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Fred Forest - Retrospective
Sociologic art - Aesthetic of communication
Exhibition Generative art - November, 2000
Exhibition Biennale 3000 - Sao Paulo - 2006
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"AVANT-PROPOS"
Louis-José Lestocart English version
Louis-José Lestocart : l'oeuvre-système invisible ou l'O-S-I English version
 
AUTHORS
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
Pierre Restany English version
Edgar Morin English version
Harald Szeemann English version
   
DIFFERENT TEXTS
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)

 

For an Aesthetics of Communication
Fred Forest
1984

INTRODUCTION

What has now led me to set out the basis of a new form of aesthetics, which I term Communication Aesthetics, is the gulf which I have noticed between our awareness as people involved in contemporary society, and this same society's prevailing discourse on art. I believe, in fact that the bulk of artistic production of our age, as produced in response to market forces ant their inherent network, is no longer appropriate to the deeper awareness of people or our time. This production, entirely based on a system of references which take it back to to the past, almost never constitutes a language specific to the age in which we live. This split is serious insofar as it shows to what extent economic pressure is capable of generating artistic production alien to contemporary preoccupations, and generated in an artificial manner by the " art network ".

Communication Aesthetics takes up a clear stance on this ground. Its position lies beyond the market and institutional systems. Communication Aesthetics is neither a philosophical theory of Beauty, nor a phenonology, nor an experimenta psychology of perception, nor still less an academic discourse on the Arts. Its more modest claim is an attempt to apprehend what constitutes for a given society (ours), at a given moment in history, the universe accessible to its perception. In etymological termes, the word " aesthetics " designates the understanding of that which is perceptible. There is no question of holding forth on some abstract category, but rather on attempting to understand how he world of the perceptible directly affects us as people. Even if we are not yet fully conscious of it, contemporary aesthetics is an aesthetics which springs from an awareness of communication. This is something which we must make an effort to discern, for our own universe remains one which we have been conditioned to see through millenia of acculturation... An aesthetics in the uniquely philosophical tradition is no longer sufficient for us to understand that which is perceptible today. The field must be widened. Academic doors must be battered down, the constraints of universities with their over-specialisation anc compartmentalisation must be done away with. Communication Aesthetics, the principles of which are being set out here, strives to integrate experiences drawn from philosophy, but also from the social sciences, the physical sciences, and anything else, science or otherwise, which can throw light upon its subject: the perceptible. Today qe live in a world in which everything is closely interlinked, a world in which biological, psychological, social and environmental phenomena are interdependent. A systemic approach is called for, in order to attain the " sphere " of the perceptible. Yesterday's discursive viewpoint is no longer capable of satisfying us. What is going on at the moment, even if we cannot always see it, is the re-formulation or our concept of Reality. Through the progressive modification of our value systems, our thought systems and our perceptions, we are manifestly passing from a mechanistic view of reality to a holistic conception. The world of communication, the chain-link structure of its networks, the notion of interactivity which are particular to it, all of these lead us into other types of mental schemas. Communication Aesthetics falls in naturally in this tendency. Certain indications of contemporary awareness bear witness to a deeply spiritual dimension. The most advanced research in modern physics is currently reviving the most ancient mystical traditions. The concept of distinct objects is giving way more and more in our conciousness to a global perception. Culture itself, according to Marshall McLuhan's terminology,has become " fragmented ". The rhythm is more important than the object which produces it. The reality surrounding us is experienced as if it were a dance punctuated by regular waves of information. At particularly rich moments of our lives, this synchronism can actually be felt as putting us in harmony with the rest of the universe. It is precisely as if at these moments, all forms of separation or fragmentation or our consciousness have been miraculously done away with. Accorting to Fritjof Capra: " The parallels between science and mysticism are not confined to modern physics but it can now be extended with equal justification to the new systems biology. Two basic themes emerge again and again from the study of living and nonliving matter and are also repeatedly found in the teachings of mystics - the universal interconnectedness and interdependance of all phenomena, and the intrinsically dynamic nature or all reality. (...) The idea of fluctuations as the basis of order, which Prigogine introduced in modern science, is one of the major themes in all Taoist texts. " (1)

By restating the principles of Sociological Art, which at the time I helped to elaborate and illustrate (2), Communication Aesthetics may appear now to be the natural and logical extension of Sociologic Art, since it pushes these principles further. Today Communication Aesthetics not only demonstrates its intention to expand the previously explored fields, but it also seeks to correct certain affirmations which have been contradicted by experience. Without wishing in any way to minimize the importance of sociological factors which at the time constituted the foundation of our theoretical position, it now seems necessary to relativise them and, above all, to vary our analytical tools. The point of view of Communication Aesthetics is situated at a more encompassing level. We are no longer exclusively concerned with the relationship of man to society, but on a more ambitious level, with his relationship to... the whole world. As for the much vaunted materialist principles of times gone by, modulation has become necessary in an age which scarcely lends itself to definitive assertions while aspiring to " spiritual uplift ". The crisis which is hitting us with full force constitutes a transitory phase more appopriate to prudence, doubt and interrogation. During the last ten years, a different context has been created owing to the evolution of ideas, technological mutations and the resulting social upheavals, the call of religion in the widest sense, a fascination with oriental mysticism and a growing awareness of ecology. After having experienced industrial society and consumer society at their peak, we are now slowly making our way towards the promised Communication Society, a society which is in the process of seeking out new values. The political activity of the young generation is significant in this regard : activism has deserted the campus. But this sign must not be interpreted too hastily as a negative sign of social disintegration and political abdication. On the contrary, it is necessary to go beyond appearances and consider that what is happening now is an intermediate phase marking the emancipation of the individual, who is at last freed from the burden of outdated political machinery and ideologies. The current feeling of emptiness does not merely imply that " something is lacking ". The feeling carries within itself its own dynamic and its own creativity. Society can also be changed by changing oneself. This emptiness constitues a necessary passage towards something as yet unformulated, but which, while unformulated, already bears a number of markers. There are those who will never balk at showing their reservation and scorn: in their eyes, our goals may indeed seem suspect. Conversions have always brought with them the odour of scandal. Who would have dreamt that so late in the day Sociological Art would founder on junk mysticism ? Despite the emergence or new problematics and new fields of knowledge explicitly referring to subjectivity and metaphysics, our critics are rushing to settle their score with Communication Aesthetics before it has even been born, and this they are doing with scarcely a regard for the crisis which so many disciplines are currently undergoing. Many thinkers are calling into question the traditional use of reason. Concepts of truth, experience, proof and methodology are giving rise to more and more questions. This in no way implies the abandoning of scientific rigour in favour of magical thought. the modern mathematician, René Thom, author of " La théorie des catastrophes ", says of rationalism that it is " a code of ethics for the imaginary " and that " for all fields of science, no matter which, imaginary entities, which are invisible or hidden, must be superimposed on perceived phenomenal reality. (...) These imaginaries entities must be submitted to the most determinant constraints possible. (...) The path along the ridge between the gulf of imbecility on the one hand and the gulf of delirium on the other is certainly neither easy nor without danger, but it is the one along which all future progress of humanity must pass. " (3).

What René Thom calls " imaginary entities, which are invisible or hidden " arise directly out of current perception. These are categories which firmly belong to the field of investigation we are about to explore. It must be repeated again that Communication Aesthetics has as its goal the apprehension of the world which can be perceived by our evolving contemporary society. The way in which we apprehend reality is at once dependent upon our way or perceiving and the manner in which this way of perceiving determines a scale of values. In the age in which we live, established values often appear to us as being devalued and emptied of their content. Most of the time, they belong to a past wich is long gone. We are often unable to idenfy with them. They are in a process of mutation, just like our mental and physical environment. Social changes profoundly affect societal currents. They seem to converge towards the readjustment and quest for the new vision of the world called for by our perception. The first changes bear witness to a reworking of our mental concepts, of a different way of being in the world. Here we have a question of values with which we are capable ofidentifying. In a context of different values, technology and economics themselves become other instruments if, for example, the ecological way is substituted for the blind rule of competitiveness, of over-consumption, of production and of anarchic waste. The signs which indicate this climate of crisis and questing are intuitively felt by our perception. The world is being transformed at the same time that we are transforming ourselves. Contemporary perception is very profoundly linked to an " intuition " of a systemic nature, of which the principles of dynamic organisation directly affects our aesthetic awareness. Watched by hundreds of milions of viewers on the cathode ray type, Armstrong's first steps on the Moon nourished our modern emotions to a far greater extent than the Mona Lisa's smile or Leonardo's brushwork can ever do today.

