We don’t want to live in a Universe, We want to live in a Pluriverse!

"A Proposition for an Alt-Parthenon Marbles Recoded The Phantom as Other #2," 2023.

We don’t want to live in a Universe, We want to live in a Pluriverse!

September 3, 2023 by Joseph Nechvatal


“But the star of the show is Warren Neidich’s neon speculative philosophical wall piece A Proposition for an Alt-Parthenon Marbles Recoded: The Phantom as Other # 2 (2023). It schematically proposes that the illusory sensations of imaginary phantom limbs might operate metaphorically as a means of empowerment to the future despotism of what the political philosopher Antoinette Rouvroy calls algorithmic governmentality or what Bonaventura de Sousa Santaos calls epistemicide.” – Joseph Nechvatal

Neuroactivism: This is how it will free our brains from the grip of big tech.

Still from the TV-series Severance. Photo: Apple TV Plus.

This is how it will free our brains from the grip of big tech.

October 14, 2022 by Anders Dunker


“Our physical brains have become ‘a locus of capitalistic adventurism and speculation,’ writes artist and theorist Warren Neidich, editor of a new anthology called An Activist Neuroaesthetics Reader (2022). Through his collaborative project ‘The Psychopathologies of Cognitive Capitalism 1–3’, Neidich has helped coalesce a burgeoning field of critical theory centred on the brain and neuroscientific theory. ‘The brain and new technologies have become a real battlefield,’ writes economist Yann Moulier Boutang – one of many veteran contributors from Neidich’s circle – in his contribution to the anthology.” – Anders Dunker

Pizzagate - From Rumor To Delusion

Pizzagate - From Rumor To Delusion

video clip for online catalogue


“We have now entered into a new era some have called the post-truth society characterized by a deluge of fictive mediated stories dubbed Fake News. One of these stories, Pizzagate concerns the conspiracy theory, circulated at the end of the Trump-Clinton presidential election, that accused Hillary Clinton and other members of her Democratic election committee of running a childhood sex ring in the basement of Comet Ping Pong pizza restaurant. As preposterous as this is, many people believed it and the story went viral.” – Warren Neidich

Equal Not Equal at LAXART (2015)


13 - 2.RVD_1631_WEB
Equal Not Equal, red neon 2,5 x 0.3 m, LAXART, 2015


14 - RVD_1630_WEB
Equal Not Equal, red neon 2,5 x 0.3 m, LAXART, 2015


15 - 4.RVD_1641_WEB
Equal Not Equal, Detail, LAXART, 2015


16 - RVD_1640_WEB
Equal Not Equal, Detail, LAXART, 2015

They Can't Take This Away From We (2013)

Part 1: Consensual Autonomies

Click the images below to play videos

Part 2: In the Mind's We

Click the images below to play videos


Earthling (2006)



Everyone can be an actor, as members of Big Brother can attest. Plucked from obscurity and with little training they take center stage to become themselves. Is Big Brother simply a reflection of televisual culture’s need to observe itself through the gaze of a mediated third person vantage point? In other words has Big Brother invented a new type of subjectivity that requires even its’ so called reality to be mediated and is the program an apparatus that allows our culture to reflect upon itself in new ways that match the current sociologic, political, economic, artistic, spiritual, and psychological conditions that embrace us? In Earthling, the notion of acting as genealogy is folded into a set of coevolving immaterial conditions to produce new forms of subjectivity. The photograph adorning the front page is itself a mark of certain conceits that reflect the local ecology of that particular magazine itself, whether fashion or news magazine, and the molar global discourse in which they operate. (In this way its connection to Pop Art is obvious.) That discourse is subject to both synchronous and diachronous relations. These images reflect historical conditions of how the body/face is positioned, adorned, imaged and imagined through time. It is the remnant of an acting scenario that is part of the photo shoot itself; many photographers direct their models and many politicians are rehearsed in front of cameras before addressing the public. The studio of the 19th century with its slow films and large cameras has given way to fast cameras, synchronized flashes, and digital technology. These conditions are reflected not only in the pictorial archive in a genealogy of body image and close-up facial poses but reflects in the way people actually look and act in the real world. These images then become collaged onto the living breathing actor, which inhabits the café where the pictures are taken.

In Earthling an improvisational relational paradigm constitutes the overall context in which the photographic action takes place.  The image archive as it is constituted outside the institutional network of say, for instance, libraries, exists on its own at newsstands, the back rooms of antique shops and the tables of cafés ready to be sampled. I collected newspapers and magazines for about a year keeping my eyes open for funny and ironic headlines, strange photographs and collages of image and text.  In collecting, I tried to find newspapers and magazines from as many countries as I could. Many times this required buying them in other cities that I was working in or being a tourist. After a while I began to visit cafes and ask people relaxing there if they would like to be an actor in my photographic and video work. (I asked individuals who were very different from those appearing on the cover or front page for instance in Newsweek/Paris I asked a woman if she would be the actor.)  Many said no but some said yes. When they agreed I measured the size of their eye or the distance between their eyes. Then I cut out the eye in the newspaper or magazine to match. This resulted in a perfect alignment between the optical axis of the actor and the newspaper, which became more like a mask.  The actor was then asked to wear the cover as a mask and improvise in a way that reflected his or her relation to the image that now covered his or her face. Sometimes direction was necessary at other times it was not. Given the opportunity these amateur actors became the faces that covered their face.  First, I took a photograph and then I made the video.

The photographic documentation of the performances in the cafes created a body of work called Earthling. The title refers to the way different forms of media were instrumental in producing new subjectivities in the context of evolving global identities.

Emancipating the Archive (2011)

Download work documentation as PDF (8.4 Mb)

Time Out New York | Book Exchange at Glenn Horowitz

Art day trips: Warren Neidich’s “Book Exchange” at Glenn Horowitz Bookseller

By: T.J. Carlin | Article Link

If you’re looking for some culture and an investigation of patriotism with your sun this holiday weekend, try artist Warren Neidich’s gorgeous show at Glenn Horowitz Bookseller, a bookstore and gallery in East Hampton, New York. The central piece is a handsome steel bookshelf fashioned after a Constructivist aesthetic that houses all of the books Sarah Palin attempted to have banned from the Wasilla, Alaska, library. Whether or not these attempts at banning were successful is unknown; however, Neidich has enabled us to exert some control and rewrite history a bit in our own fashion: The participatory piece invites locals, over the course of the exhibition, to visit the bookstore bearing a red book and exchange it for one of the verboten. From 3 to 5pm today, there will be a book release for Neidich’s new artist’s book, The Sarah L. Palin Library of Censored Books. Fri, Sat, Mon 10am–5pm; Sun noon–4pm. Through Monday, July 5.

Ein Porträt des Künstlers als Unbekannter

Dass zwanzig dokumentarische Fotografien, aufgenommen an völlig unterschiedlichen,Stationen der Moderne’, ein serielles Kunstwerk bilden können, ist nur dadurch möglich, daß jede von ihnen einen Eindringling zeigt - den Unbekannten Künstler. Auf jedem dieser Photos, die einen eingefrorenen Augenblick aus dem öffentlichen Leben bekannter Protagonisten und Mitglieder der Avantgarde und Neoavantgarde zeigen, hat er ein Gesicht durch sein eigenes ersetzt. Seine Selbstprojektion in eine Vergangenheit, die sich als fotografisch aufgezeichnete Geschichte präsentiert, beruht auf einem paradoxen Spiel zwischen der Aufdeckung seiner eigenen Identität und dem listigen Verbergen seiner künstlerischen ,Identität’. In diesem Werkkomplex oder eher Projekt ,Unknown Artist’ benutzt er sein Gesicht als bildlichen Nachweis seiner ,Identität’als Künstler und als Markenzeichen seiner künstlerischen ,Subjektivität’. Der Künstlername auf dem Werk ist jenes Parergon, das, wie Derrida sagt, sich weder äußerlich noch innerlich zum Werk verhält, sondern es wie ein passe-partout ,,einrahmt”. Indem er den Kult um den Namen des Künstlers und seine Signatur, die die Einmaligkeit des schöpferischen Duktus bezeugt, entmystifiziert, stellt er das Konzept der ‘künstlerischen Identität’und die darin verwobenen Begriffe Originalität, Authentizität und kreative Imagination in Frage. Diese Konzepte sind keine Erfindung einer modernistisch formulierten Kunst(geschichte), wie in unserer ,Post’-Moderne häufig behauptet wird, sondern sie sind als Konstruktionen tief verwurzelt in der Tradition des novum, die lange vor und nach dem Modernismus wirksam war. Im Kontext der klassischen Medien, insbesondere der Malerei, wo “die meisterhafte Faktur der Malerhand die bloße Materialität der malerischen Produktion vergeistigt, und wo die Hand zugleich zum Ersatz oder zur Zusammenfassung der identifizierenden Signatur wird (als Garantie der Authentizität), rechtfertigt sie den Tauschwert des Gemäldes und bewahrt seine Existenz als Ware.”

Für den gesamten Artikel bitte das folgende PDF herunterladen.

Highlights (2008-10)

When You Look East You Are Already Looking West (2009-10)

Brainwash 2 (2009)

Silent: A State of Being (2004)

Pierre Molinier and the Phantom Limb


The original definition of the fetish finds its roots/routes in the religious practices of so called "primitive" societies. The fetish was defined as a menagerie of objects connected through their properties as magical charms. In nineteenth century Europe the definition of fetish evolved into anything that was irrationally worshipped.

It was not until the seminal work of Alfred Binet (mostly known for his I.Q. test) that the fetish became linked to sexual practice. “Normal love is the result of complicated fetishism. Pathology begins only at the moment where the love of a detail becomes preponderant.”(3) Kraft-Ebing drew attention to the idea of pathologic erotic fetishism in which the fetish itself becomes the exclusive object of sexual desire, “while instead of coitus strange manipulations of the fetish become the sexual aim.”(4) Today the American Psychiatric Association in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual defines fetishism as recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges or behavior involving the use of non-loving objects, inanimate or animate material which can be hard or soft.(5)

But the subject of fetishism is much more complex than the above definitions would imply, and in order to discuss Pierre Molinier a slight digression to review pertinent literature is needed.

Freud wrote in 1905 that the fetish was an unsuitable substitute for the sexual object that serves to disavow knowledge of the differences between the sexes. (6) Five years later, in "Leonardo Da Vince and Memory of His Childhood", 1910, he reiterated that the fetish is linked to intense castration anxiety in men.(7). Agreeing with Kraft-Ebing he organized the fetish around the notion in which an inanimate object is used in an obligatory and fixed manner in order to attain sexual gratification. The choice of the fetish is a substitute for the absent female phallus that the young boy discovers is lacking in his mother. Thus the pieces of underclothing, i.e., garters, silk stockings, fur, which are so often chosen as a fetish “crystallize the moment of undressing.” For Freud, in 1910, the object of choice is “merely a substitute symbol of the woman’s penis which was once revered and later missed.”(8) “The child becomes fixated on some safer object, which aids in warding off the feared knowledge of the mother’s castrated state.”(9)

A complementary theory to castration anxiety is separation anxiety which is suffered and defended against in childhood.. Through the creation of illusion, and the symbolic gesture of representing the mother through the fetish object, some state of union, or reunion, with the absent mother is preserved. Louise Kaplan notes in Female Perversions: The Temptation of Emma Bovary that “the little boy whose childhood curiosity, fantasies, anxieties and wishes lead him to endow his mother with a substitute penis is constructing only a temporary, elusive fantasy...that the adult fetishist will concretize into a shoe or fur piece... As Freud was the first to insist, the extravagant theories of little boys may be outgrown and forgotten but they are never entirely given up.”(10)

Although Bak, in 1953, states that the “fetish undoes the separation from the mother through clinging to the symbolic substitute.”(11) he understands its fundamental function is still to alleviate castration anxiety. The child caught in the Oedipal triangle fears the father who he fantasizes is the culprit of the misdeed. To maintain his relationship with his mother and dissuade bodily damage he takes the symbolic gesture of the fetish. Chassegunet-Smirgel join these two etiologies with a conception of illusion.(12)

Illusion for Freud is brought about by a defense--that of disavowal of threatened reality. The ego, which Freud described as that part of the psyche that mediates between the intense sexually motivating drives of the id and the socializing function of the superego, is thus split. On one hand, it has a reality function directed to real data and on the other, an illusionary scrim through which reality is filtered and adjusted. Thus the child attempts to maintain the illusion of the phallic mother; a mother that does not require him to fertilize her in order to maintain their social union. The fetish is the symbolic representation of mother as phallus. Mother then can continue her procreative function alone. She thus becomes, in a sense, a parthogenic hermaphrodite.

Parthogenesis being the ability found in certain insects, in which male and female attributes are maintained in one individual, where sexual intercourse is not necessary for procreation. Hermaphrodite describes an individual who maintains the sexual characteristics of both genders, male and female.

It is not a great theoretical jump to formulate a proposition for the “anal sadistic” component that J. Greenacre talks about in her 1979 paper, Fetishism. (13) Here the performance of anal intercourse is a later re-enacted form of earlier unaccomplished/inhibited intercourse.

The fetishist is involved in a self-fulfilling enactment of taking the mother into him physically and psychically. Never having made the concrete distinction between genital types, the fetishist’s illusions of childhood become recontrived as himself-mother. The hermaphrodite tendency thus becomes defined as the stultification of the ontogeny of psychic sexual dimorphism. The fetishist is looped in a virtual memoryscape. We will return to this theme in our discussion of Pierre Molinier, who as a fetish artist is described by Peter Gorson in The Artists Desiring Gaze on Objects of Fetishism: “The transvestite figure of the Shaman, which is one of the themes of Moliniers’ self-portraits, allows the artist to identify with the feminine body image of the woman (after Freud unconsciously that of the mother) with pleasure and without conflict, where in reality he should experience a threat to male, genital narcissism.(14)

Clothes as fetish object

The fetish object, as signifier, has specific characteristics such as smell, touch, color (typically black.) Bornstein, recalling a letter Freud wrote to Abraham, remarks on the centrality of “coprophilic olfactory qualities in shoes and foot fetishes.”(15)

Tough durability of the object is an issue because sometimes they are used harshly. Finally, the object is shaped like a body part, especially those involved in sexual encounters, while often it hides or encloses other parts.

Although many objects function as fetishes; masks, pieces of fur, handcuffs, etc., it is those related to the foot and leg that are most prevalent. Since this discussion centers on Pierre Molinier, and his proclivity for the foot and leg, it’s prudent that we focus on this part of the anatomy. According to Valerie Steele, “shoe fetishism emerged in the eighteenth century.”(16). Quoting Stephen Kern in his book “Anatomy and Destiny,” the high incidence at that time of fetishes involving shoes and stockings “further testifies to the exaggerated eroticism generated by hiding the lower half of the female body.” (17)

The size, and height, of the shoe have erotic bondage-like connotations. A specific kind of shoe, the Chopine, was characterized by an extremely high platform shoe, and was associated with Venetian Courtesans. A quotation from High Heel Magazine will further elucidate the importance of the foot. “The high heel shoe is a symbol of love and also a symbol of aggression. It signifies power, it indicates domination.”(18). A case report of a patient of Havelock Ellis is further elucidative of the role of boots and heels during sexual encounters. “The treading should be inflicted all over the chest, abdomen and groin and lastly the penis which of course is in a violent state of erection--I also enjoy being nearly strangled by a woman’s foot.”(19). Pornographic novels with titles like; Boot Licker, Boot Licking Slave, and Booted Master give a sense of this genre in which boots symbolize a large penis. Finally, as Marilyn Monroe said, “I don’t know who invented the high heel--but all women owe him a lot.”

Pierre Molinier

But what about the fetish objects of Pierre Molinier, cathected as they were with both aesthetic and sexual intent?
We are told, by Peter Gorson, that Molinier paid a great deal of attention to the crafting of, what were referred to as, his “godemiches.” (20) These were made of compressed silk stockings, and then covered with a sheath of homogenous fabric, and a skin of some kind which acted as a preserving agent. They came in many varieties, including one- or two-member sleek art pieces, and were not only employed for anal-masturbation, but also hetero- and homosexual intercourse. Masturbation usually took place in front of a mirror. For this purpose the godemiche was fastened to the heel of a shoe with strings of leather which function both as a kind of hinge, and a foot corset. The dildo was further extended by a hand-made leather-covered wooden high heel, and thus transformed into a real and symbolic phallus (if the high heel substitutes for the penis, then the space between the heel and the sole of the shoe, as well as the shoe’s inside, can be read as vaginal surrogates).

Wayne Baurwaldt in his introductory essay on Pierre Molinier further elaborates upon the godemiche: “These became essential for his staged acts of transformation to the androgynous hermaphrodite.” (21) Black silk stockings, Dior lipsticks, hundreds of high-heeled shoes, custom-made plaster poupées, and black lace, were used to add precision to the idealized image of the androgynous figure. Molinier was aware of the fetishistic quality of his own photographs, and crafted those as obsessively as his other relics. “Molinier fully endorsed the fetishistic function of photography, that is of allowing people to construct their own image for themselves and finding satisfaction through a fantasized object. Painting as well was not immune to his obsessions and he declared that all his erotic works had been painted for his own stimulation:’ In painting I was able to satisfy my leg and nipple fetishism." (22)

But this scopic regime, in which a myriad of visually conducive, organized perceptions would become objects of Molinier’s not-so-discreet desire, was not limited to inanimate objects infused with auratic illusionist constructions. For Molinier was interested in the living participants in his dyadic diachronous stagings: “While a doll can function as a substitute for a woman, there is no movement, no life. This has a certain charm if one is before a beautiful corpse. The doll can, but does not have to become the substitute for a woman.” (23)

Molinier was open to heterosexual women and homosexual men. As a leg fetishist (by his own account) he stated that “the primary interest for the sexual engagement with others is the fetishized leg, not the gender of the respective partner.” (24) In a later quote he says “the pure sexuality of a woman or a man does not arouse me in the least; yet a beautiful leg, a calf will arouse me immeasurably....legs of a woman or a man arouse me equally, so long as they are hairless and dressed in black stockings. I detest body hair and, if you will, even its suggestive nakedness.” (25) As if through a misdirection in, or redirection of the formulation, the body is recontorted into an altereity of positional axis (see Schwartz, Hillel. Torque: The New Kinesthetic of the Twentieth Century, in Incorporations, Zone Books.) (26) The gaze is doubly redirected. First it finds itself in the mirror and constructs a fantasy of the self as other and then its shifts its interest from the locus of the centrally placed genitalia to the marginalized leg or ankle or foot at its periphery. One is reminded of Tina Papoulias (Fetishism): “...the fetish disrupts the (phallic) order by fixing sexuality away from its proper focus of attraction--that is the genitals of the opposite sex and ultimately away from the gendered body altogether. It moves sexuality towards a preoccupation with the fragment, the inanimate....and since the fetish is an object out of place, its power erupts, outside the hierarchy of normality.” (27)

Is Molinier’s versional directiveness, away from the genitalia, and on to the smooth silken leg a desire to move himself further to the margin in order to direct his gaze away from foveation where vision is its most acute, into the rhodopsin fields of the peripheral retina where vision is more about pure light and darkened obscuration? Where shapes metamorphose into illusions through which a delusional discourse can easily be superimposed. Is this marginalization and fragmentation, inherent in Molinier’s fetish practice and art practice, revealed in his choice of collage as the best method with which to express his ideas? (Collage as a cutting up and reconstruction of the image into something other.) As we will see later the leg acting as an abstract signifier de-corporalized, a truly floating signifier, can be re-arranged and collaged within a mental representation or within the boundaries of an art product. This hairless leg forms the perfect partial object or signifier as its genderless status and minimalist form allow it to act in a multiplicity of ways in the construction of the imaginary.

The Phantom Limb

Although the first account of a phantom limb was reported by the famous neurologist S. Mitchell in 1866, it is only recently after the landmark work of Melzack et al., who were able to understand the phenomena in the broader context of neural plasticity, that it has attracted a great deal of attention. (28) In Mitchell’s “The Case of George Dedlou,” the patient lost both his legs as the result of an amputation during the Civil War. Upon awaking the patient felt a severe pain in his left leg, too weak to rub it he hailed an attendant, who explained to him that he had no leg to rub. This story is a fairly common one: pain in a phantom limb is a common complaint among amputees. What is remarkable in these patients is the reality that the phantom limb possesses, especially in the early course of the healing process. Melzack remarks that the patient may try to step off the bed onto a phantom foot, or lift a cup with a phantom hand, a phantom leg bends as it should when a patient attempts to sit. Sometimes however, if the patient had a paralyzed limb before amputation caused by, for instance, a brachial plexus avulsion, or a carcinomatous infiltration (Ramachandran), the patient complains that although he experiences the limb, he cannot voluntarily move it. (29) Sometimes the patient is sure that the limb is stuck in some unusual position and he will even alter his posture or gait so as not to hit the limb when going through a narrow space. Many times patients with phantom limbs experience the pain they suffered in that limb previous to the amputation. A case in point is a patient who had a painful ulcer on his foot prior to amputation.

But the story of the phantom limb does not end there. Until about twenty years ago the scientific community considered the cerebral cortex inert; damage due to stroke, tumor, or trauma, after the age of ten, was considered irreversible. The peripheral nervous system acted somewhat differently: regeneration of traumatized nerves was possible. In 1984 this all changed. Melzack et al. found that two months after amputation of the middle fingers of adult monkeys the area in the cortex corresponding to this particular digit started responding to touch stimuli delivered to adjacent digits.(30) It was as if this area had been taken over by sensory input from the adjacent digits. In 1991 Pons et al. extended the range of this neural plasticity from 1 mm. to 1 cm. when they discovered that the cortical area formerly representing the amputated hand had been taken over by the adjacent cortical region which represents the face. illustrates the homunculus which indeed shows the hand being flanked by the face and arm in the precentral gyrus of the frontal cortex where incoming thalamocortical neurons carrying sensory information synapse.(31) Cells in the hand region now start responding to stimuli applied to the lower face region.

V.S. Ramachandran in his text “Perceptual Plasticity and Freudian Psychology,” reports the case of Patient V.Q., a 17 year-old male whose left arm had been amputated 6 cm. above the elbow. The patient described his phantom limb as being “telescoped,” in that it felt like it was attached just a few centimeters below his stump and was pronated. Using a cotton swab to touch areas far from the amputation line, with the patient’s eyes closed, they found two clusters of points that, when touched, would elicit stimulation in the phantom limb. So specific was this re-representation that a mapping-out of individual digits could be found 7 cm. above the amputation line as well as a remarkably stable field on the face. . Stimulation to other parts of the body, including the neck and the tongue did not elicit those sensations. (32)

As was mentioned in this section’s introduction, phantom limbs move voluntarily. Even patients who have congenitally absent limbs can vividly experience phantom limbs. However, if the patient’s limbs were paralyzed prior to amputation another story unfolds: in these cases the phantom limb remains paralyzed, and assumes a position similar to that of the limb’s position before amputation. This happens because prior to amputation the paralyzed limb signaled the brain, through visual and propioceptive cues, that the arm was unable to move. In the case of the sudden amputee when the subjects tried to move the limb there was no feedback, neither confirming or contradicting the command signals.

These findings led Ramachandran to construct an ingenious set of circumstances to determine if the phantom limb could be taught to move. A virtual reality box was constructed to trick the patient into thinking that his phantom limb was moving. A hinged mirror was placed vertically in front of the patient so that when he saw the reflection of his normal hand it appeared in the place of his absent hand: as if he still had two hands. The patient was then asked to move his normal hand so that its reflection was superimposed on the felt position of the phantom hand. When doing mirror-symmetric movements it appeared as if his phantom limb moved. When patient D.S. (a patient with a brachial avulsion) was subjected to this paradigm, he was surprised to find that indeed his phantom limb did move. “Mind boggling,” he said “my arm is plugged in again,... I can actually feel my arm moving.” (33)

Thus far our attention has been directed to the upper limbs, but is this mislocalization also present as a consequence of lower limb amputation? In 1994 Agliotti et al. were the first to conduct a detailed evaluation of mislocation in the lower limbs. (34) Each of the patients experienced phantom limbs following amputation, sensation varied from pin-pricking to burning. Studies, conducted very much as outlined previously, showed that the mislocation phenomena was prevalent, and a topographic map could be outlined on the upper leg.

An important finding relevant to the discussion of the phantom limb, and foot fetish, is that although direct quantitative evidence from these experiments did not show a re-mapping phenomena in the genital-anal area, qualitative patient verbal accounts did. Agliotti has suggested that the light touch used in this area may not have been substantial enough to elicit a response. Be that as it may, all the patients, based on their oral accounts, confirmed a foundation upon which the re-mapping hypothesis could rest;

Patient 1 reported that both defecation and sexual intercourse elicited tiny, painless, electrical currents sliding down the stump to the phantom limb, which then ran on the lateral side of the foot, and stopped just before reaching the halux.
Patient 2 had evocations of clear sensations on the phantom foot during defecation and sexual intercourse.
Patient 3 experienced sensations during defecation.

In his summary of these findings, and two patients of his own with similar experiences, Ramachandran hypothesizes that this connection between the genitalia as a topographic reference area of re-mapping might have something to do with “the prevalence of foot fetishes and relative scarcity of hand and nose fetishes.”

What is re-mapping, and how does it occur?

Before continuing our discussion a slight regression is necessary in order to delineate certain neurobiologic concepts which will be important here as well as in our final discussion of the relation of the to the phantom limb. Many of the ideas described here can be found in "Remembered Present" by Gerald Edelman in which he constructs a model of Neurobiologic development as the product of a process known as Neural Darwinism. (35) In this brief rendition the theory posits that we are born with an overabundant population of variable neurons which he refers to as the primary repertoire.. The primary repertoir is grossly organized into functional areas such as the visual cortex in which neurons have specific predisposed signal characteristics and stimulus sensitivities some of which are relevant and some of which are not relevant to our species in the specific reality context into which one is born. Through a process of selective amplification of relevant neuronal-synaptic complexes and selective inactivation of unimportant neurons the brains microarchitecture is sculpted. Because objects and the world they "inhabit" are complex they have many synchronous and interactive qualities such as color, shape, motion and form, networks of neurons in the visual cortex are linked together. " Cells that wire together fire together." (36) When these networks are confined to one specific area of the cerebral cortex, defined here as the outer mantle of the brain that contains its neurons, they are called local maps. Local maps, such as those found in the visual cortex linking say motion and form and color can link up quite distant neurons together. Spatial and temporal signatures tie these neurons together through altering their specific firing patterns. Neurobiologists have named these temporal signatures as synchronous firing patterns. When these now synchronized neural networks, in this case local maps, are connected to either qualities characteristic of other parts of the brain like smell, or are linked to value control systems in the primitive limbic brain the networks expand beyond their former local formations to create global maps. I might add that these networks are under the same selective pressures as we saw for individual neurons. Only those significant local networks/ maps and global networks/maps will be selected for and the resulting brain now called the secondary repertoire will reflect those positvie interactions. Global mapping in its basic form conjoins different areas of the brain in a kind of symphony of activity. But so far global mapping is restricted to the autonomous individual operating upon the environment. I am defining this type of global mapping as "intra-global mapping" in order to distinguish it from another variety of global mapping called "inter-global mapping". Intraglobal mapping is primarily the result of a personal and subjective experience of the world. As that subjective experience is embedded in a cultural experience intra-global mappings can also reflect the interaction of the individual in relation to the cultural. For instance what is paid attention to may seem to be based on a subjective feeling for hunger when one is looking for something to eat but the actual choice of food and the way the food is acqired is culturally based. Inter-global mapping describes the way that multiple simultaneous stimulated global maps become synched up between individuals during specific learned group practices that have specific rules some of which are linked to specific spatial loctions and temporal diachronous relations. These experiences are shared as microsynaptic encodings which have similar neurobiologic architectectonic structures and result when groups of individuals grow up in similar spatial. temporal, linguistic, social and cultural environments. As stated before the brain is sculpted by those relevant stimuli it comes in contact with into what Edelman calls the secondary repertoire. (37) Through millions of interactions the resulting brain will the product of all those significant signifiers that it comes in contact with and what is experienced as the real is the result of a binding of all those stimuli into a seamless whole.

In religious ceremonies respondents react to signifiers in a controlled analogous way. Sacred Christian objects like pagan objects organize group behavior and elicit similar responses through their ability to stimulate similar intra-global networks in the participants simultaneously. The ceremony is a series of linked performances which step by step, link one neural network after another. A construction of synchronous pulsating neural networks results. As members in the audience are privy to the specific signifiers and have been trained to respond to them in a similar fashion the result is a kind of shared neurobiologic response. In other words their brains become synched up together. We will later see how the idea of inter-global mapping becomes significant for our understanding of the fetish.

