Jack Burnham, Beyond Modern Sculpture. The
Effects Of Science And Technology On The Sculpture Of This Century, New
York, 1978, een overzicht van de invloed van nieuwe technologie op de
beeldhouwkunst; van eind 19e eeuw tot begin van cybernetica.
But in a industrial society the role of arrtistic abstraction is nothing
less then psychic preparation for the entire re-creation of society,
including remaking the biological composition of its inhabitants.
Such a prognostication views modern sculpture as a preparatory stage
representing steps toward the simulation of biological life, a point in
human evolution when the sculptor begins to imitate the machine maker and
the creator of scientific models, unaware that the artifacts of technology
are meant to do the same things as his own forms, and that they do them more
If we remember the joint origins of art, magic, religion and science, it
seems possible that each was part of a common goal which could only be
ascertained as one of the four disciplines to achieve some degree of
irremeable control over the environment.
Much of the confusion which surrounds sculpture today revolves around the
classical intention of sculpture as a segregated endeavor, instead of a
vestigal biological activity closely related to the technological drive. It
becomes important, therefore, that we look upon sculpture as an indication
of man's changing conception of biology, as an indication of his biological
role, and especially as a form of biological activity in itself.
Each paradigm of major importance has produced not only a scientific but a
subsequent cultural revolution, one profoundly coloring the popular view of
reality. The world seems and is altered accordingly as the views of men are
Jungs conception of mechanistic science fits a nineteenth century biologist
or chemist, but was largely untrue after 1900. Far from being committed to
Humian materialism, science, epistemology observe, has long gravitated
toward types of experimentation and hypothesis which are quite removed from
direct sensory confrimation.
The essence of formalism in sculpture resided in its power for imbuing
sculpture with varieties of proto mechanical stylisation. It is a thesis of
this book that formalist and vitalist sculpture represent two preparatory
tendencies which symbolically anticipate the re creation of life through non
biological means, that is, through technology.
Object sculpture, however, is quite likely not the last step in the process
toward absolute 'thingification'. Reification works in other directions,
particulary as it allows sculpture the change to approximate biological
This impermanence is directly related to the industrial trend toward a
systematized environment. Furniture, books, cooking utensils, tools, toys,
and reliquaries were only some of the objects which made existence
objectively real, which could be handed down from generation to generation,
and which were made to last as self contained entities. In contrast, the
object now is a replaceable component in an interlocking system of
production and need fulfillment.
Do today's objects lack human warmth, the feel of care and personal
attention? If we say they are less beautiful, what does that mean? It is
easy to romanticize the importance of human craftsmanship. Perhaps what has
changed most drastically is Western man's lack of need for objects of
intrinsic worth, his casual attitude toward the buying and using of items
for daily existence.
Although [Jaques] Ellul disavows any signs of overt pessimism, he regards
technique as a force which will in time destroy all traces of biological
life; so technique remains a pernicious disease which Ellul, as a doctor
diagnosing a terminal case, sees no hope of curing.
Ellul about the future of art (1954, p. 423): 'It was held that, with the
development of a purely materialistic society, a struggle was inevitable
between the machine and the economy, on one side, and the ideal realm of
religion, art and culture on the other. But we can no longer hold such a
boundless simplistic view. Ecstacy is subject to the world of technique and
is its servant.
Ellul thinks that satisfying the ecstatic impulse of the human psyche by
chemical or mechanical means would in time eliminate the underpinnings of
human culture, but he does not specify if a society based on high level
technology could allow art to be made even by those not entirely integrated
into its scheme of values. Perhaps he would say that it does not matter
since the artist has no acces to the mass communications media.
Technique for Ellul remains implacable, without doubtd or second thoughts;
it remains inhuman in the most essential meaning of the word.
Complex systems in all phases of modern life are the ever more elaborate
works of art which begin to approximate those of nature. Thus a pail of
sand, a spring wound machine, a plant and a human being represent systems of
decreasing entropy. In each succeeding case a level of structure and
complexity is bought only through the dissipation of greater amounts of energy.
Automata have rarely functioned as high art, but always as the by play of
religious, magical, theatrical, or proto scientific obsessions. The robot
has been the collective obsession of a technological population dreaming of
its own replacement.
Nothing more spectacular heralds the beginnings of the sculpture of the
future than the slow emergence of waht is called 'Cyborg Art' (the art of
Bizarre? Yet attempts throughout history to produce automata show that the
human will devoted to synthetic re creation is almost as urgent as that of
natural procreation. A portion of human existence is readily identifiable
with succesive attempts to concede a soul or indwelling vitality to
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