A case of emergence : autonomy and self-organisation in conceptual art practice

Le Roux, Neil (2014-04)

Thesis (MA(VA))--Stellenbosch University, 2014.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This thesis entails a practice-led theoretical discussion on generative art production within an ecological framework. It is based on my work in Eyemvelo Kosbos (2010- ), an interdisciplinary collaborative project geared toward food production within ecologically sound parameters. Acting in my capacity as live-in curator of this agroecological space, I have subsequently formulated a series of biological generative artworks known as Ecological Concept Objects (2011- ), which serve as the main practical component of this research. By establishing philosophical realism as the main theoretical premise, I formulate an understanding of my art practice as a collaboration with the world. Core philosophical sources such as Graham Harman, Bruno Latour and Manuel DeLanda are cited to elucidate the theoretical underpinnings of my work. A case is made for aesthetics to be understood in its classical sense – as a discourse of sense perception, as opposed to visual taste or beauty. By discussing relevant examples from contemporary generative art, along with the theoretical insights of many practicing artists, key concepts such as emergence and self-organisation are identified as pivotal to generative practice. A definitive understanding of generative art is fomented whereby the artist willingly relinquishes creative agency and decision-making to impersonal forces. An historical context is provided which shows a precedent for similar art practices. The world is accordingly posited to be a vast interdependent network of real autonomous entities coming into relations with other real autonomous entities. This conception furthermore challenges a mutually-exclusive dichotomy of ‘Nature’ and culture, by suggesting that these two supposed binaries are so entangled that any separation thereof is a blatant form of idealism, if indeed ‘Nature’ can even be said to exist at all. An integrated ecological practice is nonetheless encouraged throughout as a central theme or primary conceptual parameter for both this dissertation and its accompanying practical body of work. Permaculture, a systems-based design science geared towards sustainability, is identified and adopted as a working example of an ecological practice which consolidates ‘human care’ with ‘earth care’, as the latter naturally encompasses the former. The goal of this research is then to investigate a practice where the artist, despite being restricted to linear action in the world, works in such a way as to allow the non-linear dynamics of emergent potential to reveal itself on its own terms. Such a methodology stands in stark contrast to an anthropocentric mastery of predictable matter, where little provision is made for anomalies, accidents or emergent forms. Generative art, on the other hand, is shown to make such provisions as it affords self-organisation to its medium, as entities are given time and space to express themselves in unique assemblages.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Hierdie tesis behels 'n praktyk-geleide teoretiese bespreking oor generatiewe kunsproduksie binne 'n wyer ekologiese raamwerk. Dit is gebaseer op my werk in Eyemvelo Kosbos (2010 - ), 'n interdissiplinêre gesamentlike projek wat daarop gemik is om voedsel binne ekologies verantwoordelike perke te produseer. In my hoedanigheid as inwonende kurator van hierdie agri-ekologiese projek, het ek 'n reeks biologiese generatiewe kunswerke geformuleer wat bekend staan as Ecological Concept Objects (2011- ), wat dien as die primêre praktiese komponent van hierdie navorsing. Met die vestiging van filosofiese realisme as die kern teoretiese uitgangspunt, formuleer ek 'n begrip van my kunspraktyk as 'n ‘samewerking met die wêreld.’ Die teoretiese fondasies van my werk word uitgelig deur verwysing te maak na kern filosofiese bronne soos Graham Harman, Bruno Latour en Manuel DeLanda, onder andere. 'n Argument word geformuleer waarvolgens die term estetika in sy klassieke sin verstaan moet word - as 'n diskoers oor sintuiglike persepsie, in teenstelling tot ‘n bespreking oor visuele smaak of skoonheid. Sleutelkonsepte soos opkoms (emergence) en self-organisasie word geïdentifiseer as deurslaggewend vir ‘n sinvolle bespreking van generatiewe praktyke. By die bespreking van relevante voorbeelde van kontemporêre generatiewe kuns, saam met die teoretiese insigte van verskeie praktiserende kunstenaars, word 'n werkende begrip van generatiewe kuns ontwikkel waarvolgens die kunstenaar kreatiewe agentskap en besluitneming vrywillig afstaan aan onpersoonlike kragte. 'n Historiese konteks word verder verskaf wat 'n presedent aandui vir soortgelyke kunspraktyke. Die wêreld word dan daarvolgens geposisioneer as 'n groot netwerk van werklike outonome entiteite wat verhoudings met ander werklike outonome entiteite aanknoop. Hierdie opvatting daag verder 'n wedersyds-eksklusiewe dualisme van 'Natuur' en kultuur uit, deur voor te stel dat hierdie twee veronderstelde binêre teenstrydighede sό verstrengel is dat enige skeiding daarvan inderdaad voorkom as 'n blatante vorm van idealisme. 'n Geïntegreerde ekologiese praktyk word egter aangemoedig om deurgaans as 'n sentrale tema of primêre konseptuele riglyn vir beide hierdie tesis en die gepaardgaande praktiese werk te dien. Permaculture, 'n stelsels-georiënteerde ontwerpwetenskap gerig op volhoubaarheid, word geïdentifiseer en aanvaar as 'n werkende voorbeeld van 'n ekologiese praktyk wat ‘sorg van mense’ met 'sorg van die planeet" vereenselwig, aangesien laasgenoemde daarvolgens die eersgenoemde insluit . Derhalwe, is die doel van hierdie navorsing om ondersoek in te stel tot 'n praktyk waar die kunstenaar, ten spyte daarvan dat sy beperk is tot lineêre aksie, in so 'n manier te werk gaan dat die nie-lineêre dinamika van ontluikende potensiaal geopenbaar kan word. So 'n metode staan in kontras met 'n eenrigting antroposentriese bemeestering van voorspelbare materie - waar daar min voorsiening vir ongerymdhede, ongelukke of ontluikende vorms gemaak word. Daar word egter bevind dat generatiewe kunspraktyk wel hierdie voorsienings maak, aangesien dit self-organisasie aan die medium toe staan, sodat entiteite tyd en ruimte verskaf kan word om hulself uit te druk in unieke samestellings.

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