DROPPING SCIENCE: ART & TECHNOLOGY REVISITED 2.0

by Renée Green © 1995


One would be hardpressed not to find upon opening any form of print media, or when switching on a TV or radio, some story or advertisement which refers in some way to the wonders of new technologies. Here is a typical week's fare: In Time magazine is a cover story entitled "Onward Cyber Soldiers," in the technology section can be found "Bullish on Netscape," in addition to a "cyperspace"(sic) report which asks "How good is the Microsoft Network?" Newsweek's cover sports a bulging-bellied cigar-toting Mickey Mouse and reads, "Disney's World, A $19 billion deal to create a new global media empire," while inside it's "cyberscope" section contains brief techno updates. The german Focus magazine featured the article: "Traumwelten im Computer: Virtual Reality für jedermann," illustrated by an image of a family appearing to be in a virtual living room with a virtual pet, playing virtual games in the air, all facing a large floating video screen. And lastly in Interzone, an SF and fantasy magazine, a recent BBC 1 TV show called "Bugs," is described as, "The Avengers transported from the space age to the cyberspace era" in which some stock ideas are trotted out such as " . . . the notion that machines are morally neutral, that it is people who design and use them for good and evil."

It then follows that amidst this inescapable web of fascination which seems to extend further each day that the art industry, wishing to be in tandem with the times, also participates in the general enthusiasm. In both entertainment and art industries a recurring attitude can be detected which echos that of the "Bugs" producers in their attempt to diffuse cybertechnophobia: "[T]his stuff is FUN! and we have to learn to use it because the bad guys already have." But in the words of typical cyberrhetoric," how to navigate one's way through it?"

Of course there are increasing numbers of magazines, books and columns to assist one in sorting through the technosphere. Many of them embrace what the future may hold. A cartoon comes to mind of a bloodshot bug-eyed driver sufferering from highway hypnosis tightly gripping a steering wheel, a road zombie numbed by the rapid force of motion and scopic repetition. The most common metaphors used in describing these technologies are spatial and visual, usually implying speedy movement - driving, navigating, surfing - although browsing implies possible leisure. All present an image of being ensconced in a machine which exceeds human movement and computational capacity and from within which it is possible to watch.

* * * *

"[Ernest] Mandel had proposed three economic revolutions governed by revolutions in power technology: the steam engine of 1848, the rise of electricity and the combustion engine in the late nineteenth century, and most recently (since the 1940s), the development of nuclear and electronic technologies." (Terminal Identity, Scott Burkatman, p. 3)

What exactly is meant by the term "new technologies"? A major distinguishing factor from "old technologies" is the increased potential for a larger number of people to have access to a means for accumulating, producing and distributing what has become known as information. The possibility for this radical shift came about when technologies which had previously been the domain of specialists, like video and audio recording technologies, computer technologies and the Internet became available to the lay public. With relatively limited means a wider range of people became able to create versions of their reality using camcorders and a vast array of audio equipment, which they own and operate, as well as personal computers which enable them to use computer programs ranging from audio samplers to desktop publishing software. Individuals or small groups can now on their own make digital audio recordings or produce publications. Add to this Internet access, which technically means that these new producers could communicate with even more and more people and even build up an electronic distribution network. America Online advertisments appear on TV with the frequency and urgency reminiscent of ads for mailorder kitchen technology of the past ("It slices, it dices, it's Vegematic!") to remind viewers that right in their own homes they can have access to the wonderful information world which can provide them with new friends and activities and possibly new intelligence.

There's been a mad rush to develop and exploit the Internet and digital technologies. The consequences are global, although it is estimated that only 20% of the world's population has telephone access. We are told again and again that "the brave new world" is here. But to be fully operable within this exciting place, which is described with euphoria and anxiety as both the wild west and an ideal democracy, you need some money or at least a credit card.

The gold rush feeling - quick money for the adventurous in the frontier, get it while the getting's good - seemed pretty apparent when Netscape's stocks rapidly increased in value. The gains possible from that investment became jeopardized by recent reports of the Net's lack of security as was reported in the October 11, 1995 New York Times article, "Discovery of Internet Flaws is Setback for On-Line Trade." (John Markoff) The speedily expanding markets may have to go on hold and navigating may become more militaristic and paranoic. It is stated:

"That such security flaws exist is not surprising in a system designed originally as a scientific experiment. But the recent rush to the Internet by companies seeking to exploit its commercial possibilities has obscured the fact that giving the system a new purpose has unearthed fundamental problems that could well put off sure commerical viability for years."

