I think Roger has touched on two of the key issues why events like
Cybernetic Serendipity, 9 Evenings and Software marked the high-water mark
of certain artistic practices and social agendas rather than a beginning.
The gender issue was important, as has already been discussed. Since 1968
the world has changed, in large part due to shifts in gender politics.
Issues around colonial/post-colonial politics were equally important, both
within states and between them. This is still an active determinant in our
world and is a complex issue (I am completing a paper that cites Ortizıs
work, which remains relevant today).
However, in a sense (and acutely aware I am not seen to be downplaying what
remain major social issues), these were not the key factors. They can be
regarded as part of the change rather than prescient or causal.
1968 was a turning point. It was the year that people began to move away
from optimistic expectations for the future to a far darker view of where we
were going. Paris 1968 was inspired by despair and fear, not hope and
renewal. The Vietnam war hung over everything like a sickening stench. You
could smell the moral decay effusing from the elites of Washington, London,
Paris and Moscow. They were without vision, trapped in their cold-war
manoeuvres, no longer certain why they were at each otherıs throats.
Another Yasmin member mentioned that people turned against technology as
they began to see it as a negative force. I donıt think it was as simple or
as shallow as that. People were aware of and responding to something more
fundamental. My impression, having grown to adulthood during the decade that
began in 68, was that peopleıs perception of themselves, of people in
general, shifted profoundly. There began to be a general view that people
were not very nice, that we were violent, corrupt, selfish and abusive to
our environment and to one another. The politicians of the day didnıt help
as they generally set a poor example (they continue to set a bad example). I
have always understood that this change in world-view marked the shift from
the Modern to that which followed it (what has often been called
post-modernism), even if post-modern themes were evident a decade or more
before. We should remember that the term post-modern did not enter common
parlance until a decade after 1968, with Lyotardıs Post-Modern Condition
Artists both led the development of and reflected this zeitgeist. The art of
the decade or so after 68 was markedly different to that of the period
prior. It was darker, existentially pregnant with a sense of absence. I am
thinking minimalism and early performance/video practices, such as Lucinda
Childs and Vito Acconci, as well as artists as diverse as Andre and Beuys. I
am thinking of Pasolini and Antonioniıs landscapes, Kubrickıs journey from
2001 to A Clockwork Orange. It was an art that presented the human condition
as fundamentally flawed, that proposed we could not trust our own instincts
nor the social constraints that tamed them. It was bleak, with people caught
between a rock and a hard place. However, much of the art of that time was
beautiful in its elegance, simplicity and simmering fear.
For artists who developed in the shadow of these opposing world-views (I am
one of that generation) it was confusing, to say the least. At one extreme
there was the positivist, humanist (Roger is right to cite cybernetics as
essentially a humanist paradigm) and perhaps naive outlook of those artists
associated with the art and technology movement. At the other there was the
doom-laden nihilist moaningıs of those artists who thought we were at the
Oend of timeı. Most artists worked somewhere along this spectrum, but this
was the spectrum they had to work with. Some emerging artists sought to
broker a compromise between the two positions, others chose a side many
chose to ignore the debate altogether and pursue highly personal agendas
instead. To some degree all these positions came to fruition in the 1980ıs,
which was such a pluralist decade.
I am still digesting the 90ıs...
A discussion of Cybernetic Serendipity might benefit from engaging the
social context within which the show was mounted and the developments that
came after. Art is meaningless, decoration for our museums, without an
understanding of the context within which it was made and a reasonable
knowledge of the history around it. It would be good to hear some of the
personal reminiscences of those involved with events such as Cybernetic
Serendipity, especially as concerns how they perceived the social
developments of the time and how these impacted on their art and ideas. This
is the history that has not been told but one many of us share, if only as a
Somebody also mentioned that in the States (and elsewhere) Cybernetic
Serendipity was not as high profile as it seemed in the UK, citing other
events (and Burnham) as key. It would be good to hear from those who were
involved in these other initiatives too, partly to place Cybernetic
Serendipity within its context and to gain a better understanding of how
similar dynamics were encountered and managed in different contexts.
2008 is the fortieth anniversary of lotıs of things.
Professor Simon Biggs
edinburgh college of art
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From: roger malina <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To: roger malina <[log in to unmask]>
Date: Tue, 2 Sep 2008 10:25:17 -0700
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: [NEW-MEDIA-CURATING] Fwd: [NEW-MEDIA-CURATING] Fwd:
[OlatsNewsEnglish] Cybernetics Serendipity Redux
if cybernetics serendipity were re imagined today= hopefully the gender
in exhibiting artists in 2008 would be improved compared to 1968= yet
i bet is a very male field today as it was in 1968
a parallel discussion would be relevant about the national origin of the
artists concerned !!
Edinburgh College of Art (eca) is a charity registered in Scotland, number SC009201