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Catherine Perret in conversation with Joseph Nechvatal

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Catherine Perret: The most important contribution for art of the so-called New Technologies is that they introduce and/or let appear new process and forms of thinking. Is it possible to define them and their characteristics?

Do you think that New Technologies reveal these forms of thinking or that they introduce some kind of innovation in terms of methodological thinking?

Joseph Nechvatal: I think that what we now mean when we say “New Technologies” is digital technology. I have no doubt that the specificity of digital technology may be used to change our habits of thinking, our noologies, in quite dramatic ways. I think that digital technology allows and facilitates changes in consciousness by primarily allowing us to act differently with new tools. For example, digital painters, like myself, work and think much differently from traditional painters through their mastering of digital tools - if they do so in alliance with a sprit of heterogeneous innovation and inner-directed risk.

I will try to define some of the main larger issues connected to digital consciousness as I see them; issues which run parallel to, and feed into, the epistemological transformations generated by contemporary theories of physics, biology and mathematics which have become closely associated with poststructuralist theory and cyber culture.

In the last forty years, certainly since the advent of computers, civilization has witnessed a paradigmatic shift. The predictability of the linear equation was found to be insufficient in capturing the total relevant behavior in natural systems. Non-linear equations were troublesome to manipulate until computers provided science with the means through which non-linear mathematical models of self-organization could be demarcated.

What was detected was that matter expressed itself in complex rich ways which were non-linear but, nevertheless, which displayed long-term tendencies and organizational patterns. Specifically, certain spots in the non-linear field were found to manifest as either attraction or repulsion spots to nearby trajectories. The attractors were found to have a stabilizing function in the system and represented long-term tendencies of a system. Chaotic (or strange) attractors signify turbulent behavior in nature. Furthermore, what was discovered was that attractors may mutate and these spontaneous transformations became know as bifurcations.

While the classical sciences isolated physical systems from their surrounding, the new thinking connected to digital fluidity is founded on the realization that all systems in nature are connected and subject to flows of matter and energy that move constantly through them. Dynamic equalibriums result from chaotic energy and manifest themselves in creative processes that generate richly organized patterns – patterns that teeter on the complex stable and the complex unstable.

For me it is neither surprising nor coincidental that a paradigmatic epistemological change for thought and art would follow such developments. In art, science fiction, critical studies, and in an array of philosophical discourses, chaotic and rhizomatic approaches towards turbulent behavior are affecting our consciousness in respect to order and composition.

CP: I have several questions, of course, after your answer. I will take them one after the other. Could you develop what you experienced as inner-directed risk linked to digital practice?

JN: I found that taking chances in relationship to one’s subjectivity is enhanced through digital practices. Not only does the inherent newness, trepidation, and jubilation felt when playing with digital consumer goodies in a non-linear fashion facilitate slight inner-directed risk – but there is an active, moral non-compliant aspect as well. It is quite easy to slip into excess.

CP: Classical science was founded on a metaphysical model where you have no relationship between nature and the object of science which was a pure abstract model of relationships. Although classical science is founded on abstraction - and if it can define grids of regularities - it is because it supposes that relationships are fixed because they are conceptual.

The non-linear equation refers to patterns in nature or in matter itself before those patterns become mathematical models and can be demarcated by digitalization. It is a succession of "demarcations" and not abstraction.

JN: The new sensibility/noology that I am feeling, (which elsewhere I have called cybism) is based on my observation that art and science, after centuries of separation, are becoming entangled again through the discredidation of the concept – one might say presumption – of objectivity. Richard Rorty writes persuasively about this as does Manuel Delanda; particularly in his book “Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy”. This connectivist non-separateness is part and parcel with a noology of inter-subjectivity, which on one hand, gives art the license to appropriate scientific tropes, and on the other, lends science art’s powers of non-utility, freedom, and even excess. It is this border-crossing between Janusian mirror states that leads me to believe that we are entering a state of a new kind of natural magic – in some ways reminiscent of the Florentine 15th Century Neo-Platonists. Take Marsilio Fiscino and/or Giovanni Pico as examples. Their thinking typically placed the reign of significance in-between the vast remoteness of spiritual infinity and the baseness of present materialism - therefore concentrating on the zone of transformational actions of humans that lead to a natural magical alchemy. This noology is about knowledge that can transform things and states of the system. In that sense I am maintaining that we are leaving the age of sterile reductive analysis and entering into one of fecund synthesis; much like the poetic-mythic-scientific age of the early Renaissance. The binding force of this synthesis is certainly inter-subjective pleasure (art) and a lust for yeasty comprehensions out of which new possibilities grow. These comprehensions are obtained by experiment/chance/inner-risk – though need not be verified, nor repeated. Indeed they should not be. It is about a search for originality in that sense. The new noology’s validity is obtained through the force of its correspondences and its breath of connectivity. The resulting pan-panoramas will luxuriate this era and be the counter-attack to fundamentalist repression as its imminence will supercede our mistrust of irrationality and lead us into a qualitative approach by escaping locked down definitions. In some ways it is a development of Nietzsche’s Gay Science.

