The 1990 ART FUTURA exhibition seems to me not only relevant, but also significant, almost symbolic, because, being on the threshold of the last decade of the millennium, it displays the greatest aspiration of the Judaeo-Christian tradition: the escape from reality -”anywhere out of this world”- or, to put it in more measured terms: the quest for alternative realities, the broadening of reality, the transcendence.
The idea is not new: to consider this world a vale of tears and a stepping stone towards heavenly or infernal realities was the cliché of the year 1000; to lay the aims of this beyond the senses and outside worldly goals is the way of the religions of the book. Reality rejects this in favour of a world of ideas, archetypes, spirits and celestial beings, weightless, graceful, intangible and abstract. Moreover, the decadents of the end of the century -the last one- also felt a fear of bourgeois and technological reality in the 1880’s and 90’s, and they took refuge in a symbolist literature and an impressionistic image which with Cézanne turned towards the abstract, and with Joyce towards psychoanalytic introspection.
The prince of the decadents, Joris Karl Huysmans, Baudelaire’s disciple and Proust’s master, suffered from the end-of-the century neurosis , that hatred and horror of human mediocrity, the fatuous daily existence. Thus, his masterpiece is A Rebours, the title being taken from the mystic Rusbroek the Admirable.
To escape from reality through art was the desesperate aim of the decadents and symbolists, and as the arts enter into the senses which are limited -as are the arts- the deserters from reality provoked their senses to extend the limits of perception and to give art the maximum power to provoke sensation- un méthodique derèglement de tous les sens as Rimbaud suggested so as to feel more.
Traditional arts -painting, sculpture, literature- have given their all and have touched their limits, depths and form, so they can no longer be avant-garde arts: on the other hand, the senses, for all that we may have refined ourselves, have also reached their limits. New arts and new senses are needed -or, what is the same thing- a different program in the brain allowing a greater broadening of the senses. The first of these will come with new technology: there will be new arts, as was the cinema in this century, based on genetic engineering, holograms, laser, space travel, nuclear transmutation. There will be new programs in the brain -some based on the chemistry of neural transmitters and others on the interaction between the brain and advanced computers.
Artificial intelligence has existed since 1950, life-like automata since 1980: the combination of computer and robot is Frankenstein’s monster. In my view, the synthesis will come following no other less spectacular symbioses between the computer and the human brain. We know that the senses send sensations to the brain via electric currents and chemical reactions which switch off the neural synapses. That which is perceived by sight, hearing and touch is transformed into electro-chemical impulses in the neural network. It is not impossible to cause a short-circuit in the process by substituing the stimulus of outer reality by a connection between the cerebral network and a computer program which send stimuli similar to sensory perceptions. The aesthetic possibilities of such a device go from mystic unconsciousness to sensuality, through the kafkaesque nightmare. One can record an entire university course to engrain it on the memory while sleeping, or one can sleep with Marilyn Monroe in the comfort of one’s. Aesthetic impressions come from reality, but can the brain distinguish, as it reduces everything to electric currents and chemical interfaces, if the data is coming from “reality” or a program?. Thus can one control the mind in such a disturbing way at levels never reached from the lecture hall, pulpit or television; but also delight it and instruct it.
The grafting of machine to man will be the first step towards the new Prometheus: bionics are a combination of biology and engineering which experiment with implanting artificial organs into human bodies: information technology will connect with the brain. The literary creation of Frankenstein, written by Mary Shelley in 1816, was not imagination, but rather a warning from the artistic sentinel about the new world she outlined, and that, as with everything unknown, still glimmers with suspicion.
Science will give the artistic tools and art will intuitively recognize and express the profoundly interesting themes. New arts will appear and the traditional arts will fade into the background. If a glimpse can be caught of the tools, so too the fundamental themes: to reduce the divisions of today to unity and harmony, to structure the startling multiplicity of knowledge in an attainable way; but, above all, to find man’s place in the world again. Without a new vision of man-in-the-world no new artistic style can emerge. We do not know to acclaim since we do not know what to acclaim. I believe that cosmology and quantum physics will create a new paradigm from which a vision of man as revolutionary as Christianity will emerge. The new religion or metaphysics will be based on science instead of opposing it as has been the case until now; instead of a science of religions we will have a religion of science. And it will not be materialistic, as neither is quantum theory, but spiritual, when this term requires a new meaning which may be given by science.
Cosmic art is but a dream, but, what stops us from assuming that man is not capable of colouring the rings of Saturn, of giving lustre to Van Hallen’s belt, of focusing from space lenses and kaleidoscopes upon the earth, covering entire continents with Chartres’s stained glass?. Art which is able to be given from outer space surpasses our present imaginative capacity, but not that of our granchildren. There is only one obstacle, to dare to think it. Everything that man can possibly imagine is capable of existence, and that which is not, could not be glimpsed. How can anyone suppose that art has come to an end, when in fact it is standing before a marvellous beginning?. The cycle of some arts has ended, but other new cycles will begin. Perhaps by colouring a piece of material it becomes a highly esteemed handicraft, as with writing novels, making films or chiselling statues, but new art forms will emerge for each one whose cycle wanes. Science will provide the new means and tools, the artist will become a scientist and the scientist an artist to fulfil the dream of Leonardo: to compete with nature in the creation of exalted works.
The creation of synthetic, interactive space by means of helmets with liquid crystal monitors and sensory gloves is a giant step, an astronaut’s step on the moon -as the technology is a “spin-off” from NASA- towards the indominable frontiers of reality.
Text originally published in ArtFutura's 1990 catalog.