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Armin Medosch- Artist & Curator

Armin Medosch- Artist & Curator


(musical chimes) – It is my great pleasure to introduce my good friend Armin Medosch. Doctor Armin Medosch is a Vienna-based artist, curator, scholar and author, working in art and media theory. In 2014, Armin curated the international exhibition, “Fields” at the Riga European Cultural Capitol in 2014, and has curated and
exhibited internationally in venues in countries such as The Centre for Art and
Creative Industries in Spain, The Limehouse Town Hall in London, NTTICC in Tokyo, Japan, and the Yerba Buena Art
Center in San Francisco, Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria, et cetera, et cetera! He’s the initiator of the techno-politics working group in Vienna, and his new book, “New Tendencies: “Art at the Threshold of
the Information Revolution” came out, was published by MIT Press this past June. Armin attended the University
of Music and Dramatic Arts in Graz, Austria, from ’82 to ’85, earned a degree in philosophy
and German literature from Karl Franzens Universitat in 1982, a Master of Arts in
Interactive Digital Media from Sussex University in England in 2005, and a PhD in Arts and
Computational Technologies from Goldsmiths in 2012. Armin influenced me a great deal when I was just out of graduate school and living in Berlin. We met at, I think, I don’t know if it was at Ars Electronica or the Dutch Electronic Arts Festival, but I was really inspired by his intellect and his interest in new media as both a scholar and a curator, and then our paths crossed again and again in the European new media art scene. It was, maybe too much
to call you a mentor but you definitely helped show me the way. So it’s really my pleasure
to welcome Armin Medosch, please put your hands together for Armin.
(applause) – Thanks a lot, Mark, for
such a nice introduction. It is indeed, it has been
20 years since we first met. I have been thinking about it, it was in ’96, I think, at the European Media Arts Festival in Osnabruck, and then we all went to
Amsterdam and Rotterdam at the back of a van, which were really
different times. (laughing) And I would also say that Mark is a pioneer in his own right, and I recently have
researched the history, the early history of the
nettime mailing list. Mark is, of course, very well-known for being founder of
Rhizome list and project, but in the early days of nettime, which is a very influential list, especially back then
in a critical discourse on the Internet and ‘net culture, Mark was one of the most frequent posters, actually, in the first six months. Today, I will mostly
talk about one subject, about my book which came out recently, and I hope you will find it interesting because it deals with
a historical subject, but I think history is highly relevant for us today, because without understanding our past we can also not properly
understand our present and our future. As Mark has pointed out,
I have mostly worked as a curator, also as an artist, but more as a sort of artist-cum-creator in some in-between zones. In 2006, actually, before
the “Fields” exhibition, in 2006 I curated an
exhibition called “Waves”. The subtitle was, “Electromagnetic Waves as a Principle Medium of Art”. And that was a big
international exhibition, and then I did a practice-based PhD at Goldsmiths in England. Those practice-based PhDs, they are quite controversial, but I think they are really great cuz it gave me an entrance
back into academia at a relatively mature phase of my life. So I was initially, I was planning to work on exhibitions as sites of research, and my idea was to theorize my own exhibition, “Waves”, and then after, I did part-time after two or three years into my PhD, I realized that was a bit
too much naval-gazing, and then I was in search
of a proper case study, and I found, I found the New Tendencies. Now, the New Tendencies, Alain Michaud, does anybody know where Yugoslavia is? Yes? Well, actually, it’s nowhere because it doesn’t exist anymore. New Tendencies emerged in 1961 in Zagreb, which is the capitol of Croatia, which then belonged to the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. But the New Tendencies
were an art movement which started in Yugoslavia, but then very soon had a
very international dimension, and that’s what I will talk about. But first, maybe a few words as a kind of introduction, also, to the sort of more
theoretical side of things. When I started, this is my book and it’s basically a
re-written and expanded version of my PhD dissertation. So when I started the
research on New Tendencies, I had to ask myself, how do I deal with the subject matter? Because New Tendencies, as I said, started in 1961 in Yugoslavia, and actually lasted ’til 1978. It had five major exhibitions
and festivals in Zagreb, but it also had other
exhibitions in other places such as the Biennale of
Venice, Biennale of San Marino, Paris, the Louvre, and so on and so forth. So it was a really major
international art movement. And over the sort of 15-years-plus that this movement lasted,
more than 350 artists participated in it. So how can you research
such a vast subject area? How can you deal with 350 biographies? How can you bring that
altogether into one framework? And of course you can’t. You have to cut the network somehow, you have to find a way to
close your research subject and to draw the boundary
lines of where you say, “This is my subject
area and there it stops “and I cannot deal with everything.” Another question that
I had to ask myself was that, because New Tendencies lasted for such a long time, I really had to deal with
the subject of history. I had never before asked
myself that question, actually, so closely, the question, “What is history?” Because, in my opinion, I had this strong intention not to deal with art as an art, pull-out subject, as art for the sake of art, but in the historical context of the time. But that historical context was changing over those 15 years,
and quite dramatically. So the New Tendencies began in an era that you could still call the Post-War Era. The era, not immediately afterwards, but still under the influence
of the Second World War, and it stopped in the late-1970s, when totally different
social circumstances actually were happening. So, what I did is, I constructed a kind of historical framework, not to be misunderstood
for a theory of history, but a sort of more open framework that allows me to
contextualize New Tendencies. And one of the key
terms for that framework is the term, “Fordism”. Now Fordism is, among social scientists, a term that characterizes
that first 25 years after the Second World War, when there was a sort of patent automation in industry, when there was an increase of
new information technologies which were integrating with industries, not just in car production but also the production of consumer goods, and this had severe social consequences. It led to things, there was a
lot of literature at the time about the lonely person in the crowd, a new type of, it was not
the working class anymore because the jobs changed, there were much more
technicians involved and so on, and much more people working in office, so there came, the
white-collar worker became a focus of research,
and also the notion of the organization-man, the
kind of faceless person in the crowd, feeling
alienated through his life. And in these circumstances, the New Tendencies emerged as a kind of art movement, which tried to
engage with those subjects. They actually wanted to
make an art which was, for them, most adequate to this new time. But there was also
another area, of course, another sort of zone of influence, and that’s, of course, art. So art always reacts to other art, and the art situation
after the Second World War was one which, you
probably know this book, very well-known book, Serge Guilbaut, “How New York Stole the