CP: Digitalization accounts for an empirical model of rationality that evokes very precisely what early Ienaian Romanticism tried to conceive of as Naturphilosophie. The question of "attractor" was for example present under the concept of "magnetizing" of all beings in nature and in society too.

Nevertheless, when you speak about "fields", "bifurcations", "connection", "linear" and "non linear", I ask myself if the model of the classical map is finished, or still latent, and, under the map, the representation itself.

JN: Yes concepts are fluid. Also patterns in nature overlap and are simultaneous. We are gazing into a thickly layered field.

In terms of digitalization and its relationship to the Naturphilosophie of Friedrich Schelling’s System of Transcendental Philosophy, we might recall its deep roots in neo-Platonic sublime mind. Techno-Romanticism tends towards a focus on individual passions and inner struggles and hence produces a new and positive emphasis on the emotional artistic imagination in the digital realm. This capacious aggrandizement of feeling over logic becomes perceived as a gateway to transcendent experiences of unity based on ideas of the unity of our own consciousness.

Recall that the romantic mysticism of Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Novalis, and Friedrich Schelling was a circuitous counter-action against much of the overt rationalism of 18th century philosophy. They stressed the accentuation of pathos, fancy, and an aversion to adhering to sociable etiquette in opposition to rationalist obligation. Their Romanticism announced a rebuff to the precepts of regulation, tranquility, equilibrium, quintessence, and rationality that typified Classicism in general and late-18th century Neo-Classicism in particular. Thus Romanticism was a counter-attack opposing the Enlightenment's ideals of strict materialism by accentuating the visceral, the inconceivable, the mercurial, the inner, the extemporaneous, the emotional, the extravagant, and the spectral. This re-evaluation of ideal human responses was accompanied by a spiraling within the personality and an intensified inquiry into the individual personality with its moods and intrinsic verisimilitudes.

Neo-Platonism is salient to our concerns because Pseudo-Dionysius’s neo-Platonic thought predominantly appears in the post-Kantian romantic transcendentalists, such as in the influential work of Friedrich Schelling, the German philosopher who more than any set the itinerary for Romanticism. Pseudo-Dionysius’s system was essentially dialectical theology - the simultaneous affirmation and denial of paradox in any statement or concept relative to totality. Schelling regards reality as a manifestation of a spiritual vigor that initially operated unconsciously, but that in conclusion, consummated in self-awareness through the instrumentality of human thoughtfulness. Art represented the culmination of that operation. Thus with Romanticism, philosophy became again involved in the challenge of art, and conceptions concerning beauty were used to solve philosophical problems as Romanticism moved away from reason (as it had been conceived through the tradition of Aristotle's logic) and towards a revival of Platonism in Plotinusian neo-Platonic epistemology, an epistemology that embraces an abstract poly-oneness conception which addresses Pagan polytheism through a unifying oneness.

From the neo-Platonic perspective we understand that physical experience makes us consider that we are disconnected, when in actuality we are not. In remarkable parallel developments, 20th century science found that it became increasingly difficult to keep detached from just such metaphysical contemplation. With Techno-Romanticism, the comprehension of both the universe and consciousness as undiminished totality has re-emerged, as the fields of physics and metaphysics appear to be dropping their separate distinctions to some extent and forming an intimate rendezvous in digital art. This is so due to art's attributes of presenting cohesion within apparent borderless excess. As digital art may exemplify this dynamism, it newly fulfils art's ancient function as a model-maker of contemplative consciousness too abstract to be embodied in less circuitous human expressions.

CP: Can we not say that such an epistemological change was efficient in art since Marcel Duchamp - with the cesura that he introduces between art and the object of art and a new concept of object like the ready-made?

JN: Yes Dada thinking is another example of Pseudo-Dionysiusian paradox; the recognition of the simultaneous existence of affirmation and negation – 01 in digital terms.

CP: It seems to me very important to give to this thinking based on digitalization its epistemological and historical basis. Your answer goes upstream from romanticism to neoplatonist roots. Very interesting. Neo-platonism, Pseudo-dionysius - yes and perhaps Giordano Bruno too, because your definition of the digital sounds like the definition of a new age of science and not only as a new technological revolution - like the programmation of technical reproducibility. Could you say in this sense that it concerns a new humanism (in the historical sense of the 16th).

JN: Yes the feeling I have is that we are trying to exit a new dark age. This time (and again) it’s the flesh humans verses the robotic religio-political ideologues. Giordano Bruno hereticlly pointed out that religious faith is irrational and has no scientific basis. By spreading the Copernican doctrine and word of a new astronomy he became know as an infidel and was condemned during the Inquisition for teaching there is no absolute up or down. His acute observations on the pretensions of superstition are most relevant to our dark world today. This genius’s death by fire is our beacon of truth.