Crimes on greater scales than before imaginable could be committed: "The crucial difference in the proposed Internet commerce systems was that for the first time it would be relatively simple for a criminal to collect hundreds or thousands of credit card numbers. Then a thief could use each credit card only one time, making detection much more difficult," says Berkeley professor of computer science Eric Brewer. This on top of viruses to worry about.

But on the same front page was an article about Bill (Microsoft) Gate's purchase of Bettmann Photo Archive. Similar to Ted Turner's purchase of the rights to films of the past Gates will now be in a position to digitize an encyclopedic range of photos taken throughout this century which can be resold on an even larger scale than Bettmann was ever able to achieve. The aims are idealistic but the bottom line is the bottom line: "The ideal of this electronic conversion is to democratize art and scholarship, enabling people who could never travel to the Library of Congress or the Hermitage to sample their intellectual treasures, and to preserve aging pictures and documents for posterity." ("Huge Photo Archive Bought by the Chairman of Microsoft," Steve Lohr, New York Times, October 11, 1995) All well and good, but the attitude expressed by A. Lin Neumann during a trip to Asia is bound to emerge: "Well, fuck Bill Gates. We want the software and we want it now. The real stuff is overpriced." (A. Lin Neumann, "Information Wants to Be Free But This Is Ridiculous," pp.88-93, Wired, October 1995)

One of the striking features of discussions about the "new technologies" is the urgency with which they are discussed from the political "left" to the "right," from grassroots organizations to government think tanks. The notion of being "on the brink" of some phenomenal change is one impetus to these numerous discussions. But what might be the unconscious drives behind this idea? Is this desire affected by the coming millenium or is it a form of hubris which often proves to be the fatal attribute of knowledge seekers from Faust to Strangelove, in science lore and elsewhere, or is it spurred by the curiosity which compels one to open a Pandora's box? Is it a compulsion to find the Holy Grail or the Key to All Knowledge? Or is it fueled by a lust for new markets, the war over constituencies or a combination of all of the above?

Despite the fact that the year 2000 is steadily approaching is it possible that the current techno craze is so historically unique? Perhaps a brief look at previous moments of 20th century technological fascination, specifically in relationship to art and the forms of its emergence in particular ideological climates might be helpful.

LOOKING BACKWARD

While it is too vast an endeavour in this brief space to recount in detail this history, for which there is ample documentation, the listing which follows is meant to give an indication of the breadth of attempts made during this century to think about art and science together. As a way of beginning to imagine the ramifications science has had on every field including art it's useful to remember that scientific thinking at the beginning of the twentieth century underwent a paradigmatic shift when classical physics was replaced by atomic theory, as well as the subsequent discoveries which made it necessary to reaccess the concept of the "natural world." The reaccessment sparked by these shifts has continued and includes a questioning of the primacy of scientific authority, a point to which I'll return. I've chosen to compare some of the ideas circulating in the sixties and seventies with some of the ideas which are circulating now as a way to examine what might be different about the current excitment with technology and what might resemble that earlier moment.

Marga Bijvoet in "How Intimate Can Art and Technology Really Be?: A Survey of The Art and Technology Movement of the Sixties" provides a useful description of the shifts in artist's thinking which occured in response to scientific changes. although she doesn't stress the historical context within which these designated movements occurred. So when she mentions the Futurists's fascination with speed, the Surrealists's eerie examinations of unconscious relations to machines as well as the Constructivists's attention to "new materials (such as steel, glass and plastics) but also, more importantly, to a consideration of the broader implications of industrial technologies for society and the future role and function of art," it is left up to the reader to imagine under what broader circumstances (such as war, economic depression and national affinities) these practices emerged. (p. 16, Culture, Technology and Creativity in the Late Twentieth Century, ed. Philip Hayward, 1990; London, John Libbey)

A statement dated 1930 from Georges VanTogerloo bears an uncanny resemblance to later and even current aspirations of some artists:

". . . already we see art disengaging itself from a quasi-philosophical artiness to become more and more a science and form at one with a new society. (Do not confuse this with utilitarian art.) But the field of action for the artist is not open yet. The artist is still condemned to exhibit art as an object: art is still part of the old organisation. But since this organisation cannot persist forever, it must one day cede its place to an organisation better adapted to the present." (p. 17, ibid.)