Re-mapping is that phenomena by which neurons in an adjacent area of cortex (although it can also occur in the sub-cortical area) sprout new connections which take over the function of a previously injured or inert area. Re-mapping can also be the result of neurons already existing in that denervated area which are now unmasked. Recently the above two theories have been displaced by evidence "that suggests that temporally correlated activity among many neurons is the crucial force behind map (re)organization. Map movement is believed not to involve migrational movement or growth of neurons per se but rather a spatial shift in their collective activity." (38)

Whatever the mechanism, the effect is the same. The formerly inert-deafferented area is now functional but in a different way. The area to which it responds is different, it now serves areas similar to the areas of the stimulating new nerves which have taken over. The orphaned cortex is adopted into a new family, and it must follow new rules.

The re-mapping seen in patients with the phantom limb is a result of the anatomical construction of the cerebral cortex. The somatosensory cortex, through which all sensory information concerning touch is routed, is located in an area called the post-central cortex. What’s truly fascinating and wonderful about this area, is that it is constructed as an homunculus: a little man. In this homunculus the surface of the body is not represented by square inches of peripheral skin area, but by degree, density, and character of innervation. Thus the face, hand, and foot areas are intensely represented, well beyond what would be expected by physical area alone, but in accordance with their sensitivity to touch, and need for dexterity. As you can see fromm the diagram the face and the foot are huge in comparison to the back and skin covering the stomach.

Perusal of this map also delineates the possible relationship exposed in the phantom limb. The close and adjacent proximity of the face and the upper arm to the hand, and the relationship of the foot to the genital area, should be noted. The re-mapping hypothesis delineates a conception of re-organization in which adjacent neurons take over deafferented adjacent cortical material. Gilbert et al. have divided this re-mapping model into short- and long-term changes.(39) Possible unmasking of silent synapses within minutes of an injury could explain findings reported by Ramachandran of skin areas eliciting phantom sensations one month after upper limb amputations. Long-term changes, as evidenced by the presence of these areas years after the original amputation, could be further elucidated by a sprouting mechanism. Whatever the reason, this work points to the brain’s large-scale ability in areas of neural re-organization. One important question still lingers which may be helpful later in trying to understand both the phantom limb phenomena and the fetish. Why is that only the hand is re-represented on the face and the foot upon the genitalia rather than on the adjacent structures of the nearby trunk in the cas of former and midline structures in the case of the latter. The explanation lies in the way the hand and face/mouth and their associated groups of muscles, joints and nerves are connected as functionally linked coordinated structures during natural activities like feeding and grooming. When normal input is removed one part of the linkage must compensate for the other. (40) Could the same by hypothesized for the foot and genitalia? That the explanation lies in the way the foot and genitalia and their associated muscles, joints and nerves are linked as coordinated systems not so much in the usual physical sense but in the psychic sense. As if over the anatomical material body is an overlay which links these two systems of relations binding them as significantly as real physical relations would. When normal input of one part of the linkage is displaced or absent the other could take over. This work and the previously cited work (using the virtual reality box) in patients with paralyzed phantom limbs justifies another theoretical position as to the etiology of the phantom limb phenomena. The superimposition of the visual antonym upon the formerly absent space of the amputated arm, in which the formerly illusory phantom limb becomes mobilized, speaks to a conceptualization, or body belief system, which is more free-floating, and liquid, than theories of the brain in which hard-circuiting and -wiring are the rule. Through this process of re-mapping the representation of the body is rearranged. The result being a kind of neurobiologic collage. The representation of the hand coming out of the cheek or the simultaneous stimulation of the heel during defecation and micturation resonates from the annals of surrealist manuscripts like the "exquisite corpse."

In its basic formation the unmasking and sprouting hypothesis presents the hardware with which higher consciousness can creatively play, based on particular contextual formations. To summarize, re-mapping occurs both as a structural/material property of the brain, characterized by unmasking/sprouting, but it can also occur as immaterial pure energy as defined through a metastable electrophysiologic flux in the syncitium output, which we call consciousness.

The phantom limb and the fetish

The phantom limb and the fetish occupy the opposite ends of a continuum that posits real, physical relations at one end and immaterial, imaginary relations at the other. The phantom limb phenomena is the result of a reconfiguration of the body image which not only the physical body adjusts to but the psychic body as well. The re-mapping of the vacated cerebral space by the adjacent cortical area representing the face or genitals or the unmasking of previously inhibited neurons and their relations is the response of the body to keep that vacated area active. For the amputated leg is inscribed in a pleuthora of relations beyond its strictly physical role in, for instance, ambulation. This inscription is impressed in the millions of short and long term memories in which that leg is involved. Memory as a continual recatagorization of inputs links memory to the act of revisitation inspired by certain relations in the external objective reality which elicit specific neurobiologic excitations, local and global mappings, whose characteristics are analogous but not exactly the shape and nature of the critical synchronized stimulations that defined it in its original formation.. The leg or arm as they are involved in countless actions and reactions play an important role in the internalized psychic revelatory world of the body. A body in the throws of constant performance and reenactment. Such is the body in our dreams or in the re-enactment characteristic of visualization which athletes utilize before performing. Skaters imagine themselves doing their routine prior to the actual fact and it is through this psychic rehearsal that they perform better. The leg has an immaterial life because it is linked with the rest of the immaterial body through immaterial relations which are tied into the millions of local and global maps by which it is defined both temporally and spatially. The re-mapping hypothesis suggests much more then simply the re-adjustment of the body to the physical fact of its own traumatic loss. It also rehabilitates and stabilizes the bodies psychic life.

Earlier in this essay I traced some of the history of the fetish in order to outline ways that it has been folded into the fabric of society. The fetish flickers between two somewhat compatible states: the first physical the second immaterial. An investigation of its ontogeny bears witness to this condition. From its origins as a religious artifact with magical powers it is transformed into a representation of social relations as in the commodity fetish of Marx and as code in the semiologic discourse of Baudrillard. This duality can also be expressed in terms of the body. For the fetish exists outside the body in physical space and through its representation becomes internalized. But as social code it has the potential for organizing variable psychic energy. Earlier in this essay I outlined the concept of inter-global mapping in which the brains of groups of individuals are synched up together by virtue of the fact that they share learned responses to specific objects which occur during learned rituals. Anyone who has participated in a group meditation has witnessed the rigorous and formulaic methodology by and through which the "congregation" was lead through a series of linked rituals. This formulaic discourse is the result of a transhistorical discourse of such rituals which over time has been modified to create the greatest affect in harmonizing the states of consciousness of its participants. The magic of the fetish emanates from its role in highly stylized ritualistic practice. The fetish objects' presence in these practices link the participants to itself and to the other participants who are experiencing it in a similar way. The phantom limb phenomena recounts the body's attempt to re negotiate its own loss through an internalized re-schematization of its own form. The residual plasticitiy and lability of the central nervous system allows it to circumvent that loss. The phantom limb is about the representation of the physical body and the role that the psychic body plays in its formation. The fetish is about the absence in the psychic body representation of ,as we saw, the female phallus and the fear that castration engenders. It is about a loss that took place in the ontogeny of the psyche and the bodies desire to make up for the loss. The healing takes place from without. The fetish object cathexis around it a series of actions, a performance, in which the object plays a fundamental role in organizing that performance."In quest to represent and possibly embody the ideal/sensual/doubly gendered body; a vast array of relics and fetish items were employed for the camera. The combination of relics and fetish items are shifting constructs of his ideal form." (41) As the brain is constructed by the environment each part of the performance has its Neurobiologic analog. The performance is therefore about a serial linkage of acts that entrain and route psychic energy along prescribed routes creating a kind of internalized map. A map that constructs a psychic representation which makes up for its lack. In the case of the ontogeny of the evolving individual psyche it is a kind of symbolic re-mapping. "The fact that a neural network can switch flexibly among functional states and can reconfigure itself according to current conditions is likely a result of dynamic instabilities in a system whose functioning is depended on interactions among non-lnear processes at cellular synaptic and network levels." (42) This switching which takes place is the result of the fact that different patterns coexist in the same network (multifunctionality). (43) Certainly the percieved trauma of castration could cause a switching of circuits that would circumvent the conscious re-enactment of that trauma and substitute a different pattern in the schemata of ones psychic life. Since the genitala, the site of the psychic trauma, is adjacent to the area of the foot and as we have seen metastable neural circuits are easily remapped onto it, it is quite reasonable to suggest that the foot would now take over and participate in those multifunctional neural nets which were formerly the domain of the genitalia. The symbolic code of other fetish objects like fur and the inside of the heel are similarly connected through their intrinsic relation,either visual or tactile, as facsimiles of the genetalia which are temporally linked through synchrony as global mappings. The power of the initiating event, such as percieved or real trauma creates the increased gain that links these disparities together in an ensemble firing network. The ritualistic practices in which the religous fetish plays apart is just an extrapolation of this practice. Special meanings are inscribed into the surface of special objects which are given special significance through their role in religous ceremonies. A proscribed set of actions which become encoded as a proscribed set of neurobiologic relations can be initiated under the right circumstances. In the individual's case the development of the neurobiologic correlates were a result of chance and circumstance which embed themselves in the body. In the case of ritual the fetish instigates and initiates a series of changes that have been learned and as such are fairly stabile. The patterns are shared both in their perception and in their activation in actions as performance.. Through a series of proscribed and shared acts a mental state is created which is shared by an informed audience. Intra-global mappings become linked up to produce a communal inter-global mapping.


The performance art of Pierre Moinier has opened a door to another kind of investigation. The phantom limb and the fetish are the bodies reaction to physical and psychic trauma and its attempt to heal its affects. Performance plays a fundamental role in creating the neurobiologic context in which this can takes place.


1. Neidich, Warren. “Marcel Duchamp and his Optical Machines,” lecture given at School of Visual Arts, New York, 1994, 1995.
2. Apter, Emily and William Pietz. Fetishism and Cultural Discourse, Cornell University Press, 1993.
3. Steele, Valerie. Fetish/Fashion, Sex, Power, Oxford University Press, 1995.
4. Ibid., Steele, V., 1995.
5. American Psychiatric Association-Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 1994.
6. Freud, S. Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, Standard Edition, 1905.
7. Freud, S. Leonardo Da Vince and Memory of His Childhood, Standard Edition, 1910.
8. Ibid., Freud, S. 1910.
9. Bronstein. The Fetish/Transitional Objects and Illusions, Psychoanalytic Review 79(2), Summer 1992.
10. Kaplan, L.J. The Female Perversions: The Temptation of Emma Bovary, Doubleday, 1991.
11. Bak. Fetishism, Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 1:285-298, 1953.
12. Chasseguet-Smirgel. Creativity and Perversion, W.W. Norton, New York, 1984.
13. Greenacre, J. Fetishism, in Sexual Deviations, edited by Irwin Rosen, Oxford University Press, 1979.
14. Gorson, Peter. The Artists Desiring Gaze on Objects of Fetishism, in Pierre Molinier, Plug in Editions, 1995.
15. Ibid., Bronstein, 1992.
16. Ibid., Steele, V. 1995.
17. Ibid., Steele, V. 1995.
18. Ibid., Steele, V. 1995.
19. Ibid., Steele, V. 1995.
20. Ibid., Gorson, 1995.
21. Baurwaldt, Wayne. Introduction, Pierre Molinier (catalogue), Plug in Editions, 1995.
22. Ibid., Baurwaldt, 1995.
23. Ibid., Gorson, 1995.
24. Ibid., Gorson, 1995.
25. Ibid., Gorson, 1995.
26. Schwartz, Hillel. Torque: The New Kinesthetic of theTwentieth Century, in Incorporations, editors Kwinter and Crary, Zone Books, 1993.
27. Papoulis, Tina. Fetishism, in The Sexual Imagination from Acker to Zola, A Feminist Companion, edited by Harriet Gilbert, London, 1993.
28. Melzack, R. Phantom Limbs, Scientific American, April 1992.
29. Ramachandran, V.S. Phantom Limbs, Neglect Syndromes, Repressed Memories and Freudian Psychology, in Selectionism and the Brain, edited by Olaf Sporns and Guilio Tononi, Academic Press, 1994.
30. Ibid., Melzack, 1992.
31. Pons, T.P. et al. Massive Cortical Reorganization After Sensory Deafferentiation in Adult Males, Science 252, 1992.
32. Ibid., Ramachandran, 1994.
33. Ramachandran, V.S. Touching the Phantom Limb, Nature, Volume 37, 10/12/1995.
34. Agliotti et al. Phantom Lower Limb as a Perceptual Marker of Neural Plasticity in the Mature Human Brain, Proceedings in the Royal Society of London, 1994, 255, 273-278.
35. Edelman, Gerald, Neural Darwinism, Basic Books, 1987.
36. Hebb, D.O., The Organization of Behavior: A Neuropsychologic Theory, Wiley, 1949.
37. Ibid., Edelman, 1987.
38. Kelso, J.A. Scott, Dynamic Patterns, MIT Press, 1995.39. Gilbert, C.D. Rapid Dynamic Changes in Adult Cerebral Cortex, Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 3, 100-103, 1993.
40. Ibid., Kelso, 1995.
41. Ibid., Baurwaldt W., 1995.
42. Ibid., Kelso, 1995.
43. Ibid., Kelso, 1995.
44.. Ibid., Baurwaldt W., 1995.

Visual and Cognitive Ergonomics: Formulating a Model through which Neurobiology and Aesthetics are Linked.

“Style attests to the existence of a physiology...” —Norman Bryson1

“Culture is sculpting the brain—that’s what visual ergonomics is.” —from a conversation with a friend

The word ergonomics comes from the Greek words ergon, to work, and nomos, pertaining to a set of laws. Ergonomics is concerned with designing the most efficient and physically effective interface between humans and their workstations.2 In creating an ergonomic design, the object, system, or environment should be designed according to the physical and mental characteristics of its human users.3 In its early manifestations, ergonomically astute designers limited themselves to the proportions of the musculoskeletal system. Designers have also realized the importance of creating spaces that are ergonomically cued to the senses such as sound and sight (Figure 14). Recently cognitive ergonomics, which takes into account perceptual and cognitive strategies in the design of computer-worker interfaces, has come into being.4

I use “Visual and Cognitive Ergonomics” to describe fundamentally historical processes that are rooted both in neurobiology and aesthetics. They are my terms, or tools, for describing the way objects, their relations, and the spaces they occupy, affect changes in the brain. What is of particular concern is that aesthetics, as a study of principles and codes that affect the way we understand or experience a work of art, must be understood as having an effect on our strategies of seeing (Figure 15). As Norman Bryson puts it: “What the painter does, what the scientist does, is to test…schemata against experimental observation: their production will not be an Essential Copy reflecting the universe in terms of transcendent truth: it will be a provisional and interim improvement on the existing corpus of hypotheses or schemata, improved because it is tested against the world….”5 Bryson then describes how the canvas is more than just a surface upon which the history of a particular art form is displayed. In fact, my argument is that it displays a map of neurobiological visual perception as it develops, in history, over time and place, and that it can be used to make comments on the ontological development of the nervous system. For the canvas and the brain are both in a constant state of mutation as they are configured and reconfigured by a group of immaterial relations such as psychological dispositions, social upheavals, political intrigues as well as historical reformulations, which express themselves simultaneously—although quite differently—in the shape of sculpted marble and the arrangement of the neurons in the neural networks of the brain.

But there is another story that parallels this story of art and the brain, but which has important implications for both—a story that traces an ever more refined and changing instrumentalization and technique with which to visualize and concretize these relations. Some might argue that this history begins with the implementation of the technique of perspectival renderings as they were described in Alberti’s De Pictura and manifested in the canvases of the High Renaissance. Others might begin the story with the camera obscura, tracing a path from it through the nineteenth-century stereoscope and stereopticon cards, zoetrope and phenakistescope, into twentieth-century cinema, landing in the twenty-first century in tele-operated environments and virtual reality (Figure 16). Wherever you locate the beginning of this process, the ontogeny (I deliberately use the biological term here) of such optical devices details a progression from a Euclidian, three-dimensional monocularly-based static “truth” or reality, to one that is binocular and mobile. The devices come to stand in for how we see, or know, the physical world. Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow Up is a perfect example. The plot involves a fashion photographer, modeled after the sixties London fashion photographer David Bailey, who doubts his own perceptions and memories of a murder he may or may not have witnessed. He relies upon and trusts the photographs he took of the crime scene, rather than his own bodily sensations. These artificial images and the memories they conjure are more real for him than actual sensorial perceptions elicited from “real” objects in the real world. What are the reasons for this and how did this come about? These are the questions I hope to answer with my definitions of visual and cognitive ergonomics—terms that I appropriated from their original contexts of design and architecture into terms used to investigate the ontogeny of “image species.”

Before we go on, I think it necessary to distinguish the terms visual and cognitive ergonomics. Visual and cognitive ergonomics are distinguished in a number of ways. Visual ergonomics developed first and is tethered to early forms of representation such as painting, sculpture, and drawing. It is primarily concerned with the representation of static space. It delineates a process through which natural space is coded to be represented as space on a canvas, and it describes a historical process by which that space becomes palpable and haptic. It is tied to such formulations as early perspectival renderings and to chiaroscuro or claire-obscura as it is also called. It is also tied to a mutating population of observers. That is to say that there are two parallel and dependent processes occurring simultaneously. On one hand there is the genealogy of techniques that render and reformulate space through aesthetic codes, and on the other hand there is a genealogy that describes a more educated viewer who constantly demands more from the image. The demands of that viewer are the result of many concurrent processes that act on society as well as the individual, especially the individual’s perceptual-cognitive system. Those changes are the result of actual changes in the way that the rendering of space, which is itself an instantiation of the changing values of a particular society as expressed in fashion, design, and architecture, reconfigures networked relations in the brain. How this happens will be discussed later but let us mention here that the result of visual ergonomics is a refinement of the techniques of creating images and the images themselves. These refinements are visually ergonomic because they are more tuned to the requirements of the nervous system and are therefore processed by it more efficiently. This efficiency renders those neural networks that perceive it greater efficiency of coding, and they are therefore selected over those neural networks that are less efficient. Visual ergonomics is linked to traditional forms and materials of representation like painting; but because certain ideas of space and its representation discovered in, say, landscape painting, were carried over to photography and later cinema, it also has some relevance to them.

Cognitive ergonomics is a later phenomenon and is involved in delineating dynamic processes. Whereas visual ergonomics was involved in defining space, cognitive ergonomics is involved in describing temporality. I stated earlier that it emerged out of the science of determining the most efficient viewing strategies for worker-computer interfaces. As such it is much more pertinent to recent digital and internet art. In this regard it is involved in determining the process through which information on a computer screen is obtained, and for that it relies on knowledge of how cognitive systems operate. We all know this from working on a computer, for instance using any word program. We can access information in different ways according to different menus that are set up in specific places that lead us to other places where other kinds of information are available. Working on a computer, playing computer games, or interacting in virtual reality are about moving and progressing through different kinds of space over time.

Cognitive ergonomics, as its name implies, takes into account the whole brain and conceptual system, as is necessary when organizing technologies that interface with the entire body and being. What complicates the representation of virtual worlds is the need for an immense database that contains all the objects viewed within the virtual environment, their motions and behavior, within the limited range of computer memory. Even when one takes into account the ability of the brain-mind to fill in so that it is not absolutely necessary to mimic all the stimulation of the real world, the memory size required to store such information is still huge.6 Limitations of database compression techniques and limitations in image retrieval and display create a need for ergonomically sophisticated methods that will maximize the efficiency of the information at hand to create the clearest, i.e., most familiar and therefore “real” display.

Jonathan Crary’s Techniques of the Observer7 and Rosalind Krauss’s The Optical Unconscious8 have much to tell us about how aesthetic systems were influenced by optical devices. Discussing Max Ernst, Krauss recounts the artist’s fascination with the magazine La Nature, in which details of the many optical devices of his day were presented. Later he would use this material in his collage novel A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil, in which his heroine finds herself in the middle of a zoetrope.9 Other authors have alluded to how the camera obscura and the Claude glass were used to aid artists in the representation of nature by producing a stable, miniaturized image.10 In turn Duchamp’s fascination with optical machines and opticality lead him to create his Handmade Stereopticon Slide (1918-1919) and to include his Oculist Witness (1920) in the The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (1915-1923; see Figures 9 and 10). In the latter case, the decontextualization of the oculist device from the doctor’s chambers into the lower panel of glass, the bachelor’s section, alluded to the work of art itself as an optical machine through which the world might be reinterpreted. The effect of cinema on the work of Duchamp, specifically Nude Descending a Staircase #1 (1911), as well as on the Futurists is well known. A fascination with cinema as an optical device continues today in Douglas Gordon’s recent piece Double Vision, as well as in my own work Brainwash in which the optokineticnystagmus drum used in the diagnosis of diseases of gaze and balance has an uncanny resemblance to the aforementioned protocinematic devices and “shot/reverse-shot” in which a cinematic convention simultaneously plays opposite roles of visual articulation and disarticulation (Figure 7). Recent works by such artists as Jeremy Blake and Gary Hill elucidate the visual structures found in video games and virtual reality.

Although obvious, we have to remember that all optical devices are constructed with an ideal human viewer in mind. In other words, the image is created by a technology fit for the specifics of human physical and sensorial capabilities (see Figures 13 and 14). A camera, for instance, is made up of lenses in which a series of curved lenses are arranged in a manner to focus the outside world clearly upon the filmic surface. But in most cases the focusing apparatus is linked to the optical properties of the apparatus of the eye. Stereoscopic viewing is the result of the slight difference in the way the outside world is projected upon the retina of each eye. It is this difference, and the normal disparity it causes, that create depth perception. In other words, it is the ability of the human eye to adapt that is engineered into the apparatus so that when the card is moved towards or away from the viewing plane there is an experience of depth perception. In this sense, at the moment of taking a picture or using a stereopticon, mechanical optique and organic optique merge as one. As such they qualify as interdependent visual ergonomic systems. Thus a tacit or real knowledge of optical neurobiology is a prerequisite for the construction of such devices.

At birth, all human brains are endowed with what in neurobiology is called a “primary repertoire.” The primary repertoire is the product of genetically determined processes that construct the microbiological architecture of the brain in utero.11 For instance, the area of the brain that controls movement has a very different architecture than that involved in vision. Even within the area that is important for vision, the so-called occipital cortex, one finds architectural differences and refinements that relate to different functional capabilities such as color, form, and motion detection, to which they are linked. These are named V1, V2, V3, V4, V5, and V6 (Figure 11).12 When viewed, the world is parceled—like putting different kinds and shapes of stones in different boxes—into specific qualities of information which are analyzed according to the cellular domain to which they have been routed. As Semir Zeki states in A Vision of the Brain, “Thus a particular visual object elicits responses in a large number of spatially distributed neurons, each of which responds to a partial aspect of the object.”13 Only later is this information bound together to create the seamless impression we call physical or visual reality. In other words, the genetically delineated architecture of the brain determines the way in which it is instructed and later selected for by specific partialities of objects in the environment: we do not hold onto the memories of every object and every possible orientation of those objects. Instead we remember categories of characteristics, and these separate categories of characteristics become bound together as a result of learned aesthetic relations, influenced by cultural vernaculars, which are superimposed upon them.

The metamorphosis of the primary repertoire into the secondary repertoire is the result of a process by which, metaphorically speaking, the primary repertoire is sculpted into patterns, or “maps,” by the millions of sensations that impose themselves on the developing brain during the post-natal period. Neurons or neuron groups, referred to as maps, i.e., those elements that are repetitively stimulated, develop faster and more efficient firing patterns, giving them a selective advantage over neurons and groups of neurons that are not repetitively stimulated.14 Gradually those neurons which are not stimulated die off, while those that remain continue to recruit other viable neurons, which assist in coding the same stimuli or other stimuli to form novel cell assembly complexes. This complex process provides an explanation for the fact that the human brain, which weighs four hundred grams at birth, expands to four times that weight in its mature form. The secondary repertoire is thus an organization of neural elements, and their connections, created by the specific context into which each individual brain is born. Thus repetitively occurring objects which are organized in real space in specific ways—keeping in mind that how the space is organized might in fact make the objects significant, and this may be aesthetically determined—stimulate their neurobiological counterparts in ways that give those neurons a selective advantage. Multiply these sets of conditions one million times and one has a brain, built by neurobiology but shaped by specific cultural conditions.

In any imperfect system—and most are in fact imperfect—in which there is a transfer of information from one form to another, there is always some loss of information. Such is bound to be the case when one is talking about the way certain patterns of light are coded from radiant energy into the electro-chemical codes that the brain uses. Superimpose on this system the great differences that exist between the topography of the brain, its surface undulations, and twisted inner core—and that of the noumenal and phenomenal world—and one begins to appreciate the immense obstacles nature has had to overcome in order to be represented at all. And it is this process that I call visual and cognitive ergonomics.

At this point, a metaphor may help to illustrate this point. If a photograph is copied over and over again, each time using the copied image as the template, eventually the image will become blurry. There is a sharp decrease in resolution in each successive generation. If instead one were to copy an image file by transferring that image from the computer hard drive to a floppy disc or CD, and then copy that copy on to another disc, the amount of loss of image resolution would be less. Visual and cognitive ergonomics are the tacit processes through which the aesthetic transformation of our perception, and our subsequent cognition of the physical world and its changing nature, affects the way a particular set of stimuli is perceived and cognized. Like the computer example, the amount of resolution loss is minimal in a well-constructed cognitive ergonomic system. In this sense, cognitive ergonomics is simply another factor, along with economic and social factors, which must be considered when discussing the development of artistic practice.

But visual and cognitive ergonomics define a system of relations more sophisticated than these simply materialistic underpinnings. The history of art can be seen as an ever-refined series of ergonomically constructed changes, that may first take place on the surface of the canvas/laboratory and spread out into the world through the contribution of other aesthetic practices such as architecture and design. Such aesthetic practices then cause changes in the way the physicality of the real looks, redesigning, so to speak, the secondary repertoire, resulting in changes in the microbiological structure of the brain. What I am saying is that the seventeenth-century human, bound as he or she is to a set of cultural relations, lives within a visual field that looks and feels much different than the visual field of the late twentieth-century observer. A comparison of the Louvre and Pompidou Center attests to this. As such, the resulting neurobiological configuration that has been organized by the specific spatial and temporal relations of these epochs as they are embedded in their forms of representation may be, or are, quite different. Of course since the morphology of the seventeenth-century visual field and that of the twentieth have certain linkages, as they are connected through a genealogy of changing forms that describes the history of art, those different brains will share commonalities and linkages. The ontogeny of visual apparatus, beautifully elaborated by Jonathan Crary in his Techniques of the Observer, is a tribute to the ingenuity of humanity in its desire to directly visualize these changes.15

At this point I would like to conclude by discussing what in cognitive psychology is called “binding.” Binding is a process whereby certain topographically dislocated neurological excitations become associated with one another, constructing the sense of a seamless consciousness in which everything in our cognitive field becomes connected. For instance, an apple, which is perceived as a whole object, is in fact a group of sensorial partialities that are first distributed to the various parts of the visual cortex concerned with shape, color, and movement, and subsequently reconstituted as an apple. But things become more difficult when this apple is passed from one person to another who eats it and enjoys the taste while recounting the story of the apple eaten by Snow White. Recently it has been theorized that binding of populations of neurons could be achieved by taking into account properties of temporality such as synchronization. As Wolf Singer says in his essay “Coherence as an Organizing Principle of Cortical Functions”:

“The assumption is that [in] the formation of functionally coherent assemblies, the discharges of neurons undergo a specific temporal patterning so that cells participating in the encoding of related contents eventually come to discharge in synchrony. Thus, neurons having joined into an assembly coding, for the same feature or at higher level, for the same perceptual object…would be identifiable as members of the assembly because their responses would contain episodes during which their discharges were synchronous.”16

What allows these disparate areas to discharge together is that they are connected by extensive neural connections that have developed as a result of the formation of the secondary repertoire. Temporal relations that link networked relations in the real world or the real/virtual interface reconfigure networked relations in the brain. Some of these temporal relations are aesthetically driven. In my essays “Blow-up” and “Remapping” I show how cinematic temporal relations such as montage and twenty-four frames per second are embedded in architecture and serve as a template for the developing brain during critical periods. Temporal relations have become invested in installation art and new media, and these have affected all kinds of artists, designers, architects, and filmmakers. As a result our world is invested with these experiments with time, and aesthetics is one set of codes that tether disparate stimuli together around temporal messengers. These constantly evolving spatial and temporal environments configure the secondary repertoire.