CP: I extract two key-words from our exchange now: consciousness and abstract. You say that, “As digital art may exemplify this dynamism, it newly fulfils art's ancient function as a model-maker of contemplative consciousness too abstract to be embodied in less circuitous human expressions.” I understand this too abstract contemplative consciousness differently as the abstract conscious of modernity. Modern abstraction meant alienation - and alienation of consciousness before all. The consciousness you write about is not this schized consciousness. It is an abstract-like reflection as in Schelling's system; reflection of the reflection - or presentation of the system's form. It is abstract (by which I mean something like cosmic or systematic or total) because it is without any content of representation. The idea of "art" as "presenting cohesion within apparent borderless excess" (what is given in your paintings) and the concept of "contemplative consciousness" crosses precisely with the notion of presentation where consciousness becomes form.

JN: Yes. Beautifully stated. What is a system's form when that system is continually morphing - besides that of the morph? Yet the system is ripe with an excess of detail at the same time. So we are in a state of supra-representation - which is another form of abstraction. However it is a non-reductive abstraction. It is form not empty, but rather full to overflowing. Good art sets up just such possible alternative models to suggest connectivist states of awareness. For me painting is not merely a cultural product. It is a service product. As such the quality of its service grants it its value. For example digital painting is an alternative method of painting within the system and history of painting pictures. Digital painting is neither in opposition to traditional hand painting nor is it complicit with it. It is both simultaneously within and without the system of painting.

CP: You sat that “connectivist non-separateness is part and parcel with a noology of inter-subjectivity, which on one hand, gives art the license to appropriate scientific tropes, and on the other, lends science art’s powers of non-utility, freedom, and even excess.” This sentence opens up some very interesting paths that I propose we now explore. You seem to apply a political model to the relationship between art and science, particularly when we consider them as subjects associated by social links. This model’s identification seems to be based on appropriation. But what is the basis of this identification for you? Is it the efficiency of the connectivity itself - or connectivity as a new form of social linkage between individuals? And if this were the case, how would you define this kind of linkage?

JN: For me this linkage is exactly what I look for when I look for art. Yes, this linking of the social, scientific, technical with the personal-sensual is what I imagine when I dare think of defining art. This is why when people chatter of the ‘end of art’ I always feel that they are missing the point of art. They are missing art’s pleasurable and ethical force of course, its position of the other, but also its ability to create meta-meanings; comprehensive meanings which are obtained through exactly such sweeping synthetic maneuvers.

So with art, synthetic connectivity may be vast. Art can be stupid and stunted as well, of course. But for me distinguished art, by definition, contains a plethora of intellectual strains in the interests of providing the foundation for a strategy of private discovery - which can then be shared with others. Of course, it must be remembered that in philosophy synthetic statements are those statements judged to be true or false in relationship to the world (but which are not necessary ones), as opposed to analytical truths, which are necessary, and hence cannot be otherwise. In both art and philosophy it is important to make this distinction between synthetic and analytical statements. Only when we acknowledge that art partakes in synthetic connecting activity might we enter the concept of social linkage into consideration, and only if we understand art to be a synthetic psychological thought-vision.

The key political notion here for me is omnijectivity, which is the concept stemming from the discoveries of quantum physics which teaches us that mind (previously considered the subjective realm) and matter (previously considered as the objective realm) are inextricably linked. It is a political concept for me because omnijectivity is possible only with the conflation of polarities; a stance which recognizes the mutual interpenetration that unites apparent opposites (specifically the subjectivity and objectivity). For me art which takes seriously such scientific understanding supersedes the tabular space laid out by classical thought. Art then may promote a non-teleological noology that makes use of the mutual interpenetrational and rhizomatic nature of the thought process typical of the art experience - multiplicitious and heterogeneous.

For me, the basic function of art is to create mental spaces that allow unaccustomed creative situations and sensations to connect socially. Given our society’s heightening condition of connectivity, the heterogeneous, multiplicitous, spreading and non-hierarchical nature of the epistemological rhizome comes together in art under the hyper (i.e. connected) effect of the hyper-total. I define this visual hyper-totality as being produced by an all-over, elaborate, spread out distribution of visual incident which calls upon the optic procedure of spatial summation; a process which unconsciously totalizes the visual excess encountered.

This hyper-cognitive art is where the particular (now updated by electronic connectivity) is seen as part of an accrual total system by virtue of its being connected to everything else. The strategy of hyper-anything includes principles of networked connections and electronic links which give multiple choices of passages to follow and continually new branching possibilities. The total-hyper-being model for a new connected art is the self-re-programmable internal function which explicitly offers a furtherance in envisioning internal, anti-hierarchical models of our patterns of thought to ourselves. Moreover, since it is difficult making sense of today's swirling, phantasmagorical media society, the general proposition behind art may best be to look for a paradoxical summation of this uncertainty by taking advantage of today's superficial image saturation; a saturation so dense that it fails to communicate anything particular at all upon which we can concur - except perhaps its overall incomprehensible sense of ripe delirium as the reproduction system pulses with higher and higher, faster and faster flows of digital data to the point of near hysteria.

