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<nettime> Preface to "The Technological Herbarium" published
Alan Shapiro on Sat, 14 Feb 2009 17:02:20 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Preface to "The Technological Herbarium" published

Dear nettime,

Noemalab.org just published the Preface to the book "The Technological
Herbarium" (see link below). At Geert Lovink's suggestion, i have decided
to send you one-third (38% to be exact) of the text to publish on nettime.
If you decide to publish it (i hope so), please include the link to the
full text at noemalab.

So i paste below the one-third text that i have selected. I trust that
plain-text format is appropriate, rather than Microsoft Word?

Best regards,
Alan N. Shapiro

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Geert Lovink" <geert {AT} xs4all.nl>
To: "Alan Shapiro" <Alan.Shapiro {AT} gmx.de>
Sent: Monday, February 09, 2009 11:09 AM
Subject: Re: Preface to "The Technological Herbarium" published

> hi, I would just send this text, or a part of it to nettime.
> the list is closed anyway so it doesn't matter if you are
> not subscribed to nettime-l. send it to:
> nettime-l {AT} kein.org. best, geert
> On 9 Feb 2009, at 9:46 AM, Alan Shapiro wrote:
>> Preface to "The Technological Herbarium" published here:
>> http://www.noemalab.org/sections/ideas/ideas_54.html
>> Best regards,
>> Alan

Gianna Maria Gatti's The Technological Herbarium

by Alan N. Shapiro

Gianna Maria Gatti's book The Technological Herbarium (subtitled: "Vegetable 
Nature and New Technologies in Art Between the Second and Third Millennia") 
is a study of 'interdisciplinary' works of art that exemplify the increasing 
importance of science and technology in artistic creation. Her analysis, 
however, goes beyond that of a journalistic or curatorial survey of 
artworks. Her work embodies the invention of a strong philosophical concept 
that enables the glimpsing - in the coming together of nature and new 
technologies in the domain of art - of a new real. The hybrid of art and 
technoscience is the carrier of a new worldview, a new era for cyberspace, 
new cognitive thought and cybernetic epistemology, and the emergence of 
authentic post-metaphysical thinking as pointed to by twentieth-century 
philosophers like Martin Heidegger, Jacques Derrida, Maurice Merleau-Ponty 
and Gregory Bateson. Metaphysics is distanced from existence and cogitates 
the employment of knowledge in the service of 'man's unfettered freedom' 
requiring the certainty of an 'unshakable ground of truth' to establish its 
validity. It is the anthropocentric arrogance of Man vis-à-vis the 
environment and other living beings - leading ultimately to His suicide - 
that will be brought into question and actively deconstructed by this 
oeuvre-in-movement co-authored by new media/new technologies artists and 
their muses who, to express it eco-poetically, are secretly transmitting 
knowledge and inspiration to them from the elsewhere of the wounded planet 
Gaia finally starting to defend herself and her future. This fascinating 
collaboration carries out what the epistemologist of second-order 
cybernetics Francisco Varela called "the co-definition between knower and 
known," declaring artists to be "the proclaimers of the core knowledge of 
the real."1 To the cooperation between artist and world is added the 
contribution of the user or 'immersant' in the shared communicative 
aesthetic experience of virtual reality environments.

Gatti engages in a wide-ranging reflection on non-human life-forms. What is 
the identity of living beings which are Other than human? In pursuing this 
question, her two principal objects of inquiry are the vegetable kingdom and 
Artificial Life. She contemplates in a single conceptual framework the two 
extremes of the most ancient eons-old life-forms produced by Nature and the 
newest forms of life produced by our most advanced contemporary Technology. 
On the one side: trees, plants, and flowers. On the other side: the erupting 
vitality of informatic, virtual, and software objects-creatures. Gatti's 
research is a profound reflection not only on art's brush with computer 
technologies, but also on biology, deep ecology, the existent, the living 
organism, life itself. It is an Enlightened meditation on and recognition of 
the mutually beneficial potential relationship between the Natural and the 
Artificial, a significant departure from the critical thinking that defends 
the 'authenticity' of the former against the 'imposture' of the latter.

The twenty-five or so artworks investigated by Gatti are in dialogue with 
the field of scientific knowledge. The artists whose creations are brought 
together in her Herbarium have confronted the theme of vegetable nature 
while at the same time working with new technologies and new media. In their 
installations, they make use of computers, electronics, video, Internet 
(net.art), telerobotics, telematic networks, remote telepresence, mechanical 
engineering, bionics, and transgenics. Hardware, software, and wetware. The 
virtual, the digital, and the informatic. Interactive participatory works 
and environments invite the user to discover her 'polysensoriality'. The 
perceptual-motoric-tactile dimension of embodiment is restored to equal 
standing with the symbolic-rational dimension emphasized by traditional art. 
The artist who utilizes information technologies designs "a semi-living 
entity, a work which in fact is 'open', since its outcome is not predefined 
by the artist, but is rather realized through the interventions and actions 
of the user." (Gianna Maria Gatti) The 'experience of metamorphosis' of 
virtual reality sensitizes us to, and enhances our awareness of, the real.

