Duchamp Meets Turing: Art, Modernism, Posthuman
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In her book How We Became Posthuman (1999), Katherine Hayles analysed the process through which the conception of the liberal humanist subject led the way to the posthuman subject, a subject who lives in complete entwinement with the digital. This process, however, was not innocuous: it made the (fallacious) perception that information could do without material instantiation pervasive within many fields of knowledge, a process that Hayles contends originates in the Macy Conferences and the evolution of cybernetic theory. This research identifies an analogous process within the artistic realm: when Clement Greenberg delineated the concepts of opticality and colour field as the main characteristics that “defined” Modernist painting, he conceived of these in a purely disembodied subject (Krauss 1993). In this context, this work proposes to consider that the actual overcoming of modernism comes along with the advent of the posthuman, tracing its origin to Marcel Duchamp and his invention of the readymade, and not with postmodernism, the theoretical consistency of which, at least in the artistic field, this research will question. A first aim of this work will be to unify the main concepts and theories of the artistic field with those of cybernetics, to bring together ‘Turing land’ and ‘Duchamp land’ (Manovich 1996). For achieving this, digitalisation processes are not to be understood as representations of some material reality, but rather as ontological repetitions through which difference is conveyed. This is why the consideration of the temporal dimension of the archive as event is fundamental for understanding that the archive can only exist in its change, in its movement, in its action, in its metamorphosis, and thus the relevance of digitalisation processes in this regard becomes evident. Therefore, the archive is not only an issue of memory, but also a question yet to come, of conformation both of the future and subjectivities (Derrida 1967b, 1995). In this context, the present work advances the emergence of a digital subject with the emergence of new media, and theorises that the constitution of this subject happens by assuming a ‘point of view’ (Deleuze 1988) in the technological unconscious (Vaccari 1979). Reflecting upon the effects of digitalisation and actualisation (Deleuze 1968) on the subject, on how the digitised artwork and event affects, and changes, the subject observing and interacting with it, the present research will demonstrate that it is pertinent to talk about a subject who is embodied in the digital. In this sense, if the digitised artwork in the archive needs a subject to be actualised, this process also has its consequences for the subject. Therefore, the digital subject is the possibility of actualisation of the archive, and at the same time changes with it: she assumes an always-different ‘point of view’ constituted for her by the floating signifier in the technological unconscious. All these theories, which are part of the posthuman, are presented as the actual overcoming of modernism to show that the readymade as medium is, at the same time, both one of the points of rupture and the key link to bring back new media and art theory as art at large.
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