Bijvoet goes on to describe what was called 'Kineticism' and the Kinetic movement of the Fifties and Sixties from which Frank Popper discerned three strands: Op(tical) Art, Machines and Mobiles and Lightcinetics. While a movement from the mechanical into the electronic age can be noted in these works the most advanced technology then available wasn't used.

Another shift could be detected during the sixties when what's described as a "systems-aesthetic" emerged. It is interesting to note how the discussions concerning art practices echo those suggested by theories relating to the then new electronic and computer technologies as espoused by Marshall McLuhan, Buckminster Fuller and Norton Wiener. The term "dematerialised works" began to gain in usage and these represented materials which were not "precious," but instead suggested transience - plastics, video, acrylics and technologies employing synthesizers, computers, electronics. Bijvoet notes that these materials and techniques also represented "progress," which is again echoed in current technology discussions. Rauschenberg's statement exemplifies the urgency I previously mentioned, intertwined with an Enlightenment notion of progess:

"It is no longer possible to by-pass the whole area of technology. . . We can't afford to wait. We must force a relationship on technology in order to continue and we must move quickly. The most positive thing I can say is that technology does not lead us back into history - but advances us into the unknown." (p.25, ibid.)

NOTES - CIRCULATING THOUGHTS ON SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY OF THE 60S AND 70S TODAY: ROBERT SMITHSON'S TIMELY CONTEMPLATIONS, GENE YOUNGBLOOD'S EXPANDED CINEMA

"While the grandly utopian pronouncements of the New Frontier have ebbed to nothing, the scope of technological development that had been initiated in an era of Cold War expansionism continues unabated."

(p. 3, Terminal Identity, Scott Burkatman)

Exhaustion in the wake of the Space Age echos the entropy artist Robert Smithson describes in some of his writings. There now exist computer screens which are stared into, brought into beds if they are laptops and gazed at until sleep comes to cause a break in the continual staring at fragments of information. These resemble the movie screens he imagined some future viewer staring into trance-like while non-narrative films ran continuously, the viewer's body remaining inert before the screen, the movie continuing even while the viewer is sleeping.

( "A Cinematic Atopia," The Writings of Robert Smithson, ed. Nancy Holt, pp. 105-108)

Smithson's writings seem almost as prophetic as science fiction can be with his descriptions of non-sites and mappings of these territories which recall the used up land resources or tangles of reflective glass, metal and plastic one might come across in a J.G. Ballard novel. The described monuments aren't made to last. Entropy discussions of the past were on a par with the popularity of the current cyberspace discussions, time and space being prevalent features of both discussions. One of the main differences though between how spaces such as those Smithson describes and how cyberspace is described is in their ambulatory aspects. He stresses inertia, while often cyberspace is described, as I mentioned earlier, as a navigable space, albeit the operator is usually sitting still, moving only fingertips and otherwise appearing to be a zombie or a being in which boundaries between human and machine are blurred, in other words a cyborg. This prevalence of cyborgs (especially since Donna Haraway's articulation in "The Cyborg Manifesto" is another one of the differences which distinguishes the early 1970s from the present. The desire for this meshing is described by phenomenologist Don Ihde as pervasive:

"I want the transformation that technology allows, but . . . I want it in a way that it becomes me," but he further argues that: "such a desire both secretly rejects what technologies are and overlooks the transformational effects which are necessarily tied to human-technological relations. This illusory desire belongs equally to pro- and antitechnology interpretations of technology." (Burkatman, p.5)

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"Art as radar acts as "an early alarm system," as it were, enabling us to discover social and psychic targets in lots of time to prepare to cope with them. This concept of the arts as prophetic, contrasts with the popular idea of them as mere self-expression. If art is an "early warning system," to use the phrase from World War II, when radar was new, art has the utmost relevance not only to media study but to the development of media controls."

(Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, p., x)

Despite some of the similarities in terms of aspiration, such as increased global communications, those (1960s and 1970s) were very different times. The Cold War was still on and Sputnik's orbit was in recent memory and provided a catalyst for NASA experimentation and various educational incentives. The U.S. wanted to maintain the cutting edge on technology and thus the embrace of Marshall McLuhan made sense as well as did the funding the arts then received. A prophet of the new electronic age was needed. In the U.S. the country was still reeling from the Vietnam War, student revolts, the civil rights movement, black nationalism, the assassinations of charismatic leaders and a Nixon administration. The recession hadn't hit yet, but the "Summer of Love" had. Gene Youngblood outlines his notion of an expanded cinema as being the equivalent of an expanded consciousness. The year is 1970:

"So I call it the Paleocybernetic Age: an image of a hairy, buckskinned, barefooted atomic physicist with a brain full of mescaline and logarithms, working out the heuristics of computer-generated holograms of krypton laser interferometry. It's the dawn of man: for the first time in history we'll soon be free enough to discover who we are."

