Infomania (Intersections of art, science and technology)

By Christina Mackie, 10 March 2002

In his recent book Information Arts, Stephen Wilson proposes that scientific research and technical developments are relevant to the arts and ‘offer a window into what may be significant future issues.’

Many of the ideas are really fascinating – hundreds of people are mentioned who work in areas spanning GPS, living things, ecology, technology or politics, or who involve the public as collaborators, or who shift their art into actions in real-life settings. There are many leads to ideas which people are currently playing with, and will get the mainstream up to speed in areas which are obscure but well-populated thereby saving everyone’s time. Some artists who seemingly disappeared after being involved in famous movements have, it turns out, been working away at radical and inspiring projects all this time. The chapters on biology, mathematics, genetics, telecommunications, machinery, sound and computing are presented with a bit of historical background, a few examples and interesting discussions. For instance ‘Body and Medicine’ discusses utopian, extropian, and dystopian attitudes to the body. Exploring the changing subject-object relationship, the differences in artists’ and scientists’ mind-sets, many theories are mentioned which encourage curiosity and give the reader a great deal to think about.

All art is information and the information the artists in this book use is technological or scientific. The practices of making art and science are quite close – ideas develop and morph as information is added from activities with materials. Artists included in this book use materials ranging from atoms to radiowaves, but it’s hard to see whether these changes in procedure changes art. The distinction between art and non-art is barely viable any longer, and many artists practice as managers of highly skilled fabricators and specialists, coordinating rather than producing their own artworks. Similarly, scientists work in teams and call on other people to get involved in their research projects (although their assistants mainly have high skill levels themselves). However, the important link between the two activities is intuition – it drives and illuminates science just as it does art, and separates the wheat from the chaff. But it’s hard to tell from this book whether the art functions in a satisfying way.

The book is from MIT press and draws mainly from articles in Leonardo magazine. It presents itself as a reference book and it looks academic but it is let down by the index. Dates are lacking too – frequent internet consultations are a must – but it is definitely a useful book for mapping out the ground, it’s full of funny ideas and gives credit where it’s due.

Christina Mackie <cmm AT> is an artist who works with any materials – including pressure, image encoded DNA as well as video, animation and weaving. She will be showing in Gallery 4 at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds in April

Information Arts: Intersections of art, science and technology // Stephen Wilson // MIT // 2002 // 1024 pages // ISBN: 026223209X // hb £34.50