Fred Forest - Retrospective
Sociologic art - Aesthetic of communication
Exhibition Generative art - November, 2000
Exhibition Biennale 3000 - Sao Paulo - 2006
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Louis-José Lestocart English version
Louis-José Lestocart : l'oeuvre-système invisible ou l'O-S-I English version
Vinton Cerf English version
Priscila Arantes Curator of the exhibiton "Retrospective au Paço das Artes" English version
Michaël F Leruth English version
Evelyne Rogue French version
Annick Bureaud English version
Mario Costa English version
Jean Devèze English version
Vilem Flusser English version
Derrick de Kerckhove English version
Pierre Lévy English version
Marshall McLuhan English version
Pierre Moeglin English version
Frank Popper English version
François Rabate English version
Pierre Restany English version
Pierre Restany English version
Pierre Restany English version
Edgar Morin English version
Harald Szeemann English version
Sophie Lavaud English version
1 - Synthetisis note on the activities of Fred Forest
2 - Manifests Sociological Art (1974) and Aesthetics of the Communication (1983)
3 - The Aesthetics of the Communication by Fred Forest (1983)
4 - For an Aesthetics of Communication - Fred Forest
5 - The Video family by Fred Forest (1976)
6 - Learn to watch TV through the radio by Fred Forest and Pierre Moeglin (1984)   
7 - Why present his candidacy for President of the Bulgarian TV by Fred Forest (1991)


© Sophie Lavaud-Forest

Web 2.0 ahead of its time : an ethical art practice, from the aesthetic model to the

social model

There are two types of artists: the followers, who develop, explore, enrich and put the finishing touches to a brilliantly breakaway artistic gesture enacted by others, and the explorers, who are adventurers working within that which Panofsky names “iconology” (the history of changes in systems governing symbolic forms) to mark out pioneering breakaway paths that have an impact not just on art, but on society as a whole. Fred Forest falls into the latter category. After creating his screen-paintings in 1967, works that functioned both as paintings and as projection surfaces, white, empty, receptacles for external images projected from slides, he left Optical representation behind for good, with the introduction of his concept Territory of the M2 over thirty years ago [i] . This core project, a sort of evolving opus magnum, contains the seeds of everything the artist went on to do. At a time when the idea of a network of computers connected to each other via wideband telecommunications lines to provide decentralised communication was emerging in the USA—and more specifically, from the brain of computer scientist J.C.R. Licklider [ii] —Fred Forest, as an « habitue » of telecommunications networks [iii] even before these technologies arrived, created his Territory of the M2 as a kind of symbolic experimental prototype that, from the social point of view,

heralded what was to become the participative form of the World Wide Web in the 1990s: Web 2.0. In other words, a platform for contributions, creativity, discussions and collaborations. Proposing a complex communication system that manipulates mass media in order to more effectively subvert them via the concept of a network, interactions, the distributed linking up of ideas, people and groups, the work is intended as a critical research tool exploring reality in order to achieve a better understanding of it and reshape it. Abandoning pictorial techniques for creating representations on a projection surface, this artistic leap, operating in an “informational” paradigm that anticipated the “digital” paradigm we find ourselves in today [iv] , shook up an entire slice of art history, limited as it was to the history of painting as a long and vast questioning of visual perception. To the extent that the “experts”, destabilised, their habits and outmoded interpretations undermined, questioned whether it really was art. Certainly, it would be far easier to stick to appearances, to visibility, in the effort to recreate reality. But Fred Forest’s simulated communication matrices, installed at the very heart of the milieus that they question, where they are situated, reveal hidden levels of complex, systemic, relational realities [v] : flows, waves, vibrations, transmissions, data, sensibilities, forces, energies, interstices, movements and self-adaptive control loops—in short, an entire fluid architecture of information. These “prepared” communication systems, to use the terminology usually applied to John Cage’s pianos, are well and truly fictional, not designed to propose actual substitute universes, but to create active simulations rooted in play

and the artistic imagination. As Nam June Paik [vi] , to name but one, was causing retinal disruption to cathode tube electrons with a magnet (Magnet TV) in order to work on image-matter, playing on and with our visual perceptions, Forest was working on social matter in the manner of an anthropologist.

This is where one of the artist’s singular characteristics lies. His work seeks to provide an operational critical instrument questioning humans, their nature and their constructions: their organisations, institutions, powers and social and cultural habits.