Idea of Modern Art”, (exclamation from audience)
yeah, and it is kind of a shift from Paris being
the capitol of modern art to New York becoming the
capitol of modern art. Also, connected very strongly with a particular style of painting, which was abstract expressionism. And the most well-known name, of course, is Jackson Pollack, and there was also a sort of European version of that, in Paris, it was called “Informel”, also sometimes “Tachisme”, which, “Tachisme” is like, to throw
paint just on the canvas. And that was actually the situation that the New Tendencies
found when they started, that was the dominant style. On one hand, abstract expressionism, and then on the other hand,
in the Socialist East, you had Socialist Realism, a doctrine introduced by Stalin, where all the painters and sculptures were forced to work in a realist style. This Post-War situation also
had another aspect to it which was that, actually, the immediate rubble
of the Second World War had been cleared out, and what began was a sort of new phase of modernization. And if we look at Yugoslavia, it was a country that, we can say, it was in a catching-up process. The leading models were provided, either by the United States of America or the Soviet Union, and both actually promoted different forms of advanced industrialization, but the industrialization point was actually very similar. So if we look beyond the ideology, the sort of industrial models
through large bureaucracies were very similar here and there. And in that situation,
the Expo 1958 in Brussels was one of the first moments when the world came together to celebrate a time when, after the Second World War, a new optimism was coming out. And in this new optimism,
at the Expo in Brussels, all the nations presented themselves with the best way they could, and Yugoslavia presented itself with that. And that’s very typical, because it’s from an architect who was one
of the first abstract, a worker working in an abstract sort of neo-constructivist style after the Second World War in Zagreb. In Zagreb, they had had,
already, in the inter-war years, contact with the Internationalist style, with the Avant-Garde, with Constructivism, and particularly, in architecture, with Le Corbusier, and this architect, Vjenceslav Richter, he made something very daring. He wanted to build this Yugoslav pavilion just on this one pillar, this one stilt in the middle, and it should have been completely just hanging free of
any support from below, and as so many things with Yugoslavia, it was very ambitious
but they couldn’t do it. They could technically,
they couldn’t realize it. But aesthetically it was
on the highest level, and this is a model, of course. And it was not realized in that form. But Yugoslavia at that time, and that’s very important to know, it was not part of the Eastern Bloc. There was, after the Second World War, there was this Soviet zone of influence, this so-called Iron Curtain came down, and all the countries
and the direct influence of the Soviet Union, they were really less free in all aspects. But Yugoslavia broke with
the Soviet Union in 1948, and they developed their own system. It was still socialism, but it was called, the most important aspect
was self-management. Self-government and self-management. So Yugoslavia developed a
very interesting ideology, which was posed on a
local self-organization, on the levels of companies, on the levels of
education intuitions, art, where actually the idea was, in principal, everything should be self-organizing. Very modern. It’s a bit like, during the 1990s when we heard about self-organization and these kind of
decentralization and all that was part of the Yugoslav state ideology. But again, there was a
contradiction with reality. But still, because there was still also the league of Yugoslav communists, the Communist Party, and in the end, they did not give away
centralized political power. So there was on one hand, this ideology of self-management, on the other hand, still this kind of centralized political power. And this was the first exhibition of New Tendencies in Zagreb. As I said, at the time,
the dominant styles were Abstract Expressionism in the west, and Socialist Realism in the east, and New Tendencies did
something completely new. So to sum it up a little bit, before I go into more detail, one new thing was participation. If you look at those works here, they had an invitation to be touched. You could touch those spheres, those were plastic spheres painted one side black, one side white, and you could turn them around and you could thus create your own patterns, your own images. We forget that this was new at the time, as really the moment of emergence, at the same time, with
Fluxus and Happening, of a sort of interactive
and participatory art. So, its participation is one thing. The other thing is, they
talked about programmed art. Which had, at the time,
nothing to do with computer, but the term “programming” was totally hot around 1960. If you programmed something,
you created an experience in sort of a rational way, and that means you created, you designed an algorithm which was
later to be carried out. And if you look at the
history of conceptual art, that is of course totally
important, Sol Lewitt, the abstract, “The Paragraphs
From Conceptual Art” were 10 years later, he
described exactly the same thing. So maybe this is something we can keep for discussion later, because actually, one of the latest issues
of October Magazine is picking up on this relationship between the European
artists of New Tendencies, in particular, Francois Morellet, and the conceptual artists. So we have the participation, we have the programmed
art or algorithmic art, and the third thing was
art as visual research. The artists of New Tendencies were fervently against the
myth of the artistic genius, and they wanted to fight
the myth of artistic genius with the notion of research. And they thought that by completely stopping to use the word “art”, they always spoke about “visual research”. They stopped talking about “art”. And by that they could completely change their approach to art, it was not about the individual any more, it was not about the
holiness of the artwork, imbued with some sort of
religious motifs and so on, it was about doing research, and sharing the results. It’s also important to
note that New Tendencies was from the very start, not
a Yugoslav or Croatian thing. The very first exhibition was actually initiated and mostly curated by this man, Almir Mavignier da Silva, an artist from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, who, at the time, developed a friendship with the Croatian critic, Matko Mestrovic, and Mavignier and Mestrovic, together, created the first New
Tendencies exhibition. And that’s another strand
that’s very interesting because Mavignier, at the time, was teaching at the College of Design Ulm, which was an amazing place. It was founded in 1953 by Germans who had suffered under Hitler. It was founded as a way of
using design to fight fascism, creating design for a democratic society. And what they developed there was actually taking up
the latest influences from the United States. So at College of Design
Ulm they were actually teaching information
aesthetics and cybernetics in courses relating to design. So, cybernetics was invented around 1948, Claude Shannon, “A Mathematical
Theory of Communication”, also 1948, and in ’53 they introduced that into a curriculum in Germany. Those ideas, where they were coming from, were actually coming from the Bauhaus, from the inter-war years. So you could say there
was Bauhaus aesthetic, and through people such
as Laszlo Moholy Nagy it came to the United States, and then information
technology came to Europe, and was kind of re-combined
with the Bauhaus ideas, and then brought back
