Philip Galanter on Thu, 17 Jul 2003 22:01:14 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> The Semi-Living Artist

This last weekend this work (called MEART by the way) was at a show 
called ArtBots (  I was one of the curators along 
with Douglas Repetto and Jenny Lee.

On a list for generative art discussion (eu-gene ... see ) I made a longish post trying to clarify 
a few things about the work.  I post a slightly modified version here 
as it may be of interest.

  = = = =

Here are some thoughts on MEART in the ever popular FAQ format...

Q: Is it art?

Yes.  No doubt about it.

MEART does a number of things which we associate with art.  Foremost, 
it presents an engaging aesthetic experience in an art context.  Keep 
in mind that the artwork isn't just the is the entire 
installation in action.
Beyond that it uses a sensory experience to put into play a number of 
ideas and possibilities in a fresh and expressive way.

I've heard a moral objection to the work, and the possible abuse of 
animals or cell clusters, posited as if it would cancel the 
possibility of MEART being a work of art.  Something along the lines 
of "it's not art, it's a moral outrage!"

Well, I know of no respected theory of art that mandates that a work 
of art must be morally correct.  In other words I think it is 
entirely possible to create art which entails the doing of 
wrong...perhaps great wrong.

If we found out Leonardo had stolen his paints, we wouldn't suddenly 
say "oh, in that case the Mona Lisa isn't art" would we?

Q: Is it good art?

I think so.  It's not a masterpiece.  It's not perfect.  All of the 
works at ArtBots were flawed.  But like most of the rest it is quite 
good indeed.

The drawings it makes isn't really the point.  On their own, and out 
of context, the drawings don't really amount to much.  The machine 
itself, however, is quite beautiful.

But it's not really a primarily formal piece.  To my way of thinking 
it is a work of conceptual art, albeit not an exercise in minimalism. 
Watching this thing in action...or even just hearing about 
it...energizes questions around cyborg life in a way that Donna 
Haraway can only dream of.

Q: Is it also science?  Is it good science?

I suspect the collaborators at Georgia Tech are doing good 
science...but MEART isn't science.  It's art, and there is a 
difference between art and science.

To qualify as science the MEART team would have to employ that fuzzy 
activity called "the scientific method".  They would have to form a 
hypothesis which is falsifiable.  They would have to design 
experiments to test that hypothesis, and then present those results 
for verification and duplication by others.  And so on.

So far as I know the MEART team does none of this.  Nor should they 
feel like they have to.  They are artists.

And since it's not science, we don't have to worry about whether it's 
good science.  It *is*, however, a nice feat of engineering!

Q: Is it generative art?

Well, I'd say so...but my definition offers a very wide embrace:

   Generative art refers to any art practice where the artist creates
   a process, such as a set of natural language rules, a computer program,
   a machine, or other procedural invention, which is then set into motion
   with some degree of autonomy contributing to or resulting in a completed
   work of art.

But as Repetto pointed out elsewhere, MEART is much more than YADM (Yet Another
Drawing Machine).  It is a concept piece as much as anything else.
And almost as an aside, with the use of living tissue it sets up an 
interesting dialectic regarding artificial generative systems versus 
living artists.

Q: But why do you think it's good when the drawings are so ... bad?

Well, again, the point is conceptual.  I suppose one could make a totally
fake MEART...for all we know the supposed cell culture in Atlanta is a total
fiction...and still achieve some merit.

The bottom line is that MEART, bad drawings and all, presents a 
compelling aesthetic experience that stimulates a very interesting 
set of questions.  It's great to look at, it makes you think, and 
these days that's more than a lot of so called art can claim!

Q: In creating MEART have the artists committed a moral wrong?

Reasonable people can disagree on this.  I tend to think that if no 
consciousness-capable living thing was killed or felt pain in MEARTS 
creation or operation, it will be difficult to argue that any moral 
wrong was committed.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

contact information:

please email for the quickest response:

otherwise you can reach me at New York University:

Philip Galanter             fax:  (212) 995-4120
NYU                   telephone:  (212) 998-3041
251 Mercer
New York NY 10012

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