“Cybernetics, Art and Creativity” – Andrew Pickering
Lastly, I wanted to say something about relations between science and art, which you put on the program, didn’t you? It’s worth thinking about. It’s kind of tricky. My ideas about ontology and dances of agency actually come from my studies of scientific practice, not from art. In that sense, these kind of works just show us the sort of performative relations with nature that scientists act out in their laboratories.
In that respect, science and art are the same, but I just want to throw this out to talk about. I think there is something very special and peculiar about scientific dances of agency. The artistic dances of agency that I’m showing you here, in principle, go on forever, just backwards and forwards, continually emerging. That tree is growing. Scientists don’t like that kind of dance of agency. They engage in dances of agency, but they want to bring it to an end. They want to get out of the dance of agency.
What scientists want to do is build an instrument or a fact that is going to work reliably without any human intervention, something that is separate from them. What scientists want to do is find what I call ‘islands of stability in the flux of becoming,’ as I called it in my [tome 00:01:28]. My first study of this was Donald Glaser building a bubble chamber, so you have this kind of very dense interaction with the instruments that goes on for a couple of years, but when the bubble chamber works, it stands apart from Glaser. He’s not connected to it performatively, in that sense anyway.
There’s a lot to say about these islands of stability, but I want to end with the question, Where is the art that thematizes this scientific way of being in the world? It’s not this kind of art, because this is about continual dances of agency. It’s not about finding islands of stability. It interests me that there isn’t really any art that speaks directly to this point about islands of stability. The nearest thing that I’ve found to it is the last picture, which I also showed this morning. The art of collaboration called, “[Hee, Hee 00:02:32],” which somehow tries to themetize the fact that, you know, in the world, we live on these islands of stability, but our footing on them is kind of tenuous, right? This is a kind of dynamic model of the deepwater horizon oil spill with a little model kit that goes with it, a jet plane, the flames coming out of the end. It seems to me that this kind of artwork actually speaks to how we live, in general, in the world in the modern West.
I did have myself, an idea for a kind of art work that would thematize this a bit more directly than building little models of it. My idea was for an installation that would be made out of spent nuclear fuel rods. These fuel rods would be kind of heating up, the way they do, getting hotter and hotter. When you go into the installation, somebody gives you a bucket of water, right? The job of the people who come into the installation is to throw the water on the fuel rods and keep them cool so they don’t explode. Most of the time it would work. Sometimes it would fail: the whole thing would explode and there would be radioactivity everywhere. Wouldn’t that be a beautiful …
… [inaudible 00:03:48] get a model of it …
… that you could blow up.
Beautiful adaptation of our ontological condition. Anyway, that’s what I had to say. Thank you very much. Thank you, Peter.