to the United States, which we’ll see later. Here is a room at the first exhibition by an Italian group, Group N. Group N from Padua,
which also happens to be the hometown of Toni Negri, I don’t know if you know Toni Negri. He’s one of the kind of most left-wing philosophers of a direction
called “autonomous Marxism”. Grupo N were sort of
influenced already by that, or maybe they influenced Toni Negri. So they had very strong ideas about group work, about collectivity, about working as a collective, and also, as a collective,
working for the collective good. So they really tried to theorize how, as an artist in a capitalist society, they were cultural producers. How their work as cultural producers would then become part
of a commodity market and be bought and sold as commodities, and how they could deal with that. How could they address that. And one thing that they
did was that they actually, yeah, they founded a group, first of all, they tried to be a collective. But secondly, also, they
actively subverted authorship. Here you can see them, very, sort of, professional black and white photography on the rooftop of their studio in Padua, and you can see them holding a work, and they made quite a few
versions of that work. Here it actually is. And they always signed it
with the group identity, and then they also signed it
with the name of the artist who actually made it. So they completely subverted the notion of individual genius and authorship with the kind of way how they dealt with the authorship of the work. And another aspect is they used kind of cheap materials, this is some plastic
rims that they just used, with the foreground and background, and that was a really important aspect for them. So collectively signing, or even keeping the work totally anonymous under the group identity, and the group identity was the letter N. And another aspect was this using cheap, industrial materials to subvert the notion
of the valuable artwork that is being bought
and sold on the market. That work, actually, if
you have it in real space, is also typical for a
lot of this early work by New Tendencies. Because if I come from that direction, I maybe would see something like that. But if I pass by, suddenly the pattern
would dramatically change. And a lot of the works of New Tendencies deployed such visual ethics, such optical ethics, often based on research
from Gestalt psychology. It’s a special branch of psychology that uses the characteristics of our visual system, and that certain sort of
optical effects would happen. And in their view, that was also meant to on one hand subvert art, this notion of, kind of, holy artwork, and on the other hand, it was about involving the viewer, getting the viewer to
actively participate. Because you could only
experience the effect if you were walking by the artwork in a specific way. And that’s something that happened with a lot of the other works, so American critic and
creator Jack Burnham, who devoted a long chapter
to the New Tendencies in his book, “Beyond Modern Sculpture”, actually called it “aesthetics
of the relation of field”. You’re probably familiar
with the notion of relational aesthetics
by Nicolas Bourriaud, 30, 40 years earlier, actually, New Tendencies invented the aesthetics of the relation of field. And that’s another aspect. Nowadays, what maybe
people will first notice, it’s all men. Yes, that was the era
before the Second Feminism, but what’s also important here, why I introduce this picture, the one in the middle, that’s Matko Mestrovic, the
co-curator of New Tendencies, I think, what is important
about New Tendencies, if we take a look at it, actually it sort of makes
us revisit art history, and in particular the history
of Post-War Modernism. And the history of Post-War Modernism has been very Eurocentric,
very US-centric, and there are only a few big names. And there is also a certain narrative where you have, on one hand, the sort of geometric abstraction, and sort of neo-constructivist or so-called “concrete”
art, or “art concrete”, and on the other hand
you have conceptual art. And usually, it’s like those things are totally opposite of each other. And New Tendencies, you could see that they actually, they
combined aspects of these kind of constructivist tendency, but also of a sort of
neo-dadaist tendency. And that is underlined by the fact that, this group, it was called Gorgona. The Gorgona Group, which existed from ’58 to ’66, was a kind of a proto-conceptualist group. Conceptualism before the name. They had activities
such as secret meetings, walks along the river which were meant to be secret art classes, they made a magazine where
one issue of the magazine consisted of empty pages, so they had a lot of this kind of early dadaist spirit of
total negation of everything. And that spirit was also
part of New Tendencies. So we not only need to revisit
modernism geographically, to say there were other areas, such as former-Yugoslavia, such as Japan with the Gutai Group, but also we need to
reconsider the relationship between constructivism, neo-dadaism or conceptual art, on the other hand. Just to underline that fact further, for the first New Tendencies exhibition, Italian artist Piero Manzoni
was heavily involved. He sent three works to Zagreb, one was a work called
Akron, a colorless work, second one was one of his lines, and that was the third one. In Yugoslavia there
was no open censorship, but it was probably quite
sensible at that time that the curators did not include this in the exhibition. It would have meant to push things a little bit too hard. But then generally speaking, in New Tendencies, again referring to Jack Burnham, there were kind of two main directions. Actually, there were
more than two directions, because every artist, every group, New Tendencies was like a network of networks, many groups were part of New Tendencies. And every group had its own aesthetics. But you could say, there
were two main directions. One direction was this sort of more rationally constructed,
which did this programmed art with the idea of addressing the notion of alienation, of making
people participate, activating the spectator
to politicize them, so that was the more left-wing part, mainly the French and the
Italian groups, actually. And there was another direction, like Group Zero, who just thought, they
didn’t want to have to do anything with socialist politics. They thought that creating
new aesthetic experiences was actually enough to change the world. So, by opening peoples’
sensibility to new aesthetics, they would actually do much better in changing the world, rather than having
anything more ideologically or dogmatically driven, such as the French group, GRAV, the Groupe de Recherche d’Art Visuelle, who were really very sort of strong, French rationalists, and I will come to that later. But Otto Piene, who then
later, actually 1965, he came to New York, he had an exhibition
at Howard Wise Gallery with his Light Ballet, and later he took over
the job of Gyorgy Kepes at the Centre for Advanced
Visual Studies at the MIT where he worked for many years, and you can see his influence, sometimes in a very subtle way. There’s an exhibition of
Carolee Schneemann currently at New York University, and for instance, Piene helped her to make those balloons where she could fly and playing her cello. So, Piene was specialised in inflatables, in auto-spectacles, and
these sort of things that were meant to
liberate people from norms, but then, at a certain point, I think in the 1970s, they became also quite spectacular. They became really, the spectacle, in a kind of sense, how the French Situationists meant it. And another point, I don’t
want to go into it too deep because it’s a bit of a boring subject, information aesthetics as defined by the German theorist Max Bense. Here is an example, a painting by Almir Mavignier da Silva. Max Bense, actually,