Perhaps the result of this ripe information abundance is that the greater the amount of information that flows, the greater the non-teleological uncertainty which is produced. So, the tremendous load of imagery/sound/text information digitally produced and reproduced all round us today ultimately seems to make less, not more, conventional teleological sense.

If accepted, this supposition, it seems to me, plays into the history of abstract art which teaches us that art may refuse to recognize all thought as existing in the form of purposeful representation, and that by scanning the spread of representation art may formulate an understanding of the laws that provide representation with its organizational basis. As a result, in my view, it is art's onus to see what unconventional, paradoxical, summational sense - in terms of the rhizomatizing world of the imagination - it might make of all this based on an appropriately decadent reading of our paradoxically material-based (yet electronically activated) social media environment.

Perhaps such a basically abstract, open, and thus paradoxical, summation would begin with the presumption that an information-loaded nuclear weapon has already exploded, showering us with bits of radioactive-like information bytes, thus drastically changing the way in which we perceive and act - even in our private subconscious dream worlds. This subject, and the rhetorical strategy needed to explore it, especially interests me in that encounters with the computer create an opportunity for personal transgression and for a vertiginous ecstasy of thought. Hence excelling the assumed determinism of the technological-based phenomenon inherent (supposedly) in our post-industrial information society. Indeed, it seems to me that as human psychic energies are stifled and/or bypassed by certain controlling aspects of mass informational technology, such a personally transgressive ecstatic phenomena will most likely increasingly break out in forms of art. Similarly, simulation technology, when used in the creation of art, will promote an indispensable alienation from the socially constructed self necessary for the outburst of such ecstatic experiences/acts aimed against the controlling world's blandness. Thus the linkage you asked me about might provide, through significant art, a fundamental antithesis to the authoritarian, mechanical, simulated rigidities of the controlling technical world.

CP: Your answer gives me the possibility to be precise again with my question. What is at stake is the epistemological shift you operate between concepts. The first point for me is your use of the term “meta-meaning”. You do not say “transcendental”, which would plunge us again immediately into our previous discussion. You name, for example, “connectivity, non-separateness, omnijectivity, polarities, rhizome” etc.. They have a prescriptive sense, deduced from their scientific roots. But when you speak about inter-subjectivity, even if you add the level of one noology, it is difficult when not understanding a more descriptive concept of the society itself. Or when you mention the “psychological thought-vision”, it too is a more descriptive approach of facts than a paradigmatic model.

Of course I agree totally with your conception: “the basic function of art is to create mental spaces that allow unaccustomed creative situations and sensations to connect socially”. But this connection does not need to be projected as if it was not the case. Art happens because it is in fact intersubjectivity, society, and thought-vision that permit different kinds of relationships between space and time. This shift appears remarkably in the strategic question that you bring out. Could the meta-meaning or synthetic use of scientific concepts provide to art new political energies?

JN: When you ask this question I think you go to the heart of the matter. Yes, something exhilarating happens when one looks at various subjects not as closed conceptual systems, but to find an opening conceptual edge. The inclusion of meta-meaning (meaning that is achieved sensually and not only intellectually) and the synthetic use of scientific concepts in art for me does indeed provide for art a new political vigor. This conceptual edge is obviously very important today after we have learned that modernist reductionist assumptions are not easily changed by mere postmodern negations. Postmodernists typically reject scientific reductionism but often assume a kind of fracturing cultural-political reductionism, while some stay trapped in the scientistic objectivist model because it is largely the only working one out there politically. What seems to be needed are self-mutating conceptual models to think differently with; self-re-organizing political and cultural models that are never just the completed or inverted objectivity of the usual conceptions.

CP: So perhaps this requires a new utopian power? In other words, could we name society otherwise in order to permit this society to think of itself in agreement with the new modes of thinking offered by techno-science?

JN: Perhaps not a utopian power but rather a polytopian energy. An omni-society, developed in serious recognition of omnijectivity, for example, would take on the features of a mutually connected society interested in its total well being and that of its host – the earth. We are far from that with our simplistic scenarios of good and evil – white hats vs. black hats. The scientific discovery of oogenesis is another example, as it demonstrates the connection between femaleness and maleness. Such concepts are marvelous starting places for the creation and understanding of a new sort of political art, but not one based in tautological vacuous statements composed of the trite simple statements and images that makes politics appear logically true whether the assumed statements are true or false (which they generally are). The role of a mind-freeing imaginative art in the context of the so-called war on terrorism is, in my mind, a polytopian act of the utmost importance as it is full of plausible emergent properties.