“Reentry” is the term for the process whereby neural mappings are linked together and thus communicate. Reentry allows disparate parts of the brain to work together while allowing each component part of the brain to also work independently.17 Each neural map is aware of that which shares connectivity, and adjusts itself accordingly. When such neural maps share the same referent, they become part of a large network of synchronous firings. Oliver Sacks quotes a BBC radio interview with Gerald Edelman in which he says:

“Think, if you had a hundred thousand wires randomly connecting four string quartet players and that, even though they weren’t speaking words, signals were going back and forth in all kinds of hidden ways (as you usually get by subtle nonverbal interactions between the players) that make the whole set of sounds a unified ensemble. That’s how the maps of the brain work by reentry.”18

Edelman is picturing an orchestra without a conductor: one that makes its own music.

Could we conjecture then that binding and the process of reentry which allows it to happen is more than just a neurobiological process binding different areas of the brain, but is also a process that operates in the world of networked relations? That just like the disparate areas of the brain that are tethered together by temporal signatures, disparate fragments in the world are also bound together by spatial and, most importantly, temporal signatures? That aesthetics plays a role in this binding by organizing these fragments according to historical antecedents and stylistic and factographic formulas that are in essence really dancing temporal codes that are causing objects to constantly switch their partners according to specific contexts? Visual ergonomic pressure on space and cognitive ergonomic pressure on time act on binding as well, refining its process to create frictionless information flows between these disparate stimuli. Aesthetics may be a response or a mediator in this process.

Aesthetics is constantly reassembling the partialities that make up the perception of physical objects and their relations. The many examples given already in this discussion attest to this. These partialities are linked together by processes analogous to those we saw at work in the brain. Processes analogous to reentry tie these fragments together into wholes. During the development of the secondary repertoire, linkages are created between these two systems of relations, one inside and one outside. Those relations linked by a temporality that is inconsistent with the innate neurobiological temporality will not be incorporated into neural networks. Those relations with an ergonomically consistent temporality will be inscribed into the secondary repertoire.

And so, as I said at the outset, visual ergonomics is about how culture—manifested in physiological stimuli—sculpts the brain. As such, Norman Bryson’s statement that “Style attests to the existence of a physiology...” is quite neurobiologically correct for an art historian.19


1. Norman Bryson, Vision and Painting: The Logic of the Gaze, Yale University Press, 1983.
2. R.S. Bridges, Introduction to Ergonomics, McGraw Hill, 1983.
3. Stephen Pheasant, Body Space, Taylor and Francis, 1996.
4. Cognitive Ergonomics and the Human–Computer Interaction, Ed. J. Long and A. Whitefield, Cambridge University Press, 1989.
5. Ibid., Bryson, 1983.
6. Roy S. Kalansky, The Science of Virtual Reality and Virtual Enviroments, Addison Wesley Publishing Company.
7. Jonathan Crary, Techniques of the Observer, MIT Press, 1990.
8. Rosalind Krauss, Optical Unconscious, MIT Press, 1993.
9. Ibid., Krauss, 1993.
10. Geoffrey Batchen, Burning with Desire: The Conception of Photography, MIT Press, 1997.
11. Gerald Edelman, Neural Darwinism, Basic Books, 1987.
12. Semi Zeki, A Vision of the Brain, Blackwell Press, 1993.
13. Ibid., Zeki, 1993.
14. Ibid., Edelman, 1987.
15. Ibid., Crary, 1990.
16. Wolf Singer, “Coherence as an Organizing Principle of Cortical Function,” in Selectionism and the Brain, International Review of Neurobiology, Volume 37, Academic Press, 1994.
17. Gerald Edelman, Remembered Present, Basic Books, 1994.
18. Oliver Sacks, “A Vision of Mind,” in Selectionism and the Brain, International Review of Neurobiology, Volume 37, Academic Press, 1994.
19. Ibid., Bryson.

Cultured Brain

The human brain weighs only about four hundred grams at birth and consists of a population of neurons that are highly variable in terms of their signal characteristics and stimulus specificity. Gerald Edelman has referred to this population of neurons as the “primary repertoire.” He states that it is the product of genetic programming and intrauterine development, and that it consists of neurons that have sensitivities to stimuli that are essential and no longer essential to us.(1) “The neuronal manifestation of expectation or sensitivity appears to be the production of an excess number of synapses, a subset of which will be selectively preserved by experience-generated neural activity. If the normal pattern of experience occurs, a normal pattern of neural organization results, and if an abnormal pattern of experience occurs, an abnormal neural organization pattern will result.” (2) Edelman refers to the establishment of the primary repertoire as “developmental selection” which results in extensive variability in the connection of individual and groups of neurons (Figure 1). As a result of this, developmental groups of spatially contiguous neurons form groups that are not only wired together but fire together. The production of this primary repertoire is followed by a period of “experiential selection.” From birth, the brain is selected for by the specific environment into which it is born. This process, called epigenesis, is responsible, as we will see, for shaping the primary repertoire into the secondary repertoire that is made up of a highly selected set of neurons with specific links to external reality, the reality outside and apart from the body. Those neurons that are repeatedly stimulated over and over again develop enhanced firing capabilities beyond those that are infrequently stimulated. They thus develop a selected advantage. In a population of neurons, those that are repeatedly stimulated will be selected for above and beyond those that are not, and the resulting population of neurons will reflect this condition, being dominated by those that are frequently stimulated. “The concept that there are mechanisms that act to retain those pathways in which patterns of external stimuli induce activity and eliminate potential connections not so activated has been termed functional validation by Jacobson and selective stabilization by Changeux and Danchin.” (3)

For example, in the visual cortex of the brain there are neurons that are sensitive to the color red, and these neurons will fire when they come across the appropriate wavelength combination. The more a neuron fires, the faster its reaction time to that stimulus. Since the color red is omnipresent in the environment, neurons with this signaling characteristic will be continually stimulated and will be selected for from a population of neurons as a result of the their speedier and more efficient firing patterns. The color red exists in a myriad of situation complexes; it colors living and non-living forms, it has emotional and psychological qualities that are culturally defined but are also based on personal experience, and it is therefore coded in the brain in thousands if not millions of what are called neural networks. These networks are assemblages of neurons, each with specific signaling behaviors, which are linked together in order to code complex qualities and entities. “When an axon of cell A is near enough to excite cell B and repeatedly or persistently takes part in firing it, some growth process or metabolic change takes place in one or both cells such that A’s efficiency as one of the cells firing is increased.” (4) Spatial and temporal signatures tie these neurons together through altering, organizing, and synchronizing their specific firing patterns together in ways that address these specified contexts. Neurobiologists have come up with terms like synchrony to address the way that neurons in very different parts of the brain fire together when stimulated by the appropriate object or set of relations resulting from the interaction of those objects. “Detailed studies on anesthetized cats...have revealed that synchronization probability for remote groups of cells is determined both by factors within the brain as well as by the configuration of the stimuli.” (5)

What allows for this synchronization of distant and globally (encompassing the entire brain) relevant maps, allowing them to be bound into circuits capable of temporally coherent maps, is the process of reentry. Although Edelman implies that it is a separate system apart from, but organized around, experiential selection, I consider it part of its process. I believe that the world, especially in the context of new media, is modeled into systems of networked relations that are linked, and that these linkages, through higher and more abstract selective processes, select for reentrant connections in the brain (Figures 2 and 3). In other words, just as neurons and neuron groups are selected for, the relations that exist between them are selected for as well. Reentrant connections in the world reconfigure reentrant connections in the brain. Neural networks are under the same selective pressures that we saw with individual neurons. Those that are stimulated repeatedly will be selected for at the expense of others not so stimulated. Those that are not will undergo apoptosis and cell death. Regression of nerve terminals is thus an integral part of the development of connections in the adult cerebral cortex. “The succession of a phase of synaptic exuberance (in which there is a heavy growth of synaptic connections) by a phase of regression of axonal and dendritic branches thus marks a critical period in the development of the nervous system.” (6) The resulting configuration of the brain will reflect the selective pressures of the outside world. How the history of objects and the environments they participate in affect the design of the sculptured brain will be the content of the next section and will, I hope, lead us to configure a model through which to address the problem of how art can investigate the brain.

An art object is a specialized form, a species of object with its own history and set of practitioners. Its form is shaped by the porous relation that this history shares with the history of other non-art objects that populate the world outside itself, as well as other art objects that share a common genealogy. They are part of a syncitium of relations that include political, social, economic, historical, and psychological factors that define the greater cultural context in which they function. These objects act on one hand as an instantiation of these relations, as each is a product of these changing relations and their mutated summating effect, and on the other hand as instruments that feed back on the system to change it and to make it function better. Anytime you have a system of interacting relations that emerge from different discourses, you are bound to have “translational friction” that occurs as the language and specialized information communicated from one system is interpreted in another. Aesthetic objects act in some instances to reduce this friction; they can provide a surface for smooth and efficient interaction. That being said, each artist, informed as all artists are by a specific training, is made aware of a prescribed and proscribed genealogy of such art objects as they have migrated through the history of their own form. The history of such art objects and their relations function as a system of devices and mechanisms through which an understanding can be reached relative to the political, social, economic, historical, and psychological relations that, as we saw, formed them. This then becomes a model or anti-model through which to create new objects, non-objects such as the immaterial objects of conceptual art, new relations and anti-relations, and new spaces and non-spaces in which those entities live.

The history of painting is one such genealogy. (7) Each successive generation of painters layers upon the practices of its predecessor. Some authors, like Norman Bryson and E. H. Gombrich, claim these changes have implications far beyond the object, since they become a model to comment on the process of visuality itself. (8) Other art works such as installation art and performance have focused on prefigured object relations instead of simply the object. This work is more time based. Just as certain kinds of prerequisite technologies were needed before steel could be produced or the discovery of photography could be made, similar such discoveries in technique and materials needed to be made before time-based and contextually-based artworks could be invented. Cinema and new media are such discoveries, and they would transform the conditions of art forever. In my essays “Blow Up” and “Remapping,” cinema’s effect on architecture and its role in the development of what Paul Virilio calls “phatic” images was reviewed. (9)

I use the expression “centripetal palimpsest” to describe this process through which objects evolve as they pass through constantly evolving social, political, economic, technological, historical, and cultural contexts. Centripetal refers to ever-evolving outward movement like the ripples that form on the surface of an calm pool of water after a stone, thrown into it, breaks its surface. Palimpsest describes the layers that evolve, one on top of another, like the layers of an onion. Although this metaphor is positivistic in its notion of growth and development, it does exclude growth that occurs in opposition, that is inward and is about removal rather than addition. With these flaws in mind I think it can serve as a visually provocative analogy of how the process of change occurs to the art object and its relations, and how these changes then impress themselves on the neural network condition of the brain.

Upon the art object is deposited a kind of silt which the artist—who mediates these external relations through his or her own body, through a process of reified perception and cognition—carefully applies to the object’s surface. The artist’s specialized knowledge has two effects: On the one hand, the artist’s attention is directed and diverted to special surfaces of the object through his or her aforementioned specialized aesthetic training, and it is upon these surfaces, or in opposition to them, that he or she directs changes. On the other hand, the artist’s knowledge of technique allows an understanding of the internal structure and internal forces that hold the object together, and he or she applies the new applications in ways that do and do not disrupt the forces that hold the object together.

The special conditions of the readymade also fit into this model. In this case, the placement of the object in the white cube has a number of effects. First of all, this recontextualization reconfigures the object’s original utilitarian functions into aesthetic ones. Secondly, the new meanings that adhere to it are a function of its relocation into a new historical lineage. Thus Marcel Duchamp’s snow shovel in In Advance of a Broken Arm (1915) is first identified as a snow shovel but then is assessed as a challenge to other sculptural forms displayed in the gallery before and after. Thus it might be compared to something completely different in the past, such as Rodin’s portrait The Sculptor Jules Dalo (1883), or something similar that came after it, like Claus Oldenburg’s Green Beans (1964). In the case of the Rodin, the shovel hung from the ceiling challenges the solid sculpture resting on a pedestal. In the case of the Oldenburg, the readymade is reconventionalized as the found bean is now brought back into traditional sculptural display formats and production.

Architecture is another field in which we witness a history of subtle changes produced on its external morphology within the restraints of technological and structural integrity. It is hard to imagine recent buildings of Frank Gehry, such as Bilbao, without Corbusier and Jeanneret’s Pavillon des Temps Nouveaux or Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum; but it is just as hard to imagine them without CAD-linked computer-generated drawings and new ways of conforming building materials that have the look of a flowing curtain or folded tissue paper.

But painting, sculpture, and architecture are not the only discourses to be affected by these historical rules. Fashion, design, and typography, to name just a few, are also affected. When one views all these disciplines together, one begins to appreciate the construction of an entire “visual cultural field” which is subject to similar but not exactly the same effects: a syncitium of networked relations that are changing synchronously through their adaptations to the same forces and to themselves.(10) One needs simply to pick up a fashion magazine to see that either the fashion designers are in collusion with each other, or that they are unconsciously responding to the same conditions independently. For instance, today the trends seem to be shifting from the influence of the sixties to that of the eighties. But the similarities do not stop there. One can find the same trends in art, architecture, and design. As many cultural critics, such as Manuel De Landa, have pointed out, those differences have as much to do with how goods were to be distributed, how cities grew and worked together, and even how disease was dealt with, as much as decisions concerning changes in brushstroke, palette, and available materials.(11) All these relations are bound together in a great syncitial organism of being. The human body is also subsumed and embedded in these sets of relations. First of all through the relation of the discourse of vision and anti-vision which has been an integral part of aesthetic philosophy and production in Western Civilization for many centuries.(12) Secondly, in the invention and use of optical technologies with which to visualize the products of culture, such as the stereopticon, photographic camera, zoetrope, cinema, and virtual reality. And thirdly, through the invention of devices to investigate and probe the body, such as the X-ray machine, CT scan, MRI, and FMRI. Fourth and most importantly for this text are the changes that occur in the brain as a result of interaction with culture.

A similar and parallel process of reconfiguration is also taking place in the brain. In the shift from the primary to the secondary repertoire there exists an envelope that limits the reconfiguration of the neuronal-axonal-dendritic population within certain boundaries. The primary repertoire is prefabricated along certain architectonic dispositions that sequester specific functions to specific anatomical sites. For instance, the visual cortex is primary for early processing of visual information; its columnar micro-cellular organization, plus its regional diversification, create areas specific for color and motion. However within those constraints, external stimuli, some of which are aesthetically and culturally configured, can affect the spatial and temporal linkages that form between neural elements. Aesthetic styles affect brushstroke, color, and surface pattern that tether the parts of the work disjunctively along differing paths with different properties, for instance Gestalt properties, which are addressed by the nervous system differently. We all know this when we witness a form emerging from a dot diagram as we connect the numbers with our pencils and random dot patterns emerge into known designs. But even beyond these changes, the genealogy of changes that we previously commented upon in describing the history of the object and its relations could also express itself in a similar genealogy in the brain. Hypothetically speaking, a cybernetic loop of feedback and feedforward relations could link changes in the morphology of the art object to similar changes in the morphology of structural changes in the brain.

It is conceivable that the evolution of the brain as it is reconfigured in the ascent to man is based on waves of changes that took place in the configuration of the brain as a result of being sculpted by concomitant changes of the outside world, which as we know today are culturally configured. This is based on the belief that networked relations in the real world are reconfigured as networked relations in the brain. This does not mean that if you could one day do scanning of neural networks you would see a pattern of connected responses that would mimic those in the real world. But it means that using its own code system of representation, the brain would create a pattern of neural networks that would subsume into its own materiality those network changes that its response is linked to.

This model implies an understanding of brain development that could explain changes in the gross morphology and complexity of the brain in an evolution that is delimited by skull size, shape, and vascular markings on the endocranium. As we witness the evolution of civilization we also witness an evolution in the complexity of networked relations that man creates and gains knowledge of. In other words, as man evolves from a gatherer to a hunter-gather to a sedentary agrarian culture to a city dweller, one is impressed by the amount of information that it is necessary to understand and use. This complexity is subsumed in networked relations that are inscribed in culture and in the environment that links this information together so that it can be used and processed more efficiently (Figure 4). On one hand it allows the culture to operate more smoothly, and as such has direct consequences on the infrastructure of the living settlement or city through the building of roads, bridges, convention centers, and markets, all of which help to facilitate the distribution of goods and information. On the other hand it allows the brain to bind information into bundles that can be perceived and cognized as a whole rather than individual parts. The model of neuronal group selection elucidates ways in which neural networks are selected for by a constantly reconfigured environmental context, which is aesthetically and culturally modified. For our purposes, let’s say that one way or another, the plastic brain is capable of reorganizing itself adaptively in response to the particular novelties encountered in the organism’s environment, and the process by which the brain does this is almost certainly a mechanical process strongly analogous to natural selection. Each generation of humans must “reenact” the interaction between the brain and the environment of its predecessors; because when an individual dies, so too do the neural maps that the individual has spent a good deal of his or her life creating. That is to say that the brain is not equipped at birth with an a priori set of tuned neurons and configured neural networks. With the exception of the face, the brain is set up as a system of fragment detectors. The brain one is born with must wait for its interaction with the world to attain its full functional capacity, which occurs when these bits of information are linked up through temporal signatures, through processes like reentry, to form representations. The superimposition of many of these depictions, one on top of another, form maps which are either local, when they involve a single sense modality, or global, when they link widespread areas of the brain. The complexity of the world is mapped into that neural biological complexity. This could account for the brain’s increased mass as well as the development of cortical structures such as the forebrain to deal with this evolving world.

Culturally configured stylistic changes occurring over time, as we saw in the example of the centripetal palimpsest, remain embedded in the underlying structure of the object and its relation to other objects and the space it occupies. Future generations, upon perceiving and cognizing those same relations, some of which have been subsumed in the interior foundation of it, will undergo similar neurobiological changes as their forefathers, either in a direct or indirect way: directly because the same object may remain unchanged or marginally changed from its original design, and indirectly in the way deeper morphologies which have become internalized—so-called secondary and tertiary structures—may have an effect in the manifestation of its form and thus affect the neural network that it may help to inscribe. Secondary and tertiary structures may exist in the brain coded as temporal algorithmic functions. In this way the genetic load, which each generation must hold and transmit, is diminished. It is no longer necessary to code a priori for any object or any possible object. The world retains a multiplicity of forms, each with their own histories that lie waiting for a cognizing brain to receive their transmissions. They form a repository of cultural genes. I am not talking about memes here, although the term has been used incorrectly to stand for this type of cultural transmission. There is a big difference between a tune that is transmitted through a culture and embedded in the brain, and a history of aesthetic forms created and recreated in a multitude of forms awaiting generation after generation.

So what does all this have to with the development of the brain?

What I am basically saying is that if you accept the initial premise of the selectionist paradigm, that the brain is sculpted by the external reality in which it is embedded, and if you accept that those material relations, as they express themselves in art, architecture, and media culture, are the result of the social, political, economic, and technological relations that interact to produce them, then it is not a difficult leap of faith to accept the position that the neuronal structure—neural networks as they express themselves as local and global mappings—have been indirectly prescribed by those immaterial relations. That is to say that culture, encoded through aesthetic relations, inscribes itself upon the brain. The implications of this statement are, I believe, immense. The “culture war” is no longer simply a discourse of limited importance relegated to a marginalized art world but becomes incorporated—or should I say “incorporalated”—into a more fundamental discussion of forces concerning how culture is reflected in the organization of neurobiological tissue at the microsynaptic level. “Our brain is not the seat of a neuronal cinema that reproduces the world: rather, our perceptions are inscribed on the surface of things, as images amongst images.”(13) As we discussed earlier, the genealogy of the changing morphology of objects and their relations, the “centripetal palimpsest,” results from an ebb and flux of different but repeatedly cultural flows. The changing political, social, economic, and technological relations become inscribed on the surface of objects in the context of deeper tectonic structures, which are themselves the result of rules prescribed by these same relations of earlier times. Only in revolutionary times, like those surrounding the Russian Revolution, are those immaterial relations so different as to necessitate absolutely new forms—like Malevich’s Suprematist Composition: White on White (1918) painting—which may or may not seem to relate directly to the history from which they emerged.

Thus we arrive at what I referred to recently as the “cultured brain.” For the sake of argument, I am looking at, for the most part, that part of the equation that goes from right to left, from culture to its effect on the brain, rather than from left to right, or how the brain affects culture (others have made this argument quite forcefully and I refer those readers to the work of Paul and Patricia Churchland). The growing number of artists from China, South America, the Middle East, and Africa represented in the finest art museums and galleries must impress anyone who has recently visited them.

Art historically I see this trend as an outgrowth of two forces. On the one hand it is the result of what I call the second phase of postmodernism. The first phase challenged modernism’s notion of material specificity with works like those of Rauschenberg and Warhol, in which works of art broke down the barriers that separated painting, photography, film, and sculpture from each other. The second phase challenged modernist barriers that excluded individuals of color, women, and explicitly homosexual art. One of the most significant contributions of the art of the much-maligned eighties was that it created opportunities for these groups to gain a foothold in the art world. This trend would continue into the nineties and manifest itself in an interest in what is now called “global art.” The barriers, which had formerly excluded artists from countries outside the artistic fovea of Western Europe and the United States, are finally coming down. On the other hand, global art erupted from interest in the postcolonial discourse centered around Homi Bhabha and others who have filled the intellectual void left by the fall of Conceptual art.

Viewed from the perspective of the “cultured brain,” the significance of this contribution becomes more important. With the advent of media culture, ideas once locked away in small circles of influence find an expression in generalized culture almost immediately. As one views a Madonna video or a Diesel ad, one is amazed by how much of the visual language is adapted from what is going on at that moment in the galleries or museums. In a recent Diesel ad, a model reenacted Bruce Nauman’s Self-Portrait as a Fountain (1966-67/70). There is no longer any temporal disparity between the art world and the real world. They are porous to each other, with ideas flowing very rapidly back and forth. Ad executives and video producers are obviously looking at art magazines and attending exhibitions; some, like Saatchi, have tremendous art collections. Our world is becoming more and more saturated with these expressions of visual culture as they articulate themselves in what has been referred to as the mediascape. The fundamental motivation that drives these designs is based on a desire to capture the attention of their viewers. Success or failure is based on how many people view a specific campaign and how many are motivated to change their behavior in accordance with its message.

Artists from formerly marginalized cultures are creating works of art that have their roots in different traditions. The genealogy of cultural changes that have become inscribed on and in the objects they produce reflect the nuances of cultural difference. Artists make choices when they make a work of art, and some of these are visual. What the surface looks like, what colors are chosen, and the distance and size relations between objects or between figures on a canvas are the result of decisions that are culturally determined, and they sometimes can be discovered in each artist’s heritage. When these works are displayed in a public forum—such as biennial exhibitions or “Documenta 11” recently held in Kassel, Germany—in which they are contextualized within a specific discourse and are set next to works of art that are more culturally familiar to the viewing audience, these cultural differences become linked to specific aesthetic practices, sometimes in ways that can dilute their specific meaning. However, with the emergence of a political, social, economic, and cultural context in which cultural difference is embraced and which as a result of its new-found status has developed value as an art commodity, the above-mentioned culturally based aesthetic choices become significant and form models which other international artists working in film, music, or advertising first co-opt and then adapt into their own practice. Documenta has stimulated a flow of interest in postcolonial practice, with museums all over the world sponsoring exhibitions with links to this discourse. Using the prestige of this exhibition and the artists who contributed, curators can now convince museum boards to sponsor these types of exhibitions. Since many of these artists are involved, as we saw, with web design and advertising, the aesthetic configuration of the urbanscape, mediascape, and cyberscape will reflect these changes. It is important to add that these producers and art directors are from these former colonial outposts as well, and the aforementioned indirect effect may supplement a more direct affect.

As I have argued in “Visual and Cognitive Ergonomics,” mediated images are configured in ways that make them more attractive to the developing brain. They are more vivid, seductive, and are more easily resolved by the nervous system. They are connected to technologies and apparatus for their distribution and dissemination, and as a result they are selected for over other forms of visual stimulation without these characteristics. I mean selected in two ways: First of all, in the public domain there are networked relations that bind objects, object relations, space, and buildings together. We can all identify Chinatown in New York City when we enter it past Canal Street. Some of us have no difficulty telling modern architecture from postmodern architecture. Mediated images have redefined space and the images and styles that define that space, and have been imbedded onto the surface or skins of buildings that inhabit these spaces. As I suggested earlier, they are engineered with the nervous system in mind, and as such are called “phatic” images that have been constructed to attract attention. In the world of mediated images, these images compete with each other for the mediated spaces of television, billboards, magazine covers, and recently the internet. By building relations with other phatic images, either through design compatibility or dissemination, certain such images develop stronger attracting potentials. They are thus selected for in the context of this now-transformed real/virtual interface. Dissemination in media is now world wide, reaching huge audiences, and works of art on the web are not limited to geographic space and time, but exist simultaneously globally. Second of all, these kinds of images are selected for in the brain. Networked relations in the now real/virtual interface select and reconfigure network relations in the brain. That is to say that these phatic images, as they attract attention better and are disseminated diffusely throughout the visual landscape, recurring over and over again, over and above their naturally occurring organic counterparts, will have a selective advantage for neurons and neural networks that code for them. Phatic images, beyond attracting attention better, have one other advantage: they allow the neuron and neural network to attain maximum coding efficiency faster. This gives those neurons and networks that code for phatic stimuli a greater advantage over those that do not. Thus, in the competition for neural space they will be successful. Just imagine the effect of linked networks of phatic stimuli on the summated activity of the brain. As a result they have tremendous potential to sculpt the brain.

The cynic could be very disturbed by what I am implying. For just as nuclear science and gene therapy simultaneously offer tremendous opportunities and devastating calamities, the theory of the cultured brain contains opposing discourses: on one hand, there is the potential for a global culture with a concomitant sharing of cultural diversity; and on the other hand, there is the possibility of global manipulation and control. The culturally diversified message is now democratized to incorporate strategies that can hail the multiplicity of global subjectivities. The power of that message to tether desire to the object fetish is magnified as a multicultural crystal whose plethora of cut surfaces catch and hold the attention of diverse populations. Implicit in this idea is a kind of neo-colonialism in which territories and natural resources are now substituted for by the regions of the brain and brainpower. The seemingly benign and liberal impulses that drive the art world towards ever greater inclusion of minorities and marginal cultures can also provide a formula though which commodity culture finds increasingly easy egress into the corporeality of the human nervous systems with its machinery for desire.

1. Gerald Edelman, Neural Darwinism, Basic Books, 1985.
2. Ibid., Edelman, 1985.
3. J. P. Changeux and S. Dehaene, “Neural Models of Cognitive Function,” in Brain Development and Cognition, ed. Mark H. Johnson, Blackwell, 1993.
4. Ibid., J. P. Changeux and S. Dehaene, 1993.
5. R. Llinas and D. Pare, “The Brain as a Closed System Modulated by the Senses,” in The Mind-Brain Continuum, ed. R. Llinas and P. Churchland, MIT Press, 1996.
6. Ibid., J. P. Changeux and S. Dehaene, 1993.
7. Norman Bryson, Vision and Painting: The Logic of the Gaze, Yale University Press, 1983.
8. E. H. Gombrich, Art and Illusion, Princeton University Press, 1961.
9. Paul Virilio, The Vision Machine, Indiana University Press, 1994.
10. The whole is greater or at least different from the sum of its parts, and the whole system undergoes changes according to macroscopic rules.
11. Manuel Delanda, A Thousand Years of Non-linear History, Swerve Editions, 1997.
12. Martin Jay, Downcast Eyes, University of California Press, 1993.
13. Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2, Athlone Press, 1989.

The Power of Art

‘The Bremen German literature conference was highly eventful,’ Roberto Bolaño reports in 2666: ‘Pelletier, backed by Morini and Espinoza, went on the attack like Napoleon at Jena, assaulting the unsuspecting German Archimboldi scholars, and the downed flags of Pohl, Schwarz and Borchmeyer were soon routed to the cafés and taverns of Bremen.’

In reality, few conferences are this dramatic. The fraternal complicities of academic politics create echo chambers more readily then they do intellectual routs. The format is familiar: a couple of superstars assemble their various allies and, in the liveliest cases, work up an exhilarating spectacle from which everyone goes home happy. The audience is flattered with the impression that something radical is happening; the speakers enjoy the prestige that comes with exposure. Seldom, alas, are two opposed networks brought together for combat.

Held last week at the Drawing Center in New York, ‘The Power of Art’ was something different. Also sadly bereft of martial incident, the eccentricity of the programme, which included both the brain scientist Bruce Wexler and imp of perversity Boris Groys, produced something different from another well-rehearsed event. Organized, in the words of John Welchman, by ‘the irrepressible Warren Neidich’, a Berlin-based artist and curator with an apparently unquenchable appetite for cultural theory, the peculiarity of what was to follow was foreshadowed by the chair of the first session, the poet and English professor Meena Alexander, who used the word ‘feast’ three times in her opening remarks, finishing with the phrase ‘marvelously delicious’, before spending eight minutes reading out the various different speakers’ credentials. The latter gesture raised some questions of its own about the power of titles. Perhaps it would be easier if everyone in the cultural sphere simply agreed on a system and began wearing epaulettes?