 

HOW COMMUNICATION AESTHETICS OPERATES SYMBOLICALLY AND ARTISTICALLY REALITY

Communication Aesthetics directly envisages transposing the perceptible principles which are observable in the evolution of the environment and of our world onto the function of art itself. From now on, therefore, this fonction should no longer be considered in terms of isolated objects, but in terms of relationships and integration : works of art, information and art systems must all be perceived as being integrated wholes, and ones which cannot be divided or reduced in any way to the sum of their separate material parts. What constitutes the " work " is no longer its material medium, nor its visual or pictorial representation, but that which precisely is not perceptible by our senses, but only by our awareness. In generalising the methods of production of images and making the process commonplace, our society has limited its aesthetic treatment of them, and has transferred legitimate artistic intervention from the production process to the invention of models. The inflation of images has inevitably led to their devaluation. Aesthetics now seeks its favoured ground elsewhere than in the incarnation of the plastic sign. No longer able to operate on the method or representation, the artist now intervenes directly on reality, that is to say the carries out his symbolic and aesthetic activity using different means from those which he has used up to now. The approach in which I am currently engaged is work which has comunication in itself as a goal. It consists not only of thinking about communicatino, but also practical activity in and around the field. Such a position throws all of the traditional data on artistic activity into disorder and makes the perception of them problematical. We are witnessing not just a change in the object of art, but also in the means of achieving it. Through a range of experiences, " Sociological Art " supported the existence of an art of action. An art of action whose programmed development was situated in a social space, and took into account the environment into which it was born. Based on a theory of actions, it acted on the world in order to bring about change. It brought communiation theory into play by producing a process of interactions between individuals or group or individuals. This type of art functions as a transmitter of original messages, which are both specific and disturbing. The artist takes up the position of the sender of the messages. He speeds up and activates communication. He innovates,either by introducing parasitic messages into established circuits, or else by setting up his own parallel networks. Sometimes this is achieved by setting up intersections and connections between them. Such a utilisation immediately results in a critical use of pervading information and overloads the routine function of such specialized circuits. It must be emphasized that the novelty here is found in the transfer of the field of action of artistic practices. The communication artist generates symbols just as the traditional artist colonises other realms and annexes other fields of endeavour. He is not content with preestablished places and circuits reserved for his particular use and for a particular public, but he deliberately transfers his production to other fields and channels. By transiting through mass-media rather than through art museums, the messages have less specific targets, but the target the museum aims at is nonetheless hit through this channel. In any event, this can only widen the circle of potential recipients, reach them from afar, and in this way achieve a new type of relationship with them, encouraged by the originality of the situation thus created. He introduces his own signs which not only work through the daily communication media (newspapers, radio stations, television and telephone) but are also " about " them. He justaposes them with societal signs, also vehicled by these same channels. Thus the communciation artist is operating on the space of his time, which is the space ofinformation. Into this space of information he insinuates himself, he installs and stages his symbols. Of course, a as result of his chosen framework of action,the communication strategy he employs will dictate the choice of medium, timing and type of or organisation, in function of the message to be put over and the goal to be achieved. By appropriating other channels in this way, the artist also points out the thoroughlyrelative space which up until now has been allotted to artistic creation in our society, isolated as it is in highly localised preserves. Today the field of information is opening up an unlimited space of action for artists who are capable of inventing specific forms of art. The practice of sociological art has always drawn particular attention to communication problems. Certain detractors have accused it of inflating information through his own working, particularly with reference to the activities of the Sociological Art Collective... This is someting specific to the methods of Sociological Art, following its logical thread. The expression of this communiation has been translated into various forms. Recourse it had to various media appropriate to the moment and to the circumstances. For understandable financial reasons, the mailing of documents was the most widely used of these means. Obviously, it allowed for the saturation of the public to whom they were adressed: above all " arbiters of taste ", who, in their turn, relayed the information, could be reached. Nonetheless, our occasional actions throug the masscommunication channels of press, radio and television were numerous and well remarked upon. Both the dynamic and the amplificaion of information are part of the dimension which we always gave to our work. Major information channels allowed us to endow our events with the immediacy and the social impact which we expected of them. We always gave careful thought first to the preparation of this information and then to its circulation. The techniques of communication in all of our actions was the subject of prior in-depth research, the object of an exhaustive plan. Although this was an integral part of our work methods, the plan of action had to be flexible enough to allow for adaptation to any unexpected situation. Our action on the " Artistic Square Metre " was exemplary in this respect as shown by the results achieved at the time. Without a doubt it is there that an ability to intuit both media and an awareness or their operating procesures comes into play. This awareness is borne on the air of the times, induced by the informational environment into which we are all plunged.

 

ART AND COMMUNICATION AESTHETICS AS SIMULATION MODELS IN THE FACE OF POWER

Games are activities which are performed freely, with no obligations and for pleasure. As such, they are one of the most fundamental components in the widest sense of the word, of all artistic events. This certainly does not mean that art is a gratuitous operation with no determined objectives. It is not merely escapist entertainment which tends towards fiction. Art maintains close links with reality, and seeks to use its influence to modify the perception of it. From the field of possible situations, games as simulation models anticipate real ones throug successive investigations. They develop strategies of action. They help to redefine social relationship and behaviour, by reproducing them on the level of game playing. They modify them, and suggest alternative versions of them. In this guise, art operatesdirectly on social reality. It posits a simulated representation of this reality, the imperfections of which show up through its juxtaposition with the simulation. Culture is no longer satisfied with being uniquely a leisure activity: it now wants to assert itself as a fighting weapon. According to McLuhan, " Any game, like any medium of information, is an extension of the individual or the group. Its effect on the group or individual is a reconfiguring of the parts of the group or individual thar are not so extended. A work of art has no existence of function apart from its effect on human observers. And art, like games or popular arts, and like media of communication, has the power to impose its own assumptions by setting the human community into new relationships and posture. Art, like games, is a translator or experieuce. What we have already felt or seen in one situation we are given in a new kind of material. " (4)

The conception, organisation, execution and very goal of our artistic actions all attempt, by using the appropriate methodology, to bring fictitious situations and real facts in contact with each other. It is a a potential " other reality " that the fiction is presented to the real world, a reality which is enriched through the shared experience of contact between artist and spectator. Games, dreams and the imaginary are brought in to the dimension of lived experience. Such a conception of art clashes completely with traditional codes, and makes its perception problematic. In the field of the plastic arts, the works of centuries past generally followed the rules in order to produce a certain " verisimilitude ", and it was this verisimilitude which was the main criterion on which judgment was based. Every truly innovatory act necessarily involves a break from established order. Fundamental artistic innovations must always draw on the repertoire of established knowledge, but are nonetheless enriched by each artist's creativity. The brutal irruption of new idioms into the cosy world of art inevitably entails the natural phenomenon of bewilderment on the part of the general public, and so demands aperiod of assimilation. In the current broadening of the artistic spectrum to encompass disciplines belonging to the social sciences, personal expression is likely to become the reflection of a more general problem and all its implications, be they political, social, psychological or philosophical. The integration of the social sciences into the the context of the plastic arts is accompanied by a diversification on the level of techniques and borrowings from literary genres (narrative painting), as from the theatre (happenings), the cinema (video apart), etc. McLuhan writes: " As our proliferating new technologies have created a whole series of new environments, men have become aware of the arts as " anti-environments " or " counter-environments " that provide us with the means of perceiving the environment itself. (...) Art as anti-environment becomes more than ever a means of training perception and judgment ". (5)

For a very long time, discourse on art consisted essentially of discussions about numbers of angels on the head of a pin. Things are starting to change. Through his work, the artist is today starting to understand that " power " is linked to every human action. Attempting to deny this, in the name of some naïve idealism, is tantamount to denying reality. People are surrounded by constraints, and enjoy certain liberties. The relationship between people is always conditioned by the power game which is constantly played between them. There is no reason to flinch at recognising it. Power can be seen to be operating at all levels of human relations. It is the attribute of every social performer. Everyone exercises power, at the same time as submitting to it. Each one of us has been forced to " reconcile " himself with his environment since earliest childhood. Each one of us has found it necessary to elaborate a behavioural strategy, whetherconsciously or unconsiously, inside the system in which he operates. Individual and collective change requires overthrowing the rules of this particular game. Each one of us has to learn to challenge the constraints and liberties which constitute his " field of action ". It is precisely because it took account of these facts that Sociological Art thought of itself as an " art of action ". Even in the most rigidly controlled social systems, there is always a margin of manoeuvrability into which either an individual or a minority can manage to slip. Wherein lies hope. In a trial of strength, the weakest is never totally defenseless. He always has the means of turning the situation to his advantage if he can find the exact spot at which to apply the lever. The ideas of " game " and " strategy " are closely linked to the social behaviour. Its limits are, of course, those of opposing authority, but also those of our own imagination which requires exercising, stretching and sharpening. In turn, the artist becomes a " social operative ", he becomes a social performeer. The scaling down and the provocation of power, and its recuperation as a form of play, belong to the field of art. The responsible artist knows this power as his, and confronts the surrounding world with it.

