Caroline Jones: Experience
(S. 167 – 191)

Art, science and the server-user-mode

Caroline Jones


PDF, 25 Seiten

The happy fact that the word for ›experience‹ and ›experiment‹ is the same in French – expérience – emerges from a culture of empiricism that drove both science and art at specific moments in Euro-American history. Appeals to empirical experience formed a figure like Monet (»only an eye«, as Cézanne is rumored to have said, »but what an eye!«).1 The capacity to master grief through the analytic transposition of tones during rigor mortis (as in the artist’s extraordinary painting of his wife Camille on her deathbed) is only one artifact indicating the triumph of data collection over romanticism, confirming the experimental meaning of experience over its emotional valence.

›Experience‹ in this empirical sense both unites and divides the domains of science and art. What counts as data? What stimulates aesthetics? That these questions are so alien to each other masks the common output of both enterprises: knowledge production. The century of disciplinary activity codified in the ›two culture‹ debate also conceals another emerging commonality in the scientific and artworld subject – a form of knowledge production I have elsewhere identified as »the server-user mode«.2 Let me put it this way: when we examine any of Monet’s series, we sense Comtean positivism and the testing of a hypothesis. But crucially for my argument, this hypothesis is not about light and atmosphere. Rather, the continuity between this modernism and our own moment lies in the artwork’s test of the capacity of the artist to become a registration device for data, and the viewer to play an active role in its interpretation. The paintings are clocks, but it is bio-perceptual processes that are being calibrated, measured, and reproduced. The hypothesis being tested regards the subject, not the object of art. Experience in this register may first be individualized to the painter, but is quickly generalized to us viewers – and in Monet’s complex backward and forward gaze, the modernist compulsion toward industrial serial production and self-regulation is coupled with the supposed universalism of timeless religious truth and the order of nature. Such reformations of the observing subject occur in parallel in science, where Ernst Mach’s relentlessly physical redaction of sense data, for example, took form as a fully monocular masculine Western subject in his 1886 rendering of the world viewed through the eye-socket and over the shoulder of the one who draws the picture.3 (fig. 1) Mach’s empirical registration of the apparatus of vision (the eye-socket) can be connected to the analysis of the utopian body that would come almost a century later from a very young Foucault, who theorized this monocularity, and explored the body’s simultaneous presence and absence from Continental philosophy. Here is Foucault: »My head, for example, my head: what a strange cavern, that opens onto the world with two windows. Two openings – I am sure of it, because I see them in the mirror, and also because I can close one or the other separately. And yet, there is really only one opening – since what I see facing me is only one continuous landscape, without partition or gap.«4 Foucault gave us the right questions to keep asking, even if his »one continuous landscape« is increasingly punctured by multiple screens and messages from times and places other than where we nominally are. The question is: what kinds of subjects are we becoming, in these networked brains embedded in their fleshy, neuronal viscera? And are these art-implicated subjects finding their parallel in science? Now more than ever we need to think about ›experience‹ as embodied thought – now when that ›cavern‹ and the thick, sensory envelope that populates it with consciousness is studded with earphones, zooming in psychopharmaceuticals, extended with prostheses, dazzled by odorless tastes and tasteless odors, transported by new media, and buzzing with ideas. (fig. 2) You will say: this is not the first moment we have confronted such questions. But if the Dadaists anticipated prosthetic subjecthood, their experience was of an intact head with attachments. The complexity of input and internalization in contemporary art, and the sheer scope of scientific interpellation of us as subjects, is a world away. Artists attempt to materialize the sense data of contemporary subject positions. Materialization is exactly what the artist can bring into being that the scientist does not: a way to make empirical research come alive in the body of the viewer. An enduring trope, materialization of research processes has taken different forms throughout the 20th century. Almost exactly in between the Berlin Dadaism of Raoul Hausmann and the new media manipulations of today’s artists are the efforts of U.S. artists such as Robert Irwin or James Turrell, who collaborated with scientists from Bell Labs in order to materialize laboratory set-ups of the ganzfeld in public art museums. The theatricality of such maneuvers was rhetorically minimized by reading the work as dematerialized – feeding tensions between theory and materiality, research and production, mind and body, science and art that are more present than ever in the contemporary artworld. Where does materialization fit in the global sphere of activity I call ›biennial culture‹, (particularly in that considerable portion of the contemporary artworld that has increasingly emphasized experience as its goal)? Exactly where is this experience to be located? What materialities does it require? There is in this refrain a yearning for the body, location, site-specificity – yet increasingly we operate with diffuse and distributed forms of knowledge production in both art and science.

The case of Olafur Eliasson sharpens such debates. The artist insists on physical materialization, always in service to an experience seductively located in the »you« of his titles. Yet complexities of data and conceptual rhetorics are always in play, always part of the intellectual discourse framing ›experience‹. The built-in tensions among research, production, reception, and discourse are fueled by Eliasson’s insistence that his studio »is like a laboratory«, but let’s admit that it also functions pretty effectively as a factory for contemporary art objects and installations. The artist cultivates this dynamic between research and facture – »the translation from thinking into doing is the radical thing« – but it forces yet another question: just what is being researched and produced?5 In the art of Eliasson (and, I would argue, much of his generation), the objects being produced, and the socio-material technologies they imply, are only part of the story. (fig. 3) The physical works are merely one aspect of the ongoing activity of knowledge production. While experience is often positioned discursively or philosophically as ›prior‹ to knowledge, I want to insist that we can make no such separation. And if I want to emphasize the art and science of today as forms of ›knowledge production‹, this phrase needs pluralization into kinds of knowledge, and attention to the ethical frame articulated in Gilles Deleuze’s reading of Foucault: »Everything is knowledge, and this is the first reason why there is no ›savage experience‹: there is nothing beneath or prior to knowledge. But knowledge is irreducibly double, since it involves speaking and seeing, language and light […].«6 Beyond double, in fact – for to the twinned systems of statements and visibilities we must add proprioception, ratiocination, memory, and the multiplied flows on which the body surfs to constitute a constantly morphing subjectivity. The emphasis on ›experience‹ in so much contemporary art is a token of this complexity: the subject (and knowledge) emerge from a dynamic set of interactions involving the body and the episteme that together construct the flows of consciousness.