(Expanded Cinema, Gene Youngblood, Introduction, Buckminster Fuller, p.41)

At that time there was nothing yet being touted as the "information superhighway." The infrastructure had yet to be realized. There was not yet aWired magazine which would inform it's readers of every aspect of how to be completely turned on and plugged in. The sentiments inWired do echo Youngblood's, their patron saint is Marshall McLuhan, but unlike some mescaline tripping logarithm freak's "far out" communication creation this product is ultra organized, has targeted it's market and makes the combination of coolness and capital seem like a piece of cake.

IDIOMS OF SCIENCE

"Technology, whether figured in the exaggerated modalities of the sublime or the cooler pragmatism of an elite technocracy, defines the American relation to manifest destiny and the commitment to an ideology of progress and modernity." (Burkatman, p.4)

Before continuing it is worth analysing some tenets of western science which have so far been invoked and which deserve explication to better understand the critical reevaluations as well as the "culture wars" which have occurred in the past years.

Differing from Youngblood's optimistic technical embrace of the "global intermedia network" one detects in Smithson's beliefs in entropy an ambivalence toward and a questioning of forms of scientific knowledge which suggest that progress or solutions are: 1. Possible

2. Come about linearly or within closed systems

Ways of questioning scientific paradigms have continued since the early1970s ( and before, see Thomas S. Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions ; my focus is specifically on the latter half of this century and on changes specific to this time) and have taken on various forms, aided in part by thoughts coming from outside of scientific disciplines such as deconstructionism, Foucauldian analysis of social systems, post-colonial studies, feminist and gender studies as well as studies from historians of science. It is more possible now than it was in the early1970s to find declarations such as: "There are political consequences to scientific accounts of the world" and these are "specific historical and cultural productions" ("Interview with Donna Haraway," Technoculture, eds. Andrew Ross, Constance Penley) One of the differences though between the present and the early1970s is that ideas which were believed to have been resolved then, especially since the Civil Rights struggles for equal representation such as whether black people's intelligence is genetically determined and lower than that of white people's, have again become a topic for debate as was witnessed after the1994 publication of The Bell Curve. In light of this phenomenon and the attitudes which are circulating in it's wake a reexamination of the genealogy of the professionalism of science and it's rise to authority seems timely.

* * * *

"[A]ppeals to an impersonal "nature" are common in times of turmoil; what made the mid-nineteenth century distinctive was the successful institutionalization of a particular view of that "nature."(ed.,Harding, p. 173)

In "Appropriating the Idioms of Science: The Rejection of Scientific Racism" Nancy Leys Stepan and Sander L. Gilman analyse the authority contained in scientific language as well as attempts to refute some of the claims made in the name of science with a focus on the years 1870 to 1920. They assert that it was during this period that science acquired it's "modern epistemological, institutional and cultural forms" and during which time it became consolidated as the "dominant mode of cognition of industrial society." They trace how science came to be regarded as "a sharply edged and value-neutral domain of knowledge" - as apolitical, nontheological, universal, empirical and uniquely objective (in part because [of it's] uniquely methodological) form of knowledge unlike any other." (p. 173. The "Racial" Economy of Science: Toward a Democratic Future, ed. Sandra Harding)

The scientific text, the scientific lecture, a new professionalism

The rise of the scientific text which was meant to be understood only by those inducted into a particular language came about then. This was part of an attempt at forming boundaries around the field which would delegitimize practices not conforming to the standards which were then being created. Between 1832 and 1870 this push was made by the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS) :

"[P] ractioners in fields of inquiry ruled "unscientific" were excluded from the association and thereby from representation within "science." Areas fraught with moral and/or political controversy kept a place within the boundaries of science only when purged of those concerns, as scientists adopted the value-neutral, empirical language now seen as defining science itself. Science as a form of knowledge separated itself from other knowledge systems; in the process, the dichotomies between the pure and the impure (or the applied sciences), the rational and the irrational, the objective and the subjective, the hard and the soft, the male and the female, were given material form. Such polarities, and the institutional boundaries that created and maintained them, were not the inevitable results of a nature merely "discovered" and described; they were the products of active institution creation, demarcation setting and the successful use of political and cultural resources to achieve these ends." (ibid., p. 174)