And Territory of the M2 is one of the tools developed by the artist—the most complex and successful, in my opinion—as a form of fundamental research that generates concrete applications and uses for art and society. So what exactly is it? Armed with humour and irony, parodying the signs and codes of power to better denounce them, the artist declares himself to be the “citizen-manager-artist” of a territory, a world within worlds: virtual and tangible (it is physically located in the Oise area, fifty kilometres or so from Paris [vii] ), public and private, global and local, fictional but connected to the real. Equipped with a pass [viii] , anyone can acquire a plot of the Territory: a M2 of customisable space in an independent state within the French state, whose rules and operation are defined by the subjective choices of the artist-organiser who prepares an open framework and communication protocols to guide the direction it takes. As part of this parodic simulation, everyone receives a citizen’s diploma and ownership deed signed by the artist. Taking his inspiration from mass media and news broadcasting, the artist-organiser, as the project’s upstream-author [ix] accompanying the Territory’s life over time, transmits flows of information, acting as superposed strata designed to reach the entire network of the Territory’s “friends”. These friends thus become the downstream-authors of a complex system of communications, discussions and sharing. They can conduct relationships, with a physical presence or remotely, that are decentralised, horizontal, de-hierarchized and outside the central administration [x] . Because although the “citizen-manager’” plays a decisive role in the direction he gives to the questioning proces and the actions implemented, once the movement is launched, it becomes autonomous. All individuals-citizens in turn become potential transmitters depending on their desire to play the game, thus anticipating the peer-to-peer exchanges, synchronous chats and comments on news RSS feeds that can currently be seen on the main news sites, online television channels

and Web 2.0 blogs. Based on gathering and connecting ideas and interactions between individuals, the proposed aesthetic model, both relational and informational, heralded, on the prototype rather than the commercial level, the way that the sectors creating social and sharing networks operate (Facebook, LinkedIn, Viadeo, Flickr, etc.). Or even the social and economic models emerging among young contemporary entrepreneurs, such as crowdsourcing, which uses the mass collaboration made possible by Web 2.0 technologies to achieve economic, cultural, social and scientific goals. The scope of the artistic gesture thus

reaches beyond the autonomous sphere of art to become a fertile catalyst and powerful incubator of social ideas. To arrive at this point—and here we see another of this atypical artist’s distinctive features— Fred Forest places his communication distortions at the very heart of the media space (inserts in the written press and television and radio programmes, use of the fax, minitel, telephone, LED electronic newspaper, computers, the internet and Second Life) and the urban fabric (performances in the public sphere of the street [xi] and private spheres open to the public: in retirement homes [xii] , town halls [xiii] , or even hotels). The manipulation of mass media, his favoured field of artistic experience, subverts the way they are used. The artist questions how they operate and his actions in turn trigger a series of retro-active loops. Each critical action, a paper or online article, television or radio interview, gives rise to an entire journalistic and academic analytic production, a sort of parergonal work, a “supplement of the work” that, according to Derrida [xiv] , serves to give birth to the work and to allow it to exist. One of the most remarkable examples of these communication installations is the work Tele-Choc-Tele-Change that appeared on the number two French national television channel from 22 March to 12 April 1975 in the form of three experimental programmes shown as part of Michel Lancelot programme, Un jour futur [A Future Day]. Anticipating the imminent arrival of genuinely interactive television and subverting the communication method of one to all used by television mass media (used in conjunction with another communication medium, the telephone, for the participative aspect [xv] ), the artist invited viewers—six hundred of whom contacted the programme—to take part in a game exchanging personal objects [xvi] with strong sentimental value shown live (they only had to send the programme the drawn or photographed image rather than the actual object). As they saw the objects displayed on their screens, viewers could make a telephone call and enter into contact with each other to swap these “objects with a history”, made interesting by their symbolic or sentimental value. The playful and friendly approach adopted by this “show and swap” allowed it to take on the role of creating social ties. It developed a strong and emotional collective consciousness of belonging and of presence in the world for the viewers-contributors taking part in the adventure, not as passive consumers of market goods but as producers of symbolic goods in symbiosis with the artist. The American sociologist Danah Boyd [xvii] accurately described this intense emotion felt by individuals who, usually deprived of

public expression of their opinions, begin to feel they exist: “Those who are most enamored with services like Twitter talk passionately about feeling as though they are living and breathing with the world around them, peripherally aware and in-tune, adding content to the stream and grabbing it when appropriate.” Visitors will be invited to the exhibition L’homme média n°1 [The No. 1 Media Man] at the Enghien-les-Bains Arts Centre to experience this aesthetic feeling of involvement-based presence. They will, for example, be able to take part in deciphering media with an active contribution to the Flux et Reflux [Ebb and Flow] project, a website designed by the artist where everyone is invited to comment on videos from a bank of data selected according to different social themes. They will also be able to make their avatar dance on Second Life at the exhibition opening during a parodic celebration of the US financial crisis: the Traders Ball denounces the speculators behind the crisis who continue to act with total impunity.

Thanks to a scanner and an email option, they will be able to donate their feet to a data bank dedicated to the internet. The exhibition’s visitors will then discover the result of the process of stimulating the imagination and creativity that the artist, as a practitioner of sociological art and then aesthete of communication, has succeeded in generating in his readers-contributors-producers and that he has patiently gathered, archived and often broadcast over the years. These elements of information will be displayed and made available to the public at the Art Centre, in the form of written, photographed, filmed and printed traces, of slide shows, videos and press inserts, forming a parergonal metacommunication, both within and outside the works-actions and generated by them, which designates and defines them within the visitors’ mental organisation. This network of protean and multi-modal information will be presented so that the audience is aware of this extraordinary work, based not on performances and technological exploits but on the magic and the wondrousness it creates. Immersing himself in the media flow so he can more effectively subvert the way it functions, the artist questions human beings, their sensibilities, their consciousness, their thoughts, their cognition and their imagination. Placing the human being at the centre of the aesthetic model is what gives art back its original ethical foundations.