CP: I am in agreement with this concept of synthetic meaning of art. But I would like say that it is the imaginary function of the art that matters. And that is not related to the new scientific and technological contents.

JN: Yes for me art may fold into its synthetic mix scientific concepts but art remains closer to the irrational belief one expects from religion than scientific utilitarianism. Again this ties into what I was saying about pagan polytheism. Indeed paganism is more important to me than scientific theory as it can be traced back to Neolithic times. I am saddened that it only survived up until the Middle Ages when Christianity became powerful enough to erase it from existence. For me scientific understanding and paganism are connected however in that they both are an earth-based understanding which lays emphasis on the reverence of all aspects of nature.

My favorite examples of early paganism are found in ancient Greek and Roman religions, as well as in ancient Goddess worship and Druidic religions - and I incorporate these references in my visual iconography continuously. I respect the fact that ancient people believed that everything had a spirit and thus thought polytheisticly. The gods were part of everyday life, the gods were immanent and entered every aspect of their society, influencing everything from laws and customs to the general workings of their community. So when I speak of synthetic polytopian energy, now you know what I am thinking of.

CP: This relates to the anthropological level of reality - to anthropomorphism.

JN: Yes. I think conflating of the human with the earth is a wise thing given the insensitivity exhibited by the powers operating out of logical positivist empirical assumptions.

CP: What do you think is the tendency of human society and what produces the authoritarian and rigidified modes of functionality which you described?

JN: The tendency is binary and categorical. Something art should avoid participating in.

CP: I have a question of strategy now, which makes me question your terminology. I understand of course that this terminology is voluntarily “homonymic” with the neo-capitalistic world: totality, hypertotality, hypercognitivity and so on. And what this homonymic strategy is, is a kind of nietzschean conversion of all values: you go at the limit of nihilism (non-sense, saturation and uncertainty and so on), so as to go beyond the nihilism of our neo-capitalistic logic in order to bring a new order of its excess of nothing. By using excess so as to induce and explode this nothing via a pure logic of excess – was this not one of Bataille injunctions? Was he able to provide a new political conception or do we not risk falling again into the impossibility of thinking of a conceptual use of excess in the political field? And in fact in the moral field too?

JN: Yes these are very important considerations. First off, I do not believe that society can run counter to what Georges Bataille considered to be the non-hypocritical human condition, which he took as being roused non-productive expenditure (threshold excess) entangled with exhilaration. Excess is, for Bataille, not so much a surplus as an effective passage beyond established limits, an impulse which exceeds even its own threshold. As far as morality is concerned, Bataille (librarian, libertine, paleologist, archivist, radical thinker, and author of erotic fiction) wrote something in Lascaux: La Naissance de l'Art which answers your question precisely. He said that truth stems from desire, and he is right. So when I invoke an artistic conversion of values laced with the digital I am only speaking about those values which we as a society desire to change. Digital painting’s function, for me, is to propose those desires by visualizing them – by proposing new modes of consciousness to the eye.

So yes, Bataille showed me that sanctioned excess is generally inferred in much of art's perceptible richness and that the syntax of art is inner excess. In accord, I have concluded that aesthetic excess is about the stimulation of the body-mind through depicting the excess of our internal perceptual circuitry and projecting this complexity outward into the social mindscape. In this respect Bataille argued that the sacred springs from the same sources as those things we conventionally find repugnant (images of the brain disgust me). Within sacred social zones, sublime non-linear interconnected transmissions are meant to transpire - thus provoking attachments between the cavernous unconscious mind and its conscious active comportment in the social realm. The marvelous abstract character of such supposed sublime transmissions and their effect on digital and techno-scientific states of consciousness needs to be explored further, of course. But to begin to do so we must keep in mind that all reputed sacred propositions occur within configuring theories of culture. All that we apprehend as sacredly significant resides in cultural symbols, which, as we have discussed, is the gist of art. It is by our encounters with styled theories of techno-culture, in fact, that we omit or grasp such social abstractions.

You are right that Bataille's writings, specifically his Visions of Excess (which appeared in English translation in 1985) was a conceptual opening for me, after which I began to experiment with (and analysis through my artwork) various artistic approaches towards latent excess. In the terms Bataille proposes, any restricted economy, any sealed arrangement (such as an image, an identity, a concept, or a structure) produces more than it can account for, hence it will inevitably be fractured by its own unacknowledged excess, and in seeking to maintain itself, will, against its own rationalized logic, crave rupture, expenditure, and loss. More specifically, for Bataille, the term expenditure describes an aspect of erotic activity poised against an economy of production. Yet Bataille's accomplishment transgresses disciplines and genres so repeatedly and so thoroughly that capsule accounts of his oeuvre are compelled to delegate themselves to abstractions. However, one can say with assurance that his thinking consisted of a meditation on, and fulfillment of, transgressions through excess - and I follow his lead. Yes, Bataille's Visions of Excess immediately impressed me as it resonated handsomely with the overloaded nature of my palimpsest-like gray graphite drawings from the early-1980s (which were reflective of the time's concerns with the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the threat of nuclear holocaust, and the excessive nature of the Ronald Reagan military build-up; the largest in the history of the world).

