Thursday, July 25, 2013

Towards an Art of Cybism, by Joseph Nechvatal

Joseph Nechvatal, becOming mOre cybist, 2012

At the suggestion of the courageous editor of Concatenations I am revisiting my essay from the winter of 2000 “Towards an Art of Cybism” with an eye for looking at the cracks in its formational ground from which possible sprouts can emerge. 

Cybism is an art theory term I developed as a sub-division of viractuality following discussion with artist Kenneth Wahl at the turn of the century. Wahl preferred the term Scybism. I proposed the concept for an exhibition in 2003 called The Attractions of Cybism for Fairfield University that never was realized, but the idea of Cybism was developed into a paper that I delivered at ECAM (Encuentro de Ciencia y Arte) in 2008 at the invitation of Juan Díaz Infante in Mexico City. Much of what you will read here stems from that. But I thought to begin with some early discussion of the concept that took place on the in early 2001:

From: "Joseph Nechvatal" <> 
Subject: Re: <thingist> Public Spheres
Date: Thu, 01 Feb 2001 16:57:32

As always, I am delighted to see this strand re-emerge periodically in our weave. It indicates something yet inchoate, quasi modo, on the plane of immanence, and thus there remain yet-unrealized creative possibilities ... ... ... ...  perhaps directing us towards conceptions of the transformative possibilities of Cybism.
By this post I just want to point out that anti-oedipal self-seductions may cancel out potentials for differences of intensity across various strata. Self-molarity has to become unrefined and made elastic – the “atmospheric I”. There seems to me room for nuancing the lassitude here by enhancing our mutual dilettante follies.
The possibilities of a complex entangled self-erotic configuration – one made up of mercurial self-concepts (this one can get from reading Jean Genet) in opposition to recycled self-representations - provide more interest to me than us greasing a dialectical prong. When belief detaches itself from the accessories of convention, desire stands revealed as the ecstasies of the self, ungoverned by its simulated forms.
Of course, one could ignore the self too and begin elsewhere – but who can say where that might lead? I explicitly eschew categorizations of the self though in my imagination, and instead seek to problematize the authority of that category. Too, I choose to view society as fluid fabula rather than as a thing contained - and I am interested in looking for what escapes and eludes containment.
Such a hope may be less than I deserve, but it also may be more than we usually allow ourselves to envision. We must become aware of the fact that underlying everything is a web of connections upon which we can exert more manipulative pressure than we are normally led to believe by the computer-mediated society of the spectacle.
But not ghettoizing ourselves - or letting anyone ghettoize us - is very important. I think that digitization is only a key metaphor for Cybists in the sense that it is the fundamental translating system today. This is where Cybism moves out of the margins and actually takes the forefront in creating pertinent culture now. We address the fundamental translating systems of our time.

Towards an Art of Cybism
Cybism is a new sensibility emerging in art respecting the integration of certain aspects of science, technology and consciousness – a consciousness struggling to attend to the prevailing current spirit of our age. This Cybistic zeitgeist I identify as being precisely a quality-of-life desire in which everything, everywhere, all at once is connected in a rhizomatic web of communication. Therefore, Cybism is no longer content with the regurgitation of standardized repertoires. 

Rather, I detect in art a fertile attraction towards the abstractions of advanced scientific discovery – discovery now stripped of its fundamentally reductive logical methodology. I see this in the work of Carter Hodgkin, Bill Seaman, James Siena, Tina LaPorta, Frank Gillette, Mathew Ritchie, Terry Winters, Michael Rees, Steve Miller, Suzanne Anker, Fabian Marcaccio, Al Held and many others worldwide.

Moreover, Cybism can be used to characterize a certain group of researchers and their understanding of where cultural space is developing today. Cybists reflect on system dynamics with a hybrid blending (cybridization) of the computational supplied virtual with the analog. Digitization is a key metaphor for the Cybists only in the sense that it is the fundamental translating system today. 

This blending of the computational virtual with the analog indicates the subsequent emergence of a new cybrid topological cognitive-vision that I have called the ‘viractual’: the space of connection betwixt the computed virtual and the uncomputed corporeal (actual) world that merge in Cybism. This cybrid space of Cybism can be further inscribed as a span of liminality, which according to the anthropologist Arnold van Gennep (based on his anthropological studies of social rites of passage) is the condition of being on a threshold between spaces.

Concerning this Cybrid topological cognitive-vision, we are reminded here of two very different, yet complementary, concepts: entrainment and égréore. Entrainment, in electro-physics, is the coupling of two or more oscillators as they lock into a commonly sensed interacting frequency. In alchemical terms an égréore (an old form of the word agréger) is a third concept or phenomenon that is established from conjoining two different elements together. I suggest that the term (concept) cybrid (and Cybism) may be a concordant entrainment/égréore conception helpful in defining this third fused inter-spatiality that is forged from the meeting of the virtual and the actual.

I believe that Cybism is a more full account of certain key artworks found within our current zeitgeist today than has been previously articulated. It is a significant concept that indicates and initiates communions of the protoplasmic body to virtual spatial conditions. As Roy Ascott, in his essay "The Architecture of Cyberception", has said, "... to inhabit both the real and virtual worlds at one and the same time, and to be both here and potentially everywhere else at the same time is giving us a new sense of self, new ways of thinking and perceiving which extend what we have believed to be our natural, genetic capabilities." 

