of the computer!A highlight in the history of generative art was the invention of the Jacquard loom.Manual textile machines long allowed weavers to apply repetitive formulas in thecreation of patterned fabrics. With the industrial revolution some of these systemswere automated, but it was Jacquard's 1805 invention that introduced the notion of astored program in the form of punched cards that revolutionized the generative art ofweaving. Interestingly one of Jacquards primary goals was to allow the automation ofpatterns of greater complexity. Later both Charles Babbage and Charles Hollerithleveraged Jacquard's method of punch card programming in their efforts to invent thecomputer.But is generative art really as old as art? Many are familiar with the discoveries ofrepresentational cave paintings some 35,000 years old that depict animals and earlymans daily life. But in 1999 and 2000 a team led by archaeologist ChristopherHenshilwood of the South African Museum in Cape Town uncovered the oldestknown art artifacts. Etched in hand sized pieces of red ochre more than 70,000 yearsold is an unmistakable grid design made of triangular tiles that would be clearlyrecognizable as such to Escher or generations of Islamic artists.While the etchings, like all ancient archaeological finds, are not without controversy,many find them compelling examples of abstract geometric thinking with an artisticresponse. In a related article in Science anthropologist Stanley Ambrose of theUniversity of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign says "This is clearly an intentionallyincised abstract geometric design...It is art." [19]Obviously two stone etchings alone cannot make the case that generative art is as oldas art itself. But around the world, and though out history, there is overwhelmingevidence of artists turning to systems of iterative symmetry and geometry to generateform. Early generative art may seem unsophisticated because it is highly ordered andsimple, but our complexity inspired paradigm for generative art has an important place for highly ordered simple systems8.2 Highly Disordered Generative ArtThe first use of randomization in the arts that I am aware of is an invention byWolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Mozart provides 176 measures of prepared music and agrid that maps the throw of a pair of dice, and a sequence number (first throw, secondthrow, etc) into the numbers 1 through 176. The player creates a composition bymaking a sequence of random dice throws, and assembling the correspondingmeasures in a sequential score. Perhaps Mozart knew intuitively that purely randommusic isn’t terribly interesting because he found a primitive way to mix order anddisorder. The short pre-composed measures provide order, and the throw of the diceprovide disorder.Randomization in the arts came into its own primarily in the 20th century. As ayoung artist Elsworth Kelly used inexpensive materials such as children’sconstruction paper along with chance methods to create colorful collages. He wasinspired to do this after observing the random patchworks that would develop in therepair of cabana tents on the French Rivera. [20]The writer William Burroughs famously used his Dada inspired “cut-up” technique torandomize creative writing. Less well known are Burroughs experiments in visual artusing shotgun blasts to randomly scatter paint on, and partially destroy, plywoodsupports. [21]Occasionally Carl Andre would use a random spill technique rather than his moretypical highly ordered assembly system. [18]Certainly one of the most famous advocates for the random selection of sounds inmusic was John Cage.In the era of computer-generated art the use of pseudo-random number generatorsbecomes perhaps the most popular digital generative technique.As mentioned earlier, generative art is a long-standing art practice, but different artistsmay choose the same generative technique for wholly different reasons. For JohnCage the motivation for randomization was a Zen inspired acceptance of all sounds asbeing equally worthy. For Andre the intent was to somewhat similarly focus attentionon the materials, but also to assault art-world expectations regarding composition.For many contemporary electronic musicians performing in a club context the use ofrandomization isn’t so theory laden. It’s simply an attempt to add an element ofsurprise to make things more interesting.It is important to remember that what generative artists have in common is how theymake their work, but not why they make their work, or even why they choose to usegenerative systems in their art practice. The big tent of generative art contains adiversity of intent and opinion.

