Forum paper:Art and Technology .

Parsons School of Design, Paris, November, 1995.

The recent Robert Morris retrospectives in New York and Paris raises once again some issues about contemporary art practice. A recent conference at the Pompidou Centre where there was a retrospective of Morris’s work was a discussion centered around a series of drawings called Blind Time that Morris made in 1994. These drawings start with a written agenda that describes a set of operations that Morris then performs with his eyes closed. He also estimates how long he thinks it will take to complete these operations and in some drawings also notes the actual time it took to perform the tasks. Accompanying this text is a quote by the philosopher Donald Davidson, extracts from one of his many writings. Davidson commented during this discussion that the fulfillment of the textual proposition some how positions the spectator in the actual process of the work and that this involvement amounts to an ‘interaction’. What I wish to discuss here is the nature of such an ‘interaction’ and how, within the protocol of Morris’s work this might be read in the context of social or public space.
To lead to a particular discussion of a sense of how the Blind Time drawings can be accounted for I would like to introduce a number of elements from some diverse texts. Their relevance are not only pertinent to issues directly surrounding the drawings but seem relate to an extended sense of what interactivity represents in the domain of the new multi-media technologies and also in how certain cultural practices can be seen as being re-programmed into a new phase of technological production. These issues stem to the critique of 1967 that erupted around the texts Specific Objects by Donald Judd and Robert Morris’s Notes on Sculpture both of which were published in Artforum in that year. Michael Fried’s Art and Objecthood was published as a response to these texts and to the practice we now know as Minimalism. This particular discussion has of late become known as the Beholder Discourse. I shall return to its relationship and relevance to the Blind Time drawings later on.
For some time now there has been a discussion of how Minimalism relates to social forms. Foucault’s Discipline and Punish description of the partitioning and confining structures of social institutions has come to be related to the geometry’s of Minimalist sculpture and. Morris himself made direct gestures toward Discipline and Punish in his series of drawings in the late seventies titled In the Realm of the Carceral. Peter Halley has written much about how geometric art and early minimalist sculpture relates to Foucault’s environments of confinement and punishment. However Halley like other commentators stressing a link between the art of this period and an emerging social space ignore or duck the questions addressed to these issues in Art and Objecthood (questions which have stereotypically become known as theatricalization of the real but addressed in another form can be seen more urgently as the passive or active position and relation of the beholder to works of art and other representations). Halley seems to see the geometry’s of Morris’s and Judd’s works as types of commentaries or demonstrations of an environment of discipline so relevant to the society of industrial production that these artists were addressing. The point at which these artists were conforming to a mode of production and organization in industrial society as opposed to forming a dialogue or a critique of that society is rarely clear. Commentators like Halley seem happy to assign the intentions of the latter to these artists.
An issue contained here has been addressed, in part, by Rosalind Krauss in her essay The Cultural Logic of the Late Capitalist Museum (October 54 Fall 1990). Here she describes the installation of the Count Panza collection of Minimalists works into the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris This required not only emptying out the collection from the museum but also an extensive rebuild of many of the galleries for the smooth operation of the Minimalist works. She goes on to discuss a gestalt-switch or a reprogramming of the museum that seems to have happened and that connects Minimalism to the radical revisions of museums that have recently been (and are) taking place. She points to an internal contradiction between on the one hand the “..phenomenological ambitions of Minimalism; and on the other, underscored by the dilemma of contemporary fabrication, Minimalism’s participation in a culture of seriality, of multiples without originals - a culture, that is, of commodity production. “ The restructuring of the viewing subject which was at the heart of the original Minimalist ambition was undertaken alongside an attempt to undermine the “old idealist notions about creative authority”. By utilizing industrial fabrication and indexing the art object as a multiple rather than an unique and original object hoped to explode the relevance of that authentic art object and its implication of the artist as the authorial center of this process. Krauss centers her efforts in this discussion upon the sense of a phenomenological, pre objective internal horizon somehow present in the reformalisation of a Minimalist subject where through a sort of displacement there is a return to the body.

She observes that although Minimalism was a radial attack upon commodification and technologicalization that it also somehow carried the codes of that condition there by empowering a language that signifies technological production. This she points out as a paradox of modernist art and its relationship to capital. An avant-gardist alternative to technology or commodity is as much a function of it. In turn the modernist alternative because of its Utopian nature risks becoming the sensorium for an emergent phase of capital. Particularly in the case of Minimalism as a reaction against the subject in an industrial society actually risks preparing the ground for that subject in a technological phase that is only just emerging. This capital- logic characterizes not only modernism but also an avant-gardist projection into a future into which can plug a more advanced form of capital.
The fragmented subject is what Minimalism perhaps unwittingly prepared ground for. The alignment for this subject being a technological condition, post-modern and spread thin amongst simulacra and signs (rather than the context of bodily immediacy that typifies Minimalist intent). This new space is one of intensity, a hyper space (‘hysterical sublime’) that so easily falls in as the typification of switch culture, information technology and corporate structure. Rather than depth there is extension and movement as the subject switches in a desire to unscramble one form in relationship to another in a dizzying eddy . Intensity, Krauss notes, is the index of this hyper space.
What is emerging through such a discussion is how what might be described as a consciousness within a technological phase of society is beginning to be represented and to what ends such a cultural representation is being directed. Some clarification of this current phase of capital and its social organizational structures needs addressing. To this end a text by Gilles Deleuze, Postscripts on the Societies of Control (L’autre journal, May 1990), would seem pertinent. Foucault’s identification of the disciplinary structures of enclosure instituted by Napoleon and rapidly outmoded and thus modified after World War II is the crux of his essay. The new phase is dubbed a society of control, a direct relation to that of the disciplinary model but with systems and qualities altogether transformed. The societies of control do not operate in terms of the disciplinary model of time frames within a closed system, instead there is free fall through a number of internment’s indexed and coded in different ways. One such example is the corporate wage structure which modulates each salary according to the challenges of a bonus system replacing a former salary structure incremented through service to the company. Thus confinement as a spatial telos for a phase that we are now passing into is inaccurate and at its best as an index it is nostalgic. Deleuze characterises the change of one structure to another thus “The old monetary mole is the animal of the spaces of enclosure, but the serpent is that of the societies of control. We have passed from one animal to the other..”