When dazzled by the latest in ‘magical’ machinations, it’s easy to mistake a clever project deploying cutting edge technology as radical or new. As work by (popular) contemporary media artists and designers accumulates and ricochets across the web, it tends to further obscure the pioneers that paved the way. Short Cuts, the current exhibition (18 April to 14 June 2015) at the CentrePasquArt / Kunsthaus Centre d’art in Biel, Switzerland, endeavors to bridge the generational gap by showing fifty years of work representing the intersection of art, design, and technology under one roof. From the early kinetic sculptures, mediated experiments, and plotter drawings of the 1960s and 70s (François Morellet, Karl Gerstner, Vera Molnar) to the inventive installation and software works we see today (Casey Reas, Jürg Lehni, Troika) – Short Cuts allows viewers to trace ideas, influences, and positions by inspecting works that are separated by decades by merely taking a few steps.
“Both generations examine temporal and spatial interdependency as well as the relationship between information and reality. The mechanical and digital inner life of certain work produces playful and at the same time calculated combinations of grids and forms. Independently of the period in which the were made, repetition, order, combination and the variation of aesthetic patterns are shown to be the result of technology’s influence on art. On the basis of these characteristics a process comparable to a renewal of concrete art runs through the contemporary works.” (from the curatorial statement)
To reveal the silent dialogue between these two generations, curator Daniel Sciboz went all in: large-scale installations, video projections, robotic objects, research projects, performances, and historical documents – more than sixty exhibition pieces provide a unique kaleidoscope view into half a century of disciplinary convergences. This dedication to history, scope, and context puts Short Cuts on the forefront of critical conversations about the influence of technology and media on creative processes, the means of production, and the artist’s role as a researcher. It also neatly documents how the earliest digital aesthetics remain relevant to this day.
↑ Digits (2014) by Andreas Gysin & Sidi Vanetti
Short Cuts builds these bridges by mixing old and new: grouped contextually rather than chronologically, works from different decades clash across three floors, revealing a network of patterns and relationships. In the foyer, for example, Gysin & Vanetti’s Digits (2014), a wall-mounted display of fourty-eight electro-mechanical elements (guided by Wstom software) sits comfortably next to the blinking grids of Auto-Vision I (1964) and Time Square (1965) by Swiss graphic design legend Karl Gerstner (of Designing Programmes fame). Also included: Gerstner’s Linsenbild Nr 24 (1962), which was famously shown within the 1965 landmark MoMA op art show The Responsive Eye.
One floor up, visitors pass Piotr Kowalski’s chrome sculpture Sphere N°1 (1966) and François Morellet’s wireframe Sphêre-trame (1962) – both suspended illusive spectacles – before they enter a selection of recent, equally transformative work. Opposite of an interactive projection of Esther Hunziker’s web-based architecture deconstruction IHSE² (2010-11), Jürg Lehni’s latest drawing machine OTTO (2015) occupies a 6×4 meter wall. Over the course of the exhibition, the motorized and software-guided ‘spider’ will chalk a series of visual artifacts – work notes, diagrams, sketches, research – from the annals of art, design, and technology with uncanny machine precision (→ see the breakdown of OTTO’s opening night drawing further down). Dominating an entire room is Polar Spectrum (2015), a new work by London-based studio Troika. Like a giant viewfinder, the suspended dark sculpture “reconciles the polar opposites of a circle and a square” via two “privileged viewpoints” on each side. One frames a square within a circle, the other does the opposite. A few steps further, Gysin & Vanetti’s circle of twenty-four stage spot lights performs a (programmed) choreography in Fari (2014). Sharing the ‘stage’ is Archive U.768 (2015), Swiss design studio NORM’s extensive (axiomatic) research on the idea of a ‘universal library’.
↑ IHSE² (2010-11) by Esther Hunziker, Sphêre-trame (1962) by François Morellet, Sphere N°1 (1966) by Piotr Kowalski, OTTO (2015) by Jürg Lehni
Other highlights on display include Golan Levin and Shawn Sims’ Free Universal Construction Kit (a matrix of nearly eighty adapter bricks that enable complete interoperability between ten popular children’s construction toys, 2012), Samuel Bianchini’s En Réalités – I Am a Bugged Program (a software installation caught in an infinite loop of error, 2009), and Giorgio Olivero and Fabio Franchino’s Magnetic Drawbot (a generative ferrofluid ink-based drawing machine, 2015).