It is in this register that early twentieth-century American pragmatist philosopher John Dewey becomes relevant once again, writing of the pleasures of aesthetics as »an adjustment of our whole being with the conditions of existence.«7 Codified in Art as Experience, Dewey’s program joined a nexus of pedagogical philosophies emerging from late 18th century Europe: Johann H. Pestalozzi’s emphasis on observation and action, the materialization of those methods in ›Froebel cubes‹, the distribution of such reformatory ideas through the Enlightenment mechanism of the world’s fairs, their consolidation in the 20th century as ›progressive education‹.8 When Dewey was preparing his views in 1931 for the William James lectures at Harvard, he was acutely aware of the scientific precedents for his examination of esthetic experience in what James once called the »blooming, buzzing confusion« of the world.9 Husserl too is in this mix, following experimentalists Theodore Lipps and Wilhelm Wundt. But it is in Dewey’s philosophical musings that aesthetic experience in particular emerges as a most precious subset of life consciousness. For Dewey, writing at the dawn of the age of automation, it is in aesthetic experience that we can compensate for the increasing dominance of routinized and alienated labor. Aesthetic experience brings the subject fully awake to a heightened animal existence, organically in the moment and thrillingly alive to that very condition. Yet despite this almost Fourier-ist sensualism, Dewey’s very language is indebted to technoscience – the ›push-pull‹ engineering theories of mind that were later to be codified as ›gestalt psychology‹. Here is a passage from his chapter on The Organization of Energies: »Repetition of uniform units at uniform intervals is not only not rhythmic but is opposed to the experience of rhythm. A checkerboard effect is more pleasing than a large blank space […]. For experience of the checkered arrangement is not so regular as is the object taken physically and geometrically. As the eye moves it takes in new and reënforcing surfaces, and careful observation will show that new patterns are almost automatically constructed. […] The organic demand for variety is such that it is enforced in experience, even without much external occasion.«10 Dewey, I argue, is an underappreciated contributor to the intellectual climate emerging in New York at the end of the 1930s, a mood that favored rhythmic gesture and the experience of intuitive action over the ratiocination of Cubism and geometric form. Dewey’s scientism was seemingly of little interest to the painters and critics emerging in New York in the 1940s – yet we know, for example, that Art As Experience was crucial to the formalist critic Clement Greenberg, who gave copies of the book to his European contacts and wrote to a friend in August 1940: »[…] criticism is the only really living genre left. […] I know my style is too much like Thorstein Veblen and John Dewey, but I’ll be damned if I can deliver the birth otherwise«.11 Setting aside his adulation of the radical economist Veblen (whom Greenberg would have known as a co-founder, with Dewey, of the New School for Social Research in downtown Manhattan), we see here during the war the strong identification of artworld types with American pragmatist philosophy – positivist, scientific, and thoroughly suffused with progressivist interpretations of Darwin, Einstein, and Freud. Again, ›experience‹ in this context was not the sentimental education of an emotion-suffused sensibility, it was contact-based concrete knowledge, built from a physical encounter with the world. It goes without saying that Marx and the scientific study of capitalist deformations of the body were also in this mix.

For U.S. artists, the claims of experience were established in this period by Greenberg’s readings of Dewey, and later became codified in the forceful images taken by Hans Namuth in 1950 of Pollock painting, interpreted as an almost shamanistic dance around the prone canvas. Greenberg would attempt to contain the aspects of performativity that were implied by ›Action Painting‹, the title given to such modes of art-making by his arch-rival, critic Harold Rosenberg. While acknowledging the radicality of Pollock’s method (even identifying a »crisis in easel painting« initiated by Pollock’s work), Greenberg staked his career on the necessity of converting raw experience to high culture. In particular, he became adept at suturing Pollock’s abstractions to a vast modernist tradition stretching from the »concrete, positivist« realism of Courbet, through the necessary rationalism of Cubism and Mondrian, to what he saw as Pollock’s achievement in creating an art for »our modern sensibility« in a technologized, industrialized world.12 But Greenberg’s disembodiment of the Dewey argument would not hold. Artists such as Alan Kaprow (who had studied the philosopher’s works while at Columbia) theorized a different »legacy of Jackson Pollock«, recalling Dewey in a new emphasis on action and experience in late 1950s artistic production. While codified by Kaprow as ›Happenings‹, such experiential engagements prompted a return to the body that resonated around the world in Vienna Actionism, the Gutai Group, and experimental theater and choreography, fueling concepts of interactivity and the performative that propel much aesthetic discourse today.13

Beyond the epistemological relations I have alluded to above, what concrete connection does Dewey, a U.S. educator, philosopher, and pragmatist, have to the Husserlian and Merleau-Pontyan phenomenology that saturated the discussions around art in the 1960s, and are still used for understandings of an Olafur Eliasson installation today? To find this connection, we have to follow the branching tree of phenomenology back to the extraordinary experimentalism of a Wilhelm Wundt, with whom both Dewey’s mentor William James and Edmund Husserl each studied.14 Direct experience was so important to Wundt that he connected his own body to electrical wires in order to obtain the ›data‹ he needed. Franz Brentano is another common thread in the emerging discipline of 19th century phenomenology, which would only later be split into US - Continental divisions. For our purposes, it is only important to note that Brentano was, along with Wundt and James, determined to apply the principles of natural science to the study of mind – yielding the phenomenological philosophy that gives us on the one hand Dewey, and on the other, Husserl. In the American case, it is not hard to see how the paintings of the Abstract Expressionists emerged into the critical field prepared by Dewey’s book. Absent of reference and narrative, these abstractions appealed to experience. That experience was described as absorbing and replenishing the viewer, substituting vibrant skeins of paint or glowing fields of color for the random onslaught of disordered stimulus from an industrializing world. Unlike perceptions of a bounded canvas however, an experience of contemporary art (such as an Eliasson installation) can itself be overwhelming, with streams of sensory data that activate both rapid, »magnocellular« processing systems in the brain, and the slower, »parvocellular« ones (the first feels intuitive, the other reflective).15

Here is where the claims of experience can be invoked – for an ›experience‹ is understood to unfold over time, and the speed of one pathway (the rods in the magnocellular system, with their emphasis on movement, spatial relations, and strong contrasts) versus the relative slowness of the other (the cones in the parvocellular system, with their parsing of color and fine details) may contribute to the layered perceptions that constitute visual consciousness.16 But to say that physiology plays a role in ›experience‹ is not to make common cause with the absurdities of that chimera of art history, neuroaesthetics, but rather to attempt an understanding of the precise specificity of embodied vision.17 Escaping from the universalist bias of most gestalt work and mid-century modernist painting, what counts for contemporary artists today is often non-universalist, localized, and embedded in particular bodies. The subjectivities generated by contemporary art can be performative, relational, networked, or insistently phenomenological (as in Eliasson’s case) – and the work attempts to open itself to changing informational conditions and viewer positions with each situated installation. That is, the challenge to the contemporary artist is to strategize a situation rather than construct an art object. Accepting the location of reception in specific bodies, the artist-generated situation must also acknowledge the politics of cultural exchange that the art inaugurates.

Perhaps only awkwardly captured by the ›server-user‹ metaphor I have deployed, this is a relation in which the artist must acknowledge that only the ›user‹ can make meaning (rather than accept it as imposed). But crucially, the user/server functions can switch at any moment. As soon as the user acts as the conductor passing on knowledge from the piece, she becomes a server. The extremely mutable sense of that term in informational technology is useful to convey the combination of hardware and software that perform as vectors for the flow of data and platforms for its storage (technologists speak of the personal computer as »a forest of servers and clients operating in parallel«).18 Similarly, my model proposes that the viewer can become a ›server‹ when conveying data and knowledge from the art to the world. Conversely, the artist and art can become ›users‹ when assembling information from various sources preparatory to ›serving‹ the new assemblage to the world. The subjectivities associated with the server/user mode are thus formed by techno-social experiences, but are relational – and hence mutable, dynamic, and evolving rather than fixed.

