by Roy Ascott - (Copyright 1994)

"Only when we are able to view life-as-we-know-it in the larger context of life-as-it-could-be will we really understand the nature of the beast. Artificial Life (employing a synthetic approach to the study of life-as-it-could-be ) views life as a property of the organisation of matter, rather than as a property of the matter which is organised . . . The key concept in Artificial Life is emergent behavior. Natural life emerges out of the organized interaction of a great number of non living molecules, with no global controller responsible for the behavior of every part. Rather, every part is a behavor itself, and life is the behavior that emerges from all of the local interactions among individual behavors. It is this bottom-up, distributed, local determination of behavior that AL employs in its primary methodological approach to the generation of lifelike behaviors" - (Christopher Langton,Artificial Life, Addison -Wesley, 1989)

The description of this "bottom-up, distributed, local determination of behaviour" is also a description of the art of homo telematicus, of creative human beings in the post-biological age, of art in the telematic culture. Ours is an art of electronic networking, of intensive connectivity, mind-to-mind collaboration through computer-mediated telecommunications systems. An art in which the artist or author is a complex and often widely distributed system, in which both human and artificial cognition and perception play their part. An art which is emergent from a multiplicity of interactions in electronic space.

In searching for an interface between artists, scientists and technologists, especially those concerned with cognition and consciousness, on the one hand, and with bionics, artificial life and nanotechnology, on the other, we quickly realise that there is no real divide between us since we all deal essentially with the same overarching concern: the creation and juxtaposition of metaphors. Some seek a parsimonious necessity and sufficiency in their metaphoric systems, while others seek personal liberation or transformation. But all is metaphor just the same, recognising that there is no ultimate truth to be found, just layers of transient hypotheses to be constructed or encountered, interspersed with uncertainty . With scientists we share also the understanding that the viewing subject, by choice of the measuring system employed, creates the reality that is perceived, out of that infinity of possible states that all objects of our perception possess. Whether or nor we see ourselves as radical constructivists, within the philosophical frame of Paul Watzlawick or Heinz von Foerster, we can be in no doubt that what we call reality is constructed by us, within our cognitive/corporeal limitations, and gives us therefor responsibility as well as opportunity to create the future. These cognitive/corporeal limitations are constantly being upgraded and extended by advanced technologies. Not least of these is the technology of digital telecommunications whose impact upon both social behaviour and individual consciousness is such as to warrant recognition of the emergence of the "telematic culture". At the centre of this paradigm shift of self and sensibility there is a radical shift in western art .

Any discussion of the shift of viewpoint in western art starts with Cezanne. Any discussion of post-cartesian representation starts here also. The first thing you notice on the road to Mt. St Victoire is that the mountain does not resemble its alias in Cezanne's paintings: the painter refused to view his motif with the artificial gaze of 19th century classicism, or to regard it as set in the Euclidian space of 15th century Florence.The view of Nature, as it had been constructed to be seen within a proscenium arch, staged for our viewing, or within the classical picture frame as a composite window onto the world, was to be redefined by Cezanne.

We sometimes forget that our view of nature, as inherited through artistic and scientific metaphor of the previous two centuries, is essentially artificial. It is this artifice we worship when we extol the countryside, not nature. In this sense, Nature is not unlike the Self. The more you really look for it, with fresh eyes and uncontaminated perceptions, the less likely you are to find it. Artists as well as scientists have been engaged in numerous strategies throughout this century in the search for useful models of the world and of themselves, and they have found that that old Nature is effectively dead, just as the old Self - isolated, unconnected, alienated - is no longer a satisfactory model of our being. But the death of this artifice also signals the birth of new understanding of life. It is in Artificial Life that we may yet encounter living nature. That is to say that we shall only be in touch with nature when we end our futile attempts to dominate it, or to be above it, withdrawn from it, viewing it, as O B Hardison Jr. has so well argued, in the middle distance, at a cultural remove. Artificial Life by contrast is the attempt to collaborate with life, interact with it, to see ourselves as part of an infinite network of connectivity, in which neither nature nor ourselves are separate or independent. Interactive Art - an art of process and system - set within the emergent telematic culture can contribute in important ways to this collaboration.

While it is true that Cezanne claimed to look at his motif until his eyes bled, his effort was directed to the process of re-seeing, of new perception, rather than seeing the world "more deeply" in the classical way. In this regard we should also remember Cezanne's comment that "all things, particularly in art, are theory developed and applied in contact with nature". An insight curiously parallel to that found in the new physics as exemplified in Werner Heisenberg's dictum that it is the experimental apparatus (and including the observer's consciousness) that determines a particle's 'natural' behaviour. And it is from Cezanne that we first understand the consequences for painting of the artist's mobile viewpoint, his focus restlessly scanning a world in flux.

In the post-modern, post-structuralist accounts of the world as a discontinuous, multi-layered set of events, we have abandoned the model of a continuous reality whose essence is revealed to us in greater or lesser profundity according to some mental skills or tricks we have picked up in the schoolroom or the laboratory. These layers are so stacked that there is no hierarchy of layers, no top or bottom, no first or last. Insight then is derived from access to these layers, seeing all hypotheses as transient, looking only for usefulness in the metaphors they variously present, rather than abiding truths. Working between layers of meaning, across varieties of perceptual modes, weaving codes and protocols of language and behaviour, is a definition of art which the artist as connectivist values. The world of the connectivist is telematic space, an inter reality set between the virtual and the "real".

