ROY ASCOTT TIMELINE
1934 (October 26): Roy Ascott was born in Bath, England.
1953-1955: Ascott’s National Service was spent as Officer in RAF Fighter Control.
1955-1959: Ascott enrolled in the Fine Art and Art History Program at King’s College at the University of Durham. He was awarded the degree of B.A. Hons Fine Art in 1959.
1956-1961: Ascott was appointed Studio Demonstrator, a two-year position, by Victor Pasmore at King’s College at the University of Durham.
1960-1964: Ascott instituted the GroundCourse as Head of Foundation at Ealing School of Art in London.
1963: Ascott had his first solo show, “Diagram Boxes and Analogue Structures,” at Molton Gallery in London.
1964-1967: Ascott held the position of Head of the Department of Fine Art, and implemented the GroundCourse, at the Suffolk Ipswich Civic College in England.
1967-1971: Ascott was the Head of Department of Painting at Wolverhampton Polytechnic in England.
1968-1971: Ascott was a Visiting Lecturer in Painting at Slade School of Fine Art, University College in London.
1971-1972: Ascott held the position of President, Chief Executive Officer, at Ontario College of Art in Toronto, Canada.
1973-1974: Ascott was a Visiting Tutor in Sculpture at Saint Martin’s School of Art in London, and at Central School of Art Design in London.
1974-1975: Ascott held the position of a Full Professor, Chair of Department of Fine Art at Minneapolis College of Art & Design.
1975-1978: Ascott held the position of Vice-President, Dean of the College, at San Francisco Art Institute in California.
1985-1992: Ascott held the position of Professor for Communications Theory as Head of the Department of Communications Theory at University of Applied Arts in Vienna, Austria.
1994: The Planetary Collegium was conceived by Ascott at University of Wales College, Newport.
1997: Ascott instituted the international research conference series “Consciousness Reframed: Art and Consciousness in the Post-Biological Era.”
2002: Ascott founded Technoetic Arts: A Journal of Speculative Research, Intellect Ltd. Bristol, UK and has been its chief editor since its founding.
2003: Ascott founded and chaired the Planetary Collegium at Plymouth University with nodes in Switzerland, Italy, Greece, and China. He has continued to hold the position as president.
2003-2007: Ascott was a Visiting Professor at the Design|Media Arts, School of the Arts, University of California Los Angeles
2007: Ascott was appointed Honorary Professor of Thames Valley University, London, UK.
2009: The Syncretic Sense Retrospective 1960-2009 of Ascott’s oeuvre was held at Plymouth Arts Centre, Plymouth, UK.
2010: A retrospective Exhibition of Ascott’s oeuvre was held at International Digital Arts Festival, Incheon, South Korea.
2011: The retrospective, “The Syncretic Sense,” was held in Hackney, London.
2012: Ascott was appointed De Tao Master of Technoetic Arts by DeTao Masters Academy in Shanghai, China.
2012-2013: The retrospective, “Roy Ascott: Syncretic Cybernetics” was held at the 9th Shanghai Biennale, Shanghai, China.
2013: The retrospective, “Roy Ascott: The Analogues” was held at Plug-in Institute of Contemporary Art, Winnipeg, Canada.
2013-2020: The Roy Ascott’s Technoetic Arts Studio was established in the DeTao Masters College, in Songjiang, Shanghai. It has run an advanced educational program in Technoetic Arts and houses the DeTao Node of the Planetary Collegium’s doctoral research network.
2014: The retrospective, “OK | CYBERARTS,” of Ascott’s oeuvre was held at Prix Ars Electronica Exhibition, Linz, Austria.
2016: Ascott was nominated Honorary Doctor of the Department of Audio and Visual Arts at the Ionian University in Corfu, Greece.
2017: The retrospective, “Roy Ascott: Form has Behaviour,” was held at Henry Moore Institute, Leeds, UK.
Roy Ascott was born in 1934 in the city of Bath in England. [Image at right] Contemplating the city, he highlights the hermetic symbolism of the eighteenth century Georgian architecture of the city and Silbury Hill’s ancient dome-like formation, a dominant feature in the landscape that has always informed and captivated his thoughts (Ars Electronica 2014). [Image at right] During his National Service, Ascott was appointed as a Radar Officer in the RAF Fighter Control. He spent time working at the radar room’s plotting table, which allows a bird’s eye view of the situation in hand as well as multiple points of view of objects or targets. This military experience later informed Ascott’s early interactive paintings and his engagement with the motif of the table-top (Ascott 2003a:168). In 1955, Ascott’s education as an artist began under his mentors, the artist and architect Victor Pasmore (1908-1998), the artist Richard Hamilton (1922-2011), and the scholars and artists Lawrence Gowing (1918-1991) and Quentin Bell (1910-1996) at King’s College at the University of Durham. Hamilton opened for Ascott the gateway to the mind of Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), and Lawrence Gowing introduced Ascott to the innovations in Paul Cezanne’s (1839-1906) later paintings in which nature and objects appear in a state of flux (Ars Electronica 2014; Lambert 2017:45). Simultaneously, Ascott was drawn to Jackson Pollock’s (1912-1956) manner of painting horizontally on the floor or ground (Ascott 1990:242). These early formative aesthetic experiences, coupled with Ascott’s understanding of cybernetics (Lambert 2017), eventually led to his Change Paintings, which transpired out of a “wide range of aesthetic and non-aesthetic sources” (Shanken 2003:7). Ascott was awarded the degree of B.A. Hons Fine Art in 1959 and was hired as Studio Demonstrator, a two-year position, by Pasmore, who also secured for him a position at Ealing College of Art in 1961 (Shanken 2003:10).