8.3 Complex Generative ArtOne need only survey the proceedings of this very conference to see that the bulk ofthose working on the cutting edge of generative art are working with systems thatcombine order and disorder. These artists are exploring many of the same systemsthat are the very meat of complexity science. Examples include genetic algorithms,swarming behavior, parallel computational agents, neural networks, cellular automata,L-systems, chaos, dynamical mechanics, fractals, a-life, reaction-diffusion systems,emergent behavior, and all manner of complex adaptive systems. It would be difficultto summarize all of this work in a single paper, and indeed there is no need to here.The point I would like to emphasize here is that while complex systems dominate ourcurrent attention, and in many ways represent the future of generative art, complexsystems are not “better than” simple systems. Each has a historical and contemporaryplace in art practice. Both the ordered and the disordered, and the simple and thecomplex, are needed to complete an account of systems, and to complete an accountof generative art. 9. Complexity Theory as a Context for Generative Art Theory It is my hope that bolstered by the view of systems that complexity theory provides, afecund context for generative art theory will result from a broad and inclusive systemsoriented definition of generative art. Towards that end I will close by raising somecommon questions I hear regarding generative art. While some initial answers areprovided here, my primary intent is to suggest that the paradigm suggested in thispaper is an inviting context further discussion.9.1 Is generative art a subset of computer art?Because contemporary generative art is so very often computer based many assume itis a subset of computer art. I’ve tried to show here that generative art precededcomputer art, and in fact is as old as art itself. Equally important is the virtualcertainty that new forms of generative art will come after the computer as well.Nanotechnology, genetic engineering, robotics, and other technologies will no doubtoffer generative artists some wonderful opportunities.9.2 Isn’t generative art a subset of abstract art?Generative art refers to a way to create art rather than an art style. Consider the workof Harold Cohen who creates software that autonomously designs stylizedrepresentational works depicting people in lush tropical settings. [22] And of coursethere is the growing use of genetic and other generative systems in the design ofpractical and decorative objects.

9.3 How can handmade art be generative?A given work being generative is a matter of degree, i.e. generative art is a fuzzy set.Generative art practice is really the key, and a given work might be created onlypartially via the use of an autonomous system. In principle any computer basedgenerative method could be carried out by hand. More practically, if an artist createsa system and then hands it off to an artisan for use in laying tiles, how different is thatfrom using a generative art robot? And how different is that from the artist choosingto do it himself? What is key is that a system is applied with some degree ofautonomy, whether or not the construction happens by hand. Handmade generativeart is still quite different than other handmade art where the artist is making intuitivedesign judgments from one moment to the next throughout the entire constructionprocess.9.4 Why do artists choose to work using generative methods?Generative art is a method of making art, but it carries with it no particular motivationor ideology. In fact the use of generative methods may have nothing to do with thecontent of the work at all. For example, filmmakers may use generative methods tosynthesize imagery for purely economic reasons. At the other extreme somegenerative artists create works where there is no distance at all between the generativeproduction method and the meaning of the work. These are generative artistsexploring systems for their own sake. And of course there are numerous artistssomewhere in between. There are as many reasons to use generative methods as thereare generative artists. Perhaps more.9.5 Is generative art an art movement?Generative art as described here is simply systems oriented art practice, and it hasroots in the oldest known art. Various generative systems have been used by those inassorted art movements over the years. Generative art as a systems oriented artpractice is much too large to be claimed by any single art movement.There is, however, an earlier and somewhat obscure use of the same phrase in thecontext of a specific art movement. Our discussion here should not be confused withthis narrow art historical technical homonym.“Generative Art - A form of geometrical abstraction in which a basic elementis made to ‘ generate' other forms by rotation, etc. of the initial form in such away as to give rise to an intricate design as the new forms touch each other,overlap, recede or advance with complicated variations. A lecture on'Generative Art Forms' was given at the Queen's University, Belfast Festivalin 1972 by the Romanian sculptor Neagu, who also founded a Generative ArtGroup. Generative art was also practiced among others by Eduardo McEntyreand Miguel Ángel Vidal [1928- ] in the Argentine."[23]