Part of how this new specialization was secured was through the texts, designated as scientific, which ensued. Previously texts had been closer to literary forms using a variety of expression and metaphors. Now the text was meant to be less porous, thus allowing less leeway for interpretation:

"It was in the late nineteenth century that the modern scientific text as we know it stabilized to become the standard, accepted form of writing in nearly all branches of the natural sciences....The neutral style of the scientific paper, the absence of a strong, individualized authorial "I," the emphasis on the factuality of nature, on a nature revealed by specific methods (experimental, technical) - all these features rendered the scientific text problematic for the nonscientific writer and reader and successfully circumscribed the process of contestation."(ibid., p.174)

Stepan and Gilman go on to state that the forms of contestation to scientific racism reflected a struggle with how one could argue within the perameters of what became established as scientific discourse. What is evident today is that the polemics toward this previously established notion of scientific primacy are circulating, as is proven by a compilation of writings which appeared in a variety of lay publications addressing The Bell Curve and which have been collected in The Bell Curve Debate: History, Documents, Opinions. ( ed. Russell Jacoby and Naomi Glauberman.) It would seem that more people feel in a position to understand scientific arguments and scientific and technological "data" is appearing increasingly in more literary forms with the increase of Internet access leading and which is leading to a textual cybergenres. Amidst all of this stepped production of information how then is it possible for conservative ideologies which have a basis in conventions developed in the nineteenth century just described are still able to captivate and mystify? The Bell Curve was a bestseller.

NOTES - A LECTURE IN COPENHAGEN

In an art school in Copenhagen I heard a "scientific lecture." It was given by an artist whom I was told is also "really" a biologist too and who is working on a dissertation. So a strange tension proceeded as I listened to what was said and watched the "documents" which were presented.

The speaker had the look of a 19th century scientist. He had a beard and glasses. He spoke in level "reasonable" tones which were meant to convey an authority to what he said. He used visual"documents" to underlie his points. Since the images shown were meant to cause a friction between what he said and the calm way in which he said it I at first thought he was making a parody of a scientific lecture, except this wasn't funny and lacked the mirroring which enables irony to suceed. There was a missing term and what was said seemed about as literal as what talk show host Rush Limbaugh presents on his TV show where he too shows "documents" - often decontextualized speeches - which he talks over. This talk was quite similar as well as some of the audience's responses, which were approving.

I wondered whether it was possible to watch Rush Limbaugh in Copenhagen and I wondered who would be amused by it. Usually he bashes liberals and ethnic groups and feminists. Here in this lecture images of Marlboro men stood in for men and images of nude truncated torsos with legs cut off just below the pubic hair stood in for women. Images were shown of beauty and beauty was described as being equivalent with "the norm." The beauties shown bore a resemblance to the Greek ideals. There was no nod to reevaluations of evolutionist theories or toward the previously mentioned theories which have questioned late19th century scientific paradigms. We were suddenly in a strange time warp, a place where women's duty was to be a man's projection of his desires, where gays were not really taken seriously and where Africans were "hysterical" people, literally children. The "lecture" ended with footage of children from Benin (why Benin?) laughing and playing with a camera on a tripod which was left near where the children were playing by the lecturer on his visit there. There was no translation of what these children were saying and the footage minded me of that taken by Osa and Martin Johnson, early 20th century American travellers, for their movie "Congarilla," in which nothing the "natives" say is translated and the Johnson's comments provide the voiceover. In this case there was no voiceover, just an introduction to the footage in which the lecturer described the children as becoming "hysterical" over his placement of the camera on a tripod in their midst. Maybe they were saying, "Why is this fool leaving his camera here?" but we weren't given the option to find out.

