RENEW 2013

The 5th International Conference on the Histories of Media Art, Science and Technology

Riga / October 8 – 11, 2013

"Paradigm Shift" Participants


The Anti-Kuhn: Post-Media Art, a Zombie-Pataphysical Approach

Session:Paradigm Shift

Panel:Panel A (Paper session)



We are the first generation to become less literate by reading, less seeing by looking, less listening by hearing, less communicating by talking, less social by using social media and less revolutionary by making art. Thomas Kuhn’s argument that science proceeds with periods of dominant normality interrupted by paradigm shifts, was important and useful. I use the title ‘Anti-Kuhn’ only in the sense that an antithesis is ‘against’ a thesis. Computer-based art, however, knows no ‘normality’. Every moment is revolutionary, every paradigm is up for grabs. There is no time for the development of a critical discourse, nor to examine the flux properly. When revolution becomes ‘normal’, a transgression occurs. You can’t tell the difference between progress and stasis. Art enters a ‘Zombie’ state, both dead and alive, true and false, one and zero. It becomes undecidable. How do you think and write about, curate and make, art that is undecidable? It is proposed in this comedic, interactive and hopefully revolutionary paper that Post-Media art should be independent of outdating technologies and electricity supplies. What counts in art – surely? – are the ideas, which don’t care about their medium of support or transmission. Ideas are not time based but can be structured in an ‘all-at-once’ way. Then criticism of and discourse about such art must occur in an all-at-once way, with no past, present or even future. We need an art that makes us – viewer, participant, critic, artist – do homework instead of networking. But how? Pataphysics is the absurdist ‘science’ of the impossible, the exception, of imaginary solutions to non-existent problems. I propose to use certain ideas from that discipline to establish the possibility of a new approach to Post Media art, one needing no media at all, Post-Modem, Post-Everything.

Brian Reffin Smith (born 1946) is a writer, artist and teacher born in Sudbury in the United Kingdom. Working with computers since the middle 1960s, he was a pioneer of computer-based conceptual art, with the aim of trying to resist technological determinism and “state of the art” technology which might merely produce “state of the technology” art. After showing interactive artworks at the Musée d’art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 1983 he was invited by the French Ministry of Culture to intervene in art education, and was later appointed to a teaching post in the École nationale supérieure d’art (national art school) in Bourges. In the UK in 1979, Smith wrote ‘Jackson’, one of the first digital painting programs, for the Research Machines 380Z computer, software which was distributed by the Ministry of Education and widely used in schools and elsewhere. The BBC published his art software for the BBC Micro.
Smith is a member of the OuPeinPo1 group of artists, Paris, France; Regent of the College of ‘Pataphysics, Paris, France, holding the Chair of Catachemistry and Speculative Metallurgy. Until 2011 he was Professeur, École nationale supérieure d’art, Bourges, France.2
Smith won the first-ever Prix Ars Electronica, the Golden Nica, in Linz, Austria, 1987. Areas of work, research, teaching and performance include ideas of Zombie and ‘Pataphysics in art and elsewhere, and the détournement or “hijacking” of systems, mechanisms, programs etc. from computing and other areas of science and technology, to make conceptual art. Smith claims to have become a Zombie, and hence to have a deeper insight into problems of artificial intelligence and art, after a botched heart operation in a Paris hospital when, instead of the more usual latex balloon being used to inflate a blocked artery during angioplasty, the team had recourse to a puffer fish (or fugu).

Smith during Zombie-Pataphysical Steampunk Show, Berlin, 2010
He studied at Brunel University and the Royal College of Art, where he held a Research Fellowship in 1979 and was then appointed College Tutor in computer-based art and design at the RCA from 1980 to 1984. He taught widely in the UK and France including most London art schools and French Écoles nationales, the Open University in the UK, the Sorbonne and Arts et Métiers ParisTech in Paris and at universities or art schools in Poland, Sweden, the USA and elsewhere. He lives and works in Berlin and France.

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