is one of the inventors of information aesthetics which, they tried to apply the theory of information, or Mathematical Theory of
Communication by Claude Shannon, to create an objective aesthetics. So they wanted to have
a mathematical formula to decide objectively what was most beautiful, which is, of course, I
think, immediately something, nowadays everybody would
assume that this is somehow slightly strange, that
you would even think that you could decide objectively what is the most beautiful. But nevertheless, at the time, this had a lot of
currency with the artists, and they tried to define the work as a kind of macrosign which consisted of microsigns which were distributed somewhere according to certain laws, and with their work they wanted to explore those laws that could have the most beautiful results. But as the time changed, the 1960s created special dynamics, and pop music happened,
The Beatles happened, and the New Tendencies
became less, sort of, formally mathematically rigorous, and they explored another notion, the notion of “homo
lodens”, “man the player”. So they created interactive artworks, participatory artworks, which were meant to trigger this sort of playful sense in human people, again with this idea of
liberating them from norms, of activating people, making them more politically active. That also, then, went into
a direction of new media, of making objects using electrical motors. Here, Gianni Colombo from Group T, where this kind of film celluloid is kind of pushed up and down, always creating new forms. And the great Italian author, Umberto Eco, he wrote his book, “The
Open Artwork” in ’62, and that was actually
one of his inspirations for “The Open Artwork”, writing that these sort of works, they didn’t have one fixed form, but they created a field of possibilities of how a viewer can relate to it. And that was his sort of notion of what he called “arte programmata”, a programmed art. And from there, the New Tendencies kind of explored ever
more bigger and different forms of interaction. Another work of this kind, a large, rotating disc with iron and magnets, and a lot of these works
were actually shown in an exhibition by the Italian office
equipment company, Olivetti. So you had the most left-wing artists you could find at the time, showing work in the showroom
of Olivetti Company. And this exhibition actually also traveled to the United States, had a few stopovers, was then brought to MoMA, and then it was lost
in the vaults of MoMA. Which is amazing. It should have been returned. So all these objects sort of
don’t really exist anymore because before they returned to Europe they were sort of lost. But it’s one of the sort of
works of history, actually. No purpose intended, I’m sure. But at the same time, and this is a kind of the main subject, chapter in my book, at the same time something else happened. As the artists from Grupo N, Grupo T, the French group GRAV, they developed a programmed art sponsored by Olivetti, there were left-wing sociologists from a magazine called
“(foreign language)”, and they made militant research. They called it “conricerca”, researching together with the workers. They went to the factories
of Fiat and Olivetti and they investigated what
changes in the industry were brought through automation, and how could a more militant working class movement react to that. And I think there’s a really
interesting crossing point. Because, “(foreign language)”
later continued to become (foreign language), which
means “worker risen”. And the workers’ movement later turned to what is now known
as autonomous Marxism. And autonomous Marxism
developed, since the 1970s, and increasingly in the 1990s, very interesting concepts
of immaterial labor. So on one hand, you have
the left-wing researchers who developed this notion
of the social factory, also Mario Tronti, and on the other hand you had the artists who developed sort of basics of a kind of interactive and participatory
art before the computer. And that led them also, then, to start to create environments. Here, the German group Effekt, the person’s actually a
Yugoslavian artist, Ivan Cizmek, but they created environments that were an invitation to play for people. That was really very close, actually, to the, what do you call it, to the Luna Park experience. This was like, at the time, critics hated that, that was not art. That’s horrible, you know? It’s like, it’s like entertainment, it’s not serious. And that was intended, because they thought, they wanted to make art for
the broad mass of people, and not just for the chosen few. And they wanted to give people a sort of experience that they could, that would be immediately
accessible to them without having to study years and years of art history before. And that went, then, also further, working with stroboscopic lights, working with installations with neon, electrical switches, and I call this image, which actually, if you look closely, it’s a photocollage. So you have this fashionable
Parisian art crowd looking at the work by Gianni Colombo, but it never was like that,
in that form. (chuckling) He pasted the people into
the photo of the artwork. I call it “the blitz of the new”. So it was really about
novelty and a sense of newness and that was very convincing at the time. And this exhibition actually, in 1964, in Paris, the creator, William Seitz was led through this exhibition by the U.S. constructivist
artist George Rickey, and it was like a shopping tour, because many of the
exhibitions were then part of the exhibition, “The
Responsive Eye” in 1965 at MoMA, which was on one hand, a big blockbuster, but on the other hand, also created a very critical response. And again, one of these images here, Group GRAV, they created a labyrinth where they had huge, massive works but also very strong, sensual triggers like stroboscopes, mirror rooms, where they sent people
through this labyrinth to give them this kind of different, destabilizing experiences. They called it,
“indeterminate”, they called it, it was about destabilizing people out of their normal everyday experience, again, a little bit like the Luna Park. But, again, what was important here was, to completely forget about
individual authorship. So it was a collective work by GRAV, and not an individual work, and they created some more
of these works later on. And this is what I mentioned earlier one, the relationship between
Francois Morellet and Sol Lewitt. Morellet was really
developing this sort of work since the early-1950s where he worked with grids, and then he just superimposed grids, one on each other, and he’s just decided
on the size of the grid, and then he decided of the angle of which he would twist and turn it, so that is like writing a program, and then he would stand back. He would not interfere,
he would not twist, he would not say, oh, it’s more beautiful when I do it a little bit like that, or maybe I paint something like that. No, he completely took
a disinterested stance, and that was like fighting intuition. For him, intuition was the
wrong was forward for artists. That was this old religious sort of thing. And in that way, he’s really
a precursor of software art, and the interesting thing is, he could do it as a design
on a gridded piece of paper, very small, as a drawing, and you could see it,
you could make it also on this sort of mega-size, on house walls. And funny is that, actually, the work was destroyed, because that is later where they built the Centre Pompidou. And this exhibition in New York, “The Responsive Eye”, on this occasion, actually, the term “op-art” was invented. And that was, for New Tendencies, it was described as a first class burial. Because the aesthetics became mainstream, it was very successful on the market, but all the political concerns about activating the spectator, about addressing peoples’
political agency, all that was completely forgotten. So, the aesthetics was
captured by the market, but their political