The lecturer kept addressing the audience as "we" in a way which reminded me of Newt Gingrich and the TV journalist Peggy Noonan who around that time had broadcast a series of conversations called, "Peggy Noonan on Values." "We" was used to mean we sane rational clean good right people, in Gingrich's and Noonan's case. In this lecturer's case I was not so sure what was meant, since we were in an art school and since art schools are known for producing "nonconformists." But he had his followers. I was reminded that the Dartmouth Review, published by Dartmouth College students, was the breeding place for many of the current counter counter-culturalists or young neo-conservatives who like to think of themselves as being cool and conservative. They form an opinion elite which has had considerable influence. One of various similarities I noticed between the lecturer and this group were both's fascination with Greek concepts such as the norm, the ideal. In the case of Roger Kimball, a cultural critic and managing editor of Hilton Kramer's The New Criterion, he majored in philosophy and classical Greek in college: " I read Marcuse and all that stuff - the 'unholy trinity' of Marx, Nietzsche and Freud,"... But he was more drawn to Aristotle and "The Federalist Papers," and he found the academy uncongenial. "I had the feeling that high culture was being attacked." ("The Counter Counterculture," James Atlas, The New York Times Magazine, Feburary 12, 1995)

FUTURE PERFECT ISN'T PRESENT

"While the arts as radar feedback provide a dynamic and changing corporate image, their purpose may be not to enable us to change but rather to maintain an even course toward permanent goals, even amidst the most disrupting innovations. We have already discovered the futility of changing our goals as often as we change our technologies." (McLuhan, p. x)

Artforum's September 1995 issue had a technology slant. It included a section called "The Art Screen Scene." In it various art world-related people were asked their opinions of the Internet. Comments showed a lack of imagining the possibilities beyond dumping "art" onto the Net and not reconceiving what that process could mean, although english professor Gregory Ulmer was hopeful: "There are contradictory forces in the arts now. There's that ivory-tower gallery system, but there's also a tendency to avoid being a commodity and to be a practice instead. The avant-gardes's function is to say, Here's something everyone can do, and it doesn't require training. That's the part of this that interests me. " That is optimistic, but once again as the above "lecture" demonstrated forms and locations may change and time passes, but what kinds of ideologies are being invoked and how will these affect the forms which are used whether it be a "lecture," which might even be considered in the art context as "avant-garde" (whatver that can mean now), or a CD-ROM?

Changes in thinking come about much more slowly than one might imagine while being bombarded with various forms of technopromotion. Certain ideas which it seemed must be relagated to charlatanism or pseudoscience - as in the case of the "posture photo scandal" in which Ivy League schools during the 1930s to the 1970s allowed nude photos of incoming students to be taken which were used to study how somatypes can be equated with superiority ("The Great Ivy League Nude Posture Photo Scandal," Ron Rosenbaum, January 15, 1995, The New York Times Magazine) - surface and persist at different times and in varying milieus.

APPENDIX

Two recent examples of approaches to thinking about technology and art come to mind which relate to questions regarding criticality raised in "Dropping Science." One is the book, Culture on the Brink: Ideologies of Technology and the other is the exhibition "When Tekkno Turns to Sound of Poetry."

One of the reasons these two endeavors grasped my attention were because each made me aware of their own cultural specificity - the moments of their emergence, where they emerged, and the ensuing reactions to them. They don't exist as isolated events, but rather as points from which to contemplate complex issues, histories and contradictions in relation to the cultural field. Another reason they sparked my interest was their divergence from the major media discussions of technology.

There's always a next moment and a new thing about to come. Changes, especially in the realm of technology, can seemingly occur quite rapidly making what just approached the cutting edge resemble general knowledge soon after. But what aspects in the rapid fire debates over "new" technologies are worth examining repeatedly? Despite the time lag between conference and publishing date Culture on the Brink provides an instance in textual form of engagement with what has become a popular discourse on technology from directions still pertinent and which focus on points of view ordinarily muffled by the din of enthusiastic yeasayers amidst which the information-consumer-society-and-convergence-of-art-and-marketing-into-technoculture debate seems most prevalent. Even during a period of what appears to be rapid change some reflection is possible.

The book, edited by Gretchen Bender and Timothy Druckrey, developed from a 1992 Dia Center for the Arts "Discussion in Contemporary Culture" in New York. It's publication date is 1994. In the interim the Internet became more popular and the World Wide Web came into existence. The artifactual aspect of the book interests me in that key discussions are geared toward the aftermath of the Gulf War and and other events which had been prominent in the American media and had an impact on perception such as the Rodney King trial and the films "Lawnmower Man" and "Silence of the Lambs." In addition there is information which will be useful in ongoing debates, such as that in R.C. Lewotin's essay detailing the complexity of what it may be possible to deduce from DNA testing, as well as outlining the economic vested interests of molecular biologists and shareholders in genetic engeneering endeavors. Throughout the book is the attempt to get behind the media trance and to historicize the current state of affairs. Often the contributors specify the conditions under which the "state of the art" is maintained - that being hiphop in the case of Tricia Rose's essay describing the complex art of sampling or the special effects in TV and films which Herbert I. Schiller describes as, attention riveting tools able to bind consumers to products which themselves are nonstop advertisements, like MTV.

