[SISEA 1990] Paper: Simon Penny – Machine Culture

ABSTRACT

This paper is about the relationship between technological change and socio-cultural change. In particular it is about the position of the artist with respect to these types of change. The origin of the Art/Science schism, the history of the technophilia of the art community and the contemporary signs of reconvergence are examined. In conclusion the paper speculates on appropriate activities for art and artists in the post industrial context.

The technology of a culture and its world view are bound to each other in an isomorphic symbiosis (a chicken and egg analysis is beside the point). This was true in Plato’s day: the contemporary technologies of potting and weaving structure Plato’s images; and in Descartes: the idea of mechanical clockwork informs Descartes view of the world. It is true now. (I ,2). Since the Industrial revolution, technological development has been the major force for change in Western society. New machines like the steam locomotive became icons and images of power. The standardization of industrial mass production became a new structuring reality (. . .you can have any colour as long as it’s black).

In the sixties, electronics, particularly logic electronics, supplanted the brute machine as the image of progress. The product of technology became ephemeral and information was commoditied. The computer became the paradigmatic technology. By the early 1960’s it became commonplace for people to speak not only of their genes but of their minds and private psyches as being programmed The premises of this paper are:

1. That the machine has been and remains a major force in our culture, both literally and metaphorically.

2. That although art is a product of culture, and our culture is shaped by the machine, art practice has avoided considering the machine as a cultural force.

3. Both art and industry are concerned with the production of objects. It is of crucial importance for contemporary esthetics that the implications of the ephemeralization of the machine are considered.

  • Simon Penny (Australia), Electronic Intermedia, University of Florida, USA

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