Lambert writes that “Ascott is a significant interlocutor between cybernetics and the arts” (Lambert 2017:42). Ascott discovered cybernetics in its early stage, only a decade after the publication of Norbert Wiener’s (1894-1964) book Cybernetics or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine (Wiener 1948; Lambert 2017:48). Initially, Ascott’s understanding of cybernetics was informed by the British pioneers of cybernetics, the performative, behaviorist art of Gordon Pask (1928-1996) his friend and mentor (Lambert 2017:50), and the writings of the scientist Ross Ashby (1903-1972) (Lambert 2017:42). In the 1970s, Ascott became particularly interested in the second-order cybernetics theories of Margaret Mead (1901-1978), Gregory Bateson (1904-1980) and in particular Heinz Von Foerster (1911-2002), who emphasized that we cannot understand the world as a system unless we are in it. Ascott explains that Foerster demands that we become involved in the systems that we observe not as remote scientists or distantly observing artists but as active participants (Ars Electronica 2015). Indeed, Ascott was already applying these participatory principles in his early works.
The series entitled Change Paintings, including related artworks made from 1959, are described by Ascott “as analogues of ideas—structures that are subject to change and human intervention in the way that ideas themselves are” (Ascott 2003b:98). Change Painting with movable glass panels demonstrates an active interaction with the work both by the artist and the viewers who become participants in a process of change. [Image at right] The aesthetic process brings together two different fields of knowledge: the field of extrasensory perception (ESP) and the field of cybernetics. Ascott terms the joining of the two fields as “The Psibernetic Arch” (Ascott 2003c:161) which bridges “cybernetics and parapsychology. The west and east sides of the mind, so to speak; technology and telepathy; provision and prevision; cyb and psi” (Ascott 2003c:161). Ascott envisions art made of a predictive structure, art that imagines other futures, and terms it “the art of futuribles” (Ascott 2003c:165).
Additionally, the Change Paintings series is informed by Ascott’s early influence by the metaphysical philosophy of Henri Bergson (1859-1941) (Shanken 2003:21). In Creative Evolution (Bergson 1911), knowledge is perceived as evolving through the faculties of both the intellect and the intuition within a process termed durée or duration. Durée binds any experience to the past, the present and the future within a continuous though nonlinear process of perpetual shift and becoming. The structure of Change Paintings enables a similar experience of transformation in time by inviting the viewers to participate in it by sliding the paintings’ plexiglass panels horizontally, backwards or forwards. [Image at right] The viewers’ behavior results in various designs and meanings, thus, bringing into play the artwork’s past, present and future possibilities in terms of visual designs and meanings (Shanken 2003:21). Bergson’s philosophy of change was central to Ascott’s comprehension of cybernetics (Lambert 2017:44). In “The Cybernetic Stance: My Process and Purpose,” Ascott (1968:106) cites a passage from Bergson’s Creative Evolution: “The living are relatively stable, and counterfeit immobility so well that we treat each of them as thing rather than as progress, forgetting that the very permanence of their form is only the outline of a movement” (Lambert 2017:44). Evidently, the understanding of flux and motion at the core of all systems of existence typifies Ascott’s artworks as well as cybernetic theoretical and pedagogic concepts.
In Untitled Drawing (1962), “the I Ching hexagrams in upper register, followed by binary notation, scatter-plots, and wave-forms. A “calibrator” in the middle suggests the ability to juxtapose or combine various permutations of these systems of information representation” (Shanken 2003: 31). [Image at right] Ascott writes that in his paintings he operates on the level of trance which allows chance behavior and automatic actions akin to automatic writing to impact the artistic process (Ascott 2003c:166). He describes his perception of the wooden board that characterizes the surface of his artworks especially from 1959 to the 1970s as “the arena for any kind of force, just as the ouija board seems to elicit information from a deep psychic level of the participants” (Ascott 2003c:166). Ascott states:
So the board, the analogue structure as futurible, offers feedback facilities for dragging up visual configurations from a deep level of consciousness, which in turn generate anticipated future structures and relationships. I would like the board to be read like the palm of the hand—“pictomancy”—a kind of non-figurative, all-at-once tarot. The crystal ball rolled out and transferred on to the flat surface of the board like some kind of cartographical projection of the world, not the world geographically described, but an alternative future structured in terms of pure visual energy. (Ascott 2003c:166).
Sculptural paintings such as Cloud Template (1966) [Image at right] and N-Tropic-Random Map I (1968) are based on both cybernetic and divination principles. Ascott created these works by casting coins on top of a sheet of plywood as in an I Ching divination ritual. He then cut the wood following the patterns created by the coins, which resulted in shapes induced by chance and divinational sensibility. Ascott used the chance technique with reference to dada, surrealism and Cage’s compositions, which were determined by I Ching’s consultations (Shanken 2003:32). Nechvatal (2018:35) describes Cloud Template “as a divinational magical gazing opportunity.” The artwork demonstrates Ascott acting as a shaman gazing, seeing and asserting synchronicities, divinational happenings that somehow seem related (Nechvatal 2018:36). The viewer is invited to participate in the gazing event, and may read or comprehend the piece as a divination spread. By casting the coins on a horizontal plane, Ascott referred to Pollock’s mode of painting on the floor, which induces a shift in perspective. Seeing the artwork from a bird’s-eye view, it becomes a map of a holistic totality where physical and metaphysical elements interact (Shanken 2003:33).
