Roy Ascott

The Syncretic Dialogues

Just as second-­‐order cybernetics jumpstarted the subject-­‐based systems theory  that followed the emergence of interactivity and connectivity in art, so we might  expect second-­‐order senses to contribute significantly to the emergence of new  art practice in the next fifty years. Second-­‐order senses are those that the  classical order of science was unable to accommodate, either because technology  was insufficiently advanced, or because ideological epistemology, governed by  the church (psychical) and state (chemical), refused their recognition and  investigation. The value, quality and efficacy of transdisciplinary practice can be  measured in terms of the new language, behaviours, systems and forms that it  generates.  In the context of this present conference, it is the behaviour of forms  and the transcendence of the seen that is at issue.  Paul Klee notebooks – thought  by many to relate in importance to Modern Art as highly as Leonardo’s Treatise  on Painting did to the Renaissance – famously saw drawing as taking a line for a  walk. The notebooks for this century – what I foresee as a century of progressive  syncretism – will doubtlessly advocate drawing as a process of taking a line for a  talk, with the discursive role of the image allied to its constructive function. In  fact the line will be non-­‐linear, its authorship distributed, and its destination  ambiguous, since it can be argued that only formal discontinuity and semantic  uncertainty can guarantee vitality to the image scene.  In art as in science, all  hypotheses are transitory, all perspectives incomplete. It is the instability of the  image, its potential for transformation that can relate it to contemporary science,  and indeed to the principal issues of human life – identity, connectedness, and  consciousness. In consequence, art will become progressively more syncretic, or risk losing entirely its social and spiritual significance. Transdisciplinarity will enable technoetic transcendence, just as non-linear imaging will enrich the syncretic dialogues of this century. Socrates, eat your heart out!


Roy Ascott is an artist and theorist whose research is invested in cybernetics, technoetics, telematics, and syncretism. He is the founding president of the Planetary Collegium, an international platform for art, technology and consciousness research, based in Plymouth University, England, with nodes in Milan and Zurich. He has held senior academic positions in San Francisco, Minneapolis, Vienna and Toronto, and is an Honorary Professor of Aalborg University, Copenhagen, and Thames Valley University London. He lectures world-wide. His international exhibitions range from the Venice Biennale to Ars Electronica. His retrospective, The Syncretic Sense, was exhibited at Plymouth Art Centre (UK) in 2009, and an extensive exhibition of his work was featured in the Incheon International Digital Art Festival, Korea, September 2010, including a new work of distributed authorship, The Second Life of La Plissure du Texte. His theoretical work is widely published, translated and referenced. He has advised media art institutions in Europe, Australia, South America, the USA, Japan, and Korea. He edits Technoetic Arts (Intellect) and is an Honorary Editor of Leonardo.

(Online keynote presentation)

Jens Hauser

Hyperreality and indexicality are two characteristics in today’s art that uses contemporary biomedia as its core means of expression. It is not surprising that numerous artists in this field chose to physiologically address the topic of skin. They turn it into a material trope for the tangible yet unstable conditions of our bodily existences and, more generally, into a mediating instance to challenge common perceptual and aesthetic norms of the visio-centric trust. While in art history skin has mostly been a represented or representing surface or border containing the self, and which can be removed or inscribed to generate meaning, in transdisciplinary and process-based art with biomedia the focus on the image does not give the full picture. Representation is superceded by remediation, in the very sense of Bolter and Grusin’s definition of a medium as that which remediates and refashions older media ‚in the name of the real’ and the authentic. Imaging is being downgraded to just another factor within the interplay between paratextes, networked media-technical references, underlying scientific knowledge and the presence of living systems being manipulated live at microscopic scale, such as in cell and tissue engineering

While biotechnological art works have often been popularized through iconic representations, another category from Charles Sanders Pierce’s influent sign trichotomy actually allows for remediating in the name of the real: Indexicality is supposed to certify authenticity. As distinct from the symbol and the icon, the index establishes its relationship between the signifier and the signified by the means of shared materiality or an actual connection, so as to compel attention as a fast retrieval system that functions more directly than symbolic interpretation or the grasp of iconic semblance. In their deictic quality, indexical imprints, traces and fragments constitute a transhistorical strategy in art to produce presence and to point to an allegedly recorded real presence of bodies or phenomena. Biomedia art at the molecular scale stages gel electrophoreses techniques – also misnamed  ‘genetic fingerprinting’ – as remediation of forensic fingerprinting and photography (‘the pencil of nature’), chrono and composite photography. But in doing so, it exhibits at the same time the epistemic constructedness of the media of today’s biological sciences.