 

COMMUNICATION AESTHETICS, THE NEW AWARENESS AND THE CONCEPT OF RELATIONSHIP

Electrical, electronic and computer technology have now brought us firmly into communication society. This technology is at the heart of changes which have come about in social reorganization over a century, thus modifying not only our physical environment but also our mental system of representation. Electricity, electronics and computers today provide artists with new instruments of creation. The way our surroundings are being transformed in this direction a little more each day, together with our continually evolving adjustement with an ever-changing reality, is doubtless what is is most important. This is why we must constantly reconsider our perceptions in order to apprehend the world in which we live. On this level, the artist has something to say, something to do. Throughout the ages, the successive emergence of new technologies (the technology of raw material transformation, that of energy harnessing and most recently information technology) has involved people in varied and successive forms of expression. Contemporary awareness is moulded through the multiple channels of the mass media. The previoulsy prevailing notion of " art for art sake " has been called into question. Today's artist, and more precisely the Communication artist, re-introduces aesthetics into its original anthropological function as a system of symbols and actions. A new aesthetics is in the process of emerging : Communication Aesthetics. The very word " artist " necessitates some adjstments in a society which is undergoing mutation. The roles, the means, and the awareness which it denotes are evolving. It is imperative that the word become dissociated from the ideological connotations which still link it in our minds with a romantic and anachronistic vision of art. There still exists a gap on the political and educational level between " acquired culture " and " culture in creation ", and it has perhaps never been so noticeable as it is a the present time: the computer and television age. Stricken with vertigo and anguish before a changing world he is unable to come to grips with, man has a tendency to seek refuge in the past. The artist refuses this retrograde vision. He faces up to the present, pushing himself to explore its possibilities. The artist is also a man who both observes and is involved in the adventure of his own epoch. He can neither ignore nor escape from the radical changes currently shaking its foundations. In his role as an artist, it is he who is faced with the imperative task of grasping its " meaning " and formulating its " languages ". His intention is not, of course, to challenge the scientist and the technician on their own ground. This would be stupid and naïve. On an altogether more modest level, his intention is to use, even to " divert " the new tools of knowledge and of action in a attemps to widen the horizons or our perception, or our awareness and of our consciousness, in order to revive our codes, our ways of seeing, of thinking, of understanding. And, in the same way, to allow the individual to find his place, here and now, in the world. This surely is no simple undertaking. " If /the artist's/ attemps is to communicate about the unconscious components of his performance " writes Gregory Bateson , " then it follows that he is on a sort of moving stairway (or escalator) about whose position he is trying to communicate but whose movement is itself a function of his efforts to communicate. Clearly, his task is impossible, but as has been remarked, some people do it very prettily. " (6)

More and more, the concept of " relationship " plays a key role in the current of contemporary thought. All modern sociology gives considerable room to the concept of relationship whenever it is analysing society as a " whole ", as a complex system of relationships and interactions, and not as an isolated and inert body. The idea of relationship is, however, not only present within each science, but is also central to an on-going interrogation about sciences as a whole. Beyond science, it questions life itself. The individual is caught up in a tight and complex network of interrelationships which form the join in a loop where everything has something to do with everything else. At the present time, this idea has assumed an important place in many branches of sciences, and it pervades our awareness. Art refuses to be excluded from systemic concpets. The idea of communication relationships is the hallmark or our time. Such fields of research as cybernetics, information theory, games theory, and decision theory, all have natural links with the preoccupation of artists who are particularly attentive and receptive to the " wavelengths' of their age. If what Von Bertalanffy terms the concepts of " wholeness, sum, mechanization, centralisation, hierarchic order, steady state, equifinality " (7) can be found in different domains of natural science and in psychology as well as in sociology, why shouldn't they be found, in one form or another, transposed to the domain of the arts ? It seems to me both necessary and inevitable to reinsert art today into the systems situated at various levels of the organisation of reality, by knocking down disciplinary compartments. In our society, the artist inhabits a multiplicity of specific times and spaces. His life and his work are made up of a complex network where everything circulates in all directions along different connecting circuits. Today, it is theseconnections which must be expressed by the artist, along with speed, nature, rhythm, flux and the data which flow both through him and through us, before he ever deals with " content ". Although not always recognized as a prime investment in our utilitarian society, art, too, has its rights and makes its demands, just like the sciences, technology and politics. It seems appropriate here to develop at length some remarks on the nature of the relationships which link art to its entry into computerized society. This is not with the intention of considering any specific problem, such as the effect of computer generated images on creativity, manufacturing production and the resulting economic structure, but to remain at a more general level, a somewhat more philosophical one. The relational aspect, of which we are not always conscious and which is about to affect the art world directly, is of prime importance. Having lived through various production societies, here we are now in the Communication society. Even if today electricity, electronics and computer technology have provided artists with new creative instruments, one cannot help but notice an enormous resistance within the social body to all change this resistance is particularly felt in specialised art circles and institutions where the prevailing mentality is frequently that of an earlier century. Outside of the market-place, a few artists nonetheless doggedly pursue fundamental research, despite a nostalgic fashion in art which is constantly advocating an unquestioning return to painting. By giving pre-eminence to pictorial pigment, the current art market is only responding to short-term economic imperatives. Tangible objects being, of course, essential to supply the coommercial art market! The circuits of dealers have not yet found a way of makin information part of their capitalisable merchandise, unless it has first been made material and tangible... Telephonic stock-exchange information has become an electronic " object " in itself for a stockbroker, just as have erotic telephone calls charged on a 15 minute basis. (8). It seems that poets, not to mention painters, will have a long way to go before their productions can be sold in this way! This, of course, is due to the fact that art,contrary to applied science and economics, has no practical application whatsoever in everyday life. It must be behind the times! For the most part, it is unfortunately considered as being purely " ornamental ". The " pressure " from our surroundings is not, however, without having an effect on the very nature and type of artistic production. Despite the extremely slow rate of adaptation of the art distribution and consumer circuits, a notable evolution has taken place. Different stages have taken us first from the aesthetics of image to the aesthetics of object, and from there to the aesthetics of gesture and of the event (the happening). This trajectory shows a slow " dematerializataion " and "disintegration " or the art object. (9).

The concept of Communication was already the central idea of Sociological Art, the first activitities of which I carried out as early as 1967, and the principles of which I first expounded in 1969. (10) I have always considered that the natural field of artistic action is the terrain of social activity. A field which may be enlarged and explored thanks to the new Communication technologies. This option upsets the holders of a fixed concept of aesthetics, who are incapable of grasping the obvious articulation between this type of practice, the concept of art, and a society in transformation.

We are called upon to ask the question, " Where are the frontiers of art situated ? ". It's a brave man who will stick his neck out! There is no frontier. Art is an attitude - a way for relating to something, rather than just as there is an aesthetics of object. We have now to take a new category into account : the aesthetics of Communicaion. The media of this aesthetics are often immaterial: its subtance comes from the inpalpable stuff of information technology. In the sky above our heads, the electric signals of this information trace invisible, blazing and magical configurations.

 