Hence the new political conceptions which we are playing around with here would be consistent with Bataille's intellectual comprehension of dithyrambian excess (itself suggestive of the human cortex with its vast array of micro intra-cortical nerve connections) as a mercurial movement which surpasses entrenched limits. The intensity of indeterminate dithyrambian excess as experienced in art is key to this cognition. By refusing the dichotomized, utilitarian, manageable codes of representation with free non-logocentric associational operations, latent excess triggers a multitudinous array of synaptic charges and thickens visuality to the extent that it prevents the achievement of a determinate, definitive inspection of aesthetic or social space even while conveying the impression of totality via the unification operation of the unconscious human desire for summation.

This extreme threshold component of the excessive digital aesthetic adds to the usual signals in the internal circuitry of the human biocomputer enough uncertainty so as to make new configurations of the social self probable by organizing the internal energies of the society more broadly. The subsequent and ultimate aesthetic benefit of the excessive art act then, is in attaining a prospective realization of one's own perceptual circuitry (and those around you) as a self-re-programmable phenomenological operation. Thus the excessive synthetic art model offers an alternative visual regime of and for the self-programming psyche in that mental-visual range is extended (via latent excess) and hence is counteractive to ontological foreclosure. With aesthetic excess’s quantitative appetite to surpass visual confinements, the human subject is ready to algorithmically escape and exceed previous limits in accord with the implied infinity of our expanding aoristic universe. This self-re-programmable ontological operation occurs specifically in a constructed space between the excessive art and the subject, similarly to the way Wolfgang Iser locates the encounter with a written text by its reader in a third realm of indeterminate interaction which he calls the work; a transaction situated somewhere between the text and the reader. However, unlike a written text, the self-re-programmable ontological adjustments and modifications one makes during the process of coming to understand an excessive art work never ceases and sensorial closure is never evoked. Hence, in accord with bell hooks' understanding of antithetical liberational learning as exciting exchanges of ideas that never end, aesthetic-informational excess approaches an oppositional Foucauldian kind of ecstasy within the receptive subject. This kind of ecstasy, potentially found within aesthetic-informational excess, is particularly liberational in that, if there were no escape, no excess or remainder, no fade-out to infinity, the universe would be without potential, pure entropy, only death. But aesthetic excess’ non-linear and indeterminate latent excess facilitates our desire to transcend the boundaries of our customary human cognition so as to feel that state of unconditionally which Hegel called the absolute (our absolute sense as an unalloyed being akin to non-being) by way of a neuro-metaphysics conveyed through excessive art's necessarily digital milieu. This Foucauldian extrasensory dispersion, which presuppose a loss of fixed reference points, implies a diaphanous neural-metaphysics constructed around the social psyche's enhanced identity as non-site consistent with Jean-François Lyotard's assertion that metaphysical concepts have been realized in the contemporary world. By the synthetic psyche taking up in excess an anti-position of circuitous non-site, we can ascertain that the excessive sensibility of digital technology is essentially non-logocentric, ecstatic, variational, and non-hierarchical. It is particularly excessive in that it deframes and overwhelms the envelope of hardened fixed-point (i.e., window) perception with aesthetic input and hence is an excess of and for the prosaic gaze - as it offers a digital scope beyond our perceptual capabilities. Indeed, instead of nicely proceeding along towards an expedient comprehension and appraisal, latent excess actually opens up an oppositional anti-mechanistic space of self-adumbration for the self-re-programming ontologically minded by revealing the loose limits of our solipsistic and hedonistic inner circuitry.

The latent excess necessary for triggering such a keenness offers to the self-re-programming society a scope of sensibility beyond that which Jacques Derrida identified as typical of the consolidated, passive, spectator/consumer. Indeed in our heavily materially oriented, technologically accelerated, information saturated culture, where experience is increasingly prescribed, facile, and fast, languor coupled with dynamic contemplation of the discursive circuitry of perspicacious excess satisfies an essential need for a new cognitive-visuality consistent with the interpretative theories of both hermeneutics and the phenomenology of perception.

In this respect algorithmic excessive art fulfils the negative dialectical ideal of art as affirmed by Theodor Adorno in that Adorno upheld the view that the radical potential of art lies in formal innovations which refuse to allow its passive consumption, demanding instead an active-critical intellectual involvement (inherent in the latent excess aesthetic) in opposition to unthinking assimilation. It is for this reason that excessive art possesses a negative dialectical felicity of its own. Indeed the negative dialectical confrontation with non-knowing typical of excessive art is an important component of digital consciousness’ intellectual satisfaction, as the entire benefit of this espoused digital consciousness exists in attempting to adhere to an exciting transmissible hyper-state which exceeds, transcends, and overwhelms our former inner territory by wiring it into an excess which consequently disallows itself to be readily grasped. What we sense then is our own being becoming subliminal.

