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Title: Cultural Software - Materiality and Abstraction in 60s art and technology
Authors: Penny, Simon
Issue Date: 5-Jul-2016
Series/Report no.: Theories: Limiting the Anthropocene;06.11.2015 Session 3A
Abstract: The 1960s saw an explosion of new art genres: happenings, environments, performance art, body art, site­specific art, minimalism, art+technology, expanded cinema and conceptual art. These practices were often identified as ‘post­object’ art (Burnham’s ‘unobject’, Lippard’s “Dematerialisation of the Art Object”). A profound philosophical rift underpins this collective rejection of conventional genres preoccupied with art ‘objects’. Body art, site­specific art and related practices were embodied, materially instantiated and geopolitically ‘situated’. The process ontology implicit in Cybernetics is reflected in the works of the Art and Technology movement, ideas of installation, interactivity and immersion in art and in the methods of Burroughs, Gysin, Cage and Cunningham. Much Conceptual Art sought a dematerialised and neo­Platonic condition of pure immaterial information: the ‘essence’ of the artwork was an immaterial idea, the artwork could exist as a written specification and need never be materialised. This division between embodied materiality and symbolic abstraction is contemporaneous with similar bifurcation in theories of automation and computing: between Cybernetics and systems theory; and digital computing and the rise of functionalism and representationalism in cognitive science. The parallels between this kind of art and the emerging concept of ‘software’ in developing computing discourse are striking. The simultaneity of the emergence of Conceptual Art and the concept of software proclaims conceptual art as cultural software. The psychaedelic drug culture and influence of eastern religions transmitted both embodied (yoga) and disembodied (astral travel) doctrines. This paper discusses these parallels between technological development and the arts, illustrated by key projects which highlight these divisions and crossovers.
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