The table is a central motif in Ascott’s theory and body of works. [Image at right] The table is akin to an interactive system which Ascott analogs to a house. “The table enables us to sit around our universe of discourse and to transact with one another in that universe” (Ascott 2003a:168). A table, like a house, is the arena for our behavior. It is a designated area for endless negotiations and modes of behaviors. The table generates a space between us, other people and objects. “The table is then a device for divination, a sounding board for new relationships within the house or the universe, a test-bed for change” (Ascott 2003a:171). Moreover, the table offers a unique view of the world, which Ascott identifies as a horizontal viewpoint. Even when a table as object is not available, it is easily replaced by spreading a cloth on any surface. Among Middle Eastern societies, the standing table is replaced by a horizontal plane covered by a cloth on the floor or on the ground. Ascott emphasizes the function of the table as an altar in religious settings where it is the symbolic and ritualistic connector of Heaven and Earth. He writes:
The esoteric tradition finds its most generative system in the tarot, a universe of discourse that creates new universes of possibilities with each spread. The metaphysical table-top is its whole arena. Its own most generative card, number one of the major arcana, the magician, has at its centre the table. Only a table can support the co-ordinates of the minor arcana system—the sword, wand, pentacle, and cup—since it provides the arena for their free interaction, that is, without containing (limiting or defining) their behaviours. Tarot is the most metaphysically refined of table-top behaviours (Ascott 2003a:171).
In Plastic Transaction (1971) [Image at Right], and Syncretic Divination Table (1978), fork, funnel, knife, platter and other objects taken from the context of the everyday transform into “psychic instruments.” (Ascott 2003a: 172). The table becomes a “dream table” on which we can rehearse behaviors and invent alternatives. The table-top represents a cultural and social stance: “The context of art now is set within concepts of behavior, transaction, process and system. Our worldview is holistic and integrative. Our vision is cybernetic. We are no longer locked into the moment, we resist the partial view” (Ascott 2003a:171-72). Art, thus, become a conduit of change. The table-top is the new context of art as an open cybernetic system on which change and meaning can be generated only through the intervention and the behaviors of all those involved in the system, i.e., the artist, the artwork, and the viewers as participants. In the Ninth Shanghai Biennale (2012-2013), [Image at right] visitors were able to change the images on a table-top through touch whilst the images were also changing via a telematic network, which was broadcasted on the table-top. The telematic table-top demonstrates our agency to trigger and affect change in a hyper-connected digital world. Ascott’s Plastic Transactions Table was also brought to the LPDT3’s metaverse in Second Life in 2012.
Trickett (2019: 371) writes that Ascott’s GroundCourse at Ealing College of Art in London, which he instituted in 1960, and later in 1964 at Suffolk Ipswich Civic College, was primarily based on the notion of systems and processes. Ascott introduced cybernetics to his students, and developed a laboratory environment for experimentation in identity, persona and role playing, aiming to study the notion of the Self (Lambert 2017:42). Students such as Brian Eno [Image at right] initially found the problems posed in these experiments difficult to understand and solve (Trickett 2019: 371). Ascott commented that at that time his approach to art and education was rather radical in Britain (Ascott 2013:13). His pedagogy, which was developed in the early 1960s, combined the roles of the artist, the teacher, and the shaman (Ascott 2003e) and endued them with social and political agency along with an understanding that “we are moving towards a fully cybernated society where processes of retroaction, instant communication and automatic flexibility will inform every aspect of our environment” (Ascott 2003d:126).
Ascott continued developing his cybernetic art pedagogy at Wolverhampton Polytechnic, where he was head of Painting between 1967 and 1971. He disseminated and implemented his pedagogic ideas through his various academic positions, whilst a Visiting Lecturer in Painting at Slade School of Fine Art, University College in London in 1968-1971, and as President, Chief Executive Office, at Ontario College of Art in Toronto, Canada in 1971-1972. In 1974, Ascott became head of the Department of Fine Art at the Minneapolis College of Art & Design, and between 1975-1978 Ascott held the position of vice president and academic dean of the College at the San Francisco Art Institute. In the 1980s Ascott’s telematic art projects based on the medium of computerized telecommunications networks led to positions as founding head of the Department of Communications Theory at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna (1985-1992), and head of the Field of Interactive Arts at Gwent College in Newport, Wales (1991-1994) (Shanken 2003:39-40).
The neologism “telematique” was first coined in 1978 by Simon Nora (1921-2006) and Alain Minc (b.1949) in a report about computerized networked communication (Ascott 1990:241, 247). Telematics generally implies the use of technology for sending, sharing, processing and storing information between geographically remote or separated individuals and organizations. Ascott has been one of the primary theorists of the field of telematics and the first to apply it in the context of art (Jacques 2018:6). According to Ascott, telematics is “computer-mediated communications networking” involving the interaction of human minds with “artificial systems of intelligence and perception” (Ascott 1990:241). Individuals using the networks become an integral part of “a global net” where the world is in perpetual interaction with them as active participants (Ascott 1990:241). Ascott’s theory of telematics is intertwined with his theory of technoetics which, according to Karoussos, reestablishes the primary meaning of technology as téchne + logos = technology. It is of relevance to clarify that in his theories and artworks Ascott “had pro-visioned the vistas that the World Wide Net would deploy” (Karoussos 2018:53). However, the novelty of his work should be understood in its notion of technology as “inextricably linked to consciousness and the noetic practice, rather than in a mere convergence of art and technology as the novel practice of new media art, subject to innovative tools and protocols” (Karoussos 2018:53).
