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Art & Language
Not Quite The Belaqua Pose Ė A talk in three voices

presentation: Friday, 3.50pm

full presentation here
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Sara Cannizzaro
Luhmann, Lovelock and Sebeok: an ecosystem called Art

In this paper it will be argued that systems functioning, even at abstract levels, can trace its roots to principles extracted from the biological tradition as well as non-tradition. This would ideally clarify, by picturing a non-coincidental analogue found in the natural world, the play between elements and relations as the precondition for the origin of a system and its evolution. The methodology presents the juxtaposition of Lovelockís (1982) Gaia hypothesis which depicts life as operating through homeostasis, and Luhmannís system theory, where closed systems reproduce and operate through autopoiesis (1995). The alignment is possible, it is argued, despite Luhmannís affirmation that one cannot reduce a system to a mere analogy of an organism in terms of causality. According to the extensionality principle enunciated by Sebeok (2000), abstract forms are complex derivatives of concrete, simpler forms of which the natural world abounds, especially in their iconic relations with their object referents. This is a reiteration of the fact that abstract systems, characterized by communication, are derivative of more concrete natural systems based on semiosis. The evolving of a subsystem such as art can therefore be related to that of a natural subsystem such as a specific ecosystem. Today, art has acquired the status of a self-referential, self-reproductive system based on a dynamic equilibrium (also characterizing established ecosystems) which is self-maintained and auto-regulated, but has reached a state of, according to Luhmannís words, "minimalism and radical simplicity". Therefore one may argue that a burst of complexity in the system, obviously coming from inside and not from an external agent, may be similar to that of a catastrophic natural event. Furthermore, it triggers, if not destruction, evolution. With regard to the future of the art system, Luhmann concludes that "Sooner or later one may once again demand a maximum amount of complexity from the individual work." Such change will originate in internal autopoietic mechanisms and will, perhaps, lead to further evolution of both art forms and communications.

presentation: Friday, 3pm

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Paul Cobley
Autopoeisis, Modelling Systems Theory and aesthetic behaviour

Any time before the last decade, the idea of "systems art" and an event dedicated to it, taking place in an art gallery, would have been unthinkable. In fact, so strong has been the liberal bourgeois Romantic individualist theory of the artist that "systems art", or "art as system", remains a surprising conception today. Luhmannís notion of "art as a social system at an operative and a structural level" (2000) is a forthright statement of artís status as a reified bourgeois concept, albeit a highly complex one relying on artís maintenance of a putative quasi-autonomous relationship with its social environment, purporting to elude operative closure and, therefore, its own bearing as a system arising from autopoiesis. Luhmannís skepticism regarding the efficacy of "steering", in particular, sits uneasily with traditional notions of art and artists.

This paper largely concurs with the idea of "art as system" put forth by Luhmann, but proposes a more searching analysis in respect of artís functioning in social and cultural systems and, particularly, with regard to artís autopoiesis. It suggests that systems need to be re-thought according to the qualitative characteristics of the signs that constitute them and proposes Modelling Systems Theory as a means to begin to understand the autopoietic basis of art work. Derived from the endeavours of the Tartu-Moscow school, but given the beginnings of a systematic basis by, above all, Thomas A. Sebeok, Modelling Systems Theory posits three levels of sign functioning (Sebeok and Danesis 2000). Primary Modelling Systems, corresponding to the realm of Peirceís dicent, icon and qualisign, and are identified as being based on the singular sign. They constitute the realm closest to the roots of qualia. Secondary Modeling Systems, on the other hand, are "extensional" and based on the dicent, index and sinsign. They are spatiotemporal in orientation. Tertiary Modelling Systems, the sphere in which culture is played out, are extensional and are characterized by arguments, symbols and legisigns. They are abstract and projective in orientation. The remit of art works traverses all three modeling systems but second-order observation reveals that art is frequently associated most strongly with the Tertiary Modelling System in general (Luhmann 2000: 100-1, 132, 212). Arguably, since the eighteenth century at least, this has been the key obstacle to the cogency of artís self-observation and has been instrumental in artís entanglement in a series of critical contradictions that have served to alienate those outside the artistic elite.

As an evolutionary and synechistic perspective embodying "the paradoxical probability of the improbable" (Luhmann 2000: 214), Modelling Systems Theory offers a means of ameliorating the contradictions revealed by second-order observation of art, especially those which have entrenched art within Tertiary Modelling. In his unfinished major project, inaugurated by the long essay, "Prefigurements of art" (1979), Sebeok demonstrated the continuities of aesthetic behaviour across the animal kingdom (including, of course, human animals). This paper will attempt to show how Sebeokís vision in that essay points to the multifarious functioning of aesthetic work and its central paradox. The latter is, namely, that aesthetic work by any animal (human or non-human) in itself constitutes no evolutionary advantage and, indeed, is the "opposite" of "instinctual behaviour" precisely because it seems to offer nothing to the project of survival of species and the passing on of genes. Yet, simultaneously, in its very autonomy from natural selection, aesthetic behaviour constitutes part of the semiosis which actualizes an Umwelt. In this way, its autopoiesis is part of the project of cognitive differentiation which has been instrumental in the survival prospects of the higher species on Earth. As such, art is to be understood not simply as a preserve of the socially valorized dimensions of the Tertiary Modelling Systems of humans, but as constituted by sign functions within all three modelling systems ranging across the zoosemiotic realm.

presentation: Friday, 3pm

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Mary Anne Francis
Systems: Art and Collaboration

I am working with colleagues in the research cluster Critical Practice Chelsea.

