[FISEA’93] Introduction: Roman Verostko — Preface to the FISEA’93 Proceedings

Introductory Statement

By way of introduction to these symposium papers let us say a brief word first on the term “electronic art” and secondly on the focus of the symposium, “the art factor.” Our task is twofold: (1) to specify more clearly what we mean by “electronic art” and (2) to begin developing the critical understanding necessary for filtering out the finest artistic manifestations of its use. ELECTRONIC ART. Recently a colleague suggested that the term “electronic art” was an oxymoron. By this I believe she meant a self contradictory term. Several years ago when we contemplated this symposium I also questioned the use of the term “electronic” as did our committees and many others. But no longer. Changing technologies in the practice of art are not new. They have been with us from prehistoric times. Thus the art of the brushed Chinese character is “shufa”; the art of the manuscript is “calligraphy”; and the art of typesetting is “typography.“ Since World War II the field of electronics has achieved radically new capabilities and has attracted hundreds of artists to experiment with its use. There are over 1800 entries in the 1993 edition of the International Directory of EIecfronic Art. Although reference to “electronic” music dates back to as early as the sine-wave tones of Leon Theremin in 1924, it was the perfection of the tape recorder in the 1940’s that thrust electronic music forward. For the arts in general, the term has been in substantial use for several decades with a pronounced presence since the founding of “Ars Electronica” in 1979 at Linz, Austria. What is the new post W WII technology in electronics? It is the integrated circuit (1948) making possible the use of sophisticated logic circuitry in everything from desktop computers to cruise missiles. Today’s electronic controllers exhibit an uncanny capability – a semblance of “intelligence,” capable of flying airplanes, simulating the human voice and controlling vast networks of information. These controllers are driven by electronic circuits capable of processing logical procedures lending them a seemingly intelligent behavior. These procedures may be software controllable (open for instruction) and self adjusting to the environment they are designed to control. Procedures may be designed to simulate practically anything we can conceive including “evolution” which is what the “genetic’‘-algorithm does. Through such procedures an artist may V breed “form” which is what William Latham does in Biogenesis (FISEA 93, Electronic Theater). This is only one of many possible directions an artist might explore. Many FISEA 93 presenters are artists who have created work which is radically informed by electronic procedures – work which may clearly be called “electronic.” Others have collaborated with artists as electronic toolmakers. Some of these artists have wrestled with the giant for many years – prodding it to serve their artistic vision. To our earlier question, then, Ys electronic art an oxymoron?” we must say emphatically, “No!” It is not any more so than “graphic art, ” “stained glass art” or “film art.” THE ART FACTOR. In “Electronic art” exhibitions we have seen examples of novel and brilliant electronic technology. But a brilliant technology without “art” may be likened to a body without mind and soul, a floundering entity or a corpse. For this reason the Program Committee for FISEA 93 chose to focus this year’s symposium on “the art factor.” Flying “by the seat of their intuitive-intellectual pants” they have struggled with their personal (internal) definition of the “art factor.” The papers in this volume address artists’ concerns related to aesthetics, terminology, “self” expression, and the problems associated with collaboration and interactivity between humans and electronically controlled machines. The interactive works in the FISEA 93 art show display the more obvious use of such technology. But there are many less obvious applications. Artists who make use of this kind of technology generate work as diverse as the applications of the technology itself are diverse. Thus “electronic art” may, in some instances, appear to be formally indistinguishable from familiar forms of “performance” or “painting” or “printmaking.” But stop. Look again. Listen again. Is this so? If not, why not ? These questions are the substance addressed by the papers presented here. We thank the authors of these papers whose work sheds light on “the art factor” in this new frontier.

  • Roman Verostko,program director of FISEA’93, is an artist and art historian, teaches world art history at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. As a Bush Fellow he researched the “changing role of artists” at the Center For Advanced Visual Studies at MIT (1970). His seminal paper Epigenetic Painting, Software as Genotype (1988) identified biological analogues to autonomous form generating procedures. His “epigenetic art” includes a limited edition of George Boole’s Derivation of the Laws… illustrated with his own “personal expert system.” He received an Ars Electronica honorary citation this year and was included in Genetic Art – Artificial Life (Linz, 1993). Other shows include: TISEA (Sidney, 1992), Dada Data, Developing Media Since (970 (Baltimore, 1991), Interface: Art & Computer (New York, 1991), El Art (Finland, 1991), The Technological Imagination, Machines in the Garden of Art (Minneapolis, 1909)