The historical impetus for all this can be traced to the postwar shift from information to informatics, affecting economics, science, and art.19 Signalling these epistemic shifts in the early 1960s were hugely scaled up factory models of aggregative labor (physicists converting from desk-top experiments to the industrial assemblages of big science; artists shopping out work or setting up basic assembly lines). While they implied deskilling, such new forms of labor also freed art and science to reach new planes of conceptualization, and demanded radically new receptive frames. They drew on earlier machinic ways of being: machines for living (Le Corbusier), readymade desiring-production machines (Marcel Duchamp), and in the postwar period they became the ›large business‹ machines of particle detectors (West Coast U.S. physicist Luis Alvarez), ›mechanical means‹ for mass image production (Andy Warhol), ›executive‹ artists’ serial modes (Frank Stella), and eventually even ideas as machines for making art (Sol LeWitt).20 (fig. 4) The machine was more than a metaphor in this period. It retooled the producer and the receiver, while smuggling the author-function back in as manager of the workstream. The concepts of ›knowledge production‹ and ›experience‹ are useful only if they can capture such discursive dynamics, by which the ›object‹ of art or science is nothing less than the local ›subject‹ making meaning: of experience, of data, of sensory phenomena, of the broader social and political field.

The localized uptake of dispersed information followed the paradoxical logic of late modernism, which had ensured that ›big science‹ (Alvarez) and »the business art business« (Warhol) expanded outward at the very moment they seemed most centralized.21 Responding to the anxiety produced by centralization itself, scientific centers of production were strategically dispersed in the cold war, but then they had to be linked again by new superhighways authorized and funded as defense expenditures. In this same period, telephone systems were wired for reliability through packet switching (backed up with redundant electrical systems), and scientific experiments became coordinated entities including hundreds of physicists, scanners, and data managers. Artistic author-functions had been tightly centralized for a century, but at this postwar moment even the centralized author name became a distributed function: as when a typeset brand name Andy Warhol could be stamped on prints, films, national advertisements and mass-marketed imagery. The structural implications for a future ›network‹ of servers and users was already in place – even if relays were still imagined as ›nerve centers‹ subject to the control of the market or the state.

What historian of science Peter Galison and I have argued from this history is that neither science nor art was simply ›mimicking‹ a preexisting industrial model. Cultural and scientific agents’ dispersed informational activities in the 1970s and ’80s preceded and informed the design of industrial practices not widely implemented until the 1990s. In only the most dramatic example, microwave proto-ethernet links first emerged on the west coast of the United States in the 1970s to tie dispersing physics laboratories together; in 1989, the software innovator Tim Berners-Lee appropriated some of this net protocol to propose the ideas behind the World Wide Web. (fig. 5) Still operating as a scientist, Berners-Lee made it clear that the laboratory was not merely responding to changes in the wider industrial world, but was a prototype for everywhere else: »The problems of information loss may be particularly acute at CERN, but in this case […] CERN is a model in miniature of the rest of the world in a few years’ time.«22

Berners-Lee was correct in his prophecy. With the fundamentally de-centering tools of Internet and Web, there emerged a new logic of multiple, interacting servers and users, explicitly theorized by artists and materialized in the set-ups of new media art. In Perry Hoberman’s 1999 Systems Maintenance, for example, visitors were provided with life-size furniture, a hand-manipulable model of the same objects, and a virtual world in which furniture, model, and ideal living room were mapped on a computer monitor – viewers became users and either maximized or ›cured‹ the chaos of three different informational systems. (fig. 6) At the same time, they could work as ›servers‹ to coordinate information from the different systems so knowledge could be passed along. Information and experience are what Hoberman aims to call up in works such as Ball del Fanalet, a work commissioned for Barcelona by the Fundació Joan Miró. The artist arrived with little more than a laptop, intending to work with local artists and computer scientists on integrating music, a computer program for sensing motion via infrared signals, and a visual ›virtual ground-plane‹ with which visitors would interact. The final concept and title for the piece came from a local practice he learned about from his hosts: a Catalan dance competition (the ball del fanalet), in which couples waltz holding tiny colored lanterns. The dancers may stay on the floor until the candle in their lanterns goes out, and the last couple dancing wins. But Hoberman’s hosts experienced a sudden anxiety stemming from the local specificity of this knowledge and the bodies that possessed it – would the piece be perceived as propounding a Catalan nationalism, hence inflaming the politics of contemporary Spain? (The flashy multinational venture of Guggenheim Bilbao had already aggravated the testy Basque politics of the North.) Hoberman’s patrons sought, in short, a link with global, transnational, electronic world culture, and they were unsettled when their artist of choice insisted on weaving the local and its body knowledge into what he called his »sensate environment« of dancing creatures and colored lights.23

Have pressures of the virtual made such appeals to embodied experience anachronistic? Or is a pervasive virtuality precisely what is driving the contemporary obsession with experiential, physical presence, much as Dewey was motivated by the urgency of automated and alienated labor? Artist/engineer Ken Goldberg and his collaborators have examined these questions by focusing on the ways in which sensory cues construct how we know what we know (epistemology), and how that confidence is distributed and deployed by our virtual networks. Goldberg first began to play with concepts of local experience and diffused knowledge production in the mid 1990s, when he began to enlist the web for what he dubbed »telepistemology«.24 By invoking and theorizing this remote mode of knowing, Goldberg encouraged us to explore the conditions of doubt and faith driving the production of knowledge in the contemporary moment.25 Typically, his artworks depend on a community of users who build a log of responses and speculations that are recorded on the work’s website; in Telegarden these communities constituted the subject of the work. For the piece to function, users (over 9,000 the first year of operation) visited the site a minimum of 100 times each, to establish their community bona fides so that they might command the robot to drill a hole in the soil and plant a seed. The distant robot was simultaneously a planting and an imaging machine; directing its position via computer also revealed a segment of the garden below. Users could become gardeners only if they were committed, constituting what Goldberg called a ›post-nomadic‹ community, an edenic cyberspace rife with irony since it could only be accessed on the net. The collaborative distributed intelligence of such a system demands interaction and dispersed networked relations – indeed, these are the only ways that knowledge can be produced from such information.

Goldberg’s work marks an historical ›punctum‹ around 2000, in which we can witness the old economy of maker/receiver shifting ineluctably toward a ›hive mind‹ of users and servers. In place of the art object as movable but intact, we have had, increasingly, to accept knowledge production and aesthetic experience as inevitably hybrid, mediated, deferred and diffuse. Numerous practices have emerged from this situation to characterize today’s artworld. Not only artists, but curators, sociologists, and theorists have been challenged by the emerging dynamic of social art practices. The »relational aesthetics« theorized in 2002 by Nicholas Bourriaud echoes what I am calling the server/user mode of distributed knowledge production via socially networked practices.26 Yet while Bourriaud’s description is appropriate, it doesn’t capture the specific technologies of labor, culture, and networked distribution that seem to me to be a crucial component of any historical reckoning with our current moment. And if recent attention to the performative foregrounds intensely local knowledge purveyed by singing, talking, moving or negotiating bodies (as in the work of Tino Sehgal or Santiago Sierra), the artworld’s patent yearning for ›presence‹ does not acknowledge strongly enough how documents and discourses are responsible for that enabling myth – constitutive of the networks that continue to form subjects outside the temporal moment of the performance itself and ›servers‹ that spread tokens of presence among users.27 In this regard, the shift in video art from an early 1970s structuralist moment (in which the apparatus is always problematized) to the blandishments of digital projection in the 1990s provides another example of the precariousness of embodied perception – and our continuing desire for embodied ways of knowing. For even as the apparatus seamlessly dissolved into projection, the video needed to become ›physicalized‹ as installation. Simultaneously, independent filmmakers left the festival circuit’s traditional theaters and moved increasingly into multi-channel projections shown in art contexts. Informationally, video is clearly another vector for knowledge production, more obvious with the documentary thrust of artists such as Emily Jacir, Walid Ra’ad, or the collaborative pair Allora & Calzadilla. Theirs are largely works of identity politics in which ›experience‹ is reported to the viewer, but there is a subset of cinematic work that also insists on experience as a function of duration and perceptual phenomena lodged in the user. Here I’m thinking about Tacita Dean’s slow takes, Douglas Gordon’s excruciating recuts, or Bruce Nauman’s endless variations on his haunted nocturnal studio.

