[ISEA94] Panel: Simon Penny – Paradigm-Busters: Complexity at the End of the Enlightenment

Panel Statement

Panel: Eliza’s Children

The new scientific disciplines of Nonlinear Dynamics, Complexity, Artificial Life carry within them paradigm-busting power which is eroding the foundations of the scientific method, the central idea of the last two centuries of Western Culture. It is potently ironic that this busting should emerge from the paragon product of the scientific method, the digital computer: out of the extremes of determinism bursts forth the destruction of that very paradigm!
This occurrence in the sciences runs parallel with similar developments in other aspects of Western Culture which can be characterized as a general movement away from reductive,  vertical, hierachical, serial, and linear structural models towards plural, inductive, rhizomatic, parallel and horizontal models. In this there is a vindication for art practice. In its rejection of determinism, art has always understood complexity, but in a holistic way that was marginalised by the cultural force of the scientific paradigm with industrial production as its henchman. Art has defined its identity in opposition to science. Now Complexity theory, in addition to challenging basic scientific procedures, resonates and reaffirms art methods. It is a tenet of Artificial Life that life occurs at the cusp of order and disorder. Similarly an artwork is energized to the extent that it inhabits this cusp between the determinism of the rigid grid structure and the free-for-all in which meaning dissolves in a chaos of signs. Artwork is invigorated by internal inconsistency.                                                                                                                                                  Complexity and Artificial Life are deeply relevant to artists for two reasons, the first being the general change of philosophy and the philosophy of science in particular. The second, more pragmatic reason is the potential of manipulating behavior esthetically. Emergent behavior liberates interactivity from the bondage of linked data structures and Pavlovian response. The challenge to artists now is to negotiate what it esthetics of behavior might mean.

  • Simon Penny, Australia, interactive media artist, Associate Professor of Art and Robotics, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh PA, USA. He makes Interactive installation and robotic sculpture and is currently in danger of falling of the edge of Art into the maelstrom of technological change.