COMMUNICATION AESTHETICS AND THE STATE OF ART IN OUR SOCIETY

The role of the artist is to give to others a taste of what, at that moment, they cannot yet perceive. The Communications artist's task is to translate the new reality of the world into a transposed langage, the codes of which it is up to him to establith. Within a new realm of expression, in which there is no place for traditional plastic techniques, he must confront the real problem of devising a system of enunciations to constitute his own language. He must discover how to render legible a language for which there exist no recognisable alphabetical signs, nor an acceptaed alphabetical order. Art history teaches us that any attempt to introduce new signs is always accompanied by the strong odour of scandal. Dada and first neo-Dadaist manifestations of the 60s had to play upon the transgression of taboos and the introduction of new means of expression,in order to explore new fields. As a result of both the wide range of domains encompassed and the " alien " nature of new techniques which are very far removed from the world of plastic signs, artists are now having to invent whole now languages so as to make a different form of creation possible. In order for art to correspond to contemporary perception, it is now that new forms have to be invented. By restricting themselves almost exclusively to the problems of manipulating pictorial pigments, the vast majority of artists today show an astonishing passivity in face of the variety of new media and situations which modern life offers them. They seem perfectly content to follow the well-worn tracks of a predictable tradition and the conventions of their milieu. One wonders if Picasso would have been as passive as this had satellites, video and telephone technology existed in his youth. The insistence on keeping to narrow, well-delineated categories is surprising, particularly ones which are already well-explored. It is not an attitude which is easily compatible with the notions of research, experimentation, adventure and discovery, all of which play their path in other realms of human activity. Realms which display a spirit of renewal, in which the rhythms of change are, on the contrary, constantly accelerating. Such a phenomenon as this deserves our full attention. In my eyes, it constitutes an extraodinary sociological phenomenon demanding clarification. I do not recall this situation having aroused of nourished the reflections or commentaries of any right-thinking commentator. In this milieu, everyone seems to be anaesthetised. How to understand the reasons behind such a rift with the spirit of the time ? Faced with all the deceptive stability,the astonishing conformity of creators,and the reactionary attitude of the plastic arts, I feel a sensation of vertigo. This situation indicates the great hold which the power of the market, by the power of manipulation, has over the very content of creation. The extremely discreet naure of the circuit, functioning in isolated seclusion, makes this conditioning possible, because a very restricted number of people participate in the taking of decisions. Painting is consequently reduced to latter-day expressionism. The recent productions of " Transavanguardia " and of " Bad Painting ", which we have had presented to us as pictorial " revolutions " of the first order in art, seem to me derisory alongside the innovations and upheavals that have marked our age in other spheres. The spirit of creation is today to be found eslewhere - and this " elsewhere " is where the world of ou awareness finds its bearings, where the aesthetics which will be the aesthetics or our time is being created. From modern physics to the technology of space exploration, via biology, genetics, artificial intelligence, computer technology, communication development and ecological thought, it is there where " modern awareness " is doubtless to be found, rather than in processed art products. We must then ask the question: " Why is so little happening in the realm of contemporary art and in the micro-milieu of the plastic arts, while there is so much on the move all around us ? " Keep on moving! And, as thousand portents presage, let us hail a new science, a new society and a new culture! The artistic creation produced and recognised at the present time is clearly no reflection or our modern awareness. Anything which is truly innovatory is still not taken into consideration by the established art circuits. This is also partly due to the fact that both for economic reasons, and because he does not have access to sophisticated and costly technology, the artist must remain on the fringe of modern creation. His work is always reduced to some extent to nothing but craftmanship! He is totally dependent on a mileu and a circuit whose major, not to say sole, preoccupation is short-term profit. From the outset, he is compelled to pitch his perception and his expression in a register determined by the ideological and economic conditions imposedon him by his sleeping partners - who have also " invented " him. Unlike researchers in the scientific disciplines, he does not benefit from a statuswhich allows him access to his own means of creation. If our society is just about willing to put up with artists, it does not yet recognise that their function is a necessary one for the health, the fulfilment an the future of the community. There is here, indeed, a problem of values. I wouldn't for a moment dispute that there are certain forms of perception which can be conveyed by the established art circuits. My reservations concern the inappropriateness of these productions to the specific and profound awareness of our times. Such products, manufactured by the artist, promoted by the art museums, maketed by the galleries, can be readily seen, whether they are paintings or objects, to transform awareness into merchandise. To become part of the circuit, these works must be capable of being looked at, touched, hung on a wall or put on a pedestal, bought or sold at any time. In the art world today, and by extension, in our society, only objects which meet these criteria are recognised as art. The " Performance " of the " Video " enjoy a much less well-defined status. Frequently they are only seen as being a foil to the other, first-class, products. There is an insoluble contradiction between economic necessities and the expression of an awareness which cannot be made evident through objects. Paintings, sculptures and other art objects have certain properties which make them more commercial. On the other hand, the very nature of their media is unsuitable for conveying today's perceptible world. Incontrovertibly, this stems from their material structure,and impasible barrier. It unmitigatedly limits their capacity for expression - especially when it comes to reconstituting the forms of awareness derived from Communication Aesthetics. The medium of expression inevitably determines the content of it. In consequence of which, once more : the medium of picture-and-paint is unsuitable for translating this specifically contemporary form of awareness. We have previoulsy seen how the plastic artist finds himself caught up in the irreconcilable contradiction between the way the market functions and his natural vocation, which is to make today's form of awareness apparent. The way it function brings up more than just economic questions. What is much more serious is that it has both founded and directed the systems of cognitive recognitition and of values of our society. We have no choice but to assert, for the reasons just stated, that what is being produced and is recognised as falling into the category of creation at the present time is not, on the whole, the reflection of a " modern awareness ". This awareness, however, is omniprersent, pervading our daily lives anddirecting our actions. The situation currently prevailing in the plastic arts rather suggests, through the practice which it generates and subsequently legitimises, an awareness of knowledge that belongs to a past which is quietly fading away. From this point of view, the domain of the arts is behind other branches of thought and human endeavour where people are working on concepts, fundamentals and data which form an integral part of a new present. It is not surprising, in a context where painting has become nothing more than a tautological game of sterile references, that those who first had sufficient nerve to cultivate akwardness and to exalt well-prepared spontaneity should have been hailed as geniuses. But, once again, there is nothing in it which reflects the specific awareness ofour epoch with any relevance. We remain in isolation. I am amazed that this paradoxical situation of contemporary plastic creation has not become the subject of critical reflexcion by those whose job it is to think about art. On the contrary, this very situation is being complacently upheld by a cohort of critics and academics. Surely there can be no other domain of the arts, be it literaure, theatre, architecture or cinema, which is cut off from the reality of our times in such a ridiculous matter.The absurd is king. No child is here to proclaim " Why,the emperor has no clothes ! " The multi-national cultural machine grinds on, apparently happy with its droning and its profits. Artists are working like maniacs to produce wares and material wich are completely inappropriate to our modern awareness, but the sale of which is assured, at great expense, by the art museums. These museums stage exhibition after exhibition in order to give the greatest possible satisfaction to the ten thousand or so people in the world who feel that they must attend. Ten thousand people (howewer select) can never constitute the " awareness of an age ". But nothing is ever completely lost: three gallery owners and a critic decide, as is their wont, what tomorrow's art will consist of. The investment is made through an exchange of telexes which go via Basle, New York and Milan... What d'you know! The art world has got the idea at last, it has made it into the world of Communication Aesthetics!

 

COMMUNICATION AESTHETICS, INTERACTIVE PARTICIPATION AND ARTISTIC SYSTEMS OF COMMUNICATION AND EXPRESSION

In the systems of reciprocity and exchange which are set up by Communication artists, the aspects of public participation cannot be overlooked. In my view, it will comme to take an ever increasing importance in the future. In the 70's, it was supposed that this would take on the form of a collective, and necessarily physical, relationship.These types of action while well intentioned, soon fell into the context of " community art action ", which some artists have never quite managed to pull themselves out of... What I have in mind are more involved forms of participation, such as those which occur through multi-media exchanges of information set up by the artist, who is present as the conceiver of the system, and possibly also as the actor-animator of the whole. The idea of feed-back and reciprocity as advanced by cybernetics has already found an application in the most ordinary of our everyday activities, outside the world of science. These are the kind of practices which sustain today's awareness, and which contribute to its being formed. It is this contemporary awareness that to my mind is absent from the theatre of operation in the plastic arts. " Traditional form is over and done with. There is a marked tendency for a more global culture, in which the distinction between the categories of science ant the artistic category of creativity loses its meaning. A new definition of the triangular relationship/between artist, theorician and spectator necessarily gives rise to new aesthetic thinking... A new art is being born, based on the aspirations and the creative needs of man, and, consequently, encompassing his environment ; it is an art which is able to go past the level of conceptual art, as it can that of propaganda art... Despite the diverse nature of its origins,and of the forms which it takes, the art of environment has a unified direction. By implication, it tends towards a wider dimensions, that of authentical " sociological space " (a privileged area of investigation). " (11).

The " sociological space " that Frank Popper mentions is a space which the protagonists of Sociological Art began to rake over and explore in 1967 (12), and from 1974 this continued through the impetus of the Sociological Art Collective. Just a few years ago, this concept of space was linked to the idea of physical representation, geographically defined. The proliferation of all kinds of media and their widespread utilisation has led me today to a more " abstract " concept of this space. This is the " encounter " space built upon Communication media. It is the space of social communication, created by the superimposition of all the technological media on our physical space. The idea is that of an immense chain-mail network, made of invisible wires which convey our messages, and wherein our emotions are exchanged. Into this netting are woven new kinds of relationships between human beeings, opening up an extra " reality ". A " mediatisation " space which must be seen more and more as a new and privileged field for interactivity. Environment itself has a tendency to " dissolve " and re-surface as an area in which our relationships become " tangible " by means of information. This more abstract sort of environment is no less real either in our representations, or in our experience. The mere mention of the word " environment " used to make us think exclusively of physical perception of our surroundings. This is particularly the case with architecture. Today, this idea has evolved and the concept of space is more and more associated in our representation with the idea of " information environment ".