‘The Power of Art’ derived its title from Art Power, Groys’ 2008 collection of essays. The book argued that art has ‘always strived to capture the most absolute power’ and that the radical pluralism which underpins contemporary art follows naturally from the death of God, which is to say, the death of transcendence. As the Berlin-based painter Alexis Knowlton remarked during her own lecture, the conference also shared its title with a 2006 BBC television series presented by Simon Schama.

Knowlton’s paper was the breeziest and most polemical of the day. Under the title ‘Intention Attention’, she delivered an engaging anti-curator screed, with the enemy figured in the form of ‘the middleman’: a no-talent thematizing schemer comparable to sub-prime mortgage dealers. The middleman, Knowlton claimed, worked to systematically corrupt the purity of artistic intentions in the service of crafting false points of convergence. The talk was as entertaining as it was critically dubious. Accompanying herself with a slide-projector, the high-point arrived when she pulled up a picture of Daniel Birnbaum looking leonine, and called him bad names to much mirth and applause.

If Knowlton was the least recognizable name on the programme, the most recognizable was undoubtedly Groys, who spoke under the title ‘Mass Culture, Phase 2’, and dominated the first session with his nihilist irony. The contemporary situation, he claimed, was ‘exactly the opposite’ to the one theorized by Guy Debord in The Society of the Spectacle (1967). There are no longer any spectators, or even an audience. ‘We are all on stage’, he argued from the stage, as we watched from the audience, and wrote down what he said. Reflecting on the profusion of the blogs and the mysteries of the readership, Groys mused, ‘I am convinced they are being written for God,’ later clarifying, ‘who, of course, is dead.’

Groys spoke third out of four in the morning session, following the Yale professor Laura Wexler’s opening disquisition on ‘Pregnant Pictures’ and her colleague David Joselit’s noble attempt to formulate ‘The Laws of Images’. Completing the set was Jonatan Habib Engqvist’s dramatically-titled ‘Long Live Degenerate Art!’ The quartet then came together for a morning panel, which was too brief to throw any additional light, except for one excellently observed point by Wexler. The embodiment of contemporary ideology, she suggested, is no longer the Althusserian policeman shouting ‘Hey you!’ but the traffic cop, waving cars past a car crash, affectlessly repeating, ‘Move along, nothing to see here.’ Wexler attributed the insight to one of her Yale colleagues but a quick Google search reveals that it seems to have been made by several people independently, including Jacques Ranciere, Paul Helliwell (in the course of attacking Ranciere) and Cai Guo-Qiang.

The American Studies professor Wexler avoided contemporary art topics to criticize the representation of pregnant bodies in the mass media, from Annie Leibovitz’s hugely controversial photograph of the pregnant Demi Moore, published in Vanity Fair in 1991 (vendors outside the permissive Sodom of New York City insisted in sheathing the issue in a protective layer of plastic), to the more recent images of Thomas Beattie - the pregnant man. Wexler claimed that the images of Moore, which depicted the bronzed actress as powerful and in command (glittering diamonds placed across her body, her hands protecting her belly-product), slotted into a neoliberal paradigm of defensive ownership. The Beattie photographs apparently broke with this paradigm, by showing the expectant father/mother proudly displaying his/her swollen stomach without the same sense of protectiveness. I wasn’t wholly convinced by this, but Wexler’s concluding speculative question was well-judged: will the image of a pregnant man change an abortion debate, when that debate rests on men telling women what they can do with their bodies?

While Wexler’s paper was essentially a single-issue concern, Joselit was more ambitious. The chair of the Yale Art History department opened by establishing that he meant the idea of ‘laws’ in the sense of physical laws, like the laws of thermodynamics, rather than moral or legal laws. Talking about placement, source and frequency, and itemizing three laws in particular, Joselit proposed that: images engender, by producing new images and by establishes genres of being; images crystallize as icons; and icons display inertia. His main point of departure was the unregulated documentation of Abu Ghraib; his hero was Thomas Hirschorn and his collage Visions of a New Millennium (2002), which Joselit interpreted as having the Brechtian aim of compelling its viewers to take a position. The main distinction was between ‘governed’ and ‘ungoverned’ images, the latter corresponding to the images which proliferate beyond state control (as with the Abu Ghraib pictures), and the former represented by Hirschorn’s reproduced pictures of viscera.

After the brief panel, and then a break for lunch, Meena Alexander returned and resumed proceedings with an impromptu reading of some of her war poems. She was followed by Knowlton, and then the Swiss curator and doctoral student Susanne Neubauer, who delivered a scholarly disquisition on Channa Horwitz and Paul Thek. John Welchman then brought up the field.

Part of the Thatcher-inspired academic exodus to California in the early ‘80s which drove a raft of Leftist-minded UK art historians (Peter Wollen, Victor Burgin, Laura Mulvey, T.J. Clark) to the American West Coast, Welchman began by revealing that he has known conference organizer Neidich for 30 years. His erudite, jolly paper focussed on the finer points of Paul McCarthy’s ongoing ‘Pirate Project’ (started in 2004) and ended with a dramatic Usual Suspects-like twist, in which McCarthy was revealed to be none other than… Walt Disney: both represent myth-generators par excellence, the former is only the dark side of the latter.

In the aftermath of this bombshell, and a brief cigarette break, Welchman returned to introduce the hybrid third session, which opened with a scholarly talk on the invention of aesthetics by Sven Olov Wallenstein, the prolific Swedish philosopher and translator, and editor of the brilliant geek-philosophy and art journal Site. Wallenstein had arrived in New York armed with copies of the new issue; the cover star was Husserl.

Time constraints prevented Warren Neidich himself for speaking; scheduled to lecture on ‘neuropolitics’ his remarks were restricted to a few brief closing remarks that gestured towards a synthesis, that, under the circumstances, could not be made. Realistically, an additional day, devoted entirely to discussions, would have been needed to digest this sprawling smorgasbord, and that day apparently wasn’t available. Nonetheless, problems were posed and tentative new correspondences established, and on these grounds the conference was undeniably a success.

Following the close of the conference, on a terrace overlooking Manhattan, the conversation turned to darker matters. Groys, a charming egomaniac, discussed how much the deceased Heiner Müller had liked his book Gesamtkunstwerk Stalin (1983) and recalled the experience of staying in Elena Ceauşescu’s bedroom three weeks after she was murdered by a vengeful mob. Meanwhile Wallenstein, under pressure from Engqvist, told Žižek stories. ‘He told me once over dinner,’ the Swede noted, ‘that his single greatest ambition was to write more books than Derrida. He will fail, of course. Derrida wrote, what, 80 books?’ Reflecting on how his own reading habits were changing with age, the philosopher mused that the day was approaching where he would start reading biographies of dead Roman Emperors.

The Rules of Engagement: EXHIBITION

- Warren Neidich -
Exhibition is a temporary (six months) independent art initiative located in a vacant storefront at 211 Elizabeth street in New York. Exhibition offers an experimental and contradictory artistic and curatorial approach. Only a continuous single exhibition will be shown during this six months project. Initiators: Eric Anglès, Nathalie Anglès, Elena Bajo, Warren Neidich and Jakob Schillinger.

Warren Neidich

At Exhibition we have a number of rules—or prescriptions—that establish three levels of chance that envelop each artist intervening in our project. The rules are as follows: first, the artist’s name, written on a small piece of paper, is drawn from a hat in which up to ten names have been included. The artist is then contacted and a meeting is scheduled at the space. After the artist has understood and agreed to a set of overriding conditions upon which the project was founded—for instance, that he or she give up all rights to the work and that the work is not to be sold—the artist is asked to roll dice. Three rolls determine where the artist can operate within the space. The floor plan of the space is uniquely constituted for each invited artist so that, for instance, what was a pie-shaped conformation for one could become a set of concentric circles emanating from the center of the gallery for another. If an artwork already occupies that space, the new artist has the right to move, destroy, change, parasitize or ignore it. These three levels of chance have the effect of making this project, as much as possible, one that is uncurated. Does anyone think that these rules of chance could be instituted and recoded into a set of prescriptive devices mapped into the context of a magazine format? Could we throw the dice here as a way to begin our conversation for Art Lies?

Jakob Schillinger

Reading the statement I’m supposed to respond to (the order of statements predetermined, in fact, by a proverbial roll of the dice), I’m tempted to ask, Who are you speaking to, Warren? Which makes me wonder who I am speaking to right now. My interest in Exhibition is that it does not (at least not primarily) address an abstract audience but instead generates and gives space to concrete relations and interactions. By “addressing an abstract audience” I mean a principle that I see at work not only in the production and showcasing of art but also in practices of everyday life: the reification of activities, the creation of representations that are circulated amongst an abstract audience—the art world or the World Wide Web, in the case of the broadcasting of one’s life via cameras, phones and online services such as Facebook. This public is abstract in the sense that it is mediated to the degree where the medium itself becomes fetishized—becomes the actual address. The medium embodies the idea of a public. This “public,” however, is in my impression not a discursive realm but a market, its principal category being visibility. Its operations are ranking, quantification and statistics, not argument or communicative exchange. Arguably, art (or life, for that matter) is increasingly produced to circulate in this realm, and thus increasingly reduced to its exchange value. Against this tendency, Exhibition shifts the emphasis to what one could call the use value of art—artworks as props for concrete human relations and for communicative exchange. That said, I pass my turn.

Nathalie Anglès

Indeed, how to address the format of the magazine within the context of the invitation that is extended to us, and whether it is relevant within this framework to remain consistent with the process and mechanisms we have established for Exhibition, were my own first thoughts. No conclusive argument was drawn from our numerous discussions on the topic. But these back-and-forth discussions only reinforce my conviction that the most significant part of this project—beyond the material results generated in the space—is the continuous flow of immaterial conversation between organizers, contributors and visitors.

Eric Anglès

Thanks, Warren, for bringing up the dice! I must say that for me they’re definitely something to avoid fetishizing. A look around and it’s pretty clear already that while the dice do guarantee outcomes, they don’t necessarily guarantee exceptionally interesting outcomes. Nor do I find chance mechanisms all that interesting in and of themselves. But that’s precisely the point, isn’t it? The “interesting” is another one of those abstract categories that I think Jakob is talking about. There’s this kind of anxious relief that’s delivered by a common verdict of how wonderfully interesting something is that thwarts the concrete human relation that you are both calling for. And yet, while dice aren’t interesting, they’ve been such a uniquely liberating tool in this process. They free us, if only temporarily, from the pressure of the many irreconcilable interests colliding in this experiment: our individual projects, those we invite, “career” stakes, the expectations of the developers lending us the space, which we might otherwise feel an awkward pressure to internalize. The interests of the editors and readers of Art Lies, which of course we could never manage to anticipate. In the end, these dice are a game of movement, color and laughter that, for a fraction of a second, rip us from the sphere of self-involvement into a present of pure possibility and projection.

Elena Bajo

The other day in our preliminary/tentative conversation, we couldn’t agree on common issues of interest in Exhibition, and we couldn’t agree on a common format to talk about the project. We tried to come up with common questions that would summarize these interests, and we failed again. Then I said very spontaneously: “Our strength is our weakness,” just like that...I think I was referring to the fact that in this project, we are managing to preserve our five individual voices (even if this is a generator of constant conflict) but that we still share a common mechanism by which the project functions. The power and strength of Exhibition is that individuality is preserved. We are against individual voices being lost in favor of the group, but this actually benefits the project. On the other hand, we provide a space free of restrictions (except the structural rules of the game) to be intervened in by artists. The interventions in the space are traces left behind after engaging and questioning the space, the project and us. The fruits of those questions are left in the space. At the same time, the state of the space is such that if I were a visitor who doesn’t know about the project and I came in and looked around, I would not even know what question to ask.

Jakob: Dear friends, I’m still conflicted about this double address, but since I really want to ask you these questions at this point in our correspondence—and since we all agreed on this format for discussion—please insert this: what status would this visitor’s question have? One of the contributing artists was very critical of our project because we’ve established rules that the participating artists have to submit to—because we are exerting power but conceal this fact by referring to “external” laws and the “impartial” dice. What you are describing, Eric, really is an outsourcing of decision (to the dice) and our own submission to this law. (I say law rather than rules, thinking of Warren’s “state of exception.”)
Now, that artist’s critique was that we’re not equals in our relation to this law. What are we? Sovereign? Police? I think this makes up a big part of the project. Aren’t we staging and framing processes that are structurally analogous to political problems of a democracy? I’ve been thinking about art in political terms recently, especially about the sovereign power of the artist and the possibility of a non-sovereign force. (In a talk, Boris Groys theorized the constitutive violence rendered visible in installation art—especially when it stages the democratic processes.) What kind of power is at work in Exhibition? What is the status of the “continuous flow of conversation” with regard to this power? Eric, you often insist that we are not curators but artists. In a conversation with a participating artist, asking what kind of work you do, you said: “You’re in it.” I think this is a crucial statement regarding the status of our conversations. Does that mean that the installation or conversations that are Exhibition are based on a sovereign authorial decision—are subject to the law this decision posits—which eventually need not justify itself? With regard to our discussion the other night about the curator becoming artist—yes, many curators become reflexive of their decisions and no longer claim objectivity. But aren’t they still obliged to justify their decisions rationally, in discourse, while an artist’s decisions can only be rejected as a whole and cannot be subject to discursive negotiation? And if that’s not the case here, what are the implications of Exhibition with regard to this model of the artist, which arguably still structures the field of art? Is this where the agonistic principle that Elena called “our strength [and] weakness” comes in?
Warren: I think that many of these concerns are concretized in another issue that has become a focus of our conversations at Exhibition and has relevance for this conversation in Art Lies: I am speaking about the archive. If Exhibition is a space in which each gesture is an event, ephemeral and in some ways performative, then what form would an archive have here? How would it assemble the myriad of gestures into a narrative or story? These gestures can at times be destructive, parasitic and autocatalytic, leaving works broken, fragmented and hollow vestiges of themselves. How would power relations come into play? Especially in terms of how forms of cultural hegemony influence the conditions of the decision-making processes at work inside the parameters of Exhibition as it functions as a social condition between its initiators. How would that archive therefore be constructed? What texts and images would be included or excluded? How would the history of the space be remembered—and for whom? First, as a series of stories generated by a storyteller sitting in the gallery who through an oral diatribe recounts the history of each work in the larger context of the space in different terms at each recount; a virtuoso performance that has no material basis except in the memories of each visitor. Or, as a series of photographic documents taken at the time of each gesture and then assembled into a book that could then be used as a visual aid to guide visitors who enter the space and want to know what it is they are looking at and need physical evidence to feel secure. Each form has the potential to be affected by different kinds of administrative procedures that must themselves be questioned. Finally, when this experiment closes on the last day of August, what traces will be left for future audiences now transformed into historical readers? Is having a physical archive a complete contradiction to the spirit of the project? Or is it a form of generosity?

Elena: Jakob, I see us as a group of five artists who share a common mechanism of action when we find ourselves within the Exhibition territory, limited to its physical premises. We function as a collective in this project. The fact that today “colIectives” in the art world have become institutionalized tokens that generate the interest of curators and museums looking to demystify the idea of the Modernist individual genius has affected our approach to this way of working, perhaps making us a little too self-conscious of our every intention and action. Perhaps limiting actions to a specific site, which is free of rent, and creating a temporary timeframe of six months and a set of rules in which chance and conversation play a significant role frees us from the dangers of capitalistic assimilation that beset most large cultural institutions that rely on private funding. It is within this set of parameters that other artists are invited to intervene as excess collaborators: as individuals within our collective. The original conversation mentioned earlier, in which the rules of the project are elucidated, is more than an invitation to participate with us in the space. It is an invitation to become part of our collectivity and enjoy our freedom. In this way, the rules of sovereignty incorporated into Exhibition’s procedures are dispersed beyond the original initiators, and our project becomes an experiment in nongovernmental agency. In other words, it functions in accordance with a multitude. And, Warren, the issue of the archive is a delicate and intricate one. Who has the power to tell the story of what really happened? Who has the power to rewrite history, the power to manipulate memories and the power to retell a story? This has been an issue in the history of the world, and perhaps Exhibition is a microcosm in which displays of the micro-politics of that larger condition can be enacted, reflected upon and critiqued.
Eric: A microcosm, indeed...make that an aquarium! What is beyond doubt is the amazing density of heady conceptualizing and self-reflexive musing this echo chamber has been injecting into our daily conversation. Elena, Jakob, Warren, you each bring up the politics of this experiment. I too wonder where that is located. My view is that we should not exaggerate the significance of these funny rules of engagement we’ve cobbled together, either as vectors of “freedom” or of undue “sovereign power” on our part. What is it that has been happening in this room, first and foremost? Social encounters. Honestly, so far I have not found the nature and quality of these encounters to be under the gun of our eccentric little structures—catalyzed, yes, just as they are by the work on the walls and those floppy balloons in the air, but not determined. Every time it’s my turn to sit at the desk, talk to an artist, greet a visitor or sit with the four of you to decide how to proceed, the most urgent and incredibly exacting demand I experience is to make myself open and available to whomever is there before me. Am I listening? Probably not so closely. Am I cutting you off? Likely. How distracted am I by my desire to see my argument carry the day? What am I assuming and presuming? What kinds of crutches am I relying on to get this conversation safely over and done with? To what extent am I projecting myself into an abstract future only to stare right back at my own image from the nonexistent vantage point of the “archive” of an experience that has not yet merited its name? This is an experience I could instead be trying to manufacture in the company of a stranger, at the risk—in the hope—of historical invisibility. This, in a nutshell, is where the politics of this experience lie for me. Those are the pragmatics of any experience, I guess...but this particular site we have constructed has been precipitating—wittingly or not—a bewildering concentration of spontaneous, ethical micro-dramas of this nature. So what might at first glance look like a theater of freedom and constraint, the rehearsal of a tired dialectic between an artist/curator enforcing the law and an artist/Houdini dancing her way out of those shackles, is far more immediately and compellingly an experimental site where each one of us present in this space is made to decide, over and over again, how to face one other.

Neuropower Up

1. Introduction

Warren Neidich’s work as an artist, writer, educator, and theorist explores the potential of Neuroaesthetics, a field he began to formulate in the mid-1990s, as a paradigm capable of describing the complex conditions of the ‘now’—a moment in which global technological networks and novel potentialities for subjectivity are coming into greater focus and correlation to each other. As knowledge becomes ever more commodified, and labor increasingly immaterial, our notions of art, work, and politics call for a ‘redistribution of the sensible.’ Theorist Jacques Rancière described ‘the distribution of the sensible’ as “…the system of division and boundaries that define, among other things, what is visible and audible within a particular aestheticopolitical regime.”1 However, the condition of ‘immaterial labor’ itself (work as potential, not yet objectified, constituting labor as subjectivity) insinuates a high level of mutability, adaptability, and contingency that characterizes current cultural production, giving rise to new forms of intellectual coherence.

Neidich’s decades-long project seeks to discern these simultaneous transformations, occurring in a seemingly endless and indiscernible feedback loop state, which impact both the cultural, social, and political realms and the networks of the brain, due to our distinctive neural plasticity. He has noted: “…the combination of new social definitions, the disembodied kinesthetic logics they engender, and the response in the fields of artistic and architectural production, for example, of ‘trying to keep up’ with these new compulsions brought about by revolutionary technologies, redefine our cultural context and call out to the brain’s inherent dynamic architecture.”2 Historically, Neidich cites the transition that occurred at the turn of the last century as one of analog (extensive) to digital (intensive) culture, but also, taking cues from Fredric Jameson’s Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, acknowledges that the subject formed by “the space of high modernism” lagged a bit behind, and did not previously possess the “perceptual equipment to match this new hyperspace,” imagined long before its current full-blown actualization.3 It seems a new equivalence is at hand, and the ‘now’ is about ‘becoming.’

2. Power Up

Power Up is a phrase I first heard when Julie Ault, founding member of the New York art collective Group Material (1979–1996), organized an exhibition for the Wadsworth Athenaeum in Hartford, CT, entitled Power Up: Sister Corita and Donald Moffett, Interlocking (1997). This was the first time I became consciously aware of Corita’s work (which I had often seen in the form of public works—a painting on a natural gas tank along the Southeast Expressway in Dorchester, MA, and her 1985 Love stamp for the US postal service). This pairing of two artists separated by generation but joined by their integration of popular culture, graphics, and art for the purpose of addressing social change, highlights the cultural affinities of the 60s and 90s, perhaps illuminating the critical junctures that preceded, and at which we arrived, roughly following each of these decades. Corita’s use of the words “Power Up” in a 1965 serigraph, like many of her pop graphic slogans, utilized the vernacular of the day to motivate political action (the phrase was borrowed from a gasoline ad and paired with text concerning hunger and class disparity by poet and peace activist Daniel Berrigan). Moffett’s work as an artist, cofounder of the design firm Bureau, and member of the collective Gran Fury, utilized various advertising strategies to bring messages concerning HIV/AIDS to largescale public audiences. Although aesthetically different, both Corita and Moffett used the apparatuses, materials, and production skills of their day to reach audiences defined by specific perceptual habits, to instruct and disclose the conditions of power and their biopolitical import.

A borrowing between aesthetics and politics is perhaps characteristic of these two particular decades, the 60s and 90s. In observing movements that preceded each of them, it is interesting to note that certain prior developments also called for a more extensive engagement, reflected in the cultural realm. In this context, the field of culture can be understood as a viscous medium that supports political, social, economic, historical, and spiritual languages, and allows for a certain degree of interactivity. As such, these languages form an amalgam of shifting concepts and conditions in which we are immersed. The 60s and 90s are reflective of preceding compositions, but display important shifts. Like the conditions of ‘the image of thought’ to be discussed later, these shifts represent the projection of circumstances imagined by artists, for example, echoing the historical transition, which began in the late 19th century, from an ‘extensive’ culture with its linear, hierarchical characteristics, to a non-linear, rhizomatic ‘intensive’ culture. This transition makes possible the elaboration of display tactics—the opportunity to imagine and create slogans and iconography representative of this new space.

Looking at the micropolitical events that shaped the characteristics of many waves of Modernism (Constructivism, Impressionism, Cubism, Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, etc.) mitigates their repetition as eternal return (in which Color Field painting, for example, simulates early Constructivist painting) and instead suggests the actions of the avant-garde are instituted upon the nature of subjectivity itself. In his discussion of postwar American and Latin American art of the 1950s, art historian Benjamin Buchloh explains: “These practices appear no longer to originate in the cultural matrix of the nationstate, or in the fictions of national identity as their ultimate social anchoring ground. […] Their ‘international style,’ by contrast, seems to have shifted (perhaps already starting with Abstract Expressionism) toward a model of cultural production that is ultimately grounded in the economic structures of advanced global corporate capitalism that have definitively left those conditions of traditional identity formation behind.”4 Neidich elaborates that the conditions and contextual frameworks of the classic avant-garde and that of the neo-avant-garde are entirely different, making primary and secondary iterations unique. In his words, there is no reason to account for the eternal return as degenerate. His project as a whole points to the fact that this is not only a cultural and philosophical argument, but a neurobiological one as well.

“The avant-garde can never be understood in terms of reductive, empirical material paradigms because the nature of the avantgarde itself is always about the sublime conditions of the work of art, which are always beyond the recognition facilities the perceiving subject has on hand. As such, the avant-garde is essentially a future-oriented paradigm of what is not obvious in the deep substrate of meaning, what is ‘yet to become’ in the vast milieu of significance. Culture as it was in its social dreams, and as it will be in its future prognostication, constantly unwraps the possibilities that lay inherent in the history of the species itself, collaged as it is upon the matrix of evolving memory as it is positioned in artworks, buildings, urban and virtual spaces.”5

While acknowledging the seemingly forward-looking nature of prior aesthetic movements (for example, abstraction in the 50s), an engagement with overt political realities was similarly absent in the 50s and in postmodernism of the 80s. For once again, in looking slightly backward and slightly forward, postmodern theory, in an attempt to level such categories as aesthetics and politics altogether, also may have missed the point. As Neidich has noted: “Perhaps the initial reception of […] avant-garde excess proclaims a misrecognition; [further] postmodernism’s misunderstanding of this misrecognition, in its attempt to understand the work of art in an expanded cultural and social field, led to its demise as a condition  of social change.”6

In his 1982 lecture, “Postmodernism and Consumer Society,” Fredric Jameson defined postmodernism as a “periodizing concept” that is characterized by “the erosion of the older distinction between high culture and so-called mass or popular culture,” and “whose function is to correlate the emergence of new formal features in culture with the emergence of a new type of social life and a new economic order—what is often euphemistically called modernization, postindustrial or consumer society, the society of the media or the spectacle, or multinational capitalism.”7 In addition to the rejection of prior modernist values and forms that sought to embody truth, originality, and universality, he goes on to outline key features of postmodernism such as pastiche, mimicry, schizophrenia, and their reflection of a fragmented sense of space and time, characteristic of the postmodern moment. Doubt is cast, as well, in Jameson’s figuration of the individual postmodern subject: “[I]n the classic age of competitive capitalism, in the heyday of the nuclear family and the emergence of the bourgeoisie as the hegemonic social class, there was such a thing as individualism, as individual subjects. But today, in the age of corporate capitalism, […] of bureaucracies in business as well as in the state, […] that older bourgeois individual subject no longer exists.” He notes a poststructuralist position would add, “…not only is the bourgeois individual subject a thing of the past, it is also a myth; it never really existed in the first place; there have never been autonomous subjects of that type.”8

Jean-François Lyotard in his essay “What Is Postmodernism?” argues that postmodernism is merely and already “a part of the modern,” caught in a dialectical process whereby “…in an amazing acceleration, the generations precipitate themselves.”9 This conflation is perhaps aptly demonstrated in the contradictory conservatism of the art world of the 1980s, characterized by an increasing over-valuation of media attention and the aggrandizement of wealth, which precipitated an elitism that postmodernism (and Pop Art before it) initially sought to remedy. Jameson ended his landmark lecture with a question: “We have seen that there is a way in which postmodernism replicates and reproduces—reinforces—the logic of consumer capitalism; the more significant question is whether there is also a way in which it resists that logic.”10 To this question, Neidich’s work may propose: Neuropower Up.

3. Political Art of the Sixties was About Delineation, Political Art Today is About Differentiation

One of Neidich’s recent drawings, Political Art of the Sixties was About Delineation, Political Art today is About Differentiation (2008), originally existed as a drawing on paper, constituting the left margin of a larger wall drawing of the same name, initially installed at IASPIS Studio in Stockholm. The right margin was fitted with a white neon sign that read: “If it looks like art it probably isn’t.” Later, the drawing resurfaced in a projected installation at Onomatopee in Eindhoven under the rubric, Lost Between the Extensivity/Intensivity Exchange. Here, the larger handmade drawing was fragmented into a series of smaller drawings, photocopied on clear plastic, and distributed onto a number of overhead projectors dispersed throughout the space. Some of the drawings projected onto the walls of the space, others onto participants wearing white shirts, and some onto the white surfaces of pedestals borrowed from galleries and museums. Given the relative obsolescence of the equipment used (the overhead projector) and its institutional style, paired with the educational directness of a diagrammatic method of drawing, this immaterial mapping spelled out a complex historical transition. On the one hand, its initial inspiration was the psychogeographic mappings of the Situationists, and on the other, “the dynamic qualities of the signals of the brain during thinking, like a mental map, in which the present is recategorized in relationship to multiple memory maps distributed throughout the brain.”11 Further, this combination of equipment and image elicited the relative speed with which we shift from past to present, also reminding the viewer that this knowledge is cumulative, as the past is not replaced or obliterated, but rather becomes folded into an understanding of the present.