Sophie Lavaud-Forest

Artist and theorist in visual and new media arts


1 His first writings date from 1978.

2 He published an article entitled Man-Computer Symbiosis on this topic in January


See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Internet

3 He worked as a post office and telecommunications inspector for fifteen years, until 1971.

4 The philosopher Bernard Stiegler characterised our current post-modern world as A Digital age of art.

5 On this subject, see: Forest Fred, L’oeuvre-Système-Invisible, Prolongement historique de L’Art sociologique, de l’Esthétique de la communication et de l’Esthétique relationnelle [The Invisible-Work-System. Historical Extension of Sociological

Art, Aesthetics of Communication and Relational Aesthetics] L’Harmattan, Paris, 2006.

6 Another “explorer“, in 1970, together with Shuya Abe, he created the first Paik-Abe video

synthesizer, which mixed colours and could be used to separate form from content.

Images could thus be multiplied and transformed, a precursor to the special effects functions

applied to images currently possible with software tools such as After Effects.

7 The rooms are arranged according to the symbols and functions specific to the

system created by the artist in the form of an action-museum, i.e. a living interactive museum

of the kind many of those involved in cultural policies currently dream of, seeking to

incorporate digital information and communication technologies into their participative projects.


CLIC France (le Club Innovation & Culture France): http://www.club-innovationculture.


Museomix project: http://www.lacantine-rennes.net/2011/11/museomix-inventer-lemusee-


8 Just like our modern user names and passwords, the keys we use to open the door to social networks, a pass is needed to enter the Territory.

9 The metaphor of the river as the sort of circulatory, flowing element a network of data can

also be, expressed with the terms “upstream” and “downstream,” is borrowed from Edmond

Couchot. See his article L’embarquement pour Cyber. Mythes et réalités de l’art en

réseau [Embarking for Cyber. Myths and Reality of Networked Art], Revue d’Esthétique no.

39, Paris, 2001, pp. 81-89.

10 The American economist and essayist Jeremy Rifkin currently advocates

establishing, at the level of society as a whole or even on a global scale, a collaborative system of distributed knowledge based on the models offered by lateral (all to all) as opposed to vertical (one to all) media. See his book: The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power Is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World, Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

11 We can cite a number of examples :

Promenade sociologique a Brooklyn [Sociological Stroll in Brooklyn], performed in

The working class Brooklyn district on the outskirts of Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 1973 and

Relaunched in the Brooklyn (Williamsburg) district of New York City, U.S.A.

Le Blanc envahit la ville [White Invades the City], an urban action that was one of a

series of micro-events and media installations both as part of and external to the 12th

Sao Paulo Biennial in 1973.

Avis de recherche : Julia Margaret Cameron [Wanted: Julia Margaret Cameron], a

half-fictional, half-real character, the subject of repeated wanted notices in the Var

Matin newspaper that gradually brought her to life for the readers, who could communicate

with her, write to her, telephone her and, finally, see her in the streets of Toulon.

12 Vidéo Troisième âge [Retirement Video], retirement home, Font des Horts,

Hyères (Var), 25 June to 11 July 1973.

13 Le Techno-Mariage [The Techno-Wedding], an in situ work that we devised and

produced together, performed in 1999 at the internet festival at the Issy-les-Moulineaux town

hall with the help of the mayor, Andre Santini. The piece involved a real wedding ceremony,

broadcast on the internet in real time and enhanced by a virtual reality programme directing

our avatars and the mayor’s avatar, with whom we interacted in real time.

14 See his thoughts on the Parergon: Derrida, Jacques, The Truth in Painting, trans.

Geoffrey Bennington & Ian McLeod, Chicago & London: Chicago University Press,


15 This combined use of several media that then produces a different form of media,

a “transmedia” that is linked to them all, is a recurring means of expression in the

artist’s work.

See, for example: De Casablanca à Locarno [From Casablanca to Locarno] (television,

web, telephone), Apprenez à regarder la télévision avec votre radio [Learn to Watch

Television with Your Radio] (radio, television, telephone).

16 Here again, it would be difficult not to perceive this action as a direct forerunner,

although obviously without any commercial profitability, of an entrepreneurial project currently emerging in the USA: the “Facebook of stuff” launched by American businessman

Joe Einhorn under the name Thing daemon; its aim is to create a vast database of

Personal objects that would allow users to identify and look for the objects in order to share

and swap them but also, in view of cost-consciousness, to sell and buy them. See:


17 In a conference held during Web 2.0 Expo in New York, November 2009


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