" INFORMATION " ARCHITECTS

Artists have plenty of soil to turn in what is still virgin territory for them. They have yet to contribute through their practice, their thought and their imagination to the creation of the fundamental precepts of an art built on Communication: a Communication art which irrigates the networks with a flood of data of the imaginary. The Communication artist employs telephone, vieo, telex, computer, photocopier, radio, television, and so on. He does not simply use them one at a time, but he arranges them into systems and installations. From now on, this is how his capacity to create and invent will be brought into play. He makes up given configurations, networks of varying complexity, within which he positions transmitting and receiving multi-media equipment. He organises it into interactive systems, which he then animates. The Communication artist has become a sort of Information architect. He sets off processes in a interactive relationship of participation between interchangeable partners. " Diagrams " or " information architecture " assemble and dissolve. They can, at any given moment, become the subject of a " photograph " which freezes them. The fulcrums of his network are not fixed points which are just technical of formal: they are anchored and directly connected to the social fabric. Information technology facilitates interference between compartmentalised sectors. For the first time, the artist can now hope to express himself in fields other than those restricitive ones which were previously assigned to him. It is highly probable that the key idea of " bringing into contact ", which makes our thinking and practice today, will become a preoccupation of artists and will feature ever more significantly in their creation in the years to come. The over-proliferation of visual media and the booming growth in the number of images which they produce contribute paradoxically, if not to the disappearance of the image in its aesthetics, at least to its devaluation.This suggests an explanation for the shift towards a new form of perceptual behaviour latent in society. It is this which the Communication artist seeks to integrate into the realm of art, and this which he seeks to organise into the new framework which he is advancing, Communication Aesthetics. Writing about what he calls the " oversaturation of the world " by the image, Jean-Luc Daval points out that " those whose function it was to produce the richest and the most meaningful images had no alternatives but to disappear or shift their field of practice. It is this which explains why the creators of today need to produce new images far less than they need to know what to do with them, drawing upon their power of communication and of contact. At this stage of cultural development, the work of art must change its function. Henceforth, instead of conveying concepts or ideologies which are exterior to it, it must rather call into question its own status, the elements which constitute it and its power of relation. When the media freed the image from the exemplars found in museums, there was nothing left but for artists to put it on trial, and relativise it completely. The question of the relational in art is going to have to be put differently from now on. " (13).

We have already seen in Umberto Eco's notion of the work as an open structure (14) the ideas of system, the arbitrary and the implication of the spectator in the process of communication as advanced ty the artist.In the new self-assigned role of Communication artist, he no longer presents himself as the " manufacturer " of a material object, but bases his approach on the particular, specific and original relationship which he establishes between himself, the spectator(s) and the environment. For the sake of clarity, it must be repeated that this kind of approach can in no way be assimilated to the kind of creation which stems from conceptual art. It is true that the Communication artist, like the conceptual artist, relies on one singular idea, but its presentation owes nothing to what might be termed abstract " beauty " in a formalized setting, destined solely for the well-targeted art museum or gallery. Works which stem from the sphere or Communication and which invoke its Aesthetics give rise to the concrete and operational installation of a materialised, functioning system, even though it may be that, spread out in space, the whole system cannot be entirely taken in at first view. The observer can always notice the presence of certain elements (physical) or signs (visual or audible) which, by the process of mental projection, lead him to reconstitute the overall presentation. He can intuit the representation of the positioning and of the relative placing of its various elements in a space which itself has different levels of reality (geographical, extensive, social or communicational space); it is also therepresentation of the flood of information and of its configuration in the movements which bring it to life... By proposing systems of communication as " works " discernible in terms of their functions and motions, the Communication artist claims quite simply to be modifying our habits of perception; he claims to have a effect on our perceptual behaviour and on the very interpretation of art. According to Edwart T. Hal, " The transactional psychologists have demonstrated that perception is not passive but is learned and in fact highly patterned. It is a true transaction in which the world and the perceiver both participate. A painting or print must therefore conform to the " Weltanschauung " of the culture to which it is directed and to the perceptual patterns of the artist at the time he is creating. Artists know that percepion is a transaction; in fact, they take it for granted. The artist is both a sensitive observer and a communicator. How well he succeeds depends on part on the degree to which he has been able to analyse and organize perceptual data in ways that are meaningful to his audience " (15). Now that he has become the conceiver of information exchange systems which he designs and animates in a social communication space, the artist's status has changed. In the past, he " manufactured " objects rather like a craftsman, sometimes more like an industry. Now, though, art has lost its materialism once and for all: the artist " produces " a service. This evolution corresponds perfectly to the curve of evolution in society: it has been transformed over several decades from a society of production to a society of exchange. Art as practised by the Communication artist is the art of organisation, which is no longer concerned with objects, but rather with functions. Throughout the history of humanity, successive technologies have emerged: the technology of raw material transformation, the technology of energy harnessing, and today the technology of information. Unquestionably these stages have conditioned the developement of certain forms or art at given moments, and will continue to do so. The most recent stage, the technology of information, no longer produces objects, but pieces of information which are organised into messages or into " communicational situations ". Art now transmits, receives, organises and diverts information and messages. Hence, it must lay the foundations for the new Communication Aesthetics, and can be regarded as a reflection on the nature, the circulation and the representation of messages in the social communication of our time. As advanced scientists, with their advanced technology, expand, manufacturing industy, which is concerned with the transformation of raw materials, steadily gives way to tertiary, service industry. Why, then, should art be exempt from this evolution affecting every other sector of society ? By what miracle or by what mysterious aberration should it escape from the entreaties of sociologists, or the technological necessities imposed by its context ? Sociologists have noted that in our socity, more than half of the actions performed by people are dedicated to communication, and to neither the transformation nor the transportation of raw material... As of when the population of any given country spends one hour out or every two on communication, there will certainly be within its population an awareness corresponding to this nascent activity. It is this situation which will see the development of the new concept of Communication Aesthetics, and the chances are that tomorroww it will make its mark on the consciousness of our contemporaries, once it has first influenced their awareness.

 

COMMUNICATION AESTHETICS AND THE PHENOMENOLOGY OF THE CONTEMPORARY IMAGINATION

In focussing thought onto communication and systems of exchange, the research outlined here as an extension of Sociological Art suggests a basis on which a theory has yet to be founded. Exploring and activating the universe of Communication media means essentially constructing the penomenology of the imaginary simultaneously. This was the principal theme of the action known as " The Stock-Exchange of the Imaginary - a Stock-Exchange of New Items ", which took place at the Georges Pompidou Centre in 1982, and of the action known as " Düsseldorf - Presse - Agentur (imaginär incl.) " which I am currently preparing. It must be admitted once and for all that the history and genesis of the configurations of the imaginary are indelibly engraved int the " technologies " upon which our perception is utterly dependant - and thus today engraved in the " technologies " of communication. As we have already pointed out, the medium is never neutral. Gregory Bateson writes, " The lions in Trafalgar square could have been eagles or bulldogs and still have carried the same (or similar) messages about empire and about the cultural premises of nineteenth century England. And yet, how different might their message have been had they been made of wood! ". (16) The artist's message is not only subordinated to the medium which expresses it, but it also depends on the system of exchange or social medium in which it circulates. This is why our actions strive to make messages circulate not only throughout the " art system ", but also, by introducing them into all usable communication channels, into as many systems of socialcommunication as possible... and in seeking the points of intersection where, through telescoping, the systems meet to create " sense effects ". Speaking at the Paris Museum of Modern Art in 1982, Professor Mario Costa of the University of Salerno, Italy said, " To be confronted with a " work of art " in the organisation of meaning which is produced by dealers, museums, collectors, is thus first and foremost to be confronted by the system of exchange and meaning which upholds it. By " system of meaning " must also be understood all the reflexive systems in which the existence of each element is justified and legitimised. It is for this reason that once the constituent and dissolving functions carried out ty the media and by the art system in its relationship to the " artistic message " have been recognised, the artit's interest becomes completely detached from the messages themselves, in order to focus on the techniques and social mechanisms which produce them. This means that instead of continuing to dwell on " information " and " meaning " as artistic research has done, or has thought to do up until the present, the artist is now in position to be able to thematise, invest and represent both information-free communication and systems of meaning without " signification ". The problem which is here being examined not only concerns artistic production but the entire universe of communication as well as the whole system of exchanges. Everything, in fact, can be subjected to investigation and consideration of an aesthetic nature: the relevant area for aesthetic research from now on must be considerably enlarged and extended to technological as well as social media. The Sociological Art Collective as well as certain exponents of conceptual art, if not of the Post-Avant-Garde, have to a certain extent already worked on the data relative to communication and systems ". (17) After the roles of activisation and consciousness-raising have always been the main line of Sociological Art, it seems to me that without abandoning social praxis, art should now address itself more firmly to the problems of Communication, and attempt to bring out the formal and functional aspects which are inherent to it.