To illustrate telematics Ascott refers to the action painting of Pollock as both predictive and emblematic of telematic culture by generating myriad lines linking, clashing, growing, and expanding in all directions. Pollock’s paintings mirror telematic media with their horizontal surface which frames the surface of the earth and the web of spreading lines that cover it. Jackson’s paintings are a “powerful metaphor of interconnectedness” and “of the network consciousness emerging with the telematic culture” (Ascott 1990:241). The “spiritual or transcendent” provenance of telematic culture can be observed if we are able to perceive the communications networks that overlap the earth as a “subtle body” (Ascott 1990:242). Ascott refers to David V. Tansley (1934-1988), a British spiritual healer, one of radionics’ main exponents, who describes the subtle body as a “web of energy streams” (Tansley 1984:23). Tansley writes the physical body has a double named etheric body, which is its subtle dimension that contains and determines all its biological components and functions. The subtle body transmits the prana, which is the universal life force, in and out of the physical body (Tansley 1984:23). Tansley demonstrates photographic images of the cortex of the cerebellum that show web-like patterns and compares them to Pollock’s paintings. [Image at right] He states that Pollock was able to intuitively grasp and paint an inner reality (Tansley 1984:23). Ascott then refers to Peter Russell (B.1946), a British scientist, futurist, spiritual teacher and pioneer of the human potential movement, who coined the term “Global Brain,” in order to demonstrate the interrelation of communications networks and consciousness as well as the “emergence of planetary consciousness” (Ascott 1990:242). Ascott cites Russell: “We, the billions of minds that make up the huge “global brain,” are being linked together by “fibers” of our telecommunications systems in much the same way as are the billions of cells in each of our brains” (Russell 1998:28). For the purpose of conveying the subtle transactions of communications networks and minds, Ascott coined the term “telematic noosphere” that pertains to the “psychic envelope” of the planet. He refers to the French philosopher, Jesuit priest, paleontologist and geologist Teilhard de Chardin’s (1881-1955) terminology (Ascott 1990:242). Teilhard’s notion of the noosphere etymologically derives from the Greek word “nous” that means “mind.” The noosphere specifically relates to layer of mind, thought and spirit that is embedded in the organic matter, the biosphere of the earth (King 2006:8-9). The development of the noosphere led to “the thinking earth whereby evolution becomes conscious of itself, and “the spirit of the earth” begins to take form (Rockefeller 2006:57). The noosphere and the biosphere are therefore interwoven, co-evolve and steered by a global mind and action. Modern communication technologies have turned Teilhard’s vision into an evolving noosphere, which is embedded in the earth’s biosphere. According to Ascott, beyond a technological exchange of information, telematic art constitutes “the infrastructure for spiritual interchange that could lead to the harmonization and creative development of the whole planet” (Ascott 1990:247).
Ten Wings (1982), La Plissure du Texte (1983) and Aspects of Gaia (1989) were configured on the basis of Ascott’s theory of telematics and technoetics. Interactive telematic divination process was the form and content of the artwork Ten Wings, involving ten players from around the planet. Ascott stated that “Ten Wings” is “the name attributed to the oldest exposition of the Book of Changes” (Ascott 2003e:183). Each player performed a series of divinations by casting coins and transmitted the numerical outcome via the ARTBOX network (Shanken 2003:64). Ascott utilized their combined outcomes to produce a “Master Question.” The divination process was then repeated, sent back to Ascott, who generated a judgment, commentary and an image, which was shared with all participants and the Ars Electronica Centre. Ten Wings was “the first planetary consultation of I-Ching” (Ascott 2003e:183).
La Plissure du Texte (LPDT) (1983) took place as part of the exhibition Electra, which explored the history of electricity in the arts at Musée d’Art Moderne de la Paris. [Image at right] It utilized the Artists’ Electronic Exchange program (ARTEX) that provided a cheap mail program for artists’ communication purposes (Karoussos 2018:52). Ascott used ARTEX for the creation of a world-wide, distributed narrative of a fairy tale that took place on line twenty-four hours a day for twelve days (from December 11 to 23, 1983) and involved nodes in eleven cities. The narrative was open for improvisation and was initiated by Ascott as the magician in Paris announcing Once upon a time… Each node was ascribed an archetypal fairytale character, e.g., witch, princess, etc. The aesthetics of the piece was determined by the ARTEX program. [Image at right] Due to the different time zones and the flow of free associations that characterizes improvisation, the French artist and media theorist Edmond Couchot (b.1932) compared (LPDT) to the Surrealist game “exquisite corpse” in which one artist would begin a drawing, and several others, would continue it without seeing the contributions of those who proceeded them. The process manifested in Ascott’s (LPDT) could therefore not be the result of one mind. “Such a collaborative process parallels Ascott’s goal of creating a field of consciousness greater than the sum of its parts” (Shanken n.d.).
Moreover, the title La Plissure du Texte refers to the French semiotician and literary critic Roland Barthes’ (1915-1980) essay “Le Plaisir du Text” from 1973. Barthes proposes that a text is perpetually weaved jointly by the author and the reader. However, Ascott’s notion of “Plissure” highlights and implies that pleasure (plaisir) derives from the text being “pleated together” through joint authorship (Shanken n.d.). Almost thirty years later LPDT2 (2010) and LPT3 (2012) were the Second Life incarnation of Ascott’s groundbreaking LPDT, created by Max Moswitzer (b.1968), Selavy Oh (b.2007, Second Life birthdate) and Elif Ayiter (b.1953) in Second Life. [Image at right] LPDT2 was projected into Real Life in Seoul, Korea during the INDAF new media art festival held at Tomorrow City, Songdo Incheon, in 2010. The project was also open to visitors in Second Life during the exhibition. LPDT2 was also shown at the ISEA 2011 exhibition in Istanbul. LPDT3 was shown as part of the exhibition Roy Ascott: Syncretic Cybernetics at the 9th Shanghai Biennale 2012. In LPDT2/3 the human storytellers around the world are replaced by avatars and robotic entities in metaverses. These 3D environments and their habitats such as “letters avatars” and “shaman avatar” [Image at right] are pleating the text which derives via a text generator that harvests Gutenberg Project’s dialogues and iterations from masterworks of classical literature. The pleating recalls musical sampling, and the non-linear connections between words, sentences, and images suggest new stories and meanings (LPDT2/3 n.d.)