Political Art of the Sixties… seeks to outline the implicit power relations that surrounded artistic production in the 60s, against which practitioners of conceptual art and institutional critique, for example, sought to delineate their work, as if they could somehow operate from outside this sphere of relations. However, as Andrea Fraser has recently noted, “Moving from a substantive understanding of ‘the institution’ as specific places, organizations, and individuals to a conception of it as a social field, the question of what is inside and what is outside becomes much more complex.”12 This question of inside/outside has consistently beleaguered modernism, because it is undermined by the very dialectic of extensivity/intensivity prompted by modernist thought. Dan Graham, in his “My Works for Magazine Pages: ‘A History of Conceptual Art’,” cites his early experience, in the mid-60s, as manager of the John Daniels Gallery in midtown New York, and his exposure to a group of artists, including Sol Lewitt, Donald Judd, and Robert Smithson, but particularly Dan Flavin, as instigation for his subsequent interest in “the possibility of dematerialized, noncommodified art forms and a more politically engaged role for the artist.”13 He noted: “The fall after the gallery failed, I began experimenting with art works that could be read as a reaction against the gallery experience, but also as a response to contradictions I discerned among gallery artists. While American Pop Art of the early 1960s referred to the surrounding media world of cultural information as a framework, Minimalist art works of the midto- late 1960s seemed to refer to the gallery interior cube as the ultimate contextual frame of reference or support for the work.”14

However, these frameworks could not long maintain the structural transparency necessary to distinguish critical artworks within an economy that consistently sought to assimilate them, giving them value within the very structures they sought to critique. Perhaps due to the fact that Graham “…seems to have acknowledged that their original radicality in questioning the role of the artwork in its social context had been given up and that minimal works had been restored easily into the commodity status acquiring exchange value inasmuch as they gave up their context-bound idea of use value…”15 he instead adopted a form that made “no claim for itself as ‘Art’,” selecting the “informational frame” of the magazine.16 But information itself is the currency of intensive culture. Intensive culture is characterized by nonequivalence and difference. Whereas extensive culture produces the commodity as a form of equivalence, intensive culture is described best by the idea of the brand: “Products no longer circulate as identical objects, already fixed, static and discrete, determined by the intentions of their producers. Instead, cultural entities spin out of the control of their makers: in their circulation they move and change through transposition and translation, transformation and transmogrification. […] In global culture industry, products move as much through accident as through design, as much by virtue of their unintended consequences as through planned design or intention.”17

Following in a long tradition that spans the disciplines of art, architecture, philosophy, linguistics, and science, Neidich has chosen the intensive logics of the diagram, a format laden as much with information as it is with shape, color, and line, to aid in the production of ideas. Like the pages of a journal, Neidich’s drawings, mappings, and diagrams resist easy categorization within a given field, and can recall a range of references from Jacques Lacan’s “Schema L” (1955) to Warhol’s “Dance Diagram” (1962). Deploying this format toward future-oriented action reflective of the current cultural moment, Neidich points out in Political Art Today… “[art] must address the homogenizing effect on culture of Neo-liberal Global Capitalism, which through the creative industries, art market, branding, and advertising has created a crisis in the production of difference and variation. Art must resist this homogenizing condition. […] Art is a condition of the future and must await parallel and commensurate changes in the social, psychological, spiritual, economic, and historical fabric before it can obtain full meaning.”18

4. Diagram as Thread or, Conceptual Art as Neurobiological Praxis and its Antecedents

My engagement with Neidich’s project began around 1997, as a newly appointed curator at Thread Waxing Space, New York. In taking this job, I inherited a rather large box of unsolicited exhibition proposals to review. Known for exhibition projects that favored curatorial experimentation in an alternative, large-scale context, Thread Waxing Space’s stash of proposals read like an archive of reiterations of what had come to be considered “pathetic art,” a term made distinct by curator Ralph Rugoff in the early 90s. As art critic Irving Sandler noted:

“Art of the end of the 1980s took three diverse directions. The first extended available twentieth-century styles in personal ways, disregarding social issues. The second—which commanded the most art-world attention—dealt directly with newly urgent social problems, and the third was aptly labeled abject or pathetic art. […] Ralph Rugoff wrote, […] ‘Bereft of irony’s protective distance, pathetic art invites you to identify with the artist as someone [not] in control of his or her culture…. […] Pathetic art knows it doesn’t have the strength; its position of articulation is already disabled and impaired….’ Rugoff concluded that pathetic art was a reflection of a society and a culture that were dysfunctional and out-of-gas and whose future did not seem to offer any improvement.”19

Perhaps it was its optimism, or the marked difference between the strains of pathetic art and the sense of intellectual agency attributed by Neidich to artists and works, that drew me to his weirdly uncomplicated proposal, entitled Conceptual Art as Neurobiological Praxis. It also could have been the visual material included—not necessarily that of the artists in the exhibition—but diagrams roughly drawn by Neidich, illustrating neologisms drawn from concepts of neurobiology as they might correspond with historical and contemporary art. The exhibition was divided into three parts, according to the diagram: the Retinal-Cortical Axis (visual processing); the Word-Image Dialectic; and Global Chaosmosis (a term invented by Neidich referring to the operations of the entire brain, derived from both Gilles Deleuze’s notions of chaosmosis and the rhizome, and Gerald Edelman and Jean-Pierre Changeux’s ‘global mapping’ in relation to the development of the brain as it is shaped by experience). This category is the foundation of Neidich’s more recent arguments concerning the ways in which intensive culture sculpts the brain.

The diagrams and proposal posited that conceptual art was/is not “a linear practice [but instead] emerges in the context of many streams of art practice including Lettrism and Situationism; philosophy including Structuralism and Phenomenology; Infomatics like Cybernetics; psychological discourses like psychoanalysis; as well as Marxism and political activism of the late 60s.”20 In retrospect, Conceptual Art as Neurobiological Praxis seems to envision the advance of prior iterations of immaterial labor, including conceptual art, as inseparable from current understandings of art and its relationship to popular culture, media, politics—and the significance, for new generations of artists, of historical predecessors who imagined this hybrid state. As Neidich noted in relation to the exhibition project: “For it is within this complexity [of folded structures] that other forms and other meanings hibernate, latent, remaining in a state of hypothermia and very slow metabolism, waiting for the proper set of conditions in which to emerge and once again ‘become,’ only slightly changed, especially in regard to interpretation. […] Some would argue that an explanation of this phenomena can be found in the way that the social, political, historical, psychological, economic conditions of the late 90s and early 21st century share important qualities with those of the late 60s and early 70s, such that certain works [which have gained renewed interest] express key insights common to both eras.”21

5. From Hybrid Dialectic to Dynamic Collage

Neidich has recently directed me to his videos as a fundamental framework for all his work, “slipping into the spaces between the lines as if they were an architectural edifice by Cedric Price,”22 an architect driven by the goal of nurturing change. His goal was “enabling people to think the unthinkable. Through projects, drawings, and teaching, Price (1934-2003) overturned the notion of what architecture is by suggesting radical ideas of what it might be.”23 Coincidentally, at the time of our initial meeting, I was involved in an exhibition project concerning architecture of the 60s, Research Architecture: Selections from the FRAC Orleans Collection (co-curated with Philippe Barriere and Bill Menking, organized by Thread Waxing Space in conjunction with Pratt Institute and the University of Kansas). The exhibition project was based on the premise that an engagement with the imaginations of the past, during moments when technological advances render increasingly tangible the theoretical experiments of prior generations, is reflected in contemporary practices—another aspect of catching up with a future imagined in the past.

Research Architecture posited that against the repressive forces concretized in institutional architecture of the 60s, for example, futurisms of the past and the visionary authors who imagined them existed—with or without the actual technological means to realize their dreams. The availability of tools that enable the rendering of widespread hallucinatory spectacle, global communications, etc., across real space and time doesn't necessarily make them better, or more real, than the speculative projects of the 60s by Archigram, Utopie Group, Superstudio, or Buckminster Fuller. These artists and groups integrated themes from popular culture and politics within radical intellectual frameworks to expand the fields of art and architecture, mainly through works made of paper and cardboard, and unaided by computers.

These predominantly ephemeral histories of utopian art and architecture run parallel to the still-persistent inheritance of modern rationalist methodologies—outlining that there were other, less tangible, societal dreams at play. Not always explicitly oppositional (although hostage-taking did occur at conferences involving Utopie, Archigram, Superstudio, and Archizoom), these projects were oriented toward a different future than the one we typically experience today, and they achieved this alien status by challenging the accepted links between artistic forms and representation—seeking, instead, to demystify the objects of art and architecture.
"Basically [Utopie] attempted to transcend architecture itself, as they transcended urban planning itself, like the Situationists could scrap the university milieu itself…. Everyone found himself at ground zero of the destruction of his own discipline. There was a kind of dissolution by excess on which everyone could agree. […] Within the framework of Utopie—and that's what Utopie was, too—we were searching for an intellectual center of gravity from where we could branch out to all the other disciplines."24
The potential for catching up from lag times, and the complex processes of recuperating from cyclical approaches toward perceived annihilation of prior understandings, are precisely what gave Conceptual Art as Neurobiological Praxis its unusual optimism. Rather than the failure or death of previous movements, Neidich’s thesis pointed to the ways in which these repositories of knowledge and action fuel the present, as they are folded into any potential that art, architecture, etc. may still possess as productive forces. This potential, shared by a newly conceived ‘multitude,’ could be described as the neurobiological sublime: “The lack of register between new and old forms of spaces and the lack of computability of a mind adapted to the conditions of the architectural past produce a new form of the unconscious and uncanny.”25 In his discussion of the ‘multitude,’ philosopher Paolo Virno also addresses the ‘uncanny’ as a key element:
“Thus, there is nothing more shared and more common, and in a certain sense more public, than the feeling of ‘not feeling at home.’ No one is less isolated than the person who feels the fearful pressure of the indefinite world. […] ‘[N]ot feeling at home’ is in fact a distinctive trait of the concept of the multitude, while the separation of the ‘inside’ and the ‘outside’ […] is what earmarked the […] idea of people. […] The multitude […] is united by the risk which derives from ‘not feeling at home,’ from being exposed omnilaterally to the world.”26

Accelerated circumstances, a lack of register between old and new, and an uncanny sense of the obsolescence of the present (such as Walter Benjamin’s arcades—already replaced by department stores) were, perhaps, all foreshadowed in the landmark essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” in which new technological conditions of reproduction or “post-production” were received with optimism. For Benjamin, the mediums of photography and film promised a democratized, participatory audience, necessarily operating in “an immense and unexpected field of action.”27 The significance of cinema and early cinematic devices in Neidich’s work has taken various forms, including his video investigations such as Brainwash (1999), in which audience and actor view the turning of a black and white striped drum. Neidich’s interest in this instrument emanates from its twofold purpose, as both an early cinematic zoetrope and a diagnostic neurological tool. On one hand, it is a device used by artists to create another kind of reality, and on the other, it is a device used by doctors to document and diagnose conditions of the brain. The video presents these two functions, with their distinct histories—one presumably subjective and the other objective—as inseparable. He has noted in relation to this work: “The body is part of the world and that world is to a certain extent formed by new technologies. These new technologies, especially as they affect time and space, affect the production of subjectivity. […] The drum represents the effect of a new sublime condition brought about by cinema in the early 20th century; a condition that is related to the perceptual and cognitive systems of time and space.”28 Marcel Duchamp, fascinated by the congruencies of art, cinema, technology and science, exemplifies the link between transgressive artistic gestures and the positivistic advance of technology, moving toward a reorientation of the conditions of knowledge. Neidich’s work emphasizes, as well, that art can and does investigate areas most notably relegated to science, like perception, and arrives at radically alternative paradigms.

In his discussion of Gilles Deleuze’s concepts of cinematic time, philosopher John Rajchman makes reference to Duchamp’s cinema books as a means to introduce a “new psycho-mechanics, a new way of affecting our nervous systems. […] At the heart of Deleuze’s analysis of cinematic images and their dispositifs, we find the problem of a determination of a time no longer defined by succession (past, present, future); of a space no longer defined by simultaneity (distinct elements in closed or framed space); and of a permanence no longer based in eternity (instead given as form of a complex variation).”29 By overlapping creative technologies with those of a scientific nature, Neidich proposed a new assemblage, which he refers to as ‘hybrid dialectic,’ a new strain of the history of thought based on a novel set of perceptual conditions. In his video works Kiss (2000), 360 degrees (2000), and Taos, Pueblo, Looping (2000), which all involve pointing with a cane designed for the visually impaired, Neidich’s investigation is based on infirmity and disability. He chooses medical instruments used to diagnose maladjusted perceptual systems in order to conduct artistic research in direct opposition to modernist requirements of perfect coordinates. Similarly, more recent works attempt to combine overlapping subjectivities, reminiscent of cinematic consciousness.

Neidich’s Earthling series of photographs and videos of improvised performances by amateur actors taking place in cafes (2006) makes reference to the role of media (newspapers, magazines) in “producing new subjectivities in the context of evolving global identities.”30 After collecting an archive of images sampled from newsstands, café tables, etc., around the world for about a year, Neidich began to frequent cafes, asking strangers if they would perform in his work. When someone agreed, he or she was given a choice from the collection of magazines and newspapers Neidich carried with him. Each had an image of the face of a notable person and a headline. Neidich then measured the size of the participant’s eye or the distance between the eyes, in order to match holes cut out of the magazine or newspaper image—aligning the optical axis of the actor with that of the image on the page. The actor then improvised a performance, looking from behind the newspaper or magazine as if it were a mask. The photographs and videos that resulted are called ‘dynamic collages,’ drawing attention to the fact that the inanimate newspaper was superimposed upon a living human being. Although sharing similar intentions with, for example, the political collages of John Heartfield or Hannah Hoch, Neidich’s political images and videos look very different. Like Corita and Moffett previously mentioned, these artists have used similar methodologies to describe extremely different times.

The photographs and videos that comprise Earthling, like other serialized projects by Neidich, insinuate the connections between “the history of apparatus, the history of the images they create, the history of the ‘thought image’ which results, as a way of the mind making sense of the new landscape of images that make up visual culture. That history has become condensed in the new logics of global media in which the nation state has been replaced by global culture and the apparatus to administer those new conditions has changed as well.”31 If postmodern thought rendered impossible any sense of progress or transgressive individual agency, signaling a form of ‘apocalyptic pessimism’ described in Jameson’s conclusion as symptomatic of late capitalism, and thematized as a disappearance of history, perhaps it was best exemplified by the news: “One is tempted to say that the very function of the news media is to relegate such  recent historical experiences as rapidly as possible into the past. The informational function of the media would thus be to help us forget, to serve as the very agents and mechanisms for our historical amnesia.”32

In Neidich’s once again somewhat optimistic figuration, the postmodern aesthetic of ahistoricism seems almost old-fashioned, and nothing is forgotten. If news images are the lens through which we understand the world and our place in it, amidst today’s maelstrom of information— images streaming past us, disappearing as quickly as they appear—a major transformation must be occurring. With Earthling, Neidich expands upon the ‘hybrid dialectic,’ with “the objective dispositif of the newspaper now directly linked to the organic body mind in a collaged interface.”33
“By collapsing the historical dimensions of time—recollection of time past and projection of the future—into an empty play of euphoric instants, post-modernism runs the risk of eclipsing the potential of human experience for liberation. It risks cultivating the ecstasy of self-annihilation by precluding the possibility of self-expression. And it risks abandoning the emancipatory practice of imagining alternative horizons of existence (remembered or anticipated) by renouncing the legitimacy of narrative coherence or identity. […] The danger stalking the post-modern labyrinth is nothingness. The empty tomb. The paralyzing fear that there is nothing after postmodernism.” 34

6. Neuropower

Perhaps it is in Neidich’s diagrammatic drawings that novel possibilities for the subject most freely float. Outlining in-depth studies, new orders, rhizomatic processes, “the diagram is indeed a chaos, a catastrophe, but it is also a germ of order or rhythm.”35 It is here that branching histories and concepts of art, work, and politics play into mappings that suggest expansive potentialities, tracing past intellectual actions with arrows pointing to a future. As Neidich notes: “This goes to the very heart of Neuropower, as the site of control has now moved into the very brain centers that form our goal-directed habits and that influence the decisions we make before we even encounter the streaming conditions of the world that, in the end, we sample according to these internally generated conditions.”36

In his forward to Paolo Virno’s A Grammar of the Multitude, Sylvère Lotringer describes the important historical context from which the ideas of abstract intelligence and immaterial labor were born, in Italian ‘workerism’ (operaismo) or the Autonomia movement of the 70s. Linking labor, politics, and intellect, Autonomia sought, through researched activism, pirate radio, and direct actions, to develop alternative theories concerning the self-organization of labor. They articulated a diverse series of experiences based on a fundamental refusal of labor in the traditional sense. A sharp assessment of capitalist society, its powers, and its protagonists, Autonomia outlined new forms of communication and knowledge beyond the social relations dictated by waged labor. Based particularly on the conditions of factory workers, workerism maintained that workers’ knowledge of the productive cycle resulted in the possibility to stop, to sabotage, to withdraw. Further, the absence of work becomes a time of communication, exchange, and social knowledge. Their theories grew away from the traditional Marxist notion of ‘the people,’ with its implication of a separation between inside/outside, and instead viewed the expanded field of social intelligence as the new labor force.
“The multitude is a new category in political thought. […] It is, Virno suggests, open to plural experiences and searching for nonrepresentative political forms, but ‘calmly and realistically,’ not from a marginal position. In a sense the multitude would finally fulfill Autonomia’s motto—‘the margins at the center’— through its active participation in socialized knowledge. […] Everything has become ‘performative.’ Virno brilliantly develops here his major thesis, an analogy between virtuosity (art, work, speech) and politics. They all are political because they all need an audience, a publicly organized space, which Marx calls ‘social cooperation,’ and a common language in which to communicate. And they all are performance because they find in themselves, and not in any end product, their own fulfillment.”37

In Neidich’s performative lecture, Some cursory comments on the nature of my diagrammatic drawing, (first presented in the studio at IASPIS in which his wall drawings were made in 2008), the artist is blindfolded. With the aid of an assistant, Neidich is spun around, but left facing one of the walls. Pointing, he walks toward the wall and lands on a word at random, which the assistant calls out. Turning toward the audience, Neidich then recites from memory all of the interwoven connections, definitions, and significations mapped out in the drawing for the duration of about one hour and a half. As Peggy Phelan has noted: “Performance’s only life is in the present.

Performance cannot be saved, recorded, documented, or otherwise participate in the circulation of representations of representations: once it does so, it becomes something other than performance. To the degree that performance attempts to enter the economy of reproduction it betrays and lessens the promise of its own ontology. Performance’s being, like the ontology of subjectivity proposed here, becomes itself through disappearance.”38

Much like Autonomia’s notion of immaterial labor, Phelan’s concept of performance as non-reproductive insinuates a new form of subjectivity, liberated from the “machinery of reproductive representation necessary to the circulation of capital. […] Without a copy, live performance […] disappears into memory, into the realm of invisibility and the unconscious where it eludes regulation and control.”39 Neidich’s project takes these ideas into the area of Neuropower, which he defines as the means through which a constantly transforming cultural milieu sculpts the differences inherent in the nascent neurobiological potential of the brain, a process mostly occurring right after birth, but also continuing throughout life. “Neural Plasticity’s potential as a field of differences can be molded according to the new conditions of post-Fordist deregulation, acting upon the conditions of the matter of the brain itself. I would like to suggest that this reconfiguration is actually the site of performative gestures, the non-reproductive labor of communicative virtuosos.”40

Perhaps it is only when we move from the individual to the audience that these two theoretical frameworks, Phelan’s concept of performance and Virno’s notion of the virtuoso, merge. As a population of singularities, the audience of the multitude is a heterogeneous sampling machine. As such, the summated condition of an unstable fluid social mind, the resultant of the combined dispositions of its individual members, is the true site of action of the virtuoso performance, which is now about the stabilization of anarchic dispositions in moments of synchronous appreciation. This, for Neidich, is the true condition of intensive culture that now acts to synchronize thought and consciousness. It is only in the last century with the emergence of intensive culture, computer and Internet technology, social networks and social orders, and the production of the multitude that new forms of biopower and administrative techniques have emerged.

7. Conclusion, Redistribution of the Sensible

If the now is about becoming, then the artist’s task is “…concerned with aesthetic acts as configurations of experience that create new modes of sense perception and induce novel forms of political subjectivity.”41 Neidich’s work, perhaps, reinforces the fact that artists have always created their own distributions of the sensible. Taking this as its curatorial subject, Neidich’s recent exhibition project, The Re-distribution of the Sensible (Gallery Magus Muller, Berlin, 2007), reminiscent of Michael Hardt and Tony Negri’s ‘society of control,’ deals with the issue of sovereignty: “Sovereignty, utilizing the methods of the global marketplace with the help of scientific research on perception and cognition, has conspired in creating complex networks of attention, which allow for the manufacture of explicit ‘connectedness’ that today defines the distribution of the sensible. […] These networks form a hegemonic cultural syntax, which is inscribed on society as a whole, producing new forms of subjectivity and, in the case of a world tuned into global media, a bounded multitude.”42 Artists, as well, utilizing their own historical referents, materials, processes, and performances, create “complex assemblages that together compete with institutional arrangements for the attention of the mind.”43 Again, this work is optimistic, concerned with an imagined future, not destined to be a repetition of the past.
“[T]he essence of politics consists in interrupting the distribution of the sensible by supplementing it with those who have no part in the perceptual coordinates of the community, thereby modifying the very aesthetic-political field of possibility. […] Those who have no name, who remain invisible and inaudible, can only penetrate the police order via a mode of subjectivization that transforms the aesthetic coordinates of the community by implementing the universal presupposition of politics: we are all equal. Democracy itself is defined by these intermittent acts of political subjectivization that reconfigure the communal distribution of the sensible.”44

This is central to the argument of Neidich’s Neuropower. In the end, the brain and its collaborator, the mind, are the products of a multiplicity of culturally formed congruencies to which they are coupled. On one extreme is the institutional understanding that produces ‘people’ as a homogenous entity, easily controlled and manipulated within the confines of the historic nation state. On the other extreme are the conditions of aesthetic production itself, which produces another distribution according to its own rules, manufactured by alternative methods. Both extremes and all that falls in between function to form the conditions of the brain/mind interface. The power of art operates through this redistribution of the sensible, in spite of the institutional tendency to co-opt. Redistributed sensibilities, produced by aesthetically driven systems, sculpt new forms of neural networks, attempting to make sense of a newly configured distribution. Potentials locked in older configurations are released. This newly organized neural substrate, as it is modeled upon the new conditions of culture itself, creates new possibilities for creativity and imagination, elaborating new forms of the image of thought.

1 Gabriel Rockhill, “Translator’s Introduction: Jacques Rancière’s Politics of Perception,” Jacques Rancière, The Politics of Aesthetics, The Distribution of the Sensible, (London: Continuum, 2004): 1.
2 Warren Neidich, “Neuropower,” draft of essay to be published in Atlantica (forthcoming 2009).
3 Fredric Jameson, “Culture,” Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1991): 38-39.
4 Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, Neo-Avantgarde and Culture Industry; Essays on European and American Art from 1955-1975, (Cambridge, MA and London: October Books, MIT Press)
5 Warren Neidich, correspondence with the author, January 2009.
6 Warren Neidich, “Political Art of the Sixties was About Delineation, Political Art today is About Delineation,” artist’s description, 2008.
7 Fredric Jameson, “Postmodernism and Consumer Society,” The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture, ed. Hal Foster (Seattle: Bay Press, 1983): 112-113.
8 Jameson: 115. 9 Jean-François Lyotard, “What Is Postmodernism?” Art and Its Significance: An Anthology of Aesthetic Theory, ed. Stephen David Ross, (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994): 561-64.
9 Jean-François Lyotard, “What Is Postmodernism?” Art and Its Significance: An Anthology of Aesthetic Theory, ed. Stephen David Ross, (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994): 561-64.
10 Jameson, “Postmodernism and Consumer Society”: 125.
11 Warren Neidich, email correspondence with the author, 2008.
12 Andrea Fraser, “From the Critique of Institutions to an Institution of Critique,” Artforum, September 2005: 281.

13 Brian Wallis, “Dan Graham’s History Lessons,” Rock My Religion 1965-1990, eds. Brian Wallis and Dan Graham, (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1994): viii.
14 Dan Graham, “My Works for Magazine Pages: ‘A History of Conceptual Art’,” Rock My Religion 1965-1990: xviii.
15 B.H.D. Buchloh, “Moments of History in the work of Dan Graham,” Dan Graham Articles, (Eindhoven: Van Abbemuseum, 1978): 75.
16 Dan Graham cited in Buchloh: 73.
17 Scott Lash and Celia Lury, “Introduction: Theory-Some Signposts,” Global Culture Industry: The Mediation of Things, (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007): 4-5.
18 Neidich, “Political Art of the Sixties was About Delineation, Political Art today is About Delineation.”
Irving Sandler, “Into the 1990s,” Art of the Postmodern Era: From the Late 1960s to the Early 1990s, (Westview Press, 1996): 547-548.
20 Warren Neidich, “Conceptual Art as Neurobiological Praxis,” The Alternative to What? Thread Waxing Space and the 90s, (Foundation 20 21 and Participant Inc, forthcoming).
21 Neidich, “Conceptual Art as Neurobiological Praxis.”
22 Neidich, email correspondence with the author, 2008.
23 Cedric Price, Architect (1934-2003), Design Museum, London, website, designmuseum.org.
24 Jean-Louis Violeau quoting Jean Baudrillard in, "Utopie: In Acts," The Inflatable Moment: Pneumatics and Protest in '68 (Princeton Architectural Press and the Architectural League of New York, 1999): 53.
25 Neidich, “Neuropower.”
26 Paolo Virno, “Beyond the coupling of the terms fear/anguish,” A Grammar of the Multitude, (Los Angeles and New York: Semiotext[e], 2004): 34.
27 Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken Books, 1968): 236.
28 Warren Neidich, Brainwash, project description, 1999.
29 John Rajchman, “Deleuze’s Time or How the Cinematic Changes Our Idea of Art,” Art and the Moving Image, A Critical Reader, ed. Tanya Leighton (Tate Publishing and Afterall, 2008): 310.
30 Warren Neidich, Earthling, project description, 2006.
31 Neidich, Earthling.
32 Jameson: 125.
33 Neidich, Earthling.
34 Richard Kearney, “The Crisis of the Post-modern Image,” Modern French Philosophy, ed. A. Philips-Griffiths (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987): 120.
35 Gilles Deleuze, “The Diagram,” Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003): 83.
36 Neidich, Neuropower.
37 Sylvère Lotringer, “Foreword: We, the Multitude,” in Paolo Virno, A Grammar of the Multitude (Los Angeles and New York: Semiotext[e], 2004): 13.
38 Peggy Phelan, “The ontology of performance: representation without reproduction, Unmarked, the politics of performance (London and New York: Routledge, 1993): 146.
39 Phelan: 148-149.
40 Neidich, “Neuropower.”
41 Jacques Rancière, “Foreword,” The Politics of Aesthetics: 9.
42 The Re-distribution of the Sensible, press release, Gallery Magus Muller, Berlin, 2007.
43 The Re-distribution of the Sensible 44 Rockhill, “Translator’s Introduction: Jacques Rancière’s Politics of Perception,”: 3.

Artforum Summer 2008 Review

Warren Neidich's recent solo show in Berlin, "Each Rainbow Must Retain the Chromatic Signature, it...," comprised a triad of painting, sculpture, and installation that playfully pointed out the conditions of perceptions and the way it can manipulated and controlled. The exhibition included “Rainbow Brushes,” 2007-2008, a series of nine oversize paintbrushes that each feature a different sequence of colors, all taken from famous paintings throughout European art history. Neidich places the matching pigment on a piece of paper laid flat on the ground, then pulls a brush through, leaving traces of color on the bristles like an afterimage. After Peter Paul Rubens 1636, 2007, is based on the rainbow found in Ruben's 1636 painting Rainbow Landscape. Filled with browns and vibrant turquoise, the brush's colors are quite different from those of the typical rainbow. According to the laws of optics, a rainbow consists of colors that follow one another in a fixed order. Neidich, on the other hand, presented a wide range of variations on this order drawn from various epochs of art history, so that the changing cultural and empirical conditions they represent are "made visible" in retrospect.

Neidich went on to challenge the viewer with concentration exercises that begin where Jasper Johns leaves off: In Red-White-Blue, 2007-2008, three canvases each display the name of a color, written in neon tubing whose hues contradict the names that they are spelling out: Green neon read WHITE, red neon BLUE, and the blue neon RED. The work alludes to the Stroop test for attention deficit disorder, perhaps leading us to wonder how bad it is if, confronted with this contradictory perceptual information, we read and even perceive the blue as red for a good two seconds: too long? The last work on display was Infinite Regress, 2008, a large pavilion with automatic sliding glass doors that are each tinted a primary color. The movement of the visitors cause these colored panes to overlap, forming secondary mixtures of violet, green, and orange.

Plato noted with disapproval that artists tent to favor appearance over essence. Pliny, too, considered illusion one art's defining characteristics. According to his famous account of the contest between two Greek painters of the fifth century BC, Zeuxis painted grapes so realistic that birds flew up to peck at them, but Parrhasos outdid his opponent with a picture of a curtain. Zeuxis impatiently demanded that Parrhasois pull back the curtain to show him the picture-Zeuxis has fooled the birds, but Parrhasios fooled Zeuxis. Descartes's distrust of sensory perception prompted him to find certainty in thought alone. Since ancient times, thinkers have viewed art as inferior to rational knowledge, but Nietzsche inverted the hierarchy: Knowledge itself is an illusion, he argued, and art acknowledges its own illusory nature.