ARTISTIC PRACTICE, COMMUNICATION AESTHETICS AND THE PRODUCTION OF MEANING AND NON-MEANING

Through my artistic action and appearances, by the installations, signs and systems of signs which I set up, I have always tried to produce " meaning ". This production of meaning is, I believe, at once the " raison d'être and the justification of all social activity. This production used to be (and still is) manifested by the creation of a certain number of messages. The nature, substance and consistency of these messages is very complex, on account of their heterogeneity. Sometimes the message is composed of the global action, at other times by certain of its special developments, at yet other by factors exterior to my theme which are automatically built in it... One thing is for certain: in each case a metalanguage mut be elaborated (no matter what the medium or form used), which is tacked on to the predominant discourse of the communication, in order to bring about jamming, deviation or the prevailing code of communication, or destabilisation or the specific field of the communication. This action necessarily involves the appropriation of the means of transmission of messages, of working on media - medium by medium - and on the entire system of meaning. In fact, my goal is to create in the potential recipient states of uncertainty. For example, I might well place messages in the mass media, stuctured in such a way that they are self-contradictory (or they contradict neighbouring messages by spatial or temporal contiguity), in order to bring about a rupture, a paradox, an interrogation. Each of these induced communication situations incites the recipient to look for an order or a structure which has a meaning for him. This stimulates his imagination, and calls upon him to participate, even conspire, in the deliberate transgression of the code which I set before him. The artistic work that I have undertaken is indeed a work on Communication itsef. I might even add that it is its capacity for metacommunication, that is to say communication about Communication, which constitutes its fundamental and specific nature. The aesthetic stimulus of any work cannot be isolated from a context which brings in cultural factors, agreed-upon rules, varous environmental conditions, etc. Its multiform " signifié " depends directly upon these considerations. It is also dependent upon the individual disposition of each recipient. Since the comprehension process is transactional, the birth of aesthetic pleasure is directly linked to the degree of openness of each one of us. This is true (as a general rule) for all works of art, and it becomes explicit in the practice of Communication as put into effect by certain current forms of art, particulary by those which I am experimenting with myself. The primacy of mediatic structure over the content of contemporary Communication was brought to light in all its implications by Marshall McLuhan. It is possible to reproach him on this point with having too categorical a judgment, which probably should have been tempered. However, it is important to take note that in the behaviour patterns of the young generation, there is a practice of communication which is not necessarily based on the desire to exchange " content ", but rather on the more fundamental need to be connected to the network. The content of their communication is paradoxically Communication itself. The attitude of the young is certainly a reply to the evolution of awareness. An awareness which is itself modelled in a complex way by various factors or our contemporary physical,sociological,psychological, technological environment. The problem of content also arises in art. In analytic painting, it is already the work in itself which is presented as its own meaningful essence. The goal to be attained remains the communication and analysis of the act of painting itself. A methodical analysis or the constituent element in every possible configuration. This preoccupation is to be found in different forms of the Support-Surface group. In every case, we see a reduction in content in favour of thought about the relationship between elements, forms and materials. The work relates back only to itself just as certain communication practices relate only to themselves. For my part, I tend to devoid of real content. It is up to the spectator, through the use of mental mechanisms, to reconstitute the message of his choice from the elements with which he is provided. To reconstruct, using every possible variation, the message which the artist has provided him with in a kit. It is up to him to create his " thing ", to make a choice of readings, to construct a satisfactory interpretation from the signs which are placed before him. The Communication artist no longer feels obliged to give a visual or concrete representation with the help or any " real " materials whatsoever, as he is now experimentig directly on reality itself. From now on, the spectator has a role to play in the meaning of art. The information environment which constitute the daily world of the modern man brings him into a multitude of signs which bombard him, from which he selects to make his own reality. It is in the sphere or this familiar informational context that the Communication artist places the signs which he transmits to the recipient. It is up to the latter to spot them, to identify them, to bring mentally them into relationship with one another, and finally to recognise them as a system which carries meaning. It is only having done all of this that the ultimate and supreme pleasure will be granted him : aesthetical pleasure! In view of this, we are in presence of a new type of work, conceived in the form of a combination of programme information which reaches the potential recipient. The particular conditions of a performance in the presence of the artist-mediator may facilitate the integration and homogeneisation of this information, but even in his absence the work must nonetheless be discernible. It suffices merely that the initial concept of the production takes into account the special conditions of the actions in order to adapt the necessary means to it. As there is no explicit content, it is up to the artist, of course, to anticipate and invent a model, a spatio-temporal architecture, which will make his action discernible and identifiable in itself. The close link between reality and communication, even though a recent notion, is now generally admitted. To go further, it is even realised that it is Communiation in itself which virtually creates what we call reality. The resarch of the " Palo Alto " school has largely contributed to this idea gaining acceptance. Up until now, we have tended to suppose that Communication was simple the transaction through which this reality expressed itself, explained itself, carried out exchange. Not so. Communications is not just a transmission medium. Communication is not a simple operation of information transmission as previously supposed. It is a great deal more than that: it is at once the space in which, and the tool by which reality is forged. The point of view of practitioners of art has always been to give us to understand reality as " other " by means of various fictional proposiions. Which is, of course, in itself a way of making a new reality. If communication itself can generate reality, the multiplication and diversification of the means of communicaion caracterising our society constitute powerful factors or change in the elaboration of our contemporary reality. This also, in turn, means that he who has access to Communication technology may be able to " model " reality. But who, today, has access to this technology ? Certainly not the artist, and even less the average citizen. I have no illusions; I do not share Marsall McLuhan excessive optimism on the subject. The possibility of having access to the channels of communication as an " agent " is at the moment entirely regulated by considerations of power. We are still a long way from the mythical global village which we all dream about for want or being able to inhabit it.. I is nonetheless true that the role of the artist will be precisely to mobilise all his energy in order to appropriate, either by the strength of his imagination or by cunning, all of these new vectors of Communication. Vectors of expression and action where the formulation of languages and ideas appropriate to our times is taking place. As Derrick de Keckove has put it, " If alphabetical culture in a way made " resistances " (in the electrical sense of the term) out of us - a sort of storage area for information used for constituting knowledge - we have today to become " transistors " which on the contrary accelerate information energy in its transfer ". (19). What matters now is to be " plugged in ", connected, hooked up. Hooked up to the network in order to feel an elbow-to-elbow community with others. With communication aesthetics we have irreversibly entered the age or modulation, the organising age of exchanges and networks, the age of making contact, the age or the electro-magnetic caress. Today, all creation springs form creativity at the level of the structurres of Communication and their organisation, rather than coming from its intrinsic content.

COMMUNICATION AESTHETICS IN THE PERCEPTION OF TIME AND SPACE

Even though the idea clashes with our humanist heritage, the new technology is progressively modifying our value systems, our thought systems, our perceptions and our sense of Time and Space. It is not at any time the aim of Communication Aesthetics to deliver a naïve apologia exhalting technological prowess. Unlike certain artistic movements, " Fururism " for example, Communication Aesthetics draws attention to the danger of the use of technology growing in a way which is completely divorced from any ethical, philosophical or social consideration. Communication Aesthetics has come forward with the ambition of working towards a new apprehension of reality, and supporting a conception of the world which takes us further towards deeply spiritual goals. A the very moment when Eastern thought in all its forms is exerting a fascination over an ever-growing number of people, an active scientific elite is revealing that mystical thought in fact provides an adequate framework for contemporary scientific theory. Man's imaginary sense and his strained questions as to the meaning of existence remain unchanged since his origin. The most burning questions of the moment are still the mysteries of life, death, love, anguish, pleasure. It is rather the way in which these questions get asked which is changing. The contemporary artist sees himself as equipped with new methods of investigation for exploring the collective unconscious and giving it form. Technological resources take him into unknown territory which it is up to him to explore. The real stakes of centemporary art are now placed well beyond the status of the image and the status of form. We are now playing with the relationship we embody in our contact with the world - otherwise known as Reality. Against a background of aesthetic behaviour patterns which are changing along with technological evolution, artists taking up these new instruments are suggesting the constitution of new anthropological models. Time and Space will contitute the artist of tomorrow's " raw material ". Just as down through the ages he has worked tone, marble, wood of metal, he must now attempt to leave his mark on these " immaterials "... Time and Space are not just physical concepts, currently seen to be evolving considerably with the progress of knowledge, but also realities capable of being lived. It is on this terrain that artistic practice can take place and be legitimised. In the unconscious mind of Western man, the notions of Time and Space are indissolubly linked. We, as Werterners, do not have the slightest doubt that Time and Space are organically structured. Three dimensional Space imposes itself as an immanent fact in the world. As for Time, its linear unfolding accompanies us everywhere : with the Past behind, and the Future in front, we advance in the Present. Man builds his temporal horizon along a line of progression the three separate zones of which are delineated by solid but moveable cursors. Up until now, this linear awareness of Time has appeared as being basically unbuilt. The new concepts which science is putting before us, just like the daily use of new technology, may well call these mental schemas into question. Out " certainties " acquired of and based on past socio-cultural data may well need to be rapidly updated. The new structure of Time has already produced some spectacular social effects. In mediaeval times church-belles tolled the hours; Taylor's time-and-motion stop-watch made production time work to within a second; today, the microprocessor allows us to control a process measured in nano-seconds...Micro-electronics is defined as a new structure of time, the fine gradations of which go beyond human perception. What this really means is that if yesterday we could hear the ticking of a watch movement or actually see the swing of a clock pendulum, today it requires a vast leap into the imaginary to understand how a calculator works.