It is this sense of incomplete excess (latent excess within immensity) that draws the eye and mind in and conceptually sublimates our being in the interests of the construction of the ontological state of synthetic hyper-being. In this sense, digital excessive consciousness is an expectant consciousness where an emerging hyper-ontology concentrates attention on an inner, developing, self-programmable selfhood in a correspondingly expanded society-environment.

CP: Let’s explore the question of "non-separatness connectivity". I would say that there is no connection without cutting, and that the energy of all systems is founded on this basis - even biological systems.

JN: Yes, perhaps what I was getting at is better thought of as a conceptual bridging process. The becoming conscious of a non-separating connectivity found in the host/parasite viral encounter, for me creates discourteous opportunities for transgression of conventional political limitations. In the viral rupture, thought may detach itself from the host/parasite order of authority and topple down into the realm of the virtuoso imagination, of contradictory desire, and into areas of sublime non-knowledge. This non-separating non-knowledge is certainly the most erudite, the most aware, the most mindful, and yet the most cluttered area of our political consciousness - as it is also the very depths from which we may perceive ourselves as parasites infecting both each other’s heads and indeed the entire globe as we humans go about wildly reproducing and thus threatening the life of our host planet itself. Indeed my work's general Fin-de-Siècle ornamental excess was conceived as a way to suggest a metaphor for just such a decadent post-political condition of parasite/host consciousness. In the rising and collapsing of alternative visualizations and unordered revelations discovered in the embedded configurations of my work, the circuits of the mind finds an occupation roughly congruent with the world’s viral structure.

CP: What you say about “meta-meaning” opens for our thinking a sort of performative approach, so as to find a new conceptual edge for producing a sort of auto-organization (or auto-reorganization) of the epistemological system in which we are thinking now. Indeed it seems to me that only language can do it, because those opening conceptual edges can to be found in the language itself, in its play with the ambiguity of all sorts of meaning.

Could we say that the stake here is to launch new kinds of languages (for example the language of art which has traditionally functioned as a subversion of conceptual granted systems), in order to introduce some distortion of the traditional use of language with the hope that those “monsters” could perform or procreate some new hybridizing of the thinking itself?

To simplify my question: do you think that this creation could be a sort of common effort for theory and art? And if this is the case, is it not risky to make art and theory at the disposal of science - and perhaps of some sort of positivism?

JN: Yes my feeling is that art and theory can pursue common trajectories, up to a point, but only with debonair eyes. Particularly interesting to me in terms of meta-meaning is the monstrous bridging of the dialectic between theory and practice. Can an unabashingly ambiguous artwork combine explicitly theoretical discourse within its intuitive practice? Or to state it better, can art show that the intuitive and the theoretical are not in disagreement? The significant word here may be 'explicit'. Without it, it seems that any discourse with pretensions of explanation is theoretical. In this sense, almost all conceptual art has reconciled theory and practice.

On the other hand, however, only ambiguous, non-explicit discourses which situate themselves within a theoretical frame can claim to be 'explicitly' theoretical. In other words, for a discourse or language to claim an explicitly theoretical status, it is necessary to cling to an established continuity through various rhetorical effects such as the use of certain jargon contexts with other discourses of recognized theory. Since there is yet a monstrous meta-meaning framework within to place deliberately ambiguous artwork rich in multiple-meanings, I think it is very hard for any such art form to play the role of explication. In other, very plain- words, such art can do theory, but it cannot call it so. Because theory, as a practice, has defined itself in terms of explicit exclusion - not so much of intuitive practice - but of ambiguity itself.

Explicitly theoretical discourses such as philosophy (but also science) have no problem finding phenomena that may accommodate them with different sorts of social-political practices. On the contrary, there are many who see these hybrids not to be the exception but the rule, for example Bruno LaTour in his book "We Have Never Been Moderns". In a certain sense ambiguous artworks combine theory and practice and may even serve as active confirmation of the fact that theory and practice are not opposed - but so do many other social and political phenomena. However, some may sustain that this combination does not prove anything against theorists who still try to avoid all contact with intuitive practice, because it is the pursuit of both pure theory and purely intuitive practice that ends up allowing for such combinations as that which takes place in wonderfully monstrous art. They would say that it is the idea that there are two separated realms of the symbolic and the imaginary which ultimately invites and makes the transgression of the boundary between them possible. Many post-Foucaltians sustain this, I believe.

I am sorry to use the third person while exposing these positions, but I still haven't worked them out enough to endorse or reject them fully yet. The point in which I agree with you about the prospects for cultural practice that may “perform or procreate some new hybridizing of the thinking itself” (and the one I am trying to argue for here) is that the way non-explicit art combines theory and practice does not mean that such an art has transcended theory, but on the contrary, it is rather in a state of mutual-dependency with it and the explicit constructs of theory. Thus for me, the theory of viractuality is of acute interest, as here virtual depth condenses and enfolds the imaginative capacity into an actual art moment or object, for the viractual experience is diagonal as it transpires in deep space and time and, in a sense, secures meta time and space for us in the actual world.