Neidich's playfulness in approaching visual "apparatuses" gives the viewer an active role in producing the illusion. These pieces lead the viewer to test out the different positions in the room; is is in these interstices of self-observance that the show's power emerged. Neidich works his way through various forms in which our senses are manipulated and culturally coded, challenging us to rethink our ideas about color in art.

Art and Resistance

Il lavoro di Warren Neidich si situa all'incrocio di ambiti diversi: l'arte, la biologia e le neuroscienze. l"installazione al neon Resistance is futile/Resistance is fertile, posta sul tetto della Kunsthalle di Graz e realizzata per l'esposizione 'Protections', curata da Adam Budak e Christine Peters, é un esempio che ci mostra come la sua opera sia rivolta alla construzione di uno spazio critico in grado di produrre une riflessione sui meccanismi della societá contemporanea. Il suo lavoro si pone la questione se l'arte oggi possa essere uno strumento di resistenza a una realtá contemporanea in cui ogni idea di sperimentazione appare bloccata. La grande questione di fondo é: "L'arte, oggi, é ancora un campo sperimentale oppure é soltano la produzione di oggetti per un settore specialistico?". Secondo l'artista, l'arte puó infatti produrre nuove forme di connessione nell'ambito delle arti visive che generano un pensiero critico.

The work of Warren Neidich lies at the crossroads between different fields: art, biology, and neuroscience. The neon installation Resistance is futile/Resistance is fertile, placed on the roof of the Kunsthalle in Graz and made for the exhibition "Protections", curated by Adam Budak and Christine Peters, is an example of the way in which his work attempts to construct a critical space that makes us reflect on the mechanisms of contemporary society. His work examines how art today can be an instrument of resistance to a contemporary reality in which every experiemental idea seems to be blocked. The underlying question is thus: "Is art today still an experiemental field or is it just about producing objects for a specialist sector?" According to the artist, art can actually produce new forms of connection in the field of visual arts that generate critical thought.

Sweet Dreams: Contemporary Art and Complicity

New Aestheticism and Media Culture

Warren Neidich's photographs comment on media events. They expose the way experience is mediated through the complex apparatus of contemporary culture industries. In addition, they engage self-consciously with the history of photographic precepts that come from fine art, conceptual, and documentary traditions. These images argue for a formal dialogue with culture and art history and for a new aestheticism as a basis on which to discuss the relation of fine art images to mainstream culture. But the only way to understand the assertion of a "new" aestheticism is to place it in the context of older precedents. In Neidich's case, that requires attention to the specifics of photographic traditions as well as to the features of engagement and affirmation that position his work within artistic practices in the 1990s and 2000s

Neidich sees his work in a postmodern frame, following the historical lineage laid out by Hal Foster and others.[63] That sequence describes a first wave of postmodernism that broke with high modernism's focus on formal properties of media, a second wave that occurred with the theoretically inspired work of the 1980s, and a third, more recent, wave in which the artist functions as cultural critic or "anthropologist."[64] Neidich sees himself in this final role. But is this accurate? The cultural critic posited by Foster retains the distanced stance of modern and postmodern aesthetic negativity. However, Neidich's work suggest a complicity-not so much with the values of mainstream culture and the entertainment and media industries as instead with the enjoyment these provide. Such observations return us to question the way a new formalism raises issues of reflective engagement through its manifestations. This apparent contradiction between an attitude of critical disjunction and one of positive interaction with mass culture is sustained in Neidich's work. His visual approach argues for a subjectivity that distances itself from mainstream values and provides a point of view rooted in the real and mythic idea of individual artistic perspective. But he also makes use of the complicit pleasure that saturates media production values. The powerfully present tension between these two elements (disjunction and engagement) in Neidich's photographs foregrounds visual form as aesthetic argument in contemporary art. This extends the arguments I'm making for sculptural work, painting, hybrid media artifacts, installation and video work, and digital art and the way these work out an admitted, self-conscious relation to the culture industry through similar reinvestments in aesthetics.

Center stage in the discussion of aesthetics in the last few years was an argument put forth ardently by Dave Hickey. At the beginning of the 1990s, Hickey's pronouncement that "beauty" was to be the overriding concern of the decade resonated through an art world that took up his charge with varied agendas. To the visually starved, theory-weary audiences for whom the 1980s had been a decade of mixed difficulties, the very idea of "beauty" was a welcome, if insidious, relief. The critically overdetermined new conceptualisms of Barbara Kruger, Sherrie Levine, Richard Prince, and other artists had prepared the ground for this backlash. Receptivity to Hickey's notion was accompanied with a certain smugness and satisfaction at seeing the theory cart overturned in the name of something reassuringly old-fashioned and familiar.

But the very familiarity of the term "beauty" belied the complexity of concepts-and art political agendas-that it concealed. For whose beauty were we to take as the standard? Whose aesthetic investment was to be used as a measure against which new forms might be assessed? In The Invisible Dragon, Hickey dismissed this question are irrelevant, intent as he was on resurrecting the potency of visual persuasion.[65] Hickey succeeded by elegant argument. He made comparisons, for example, between images by Mapplethorpe and Caravaggio, using the seductive idea of a regime of aesthetic submission that carries sexual as well as artistic overtones. By selecting such canonical and highly aesthetic works to demonstrate the power of images to engage the viewer in a ritual surrounding the "arrested moment" enacted therein, Hickey was able to campaign for the salvific capacity of "beauty" to resurrect the old notion of the "transcendent" value of fine art. Beauty was not an index to circumstances of cultural production, in Hickey's argument, but a way out of context in the name of aesthetic form. A clever approach to theory-bashing. Hickey's work undercut political correctness through indirect means, never mentioning identity politics agendas but sidestepping them entirely with a retro-conservative position that appealed by appearing to be above the fray of art world culture wars. The aesthetic sensibility that Hickey prescribes is strictly formalist, a stripped-bare closing of the circle of art into itself as a field of reference.

But the aestheticism that we find in Neidich is quite at odds with the "beauty" promoted by Hickey. Neidich's aestheticism can't be cast into an old-fahioned formalism. His is not a retro-gesture, a claim to ideal beauty through the purity of form or out of history through a transcendent image. In this regard he joins those artists of recent years for whom formal properties have become again an invested instrument of communicative efficacy. I would hesitate to cast all of 1980s postmodernism into a completely unaesthetic category, through the "anti-aesthtic" announced in Hal Foster's anthology of that title of 1983 indicates the attitudes of new York-style postmodernism that were birthed under its shadow.[66] Emphatically true, however, is that in the critical climate of the 1980s and culminating in debates around the 1993 Biennial, appreciation was never articulated as a formally based enterprise, this supporting the sense that artists' work led with issues and ideas rather than through a materially based rhetoric.

A substantive change occurred through the course of the 1990s. Formal values were given a serious charge to carry meaning through the capacity of material to communication semiotically and sensually. The new aestheticism is a formalism informed by conceptual art, critical theory, identity politics, and the satifactions of studio practice in dialogue with media culture. In other words, this is not revival of modernist formalism with its belief in the inherent properties or purity of media. Neidich's work exemplifies the hybrid integration of these once utterly distinct, even antithetical lineages, an integration that prevails across the broader field of art production in recent years.

Placing Neidich properly within the history of contemporary art required a sketch of photographic practice fraught with historically charged concerns, each of which has its own relation to aesthetic properties. The Camp O.J. series produced at the end of his cross-country, Kerouac-inspired, mythically heroic journey (accordingly to the narrative supplied by the artist), is composed of large-scale color images of the media camp struck up around the O.J. Simpson trial (fig. 21).[67] The title of the series alludes to the central reason for the existence of the site and it appurtenances, but nothing in the images refers to the trial or its issues in any significant way. This could be a media encampment for a presidential race, a royal wedding, or any of the other incidents that are daily fodder for the broadcast industry. Since the mediation apparatus, not the event, is Neidich's subject, this is part of the point, O.J. is very far off camera in the series, which makes sense.
21 Warren Neidich, Vanishing Point, part of the series Camp O.J., 2000, photograph.

The thematic obliqueness is matched in formal characteristics of the photographs whose aesthetic precepts violate the standard conventions of fine photography. Such systematic violations are very old news, of course. The lack of focal emphasis, absence of hierarchical distinctions, fragmentation of the scene, use of framing that is neither snapshot incidental nor fine art fetishized, disregard for the protocols of photographic production with no absolutely clear undermining of them, a sense of the documentary impulse but without any statement of principles or editorial position-the list of traits could go on. But they are used in Neidich's situation with a very self-conscious sense of their history (and their cognitive effect- Neidich's interest in vision and brain function is a developed part of his approach to image production).[68] Yes, he seems to be saying, all of this has been done and will be done. In doing it himself he is not claiming invention or transgressive violation of the terms of aesthetics. Rather, he acknowledges that since those transgressions are now part of the stock-in-trade of photographic practice, they are themselves highly coded aesthetic gestures. From the moment of its invention in the early nineteenth century, fine art photography's bid to "art" status depended on the elaboration of a set of legitimizing aesthetic conventions (a capacity to demonstrate its formal and expressive values). But the history of photography since its acceptance as fine art in the twentieth century was characterized by the same kind of medium-specific self-consciousness that occupied other "modern" art. The elaborate taking apart of these conventions derives from a dialogue within that tradition of the "composed" versus the "found." Just as the fate of narrative within high modernism improves in the postmodern condition, so the implied narratives of Neidich's images engage the combined character of found and contrived work. Their allegiance to the "found" gives them their documentary credentials. Their engaged contrivance allows them to self-consciously play with the frames and devices of postmodern artifice, made conspicuously, visibly, present. Even the use of the fish-eye lens, with its distorting gaze, calls attention to the fact that these are contrived photographs, not mere "documents" pretending to transparent record.

Many of Neidich's apparently anti-aesthetic features can be traced to conceptual art, which gave photography another kind of legitimacy as "document" of the "immaterial" acts and objects central to its rhetoric. The aesthetic force of conceptual art art, its striking distinction between idea and artifact, became the basis on which fine art could presumably eliminate production values. The emphasis on "non-aesthtic" properties gave conceptual photography distinction. Three decades later, this position has been reintegrated with the suite of production tools available to an artist.[69] The necessity for an anti-aesthetic is not as stringently defended-or defensible-within the current cultural climate. We are weary of the empty, unconstructed image that pretends not to care about its visual appearance. Neidich's images contain that disregard as a posture, seeming not to give in to the requirements of careful composition or traditional aesthetics-but at the same they make every effort to fascinate through visual means.

The editorial point of view in these images demonstrates Neidich's participation in mediated culture. Neidich doesn't position himself outside or above the life that he observes. His depiction of persons, for instance, the newscaster, camera crews, other technical and editorial members of media teams, is clearly without malice of grotesquerie. Neidich is not cynical, but he is critically concerned with how media fascination is produced. At the same time, he is careful to make use of those principles to attract and keep his viewers' attention. A photograph of a woman broadcaster, preparing herself for the camera, shows her at the moment of taking on the persona she projects through media. Her body is awkward, almost not her own. Her costume is vivid, mall-bright, and her face and hair perfectly cosmeticized to read into the technological feed. Yet she is vitally present as an individual person whose is to perform a role. Her presence splits between self and image, between embodied consciousness of the role she performs and the role itself, hanging on her like her outfit, and yet, less separable from her than those professionally coded clothes. A certain tragic tone attaches to this image, and the mood casts its pall through the series as a whole, showing that the process of producing "fascination" is a complex activity of sleights and feints and duplicities performed with earnestness and distance, professionalism and ironic recognition in active, simultaneous contradiction.

Neidich cannot be simply pigeonholed within a single historical tradition, which also speaks to the contemporary condition of his aestheticism as a new formation rather than as a retorgressive gesture. His work makes use of the full history of effects, in a highly self-conscious manner, producing in the viewer an awarenss of critical concerns as well as perceptual ones, all through properties of the images. For instance, the obvious "unconstructedness" of these images, the fragmented, ordered-disordered, apparently uncomposed and yet elaborately selected, produces a visual field that has to be pierced back together through a combination of looking and reading. Legible but not immediately apparent, the structured bits have a random "life captured unawares" aspect that is actually as artificially constructed as any tableau vivant.[70] The prints are saturated, rich with embedded color. But for all their large scale, they are not fetishized, deep-focus detailed works, and they flaunt their allegiance to a fast-moving, on-the-fly, journalistic mode with a deliberate disregard for either fine art quality or documentary craft. Taken in sum, the aesthetic characteristics of these photos are a series of sidesteps that jump off and away from quite recognizable points of tradition.

The notion of laying bare any device whatsoever carries with it the echoes of early twentieth-century avant-garde practices whose earnest naiveté was suffused with belief in the possibility of revealing the mechanisms of illusion in order to raise political consciousness through aesthetic means. The current condition of media saturation, of image glut and visual overstimulation, denies us the luxury of such easy critical operations. We cannot simply "take part" an image, any image, or work of art to show that its conceits are merely a means of deception. The structures of engagement are too complex in current (or indeed, in any) culture. The means of elaborate production involve us through already internalized spectacular experience. We are so inhabited by the images of media life and so complicit with their fascination that taking them apart would serve very little function. How does one undo the image according to which the very terms of self and culture are constructed? An impossible task, like perceiving oneself as whole from within the embodied mind. We are fully interpolated subjects. The deconstruction of the spectacle in many ways just reinforces our subjective and complicated relation to its many layered, interlocking systems. In it, and of it, we are mediated creatures in our early millennial lives. Neidich's images show this, claiming along the way in his particular vocabulary of scientific, neurobiological critical parlance, that this is a feature of the cultured brain in its specific historical moment. Rather than ignore the potency of mediation, Neidich intends to engage its affirmative capacity, its ability to seduce us through consumable sensation.

Thus the avant-garde, with its resolutely critical stance and distancing mechanisms of image production and execution, is only a residual specter as it appears in Neidich's lens. This is a quoted avant-garde, a citation and reference, not a living, pulsing presence in real form. As a quotation, it marks our distance from the historical moment of its appearance on the artistic stage and to give us purchase on the distance from that point of origin. Neidich's rhetoric embraces Foster's reinvented version of the avant-garde artist, that savvy cultural critic. But the addictive capacity of media productions translates into his own visual work. A fascination in looking at the process of production permeates his photographs, and through the production values they embody are far from those of mainstream media, they are antithetical to it. Quite the contrary, if Neidich quotes the avant-garde and its stance of critical interrogation, he also quotes and participants in the look of trendy publications who photographs are produced for entertainment value within the mainstream zones of spectacular consumption. The glitz and celebritization, the exploitative voyeurism and journalistic assertion into realm usually left invisible, unrecorded, are all present. Neidich is playing paparazzi freelancer, professional with bulbs flashing and an entrepreneurial instinct, seeking out events on which to feed his appetite for anything that can be transformed into a photograph for sale. The images are not "life taken unawares" but rather life made aware in order to participate in the world of media and mediated images. Living to be image, the media subjects of Camp O.J. are well suited to such an approach.

Neidich's Camp O.J. series also shows us the world in which "image" is always being produced and put into circulation, but the angle through which Neidich looks at that world inflects his images with a gratification that wasn't allowed within the postmodern photographic photographic canon. Neidich knows that his images are framed by the voyeuristic obsessions that the media produced and fostered around the O.J. incident. By not showing the chief protagonists of the tale and focusing instead on the mediating structures through which the event of the trail is produced for spectacular consumption, Neidich participates obliquely in the same system that he is slightly to the side of. These images could be (and have been) published in a photo-essay in a mainstream lifestyle magazine. They could be-and are-also shown in galleries and museums. In this era of fine art fashion, the slick products of Richard Avedon have claimed space on the museum and gallery walls. The glamour industry's inroads into the citadel of fine art may stir protests in certain quarters, but Neidich doesn't shy away from this compromise. His "art" production, occurs in a variety of site. This distinguishes him from those photographers who do commercial work as a "day job" but preserve their "own" creativity for fine art. His work also moves away from the affectless stance of canonical postmodernism (Levine, Prince, Kruger) emblematic of the "already produced" image-in-circulation sensibility. Like these postmodern artists, Neidich clearly has a sense of mission. Art have something to do, something it can do, and that only it can do. What has changed is that his mission may not longer be fulfilled by opposition. Quite the contrary. The most subversive act that fine art can currently perform may well be to show its own complicity with mainstream culture.

Fine art photographs provide a specifically aesthetic form of mediation. To do this, of course, they be aesthetic objects. They demonstrate that subjective affectivity can be inscribed within an image. By showing that possibility they appear to preserve the last vestige of a romantic sensibility in which the artist is the line voice, the individual talent. After all, Neidich chose that quintessential late-romantic on-the-road outsider Jack Kerouac as his mythologized model. Doesn't that put Neidich right back into the stereotype of the artist-hero, alienated in his own individualism?

Yes and no. Neidich's series positions itself not simply in relation to fine art but also in relation to media and the experience of existence mediate through images. The struggle the fine artist faces is to find a formal vocabulary through which to be distinct from mass culture while competing with it. How does one engage the viewer outside of mass media while acknowledging the fully colonized condition of the imagery? Perhaps very simply, by making artifacts our of that experience, ephemeral testimonials to its having passed through us. Contemporary existence is fully mediated, and through all the systems described by critical opponents of the culture industry. Fine art imagery, such as Neidich's, occupies only only a tiny, rarified endangered zone in visual culture. Any functionality that attends to such imagery, besides the immediate insight to the viewer, comes through the set-aside to-be-seen aspect of its identity-as it does here-show us something. That it shows us the backstage of the culture industry is hardly a surprise. what else there to deconstruct? To interrogate? To take apart and put before and audience? These gestures are not simply an imitation of the visual culture production system, they are also part of the culture's self-conscious reflection upon itself.

Mediation as a social process is crucial to the artist's work, an object of fascination not only as an image, but as a process of image production. Media trump fine, they overwhelm it. The aesthetic force of these images is not what they depict, but their demonstration of the way mediation can itself be captured as an image and then cast back into the culture as a momentarily reflective frame. These photographs affirm the seductions of the mass-produced imagery and spectacle. The aesthetic of tine art if not "other" than that of mainstream culture but exists as a space within it.

63. In a panel discussion about his work Camp O.J. held at Bayly Museum at the University of Virginia, November 2000.
64. Hal Foster, The Return of the Real (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996), especially "The Artist as Ethnographer," 171-204.
65. Dave Hickey, The Invisible Dragon: Four Essays on Beauty (Los Angeles: Art Issues Press, 1995), 35.
66. Hal Foster, The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture (Port Townsend: Bay Press, 1983); Ann Goldstein and Mary Jane Jacob, A Forest of Signs: Art in the Crisis of Representation, ed. Catherine Gudis (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1989).
67. Warren Neidich, Camp O.J., intro. by Stephen Margulies, essays by David Hunt and Charles Stainback (Charlottesville: The Museum, 2000).
68. Warren Neidich, Blow-Up: Photography, Cinema and the Brain (NY: Distributed Art Publishers, 2003).
69. Lucy Souter's dissertation addresses this relation in detail, comparing the work of fine art photographers and conceptual art photography and assessing their formal and idealogical connections within shared lineages/traditions and shared contemporary concerns. See Souter, "The Visual Idea: Photography in Conceptual Art" (Ph.D diss., Yale University, 2001).
70. The phrase is, of course, from Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov. See Annette Michelson, ed., Kino Eye: The Writings of Dziga Vertov, trans. Kevin O'Brien (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994).

Introduction: Earthling

Speaking of his embroideries of the map of the world in which each nation's territory is filled in with the design of its own flag, the ITalian artist Alighiero e Boetti remarked "I did nothing for this work, chose nothing myself, in the sense that; the world is shaped as it is, I did not draw it; the flags are what they are, I did not design them. In short, I created absolutely nothing." A strategic removal of the artist's subjectivity would allow the work to be flooded by information about that world that, in it, can take legible form: this is the new form of realism offered by the art of the past four decades, and Warren Neidich exploits it to the full in this photographs and videos of his new Earthling series.

Looking at the photographs, nothing could be simpler: the focus in each one is on a newspaper or magazine with a face on its cover. It is being held wide open so as to hide the face of its reader-except that one or both eyes have been cut out of the image, revealing another eye, a living gaze, that of the "reader" who is somehow really a spy.
Everything in the photograph somehow exists to frame this gaze. But everything in the photograph somehow really is, almost, everything. The images are far more layered than one might at first notice, and the fact that there a good many images in this series, all employing the same basic framework, helps us to see that this is the case. First of all, there the newspaper or magazine itself-the front page or cover, and often a good bit of the back page of back cover as well. Here already is, usually, a tremendous amount of topical information, a sort of time capsule, with the cover portrait of a notable figure from the worlds of politics and entertainment, various headlines, and often on the back an advertisement, a representation of the world of commerce that is the motor for all that occupies the front, the face of the publication. This universal motor is compatible with a multiplicity of languages, design styles, topics, and political perspectives.

Beyond this flat space of the printed page, there is the always more or less visible space in which the reading that not a reading but rather a spying takes place. Often somewhat out of focus, the setting we glimpse in these pictures is always similar but always different. It may indoors or outdoors, dark or bright, but it is always a public place of consumption, or rather what (a the risk of sounding pedantic) might be called a public-private-public space: the kind of place where one might, in the presence of other people (in public) lose oneself in reading without being bothered (maintaining one's privacy)_so as to turn one's attention to the reported events of the day (public events). To all this, visible of course in the photograph as well as the videos, the latter add a whole further layer of information conveyed through ambient noise and conversation.

In this space, one can permit oneself to become abstract from one's surroundings. The coffee just arrives, it is served, there is not need to get up and make it; the presence of others created an atmosphere of conviviality in which one need not participate; the news transforms the world into somewhat a distant spectacle in which politics degenerates into entertainment and entertainment takes on its political-what Louis Althusser might have called interpellative-function. In a surprisingly way, it is the space of Cubist still-life (in which newspapers were, of course, a recurrent feature) with it multiplicity of semiotic levels among which signs are constantly being displaced, a space of quotidian paradox.

But then what is this eye, what is this gaze, that pierces the plane and meets my own in ways that may be sly, fierce, sinister, or sheepish as the case may be but which is almost always funny? What is its function? What or who is it spying on? It is tempting to answer: it's spying on me. And yet that doesn't seem quite right-it established complicity with the viewer too easily for the viewer to be its object as well. If anything, though the eye might be anyone's, the gaze that meets me in these pictures seems to be something like my own, only endowed with a surprising ability to violate topology and discern from behind the surface of things. It is not the truth breaking through the spectacle but it is the desire for truth that intersects the spectacle at an impossible angle. And when I say this gaze is mine, I understand that it can never be mine alone, for it forms when shared with the one that meets me in these curious images.

Interview with Charles Gere

Charles Gere: Though the idea of Neuroaesthetics first appears in your work discussions about 1995 but you were a practicing artist sometime before that. So why did this idea begin to appear in your work?
Warren Neidich: Prior to 1995-1996 I had been doing work more about cultural discourse and visual culture. I had been done this project called American History Reinvented, which concerned the nature of the photographic document as it was linked to the historical archive. I reinvented that archive by creating my own parallel one in which actors dressed in period costumes reenacted scenes from five different periods of American History and these images were modeled on ones I had researched in the archive. However in my new versions a reversal of power dynamics occurred as people of color stood in for Caucasian counterparts in position of power and ownership.

This work came to an end in 1995- 1996 after I created a work concerning the media at the OJ Simpson’s trials. I was able to gain access to media encampment that was set up alongside the courthouse during the trial, and I photographed the media making, producing the fiction that contextualized the cultural historical psychological social fictions that surrounded OJ Simpson’s trials. I photographed it like I would the backstage happenings at a rock and roll concert. I felt that this whole idea between the validity of the photograph and the veracity of photographic document the relationship between the media and how the photograph is produced, the material that is produced and its production value and how it is then visualized and perceived and how in the case of OJ the whole equation becomes completely reversed in the sense that now reality looked like fiction rather than producing fiction that looked like reality. You see what I mean I didn’t need to make the fictions I made in American History Reinvented or like other artists like Jeff Wall, because that fiction was already part of what we now imagine as reality. That in fact that our memories and the images of our thoughts had been colonized by these composite fictionalized happenings and it was necessary to take another approach one that involved where the events were being incorporated in the body as brain and mind.

That somehow I needed to trace the roots of the relationship between fiction and non-fiction back to the body itself. What was available to me at the time of this work in terms of laying out the path through which I could investigate these issues were psychoanalytical paradigms, which had emerged in Surrealism and in Feminist Practices of the late seventies, or Phenomenological-based theories concerned with the body as the non-physical representation of embodiments from the sixties. OJ is a very psychological piece, although it investigated many other aspects of visual culture represented by this event as well, especially in the way I photographed it and the materials I used to print and produce it. It is photographed with a super wide-angle lens that created uncanny and warped spatial arrangements. It was also about this idea of a kind of collective memory of the unconscious in a kind of historical sense because OJ was yet another mediated ‘American Super Event’, a kind of Blockbuster event that we all shared together. We swooned when he appeared on the camera; we were appalled by the bloodstained gloves; we were mesmerized by the car chase at the beginning of the episode. But we were also affected by the way that the media constructed the story. It was a kind of weekday afternoon version of the soap opera ‘As The World Turns’ with the same kind of episodes and intrigues.

At about the same time as I was doing this project my concerns were going through a transition, and I started to embrace my interest in neuroscience and began to think about ways that I might be able to bring some of its ideas in an abstract way into my art work. So I wanted to go from this idea of psychodynamic drama as it was played out in this unconscious to an exploration of what was going on in the brain. In other words I wanted to start to look at the relationship between mind and matter in a different way. I also felt that this investigation would be away for me to bring the two parts of myself together. I was an artist and I had been a Physician and this seemed a way to consolidate the two, while at the same time allowing me as an artist to bring a specialized knowledge to my practice, which in turn might result in encoding that knowledge for others in the art world interested in similar things.

I had up to this time kept my past as a physician somewhat secret because I did not see its relevance to my work and I also thought it just confused people when I told them what I did. Then I decided that the only way to investigate this mind and brain dichotomy in relationship to media and techniques was to embrace my past as a doctor because it was both a specialist knowledge and something to which I was very connected to, and also was something very much about me and very personal and I wanted my work to be about my life and my experiences. I had always thought that one of the important things about being an artist is to bring specialized knowledge from other fields into the artistic domain. I began think of ways that neuroscientific ideas could become a way of understanding the conditions of culture and be an inspiration for art practice.

This is, to say the least, a difficult thing to do, primarily because, although there were antecedents in film theory and some art works of the fifties and sixties like the early work of Richard Hamilton, Bridget Riley and Stan Brakhage, which had generated a large amount of literature, no one had in the contemporary sense had attempted to create a language connecting aesthetics and neuroscience taking into account all the many new ideas and methodologies that had occurred in the past thirty years, and which I thought had real importance for making art, works of art, artists, and audiences.

I created the word Neuroaesthetics around 1995 and gave the first lectures about it at the School of Visual Arts in the program developed by Charles Traub. I actually didn’t start producing Neuroaesthetic work until 1997 it was like a two-year period time between when I was able to think about it philosophically and intellectually and actually was able to start making a few works about it. I realized that where before neuroscience was about matter and brain Neuroaesthetics was a way to understand it in terms of mind and ideas. Ultimately Neuroaesthetics is a means or a process through which the ideas of mind and brain can be connected in a dynamic way. Neuroaesthetics can perhaps be understood in the Duchampian sense. It is the way that Neuroscience is a readymade, which is recontextualized out from its original context as a scientific based paradigm into one that is aesthetically based. Science being rigid, rigourous and crystalike and static while art practice is about becoming and is dynamic, rhizomatic, unformed and multiplicitous. Art is about creative evolution and the development of ideas, beauty and the sublime can also be ideas, and when Neuroscience is placed in the White Cube it becomes part of a very different discourse and genealogy. Just like the winerack removed from its utilitarian domain and placed into the domain of sculpture where its objectness is changed into process you can do the same thing with a field of knowledge. Ideas like objects can be neutral and utilitarian and this is especially true of science in general and are subject to the same contextual dynamics of the aesthetic field. What is especially relevant for neuro science is that in its special case many of the issues explored by artists like color, memory, forms, spatial relationships etc. are explored by them as well. Although they use different techniques to do so when it is now seen in the light of the aesthetic field the match-ups provide bridges for the flows of information between the two. So that is the way it happened.

CG: Besides being a working artist for some fifteen years and are now in fact the visiting artist at Goldsmiths College, London you were also a trained and practiced as a doctor as well as studying neuroscience on the way.

WN: Yes I did. I directly studied neurosciences, or physiological psychology as it was called, for four years as an undergraduate in college and also I did a year of research in neuroscience at California Institute of Technology in the Laboratory of Roger Sperry. Also, in my residency in Ophthalmology I studied Neuro-Ophthalmology as part of my training, a three months in-depth study of all kind of problems that have to do with the eye and the brain.