Similar coextensive notions found in Cybism have piquant ramifications for art as product in that the Cybists are actively exploring the frontiers of science/technology research so as to become culturally aware of the biases of consciousness in order to amend those biases through the monumentality and permanency which can be found in powerful art. They begin with the realization that every [new] technology disrupts the previous rhythms of consciousness. Then, generally speaking, they pursue their work in an effort to contradict the dominant clichés of our time, as they tend to move in their regimented grooves of sensibility. In this sense their art research begins where the hard science/technology ends. 

This moderately negative sensitivity towards hard science and technology can be understood best, however, as a trestle on which vine-like connections grow between technology and psychology. 

Most certainly the Cybists understand that in every era the attempt must be made anew to wrest tradition away from a conformism that is about to overpower it. Hence the role of the Cybist artist is that of the explorer/researcher. The function of such an explorationally inclined artist however is not to only find, but to participate in and foster a constant instability of consciousness, to mitigate self-stabilizing formations so as to encourage internal ‘cybomatic’ connections to sprout and expand. This integration goes far towards exemplifying an aesthetic that has a problematic relationship to material science-based reality.
Today, with the emergence and continual growth of cyberspace, it seems that no sense of closure will ever be able to contain the deterritorialization articulated and monumentalized by Cybism. Consequently, Cybism has begun articulating a new techno-digital sense of life. By looking at the complex social and technological changes already occurring within the 21st century, the Cybists seem to perceive the world now as a kaleidoscopic environment in which every tradition has some valid residual form as information and sensation. A world of perpetual transformation has emerged and established a seemingly unrestricted area of abundant options. 

Cybists help define our current explosive and complex situation. They signal one of the most crucial changes of paradigm in our times. While employing a wide range of processes available today, all Cybists are pursuing an inner-directed urgency for an epistemological break with the conventions of traditional art even while remaining in dialogue with that tradition. Thus they introduce a complex re-reading of art's basic definition from the point of view of Cybism. 

The technological developments found within Cybism give these artists the opportunity to create their artwork in a more multi-transformative manner (sometimes with alchemical overtones) and to reach out into the deeper and more complex substructures of consciousness.

For me, Cybism is understood as emerging from the vast incognizant digital totality within which we now currently live; an immense digital assemblage-aggregate which in Cybist manner is experienced as exceeding our usual sense of lucidity.

Joseph Nechvatal

Ascott, R. 1994. "The Architecture of Cyberception" In Leonardo Electronic Almanac, Vol. 2, No. 8, MIT Press Journals, August 1994

Since 1986 Joseph Nechvatal has worked with ubiquitous electronic visual information, computers and computer-robotics. His computer-robotic assisted paintings and computer software animations are shown regularly in galleries and museums throughout the world. From 1991-1993 he worked as artist-in-residence at the Louis Pasteur Atelier and the Saline Royale / Ledoux Foundation's computer lab in Arbois, France on The Computer Virus Project: an experiment with computer viruses as a creative stratagem. In 2002 he extended that artistic research into the field of viral artificial life through his collaboration with the programmer Stéphane Sikora. Dr. Nechvatal earned his Ph.D. in the philosophy of art and new technology at The Centre for Advanced Inquiry in the Interactive Arts (CAiiA) University of Wales College, Newport, UK where he served as conference coordinator for the 1st International CAiiA Research Conference entitled Consciousness Reframed: Art and Consciousness in the Post-Biological Era (July 1997); an international conference which looked at new developments in art, science, technology and consciousness. Dr. Nechvatal presently teaches at the School of Visual Arts in New York City (SVA). His book of essays Towards an Immersive Intelligence: Essays on the Work of Art in the Age of Computer Technology and Virtual Reality (1993-2006) was published by Edgewise Press in 2009. In 2011 his book Immersion Into Noise was published by the University of Michigan Library's Scholarly Publishing Office in conjunction with Open Humanities Press. (Website:


  1. excellent.

    thotz/reaction off the cuff

    much of the transmigrations among virtual and actual space, especially in mapping relations among image, authentic original, reflection, copy, reproduction, echo, after-image, archetype, specific object, and so on are susceptible to a variety of compression and expansion actions, coupled with directional processes, which ultimately can be to output as a snapshot (moving or still) or data visualization that is a utility for evaluation and other purposing. The [app-]potential attaching to the processing power - like cheese and computers - inherent in this new media format ranges from GUI to social engineering to police action. The upshot is the perceptual matrix is revealed to an unprecedented extent, and this is a revelation pertaining to community or commons, as well as systematic valuation, and meaning. In short the tooling of humanity in a combinative model, bridging to protocol implementation. There are available to us possible scenarios both terrifying and magical. Essentially infinitude and finitude are flattened into a single field or domain, the artificiality of which is not certain. So even the language and terminology available, best suited for the project of explaining the choices available, are simultaneously defining and/or indefinite, and prone to poeisis. At such a moment the object becomes vital, surpassing the textual and contextual as a means for containing and expressing the dimensional realistically. Funny how such objects project in their congealed state as a dreaming dream.

  2. Fascinating. Yes, for me, the object now runs parallel to, or feed into, the epistemological transformations generated by chaos theory, the contemporary theory which stems from physics, biology and mathematics which is closely associated with poststructuralist theory and cyber culture. While classical sciences isolated physical systems from their surrounding, chaos theory is founded on the realization that all systems in nature are connected and subject to flows of matter and energy that move constantly through them. Dynamic equilibriums result from chaotic energy and manifest themselves in immoderate creative processes, which generate richly organized patterns that teeter on the complex stable and the complex unstable.