Perhaps, now that I think about it, there has always been an idea of the monstrous viractual, whether it was grounded in mysticism, abstract analytical thinking, or magical systems. All of these approaches have shaped and manipulated invisible worlds accessible only through the mind's eye, and in some cases these models have been given ontological privilege. What has made contemporary concepts and ideologies of the viractual possible is that these preexisting systems of thought have expanded out of the imagination, and manifested themselves in the development and understanding of technology.

Yet no I don’t anticipate a seduction into, as you say, “some sort of positivism” resulting, as I see considerations of this self-attentive shift in consciousness analogous to a post logical positivist virus that inhabits various theories of consciousness which discuss consciousness as being emergent rather than representational.

CP: The next point seems to go to the opposite way, but I think it is not the case. It concerns the link that you establish implicitly between the "earth" (the ecological question) and "religion". I think that the ecological question is now the most interesting from a political point of view because it is crucial for anybody who wishes to provoke a sort of new political awareness. I think that it is perhaps the most collective preoccupation by all people of all societies at every social class. But I am not sure that this real link with nature has to do with a sort of imaginary or religious belief. I think that what we experience now of the political powers of religion make anyone very prudent about the question of religion, even if it is paganism. You know that Christianity is in fact a huge compromise with paganism. It seems to me that the earth/ecological question can be played from the point of view of non-anthropomorphic politics - where the question of the human being is taken on a broader basis.

JN: Perhaps I am wrong, but my sense now is that many, if not most, people are de-sensitized to the fabric of the earth-world and ignorant of their viral status within it. Utilitarian non-anthropomorphic assumptions cut and distance our bodies from that which surrounds them (and indeed constructs them). My attraction to the pagan idea stems precisely from paganism’s archaic lack of orderliness. It is an un-organized form of collective spirituality. In that sense religion, as defined as a shared force, does not do it justice.

PBK comments on Perret-Nechvatal interview

Hello Joseph- I finally had a chance to read the interview that you sent the link for... Very interesting ideas, multitudes, it may take some time to digest.

I wrote a note to a friend today saying that I never underestimate the propensity for evolution... Contrary to the old-school model that said basically that evolution happens over long, long periods of time and generations of reproduction, we now know that evolution can also happen within very short periods of time, or maybe even instantaneously! Some small spark triggers and the change occurs. That is the biophysical model- but the idea also applies to our personal growth , our insight... and maybe also to computer digital technology. After all, with computer technology, even if it relies on the old-school model of evolution, the generations of reproduction are now moving so fast that we may see serious, vital and profound changes coming almost daily!

What worries me is that the rug may be pulled out by the powers-that-be before we reach a point of breakthrough with digital technology... Before we can reach the evolutionary leap that catapults us to the next stage. It might be trivialized in various ways, or it may be shut down altogether if the result is seen by these powers as revolutionary (i.e. destructive of the status quo).

Years ago, 1984/85, I went to Ojai to see Jiddu Krishnamurti speak and he spoke against computer technology. Here are a couple of examples I found online from his 1980's discussions:

"The computer, as we said the other day, the computer is going to do all our efficient work, probably better than we do. It will invent new gods, a new system of theology, a new way of living, which is the industrial age is over, nearly, and the computer age will come in."

"The computer is going to take over more and more all our activities, more or less, except sex, and probably it can’t look at the stars of an evening. But it is going to take over all our activities – may bring about a new industry, new way of living, without electricity, it may depend on light. They are having great competition, America and Japan, tremendous competition. And we will all be slaves to that god – the computer."

Why would an enlightened person, with such a high caliber of inquiry, come out so strongly against the coming digital age?? New systems of theology, new gods, created by computers??

I thought I might just mention these things to you- simply as correlations, or questions- because I can't qualify an opinion about it- the older I get, the more lost I feel. I never relied on dogma for answers, I was always a skeptic... I admire that you have pursued your thoughts through in such a dynamic and explicit way, as put forth in the interview. For me, the one thing I can definitely feel is the cusp of change which we are upon. I just can't see beyond it to enlighten myself as to where the road will lead to.

Your thoughts are very interesting.

Best wishes,

PBK Official Site:

Kimberly De Vries on Perret-Nechvatal interview

Dear Joseph

After reading the interview I can see very clearly the way both your music and digital paintings reflect those ideas.  I'm also glad to have taken this opportunity to look at the paintings because I was just reflecting on my own reactions to digital/software/ and feeling that I hadn't seen much that really affected me as powerfully as art in older media sometimes has.  However, I found your paintings did exactly that. 

Kim De Vries