Telematic networking allows for a rich layering of meaning, image and hypothesis. There are multiple access points to the network, leading to an endless flux and flow of transformations in which everything is unstable and uncertain,open-ended and incomplete, where the emphasis is less on input/ output with measurable consequences but rather on an almost total immersion in the media flow. This gives rise to the idea of implicate meaning, (to adapt David Bohm's insight): each quantum of meaning is many-layered, carrying within it a multiplicity of possible semantic trajectories, depending on the viewing subject. We wish to celebrate and explore this explosion of meaning and its swirling infinity of fragments which may lead eventually perhaps to a semantic reseeding of the planet.

This contrasts forcibly with the classical notions of unity and continuity of meaning, of harmony, clarity, completion and resolution. In this respect, we connectivists feel we are much closer to life, to living systems, since it sets us in an evolutive process, in which growth, spontaneously generated levels of order, and self-organisation constitute the dynamic aspects of our practice. We think that our work anticipates new language and new behaviour and will contribute to the evolution of new environments, even new realities. For this reason we embrace the new technologies of transformation. We recognise that to re- see the world is to reconstruct the world, just as to re -see ourselves is to reconstruct ourselves.

We share the delight that the physicists must have experienced when they discovered that everything in the universe is connected, that we are all connected, not only to each other but structurally to the world.This structural coupling is enhanced in our practice by the use of telecommunications and the recognition that in the dataspace of computer-mediated systems both mind and behaviour can be shared. Moreover the new technological determinants of cognition and perception enable us to gain a bird's eye view of the world which is as exhilarating as it is holistic. The bird's eye view is a systems view, moving all around, zooming in, micro, macro, over, under, through, alongside. However we are clear that it is not the case that technology determines our desires but that it is our desires which bring forth the technology. The history of mankind is the history of the desire to fly, to be out-of-body, to link mind- to- mind. It is within the electronic space of the networks that we can indeed fly. It is the power of the network metaphor which contextualises our human connectedness

But these new insights and this new technologies of cognition, perception and communication are not merely additions to the repetoire of human behaviour, they are actually transforming human behaviour in important ways. The impact, for example, of telepresence and interaction in virtual reality have incalculable implications for the way we live, just as hypermedia and multimedia systems, as they develop, will have immense implications for the way we navigate information and generate knowledge. It is not simply that in the computer, the artist has found new tools, it is that we now inhabit a new environment, an electronic dataspace. The task of art throughout the 20th century has been to make the invisible visible. Now we have the means to more fully realise that ambition. Rather than denying the spiritual dimensions of art, computer-mediated systems subtly enable us to extend those dimensions.Telematic technology is finally a 'spiritual' technology, its domain is that of human consciousness. Connectivity through the electronic networks induces telenoia, a life-affirming sense of mind-at-large. Pre-telematic society induced only paranoia, the Self imprisoned in the mind.

All of which can be understood within the context of a connectivist paradigm , which holds that everything is connected, everything interacts with and effects everything else. It is an idea as old as oriental religion and as new as the quantum physics of David Bohm or John Stewart Bell. This connectedness, this undivided wholeness, unmediated action-at-a-distance, capable of transcending the laws of space and time with non-local interaction is reflected in the telematic environment of computer-mediated networks of data transfer, interactive videoconferencing, remote sensing and tele robotics, where communication also can be in a sense "non-local" and asynchronous although in different ways and with different outcomes. Equally this connectivist paradigm is at work in the modelling of human intelligence and theorising about the mind. It embraces connectionism in science and connectivism in art

Art has always concerned itself with human Presence, by seeking to celebrate it, conserve it , invoke it, or mourn its passing. In religious art it has been the Presence of the gods; in classical art , heroes and notables; in romantic art, the Presence of the artist ; in abstract, non-figurative art, the Presence of presence itself. In the art of the telematic culture set in electronic space, we artists are no longer concerned with either analogy or representation but with virtualisation, our telepresence distributed across the connection matrix which may be any one or more of a variety of telematic systems. We wish to become involved in the invention of bodies, of artificial life forms, emergent from the substrate of telematic networks Telepresence is at the very centre of a connectivist practice.

We are all becoming, to a greater or lesser extent, tele-bionic. Homo telematicus. Consequently we no longer view our body as a material unity, rather we see ourselves as extended - distributed - in space, just as our consciousness is becoming aware of the discontinuities of time. Telematic communication systems and molecular engineering mean that nature and technology become inextricably linked. Just as space becomes "electronic", so time is becoming "molecular". Deleuze has recently returned us to Bergson's project concerning time and duration with reference to "the new lines, openings, traces, leaps, dynamisms, discovered by a molecular biology of the brain". We can use the term molecular time to denote that bundle of meanings and interpretations of time provided in different but connected ways by cognitive science, neurobiology, computer science, and quantum physics, each of which recognise the variable rates, jumps, delays, phases and reversals of time which exist both within our consciousness, in our interactions with artificial memory and intelligence, and in the world of quantum events.

"Life-as-it-could-be" . . .. the role of art as visionary, polemical, propositional - generating a multiplicity of transient hypotheses, and always constructive - is sustained within the connectivist paradigm. Homo telematicus is not only concerned with infinite connectivity but with boundless constructivity. With the demise of artifice, the death of art's staged and constrained representations of life and nature, we anticipate the emergence of a cultural connectivity in which we artists can participate fully with scientists in the creation of Life as it could be.

(C) Roy Ascott 1994

Adapted from: "The Death of Artifice and the Birth of Artificial Life" by Roy Ascott, published in "Art Cognition. Pratiques Artistiques et Sciences Cognitives", Cypres/Ecole d'Art d' Aix-en-Provence, 1994