This same source also defines “Systemic Art” which is at times confused with ourcontemporary understanding of generative art."Systemic Art – a term originated by the critic Lawrence Alloway in 1966when he organized an exhibition 'Systemic Painting' at the Solomon R.Guggenheim Museum, New York, to refer to a type of abstract artcharacterized by the use of very simple standardized forms, usually geometricin character, either in a single concentrated image or repeated in a systemarranged according to a clearly visible principle of organization. TheChevron paintings of Noland are examples of Systemic art. It has beendescribed as a branch of Minimal art, but Alloway extended the term to coverColour Field painting." "[23]9.6 Isn’t generative art about the issue of authorship?Certainly when one turns the creation of a work of art over to a machine, and part ofthe work is created without the participation of human intuition, some will see aresonance with contemporary post-structural thinking. Some generative artists workspecifically in the vein of problematizing traditional notions about authorship. Butthe generative approach has no particular content bias, and generative artists are freeto explore life, death, love, war, beauty, or any other theme.9.7 Was Jackson Pollock a generative artist?Partially because Jackson Pollock’s best-known work seems “random”, and partiallybecause his “drip and splash” technique seems to be a retreat from conscious artisticcontrol, many wonder whether Jackson Pollock can be considered a generative artist.I don’t consider his work to be generative art because there is no autonomous systeminvolved in the creation of his paintings.There is, however, an interesting link between Pollock’s most famous work andcomplexity theory. Physicist Richard Taylor has shown that Pollock’s drip andsplash marks are fractal in nature, that they are likely the result of Pollock learninghow to “launch” the paint with his wrist and arm so as to induce chaotic fluid flow,and that as Pollock’s work progressed he was able to achieve higher and higherdegrees of fractal dimension. [24]Perhaps it is this fractal look that encourages the knowledgeable observer to try toconnect Pollock to generative art. In any case Pollock applied the paint manuallywithout the use of any external system. The work was a hard earned intuitive creationrequiring physical discipline, and requiring many sessions and constant reworking.However, the fact that his manual practice rests on underlying physics that happens toengage contemporary notions of fractals and chaos theory shouldn’t sway one to thinkof these paintings as generative works. All artwork has underlying physics, and ifthat were the measure then all art would have to be called generative art.

9.8 Is Hans Haacke a generative artist?Han’s Haacke is a prescient artist whose work critiques both physical and socialsystems in a bold way that precedes by decades the similar attempts now underway incomplexity science. It is important, however, to differentiate between works that areabout systems and works that use systems in their creation. Haacke has producedboth.As curators for the exhibit “COMPLEXITY – Art and Complex Systems” Ellen K.Levy and I were thrilled to be able to present Haacke’s 1963 piece “CondensationCube”. A simple acrylic cube with a bit of water at the bottom and sealed shut,“Condensation Cube” becomes a miniature weather system as an ever changingdisplay of condensation forms on the cube’s walls. This work anticipatedmeteorologist Ralph Lorenz’s discovery of chaotic strange attractors, and stands as awonderful example of generative art. [25]The following artists statement written by Haacke in 1965 could stand today as amanifesto for generative artists exploring complex adaptive systems. HANS HAACKE Statement...make something which experiences, reacts to its environment, changes, is non-stable......make something indeterminate, which always looks different, the shape of whichcannot be predicted precisely......make something which cannot 'perform' without the assistance of its environment......make something which reacts to light and temperature changes, is subject to aircurrents and depends, in its functioning, on the forces of gravity......make something which the 'spectator' handles, with which he plays and thusanimates......make something which lives in time and makes the 'spectator' experience time......articulate: something natural... Cologne, January 1965 [26]9.9 Is Sol Lewitt a generative artist?Most of Sol Lewitt’s work is generative, and as a conceptual artist much of hisattention is focused on exploring systems for their own intrinsic value. In his“Paragraphs on Conceptual Art” from 1967 he says, “The idea becomes a machinethat makes the art” and refers to the actual construction of the work as “a perfunctory affair”. His combinatorial drawings and sculptures demonstrate the continuingviability of highly ordered systems in generative art.9.10 Shouldn’t all generative art exhibit constant change andunforeseeable results?There is much to be said for the creation of complex systems as installation art thatexhibits dynamics in real time for an audience. It is a wonderful way for an artist toshare his explorations of complex systems, and especially complex adaptive systems,with an audience. However, an art practice that uses a dynamic complex system tocreate what is ultimately a static object or recording is still generative art. As is, forthat matter, works resulting from the use of simple generative methods.9.11 Is generative art modern or post-modern?Generative art is ideologically neutral. It is simply a way of creating art and anycontent considerations are up to the given artist. And besides, generative arthistorically precedes modernism, post-modernism, and just about any other “ism” onrecord.Certainly one can make generative art that exhibits a postmodern attitude. Many do.But one can also make generative art that attempts to refute post-modernism.Two of the most significant impacts of post-modernism on art are (1) the proposedabandonment of formalism and beauty as a meaningful area of exploration, and (2)the proposed abandonment of the notion that art can reveal truth in any non-relativistic way. Form, beauty, and knowledge are held to be mere socialconstructions.Generative art can be used to attack these fundamental points head on. First,generative artists can explore form as something other than arbitrary socialconvention. Using complex systems artists can create form that emerges as the resultof naturally occurring processes beyond the influence of culture and man.Second, having done this, generative artists can demonstrate by compelling examplereasons to maintain faith in our ability to understand our world. The generative artistcan remind us that the universe itself is a generative system. And through generativeart we can regain our sense of place and participation in that universe.