CG: What is interesting is that you are not an artist who engages science at a superficial level (what I call the magpie level) but at a far deeper level and this I think clearly comes out of your background as a practicing scientist. I think we would be interesting to talk a little about what Neuroaesthetics relates to recent developments in neuroscience.

WN: Well, I always say that there are really two fields simultaneous fields which are emerging and that are going on right now, both of which are called Neuroaesthetics, and which are equally are important. But I think they are coming out from different kinds of approaches and producing different kinds of information.

What I call Neuroaesthetics is where you foreground the cultural, historical, psychological, economical, social relations that actually produce a piece of work. A piece of art is an instantiation of a group of immaterial relations which it concretizes within its own structure within its own objectness, and there is also work that is non-objective as well in art and that is a very special condition, but, whether it is an object a non-object, or its about relational aesthetics, or its about the relationship between objects or its about the history of those objects, or its about the spaces those objects occupy, it is still, whatever it is in its final manifestation, a representation or a concretization of its historical, social, political economical conditions that actually formed it. You cannot strip those things away from the artwork without changing the artwork fundamentally.

The way an artwork is created is through creative evolution, it is about addition; no idea in art is ever destroyed; it always is there waiting to become again, like the work of Robert Smithson for example. He is very fashionable right now, but nobody has really talked about him in 30 years, so there are certain conditions that there are occurring right now that are either similar to the conditions that happened during the late 60’s or early 70’s that are concretizing themselves, so that now people can look anew at Smithson’s work, or there were aspects of implicit relationships in Smithson’s work that never came out before, or were never developed at the moment of the work’s existence, but the conditions that are now happening create a condition that these other aspects of the work are now made explicit. Also there is the condition of the observer who has changed as well to now be able to perceive and comprehend this work differently. So Neuroaesthetics takes these three mutating conditions that inform the work of art into consideration and looks at the way these mutating conditions affect the brain as well.

CG: Do you mean by becoming visible?
WN: Yes, because the observer is changing as well. The same conditions that changed the artwork are also changing the observer through neuro-selective processes and, some people would say, through constructive processes.
Aesthetic Neuro-Biology on the other hand takes the art object from its place within the cultural field, takes it out of that field and puts it into a laboratory, thereby stripping it bare of all of these conditions which produced it, and acts as if it is some kind of static object and then applies a set of conditions that are very different than the conditions that made it. So instead of remaining fluid and dynamic, the artwork becomes caught in a crystallized lattice of scientific fact.

CG: What you suggest in your recent book, Blow-up: Photography, Cinema and the Brain, is that the brain itself is made and makes the world in which it operates, through its actual plasticity. Can you talk a little about that.
WN: When I was writing the book people would constantly ask me Why did you write the book? I tell them that I had to write it I didn’t have a choice.

CG: Why?
WN: I wrote it because it came out of me but also it was a reaction to people constantly commenting on my work, saying things such as ‘your work is strongly influenced by phenomenology and the work of Maurice Merleau Ponty. Which it was, but that for me was a historical note and just the beginning. Or people might say ‘you know your work looks like late 60’s work or early 70’s work’. They would say ‘your work like that of Bridget Riley’. All these artists are great, however I had realized that I was dealing with a paradigm shift and that I was aware of this paradigm shift because of my special training in neuro-ophthalmology and Neuroscience and also because of my close relationship to some of the leading artists of my day, the artists that worked with me as an artist or curator or who I was in contact with like Rirkrit Tiravanija, Moriko Mori and Douglas Gordon.

For instance I ran two artist-run spaces in the nineties. The first was called Virtual Space and the second was called The Spot Art Foundation. Spot Art Foundation was around for two and half years. Its main objective was to investigate how the alternative space operated within the context of the gallery dominant art world market driven system of New York City. Much of the work show was self-reflexive being about the alternative space itself. For instance we built a warped wall along the long dimension of the space to talk about the need to get away from the idea of neutral space. An artist lived underneath the gallery for a month and artists did projects on the voice activated telephone greeting for the gallery. So I was very aware of the dominant and emerging discourses of my time. Also I was very aware of a very cutting edge neuroscience discourse as well because I was constantly reading books and papers about the most recent advances, which most artists were not aware of, because the information was not being made available to them. So I wrote the book because I had to I had realized that it was a paradigm shift and that I was part of that….

CG: So both of things were developing separately, but were operating in a similar way, and you were a point where they converged.
WN: That’s it. I was seeing all of this. I was part of it.

CG: You see a direct co-relation between some contemporary art practice that is happening now, rather than twenty or thirty years ago, and some of the ways neuroscience is theorizing about our relationship with the world.
WN: Right.

CG: And this is an important aspect of your thinking.
WN: Artists were picking up on it.

CG: Artists were picking it up because they always do.
WN: There was nobody there to really put it in to a kind of new context. … To really understand it and to put it into some kind of language that was relevant to today. All the artists, we’ve been talking about and some who we have not been, like Carsten Holler and Olafur Eliasson, have been kind of categorized as coming out of a phenomenological discourse, which in some cases is true and is or course very important. Or perhaps their work is close to an autopoietic discourse, such as that of Francisco Varela, which is also incredibly important, and it was true that these artists during that time were very much affected by such ideas, and there are still artists that are interested, just like artists today who are doing work about modernism. Similarly there are architects today who still interested in modernism and there architects who are doing computer-generated work and dealing with blob architecture, or dealing with intelligent buildings. They coexist simultaneously. Another way to look at this is to say without the Louvre there could not be a Pompidou Center and without the Pompidou Center there could not be a Bilbao.

There are always these kinds of relationships. But I am calling for another interpretation as well, which proposes that these artists like myself are being affected implicitly or explicitly by the same kinds of knowledge as the information that helped Deleuze and Guattari create their theories of Choasophy, Rhizomatic thought and Nomadism. As with philosophy new paradigms are necessary to understand this new kind of artwork. Especially since art creates its own sensations and thoughts which require new material and immaterial representations to understand and appreciate.

CG: It seems to me that the difference between what people like Richard Hamilton and Bridget Riley and Donald Judd were doing and what you are doing, is that their paradigm is phenomologically and psychoanalytically inflected, whereas is yours is where material neurology comes into play, the actual materiality of our evolutionary relationship with the world around us.
WN: Yes and no. I think that it’s definitely an important part of what I am doing but whereas they are dealing with ideas of conceptual art, perception, phenomenology, embodiment, objecthood and issues like that, I am foregrounding ideas like plasticity, sampling, variability, population dynamics, neuroselectionism, and creative evolution and using them to encode a new dimension of aesthetic discourse. I am folding this new energy and contemporaneity, especially in the sense of reformulating the ‘desire machine’ of the new observer, into a context that is evolving in art production today.

CG: All essentially neurological ideas.
WN: Again yes and no. I am talking about the way new kinds of idea are evolving out the relation of between mind and brain through the processes of how each is produced. I am interested in production and apparatus and techne as they commingle and co-evolve in parallel processes through Creative and Darwinian evolutionary paradigms. This is not Conceptual Art or Neo-conceptual Art. It is just art making and using the new means of production to that end. Artist have always done this and there is no need to foreground the technology. In my work you never see the technology it is invisible and sublime but at deeper levels it is always there deforming the work of art. The idea of ‘creative evolution’ comes out of Bergson, but it plays an important role in my aesthetic paradigm and was extremely prescient. What I am trying to do is to find a new language in terms of how the mind and the brain are connected. I am trying to create a new paradigm for mind and brain and using art works to do it. What I am saying is that creative evolution is creating a multiplicity of heterogenous, highly variable objects, that is to say…

CG: In the brain?
WN: Hold on, I am going to get to that. First the mind, using creative evolution, creates a new whole bunch of objects and new combinations of objects as for instance in ‘dj culture’. You have this global sonic archive, to use a term I got from Kudwo Eshun, and then you have these DJs who are sampling, who are scratching, who are creating different kinds of sounds, and VJs, who are creating new kinds of visual-acoustic sounds. The same thing is going on in the visual arts, because a lot of artists today are actually using DJs’ methodologies in their artwork. But instead of directly sampling the sound archive they are going on line and accessing the Internet. Then what happens is that these new kinds of acoustic or visual objects scatter themselves into visual culture and they change visual culture; they change what the visual culture’s objects look like; they change the relationships between objects and they change the architecture in which these new objects and relations live, and, don’t forget, they change the reactions against these relations.

Look at Bilbao, for instance, which is in response to a kind of computer-generated program called CAD. Now what happens is then the brain that you are born with what Gerald Edelman based on the work of Hebb and Changeux calls the ‘primary repertoire, which is made up of a highly variable population of neurons, which is the result of the genetic combination of the DNA of the sperm and egg, and of the events that have taken place during development. Every one of us is born with a unique ‘fingerprint’ of the organization of the brain within certain limitations. After all we are all of the same species. According to the Theory of Neuronal Group Selection this highly variable nervous system is sculpted and pruned like the branches of a tree by the environment with which we interact, and culture is an important component of that environment, as it affects what we pay attention to and what is important for us. Those neurons, which are competing for stimulation, that are stimulated repetitively by stimuli in the real/imaginary/virtual world most often develop faster and with more efficient firing and wiring capacities, which in the end allow them to be selected for above and beyond those other neurons not so stimulated.

In the same way that the different types of relationships that exist between objects and signifiers allow them to form networks of relationships in the world, groups of neurons called nets may be selected together. Just as some objects, words and relations are part of more than one type of meaning relationship and participate, for instance, in multiple narratives, some neurons or groups of neurons participate in a multiplicity of network relations which in the end gives them even more selective advantage as a result of being stimulated in many different conditions and as result of this kind of co-operativity, which Edelman calls degenerative, may have selective value as well. I hope you see where I am going.
Because it is the mutating, dynamic and changing world that sculpts this brain according to these Darwinistic principles and as the world changes so to does the neurobiological architecture. New network relations in the world select for new network relations in the brain. Therefore the mind utilizes creative evolution paradigms, at least according to this model, while the brain and its materiality is shaped by Darwinian principles. That does not mean they are different. They are all part of one system that includes the world. Creative Evolution creates new objects which are sampled by a different population of neurons in the brain which are thereby selected for. This new neurobiologic architecture as it is based on different kinds of neural connectivity between the sensorial primary areas of the brain and the more abstract areas allows for new kinds of thought based on these new forms of connectivity to occur in the imagination. Creative evolution feeding off this imagination creates more new objects and the spiral goes on ad infinitum. For simplicity sake I have explained them separately but they are all one system. In my opinion there is no mind-brain dialectic, or for that matter no mind brain(body) problem.

CG: Are the neurons constantly changing? Physically changing?
WN: Yes I believe so. I believe for instance, the seventeenth century brain is very different from the twentieth century brain.

CG: Different?
WN: It can’t be proved. Unfortunately the technology does not yet exist that has the capability to look at this kind of structure. There is some controversy about this idea. But there is new data emerging, which seems to show such differences. But it is still far from definite. However most neuroscientist I have been speaking with agree with this idea. Also one has the kind of evidence that exists anecdotally. For instance a child of nine who has been seeing TV and working on the computer has no problem reading Wired Magazine with its specifically internet-style graphic design and layout, whereas the child’s grandfather does. This does not mean that a certain percentage of the grandfathers couldn’t learn it but a great proportion of them could not. I believe this discrepancy is due to different configurations, both spatial and temporal, of the two very different kinds of observers. There is something different about the Internet world and the world that preceded it. Sociologically this opens up all kinds of issues as one begins to understand the problems which might occur in communication if in fact the different agents were wired up in different ways.

CG: Is it also a question of speed?
WN: Yes, it is about the relationship between extensive culture and intensive culture that we live in a time of folding and heterogeneity and multiplicity and rhizomatic time and I think things are getting hooked up in very diverse ways. The plasticity of the brain is therefore organized differently because these intensive relationships create other kinds of groupings of sensations and meta-sensations, gestalts and so forth, which are perceived ensemble and all together.

CG: Is the brain changing? Are the changes inheritable? Or does the brain begin as a tabula rasa?
WN: That’s a difficult set of questions. These changes are generally not inherited because these changes occur during the lifetime of that individual and only in extreme situations, where the animal has a natural propensity that results in a selective sexual advantage in which that proclivity has selective value and is passed on. Acquired characteristics are not normally passed on that is, of course, the difference between Lamarckian and Mendelian inheritance. The sculpting I was talking about perishes with the host. What you are born with is a pre-wired architecture which is in some instances already synched up to certain unchanging and stable conditions of the world, plus generalized qualities of the neural tissue itself, like plasticity and mutability, interspecies variability and synchronicity, which are processes which help the brain adapt to varied sets of circumstances as well as being functional characteristics of neuronal systems themselves.

For instance gap junctions, tiny communications that exist between neurons, may be important for synchronicity. You are born with them they are part of the anatomy of the neuron. But other examples like you inherit linkups between your senses and the cortical systems where these sensations are processes, you inherit basic categories of sensory processors based on specific architectural configurations like that which is found in the visual cortex for processing color, shape and movement might be significant.

Recent research in the somatosensory cortex is finding similar parcellization, which may be a condition of all sensory cortices. It may be an a priori condition of the nervous system. You are inheriting specific hierarchial arrangements of processing from the most concrete to the most abstract, such as one finds in the posterior cortex between primary perceptual areas and different layers of association cortex or in the opposite direction in the processing of movement from the most abstract to the most concrete. What I am emphasizing, and I am trying not to be too technical, is that, for the most part, you are inheriting building blocks or fragment detectors, like edge , color, motion and form detectors (maybe what Joaquin Fuster calls cognits) that can be assembled according to the world one finds oneself in. There are exceptions like the fusiform cortex for face recognition where the whole face is represented. There are certain areas that are so important for the young (and now I am anthropomorphizing) that you are born with the ability to recognize faces and probably your mother’s or your parents’ faces.
But beyond these exceptions for the most part there is this condition of fragmentation. What are the implications of this idea of the partial whole or as neurologists call it parcellization. When you look at the outside world you think you are seeing a seamless world but in fact you are seeing fragments and parcels, the color is processed in one area, the form in another and motion in another part of the visual cortex. Certain monkeys have seventeen different areas that process the visual stimulus in different ways in parallel and then these different areas become sutured together by a process called binding, which binds the fragments together. This takes place beyond the primary visual areas in the association cortices. These building blocks may occur at the most basic and the most abstract levels, in other words higher categories of thought may have their own kinds and forms of building blocks but in the latter it may be harder to identify where there are isotropic counterparts in the world.

There is no one to relationship between what is perceived and its representation. The direct coding is elusive. You may inherit all of these potentialities. How they get hooked up is about experience and sculpting. Depending on what world you need to adapt to, you put the building blocks together differently. That is why I am emphasizing the question of time now. Although time itself may in the future found to be parceled it still has the ability to be morphed and new types of temporality are beginning to function because of the artistic experiments occurring in cinema and new media where it has become non-linear or the narrative time becomes cut up and reorganized into some thing non-narrative, and because these have been designed by the human brain then it may be that these new temporalities reconfigure the way the world appears and it may also affect the way the brain codes for it.

CG: This sounds almost Kantian.
WN: Yes it is similar to Kant except, it is the a priori relations are building blocks that create the possibilities for an a posteriori brain. The a priori brain is sculpted by selective processes in my model (and I am indebted to Scott Lash at Goldsmiths College for expanding my understanding of the work of Manuel Delanda) into the a posteriori brain, which is no longer the Cartesian brain of an extensive world but the Riemian/Deleuzian brain of an intensive world.

CG: There has to be something that we inherit.
WN: Yes, basic building blocks and processes, but every world is different and if we knew what we were going to see and our brains were already wired up to see that specific world, then it will be very hard to change the world beyond the senses we are born with to appreciate it. We would be trapped by a kind of stasis instead of being open to the multiplicity of possibility of the dynamic. But of course the extensive is remediated in the intensive and both systems are coextensive with themselves and with the brain creating new possibilities for the mind. That is the point, because in the end I am calling for a new way to look at the mind and its products thoughts, ideas, imaginings, dreams and nightmares.

CG: So you are saying that we inherit enough to cohere the world but in different circumstances different worlds are brought together.
WN: Exactly and our brains are able to make sense of very different worlds within the boundaries of very specific sensorial possibilities, which makes sense. It also will mean you don’t have to have that much genetic code to do it, you don’t have to code for every object that we might see or every situation we might experience. All we need is to code for processes that help us put the building blocks that make world picture together whatever the conditions might be within certain bounds. Obviously if there was no light within the visual spectrum we would be unable to see. That is what I mean about limits. Our senses are tuned to living on the Earth to the extent that human beings have long roamed the surface of this planet. You just have to put things together.

CG: That makes a lot of sense. It allows for the evolutionary traits to perform in very different circumstances. You can live in varied environmental contexts and to be able to respond very quickly in an open way.
WN: Exactly, the person ‘becomes’. We are constantly becoming. But the thing is that when you die your nervous systems dies with you. Everything that you have learned dies with you. What is going on is that you have cultural memory. Cultural memory is really where the genetics of culture takes place. Let’s take architecture as an example, because, as I said before, the Bilbao wouldn’t have happened without the Pompidou Center, and the Pompidou Center would not have happened without the Louvre, because of the technological advances, and because of each one of those represents a different kind of historical, political, social, economic and psychological condition that was preponderant at that particular time; plus the history of technics itself which allow these kinds of different structures to be built. Cultural memory is a history of the genealogy of different conditions of creativity and the history of their creative, visual auditory and technical resolutions.

Artists, Architects, Designers, Writers, Cinematographers and Musicians/Composers all have participated in this genealogy as each has reflected upon their particular discourses and through acting as a kind of membrane between themselves and the changing conventions have added or subtracted to that genealogy. Like the rings of a tree the history of these changes represent a kind of cultural memory that the brain and mind reflect upon and are sculpted by. Notice I put mind in this case first. The brain is different than it was in the seventeenth century because the conditions of cultural memory of are different. But the twenty-first century remediates the seventeenth century brain and one can say this for the mind as well.

CG: So you don’t need a meme.
WN: No I am not into memes.

CG: Nor am I. I think that memes are a very poor conception. Although what I think is interesting is that the idea of the meme can emerge because the brain and mind have been configured in certain ways by cultural history. The meme itself is a kind of cultural object.
WN: Yes it is a cultural object. A meme can be because the brain has been already configured in a certain way. It doesn’t change anything and it doesn’t cause anything.

CG: I want to take the discussion in a different direction. If we bring in technics we imply their use by humans rather than animals, in a sense, because the history of technics implies human phenomena rather than animal phenomena.
WN: We do know certain chimps use sticks for eating termites.

CG: Yes, but that is not inherited. The origin of technics is quite complex. But to express my understanding in a rather simplistic way, when an animal uses tools it still remains largely an instinctual act. What humans do is to enable their tools to be inherited. That is the difference between humans and animals. Humans can inherit what humans before them did and understand it and adopt it. So if the human brain is different in different periods, could the same be said for a horse brain?
WN: That is an interesting question. But the answer is no, Of course not. It is not inherited. It is not connected to the social political and economic and historical relations. The horse and for instance the elephant are born with a predetermined anatomical form which is to be already perfectly suited for a predetermined ecologic system that it is to become coextensive with. It assumes that the environment will be their. The animal is born with the tools it will need to survive in specific contexts.

CG: Much of what you say reminds me of the work of the French philosopher Bernard Stiegler, particularly the way in which he analyses the relation between the brain, the world and technics.
WN: The brain makes the world and it is made by the world of which technics is part. It is a cycle it is a real, cybernetic cycle, and as such is very complicated and full of feedback and feed-forward loops.

CG: So the objects we are surrounded by actually determine the neuronal arrangements in our brain?
WN: Right but they are always changing, the conditions that create them are mutating, they are responding to those mutating conditions and they are mutating themselves.

CG: Physically mutating?
WN: This is what I was trying to say before. There are no technologies right now that can allow us to see these changes explicitly and in fact there are some people who are even questioning the results of brain scans themselves because of the large degree of error caused by the machines themselves. The technologies of neuro-imaging are still comparatively primitive. However these ideas are in agreement with most of what neurobiologists and neuroscientists think is happening and I might add concurs with the discussions happening at the borders of sociology, psychology, and philosophy. Even if those conditions existed they would be difficult to see because, as I said before, they may be dynamic temporal codes or signatures that are linking up spatial static relations. However we are leaning more and more about neural plasticity in the last few years and the brain is much more mutable then we ever imagined.

CG: But in theory what you are saying makes sense. Brains are mutable. So where does all this lead. What are the political or social consequences that arise out of these ideas and discoveries, particularly in relation to globalised, mediated capitalism and, above all, what is the role of the artist?
WN: I think that there are some interesting political consequences of this because I think that basically that this idea of neuro selection can also lead us into an alternative way to view the political sociological consequences of global capitalism and, in particular, you can look at its methodologies. One first needs to look at what is called phaticity, from Paul Virilio, meaning something that is emphatic, so you have to pay attention. This idea of phaticity is the idea of that these are artificial stimulants, stimulations that are constructed to make us pay attention to them. If you look at history of special effects or the history of advertising you’ll see how the images have changed and the use of special effects become more and more complicated more effective and more and more what Jonathan Crary calls obscene.
So that in a sense the brain has to pay attention to them, it captures our attention. Attention is one of the most fundamental ways in which groups of neurons and neuronal networks are configured, and it is a way to stimulate them over and over and over again. These as you remember are the fundamental conditions that allow for neurons to be selected for.

CG: Are you saying therefore that because they are more complex we need greater and greater stimulation for the phatic effect to take place.
WN: If you take for example the special affects used to make movies such as star wars and matrix you can see what I am talking about. The observer or movie viewer has an insatiable hunger for better and better special effects. Your expectations constantly increase. What originally was overwhelming and exciting on the first viewing of Star Wars becomes commonplace on repeated viewing. The next blockbuster must be better, more expensive, have better special effects. To the degree that these effects require more complex machines with greater computing power the answer may be yes. Anyway to continue the argument Hollywood knows this is as well, you need more and more phaticity to capture your attention.

But these images are not just occurring in the movie theaters. There is a confluence between technology and physiological psychology, now that brain imaging and computer graphics create ever more attention grabbing stimuli that are even marketed to different age groups according to not only their commodity needs but to a specialized aesthetics which is incorporated in the branding of the product being sold. Sophisticated computer graphics are tethered to advertisements for video games and blue jeans. These types of images are being made for billboards, computer screens, magazine images and so on. They are occurring over and over again in our visual culture. Global Capitalism allows these images to be distributed worldwide. They’re happening everywhere you look. So we have a perfect set up for a Neural Darwinistic Paradigm. We have artificial stimuli that have been designed to capture our attention which have been disseminated worldwide, appearing over and over again throughout visual culture. One other point is that there is an actual competition going on between the phatic stimuli themselves to capture our attention. They also compete with other such phatic stimuli to become ever more cognitively ergonomic. This is a term I began using in 1996 to describe stimuli that were no longer adjusted to the sensorium but were directly designed for how the brain itself processed information.

As such over time they become incredibly sophisticated. This has another strange component as it relates to the body and the notion of embodiment. This has implications for neural selectionism and especially for ideas of memory and the body. In the end these phatic stimuli compete for the minds attention more effectively then naturally occurring stimuli because they have been designed so well. Soon they overtake the neural space of the brain because they outcompete the naturally occurring stimuli for the brain attention.

CG: What happens in the end?
WN: In the end what happens is that these phatic stimuli competes more effectively than naturally occurring stimuli so in the end in our brain and all its memory will be somewhat artificial. These phatic stimuli have one other advantage. They are all connected to each other. The icons or brands they represent are no longer about an object or product but instead about relations. It is their relationships that now become engineered and the effect is on the network relations in the brain which link up lower brainstem areas of desire to those of the higher cortical areas concerned with perception and action. These are all organized in a certain way together. They develop linkages to each other in the world and when they are processed they become parts of many memory networks any one of which can cause the stimulation of the others. This is what Gerald Edelman calls ‘degeneracy’, which is an unfortunate terminology for obvious reasons.

Thus phatic memories and their relational components set up a system of artificial and highly phatic memory networks which can compete effectively for neural space. They are a ‘super-memory-system’ which can out compete through their neural efficiency quality all other competing systems of stimuli, including those of the natural world which we were once so much a part of. So in a way you are creating what I am now calling Cyborg Mnemotechny, through a process of ‘cerebral mnemonic cyborization’ , based on networks of artificial stimuli that have outcompeted naturally-occurring counterparts for the limited neural space. This was the theme of the essay “Blow-up: Photography, Cinema and the Brain in the book by the same title. If you multiply this over and over again you understand why you need more and more of this kind of stimulation, it is linked up to desire remember, and now it is no longer about the icon/brand but now it is about the branding relationship, and about the network of relationships not the brands how they are acting together to coopt networks in the brain.

CG: They are also communities in themselves.
WN: They are communities themselves and they stimulate neural networks. These very same network relations in the real/world/imaginary/ virtual interface as I refer to it now (and these can be natural or culturally determined) create or construct or select for networks relations in the brain.

CG: What is the role of the artist in all of this?
WN: It is always about variability and deformation. Today people believe the avant-garde is dead, and there is a partial truth to this because we are, because of this artificial network of relations right now that we are all responding to, we are no longer sampling individually anymore. This is the problem. These neurosystems are no longer sampling individualistically anymore. We are all sampling similar phatic networks that are now becoming hard-wired into the brain, so we are becoming more and more similar.

The artist, because of his or her unique role in this system as arbiter of difference or because of ‘unique’ circumstances of their lives and perhaps because of a unique education with another or alternative systems of signs and meaning, for example the world of painting, sculpture, film, video , performance and installation just to name a few, views the world from along side it and produces work according to principles of creative evolution. However even artists are affected by the homogeneity and the mass of clichés that are now present. However there is another side to these new technologies, as I was thinking the other day. I was clicking the television remote control, and I thought that, even though the sponsors of these shows want us to see their commercials and the directors who are imbedded within the studio system want us to view a specific narrative, I can resist it all.

I can click on thirteen different channels to create my own individual non-narrative film. Or one can now use DVD machines to view films in a multiplicity of ways. What people are doing in effect is to create their own movies according to their own individual needs. Through the deformation of the hegemonic practice they can break down and disrupt these public sanctioned relations to create their own freedom. Difference, variability and heterogeneity can then emerge. Another example is the use of mobile phones to expose the horrors and autrocities occurring in the Abu Ghraib prison. There are tons of examples like this.

CG: Which links up to your notion of DJ culture. In a sense what this is going towards is that the role of the artist becomes not so much creating but more about finding ways of combining, extending global signs we now have. What the artist is does is finding ways of reconfiguring those in such a way that will go against the grain against the global capitalisms world of consumers.
WN: I think that is very true. Artists such as Richard Prince in the 80’s were dealing with this idea of you no longer have to look to nature for stimulation and images for your artworks and instead simply look to the history of cinema itself. The whole idea of the relation of cinema and art if you look at this incredible new field and new ontology of art which is coming out of cinema whether you look at Cindy Sherman or Douglas Gordon or Fiona Banner or Stan Douglas, there are thousands of-shows about film in art. Peter Lewis just told me recently about a show he was in about B movies.

CG: There have been a lot of such shows in the last 10 or so years.
WN: In the last 10 or 15 years, because people realized that the cinematic and now the new-media environment is as important as the natural world for finding things and images to work with to find ideas to work with. Nicholas Bourriaud has branded a new genre of art as ‘post-production’ and even includes remaking art works or reinstalling art works of the past as new works of art. Like, for instance, ‘In The Belly of Anarchitect’ by Pierre Huyghe, Rirkrit Tiravanija, and Pamela M Lee, which was a remade Gordon Matta-Clarke piece recently shown in Frankfurt. Artists are like DJs remixing their own history.

CG: You might go so far as to say that our media world has become our natural world.
WN: I would say that the mediated world is our world.

CG: There is no nature?
WN: In my latest essay called ‘Controlling Consciousness: Methodologies of –Resistance’, which is being printed as part of the First Visual Culture Symposium in Spain, I analysed the film The Matrix. I love science fiction and science fiction films. The Matrix is a computerized consciousness, a kind of machine consciousness, but one that is completely designed for connecting to the specific neurobiological and neuropharmacological architecture of the brain. It is like the co-evolving relation between an orchid and a wasp, a kind of chiastic evolution. When Neo takes that pill that Morpheus offers him (I always forget if it’s the blue or the red pill) it alters his neurochemistry and disrupts the link between the machinic consciousness and his own. The pill alters the relationship between the cooperative neural chemical systems of his brain, altering the cognitive ergonomic relations between man and machine and therefore allowing him to see the real. Now there is a slippage and he can see the world as it is; a post apocalyptic dystopia. ‘Welcome to the Desert of the Real’ as Slavoj Szizek would put it (though for different reasons).

