Updated: Jan 12
We are inclined to condense the cosmos. We are hard-wired to look at the world analytically, perceiving the unknown through measurements, systems and signs.
The analytical preferred in the modern American education system. A strong emphasis is placed on a student’s ability to move through various levels of math, and traverse the many disciplines of science. Art classes are largely optional, to the point that many schools are budgeting out the arts entirely.
However, constructing a dichotomy between analytical and creative forms of cognition undermines the importance of critical thinking. The ability to integrate both types of thinking is often undervalued in many fields of education.
View of Roy Ascott in his studio, 1965
As a student concentrating in the areas of fine arts and environmental science, I seek to merge analytical and creative systems of thought in my work. The process of my current work is the breakdown of traditional forms of semiotics and data visualization into aesthetic systems. Upon exploring this intersection, I came across a sub-genre of art know as ‘systems art'; part of a larger movement that began in in the 60s and 70s known as ‘conceptual art.’ Systems art is a reaction against the tradition of art as an object. Instead of working to create a finished product, artists of this movement revel in the process. That process is a direct response to a set of systems, either invented or preexisting.
“Stop thinking about art works as objects, and start thinking about them as triggers for experiences” - Roy Ascott
In the process of researching this conceptual form of art, I came across artist and professor, Roy Ascott. His work focuses on the interconnectedness of systems, specifically in terms of the impact of digital and telecommunications networks on consciousness. He sees technology as a tool for exploring way the human mind manages information. His work is a process that attempts to explore the “spirituality of connectivity.”
Archival image of Roy Ascott with his work, Cloud Template
Ascott was ahead of his time upon coining this term in the 1960s. However, it is ominously dominant in today’s digital age. A “spirituality of connectivity” refers to the overall sense of relation humans have to one another due to telecommunication networks. It is a term that describes the innate desire to be, and to belong, with people.
Ascott utilized human-human and human-technology interactions to create much of his art. In his project, La Plissure du Text: A Planetary Fairytale, artists from around the world collaborated via computers to create an asynchronous narrative. The project took place in 1983, when computers were nowhere near their current capabilities. In this storytelling experiment, “You could take up any sort of position, what went in led to other things […] Someone would send in half a joke in French, someone would try to understand it in English, the whole thing was constantly mobile […] I think that’s what happens with Facebook. You can get lost in threads of conversations and social circles." In this quote, Ascott describes telecommunication as an imperfect system, yet one that can network humans across the globe.
Roy Ascott as seen through the presdient's office desk at the Ontario College of Art in 1971
Pieces like La Plissure du Texte explore the messy, yet beautifully complex nature of interconnected systems. In this same vein, my own work comments on systems of semiotics that exist within the realm of analytical education. For example, my piece, Decapoda disassembles imagery from a biology textbook. For this piece, I chose a chapter that focused on the impact of global warming on our ice caps.
The first step of my process was to study this chapter; extracting graphs, images and text that portrayed this issue. I then took these related images and disassembled and distorted them through both digital and physical manipulation. This layered process ensued until a new system was realized. The final image is in a sense, a biological interpretation of Ascott’s principles: all systems of life communicate with one another ways that cannot be defined solely by analytics. These systems are intertwined in many abstract and unfathomable ways.