Alan N. Shapiro, Hypermodernism, Hyperreality, Posthumanism

Blog and project archive about media theory, science fiction theory, and creative coding

Gianna Maria Gatti’s The Technological Herbarium, by Alan N. Shapiro

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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.” 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. In this context, Gatti considers the Planetary Garden exhibition of curator Gilles Clément (“Garden of Knowledge” and “Garden of Experiences”). Clément’s 1999-2000 Parisian exposition at the Grande Halle de la Villette addressed the condition of separation between humanity and nature in their cohabitation of planet Earth, and the possible overcoming of this estrangement.

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 breadth of Gianna Maria Gatti’s The Technological Herbarium is reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s epic film 2001: A Space Odyssey. What is implied by Kubrick and Clarke is the imminence of a change in what technology is for humanity, shifting from being a tool for the ‘domination of nature’ and a weapon in the killing-madness of war to technology redefined as a “Friend of the Earth” (T.C. Boyle) and a helper in the life-affirming organization of peace.

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 (, 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. “The ‘virtual’ proposes to us an other experience of the ‘real’. In fact, it is the common notion of ‘reality’ that must be placed into question. Since ‘virtual’ realities are not less real than sensory experiences that we accumulate ‘naturally’. Virtual images are not visual illusions, images of pure representation. On the contrary, these ‘virtual’ realities can be visited, explored and even touched.” (Philippe Quéau)

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.

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