We may become aware of our body perceptions in these intensely durational, phenomenologically-oriented video projections, but this is the exception that proves the rule. More often, embodied perception is asserted rather than felt, mobilized by claims to performative ›presence‹ or in appeals to experience by the discourse arranged around the artwork. Given the spectacles required in actual artworld practices, such assertions can ring hollow. Eliasson remains a key exemplar of the knife-edge negotiations required of the contemporary artist who would remain on the embodied side of experience, but who increasingly produces massive installations to do so. One strategy has been for the artist to insist upon the modest empiricism of ›research‹, alluding to the scientific basis for experience that implicitly undergirds its massive scale-up in exhibition. Eliasson’s increasingly adamant insistence on the studio and its processes of experimentation is one clue that the physical work bids to be seen in the context of exploratory and experimental sensory interactions. The works’ fabrication, the embodied experience they require, and Eliasson’s efforts to shape his own discourse are all part of production and feed into the experience of reception; the artist’s emphasis on his studio as »really a laboratory« ensures that the exhibition will be devalued as the privileged site of knowledge production. It is merely the site for experience becoming public, a server/user interface from which meaning and knowledge will continue to ripple out into the world.

Eliasson’s Green river pieces from early in his career (in which bio-safe tracer dye is released, unannounced, into an urban waterway) allowed him to materialize a key metaphor for this continuous knowing and embodied durational experience. By renewing viewers’ conceptions that the river is moving in time the artist could connect that experience discursively through Heroclitus to phenomenology, referencing Merleau-Ponty’s observation that the metaphor of time as a river can only be explained »by our surreptitiously putting into the river a witness of its course. […] Time is […] not an actual succession that I am content to record. It arises from my relation to things«.28 Mobilizing such discussions (by quoting the Merleau-Ponty passage on a wall label, for example) is itself a form of knowledge production, in which the art assemblage is an instigator of information, a ›server‹ of theory for the user. Such conceptual efforts are balanced in the Eliasson oeuvre by appeals to experience in works that announce their anti-discursive, anti-conceptual intentions (The blue window that never thinks, 2000), prompting fleshy cogitations that may begin ›mute‹, confused, or ecstatic. Titles remind the user that it is her responsibility to think and feel. Eliasson’s yearning for embodied reception is scripted into his English language titles, through their use of the second-person pronomial shifter (Your foresight endured, Your sun machine, Your inverted veto, or, in a 2006 survey catalogue, Your Engagement has Consequences).29 Clearly a nod to 1980s postmodernism (particularly Barbara Kruger’s confrontational pronouns), this interlocutory style is linked by Eliasson to ethical philosophy (e.g., Jean Luc Nancy’s Being singular plural).30 In the artist’s words: »To sustain an idea of the public, a sense of the collective, would be diametrically opposed to individuality and would sustain instead an idea of individualities. …I say this as an individual, but I also say this as a company owner …this can be said for the way you run a factory also«.31 Thus, Eliasson mines a globalized artworld language, English, for the unique ambiguity between a singular »you« and a collective »You« that might eventually form. This »You« is not universal, but aggregative – an assembly of differences that must be negotiated in time and in space (like the ancient Icelandic rock-circle that gave its name to the country’s parliament, Altingen or »all things«).32 In other words, postmodernism’s dismantling of a false universalism does not prohibit the collective subject from reassembling during the experience of an encounter. This is central to the relational work of knowledge production – as in the Tate public’s reception of The Weather Project. (fig. 7) Rather than passing through the voluminous space of the Turbine Hall, visitors lay on the floor (sometimes for the better part of an hour), ›lolling‹ on the concrete beach created by Eliasson’s simple solar illusion (mirror film, a disk of thin plastic, a mist machine, and monochrome yellow lights). The singular ›you‹ became a collaborative ›You‹, as individuals (former strangers?) negotiated to link themselves into complex figures – in one case, forming backwards letters that would spell »Fuck Bush« in the ceiling mirror that all could see.

The collective subject of contemporary art – and arguably science – is crucially not a universal one. It is an aggregate and an assembly of ›all things‹ (Altingen) that jostle against each other and generate the information of life and consciousness. A prime theorist of this contemporary dynamic is Bruno Latour, who was the vector for Eliasson’s own understanding of the significance of his native Iceland’s parliamentary name. Latour’s Making Things Public (an exhibition at ZKM in 2005 and massive catalogue co-edited with Peter Weibel for MIT Press) brought together just such an assembly of things – Eliasson being one of the few artists on view amidst statistical, documentary, and forensic displays.33 Making Things Public attempted to materialize the fractious, frictional, but somehow productive »dingpolitik« of human democracy, »not progress, but progressive« as Latour commented in 2010.34 Recently updated in a Compositionalist Manifesto, Latour’s position is resolutely post-Marxist, railing against the one big idea of »modern scientific progress« and its othering of ›nature‹ in favor of a confrontation with the shards of an entirely human catastrophe in the ecological domain.35 Interested in Lovelock’s model of Gaia as an ecosystem in which the human is but one symbiont among many, Latour demands our acknowledgement that if the universal is impossible, the collective is inescapable. False consciousness is not examined in order to free the individual to throw off his or her chains, but to bring us to an awareness of our utter entanglement with all energies, entropies, and entities in the cosmos.

Can such a biologically-driven model be connected to the technocratic metaphor of ›servers and users‹, and to the appeals to experience I have been examining? The link is information itself, carried by the server/user and also theorized as constitutive of the most basic structures of the physical universe and the most detailed expressions of gene-driven life. Data, broadly speaking, articulates itself in the playing-out of an ecosystem’s possibilities as much as in their capacity to be conceptualized in human consciousness or recorded as number, image, and text. The experience of information surfaces in both Eliasson’s emphasis on discourse and in the work of countless other contemporary artists. Matthew Ritchie, for example, has long pursued the connections between technological modes of being (avatars no less than server/users) and bio-chemical and cosmological entropy; his recent ›anti-pavilion‹ in Seville attempted nothing less than the materialization of the universe as code.36 Ritchie shares with Eliasson an acute interest in the collective ›you‹ of art’s meanings. (fig.8) The Morning Line structure was configured explicitly to allow users to activate different strands of meaning, ideally becoming aware of their agency as they entered and ›played‹ the piece: »The Morning Line is both ruin and monument, the blackened frame of a cathedral-like structure; a drawing in and of space; an ‘anti-pavilion’. Unlike traditional architectural pavilions, it takes the form of an open cellular structure rather than an enclosure […]. There is no single way in or out, no final form […]. The interactive system registers the movement of anyone inside and converts their presence to build new and scaleable forms of music, new stories created by every visitor. It offers a site primarily concerned with generating infinite potential meanings and uses.«37