Aspects of Gaia: Digital Pathways Across the Whole Earth was made as part of the Ars Electronica Festival of Art and Technology in Linz, Austria in 1989. It was inspired by James Lovelock’s (b.1919) holistic Gaia Hypothesis (1979) that conceives the earth (i.e., Gaia) as a living organism, a self-regulating complex system, maintaining the conditions for planetary life. The project’s theme explored the various aspects of life on earth viewed from “spiritual, scientific, cultural, and mythological perspectives” (Ascott 1990:244). Invitations to participate were emailed and faxed to artists, scientists, shamans, visionaries, Australian aboriginal artists, artist natives of the Americas and more (Ascott 1990:244). On the upper part of the exhibition in the Brucknerhau’s exhibition site, viewers could relate to, add information and interact in real time, with streams of digital images, texts and sounds, which constituted the digital noosphere, denoting the invisible cloak that embraces and harmonizes the earth. Ascott likened the participants to healers who access the meridians of the earth’s nodes, and while interacting creatively with the flow of data they are engaged in a “global acupuncture” (Ascott 1990:244). In contrast to the disembodied characteristics of telematics and cyberspace of the exhibition’s upper level, the exhibition’s lower level offered embodied somatic experience. Each viewer was able to travel on a trolley as s/he lays on it horizontally, passing by LED screens that displayed messages about Gaia. According to Ascott, the viewer travelling through the tunnel is akin to a newborn emerging from the birth canal of Gaia’s womb. He describes the subterranean environment as a telematic, neolithic passageway (Ascott 1990:245), thus denoting the unification of the organic earth, the biosphere, with its telematic layer, the noosphere. In Aspects of Gaia, each viewer becomes a participant of both individual and collective process that engages the body and mind with the whole earth within a matrix of planetary consciousness. [Image at right]
In 1989 Ascott coined the term Telenoia which derives from the Greek roots tele, far off, and nous, mind. “Telenoia is networked consciousness, interactive awareness, mind at large (to use Gregory Bateson’s term)” (Ascott, 2003f:259). Telenoia (1992)] was a twenty-four-hour telecommunications project, which involved a concert that took place through telephone lines. [Image at right] In V2’s space in Rotterdam, several computers were installed that would exchange images, sounds and texts with artists, scientific institutions and organizations all over the world. This project was open for the public which was able to participate from home via modem and fax (V2_1992). Telenoia (1992) generated telematic art as a collective and collaborative process. It presented art as opened-ended and uncertain, critical, spiritual and political (Ascott 2003f).
In 1997, Ascott explored the relationship between psychic space and cyberspace by immersing himself in the Brazilian jungle, spending a week with the Kuikuru Indians and shamans in the Xingu river region of the Mato Grosso. [Image at right] The expedition was part of the Shamanic Web project in which participated a group of Brazilian artists. The expedition later led to Ascott’s initiation into the ayahuasca ritual of the Santo Daime community in Brazilia (Ascott 2003g:358). Ascott’s notes from the project poetically describe the exchange and intersection between shamanic technologies and cyber technologies, each gifting the other with instruments of insight.
The Kuikuru effect
we have smoked with the Page
floating above the Mato Grosso
Urubu was the bird that brought fire to Xingu
we brought him cyberfire
he gave us the traditional dish of mandioca
we ate bijou
we brought him the satellite dish of telecom
the gift was a giff
he will weave his dreams into our net
we are enmeshed in his space
his avatar is dynamic (he is jaguar)
the computador must not be a conquistador
our datastreams are tributaries of the Xingu
[…] the shaman huffed and puffed
he entered the wormhole
his words came from the sky
click on any star
we spilled ashes on his laptop
[…] (Ascott 1997:14)
Ascott describes the ability of the shaman to enter different realities in a state of altered awareness and engage with entities and avatars of other worlds. Moreover, the shaman “sees the world through different eyes, navigates the world with different bodies” (Ascott, 2003g:358). The shaman possesses a “double gaze,” a vision peculiar to an altered state of consciousness that Ascott experienced during ayahuasca rituals. He describes the double gaze as a mode of double consciousness whereby one is being in two places at once, having a physical body in the reality whilst having another body that is free to roam in a visionary reality. It is a condition in which one’s awareness fluctuates between two types of reality (Ascott 2003g:359).
For Ascott, computerized technologies trigger the evolution of new senses in humans and awaken dormant ones. Life in a hyper-connected reality alters linear thinking and the terrestrial tunnel-vision of the world. Ascott coined the term cyberception (Ascott 2003h:319) to describe a new faculty of perception that humans develop as a result of their continuing presence and activity in cyberspace. Cyberception is “the emergent human faculty of technologically augmented cognition and perception” (Ascott 2003i:376). Cyberception which could also be called “psi-perception” (Ascott 2003g: 358) implies that both our bodies and minds are connected to a planetary noosphere and biosphere. We constantly think and interact with other remote minds, probing data, and experiencing events both on earth and even in outer space. In cyberspace the notion of identity via avatars and usernames has become experimental and dynamic. Virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality allow the users to be in more than one place at the same time, and add layers to what was once a stable environment. Cyberception involves “transpersonal technology” that enables us to transform our selves, transfer our thoughts, and transcend the limitations of our bodies and minds. (Ascott 2003h: 321). Ascott explains the notion of transpersonal technologies:
The transpersonal technologies of telepresence, global networking, and cyberspace may be stimulating and re-activating parts of the apparatus of a consciousness long forgotten and made obsolete by a mechanistic worldview of cogs and wheels. Cyberception may mean an awakening of our latent psychic powers, our capacity to be out of body or in mind-to-mind symbiosis with others (Ascott 2003h:321).