CG: Neo is a kind of artist.
WN: ‘He’ is the artist.

CG: Because the world that the matrix produces is really that of globalised capital. This is a world that is based on an acceptance of what reality presents and a concomitant reluctance to transgress or critique its illusion. Which is what Neo does and his cohorts do is to refuse it. And this is what artists supposedly do. Refuse that kind of world but now maybe artists are no longer working on the side of capital they are working inside of capital?

WN: Maybe we do. Artists have been co-opted as well. Perhaps it is because the new tools they are using like Photoshop, computers, printers require an acceptance of capitalism as the only way they can now make their work. Although there are artists like the Critical Art Ensemble and Nathalie Bookchin who are utilizing these types of media to create acts of transgression. Again there is a whole lot of artists doing this so it is not so simple.
CG: But look at artists like Cindy Sherman or Douglas Gordon. They work within the sign system but they in the end transgress it.
WN: Douglas Gordon definitely does. But then there are artists who have gone back to the handmade like Thomas Hirschhorn, who is making truly transgressive work that does in fact engage in resistance. Painting in a weird way can be seen this way as well.

CG: Getting back to the artist, they are playing a role in the options the brains are offered.
WN: The genes, no matter what is out there, are always going to produce incredible variation at this point, and who knows what the future will be. However at this point we have the full potentiality of what the neurons can become, what the neuro-networks can become. They have ingrained in them this ability of heterogeneity and the ability respond to heterogeneity so there is always that possibility and that is the real resistance, the real resistance is to allow that to become, that variability and those differences to become. That is really creative evolution.
CG: That is what Bergson is talking about and what you want to bring into your theoretical framework.

WN: I am trying to develop an idea about mind and brain in which the processes are linked into an open autopoetic system of relations. I am trying to solve the mind brain problem posed by Bergson and Darwin, in terms of creative evolution and to Darwinian evolution respectively.

CG: With the artist as the kind of embodied membrane, through which these processes are mediated, assembled, reconfigured and ultimately find expression in a new variability of production. They change the world and in change our brains. This is opposite to a Neo-Darwinian approach promulgated by Dawkins among others, which is predicated on a limited space of possibility. That is not what Bergson was talking about. He was saying there is always the radically new.

WN: I think the idea of Neo-Darwinism works really well when you talk about matter or brain, but when you talk about mind, what is interesting about creative evolution is that it is an additive process, not a Darwinian substractive process, which is and can be instrumental in the creation of new species but it is a kind of negative process, sculpting; it removes and it selects. Creative evolution is about addition and what Bergson is really saying is that nothing is ever lost, everything that has ever been thought still exists, and it can reappear any other time depending on the conditions existing at a particular time. No idea is ever lost. Let’s take the example of Smithson I mentioned before. It is not that Smithson went away. He is forgotten temporarily, but he hasn’t been destroyed, or pruned or negated, as Darwinian Evolution would have us believe. He is there he is just pulsing at a lower frequency in the world as an implicit relation, and what happens is there are other kinds of connections or networks which appear that connect back to him in the past and allow him to pulsate at higher and stronger frequency again, because these other networks, which his work informs or is informed by share similar networks and thus reinvigorate his cultural memory. Thus Smithson’s condition of implicitness is turned into explicitness. He erupts out of an implicit art historicity into one that is now explicit and which operates with different rules then those which created the original context of his work when it first appeared and but which is now invigorates it in the context of the conscious language of artists working today.

CG: There is a kind of temporal thrust in Darwinian Evolution which suggests an ongoing process. But this in some ways seems to go against this notion. Time is directionless and always omnipresent.
WN: There is no time. In Darwinian evolution there is this idea of progress or non-progress. A direction of evolution. However time is also not linear, the past and present are always happening simultaneously. As Bergson says the past is eating away at the present, through durée or duration. So there is another conception of time in creative evolution. Creative evolution needs mind and Darwinian evolution needs matter, brain.

CG: So they don’t contradict each other but rather present two types…
WN: Yes, they work together and form an autopoietic system of relations. The other thing that is interesting is Noology. This is an idea I first heard from reading John Rajchman on Deleuze. I want to talk about noology as the history of thought images, because one of the things that creative evolution does is produce a new culture of images. This process allows for the invention of new images, these images become selected for and become accounted for in biological neuro-physiological ways. For instance if you close your eyes you can bring them up in the minds eye. These new thought images, these new images of our imagination, and there is a history f these images, so if you are in the seventeenth century and you were thinking in the images of your day they will be very different than the kind of images, which you can see if you close your eyes, from those of a twenty first century observer. I would argue that these thought images go beyond the simple objects and images in memory but are also related to the way they are arranged and connected. I am not saying for everybody but generally speaking. And this new kind of history of thought images allow a new kinds of combinations of complex conglomerate images for which complex narrative stories and non-narrative conjunctions can be formulated. In the end these lead to in the artists hands new kinds of films and new kinds of paintings and sculptures and buildings.

CG: The interesting thing is that the images don’t go away. They are still there.
WN: Yes they are still there.

CG: They have been interiorized.
WN: That is why I talk about creative evolution. You don’t nee the meme you have cultural evolution. It is embedded. It is in the object.

CG: this sounds remarkably like Bernard Steiglers concept of Epiphylogenetic memory in Technics and Time, which is materialized, extruded, and exteriorized memory, which is a far better model than Dawkin’s mystical notion of the ‘meme’.
WN: However the meme only exists because of cultural evolution and the way it inscribes itself into the brain creating a brain environment a neurobiological architectonic environment that the meme can insinuate itself in as a kind of messenger with imitative and cyclic qualities.

CG: if it is possible is go back to this idea that we talked about before that you call plasticity, especially in relation to your ideas expounded in your text in Blow Up about the French artist and fetishist Pierre Molinier. It seems to quite controversial since what it seems to be engaging in a friendly critical way with psychoanalysis. You take an idea of the fetish and remake it and rethink it in neurobiological terms.
WN: Sure. First of all that was not my idea, that was the idea of V.J. Ramachandran, the Neuroscientist working in San Diego. For those who may read this and do not know about his argument maybe I should explain it simply. Basically what he and others found was that when you lose a limb the area of the brain that would normally sense the now missing arm or leg is no longer. The entire body is represented in the brain as a map. That map is called a homunculus. The picture of the homunculus is very odd in that the body is represented by its degree of sensitivity. That is to say that the tongue is very large and the back is hardly represented at all. The other characteristic of the homunculus is the arrangement of the body representation. So it turns out that the face is next to the hand and arm and the genitalia is close to the leg and heal. When you lose a limb in about thirty percent of people the limb lingers as a phantom. The individual feels the non-existent limb.
What can also happen is a phenomenon called remapping. The area of the arm and hand is remapped on the adjacent area of the face. In fact you can stimulate the face and feel tingling in the non-existent arm The same can happen on the heal and leg which is remapped onto the area of the genitalia. People who manifest this phenomenon can feel the limb when they are micturating and fornicating. Ramachandran expressed the possibility that this could be related to common connection between the heal and the foot fetish and that a psychological remapping could be taking place. There has been a lot of substantiation of this work.

However I believe I utilize it in a way that he would never consider. I wrote this text with the notion of taking the idea of the fetish from its normal habitat of psychoanalytic discourse and seeing if I could apply a neuro-aesthetic paradigm to it. In a way it looks at the way of embodiment can be re-realized. By looking at the kinds of immateriality the fetish and the phantom leg engender I think you see two sides. The fetish is after all a substitute for the phallus. The fetish is a kind of immaterial ideation of the materiality, perhaps a symbolic reconfiguration of the fear of castration. Then taking the idea of the phantom leg, the missing leg as a kind of physicality of the immaterial then you have the immateriality of the physical and the physicality of the immaterial. But rather then dwelling on this which anyone who wants to read an in depth can read it in the chapter called ‘Pierre Molinier and the Phantom Limb’.

Recently I have been thinking about the way artists use psychoanalytic paradigms. For instance Surrealists such as André Breton or Man Ray as well as the recent interest in Post-Lacanian psychoanalytical feminist work in the 1970’s such as that of Mary Kelly and how these works then populate the visual and auditory cultural landscape. These works of art allow psychoanalysis to populate the visual auditory culture and they become the variable objects and relations that are important for the reconfiguration and sculpting of the selective brain. So it is interesting that in Freud’s time he makes explicit or conscious certain historical, social, psychological, economic and spiritual relations that were affecting the body, for instance in hysteria and dreaming, and culture, and ideas concerning eros and thanatos, which were floating around at the time and he gives them a conscious expression so that we have been able to talk and discuss them in the open. Then the artist affected in some way by these ideas code them into aesthetic paradigms and reconfigure the symbolic relations of the words into more abstracted and physical instantiations in the form of fashion, design, painting, sculpture which then populates the visual culture in the form, because mass media was just merging in a big way in the 30’s and 40’s, as was advertising as it was found on the kiosk and in newspapers and newsreels. Later it becomes billboards and TV advertisements. So that now they are being taken and transformed into phatic stimuli which are sculpting the brain.

CG: Thus psychoanalysis finds its way via the objects, The object becomes the means by which psychoanalysis affects our brain.
WN: What is interesting is that what I think is interesting is that the psychoanalytically-derived objects, psychoanalytically-derived fashion, the psychoanalytically-derived architecture, the psychoanalytically-derived visual culture is sculpting primitive areas of the brain that are associated with affect, such as the hippocampus, the enterorhinal cortex and the hypothalamus. These areas of the brain that are associated with emotion, feelings thirst, hunger, desire and at the same time make network relations with higher cortical areas like the frontal cortex where planning and abstract types of thinking is taking place. What is interesting for me now it is the role in creating fast global networks between the areas of emotion in the brain and the areas of more abstract thinking in the brain and actually sculpting these areas simultaneously, because I believe that the paleaocortex, which is the old cortex where these emotions are being processed uses a different kind of system of coding and therefore is sculpted by phaticity differently than the neo-cortex is. Even if psychoanalysis is not as important to artists today as it has been, it is still embedded in cultural memory. It is remediated by those forms of cultural expression that follow it and is remediated in the brain as well.

CG: Before we finish I want to ask one more question.What is the ethical dimension in your work? What would be the ethical possibilities of, in the sense of global capitalism?
WN: It makes us aware for instance of what is going on in the world today For instance, there are two things, two things I would say, First of all I hope it makes us aware of what people in third world countries are so freaked out about. Because they realized the power of these phatic images they realized that their culture is under attack. They also realize that they must be more vigilant about their own symbols.

CG: So they realize their cultures are under attack at this level.
WN: at this level whether they understand it explicitly or implicitly it is there, they feel it they feel the power of these images They feel the power of these images they feel it and they feel the way they can disrupt consciousness. This is remember layered upon a history and memory of colonialism which subjected them to subjugation of another type but which is still fresh in their minds. Has imperialism, in which foreign interests lay hold of lands and raw materials been substituted for by Global Capitalism using the technologies of mass media to engage and control the varied topology of the gyri and sulci that make up the brain. I don’t know the answer but maybe we should at least consider the possibility.

CG: …and they are aware of this.
WN: Yes in some way. Ideas now have strange and unforeseen powers.

The Neural Interface

It does not often happen that one encounters a set of texts and artworks that propose a different and wholly original paradigm for thinking through cultural history and the philosophy of the human subject. But that is exactly the challenge and the pleasure offered by the essays and images by Warren Neidich that are collected here: a sui generis landscape in which even familiar monuments from the history of art, architecture, philosophy, and aesthetics appear strange and disorienting, because the angle of approach that is taken toward them is so unexpected. This is still a work in progress, with many questions yet to be answered and areas calling for further investigation—but the overall conceptual architecture here is already complete in its general outline; and it taps into speeds of connection and association vivid and compelling enough to push thinking in quite new directions.

The appearance of familiarity can turn out to be deceptive. In certain respects, Neidich revisits territory familiar from phenomenology, with its opening move of suspicion concerning the givenness and independence of the reality that appears outside the self. As in the phenomenological reduction, there is an inaugurating suspension of certainty—we cannot begin thinking we know the nature and limits of “self” and “world,” since the meaning of these terms is precisely the matter that is to be investigated. And as in phenomenology, the emergence of the world within human consciousness is the result of a cooperation between self and world in which both self and world co-inhabit and mutually constitute each other, through a perpetual crossingover or chiasmus where the world “out there” is in fact built by consciousness “in here,” but by an embodied consciousness, a mind that is also a part of material reality, part of the world itself.

Yet in its classic forms, phenomenology always had recourse to a level of primary security in the way it conceived of the body that experientially inhabits the world. The basic, common sense orientations of the object world remain intact—the centralized subject of experience inhabiting its own lived horizon, equipped with sensations that build up a habitat of recognizable objects and circumstances, whose solidity and substantiality are real and dependable. Neidich’s allegiance to cognitive neuroscience undoes this elemental security of the body and of things, since the picture of being that it ¹ begins with is so radically fragmented and de-realized. What appear to the senses as “apple,” “table,” or “hand” are, in this perspective, so mirage-like and apparitional that even the most primitive ontological securities are undermined.

Central to what Neidich takes from neuroscience is the distinction between the primary repertoire—the enormous and variable nervous system with which human beings are endowed at birth—and the secondary repertoire, the pathways of connection that are built up through interaction between the brain and the outside world. Certain complexes of neurons are coded to respond to stimuli for color, others for shape, for weight, for texture, for movement, with each complex occupying its own region of the brain. When neurons are stimulated at the same time by converging inputs, a configuration is formed that, if repeated often enough, will stabilize as “apple,” “table,” or “hand.” The effect of there being an entity or object is not, then, the result of a real thing imprinting itself on the senses, like a seal imprinting itself on wax. Rather, the thingness of the thing is a matter of timing, of networks that are “tethered (or synchronized) through temporal “signatures” that bind all these disparate inputs (such as color, shape, weight, texture, movement, and so forth) “in an experienced seamless whole.” Perhaps the key word here is “seamless”: the apple appears seamless, yet the reduction carried out by neuroscience—which in this respect seems far more radical, counterintuitive, and disquieting than the classic phenomenological reduction—unravels that seamlessness, unbinding the security of a prior object world into the groundlessness of neurons firing in sequence. The solidity of things vaporizes into flashes of synaptic energy leaping from axon to neuron. The level at which the real is understood to operate is no longer that of the object but the neuron, and at this molecular, morcelized level no things as such appear, only fragmentary attributes, surges of brain activity within which no things as yet exist, merely quanta of electrochemical energy discharging along columns and limbs of cortical tissue.

Cognitive neuroscience is hardly the first discipline to have questioned the security of ontological categories. Indeed, the demonstration of a fundamental groundlessness of being has been a hallmark of modern Western philosophy, a permeating vertigo that runs though the writings of Heidegger, Sartre, Wittgenstein, Derrida, and Lacan. To that extent, Neidich’s anti-realism does not in itself constitute an unfamiliar position. What is striking, however, is that the appeal to neuroscience closes off access to the key term by means of which these different visions of groundlessness have tended, historically, to restabilize themselves: namely, the signifier. The effort of the “linguistic turn” in philosophy lies in transforming questions asked of Being into questions asked of language. In the later philosophy of Wittgenstein, for example, “the limits of my ³ language are the limits of my world.” Which is to say that the language with which consciousness thinks does not picture or represent the world directly; rather, language itself is the primary reality, and attempts to establish the existence of a world outside the linguistic are invalid or meaningless. What holds the world together, then, is the coherence of the rules by which language operates, the “language games” that particular communities bring into being in their construction of a shared, coherent reality. Similarly in Derrida, nothing stands outside the signifier in the position of signified: a word does not derive its meaning from outside the system of language, for instance from an intention or thought that language reflects or reiterates, or from a referent—a thing in the world—that language names. Rather, meaning is the effect of movement from one signifier to the next, in a circulation that is “groundless” in that it rests (as in Wittgenstein) on nothing outside the circuit of language itself. And again in Lacan, the Symbolic order is a system that does not rest on a prior reality but rather marks a fundamental break from reality, in which the signifier is hollowed out by the absence of the thing it names: the Symbolic order exists in opposition to the Real, and can never adequately represent or embody a Real that is understood to lie outside all symbolic conventions.

Each of these accounts of being and representation is in its own way as anti-realist as the account that Neidich takes from neuroscience: that is, all are committed to a radical, counter-intuitive and disquieting understanding of consciousness as being never in direct communication, in terms of mental contents, with the reality that surrounds it. Yet, as our new century advances, it becomes increasingly evident that despite this shared thematic of groundlessness that runs throughout linguistic philosophy—the insistence that what we take to be reality is only a construction, without foundation in an absolute—what resecures the subject’s place in the world is the primacy of the signifier, and the shared semiotic conventions that anchor the subject in the world, giving the world its solidity, coherence, and substantiality. The radicalism of neuroscience consists in its bracketing out the signifier as the force that binds the world together: what makes the apple is not the signifier “apple” (though this, too, may play an important role in the process of reality-building), but rather the simultaneous firing of axons and neurons within cellular and organic life. The level of the ground of being, or of the real, shifts from the signifier to the neural configuration, the orchestration of myriad plays of lightning across the ramifying branches of the brain.

From this shift to a cortical or neural model of subjectivity follow a number of consequences that can be taken as distinct advantages which the “neural turn” possesses over the broad family of accounts of the real that are based on the primacy of the signifier. The first is the resolution of a classic difficulty faced by poststructuralist 4 thought in relation to the breadth of experience that it is able to describe; for by concentrating on the signifier as the basic unit of description, the analysis commits itself to an intensely cognitive point of view. Feeling, emotion, intuition, sensation—the creatural life of the body and of embodied experience—tend to fall away, their place taken by an essentially clerical outlook that centers on the written text. The signifier rules over a set of terms whose functions are primarily textual in scope: the analysis of ordinary language (Wittgenstein); of the circulation of meaning within the literary text (deconstructive criticism); of the disruptions of the symbolic order that indicate the advent of unconscious fear and desire in the analysand’s speech or in the discourse of the work of art (psychoanalysis). While the family of terms that owe their allegiance to the signifier—text, discourse, code, meaning—is brilliantly adept at dealing with questions of signification, it encounters a notable limit when the area that it seeks to understand exceeds the sphere of textual meaning. Though semiotics is often at pains to point out that the signifier belongs to the sensory order, it is difficult to modulate the term so as to include the full range of sensuous and emotional experience, the affective, the physical, and the kinesthetic. Yet, as Neidich’s essays indicate, the pathways of association and combination that constitute the “secondary repertoire” are immensely variable in their range of operation: their configurations pass not only through the discursive arena in which semiotics specializes, but sensory memory, affective resonance, and habits of touch and movement that belong to the motor and kinesthetic regions of the body’s experience of the world.

Consider, for example, the kind of analysis of material culture that George Kubler postulated in his classic work, The Shape of Time (Yale University Press, 1962). The ways in which an artifact evolves within material culture certainly concern the world of symbolic meaning, and yet the form that is assumed by cultural artifacts is arrived at through a host of other factors. Such typical objects as tools and vessels are shaped by the availability of particular materials within a region, by cost, by ease of manufacture, by the practical function they are to perform, by the artisanal traditions that are passed on from generation to generation, by the habits of the hand and eye—the whole nexus of bodily predispositions—that are called upon when the maker sets out to fashion the object, and by the user to use it. The shape of such familiar and unassuming objects as tables, chairs, plates, bowls, jugs, and knives evolves slowly: within each culture, one form gradually assumes priority because it balances the multitude of factors that shape it over centuries—it performs the task well, it feels “right” for the job. While each artifact may carry a meaning or meanings that belong to the order of cultural symbols, the artifact cannot be derived from these alone. It comes into being through the interaction of a welter of factors that lie beyond the symbolic register. The familiar objects that 5 surround us in daily life are known to us not only as meanings but through sensuous and kinesthetic handling, the suite of bodily actions that is brought into play whenever we make use of them. Their constellation maps together a vast array of neural “signatures” from the myriad registers of experience within which the object appears, only some of which concern the cognitive work of the signifier.

The cultural space that Neidich’s writings portray is much more rooted in the subject’s sensory, kinesthetic, emotional, and gestural experience than in the essentially textual space described in poststructuralist thought, where the key issues are representation, code, and meaning. The brain’s cortical operations involve constant revision and remapping, the “pruning” and elimination of pathways that fall out of use, and the strengthening of those pathways which by a process of natural selection come to dominate and grow in speed and efficiency. The subject here is essentially a creature of habit and habitat, of sensory-motor repetitions. The time of cultural production is accordingly defined not as the instant when the signifier releases its singular meaning, but rather the long, longitudinal history of practical and habitual activity that lies behind and within it.

Crucial to Neidich’s narrative is that, in modernity, the technologies that have evolved in the sphere of visual communication have come to operate on the subject with particular vehemence, not only in the realm of meaning but in their determining influence on the primary habits and dispositions of experience. Since the nineteenth century, Western visual technology has developed by modeling itself with closer and closer accuracy, Neidich argues, on the patterns of association and combination with which the subject constructs its surrounding world: photography, cinema, television, the internet—each of these technologies is driven by an ergonomic agenda that aims to maximize efficiency and eliminate waste (the same ergonomic drive that is present, according to neuroscience, in the development of the brain itself). Technology intervenes within the primary reality of experience—which is no longer, of course, the reality of the signifier but the configurations of the neural body. As the forces of spectacle gain ever wider currency in a rapidly globalizing world, those cultural forms that emerge as dominant, in the competition for structuring the pathways of consciousness, will annex and colonize more and more of the subject’s interior life, worldwide. As Neidich puts it, “the culturally diversified message is now democratized to incorporate strategies that can hail the multiplicity of global subjectivities….[in] a kind of neo-colonialism in which territories and natural resources are now substituted by the regions of the brain and brainpower.” 6

In some ways this is a familiar narrative—the warp drive into hyper-reality, into a cyborg space of accelerating and predatory mega-icons or “phatic signifiers” whose ability to capture and mesmerize the cultural subject seems to be pruning away the vestiges of an earlier, less heated era before virtuality supplanted the real. To readers of Paul Virilio, Fredric Jameson, Guy Debord or William Gibson’s Neuromancer, this is meat and drink—yet it is important to notice the distinctive cast of Neidich’s thought when his writings deal with visual technology and cyberspace. His is certainly a story of a fall from grace. The idea that the order of simulation is beginning to usurp the place of the real and “to walk all by itself” is signaled several times over in the essays gathered here. In the first era of cinema, when the image was still tethered to the sensory-motor habits of the pre-modern, film followed the same logic of linear and causal sequencing that prevailed in the world of habitual practicality. But at a certain point (Neidich, like Deleuze, dates it to the emergence of the post-1945 European avant-garde) the cinematic image breaks free of the body, launching into new constellations of image-space and image-time that are no longer constructed around—or held back by—the traditional rhythms of bodily experience. Similarly in architecture, in the course of the twentieth century the new image technologies of cinema and television gradually invade the stable order of the built environment, absorbing buildings into the generalized image-stream and image-flow and turning the architectural surface into a skin or screen subject to the montage of the virtual image. Or, in a different register of Neidich’s writing, consider the case of the phantom limb, in which the classical, sculptural image of the body (Leonardo, Michelangelo) gives way to the image of the “homunculus,” a labile, mutable body whose organs and limbs drastically differ from the image received from the past, a body where the currents of desire—especially in the case of Pierre Molinier—rewire and reorder the body’s surfaces into new combinations and bizarre juxtapositions (the hand as a subset of the face, a foot whose sensations are adjacent to the anus, and so forth).

All of these narrative moments turn on a loss of the natural body, a body harmonious within the integrity of its classical outline, and its mutation into a cyborg state, part flesh and part machine. As in the movie The Matrix (Warner Brothers, 1999), the subject is bound to a manipulated cyber-spectacle whose powers of persuasion no longer operate (as in modernity) at the level of ideology or belief, but at the far more primal and insidious level of neural and cortical life, as communal hallucination. It might even seem that The Matrix portrays, in the idiom of cinema, the same essential world-picture as Neidich’s writings and artwork, where the terrain on which culture now operates is the landscape of the brain itself, at the level of its synaptic firing. 7 And yet the comparison with The Matrix would, I think, be misleading. The Matrix centers on the power of the virtual to transfix and immobilize the subject of culture—and the capacity of truth (Keanu Reeves) to break the hallucinatory spell. It is a Sleeping Beauty story, of waking out of narcotic slumber into the “true” picture of things, the horrific hive of incubation and delusion within which post-humanity slumbers. But Neidich’s narrative is structured around the exactly opposite hypothesis, the nonavailability of this consoling moment of disillusion in which the real finally conquers the virtual. For in the fundamental description of the brain’s activity that Neidich draws from neuroscience, the distinction between the real and the virtual cannot be drawn at the level of ontology. The apple, the table, and the hand are at the same time real (we see and feel them) and virtual (assembled from synchronized signatures or fragments). The Matrix maintains a much less sophisticated, almost fundamentalist distinction between the real (good) and the virtual (bad): fans of the movie will know that scenes set in the Matrix are tinged slightly green, while scenes in the real world are tinged blue. The entire effort of The Matrix lies in sustaining a real/virtual dichotomy that neuroscience brackets out. Despite superficial similarities, The Matrix—like the apocalyptic visions of takeover by simulation in writers like Virilio and Baudrillard—depends on a Manichean separation between the natural and the simulated that Neidich, and neuroscience, render archaic in their opening moves.

If in Neidich the subject of postmodern culture is conflicted, this is not because of estrangement from nature but rather is the result of existing between technological regimes. In Antonioni’s Blow Up, the protagonist is torn between the picture of reality that comes from ordinary sensory-motor experience and the competing version of reality that is established by photography. What is emphasized in Neidich’s commentary on the film is the unevenness of cultural development, the clash between residual and emergent, rather than the triumph of one consistent visual-technological regime (such as the Matrix). Neidich’s portrayal of history is non-teleological, in the same way that Darwin is non-teleological: what drives the evolution of subjectivity is conflict between competing systems, in a field of force that is full of reversals, switchbacks, unexpected mutations, and strange singularities. Though the coercive forces in culture may possess extraordinary means to colonize and manipulate the neural interior of the subject, they also face the extraordinary resistance that comes from the subject’s sheer variability, its rapid adaptation and ability to mobilize alternative and resistant patterns of realitybuilding. 8

This is where the arts, in Neidich’s view, are able to perform essential cultural work. Neidich’s understanding of cinema, for example, attributes to the avant-garde powers of resistance, reinvention, and cultural mobilization that are rarely found in discussions of visual aesthetics. In the traditional accounts of the avant-garde that were forged during the era of modernism, avant-garde art tends to be portrayed as significant yet marginal, operating in a separate aesthetic domain away from the central motivating forces of society located in the spheres of economics, politics, and technology. But if the central arena of cultural development is the “neural interface,” those art forms that are able to directly access the inner activity of the brain have the potential to create new configurations of image, space, and time, to forge new pathways within the mind/world nexus, that can challenge dominant forms of cultural expression on their own ground. Avant-garde cinema is no longer at the periphery of culture, offering a merely different set of visual conventions or styles: it is able to rewire perception itself, and to offer cultural subjects patterns of experience that block and oppose the standardized repetitions of the “phatic signifiers” that seek to impose their regime on consciousness. There emerges a new and powerful conception of art as a force for radical social and cultural change, since the territory on which it operates is no longer at the edge of the social field but at the very center of cultural activity, within the “sculpted brain” itself. For the brain with which humanity is endowed is so superabundant in its primary repertoire, so amorphous and changeable, that no single regime can be adequate to govern or standardize such complexity. In the older, archaic picture of the coercion of the cultural subject (Marx, Freud, technological determinism) it was assumed that the subject could be mapped, interpellated, and manipulated—that the subject of ideology could be made uniform and acquiescent. Neidich presents a different conception of freedom, in which the subject of culture has the ability to remap itself, rewire itself, and assume forms so creative and protean that it will always outrun the forces that seek to limit its plasticity. In a sense, the image of the body that is sketched here is invulnerable and indestructible—even trauma and amputation cannot irreversibly damage the neural body, since its basic plasticity allows it to regroup and reorganize its pathways of association and combination into new, unforeseen morphologies. Though the “homunculus” may lack the harmony and grace of the classical image of man, its capacities for shape-shifting and self-transformation give it a new range of powers.

1. This essay was published in Blow-up: Photography, Cinema and the Brain, Essays by Warren Neidich, with an introduction by Norman Bryson, D.A.P. and the University of California, Riverside, USA, 2003.

Hello world!

Welcome to WordPress. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start blogging!

F-stop Birdsong (1999)

Click Image for Video

Phantom Limb (1997)


Click Image for Video