The status of the many players of Ritchie’s piece, and the linguistic placeholder of Eliasson’s ›you‹, are both suggestive for the server/user mode I want to emphasize here. Of course there are all types of knowledge production (and parallel forms of ignorance production perfected by the U.S. media and scary creationist blogs). But the ›you‹ in Eliasson’s work or the »infinite potential meanings« of Ritchie invite the user into an echo of the »studio as wunderkammer« – as Eliasson puts it – pointing to the primordial desire to take what is most foreign and bring it near. Distributed knowledge production in an early form, the ›Wunderkammer‹ trope inserts us again into the aesthetic of direct experience. The ›wonder‹ can only be produced by direct confrontation with the stones, exotic artifacts and artworks in the princely collection. Wonder for Eliasson and Ritchie drives these contemporary artists’ interests in reanimating the premodern trading zones among art, architecture, mathematics, engineering, and physics.38 It also propels their patrons, such as Francesca von Habsburg who acknowledged that Ritchie’s works »introduced scientific concepts not always comprehensible to a layperson like me, but Matthew weaves them into a seductive array of mysterious formulae, drawn from a deep personal fascination and knowledge of the subject«.39

Science, wonder, and the laboratory function of the studio also inoculate these artists from formalization in the white cube. Per Eliasson: »For of course we need a sort of bank of resources, a laboratory where we create some of the questions we are trying to answer in the institutional systems.« Ritchie emphasizes the collaborative aspect of contemporary experimentation, working with structural engineers, architects, physicists, composers, and sound designers to make »multispatial sound systems«, »tetrahedral bits«, and »genetic algorithms« that address cutting-edge physicists’ views of the universe in his »anti-pavilion« The Morning Line.40 Given the compelling nature of laboratory tropes and experimental experience, the resulting artworks need to be further parsed. Both Eliasson and Ritchie claim the status of ›model‹ for their works, with the implication that the model captures something in vitro about operations in vivo. In exhibition, of course, vitro and vivo merge, ever so imperceptibly, into the subject of aesthetics – the user who mutates to a server, the dynamic body knowledge constructed by experience in contemporary art. Speaking of his spring 2006 installation at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery in New York, Eliasson remarked: »A show like this comes out of the laboratory. It’s not about foil and water. It’s about how we feel about those things. The pool is a machine that can produce a phenomenon […]. The first challenge is to embrace […] the kind of stored production of reality that this viewer always carries with him.« (Such a piece is Eliasson’s Beauty, which creates a hovering rainbow from the ›dumb‹ technologies of a mist machine and a spotlight. As viewers move, they can realize that all rainbows – all beauty – lives only in the eye of each beholder.) For Ritchie, ›stored production‹ consists of impacted narratives generated through centuries of human culture and available for infinite shuffling in composition. Attentive visitors ›playing‹ the Morning Line pavilion and mining its discourse come to encounter John Milton’s Paradise Lost, itself layering biblical narrative, further sedimented with views of the past from a post-apocalyptic future in which the folly of our human greed will be clearly understood, the whole nested in the controversial Turok-Steinhardt physics model of the cyclical expansion and contraction of the universe.41 But the fact that narratives of revelation and cosmogenesis are made parallel within a giant model of the informational universe does not render the work a dismissible fiction, as Ritchie makes clear: »[…] the idea that you are constructing experiments that have to then be tested, …  is where you say, if you are going to make something, you have to make it real. […] We proposed a hypothetical building that was all these different things: speculation, hypothesis, experiment, model and representation at the same time, a kind of superimposed state of multiple buildings. […] The goal is to produce a space that is occupy-able by multiple people, all experiencing multiple states of information isomorphism.«42

Visitors to The Morning Line are multipliers of multiples. Ritchie wants a more immersive and durational experience by which viewers will gradually come to understand that they are users of a massive server of data and effects. Eliasson courts a similarly cumulative mode of knowledge production as he employs the revealed powercord, the raw spotlight, the visibly plywood platform, and the ungainly tripod (all signifiers of the laboratory’s rough and ready equipment) to unmask illusion even as he relocates it in viewers’ embodied minds. Eliasson: »Exposing the representational layer sort of clears the experience and makes it possible for us to see our self seeing – or knowing that we are seeing and seeing that we know. In this way our knowledge of the representation is used [to] deconstruct the sample and replay it«.43

These artists replicate the wunderkammer laboratory of the studio on a massive scale. We users create the data points of an experiment from experience. In one sense, of course, there’s absolutely nothing ›scientific‹ in the gathering of data from these experiments – for in contrast to the normative body science builds, the artists are instigating embodied interpretation in specific platforms for multiple and diverse bodies whose knowledge may prove to be idiosyncratic, or at any rate not transferable to »matters of fact«.44

The server/user mode locates production in local knowledge, massively distributed. The contemporary obsession with experience or ›relation‹ is empty, without attention to the murmur of uncertainty, doubt, confusion, information, and re-orientation by which the body summons its representations of the world (its self) and then acts on that identity (the user becoming, as I have suggested, a server). This is how contemporary art can best be understood. It is not enough for Ritchie and his collaborators to erect a fractal steel pavilion wired as an interactive video and sound installation, or for Eliasson to have installed a strip of LED-lights at standard viewing height in a black box at the 2005 Venice Biennale (Your black horizon). (fig. 9) Wall labels, webchat, exhibition catalogue, press coverage, and word of mouth are part of production in such assemblages. In Ritchie’s case, they engaged us in pondering cosmological constants and cycles amidst a cultural moment of enormous planetary change. In Eliasson’s, the discourse machines informed viewers that the LEDs in Your black horizon waxed and waned as a function of photon levels emitted by the city of Venice from dawn to dusk, data compressed and transmitted in a repeating twelve-minute cycle. In both pavilions, what might have otherwise seemed like pure phenomenology is entrained in a larger discourse about energy consumption, urbanism, and the fate of the earth. We even wonder about the algorithms of these installations. (Is the drawing in space on the Ritchie also a drawing of space, of the fractal spirals of spacetime? Is all of the data Eliasson gathered compressed temporally, so that an hour’s light becomes a minute’s? Or is it a stochastic sampling of particular minutes within the hour?) Your black horizon may even begin worming its way into a darker space of anxiety about a global future without oil, an ›event horizon‹ of black nights, a future catching up with us faster than we’d like.45 Similarly, The Morning Line deposits us at any one of several exits, as we physically navigate the metaphor of forking paths in a chaos-theory game that here models the apocalypse. New media art increasingly depends on users who are far more than passive recipients. (fig. 10) In this respect, the work cannot function at all in the studio, it can only actuate itself in the presence of users who activate its meaning. Unlike the passivity Warhol expected from his recording and reproducing machines, the new technologies insist on an epistemology of interaction. Typical is Mathieu Briand’s Sys 017, in which the vision of participants is willingly and at times chaotically exchanged through a network of headsets to produce what the artist calls »controlled schizophrenia«. This materializes the ›hive mind‹ of users and servers, where knowledge production is hybrid, mediated, and diffuse. It also resonates in contemporary scientific production, where proprietary listservs generate ›users‹ of data generated collaboratively and pooled for massively distributed biological and physical research.

