Systems, Process, Art, and the Social

On February 4th at MIT, a panel, “Systems, Process, Art, and the Social,” moderated by Caroline Jones, includes talks by Benjamin Aranda, Michelle Kuo, João Ribas, Matthew Ritchie, and Matthew Wisnioski.


  • João Ribas, “An Industrial-Metaphysical Revolution”

Speaking of his recent research into visionary media artist Stan VanDerBeek (1927-1984), Ribas explores the perceived role of technology in making art productive in the transformation of everyday life. VanDerBeek’s pioneering ‘expanded cinema’ work was suffused with a unique vision of the mutability of perception and knowledge in an electronic age, and the socially emancipatory potential of new forms of visual communication. Technologically-mediated consciousness, and the extension of the senses, would function for VanDerBeek to correct the dehumanizing proliferation of the technology of the Nuclear Age. VanDerBeek saw in the artistic development of emergent information and communication technologies a coming “industrial metaphysical revolution.” Ribas will discuss VanDerBeek’s artistic practice within the context of the work of György Kepes, cybernetics, systems theory, and the politics of the 1960s.

  • Matthew Wisnioski, “Aesthetic Virtue in the Defense Institute”

Wisnioski studies the many collaborations between artists, engineers, and scientists in the 1960s from the engineers’ and scientists’ perspective. His paper will examine the dramatic transformations in MIT’s art scene in the postwar period, when the Institute created art courses for engineers, opened the Hayden Gallery, established a faculty Committee on the Visual Arts, and pioneered art/science/technology collaboration in the Center for Advanced Visual Studies. He argues that for scientists and engineers, art was not a neutral or incidental pursuit; it conjured contradictory values of hybridity and purity; elite expertise and participatory democracy; the neutrality of knowledge and its inherent politics. Scientists, engineers, and artists alike shared the discordant desire to make technology human.

  • Michelle Kuo, “Test Sites: Experiments in Art and Technology”

Kuo’s talk is drawn from her extensive research on the relationship between art, technology, and corporate research and development — as specifically realized in the organization Experiments in Art and Technology. Known as E.A.T., the group was founded in 1966 by Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Whitman, and Bell Laboratories engineers Billy Klüver and Fred Waldhauer to facilitate collaborations between artists and engineers. E.A.T. posed art as a specific type of research, a model of experimentation and production parallel to engineering, invention, and nonlinear systems. Its ambitious scale and structure provided the possibility of alternate, unforeseen paths — leading beyond the increasing foreclosure of key aesthetic strategies in the postwar period, but also allowing for the exploration of systems already in place for technocratic expansion and control.

  • Benjamin Aranda, “Instructions for Assembly”

Speaking of the architectural and media practice he shares with Chris Lasch, Aranda will explore the use of algorithms and systems theory in contemporary design. Well known for examining dynamics such as “Tooling” and “Flocking,” the team has revisited classic “real-time systems” — such as bird flight – only to determine the non-linear functions that torque them. Shifting from organic to inorganic systems, the partnership has recently begun to investigate crystalline structures in modeling architecture. Aranda’s intervention will be less an historical overview than a plunge into contemporary praxis, exemplified in the large-scale pavilions (Morning Line, Evening Line, and Midnight Line) recently designed in collaboration with Matthew Ritchie.

  • Matthew Ritchie, “Systemic Thinking and Making”

Ritchie will speak on the “historic, conceptual and practical uses of systems, how I see systemic thinking and making in relation to debated concepts such as expression, universalism, allegory and finitude, the ‘difference equation’ and how historically heterarchical, holarchical, super-positional and semasiographic systems are used in my own practice,” with particular reference to his recent collaborative project The Morning Line in its interaction with viewers, documented in film footage of visitors’ interactions with the pavilion in its recent installation in the dense urban center of Istanbul.