References [1] Galanter, P. Foundations of generative art systems – a hybrid survey and studioclass for graduate students. Generative Art 2001: Proceedings of the 4th InternationalConference. Generative Design Lab, Milan Polytechnic, Milan 2001[2] Schwanauer, S. M. and D. A. Levitt (1993). Machine models of music .Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press.[3] Miller, Dennis, Game of Chance, Electronic Musician, p 53-64, November 2003[4] Perlin, Ken. An Image Synthesizer, Proc. SIGGRAPH '85, ACM ComputerGraphics, Vol.19, No.3, pp.287-296.[5] Prusinkiewicz, P., A. Lindenmayer, et al. (1990). The algorithmic beauty of plants. New York, Springer-Verlag.[6] Todd, S., Latham, W. (1992) Evolutionary art and computers. London, AcademicPress Limited[7] Carrol, Noel. (1999) Philosophy of Art, London, Routledge[8] Casti, John L. (1994) Complexification, New York, HarperCollins[9] Shannon, Claude E. A mathematical theory of communication. The Bell SystemTechnical Journal, 27(3):379--423, 1948.[10] Moles, A. A. (1966). Information theory and esthetic perception. Urbana,University of Illinois Press.[11] Bar-Yam, Y. (1997). Dynamics of complex systems. Reading, Mass., Addison-Wesley.[12] Gell-Mann, Murry. What is complexity? Complexity – John Whiley and Sons,Vol 1 No 1, 1995[13] Flake, G. W. (1998) The computational beauty of nature, Cambridge, The MITPress[14] Hargittai, I., Hargittai, M. (1994) Symmetry: a unifying concept, Bolinas CA,Shelter Publications[15] Stevens, P. S. (1981). Handbook of regular patterns: an introduction to symmetryin two dimensions. Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press.[16] Locher, J. L., ed. (1992) M. C. Escher: His life and complete graphic work, NewYork, Abradale Press [17] Alberro, A. and B. Stimson, ed. (1999). Conceptual art: a critical anthology.Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press.[18] Meyer, J. (2000) Minimalism: themes and movements. London, Phaidon[19] Balter, Michael. Oldest Art – From a Modern Human’s Brow - or Doodling.Science, Vol. 295 pp 247-249[20] Bois, Y. A., J. Cowart, et al. (1992). Ellsworth Kelly: the years in France, 1948-1954 . Washington, D.C. [München], National Gallery of Art; Prestel-Verlag.[21] Sobieszek, R. A. and W. S. Burroughs (1996). Ports of entry: William S.Burroughs and the arts . Los Angeles New York, Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Distributed in the USA by Thames and Hudson.[22] McCorduck, P. (1991). Aaron's code: meta-art, artificial intelligence, and thework of Harold Cohen . New York, W.H. Freeman[23] Osborne, Harold, ed. (1988) The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Art.Oxford, Oxford University Press[24] Taylor, R., Micolich, A., Jones, D. The constructtion of Jackson Pollock’sfractal drip paintings. Leonardo, Vol 35, No. 2, pp. 203-207[25] Benthall, J. (1972). Science and technology in art today. New York,, Praeger[26] Cotter, S., Douglas, C. ed. (2000) Force fields: phases of the kinetic. Barcelona,Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona[27] This section is based on text I wrote with Ellen K. Levy in preparation for theexhibit we co-curated “COMPLEXITY / Art and Complex Systems”. This exhibitopened at the Dorsky Museum at SUNY New Paltz in the fall of 2002.

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