For some while, Iíd been pondering the idea of not simply talking about the triangulation of "Systems: Art and Collaboration" - especially as that relates to art-theory, but also attempting to instantiate it. Hence, having drawn up some lines of engagement and formulated some questions they generate, Iíve opened up the debate to Critical Practice - both with capitals and lower case - the one, I hope, implying the other.

Our contribution takes the form of a mini (30 min) Critical Practice meeting - specially convened to discuss what we would like to offer for the symposium around the title ĎSystems: Art and Collaborationí. We will both mull and maul the concept of Ďsystemí and demonstrate our commitment to organisational systems in our conduct of the meeting.

The Working Group members for the Critical Practice "meeting event" are: Robin Bhattacharya, Neil Cummings, Ian Drysdale (minutes), Mary Anne Francis, Trevor Giles, Al Page, Tom Trevatt, and Manuela Zechner

With thanks to Wayne Clements, Cinzia Cremona, Rob Dingle, and Neal White for help along the way.

presentation: Saturday, 1pm

Read the questions for the debate here
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Mette Gieskes
Freedom, Constraint, and Purposelessness in Systemic Art, 1957-75

Systems, wrote Hollis Frampton in 1962, are the stuff of "old men, angels and Germans". Yet dogma and closure were exactly what artists like Sol LeWitt, composers like Pierre Boulez, and authors like Alain Robbe-Grillet and those associated with the Oulipo group were hoping to circumvent when they committed themselves in all freedom to constrictive systems. By means of arbitrary, systemic procedures? By "letting the system do the work", to speak with LeWitt? They deliberately excluded the necessity of incidental and subjective decision-making, as aesthetical and rational choices tend to be conditioned by cultural conventions, habits, and preferences. In the words of Oulipo-member Marcel Bťnabou: "writing under constraint is superior to other forms insofar as it freely furnishes its own code". As it is difficult to distinguish true free choice from apparent free choice, which is in reality based on ingrained cultural patterns, the decision not to make personal choices might be the more radical act of freedom. In 1954, more than a decade before Roland Barthes first published "The Death of the Author", Boulez already called for the creation of an anonymous, self-generating music or text, "speaking for itself and without an authorís voice".

In this paper I discuss the problematization of the concept of free choice in the systemic work of practitioners and theoreticians of various arts (1957-1975), all of whom were inspired by Stťphane Mallarmť, who believed that a work of art must originate in its "inborn" structures, and whose writing Oulipian Raymond Queneau has compared to "the fruit fly in genetics".

presentation: Friday, 2pm

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Francis Halsall
Luhmann, Burnham and Systems-Aesthetics

In this paper I consider how Luhmann's systems-theoretical account of art and medium can be compared with Jack Burnham's account of a 'Systems Esthetic'.

Burnham's claim for the 'systems esthetic' (1968) was that a burgeoning interest in systems amongst artists and writers on art would lead (in both art practice and discourse) to a paradigm shift from object to system. In this paper I outline the implications of Burnham's claim by describing some key characteristics of a 'systems-esthetic' such as the shift from medium specificity and an artistic interest in systems. I then discuss how this is compatible with Luhmann's radical account of art in Art as a Social System.

presentation: Friday, 2.30pm

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Systems Aesthetics and the System as Medium


Robert Linsley
From Social Frames to Knowledge Planes: Luhmann Contra the Neo Avant-Garde

The test of Luhmann's theory of art as a system must be found in its power to describe specific practices. More strongly, the form of the theory must be repeated on the level of at least some individual works. Certain works of the sixties and seventies in fact demonstrate, in their form, that the system of art does define itself as a distinction, but this period is now historical. It is clear that Luhmann's ideas are relevant to recent neo avant-garde practices collected under the rubric of "relational aesthetics," but since it is a theory of forms I want to show how some recent formalist works can allow us to both critique and expand Luhmann's concept.

presentation: Saturday, 2pm

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Peter Osborne
Uses of Reification

presentation: Saturday, 3pm


Kitty Zijlmans
Systems-Theory, Art, and Globalisation

Within the field of systems-theory, I am best familiar with Niklas Luhmannís theory of dynamic social systems. I started reading Luhmann when I was working on my PhD research in the late 1980s, with the aim to approach art (and art history) through Niklas Luhmann's systems-theory. It took me quite a while to grasp this highly abstract theorizing, but it has remained with me right up to the present. Moreover, in the era of globalisation, Luhmannís systems-theory seems to be more relevant then ever. Art does not stop at national borders, it is in the words of Immanuel Wallerstein, a system that is a world; a dynamic, self-building contingent operative process. The significance of artworks lies in their communicative role within the art system, not in their physical, formal or material properties. The artworkís social meaning and effect result from its role as a temporary communication. In this paper I would like to discuss contemporary artworks as agents of global interculturalisation processes.

presentation: Saturday, 3pm

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