CHArt Twenty-First Annual Conference

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CHArt 2005


Conference Abstracts

Francis Halsall , School of Art and Design, Limerick, Republic of Ireland.
Observing 'Systems-Art' from a Systems-Theoretical Perspective.

This paper takes the forthcoming exhibition, 'Open Systems: Rethinking Art c.1970,' at Tate Modern (1.) as a starting point for a discussion on how to theorise 'systems-art.' Systems-art emerged in the 1960s and 1970s as a new paradigm in artistic practice. Such art is characterised by the following: artistic responses to new technologies, the use of so-called New Media (including computer art), the emergence of digital and network art, and an interest in a systems-aesthetic. I argue that such artistic practice presents particular problems to established art-historical methods, and that the emergence of these problems is two-fold.

The wide variety of 'systems-art,' or that which explores the systems-aesthetic, includes the following characteristics: an interest in the aesthetics of networks, the exploitation of new technology and New Media, unstable or de-materialised physicality, the prioritising of non-visual aspects, and an engagement (often politicised) with the institutional systems of support (such as the gallery, discourse, or the market) within which it occurs. These characteristics often manifest themselves in the challenge which such art presents to Modernist paradigms of art-making and identity.

Art History as it is commonly practiced, remains largely structurally unaltered since its Modernist foundations as an autonomous discipline in the nineteenth century. It therefore focuses its attentions primarily upon singular objects, and provides accounts of these objects in predominantly visual terms. I argue that it is therefore insufficient to deal with the ambiguities and complexities of 'systems-art.'

Having introduced, via specific examples, some key concepts of 'systems-art'. I then argue that systems-theory, exemplified by that of German sociologist Niklas Luhmann, provides an effective theoretical model to account for such art. This is because it shifts its attention from singular objects to the systems from which art emerges. These include systems of display, exchange, discursive systems and artworks themselves which display systemic qualities.

In particular I will introduce the systems-theoretical vocabularies of Emergence, Complexity and (systems-contingent) Observation as they are discussed by Luhmann and demonstrate their application to the complexity of 'systems-art'.

1. ‘Open Systems: Rethinking Art c.1970,’ is at Tate Modern from 1 June to 18 September 2005 and is curated by Donna De Salvo. Participants include: Bas Jan Ader, Carl Andre, John Baldessari, Mel Bochner, Alighiero e Boetti, Marcel Broodthaers, Lygia Clark, Braco Dimitrijevic, Valie Export, Robert Filliou, Gilbert & George, Dan Graham, Hans Haacke, Eva Hesse, Sanja Ivekovic, Joan Jonas, Donald Judd, Ilya Kabakov, Sol LeWitt, Richard Long, Mangelos, Gordon Matta-Clark, Cildo Meireles, Bruce Nauman, Hélio Oiticica, Adrian Piper, Charles Ray, Gerhard Richter, Martha Rosler, Robert Smithson and Andy Warhol.

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