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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.


De inleiding


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 succesfully.

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 transformed.

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 activities.

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 cybernetic organisms).

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 inanimate objects.

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