concerns were sidelined. And that created a serious
concern for New Tendencies. You can say New Tendencies,
as neo-Avant-Garde movement, was over by 1965, and they
had this symposium here where, in this wonderful Baroque castle, they actually tried to decide what would be the future of this movement. It has been recorded, I listened to some of the recordings, it was really a bit of
a depressed atmosphere, but there was one person, I don’t see him here, the French theorist Abraham Moles, who told them about a new
machine for making art, the computer, and who had a fantastic
theory about the computer creating and generating aesthetics, he called it “permutative aesthetics”, and with that you could
create individual artwork for every home. So you could program a computer to create these information aesthetics, the most beautiful work, and every consumer, every normal person could have at their kitchen table or their wallpaper, such a generative, permutative aesthetics, which was a kind of utopia
of information aesthetics of Abraham Moles. And that seems to have
influenced New Tendencies so that after a break, in 1968, they turned to the computer as a medium of visual research. They still avoided the term “art”, so they said the computer as
a medium of visual research, and here is one of the earliest works by Frieder Nake, a German computer artist of the first generation. And what you can see here, of course it was very simple. It had to be simple. Computers were still
mainframes at the time, there existed no software, everything had to be written in machine language of Voltran. Frieder Nake was also doing that. He was, his job, actually, as a young faculty member in Stuttgart was to program the SUSE-grafomate, the first drawing machine for
computer German company SUSE, and actually, at first, he
just made squares and circles, and then the machine went a bit wild and then he saw, “Oh, it looks
like modern art, actually! “So I could also use it to make art!” And then he became one of
the first computer artists. But the most serious background is that at that time, the computer was used in a very particular discourse on the computer being the better artist. Actually, Michael A. Noll from Bell Labs made a work, this work here, which was shown in a magazine which was issued by New Tendencies, Bit International. I think it’s possible to
find the PDF somewhere. There are nine issues of this magazine, it’s fantastic, it has
all these discussions on information aesthetics plus also computer-based-type poetry, and so on. And what Noll did, he took a famous painting
by Piet Mondrian, one of the first completely
abstract paintings, and he recreated it using a computer. And then he had
reproductions of both works, and he walked around Bell Labs in Murray Hill, New Jersey, and he asked the people two questions: which one is made by the computer, and which one is made by a human person? And which one do you like better? And according to Noll, the majority of the people
sort of mixed it up. The majority thought the computer work was done by Mondrian, and vice versa, and the majority also liked
the computer work better. So, that was used as an argument to say, in the future, all the art
will be made by computers, all we need is kind of skilled programming, and a new profession, kind of digital aestheticists, somebody who decides on the programs, and then we don’t need
art schools anymore. Because everything will be perfect, we don’t need art schools, we don’t need artists, who
are always difficult people, and we can just, yeah. So. And that discourse was really strong. Even Frieder Nake who is a lovely person, I had the opportunity to meet, and he’s teaching in Bremen, and he made this. At least he still called it a “Homage to Paul Klee”, so he made the computer draw something which looks a little bit like a drawing by Paul Klee, but most people would, here, know which is which. And this was all theorized heavily in symposia in ’68, ’69, symposia which were very international. I briefly show this
image of Hiroshi Kawano, a Japanese computer artist, also one of the true
pioneers of computer art, unfortunately almost forgotten. And at this symposium, also, there was a group which comes, of all places, from Kansas City, Art Research Center Group, and they had their own take on computer art and cybernetics. They drew a huge diagram here, that’s Nancy Stephens, and they made this diagram, they interpreted, they
already had some ideas almost like “open source” and the commons movement. They said, “We use the
computer and cybernetics “for a self-organized group activity. “We don’t use it just for making art, “but we use computers how to “organize ourselves better as a group, “as a collectivity.” And a very interesting approach, I think, which unfortunately, somehow, has been largely missed. And this is an appeal to you, critical study people here, I think I should not research that but Art Research Center
Group is still around. Michael Stephens is very active, and they just had their sixtieth
anniversary or something. So they are, would be extremely happy if somebody bothered to write about them and do some research on them. But my argument is that at the time, this discourse on the computer as the better artist,
which was very ideological, very much against human labor, and which was kind of mirrored by an argument in industry where you had the automation of industry
against human labor, against organized labor,
against trade unions and so on, that this discourse somehow overshadowed more interesting artwork
using the computer which also happened. So at the time, the computer show in Zagreb happened at the same time as Cybernetics
Serendipity in London, which is quite well-known, where you had dozens of big companies showing gadgets, also some computer art, and this is what German
artist Gustav Metzger, who lived in London for most of his life, what he had to say about it. It was the time of the Vietnam War, and he wrote, I don’t like
to read from the screen, but he said that, “There is no end of
computers composing haikus, “but no hint that computers
dominate modern war, “that they are becoming
the most totalitarian tools “ever used in society.” And if you look at today,
what’s happening with the NSA, with surveillance and
with drones and all that, we have a similar
situation, where very often in digital art, only the
creative possibilities of computation are highlighted, whereas all those other
aspects are excluded from the discussions. And so, it looked, for a time, it looked like computer-based art would become the new thing in art, around ’68, ’69, 1970. In New York you had two
really important exhibitions, you had “Software” by Jack Bernham, and you had “Information”. Both tried to bring together computer art and conceptual art, and
it really looked like that would be the future. But for some reasons, maybe a point for debate, it didn’t happen like that. There was a profound change in the way people felt, probably the Vietnam War
played a big role in that, but also other issues. The ’68 revolution, hippie movement, the new ecological sensibility, and that’s what actually happened. So, the artists sort of left that whole technological paradigm, they started doing conceptual art, body art, land art, all sorts of things. This is the Slovenian Group OHO, and they went rapidly
through all the steps from sort of a neo-, kind
of paraphrasing pop art, to conceptual art, to visual poetry, and then they invented
something they called “transcendental conceptualism”, where they made telepathic artworks for the Information exhibition, and then in the next step, they made these sort of
group experiments in nature, and the next step afterwards, they gave up art and
they formed a commune. So, there was this movement out, actually, of art, or at least driving art to a point where it was not really