In conclusion, I will review the parallel development in science of what Peter Galison and I have outlined as its server/user mode. Beginning in the 1980s, the data network chart of a single one of CERN’s experiments showed that instead of 10–20 collaborators, one had hundreds of physicists dispersed across multiple sites spanning thousands of miles, producing the need for the first ethernet and the web envisioned by Berners-Lee. The author/reader of scientific papers became by the 1990s an active user of data streaming in from the net. The coordination required by these conglomerate experiments poses questions that are simultaneously physical, sociological, spatial, and epistemic. Heading toward the same kinds of communities of servers and users that were emerging in new media artworks (but on a much more institutionalized scale), these experiments were (and remain) dispersed social-technical-spatial entities in which no single author holds priority on the production of knowledge, or power over its distribution.46

Today’s scientific collaborations seem to have reached some form of natural size limit as they approach 2000–2500 physicists in a single team – natural only because this number represents a significant fraction of the total number of high energy experimental physicists on the planet. The expectation is that a given scientific discipline (whether seismology, cosmology, or the Human Genome project) needs hundreds of petabytes of data to discover anything – a petabyte being a thousand terabytes, and a terabyte, a thousand gigabytes. The petabyte scale of information storage and retrieval surpasses the total capacity of any single national library – perhaps, in fact, surpassing the collective memory of all national libraries put together.

Attracted by this ambitious prospect, four huge collectives in physics, geology, and cosmology have formed a meta-collaboration known as the Grid Physics Network (GriPhyN for short), operative since the late 1990s. Powered by the U.S. National Science Foundation, GriPhyN has the stated goal of enabling »groups of scientists distributed worldwide to harness Petascale processing, communication, and data resources to transform raw experimental data into scientific discoveries«.47 More than a mere necessity, the fact of dispersal itself provides information: spatial and temporal delays affecting signals received by linked detectors thousands of miles apart provide the data sets for LIGO, a gravity wave detection experiment on opposite sides of North America.48 The continually shifting decisions needed to coordinate, process and prioritize all this data must be built into the extensive matrix of an enhanced web, dispersed over linked computers and aiming to hold nothing less than the entire universe in its collective grasp. 

From such massive data sets as the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, astrophysicists want to generate correlations. But ten million images must be processed to see gravitational lensing or to test cosmological parameters governing the large-scale structure of the universe. The ›services‹ that prioritize, archive, and coordinate such searches make the GriPhyN Grid vastly more active than a network, while being transparent and transitive in a way that science has rarely been. As the team of designers put it, the Grid takes as its goal a mode of production in which »national and regional facilities are able to interwork effectively over a global ensemble of networks, to meet the needs of a geographically and culturally diverse scientific community«.49

Like Berners-Lee some fifteen years (but so many computer generations) before, scientific and artworld actors see in all this the harbinger of larger cultural shifts that are driven by their own practices. New media artists are mining such vast data networks to make culture of this vast, dispersed knowledge network – Ken Goldberg, for example, has initiated a collaboration using streaming seismic data sent live from California to a user interface three thousand miles away. As tectonic plates shift, the data comes over the Internet »to an acoustic installation. The resonating enclosure responds [sonically] to the unpredictable fluctuations of the earth«.50 As I began this paper, so shall I conclude: with the claim that both art and science are shifting to the server/user mode. But they are not collapsing into each other. Art retains its imperative to materialize data and experience that science is willing to leave abstract, just as science must produce certainty where art encourages the play of doubt.

At the moment of Warhol’s apotheosis, American literary theorist Susan Sontag had railed against interpretation as »the revenge of […] intellect upon the world«.51 In place of interpretation she called for an erotics, an open embrace of the strange new art then engaging with the world. Surely it was also a clarion call for a return to embodied experience, drained from two decades of dry formalist criticism and a correspondingly narrow abstract art. Sontag’s intuition of a shift in the hermeneutics of reception was prescient, even if the present day finds that interpretation has expanded rather than decreased, including us all in its mediating, meaning-making grasp. Interpretation is part of the embodied experience increasingly demanded by new media art, and part of what we pleasurably exchange in our ever more socially-networked age. The dispersal of contemporary knowledge-production in 21st century science and art is discovered to be a source of considerable freedom and generativity. Makers become nodes in a net, takers become interpreters participating in a chain of meaning. Neither the laboratory nor the studio is a privileged origin point, and we engage in new modes of subjectivity that can be invoked at multiple sites. The key topic becomes, then, this altogether new and productive ›user function‹ – calling for our attention as we explore the turn towards ›experience‹ in its new, distributed forms.

Portions of this essay have been worked out in collaboration with historian of science Peter Galison, published variations of that collaboration are cited in various footnotes to the text below. I am grateful to ProDoc Art&Science for inviting me to update my thinking about the laboratory model for art in light of new developments in both art and science in the last 15 years, and in extending that research to the question of ›experience‹ and claims to presence in contemporary art. Joint discussions with students and faculty of the 2008 ProDoc Art&Science were particularly useful in developing further the question of John Dewey’s influence on a broad spectrum of 20th century U.S. and European thinkers, and the incisive comments of Professor Philip Ursprung and Dr. Nina Zschocke proved especially fruitful to the development of this essay from a talk to an argument.

1. Paul Cézanne quoted by Vollard in: Vollard, Ambroise: Paul Cézanne. München 1921, p. 102–103.

2. See Jones, Caroline A.: »The Server/User Mode«, in: Artforum International, 46, 2 (October 2007), p. 316–25.

3. Mach, Ernst: Die Analyse der Empfindungen und das Verhältnis des Physischen zum Psychischen (1886), Jena 1906, p. 15, fig. 1.

4. Foucault, Michel: »Le corps utopique« (1966), radio broadcast translated and published in English for the first time as »Utopian Body«, in: Jones, Caroline (ed.): Sensorium: Embodied Experience, Technology, and Contemporary Art, Cambridge/MA 2006 (exh. cat.), p. 229–234.

5. Olafur Eliasson, interviewed by the author in Berlin 6 July 2007. All otherwise unattributed quotes by the artist are from this interview.

6. Deleuze, Gilles: »Foldings, or the Inside of Thought«, in: id.: Foucault, Minneapolis 1988, p. 94 –123, p. 109.

7. Dewey, John: Art as Experience, New York 1934, p. 16.

8. A follower of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Johann Pestalozzi established the first concepts of what would become known as ›progressive education‹ in his school in Yverdon, Switzerland, in 1805. Core concepts were direct observation (Anschauung) leading to action. Inspired by Pestalozzi, Friedrich Wilhelm August Froebel invented the concept of the ›kindergarten‹ in early 19th-century Blankenburg, Germany. His theories of early childhood education were based on guided play involving, as one famous component, geometric blocks (Froebel cubes). Their efficacy was demonstrated, for example, at the 1876 Philadelphia world’s fair, whence they were acquired by the mother of Frank Lloyd Wright and applied to his education. ›Experience‹ materialized into the art of architecture.