Biomedia in art can be characterized by an oscillation between, on the one hand, an apparently immediate but ephemeral hyper-realistic presence, and, on the other, a complex hyper-mediated para-textual construction of meaning, beyond vision-based hermeneutics. While the apparent denial of mediation prompts the viewers’ authentic feeling that the medium has disappeared and objects/subjects are directly presented, the illusionism itself is in turn represented and unmasked through the hypermedial process of remediation that is being made apparent. From this media-art-historical perspective, such art can be seen in the tradition of pre-modern strategies in Still Life and Vanitas painting. Art as mise-en-abyme nowadays unfolds within the modernist principle of media adequacy pushed towards the reorganization of the disorganized organic.


Jens Hauser is a Paris based art curator, writer and video maker focussing on the interactions between art and technology, trans-genre and contextual aesthetics. He has organized several interdisciplinary conferences in the field of art, science and philosophy, as well as exhibitions such as L’Art Biotech (Nantes, 2003), Still, Living (Perth, 2007); and, as part of the European Capital of Culture programs, sk-interfaces (Liverpool, 2008/Luxembourg, 2009), and the Article Biennale (Stavanger, 2008). In 2005 Hauser received the Fund for Arts Research Award from the American Center Foundation; he guest lectures at universities and art academies internationally. His current research at the Institute for Media Studies at Ruhr University Bochum is concerned with biomediality. Hauser is also founding collaborator of the European cultural television channel ARTE and has directed numerous creative radio pieces.

Anne Ring Petersen

The Transdisciplinary Potential of Remediated Painting
Over the last decades the notion of what painting is has been considerably widened due to intermediality, i.e. crossovers between artistic media such as painting and sculpture, painting and photography, painting and installation, painting and performance etc. This paper suggests that the transformation of the discipline of painting into an expanded field has not only liberated painting from its ties to its traditional repertoire of materials and modes of representation. It has also released a tremendous potential for image making that takes painting as a point of departure but moves beyond the limitations of dialogic intermedia into the field of transdisciplinary aesthetics. In support of my argument, I turn to the concept of remediation as it was first applied in new media theory by Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin. The ambition is to develop an apprehension of painting not as an artistic artifact or ‘medium-specific’ practice, but as a critical remediating process – painting as remediated painting.
What could be gained from this reconceptualisation of the expanded field of painting? Firstly, it introduces an apprehension of painting that starts from the transdisciplinary potential of painting instead of its historical disciplinarity and the attendant assumption that, as a discipline, painting functions independently and establishes its own separate space of cultural meaning. Secondly, it defines painting as active, performative and migrant. It suggests that today painting is active as a cultural force, not just as fine art. In order to substantiate these claims, the paper analyses works by some contemporary Northern European artists.


Anne Ring Petersen (dr.phil. , PhD) is associate professor at the Department of Arts and Cultural Studies at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. Her academic work has until now concentrated on the modern period from 1850 until the present. The visual arts after 1960 are her primary field of research, and she generally focuses on the relations and exchange between artistic modes of expression and their cultural, social and historical contexts. Her most recent publication is the co-edited anthology Contemporary Painting in Context (2010). She is also the author of a study of installation art, Installationskunsten mellem billede og scene (Installation Art Between Image and Stage, 2009), a book about representations of the city in the visual arts, Storbyens billeder. Fra industrialisme til informationsalder (Images of the City: From the Age of Industrialism to the Age of Information, 2002), and contributions to The Urban Lifeworld: Formation, Perception, Representation (2002), Performative Realism: Interdisciplinary Studies in Art and Media (2005) as well as books and exhibition catalogues on contemporary Danish and Scandinavian artists.