easily recognizable as art, where it became performance, where it didn’t produce any objects, where it was becoming de-materialized, as Lou Zilipov said, and that was going on pretty
much throughout the 1970s. There were also very
strong variations of that in former Yugoslavia. This is a really famous
work by Balint Szombathy, he’s a Hungarian-speaking artist but from Yugoslavia, from a border region, and he made his work, “Lenin in Budapest”. So in former-Soviet-dominated countries people always had to go demonstrate for the Socialist Revolution, and especially on First of May, there were big demonstrations but organized from above. And what Balint did, when the main demonstration
was already over, he carried his own little
Lenin placard through Budapest as a kind of very silent form of protest against the use of those iconic images, and against also how empty the ideology had already become. And the ideology had not only become empty in places and countries
such as Budapest or Prague, you may remember the Prague Spring was closed down by Soviet tanks, but also in Yugoslavia. The Yugoslav experiment, which had started out very beautifully, being based on the notion
of self-management, then there came a really
interesting episode. The Yugoslav ’68, where
the students actually said to the political leaders, “Listen, we have this official ideology “of self-management, “we don’t want something else, “but we want you to actually
implement self-management. “Just do what our constitution says.” And that, of course, was not possible, so in a way, Yugoslavia went into a stage where it became increasingly fossilized, there was a cult of
personality around Tito, and the conceptual artists were very good in sort of deconstructing that. So Yugoslav conceptual art of the time, which is called the New Art Practices, which is one of my next research subjects where I want to go deeper, was very often kind of deconstructing the use of images in
ideological urban spaces and how artists actually reacted to that, also bringing in new topics such as gender and ecology, and so on and so forth. And those conditions, somehow, conspired to make New Tendencies look increasingly old, this idea of this sort of neo-constructivist art that sort of, this programmed art, all this terminology had
sort of lost its traction, and there was a last,
large exhibition in 1973 which was very interesting. They brought together constructive art, conceptual art and computer art, and they thought there would be a dialogue between the three art forms, but there wasn’t. The New Art Practices were
more verbally aggressive, they sort of had the wind
of the times behind them, and the old guard of New
Tendencies just thought, “Oh, these people, they’re
not proper leftists anymore, “they are post-modern, we don’t like that. “They don’t have a utopian belief.” And it’s true. The conceptual artists were
post-modern in that sense, they did not believe
in any utopian promise of any future anymore. And in that situation, the sort of utopian
spirit of New Tendencies didn’t make any sense, and there was a last attempt of bringing everything together in 1977, ’78, under the term of Art in Society. Very interesting, totally
under-researched event. They wanted to make a big
exhibition and conference, but as opposed to the years before when they sent invitation letters and everybody came, they got a lot of politely
being turned down, they invited everybody, all the big names from Germano Celant who
invented Arte Povera, Hans Haacke, and so on and so forth. I think Haacke actually came, I have to research that. But most people just
politely said no, sorry, no time, and that was silently, sort of, the silent and quiet
end of New Tendencies. And this is also the end of my talk. I would like to flag up
two or three points, maybe. One point is, this movement, which at
that time had been so big, 350 artists being almost
hegemonic in Europe, playing a big role in The Responsive Eye exhibition in New York, why is this movement nowadays almost completely unknown? Why did it vanish completely? The other thing is, by not forgetting it, what do we actually gain? What kind of insights can we gain from such a movement, that would be a second question
I would like to flag up. And the third question I just forgot, and I think that would be up to you to have questions.
(audience chuckles) (audience applause) – [Attendee 1] My question is a question and I believe a response as well. When you talk about conceptual art, are you also including Minimalism? Because it seems that this movement led into Minimalism, especially when you talk about computer art and the line. The other statement I had is, what was the rebuttal to this, I believe it was artists like Cy Twombly who then started mark-making, showing the human input into art again, which was taken out through stuff like New Tendencies and Minimalism. – I think the second point, that’s the wrong chronology. New Tendencies reacted to that human hand. That was quite dominant
before they started, and they said this kind
of individual gesture just shows the individual’s psychic state of the artist, and it’s not so valuable. We, by making these collective artworks, which are rationally conceived, which are based on a
science of perception, also, on actual neuroscience and how our visual apparatus works, that’s much stronger, that’s much more interesting. The first question, that’s really I think the spring issue of October Magazine, there
are two things in there. There is a new collection of translations of writings by Francois Morellet, and there is this
article by Yve-Alain Bois about re-opening that debate. Because what happened was that, in 1972, the gallerist of Morellet
launched an attack on Sol Lewitt that he was
plagiarizing Morellet. So, at the time, Minimalism
was getting really big, and New Tendencies were struggling to, got forgotten. This gallerist said, you know, Morellet has done it 10 years earlier. And in a way it’s true, it’s true. So it is really, at the time, the rhetoric was maybe over the top and this article by Yve-Alain Bois, he reflects it very well, it’s
a very well-rounded article. But it was really true that there were certain mechanisms where, not just Sol Lewitt, but they completely distanced themselves of any European influence. And that was also just feeding into what the galleries did. So it was a time when American galleries were just becoming dominant, globally, in the art market. And so it suited them very well that, also Donald Judd said that, “I have never been influenced
by anything European.” And, it’s not true. There’s a book by a colleague, Midori Yamamura, she wrote a book on Yayoi Kusama, and she showed how Kusama was actually the next-door
neighbor of Donald Judd. And Kusama was not of New Tendencies, but she was with The Zero Network, and she worked with Zero
and showed with Zero. So Donald Judd knew about Zero. He knew about that, you know? Then Flavin knew about that, but they said that they
publicly distanced themselves from that, and they had
the critics behind them. They had more critical
firepower with Art Forum, they had the art market behind them, and that’s the situation which is very much still in place. So it’s kind of, that’s what I said. Considering New Tendencies affords a reconsidering, actually, of this Post-War Modernism, but I think, and with Yve-Alain Bois, it’s not about morally being a precursor of Lewitt. That would be a stupid way of putting it. It’s not about one plagiarizing the other. Both have been working with algorithms and with grids in a very interesting way, and one was a few years earlier. So I think that would be the thing. – [Attendee 2] I’m curious, you mention Moholy Nagy. He would have been at Illinois Institute of Technology post-World War Two. – Sorry? – [Attendee 2] Was
there a direct influence between Moholy Nagy being in Illinois, did he have any direct contact with the artists? – Who?