In his writings Ascott theorizes the spiritual in art, and acknowledges artists such as Wassily Kandinsky (1886- 1944), Piet Mondrian (1872-1944), and kazimir Malevich (1879- 1935) who “believed that art could evoke a spiritual experience” (Ascott 2006:69). He emphasizes the spiritual sources that informed artists such as the Navajo sand painting that inspired Pollock (Ascott 1990:242), and the influence of Pyotr Ouspensky’s (1878-1947) theory of the fourth dimension on modern artists as detailed in The Fourth Dimension and Non-Euclidean Geometry in Modern Art (Henderson 1983) (Ascott 2003). Continuing the first trajectory of the spiritual in modern art instigated by Kandinsky’s in On the Spiritual in Art (1912),
Ascott “sets in motion a further, second momentum with a distinct trajectory for the spiritual in art in the twenty-first century in a context that fuses in a syncretic manner ancient spiritual and shamanic traditions and knowledge with the tools and data of emerging science and technology” (Moore 2018:119).
“Indeed, Ascott states: We are moving towards the spiritual in art in ways in which Kandinsky could hardly have imagined” (Ascott 1996:171). Ascott’s retrospective at the Ninth Shanghai Biennale displayed his wall-size Blackboards artworks (Ascott 2003b: 103) next to an exhibition of Rudolf Steiner’s (1861-1925) blackboard drawings, thus, generating subtle associative links with the Theosophical and Anthroposophical spiritual movements that informed Kandinsky, Mondrian, and other modern artists (Introvigne 2015; Moore 2017:327-328). [Image at right]
In “Technoetic Pathways toward the Spiritual in Art: A Transdisciplinary Perspective on Connectedness, Coherence and Consciousness” (Ascott 2006), Ascott states that in the twenty-first century the new frontiers, as well as metaphors, of art are in the field of nano-technology, field theory, and mixed reality. The exploration of invisible phenomena can now involve nano-technology. He states “that the nanofield mediates between pure matter and pure consciousness and that its significance as an interface between two levels of reality can hardly be overestimated” (Ascott 2006:65). The nano plane is where technology and consciousness meet, and to the artists a challenge which is both material and metaphysical. Whilst to a materialist, nano technology involves working with the smallest, subatomic structures of matter alone, it’s not that radical “to see that nano is located between the material density of our everyday world and the numinous spaces of subatomic immateriality” (Ascott 2006:65).
Ascott states that research of biophotonics, magnetic fields, and field theory may support previously rejected models of consciousness and human identity held by marginal spiritual tradition, such as Afro-Brazilian Umbanda, African Yoruba, Santo Daime and União do Vegetal in Brazil as well as European native, pagan traditions. “These archaic traditions implicitly locate the human within a field of consciousness, rather than seeing consciousness as an epiphenomenon of the brain, as western materialist orthodoxies would argue” (Ascott 2006:66). Ascott emphasizes the morphogenetic field model of biological processes and their possible spiritual meanings as theorized by Rupert Sheldrake (b. 1942) in A New Science of Life (1981) (Ascott 2006:66). Based on the discoveries of Fritz-Albert Popp (b.1938) in the field of Biophotonics, Ascott parallels the emission of photons that DNA molecules emanate in living organism to the flow “of electrons and photons across the body of the planet through telematic networks” (Ascott 2006:65).
The exploration of the spiritual in art transpires in a syncretic model of a variable reality which is divided into three variable` realities as illustrated in Ascott’s graph [Image at right] Variable Reality 1 is “Vegetal Reality” ascribed to psychoactive plant technology and dedicated to entheogenic and spiritual reality. Variable Reality 2 is “Validated Reality,” which is the reality that we recognize as our ordinary daily experience. It is based on mechanical technology and is reactive and Newtonian. Variable Reality 3 is “Virtual Reality.” It’s a realm encompassing interactive digital technology and is telematic and immersive. These three modes through which reality may be experienced and perceived represent a syncretic matrix of “extreme differences aligned in a manner that likeness is found amongst unlike things, the power of each element enriching the power of all others within the array of their differences” (Ascott 2019:143).
The three variables are engaged with through five concepts and approaches illustrated in a pentagram model as follows: [Image at right] First, the concepts of Cyberspace and Telepresence imply our capacity to communicate with one another in electronic, immaterial, virtual spaces. It allows us to be distributed across remote and extended locations, to be both here and there, and in many places at one and the same time” (Ascott, 2003f:264). Second, the concepts of Psychic Space and Apparitional Presence refer to the shamanic path and the spiritual domain where interaction with apparitional entities occurs (Ascott 2006:66). Third, the concepts of Ecospace and Physical Presence pertain to our direct interrelations with concrete environments, artificial and natural. Fourth, the concept of Moist Media implies our use of biological media “comprising of bits, atoms, neurons and genes in every kind of combination” (Ascott 2003i:363). Fifth, the notion of Noetic Systems pertains to our personal neural networks merging with global networks “to create a new space of consciousness” (Ascott 2003i:379). The pentagram represents a constellation comprising of dry media (made of digital components) and moist-media (made of biological matter) through which consciousness including the spiritual can be explored and depicted.
These two interrelated models are based on the premise that “cybernetics underlies the technology of art, and syncretism informs its practice. Syncretic thinking breaches boundaries and subverts protocols” (Ascott 2008:1). Syncretic rational allows thinking outside the box, putting the artist outside the norm and at the front of human development. The models are strategies that art and artists can adopt through advanced research and articulated speculation, “combining the attributes of cyberception, moistmedia, quantum reality, the nanofield, and issues in the ecological, social and spiritual domains” (Ascott 2008:2). The role of art and artists in the technoetic arena is not to prove or illustrate science but explore consciousness and the notion of the self through syncretic interrelations with vanguard scientific thought (Ascott 2008:2). [Image at right] Ascott’s theory and practice, thus, involve the teachings of spiritual teachers, healers, psychonauts, shamans, visionary artists, scientists and theorists such as: Terence McKenna (1946-2000), Jeremy Narby (b.1959), Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935), Max Plank, (1858-1947), David Bohm (1917-1992), Fritjof Capra (b.1939) amongst others (Ascott 2002; Ascott 2008).
