While I’m on it – here’s a great talk happening at Exeter in the 6th May featuring the well-known work of Simon Penny, with Aron Vinegar, Giovanna Columbetti and Andrew Pickering responding. Blurb below;
VISITING SPEAKER: TUESDAY 6 MAY 2014
SIMON PENNY, Professor of Studio Art, University of California, Irvine:
16.00-18.00 MR1 Queens Building, Tuesday 6 May 2014.
Art and Cognition—Embodiment, Processual Dynamics and Material Engagement
ARON VINEGAR, Director, Programme for Art History and Visual Culture
GIOVANNA COLUMBETTI, SPA ANDREW PICKERING, SPA
SIMON PENNY is an interactive media artist who has a long history of building interactive systems that attend to embodied experience and gesture. He has a longstanding concern with the embodied and situated aspects of artistic practice. He explores – through both artistic and scholarly work – dimensions of the fundamental problems encountered when machines for abstract mathematico-logical procedures are interfaced with cultural practices (such as aesthetic creation and reception) whose first commitment is to the engineering of persuasive perceptual immediacy and affect. These cultural practices mobilize sensibilities and non- propositional cognitive modalities alien to the technology and possibly incompatible with its structuring precepts: the kind of intelligence required by cultural practices involving handwork, bodywork and material engagement (crafts, “popular,” and “higher” art forms) is embodied, kinesthetic, and multi-modal. In his digital art practice, Penny has attempted to find a way to integrate the intelligence modalities required for such ‘bodywork’ into alphanumeric logico-symbolic forms of expression. In this context has developed a critique of notions of intelligence reified in computer technologies, rooted in post-cogntivist conceptions of cognition, self and agency. His interactive digital art installations, such as “Fugitive”, “Traces” and Petit Mal, possess interfaces sensitive to sensorimotor modalities of aesthetic response. His current book project focuses on articulating a new aesthetic theory for interactive media, digital cultural practices, and the arts in general, which deploys contemporary embodied and post-cognitivist perspectives to provide an language for the discussion of cultural practices which is aware of and attends to situated, embodied and enactive intelligences. simonpenny.net
Simon’s visit is sponsored by the Exeter Science, Technology and Culture Initiative and the Programme for Art History and Visual Culture.
Through the twentieth century, a staunchly internalist conception of cognition gained traction, culminating in the computationalist positions of Artificial Intelligence and Cognitivist cognitive science. In the 80s, the computationalist paradigm showed increasing signs of failure around questions of common sense and lived experience. New theorisation and research in Enactive, Embodied and Embedded (EEE) cognition have increasingly elucidated the shortcomings of Cartesian/Functionalist conceptions of cognition. Meanwhile, new neuroscientific technologies are revealing neurophysical realities that challenge traditional notions of mind, self and intelligence. I argue that this new generation of research has resounding implications for our understanding of art and cultural practices.
My path into these concerns is unusual but also, I think, emblematic of the concerns at hand. My theoretical concerns arise out of practice itself. As an artist working with computer technology at the cusp of the ‘information revolution’ the difference in world view between the traditions of computing and the traditions of art practices was stark. I was surprised that few around me felt as I – that rhetorics of ‘convergence’ were utterly hollow, and what we were (and still are) immersed in was an ontological crisis of historic dimensions. Almost of all of my work in that period addressed different aspects of this problem, centering on the challenge of building computational systems that attended to embodied interaction.
In this presentation I will present some of those works, contextualizing them in with respect to historical precedents, including Von Uexküll’s ethnology, Gibson’s Ecological Psychology and Maturana’s Autopoietic Biology, which provide a theoretical basis for various non- internalist conceptions of cognition. I will outline some of these EEE positions and go on to elucidate their relevance to thinking about making and cultural practices. I will briefly discuss the emerging field of neuroaesthetics from this perspective.