– Moholy Nagy. – Moholy Nagy, no, he died too early. But the context was, actually, that their interest, it was the other way around. So at the College of Design Ulm there were several former Bauhaus people. There was, for instance,
Josef Albers there. There was, sort of,
there was this movement. Those Bauhaus artists, they had been driven out because of fascism, they had to leave Europe, came to the United States, came to places such as
the Black Mountain School, then Moholy Nagy started
this Institute of Design in Chicago. And a very interesting,
small detail is that some of the Croatian participants in New Tendencies, before New Tendencies started in 1950, they actually, at the time, it was still in a sort of a post-Stalinist situation. So Yugoslavia did not have a
doctrine of Socialist Realism, but doing abstract art was difficult. But what they could do, they worked as designers
for the Yugoslav state designing trade show exhibitions. And that gave them the chance to travel, and they came to Chicago for a trade fair and they immediately went
to the Institute of Design which was also called The New Bauhaus. So there, the figure, the transmitter, was Kepes, Gyorgy Kepes. So, Moholy Nagy died early
and then Kepes was the link, and that also brought the steady flux of people from the United States back to the College of Design Ulm, and there, and another part
of the story is, of course, that raised a lot of criticism from the left-wing artists of the Situationists International, Asger Jorn and the “new
Bauhaus imaginistes”, they called them “functionalists”, and for them, “functionalist”
was a derogatory term. – [Attendee 3] So, the Yugoslavian founder of New Tendencies, how
do I pronounce his name? – Matko Mestrovic. – [Attendee 3] How did
he regard documenta? Because I know documenta
preceded New Tendencies, I guess documenta Two
was already established before New Tendencies was founded. So I was wondering how he and his, the fellow artists, that he went on to
establish New Tendencies, how did they regard, what was feeling regarding documenta? – Okay, one thing is, very, a small anecdote, he thinks, he told me, I had several long interviews, like life-story interviews, and he thinks he was the
first Yugoslav art critic ever to visit documenta. – [Attendee 3] Which documenta? – I think the one in, was there one in ’58 or,
one, the first one I think. ’56. But you must consider, documenta was a very different thing. documenta was quite officially a German reaction to all modern art having been
prohibited by the Nazis. It was a way of re-familiarizing the German
public with the big names. The first years it was
Picasso, Matisse, and so on. The really big names. (muffled speech from audience) Yeah, yeah. Exactly, it was a nation rebuilding, democratizing people through that, it was quite top-down. And the New Tendencies
were the young radicals. So initially, the first
exhibition was quite small. And there is a period leading up to New Tendencies, and
they were a sort of, they had the artist-run,
self-organized spaces. Zero in Dusseldorf had, from ’57, they had this sort of
one-evening exhibitions in the studio. Piero Manzoni and, they had a gallery in Milan which was just
open for nine months. But in those nine months, everybody who is now important passed through that gallery. So those were the sort of people who, at the time, were not in the art system, and created their own aesthetics, their own programmatic against the art system, just to be swallowed
up by it very quickly. – [Attendee 4] Do you think
that this also had to do with the position of former
east, in relation to Europe– – Sorry, my hearing is
currently a bit bad. – [Attendee 4] Oh, sorry. Do you think this might
also have something to do with the position of former
east, in relation to Europe, status and power? – Yes, yes. But one thing I did not go into too much because it would have just
made my talk much longer is that Yugoslavia had
a very special position. As it was not part of the Eastern Bloc, Yugoslavia was a founding member of the Non-Aligned Nations Movement. The Non-Aligned Nations Movement was formed after a
first conference in 1955 in Bandung, Indonesia, where Nehru of India, Sukarno of Indonesia, Nasser of Egypt, Kwame from Ghana and Tito from Yugoslavia decided, “Okay, there’s the capitalist west, “and there is the
so-called communist east,” but they recognized the communist project of the Soviet Union was just another imperialist project, and they decided, “We
should have the right “to decide our own path, our own way.” And that was the Non-Aligned
Nations Movement, and Yugoslavia was the only
European founding nation. And that gave it such a
special position politically, because that meant that their system, also, at that time, was called Market Socialism. So, in a way, it was an open country, Europeans could travel
to Yugoslavia visa-free, and for artists from the Soviet Bloc, it was more easy for artists from Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary,
to go to Yugoslavia than to go to a western country. So that’s why they could
become such a meeting ground, but that’s also the
thing, the sad history, is that Yugoslavia destroyed itself in a civil war in the 1990s, so fairly recent history, and the nations that came out of that are all fervently anti-socialist. And everything that concerns the past of socialist Yugoslavia, such as New Tendencies, they don’t hold in very high esteem. So, in Serbia you will probably have two dozen people who the New Tendencies. In Croatia, where I have been, it’s a bit better, so they start to embrace it as part of their artistic tradition. But you really have an inequality, also, in terms of who writes the history, and who decides what is important and what goes into the history books and what doesn’t. So, that’s, of course, already a factor. And already, at the
time, they talked about cultural imperialism, and it’s a strong word but probably something of that kind has been happening. – [Mark] Thank you
Armin, I thought that was a really brilliant lecture. Really interesting to me and really important. For my students, I just
want to contextualize a bit the project that you’re engaged in. In art history and in curatorial practice, over the last decade or maybe 15 years, there’s been a lot of work done exploring additional or alternative Modernisms. So, when I was educated in the late 1980s and early 1990s we talked about Modernism as if it were a fairly monolithic thing. It was a rather Eurocentric
approach to the subject, which really located
Modernism in western Europe and in the United States. And as Armin Medosch mentioned, there was this terrific book
by Serge Guilbaut called “How New York Stole the Idea
of Modern Art from Paris”, and it was really how
abstract expressionism marked this point of transition where the Avant-Garde went from Paris, and
western Europe in general, to New York, and how that was sort of orchestrated in large part by the United States Department
of State and the CIA through a form of literal
cultural imperialism, trying to use American Avant-Garde art as a kind of cultural
weapon in the Cold War. But in any case, so
what Armin is doing here is part of a larger project that lots of art historians and curators are undertaking to expand
our definition of Modernism so that we understand
that things were happening all over the world simultaneously. And how all these
different Modernisms are, they’re aware of each
other, but they’re also all symptomatic of similar macrotrends, for example, industrialization, which he was talking
about at the beginning. So, now, for a question. You asked, you sort of wanted to flag up a couple of points, and one was, why has the history of
New Tendencies been, well I would say either
not written, or erased? And of course, you could
understand “not writing” as almost a form, like a
passive form of erasure. And my sense is you have
a hypothetical answer to your own question. So I’d ask you why you think that is? And then I might respond to that. – Half of the answer we
have already discussed. There were these mechanisms that New York became the capital of modern art, artists who were actually