In 2003, Ascott combined the research centers that he previously established (CAiiA and STAR) then renamed and re-founded the latter as the Planetary Collegium of Plymouth University with nodes in Italy, Greece, Switzerland and more recently in China. The Collegium “seeks to reflect the social, technological and spiritual aspirations of an emerging planetary society, while sustaining a critical awareness of the retrograde forces and fields that inhibit social and cultural development” (Planetary Collegium). From its outset, the Collegium’s educational program has had a distinct structure combining both telematic and in-person modes of communication, following Ascott’s vision of trans-cultural telematic communities which together evolve a unified network of research nodes located at strategic points on the planet, each with a unique cultural ethos. In 2002, Ascott founded Technoetic Arts: A Journal of Speculative Research and has been its chief editor ever since. During 2003-2007 Ascott was a Visiting Professor at the department of Design Media Arts at School of the Arts, in the University of California. He was appointed Honorary Professor of Thames Valley University in London, UK in 2007. Ascott was appointed De Tao Master of Technoetic Arts in Shanghai, China in 2012 and in 2014 established the Ascott Technoetic Arts Studio together with a B.A. program in Technoetic Arts, which is taught jointly with Shanghai Institute of Visual Art (Ascott 2018:145).
Since 2009, Ascott’s body of works were exhibited in major retrospective exhibitions which displayed artworks alongside texts, photos, videos, and diagrams, which were an integral part of Ascott’s work as a teacher. The retrospectives showed how the different strands of Ascott’s work as an artist, theorist and teacher over many years were always intertwined and impacted each other (Jacques 2018:6). In 2014, Ascott was the recipient of the Prix Ars Electronica Golden Nica Award for Visionary Pioneer of New Media Art. [Image at right] Shanken explicates that the term “visionary” ascribed to Ascott implies that his theory and practice are focused on the “visual discourse of art” and on “systematic methods for envisioning the future” (Shanken 2003:1). Visual art should become visionary, Ascott declares, imagining the critics and viewers becoming seers in the process of their interaction with art (Ascott 2003c:165). Jacques writes that the visionary state of double consciousness that Ascott experienced in ayahuasca rituals in Brazil (Ascott 2003g:359) allows entry to the world that can only be suggested through “indirection, shared participation and metaphor. This is the realm that visionary thinkers, creative artists, and shamans alike aspire to experience and explore” (Jacques 2018:11). Interestingly, as in a cyclic way, Ascott’s visionary work continues to evolve in the Eastern culture that inspired his early works. The studies in Technoetic Arts provided by his studio at the DeTao Masters Academy in Shanghai are set in the philosophical and spiritual context of the Tao. [Image at Right] According to Ascott, the linkage between technoetic processes in design, architecture, art, and the Tao, is immersion. The Tao is an awareness that we are immersed in the flow and that we are the flow. The question of consciousness is central to the understanding of Tao. Consciousness is considered to be a field. Ascott states:
We consider the brain to be an organ of access to that field. We do not think that the brain is muscle and matter that generates consciousness. And from that kind of model, we are very much I think related to tradition and to Taoist thought, which is important to us. That there is a field, that we are the field, we are part of that field of consciousness. We don’t create it, we navigate it, and that has consequences for our practice. (The Tao of Technoetic Arts n.d.).
Throughout his diverse career as a technoetic artist, theorist, and cross-cultural educator, Ascott “has evolved concepts that continue to inform artists’ approaches to networks, communications media and the Internet; whilst also drawing deeply on shamanism and spiritual discourses” (Lambert 2017:42). The outreach of Ascott’s influence is international, and his technoetic theories have been disseminated as well as further developed through the graduates of the Planetary Collegium, his students and colleagues working in diverse practices at various educational and cultural institutions. Ascott is committed to the understanding of consciousness in a telematic digital age. He defines the shaman as “the one who cares for consciousness” (Ascott 2003g:358). Traditionally, the shamans operate in the social sphere of communities serving as intermediaries and messengers that bridge the spirit world with the mundane existence. “As an intermediary who connects the art of diverse cultures and peoples with widely ranging forms of interaction, Ascott can truly be considered a messenger shaman” (Jacques 2018:5).
** All images are clickable for larger size viewing.
Image #1: Arial view of the Royal Crescent and Circle, the City of Bath, England.
Image #2: Silbury Hill, Somerset, England.
Image #3: Roy Ascott with Change Painting, 1959.
Image #4: Roy Ascott: Change Paintings. Image © Roy Ascott.
Image #5: Roy Ascott: Untitled Drawing, 1962.
Image #6: Roy Ascott: Cloud Template, 1966.
Image #7: Roy Ascott: Table. Image © Roy Ascott.
Image #8: Roy Ascott: Plastic Transaction, 1971.
Image #8: Roy Ascott: Table, Retrospective of Roy Ascott in China at the 9th Shanghai Biennale.
Image #9: Brian Eno as student in Roy Ascott’s GroundCourse, Ipswich School Of Art, 1968.
Image #10: Neurons in the cerebellar cortex and detail of a painting by Jackson Pollock (Tansley 1984:54).
Image #11: Roy Ascott: La Plissure du Texte, LPDT, 1983.
Image #12: Roy Ascott: La Plissure du Texte, LPDT, Computer printout, 1983.
Image #13: Roy Ascott: LPDT2/3, Letters Avatars, Image © Max Moswitzer, Selavy Oh, Elif Ayiter, 2010.
Image #14: Roy Ascott: LPDT2/3, Shaman Avatar, Image © Max Moswitzer, Selavy Oh, Elif Ayiter, 2010.
Image #15: Roy Ascott: Aspects of Gaia, 1989.