9. James, William: Principles of Psychology. Boston 1890, chapter XIII, p. 488.

10. Dewey 1934, p. 174.

11. Clement Greenberg in a letter to Harold Lazarus, 28 August 1940, in: Clement Greenberg Papers, 1928–1995, Research Library, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, Accession no. 950085.

12. See Jones, Caroline A.: Eyesight Alone: Clement Greenberg’s Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses, Chicago 2005.

13. See Kaprow, Allan: Assemblage, Environments & Happenings, New York 1966. I am grateful to Philip Ursprung for reminding me of Kaprow’s deep interest in Dewey. See also the excellent review by Tom McDonough of the recent exhibition of Kaprow’s work, »Where It’s Happening«, in: Art in America, March 2008, pp. 126–131: »When Kaprow wrote ›what is an authentic experience?‹ in the margins of his copy of Art as Experience, we should hear not simply the uncertainty or skepticism of the young artist-scholar, nor an existentialist inquiry into the nature of being. Rather, Kaprow was engaging the fully historical question of the potential for human experience within a condition described a decade later by Debord, in the opening thesis of his Society of the Spectacle: ›Everything that was directly lived has receded into a representation‹. Happenings would be a response to that condition, one that answered the dominance of the mediatized ›pseudo-event‹ in American culture with an esthetic described by Kaprow as ›the communication of non-communication‹. Beyond that, he concluded in his 1958 lecture-performance, ›there is only the simple act‹.« McDonough reminds us that Kaprow’s turn to John Cage, and the fading of Dewey’s overt influence, can be attributed in part to the de-Marxification of the Cold War U.S. intelligentsia.

14. See John Dewey Discussion List, DEWEY-L Archives, (31. 1. 2012); also see Shook, John Robert: »Wilhelm Wundt’s Contribution to John Dewey’s Functional Psychology«, Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, vol. 31, 4 (October 1995), p. 347–369.

15. Admittedly, the characterization of these basic visual systems in terms of their temporal and emotional contributions to consciousness needs much further research. For a circumspect scientific analysis that questions whether microsecond delays in processing speed between the two systems could indeed provoke affect, see the basic review article by Merigan, William H./Maunsell, John H.R.: »How Parallel Are the Primate Visual Pathways?«, in: Annual Review of Neuroscience, 16 (1993), p. 369–402, online at (31. 1. 2012). But as evidence for affective experience of the two cell systems, neurology typically interrogates impairment; see the investigation of problems in intuitive emotional judgment as a function of dysfunctional magnocellular pathways in Butler, Pamela D./Abeles, Ilana Y. et al.: »Sensory Contributions to Impaired Emotion Processing in Schizophrenia«, in: Schizophrenia Bulletin, vol. 35, 6 (2009), p. 1095–1107, online at ( 12. 1. 2012).

16. To further complicate matters, there is a third system, the ›koniocellular‹, whose role in perception is presently unclear. Per Wikipedia’s article on the Lateral geniculate nucleus, »the koniocellular system in visual perception […] has been linked with integrating Somatosensory system-proprioceptive information with visual perception, and may also be involved in color perception«. (31. 1. 2012).

17. This begins a larger argument than I can make here, but its summary would be this: the demography of ›neuroaesthetics‹ in the U.S. largely maps on scholars trained in Renaissance and Baroque art traditions who resent post-structuralism’s slipping signifiers and yearn for a culturally validated (e.g. scientific) basis for universal judgments of beauty. While I am interested in what neuroscience can tell us about a specific body’s engagement with the visual, I am well aware of both personal idiosyncracy and the limits of MRI technology (based as it is on the old fixed-head-in-a-vise set up of gestalt research) upon which ›neuroaesthetics‹ largely rests its claims. Finally, I am inherently suspicious of universalist models.

18. Wikipedia, (31. 1. 2012).

19. This section draws on various collaborations with Peter Galison; see for example our »Centripetal and Centrifugal Architectures: Laboratory and Studio«, in: Davidson, Cynthia (ed.): Anyplace, New York 1995. For different but related accounts, see Martin, Reinhold: The Organizational Complex, Cambridge/MA 1998; Gibbons, Michael et al.: The New Production of Knowledge. The Dynamics of Science and Research in Contemporary Societies, London 1994; Harvey, David: The Condition of Postmodernity, Cambridge/UK 1990.

20. For an expansion on these science/art parallels, see Jones, Caroline/Galison, Peter: »Factory, Laboratory, Studio. Dispersing Sites of Production«, in: Galison, Peter/Thompson, Emily (ed): The Architecture of Science. Cambridge 1999, p. 497–540.

21. Alvarez, Luis: »Round Table Discussion on Bubble Chambers«, in: Proceedings of the 1966 International Conference on Instrumentation for High Energy Physics. Stanford 1966, p. 272. Warhol, Andy/Hackett, Pat: The philosophy of Andy Warhol. From A to B and Back Again, San Diego/CA 1975, p. 92.

22. Berners-Lee, Tim: »Information Management: A Proposal« (1989/1990), in: World Wide Web Consortium (ed.):, (31. 1. 2012).

23. Perry Hoberman, talk at Center for Advanced Visual Studies, MIT, November 4, 1999.

24. Goldberg, Ken: »Introduction: The Unique Phenomenon of a Distance«, in: id. (ed.): The Robot in the Garden: Telerobotics and Telepistemology in the Age of the Internet. Cambridge/MA 2000, p. 2–20, p.3: »Access, agency, authority, and authenticity are central issues for the new subject of telepistemology: the study of knowledge acquired at a distance. One of the great promises of the Internet is its potential to increase our access to remote objects. The distributed nature of the Internet, designed to ensure reliability by avoiding centralized authority, simultaneously increases the potential for deception«.

25. See in particular Goldberg’s project Telegarden (1995–1999), discussed in conjunction with other works in Goldberg 2000.

26. Bourriaud, Nicolas: Aesthetique relationnel (1998), translated as Relational Aesthetics, Paris 2002.

27. Here, the project announced by New York’s Museum of Modern Art for the spring of 2010 is exemplary. Titled Marina Abramovi‡: The Artist Is Present, (March 14–May 31, 2010), the exhibition continues Abramovi‡’s claims to ›reanimate‹ historical performance art, despite the artist’s own reliance on partial and fugitive documentation to do so. My thinking on this has been changed forever by the crucial work of Amelia Jones, and more recently Mechtild Widrich, each of whom has complexified the notion of ›presence‹ in her scholarship in a necessary way. Jones, Amelia: »›Presence‹ in absentia. Experiencing Performance as Documentation«, in: Art Journal, vol. 56, 4 (Winter 1997), p.11–18; id.: »›The Artist Is Present‹: Artistic Re-enactments and the Impossibility of Presence«, in: TDR/The Drama Review, vol. 55, 1 (Spring 2011), p. 16–45; Widrich Mechtild: »Can Photographs Make it So? Several Outbreaks of VALIE EXPORT’s ›Genital Panic‹«, in: Gelder, Hilde van/Westgeest, Helen (ed.): Photography Between Poetry and Politics, Leuven 2007, 53–67. A revised version can be found in Heathfield, Adrian/Jones, Amelia (eds.): »Perform, Repeat, Record: A Critical Anthology of Live Art in History«, Bristol 2012.