One of the distinguishing features of the book is it's attempt to question the rush toward an idealized technological future and to analyse what might be at stake in what Stanley Aronowitz, one of the contributors, refers to as a "postcritical period." Even though the chapter divisions titles can seem cliched and broad,

(Ideologies of Technology; Technology and the Body: The Constitution of Identity; Information, Artificiality, and Science; Technology, Art, and Cultural Transformation; Technology and the New World Order) the mixture of opinions within each section and the varied levels of contemplation are stimulating. Interesting questions arise such as,"What do cyborgs eat?," asked in Margaret Morse's essay, which ends with a meditation on "contamination strategies" and "excremental art," citing Judith Barry's "Imagination Dead Imagine" as resembling "a mysteriously androgynous and lifelike electronic persona or cyborg trapped within" an eight-foot-high cube.

I particularly enjoyed Kathleen Woodward's "From Virtual Cyborgs to Biological Time Bombs: Technocriticism and the Material Body," R.C. Lewotin's "The Dream of the Human Genome," Langdon Winner's "Three Paradoxes of the Information Age" and Simon Penny's "Virtual Reality as the Completion of the Enlightenment Project," as useful sources which provided a bridge for thinking about "When Tekkno Turns To Sound Of Poetry.

Thinking about cultural specificity helped me in thinking about "Tekkno." Simon Penny invokes this term when describing the western philosophical tradition of body denial as being a corollary for the christianity of St. Augustine, these cultural particulars serving as a genealogical example relating to virtual reality's abhorence of the "meat" body. In the case of "Tekkno" the location was Kunstewerke in Berlin. The date of the show was February 1995. This show emerged from a development of ideas which had accrued during the past few years, and had been tested the previous summer at the Shedhalle in Zurich. A particular historicised strain of german feminism and it's relationship to technology, the role of technology in Germany and in connection to art (including Berlin techno music), the german sociologist Gerburg Treusch-Dieter's deductions, the particular reception of the U.S. theorists Donna Haraway and Judith Butler in this context, and a panoply of continental theories from the past thirty years - all were factors requiring consideration.

One reason "Tekkno" interested me was because it grew out of discussions among women - a combination of artists, art historians, writers, video producers - who for the most part live in Berlin, and focussed on aspects of the technological discussion which weren't stressed in the New York art context, these being biotechnology and the Human Genome Project. Kathleen Woodward raises a point worth remembering when analysing which technologies receive media attention, even within the current field of cultural studies amongst those she describes as a second generation of "technocritics." As she notes:

There was, however, another story that was told in the formative years of technocriticism in the United States, a narrative rooted not in communications technology but rather in biotechnology. Why did the major technological character in this story not receive equal attention? What versions of this narrative are being told today? What role does gender play in the technocriticism grounded in biotechnology? How do these two narratives of technological change - the dominant narrative based on communications and cybernetics, the recessive narrative based on biotechnology - figure the human body?

Her questions relate directly to those raised in "Tekkno." These aspects were combined with a reevaluation of the role of text and the importance attributed to information in conceptual art, which was greatly indebted to the systems-related ideas I previously mentioned, and which emerged at the same time as the computer and media technologies just described.

What was produced in "Tekkno" were several floors of exhibits and installations and in their midst discussions and free xeroxing of an array of texts from conceptual essays to papers delivered by visiting lecturers. In addition there was a series of films which spanned the seventies to the present by female directors. The halls were filled with an assortment of posters and techno-styled flyers. The entire atmosphere was rough and tumble, with hints of urban survivalism reminiscent of a cross between "Tank Girl" (the movie) and the Lo-Teks's bunker in the movie "Johnny Mnemonic."

Like the attempt to address "ideologies of technology" in Cultures on the Brink, the attempt to "reevaluate text in early 'Concept Art' as a reevaluation of space and body in the context of the so-called media technologies" is a tall order. Neither project was a perfect example of consistency, yet this didn't seem to be their prime intentions. The topics themselves spill out at the seams and art contexts so happened to provide enough flexibility for the intellectual risks taken, ones which will most likely generate further thought and action.

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