Gatti probes art projects and works from the last thirty years. She makes a 
collection of technological artworks and calls it a 'technological 
herbarium'. "A herbarium gathers together or illustrates with scientific 
methods a sampling of plants, indicating their names and describing their 
properties, for the purpose of documentation and practical use, for the most 
part medicinal." Gatti's Herbarium metaphorically recalls the classical 
herbarium, but has its own criteria of selection, arrangement and 
classification. In three principal chapters - on "Real Vegetables and New 
Technologies," "Artificial Vegetables: Electronic and Digital," and 
"Vegetables and Technologies of the Living" - the major groups within the 
Herbarium's structuring are presented. Gatti photographs artworks and 
installations, interviews the artists, but above all writes about each 
work - thinking it through while admiring it. She is a curator, a gardener, 
a cultivator, and an artist herself - in this case an artist of the 

Through Gatti's book, we learn a great deal about the fascinating and very 
luable Italian reflection on technology and society, and on cyberspace and 
cyberculture, that has unfortunately not yet become well known outside of 
Italy. This large body of work in techno-theory expresses views and 
perspectives about computer technology which are extremely different from 
those which have predominated since the 1990s in English-speaking countries 
and in Germany. Gatti refers throughout The Technological Herbarium to the 
impressive and prolific work of her mentors Franco Torriani (an art critic 
and theorist who is interested in artistic languages and multimedia, and is 
one of the leading exponents of Ars Technica, an association which brings 
together artists, scientists, authors and critics interested in new media - 
not to be confused with the same-named blog-style technology and gaming news 
website) and Pier Luigi Capucci (who has taught communications, multimedia, 
computer graphics and animation, simulation technology, new media theory and 
praxis, and visual arts at the University of Rome "La Sapienza", and at the 
Universities of Bologna, Florence and Urbino). Capucci is also the Founder 
and Director of the website NOEMA (http://www.noemalab.org), which, along 
with Arthur and Marilouise Kroker's CTHEORY (http://www.ctheory.net), I 
consider to be the very best online magazine for technology and media 
theory. The IDEAS section of NOEMA has been publishing great articles in 
Italian and English for about a decade. The writings of Torriani, Capucci, 
and other authors belonging to this Italian art and techno-theory scene 
clearly deserve more widespread translations and publications in English and 
in German.

The Italian reflection on cyberspace is more grounded in philosophy, more 
connected to art, and more related to social problems than any perspective 
on technology that has been familiar to us outside of Italy during these 
past twenty years. It is a worldview interested in bringing back play, 
creativity, freedom, variety, self-management and autonomy into that 
everyday life activity of modern civilization that we call work. My 
involvement with Italian language and culture began when I lived in Bologna 
for about two years in the late 1970s, in the wake of the Student Movement 
of 1977, which had its greatest power in Bologna and Rome. The constellation 
of radical leftist movements at the time included feminism, the struggle for 
homosexual rights, and the struggle for the rights of the unemployed and 
marginalized (the so-called non-garantiti). Different from Sylvère Lotringer 
of Semiotext(e) who interested himself in the Autonomia Movement (too 
connected to violence from the standpoint of my political ethics), or from 
some neo-Marxists in the English-speaking world who became especially 
interested in the works of Antonio Negri, what has interested me the most 
about the Italian Movement of 1977 was the group of artist-activists known 
as the Metropolitan Indians (Indiani Metropolitani). The Metropolitan 
Indians painted murals and drew graffiti on the walls of Bologna (many of 
which are still to be seen today, for example in Via delle Belle Arti). They 
built buses out of papier-mâché. They danced and sang in the streets. They 
referred themselves to Native North American Indian cultures. They loved art 
and creativity and play. Theirs was a cultural revolution. I find an echo of 
this Italian Spirit of 1977 of the Metropolitan Indians in Gianna Maria 
Gatti's magisterial reflection on nature, technology and art, The 
Technological Herbarium.


1 - Francisco J. Varela, "The body as an ontological machine: the real sense 
of the virtual," in Various Authors, ArsLab. I sensi del virtuale, (Milan: 
Fabbri, 1995); pp. 148-150.

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