28. Merleau-Ponty, Maurice: Phenomenology of Perception (1945), London 1964, p. 411. In addition to excerpting this passage in The Mediated Motion Eliasson refers to it frequently in interviews. Abrell, Herbert et al. (ed): The Mediated Motion. Olafur Eliasson in Cooperation with Günther Vogt, Kunsthaus Bregenz, Cologne 2001 (exh. cat.), p. 9; See the hilarious book by Eliasson and Hans-Ulrich Obrist, The Goose Lake Trail. Cologne 2007, p. 58–59.

29. Eliasson, Olafur: Your Engagement Has Consequences, on the Relativity of Your Reality. Baden/CH 2006.

30. Nancy, Jean-Luc: Being Singular Plural (1996), translated by Robert Richardson and Anne O’Byrne, Stanford 2000.

31. Olafur Eliasson, interviewed by the author in Berlin 6 July 2007, referencing Jean-Luc Nancy 1996.

32. Eliasson enjoys the idea that the archaic Icelandic site of the first parliament, Þingvellir, is also where Eastern and Western tectonic plates crunch together. »So in a way we have a cultural institution, the parliament, that responds to a nature that in both are in constant movement. Each in their own way incorporates a fundamental negotiation.« Eliasson/Obrist 2007, p. 27–28.

33. Latour, Bruno; Weibel, Peter (ed.): Making Things Public. The Atmospheres of Democracy. Cambridge/MA 2005.

34. Latour, Bruno: »From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik or How to Make Things Public«, in: Latour/Weibel 2005, p.14–41. Latour, Bruno: »May Nature Be Recomposed? A Few Questions of Cosmopolitics«, talk at the ›HTC Forum‹ in MIT’s School of Architecture, February 22, 2010.

35. Latour, Bruno: »An Attempt at a ›Compositionist Manifesto‹«, in: New Literary History, vol. 41, 2010, p. 471–490.

36. Matthew Ritchie with Aranda\Lasch and Arup AGU, The Morning Line, sponsored by Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary and installed at Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo, Seville, 2008, with accompanying catalogue of the same title. See also tba21 website on the project, (31. 1. 2012).

37. Anonymus: »Matthew Ritchie with Aranda\Lasch and Arup AGU – The Morning Line. CAAC, Seville«, in:, ibid.

38. On ›trading zones‹, see Galison, Peter: Image and Logic. A Material Culture of Microphysics, Chicago 1997; on ›wonder‹ see Daston, Lorraine/Park, Katherine: Wonders and the Order of Nature, 1150–1750, Cambridge/MA 2001.

39. Habsburg, Francesca von: »Diving In«, in: Ebersberger, Eva/Zyman, Daniela (ed): The Morning Line – Matthew Ritchie Aranda/Lasch Arup AGU, Vienna 2008, Cologne 2009 (exh. cat.), p. 5.

40. Citing, respectively, music theorist Tony Myatt, architects Aranda/Lasch, and new media artist/impresario Peter Weibel, all contributing to the catalogue (and in the case of Aranda/Lasch, the creation of) The Morning Line. Ebersberger/Zyman 2008.

41. See Steinhardt, Paul/Turok, Neil: »A Cyclical Model of the Universe«, in: Science, vol. 296, 5572 (May 2002), p. 1436–1439.

42. Matthew Ritchie in Ebersberger/Zyman 2008, p. 23.

43. Eliasson in Abrell et al. 2001, p. 32.

44. ›Matters of fact ‹ refers to Bruno Latour’s resistance to the production of doubt by the right-wing around issues such as tobacco’s carcinogenic qualities or the fact of global warming, versus the still-debatable ›matters of concern‹ that require social and ethical action. See Latour, Bruno: »Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern«, in: Critical Inquiry, vol. 30, 2 (2004), online at (31. 1. 2012). Clearly, the art world primarily operates on ›matters of concern‹. But if Eliasson is adamant that he is not a scientist, he nonetheless collaborated with scientist Boris Oicherman in the 2006 show at Ikon gallery in Birmingham, »Your Uncertainty of Colour Matching Experiment«, in which viewers matched colors in an effort to calibrate the exact differences between, say, your yellow and my yellow. At his MIT lecture that same fall, Eliasson fantasized expanding the experiment to include tens of thousands of data points: »That’s a nice science project. […] So if any of you want to do that. I don’t have the scientific knowledge. But I know a museum in every country that I could convince into taking this show.«

45. Similarly, Eliasson’s The Weather Project may eventually take more of its meaning from the city outside the Tate Turbine Hall than it did from the ›beach‹ below, as the industrial pollution that once produced London’s famous fog is re-interpreted as the culturally produced ›weather‹ of our unstable global climate.

46. Since 1980 this went further, producing challenges to existing structures of authorship and reward in the sciences. In the Collider Detector experiment at Fermilab (CDF), there was no absolute central authority. An elected and only weakly authoritative executive committee contained representatives from each institution, two rotating ›spokespersons‹ were the official voice of CDF, and the coordinative functions were expressed through a complex, irregular exchange of memoranda of understanding between the various institutions.

47. GriPhyN calls the meta-protocol for extrapolating significance from this mass of data ›Chimera‹, acknowledging its fantastically hybrid and mediated properties – it is a program for generating »virtual data […] derived from other data by computational procedures«. (8. 3. 2005). GriPhyN has now been joined by a second massive linkage known as the international Virtual Data Grid Laboratory, or iVDGL; the conceptual ideas for these petascale processing structures were outlined in 1998 by the book Foster, Ian/Kesselman, Carl (ed.): The Grid. Blueprint for a New Computing Infrastructure, San Francisco 1998.

48. LIGO stands for Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory. The two sites are located in Richland, Washington and Livingston, Louisiana: (12. 1. 2012).

49. GriPhyN 1998, p. 4.

50. Ken Goldberg’s description of his project Mori in: (31. 1. 2012)

51. Sontag, Susan: »Against Interpretation«, in: id.: Against Interpretation, New York 1965, p. 3–14, p. 7.

  • Experiment
  • Olafur Eliasson
  • Zwei Kulturen
  • Gegenwartskunst
  • Wissenschaftsgeschichte
  • Subjektivität
  • Zeitgenössische Kunst
  • Künstlerische Forschung
  • Relationalität
  • Wissen
  • Ernst Mach
  • Bruno Latour

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Caroline Jones

ist Professorin für Kunstgeschichte am Department of Architecture des Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) und leitet dort das Graduiertenprogramm History, Theory and Criticism (HTC).

Anne von der Heiden (Hg.), Nina Zschocke (Hg.): Autorität des Wissens

Die Verfahren, Produkte und Diskurse der Wissenschaft sowie der Kunst sind in umfassende kulturelle Entwicklungen eingebettet, können zugleich aber auch für diese konstituierend sein. Damit sind sie jedoch aufs Engste an die Problematik der Autorität des Wissens gekoppelt. Schließlich ist die Frage, welche Figurationen des Wissens und der Reflexion sich in beiden Bereichen und gerade an deren Schnittstelle ausbilden und halten können, immer auch daran gebunden, mit welchen Strategien Geltung hergestellt und reproduziert wird. Zwischen Autorität und Subversion vermittelnd, setzen sich die Beiträge des Bandes mit den Transformationen, mit dem Auftauchen und Verschwinden von Wissenselementen im Grenzbereich von Kunst- und Wissenschaftsgeschichte auseinander.