influenced, at some point, by those European artists, who had seen The Responsive
Eye, for example, it’s known that Sol Lewitt has
seen Morellet’s work in ’65 and he started his own work
with grids a year later. But that would be nitpicking. But what they did, they
distanced themselves from their, sort of,
any European influence. That played hand-in-hand
with the art market, with the way the direction
the galleries went, and again, it was not just about geographical regions, or directions. There’s really an important book also by Midori Yamamura about Yayoi Kusama. I mean, Kusama was so
important in New York in ’61, and then she left. And she left because she was, she did never make it, she could never get a proper
gallery representation here. So those mechanisms also conspired against women, against
non-European women in particular, and those were very strong mechanisms which then also continued in the way art history was done until recently, and you are right, it’s a real project now, recovering these sort of
de-centered Modernisms. And I happen to have been
at a few conferences, and it’s a really great thing. The other thing that happened is maybe, and that’s more my personal answer, is that New Tendencies
really, at some point, they tried to more formally
constitute themselves as a movement. And as I said, there had been
these different currencies within New Tendencies. The more abstract,
rational, socialist wing, with mainly the, actually, not the
Yugoslavs, that was funny, but actually more with the
Italian and French artists. And they are these more lyrical, poetical, sensible, light-ballet, sort of German,
Austro-Hungarian wing, whatever. And what happened in ’63, they tried to expulse all those people. So the French rationalists, they did the classical “pretend” thing, you know, “We’re making a movement, “we have to kick out everybody “who is not completely
following our line.” And one of the issues was, for instance, they really, they made lists
of who is in and who is out. And they gave reasons why
people were kicked out. And there’s funny
correspondences in the archives. The history of New Tendencies
is fairly well preserved in the Museum of
Contemporary Art in Zagreb. Not in digital form
but in cardboard boxes. And the letters are really funny. So they sent letters to Otto Piene and Heinz Mack, and they said, “Your latest work doesn’t suit “with the current development “of our movement, please send other work.” And then when they made lists, they also gave reasons, as I said. And one reason, because as I explained, Morellet had this very strong
drive against intuition. And generally they wanted to get rid of the hand of the artist. That was an ideologically-driven thing. It should not show the hand of the artist, because they thought, in a modern industrial society, that’s ancient. And so, for instance,
they accused some artists of “sensible execution.” So you were supposed to decide on your algorithm, a set of proceedings, materials which you would use, and then you would carry out the algorithm without any sensible execution. If you had sensible execution, “Okay, you’re out, sensible execution.” – [Mark] It reminds me, you made reference to Sol Lewitt and his “Paragraphs of Conceptual Art”. He wrote, “In conceptual art, “the idea is a machine
that makes the work. “Execution is a perfunctory affair.” – Totally the same. That’s what I said, that’s this relation. Morellet and Sol Lewitt, it’s a really close relation. Again, I think it would be wrong to say that Lewitt stole from Morellet. Maybe some subconscious influence, but maybe also such things
come up at the same time in different parts of the world, and yeah. It was this idea of making an art adequate for an advanced
industrial society, actually. Where this craft-based approach, I mean, Duchamps made the gesture 60 years or 50 years earlier, actually. – [Attendee 6] Can you talk more about how the computer art was political? It was specifically because of the decision of changing the
media at that time, or? – How it was? – [Attendee 6] The relation between computer art and political, like how it was political. – Okay, so yeah, that was a big question, it was a big problem. Because you can really
say there were two phases. There was the first
phase, from ’61 to ’65, where you had those
groups and collectives, Group N, Group, actually there was an
American group involved, also completely forgotten, with the beautiful name “Anonyma”. They were from Cleveland, Ohio. Very interesting, it would
be, to research them. And there was a Russian
group called Vizenje. So in the first phase
there were these movements, and they had this idea
of participatory art in order to activate the spectator, and they used this notion of “research’ and “programmed art”, but if you look at how
the works were made, they were totally simple. This is what, actually, any slightly-skilled
human person could do. They were not such great craftsmen. And then they had this break, and then it was more
like a forward flight. They saw their aesthetics had conquered the art market without any concern for their politics. And then they got this idea for making visual research with the computer, but how to? I mean, at the time, getting access to a mainframe computer was really difficult, so when they had the second
phase of New Tendencies, which started in ’68, ’69, there was almost a complete
change of personnel. There were only five
artists from the first phase who then switched to
working with the computer. And that also meant getting
access to a computer, and very often, also, finding
a technician to work with. So in ’68, ’69, they made not just one event,
but a series of events, in May ’69, that was really big, with a competition in computer art. And you had a new type of collective who was the winner, which was the American corporation. Actually, the first prize went to a computer graphics, in California, and the second to Boeing. So, in a way, the kind of politicized
collectives of New Tendencies were replaced by corporations who had the financial
means to do computer art. So you had Boeing, I forgot its name, computer graphics, it’s a very famous
company, they still exist, or they existed for a long
time in California … Anyways, and also Bell Labs. So they were the “computer artists”, and they had great people. It’s not that I want
to dismiss the people. They were programmers
like Kenneth Knowlton, Michael Noll, they did great work, it was technically innovative. But formally, a bit boring. It was two-dimensional graphics, mostly, on paper, and it was really just about the aesthetics. And one of the few artists
of that generation, actually, Charles Jury, is one of the few who made this fantastic work, “Random War”, which actually did
address the Vietnam War. But within the New Tendencies, that actually led to a small scandal. Because when they had that symposium, one of the participants
of the first phase came, Alberto Piazzi, and he said, “How can you do this? “How can you now focus on computer art, “when around, the whole
world is exploding?” We have Paris May, we have
Italian Hot Autumn of ’69, it was not just Paris,
it was a global movement, it was not just about Vietnam, it was about many things. It was a new social imaginary, actually. And then, in Zagreb, they were thinking about flowchart diagrams. There’s a term, actually, coming from science that is about a sort of Cold War rationality. And it’s possible, I don’t want to wave the
finger at New Tendencies, but it’s possible, among
some of the older school, also there was this link coming from Art Concrete, and from this
mathematical approach in art, and this interest in information
aesthetic and cybernetics, that that has a slight overlap with this Cold War rationality. And in a way, ’68 sort of blew that away. People did not follow that anymore. There was a new sensibility, and that’s why I also showed
those Slovenian artists, they made different things. And the young people
made different things. And New Tendencies were
just a few years older, but that already created a split. I hope, does that answer your question? (audience applause)

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