By structuring physical space, the automobile has given us mastery over distance. Its appearance on the scene totally transformed our natural surroundings, our economy, our way of life. Transformations of even greater order are in view with the arrival of the computer. It has managed to colonise us and re-structure, in irreversible fashion, our Time and Space. The computer will soon be capable or bringing about the synthesis of technological and symbolic thought. The steam-engine was a benefical substitute for the resources of man or animal : computers and the computer revolution amplify man's intellectual resources. The current development or computers demonstrate that it is perhaps, in the long run, the machine which will allow us to return to our greatest myths. Return to them to the extent that it will contribute to pushing back frontiers which Time and Space have always imposed on mankind. This particular development in computers is expressed by a sharp increase in speed, that is to to say their increased capacity with real-time operation. The hooking-up of computers to each other, and also to other machines, is a fore-runner of the opening out of the telecommunications netwok and the abolition of certain constraints of distance. The distribution and multiplication of centres of decision, in leading to the " dissemination " of knowledge and power, give us hope for new forms of socio-political structures. Actually, in the light of this we are witnessing a new recognition of, and awareness of, individualiy emerging. The so-called " fifth generation " computers, lurking on the horizon a few years avay, are going to bring us into the as yet unknown universe of artificial intelligence. Not only will they process data, figures and letters, but also " knowledge ", through the development of deductive reasoning. The difficulty of mastering a new means of expression, whether it is canvas and paint or the resistance or the marble, has always played a role in enriching the creative act. This essential enrichment will come less, perhaps, from the facilities which computer resources offer the artist, than from the difficulties they present when he uses them to express his awareness, difficulties which will involve him in unchartered ways. Are we at the dawn of a new cultural Renaissance ? Will telecommunications technology create the objective conditions for an " alternative " form of being together, on a scale which does axay with physical distance ? In all domains, the act of creation is freeing itself from spatial and temporal constraints, thanks to long distance transmission, to the gathering of data through message networks, to the possibility of meeting without physical travail, etc. We must also take into consideration that the amazing calculating capabilities which this equipment possesses can allow artists the hitertho unequalled power of astonisthingly rapid exploration of the infinite field of possibilities raised by the world of dream, of the imaginary and of human thought. This is the aspect of the transformation or our relationship with Time and Space given prominence by artists who claim their place in the " community of awareness " constituted by Communication Aesthetics. In their varied work, they all share a concern for questions referring to spatio-temporal dimensions and to chrono-topological realities. Questions which have never been as acute as they are today. Possibilities for geographical travel opening up more and more rapidly, our capital of information widening, scientific experiments being performed on Time, all of these are causing us to vacillate more than a little in our strongly-held convictionbs on this subject and on a good many others! These rifts provide artists with a historic opportunity to bring about a rupture in the conventions of representation, thus setting them on the path of the extra-temporal phenomena, which truly constitute the fundamental problematic of our age. Moreover, signs can be seen of a convergence of " modern awareness " and the profound and ancien sources of religious, philosophical and mystical oriental thought. We can but remark that all these transformations brought about by media systems are, without our knowing it, reorganising our whole system of aesthetic representation.

COMMUNICATION AESTHETICS, INNER SPACE AND THE PRINCIPLES OF ZEN

Modern man may be seeking to master his physical universe, but he is increasingly preoccupied with the conquest of his own inner space. A number of signs point to this preoccupation, which is becoming even more evident in a pendulum swing back to the individual. The principles of Zen, which teach us the wisdom of renouncing the desire to explain the world, teach us rather to concentrate on acquiring the ability to merge into it. Isn't this what is happening, on one level or another, when a commuter on the platform stares at the closed-circuit monitor to the point at which he forgets to get into the train which would have taken him to his destination ? Contemplating the world is an exercise which Communication technology is making ever more accessible to us, as it allows us to come face to face with our present, and come to terms with it through instant mediatisation. It is new technology whose modes of functioning enables us to reappropriate time in a certain way - to " rediscover " our Present. Working as if they were extension or our senses, the new media eliminate structured and linear thought, break down concepts, and lead us into different forms of anthropoloical behaviour. In their way, just like meditation, they bring about specific and privileged states where our relationship to time, space, matter and objects is revitalised. The new media open the way for other types of knowledge, other forms of consciousness. The reflection on Time and Space which the work of Communication artists entails is not a reflection in terms of discourse and theory, but comes about as a result of original and unusual procedures. The artists are thus endeavouring to make us conscious of immanent truths, in which they directly implicate us on a adventurous exploration of, and navigation through, the universe of telecommunications, which becomes denser and denser and more and more complex. A journey to the promised land where biological time, chronological time, technical time, profane time and holy time all merge into one unique, unified time of hyper-awareness. The goal which art today is aiming for is to make us aware or a radical change in our behaviour patterns. In this change of behaviour patterns, the artist is putting forward his own models. These new models have as their function a greater knowledge of ourselves. The new technology is an extension or our perception and predisposes each individual, through his own experience, to push back the frontiers in order to attain the domain of the hyper-aware, shimmering out there now, at our fingertips... This net of ever finer mesh which is woven by our communicational environment will bring forth in the long term a global consciousness which will eventually take the palce of the typically Western notion of individual fragmentation. By reinforcing a certain synchronism, the new media reinforce the collective unconscious. Modern man, enveloped as he is in a moving sphere of information, must find the tempo of his own score in order to achieve harmonic integration into the whole symphony. Communication Aesthetics brings out new forms of expression in keeping with our times. It brings out forms which are extremely diversified and rest upon one fundamental concept: the concept of relationship. In these art-forms, the basic notion of " interval " constitutes the determinant factor. We have now entered the periode of arts based on " the interval ". It is this very field, surrounded by energy, which in the context of dynamic relationships brought into play and in the multiplicity of exchanges and interactive combinations set ut by the artist, constitutes its principal object. The art-forms which belong to Communication Aesthetics are based on the natural rythms inherent in each person's life and relates them to our everyday technological universe of Comunication. A bridge is built between nature and culture... Through the complex synchronic process we are constantly involved in, we have the continual feeling that we are part of a global beat made up of an infinite number of distinct little rythms. When we are in situation, we have the overwhelming feeling that we are deeply part of our surrounding world. The frequencies which occur in our cerebral activity are the same ones, in a manner of speaking, as are found magnified in the electric, electronic and telecommunications network. Where does the nucleus of contemporary art reside today ? It is in the " bringing into contact " of individual rythms with those found in the telecommunications networks, and in the uncovering of human rythms which are connected with fields of cosmic energy. Here is experimental contomporary art, which must above all not be confused with the artistic production inspired by the market. Yves Klein, a precursor of " awareness " through the use of monochrome, already showed the way in this direction. His untimely death unfortunately did not permit him to see the astonisthing developments of our electronic and communcation age. It is nonetheless clear that in many ways his artistic practice and its underlying theory fall directly in the field which Communication Aesthetics covers. For him, as for us today, the problem or art was not a problem of object, form or colour, but above all a problem of energy. Energy which is to be localised, manipulated, shared out, represented. Perceived knowledge comes from specific practice which is more based on lived experience proposed through the form of interactivity and, sometimes, through live participation.