Also on the top floor, a treasure trove of historical documents – monographs, exhibition catalogs, periodicals – follows the paper trail of art, science, and technology through the decades. From artifacts such as Arte programmata. Arte cinetica. Opere moltiplicate. Opera aperta (the catalog of the 1962 milestone group show in Milan) to Jasia Reichardt’s Cybernetic Serendipity: the computer and the arts (a special edition of Studio International magazine, published in 1968 to go along with Cybernetic Serendipity, probably the first digital, or ‘cybernetic’, art exhibition ever) to the latest publications from the MIT Press. PS: our own printed matter, HOLO magazine, is available at CentrePasquArt as well.
Beyond the many works on view (too many to include in this post → see a complete list of participating artists below), Short Cuts was and is host to performances, panel discussions, workshops, and lectures. The opening night (April 18) featured audiovisual acts such as Trash TV Trance (Fausto Romitelli), FFFO (Daniel Zea), Enclosure (Hugo Morales), and Kinecticut (Daniel Zea); a lecture + OTTO performance by Jürg Lehni and Processing and Phonolux workshops are held in May; Swiss media art expert Reinhard Storz will give a talk on Digitale Abstraktionen in June. Short Cuts concludes with a night of musical performances and, fittingly, a twisted machine dance of Cod.Act’s Nyloïd (2013) on June 14.
“The comprehensive and at the same time precise selection of works allows visitors to judge whether prevalent categories are in the process of being dissolved, making way for new artistic scenarios. In the dialogue between the generations visual motifs are manifested which move like echoes between the epochs. In view of this exchange the exhibition contributes to the discussion around the value of art informed by technology in the context of contemporary art and society.” – Indeed!
Drawing Footnotes from the History of Two Cultures (Jürg Lehni & Wilm Thoben, 2015)
The first of several Footnotes from the History of Two Cultures (→ see below) chalked by Jürg Lehni’s wall-mounted drawing machine OTTO over the course of the exhibition was a diagram from Silvio Ceccato’s La storia di un modello meccanico dell’uomo che traduce (“The story of a mechanical model of the man who translates”), published in the 1962 issue of Almanacco Letterario Bompiani. Dedicated to the aesthetic and linguistic potential of computers, the issue also featured work by Italian art collective Gruppo T (that endorsed the term “Arte Programmata”, programmed art), and ignited heated discussions about the death of the author, machine poetry, and the end of art. Ceccato’s chart, as re-produced by OTTO, maps possible relations between words and their contextual meaning. For example, “FIRE” relates to “POT”, “FLAME”, “TO BOIL” or “TO COOK”. To decipher context from these words, a computer would have to chose between numerous successors or predecessors. An early prototype of a neural networks of sorts, the chart investigates mechanization of poetry and language. Its creator, Silvio Ceccato, was an Italian philosopher and linguist with an interest in the mechanical translation of language and meaning. In 1956 he designed and built Adamo II, the first Italian prototype of artificial intelligence, which he had intended to reproduce man’s mental states.
→ Footnotes from the History of Two Cultures is a nod to British scientist and novelist C. P. Snow. He lamented the separation of the sciences and the humanities throughout western society (and how it prevents us from solving the world’s problems) in his now famous 1959 lecture The Two Cultures.
Short Cuts is supported by the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia (as part of the “Digital Culture” initiative) and is partners with The School of Graphic Design Bern and Biel, the association TSKZ, and Ensemble Vortex.
Participating artists: Yacoov Agam | Giovanni Anceschi / Serena Cangiano / Davide Fornari | Samuel Bianchini / Sylvie Tissot | Davide Boriani | Marie-Julie Bourgeois | Thibault Brevet | Gianni Colombo | Cod.Act | Carlos Cruz-Diez | Angel Duarte | Jean Dupuy | Matthew Epler / The ReCode Project | Free Art and Technology (F.A.T.) Lab & Synaptic Lab | Antonin Fourneau / Douglas Edric Stanley | Martin Fröhlich | Karl Gerstner | Piero Gilardi | Gruppo T | Gramazio & Kohler and Raffaello D’Andrea in Cooperation with ETH Zurich | Gysin & Vanetti | Leander Herzog | Hervé Huitric / Monique Nahas | Esther Hunziker | Piotr Kowalski | Jürg Lehni | Julio Le Parc | LIA | Manfred Mohr | Véra Molnar | François Morellet | Yugo Nakamura / William Lai | NORM | Giorgio Olivero / Fabio Franchino – ToDo | Julien Prévieux | Casey Reas | Rafaël Rozendaal | Selena Savic / Philipp Lammer / Gordan Savičić | Jesús Rafael Soto | Takis | Atsuko Tanaka | Troika | Ensemble Vortex | Yvonne Weber
↑ En Réalités – I Am a Bugged Program (2009) by Samuel Bianchini, Diskohedron: White Mirror Series (2011-15) by S. Savić, P. Lammer, G. Savičić