 

COMMUNICATION AESTHETICS AND THE CRISIS OF PERCEPTION

Let us emphasise the fact that contemporary awareness is shot through with doubt and uncertainty. Well-established notions of space, notions of time, scales of size, are now called into question. Our age is going through a profound crisis of perception at a time when the theoretical interpretation of various phenomena is being challenged. Our awareness is therefore marked by the surrounding climate, moulded by the continuous effects of the fundamental changes occurring at an ever accelerating rythm. For modern man, the technological media have become artificial extensions which lead him into the realms of time and space, which were still inaccessible to us only yesterday. Television and telephone daily send us to the other side of the globe, and bring the world into our living rooms. Instead of the traditional concept of the distinct object, limit and unity of place, we must now rather react to concepts of interface, commutation and simultaneity. Ubiquity is no longer a utopian vision of the spirit: under certain conditions, communication technology produces it every single day. The age of awareness in which we live is recognizable by the transfer or information, and by the dynamic configurations which catch us up in their movement. Representations which come to life in structures with interchangeable elements, known as installations, systems, networks, etc. The resulting strongly felt changes in our perception and in our relationship with the world, and also in our everyday behaviour, attest to the birth of a new aesthetics. It is an aesthetics whose designated object lies beyond the visible, beyond the tangible, but lies in the zones of infra-perception, alongside our modern awareness. The technological systems of exchange in which we are directly implicated, both as active participants and (either individually or collectively) as constituent parts of the system, open the way to " awareness " relationships which no longer obligatorily pass through visual or verbal channels. Our daily living experience unfolds in a global field of interactions and events created by electric and electronic media. The permanent information bath in which we live reorientates our ways of feeling into new forms. Inevitably, if art had not been deflected and diverted from its natural vocation by economic pressures, it would have been able to fulfil the expectations of the new awareness. Art could thereby endow awareness with its own specific forms of expression, discovering them as it went along. Forms of expression which precisely spring from Communications Aesthetics, and not from a type of art which is something to see or to listen to. A type of art whose practice and whose objectives lie beyond the image, beyond the pictorial act, beyond the object - in Communication itself, and in its modes of functioning. The process of dematerialisation of art which goes back to Duchamp, and the recourse of artists to concepts, attitude and intention encourage an open reading of art. It is the very domain of art which is widened. Yves Klein's school of awareness, his theatre of Void, and his cosmic perspective prophetically introduced us to a civilisation confronting the conquest of space and the mysteries of matter. In the age of electronics and telecommunications, man is making his way further and further towards a less concrete relationship with reality, towards the dematerialisation of his everyday experience. Our awareness cannot but be profoundly changed. All that art can now make us " feel " is that patterns of sound and encoded images are onlyillusions, behind which millions of electrons are agitating. What Communication Aesthetic artists endeavour to " represent " is a representation which drawls its origins from beyond the real, beyond appaearances and the normal perceptual framework. Technology involves us in " data acquistion " of the world, in which the physical marker has lost its meaning in favour of electronic sources of assessment. Representations on video and computer screens substitute so powerfully for the materiality of distance that they are on the verge of doing away with their referents. The foundations on which yesterday we claimed to build and legitimise our representations have become precarious and often suspect. In the case of the television image, for example, our perception vacillates under the temporal shock of the instantaneous broadcast. In this image, the physical obstacle, like the obstacle of time, suddenly dissolves in a blue cloud of electrons... Space is flattened out, truncated, eroded by the vector of communication. The fast forward, the slow motion, even the re-wind of the film or video image overthrow our concepts and our conventions abouttime. The Euclidian heritage of the notion of space as continuous and homogeneous crumbles away before the new concepts of discontinous space.A space which is dotted about with markers which our perception on the human scale is quite incapable of picking out. From now on, me must therefore learn to inhabit the temporary. We have to get used to the idea of permanent wandering. Adapting ourselves to an instability that we will eventually have to to tame. In the end, finding the point, at once fixed and moving, from where our vision will be able to discover and invent this new relationship between our lived-in space, our electronic space and our space of evolution... In order to do this, we must rely on and integrate as rapidly as possible notions bearing strange barbaric words for names: commutation, arborescence, intermittence, modular, interactive...

 

COMMUNICATION AESTHETICS, AWARENESS AND SENSUALITY

The ideas of, and the work undertaken by, Communication Aesthetics help us to share and understand processes which are still complex. Through the artists who represent it, Communication Aesthetics helps to bring to light the sensory contact we have with the new media. After having thought for a long time that these new media " desensorialise" communication, we have now to admit that they do nothing of the kind. They have become integrated into our lives to a greater and greater extent, they now constitute a sort of sensory network through which our exchanges are constantly travelling. They have become the bases, the extension and the amplification of our most intimate vibrations. Our dependent relationship wih Communication technology in everyday life allows us to confirm thata this situation is giving rise to a new form of awareness. Television, for example, has created a singular form of aesthetic relationship based on the " distant presence ". This television, like the computer, is a source of strong environmental pulsation, the effects of which on our nervous systems we have not yet mastered. Questions can indeed be asked as to the way in which long-term utilisation may even transform certain of our thought processes. It is apparent that the media systems in our electronic society heat up our environment " cold " and bring with them a certain degree of " sensualisation ". We are permanently immersed in a electronic bath which dispenses an ever-increasingly intense range of stimuli to the individual. The body of society, like our own, is caught up in a huge net of communication. I now wish to address myself to those who point out the risk or our being cut off from a direct physical relationship with the immediate world, to them, to their fears, to their nostalgia. As of now, hybridisations which constitute rites of passage are being carried out. More and more, these hybridisations are bringing man into closer association with che machine. In the not too distant future, it is highly foreseeable that the computer will play the role of interface betweeen technical and organic functions. Electronic media are bringing about a cognitive rupture which constituytes a veritable psychological revolution and this may well radically modify our relationship to the world. Contrary to the most pessimistic fears, this revolution is enriching the sensorial faculties of our organism. Our tactile and acoustic senses are being actively sollicited. Perceptible facts and cognitive facts are from now on simultaneously integrated into new configurations which cannot be contained by linear thought. The Communication artist attemps to show through his actions that we are situated in the center of a global information process, and that its complex mode of functioning places the individual in a brand new position from which he is obliged to discover and invent new forms of adjustement to his surroundings. The goal of Communication artists is certainly not to produce first level meanings, but above all to make us aware as to how, in the end, the generalised practice of Communication interreacts on the whole of our sensory system. This evolution is about to put into place the data for a " new awareness " at the edge of our perception, and then, along with new " ways of feeling ", it will open up new aesthetic paths.

Fred Forest

Translated by

David Sugarman

Joanna Weston

Notes

Fred Forest. For an Aesthetics of Communication

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NOTES

1. Capra, Fritjof. The Turning Point. London: Fontana, 1983, p. 330. (New York : Simon & Schuster, 1982)

2. See Forest, Fred. Art sociociologique - Vidéo. Paris: Editions 10/18, U.G.E. 1977. See also Wick, Raioner. " Nicht Kunst, nicht Soziologie. " Kunstforum, Band 27, 3-78.

3. Thom, René. " Imbécilité et délire ". Le Monde, 1.VII. 1984, in supplement Le Monde aujourd'hui. p. xvi. Translators'version.

4. McLuhan, Marshall: Understanding Media. 2nd ed., New York: McGraw Hill, 1964, p. 214.

5. McLuhan, Marshall. Ibid. p. ix

6. Bateson, Gregory. Steps to an Ecology of the Mind. London : Intertext Books, 1972, p. 138. (New York, Ballantine, 1972).

7. Von Bertalanffy, Ludwig. General System Theory. New York: George Brazilier, 1968. See pp. 27 ff, 66, 132ff, 156ff.

8. In 1983, a telephone network was set up in Paris which offers an erotic conversation, charged per fifteen minutes.

9. See Popper, Franck. Le déclin de l'objet. Paris: Chêne, 1975. See also Lippard, Lucy R. (ed.) . Six Years: the dematerialization fo the art object from 1966 to 1972... New York: Praeger and London: Studio Vista, 1973.

10. See Forest, Fred. Op. cit. passim.

11. Popper, Frank. Art, action et participation. Paris: Klincksieck, 1980, p. 14. Translators' version. (See also the same author's analogous work: Art-Action and Participation. New York : New York University Press, 1975).

12. The Family Portrait action, carried out by Fred Forest in L'Hay-Les-Roses, a housing estate on the outskirts of Paris.

13. Daval, Jean-Luc. " La relation comme interrogation. " In Relation et relation. Liège: Yellow Now, 1981, p. 102 f. Translator's version.

14. See Eco, Umberto. Opera aperta. Milano: Bompiani, 1962. (Eco has redefined his terms in English: see his The Role of the Reader. Bloomington: Indiana University Press and London: Hutchison, 1979.

15. Hall, Edward T. " Proxemics . " Current Anthropoloty, vol. 9, 2-3, 1968, p. 90.

16. Bateson, Gregory: Op. cit. , p. 130.

17. Costa, Mario. Open talk, in the course of the Electra exhibition, Musée d'art moderne de la Ville de Paris, December 1982. Translator's version.

18. Outside of his occasional involvment as a member of the Sociological Art Collective between 1974 and 1979, a major part of Fred Forest personal activity has always been devoted to research of this nature.

19. De Kerckhove, Derrick. Director of the Marshall McLuhan Program, University of Toronto, in correspondence with the author, November 1983.

Translator's version.

 

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