Image #16: Roy Ascott: Telenoia, 1989. Image documentation © V2.
Image #17: Roy Ascott with the Kuikuru Indians, 1997. Image © Roy Ascott.
Image #18: Roy Ascott’s wall-sized Blackboard next to Rudolf Steiner’s blackboard paintings at the 9th Shanghai Biennale (2012-2013).
Image #19: Roy Ascott: Variable Reality, Image © Roy Ascott.
Image #20: Roy Ascott: Syncretic Art, Image © Roy Ascott.
Image #21: Roy Ascott: A Note to the Spiritually Challenged, Image © Roy Ascott.
Image #22: Roy Ascott: Recipient of the Prix Ars Electronica Golden Nica Award for Visionary Pioneer of New Media Art, 2014.
Image #23: DeTao Masters Academy in Shanghai, 2016. Image © Lila Moore.
Ars Electronica. 2015. Visionary Pioneers of Media Art – Roy Ascott. Accessed from htps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8CBEBW4svyU on 29 July 2020.
Ascott, Roy. 2018. “Appendix 2: Ascott’s Professional History.” Cybernetics and Human Knowing. 25:144-48.
Ascott, Roy. 2013. “Forward: Extending Aesthetics Brian. Pp.12-13 in Eno: Visual Music,” Brian Eno and Christopher Scoates. San Francisco: Cronicale Books.
Ascott, Roy. 2008. “Cybernetic, Technoetic, Synectric: The Prospect of Art.” Leonardo 4:1-2.
Ascott, Roy. 2006. “Technoetic Pathways toward the Spiritual in Art: A Transdisciplinary Perspective on Connectedness, Coherence and Consciousness.” Leonardo 39: 65–69.
Ascott, Roy. 2003. “Navigating Consciousness: Art and transformative technologies.” Accessed from https://www.olats.org/projetpart/artmedia/2002eng/te_rAscott.html on 29 July 2020.
Ascott, Roy. 2003a. “Table (1975).” Pp. 168-73 in Telematic Embrace: Visionary Theories of Art, Technology and Consciousness, edited by Roy Ascott and Edward A. Shanken. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Ascott, Roy. 2003b. “The Construction of Change (1964).” Pp.97-107 in Telematic Embrace: Visionary Theories of Art, Technology and Consciousness, edited by Roy Ascott and Edward A. Shanken. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Ascott, Roy. 2003c.“The Psibernetic Arch (1970).” Pp. 161-67 in Telematic Embrace: Visionary Theories of Art, Technology and Consciousness, edited by Roy Ascott and Edward A. Shanken. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Ascott, Roy. 2003d.“ Behaviourist Art and the Cybernetic Vision (1966–67).” Pp. 109-56 in Telematic Embrace: Visionary Theories of Art, Technology and Consciousness, edited by Roy Ascott and Edward A. Shanken. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Ascott, Roy. 2003e. “Ten Wings (1982).” Pp. 183-84 in Telematic Embrace: Visionary Theories of Art, Technology and Consciousness, edited by Roy Ascott and Edward A. Shanken. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Ascott, Roy. 2003f. “Telenoia (1993).” Pp. 257-75 in Telematic Embrace: Visionary Theories of Art, Technology and Consciousness, edited by Roy Ascott and Edward A. Shanken. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Ascott, Roy. 2003g. “Weaving the Shamanic Web: Art and Technoetics in the Bio-Telematic Domain (1998).” Pp. 356-62 in Telematic Embrace: Visionary Theories of Art, Technology and Consciousness, edited by Roy Ascott and Edward A. Shanken. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Ascott, Roy. 2003h. “The Architecture of Cyberception (1994).” Pp.319-26 in Telematic Embrace: Visionary Theories of Art, Technology and Consciousness, edited by Roy Ascott and Edward A. Shanken. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Ascott, Roy. 2003i. “Technoetic aesthetics: 100 Terms and Definitions for the Post-Biological Era (1996).” Pp. 375-82 in Telematic Embrace: Visionary Theories of Art, Technology and Consciousness, edited by Roy Ascott and Edward A. Shanken. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Ascott, Roy, 1997. “You ask me about the Xingo Indians…” Leonardo Electronic Almanac. 5:14-15.
Ascott, Roy. 1996. “Noetic Aesthetics: Art and Telematic Consciousness.” P.171 in Consciousness Research Abstracts, Proceedings of the Tucson II Conference Journal of Consciousness Studies. Arizona: University of Arizona.
Ascott, Roy. 1990. “Is There Love in the Telematic Embrace?” Art Journal. 49:241-47.
Ascott, Roy. 1968. “The Cybernetic Stance: My Process and Purpose.” Leonardo 1 (2): 105–112.
Bergson, Henry. 1911. Creative Evolution, Translated by Arthur Mitchell. New York: Henry Holt and Company.
Henderson, D. Linda. 1983. The Fourth Dimension and Non-Euclidean Geometry in Modern Art. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Introvigne, Massimo. 2015. “The sounding Cosmos Revisited: Ringbom, Kandinsky, the Theosophical Tradition and Religious/Artistic Innovation.” Accessed from https://www.cesnur.org/2015/Ringbom.pdf on 29 July 2020.
Jacques, Claudia. 2018. “Forward: A Tribute to the Messenger Shaman: Roy Ascott.” Cybernetics and Human Knowing. 25:5-15.
Kandinsky, Wassily. 1946. On the Spiritual in Art. NewYork: Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. Originally published in 1911 and 1912 by Piper and Company.
Karoussos, Katerina. 2018. “The Topology of Technoetics Via Theoria: Roy Ascott and the Techne of La Plissure du Texte.” Cybernetics and Human Knowing. 25:51-65.
King, Ursula. 2006. “Feeding the Zest for Life: Spiritual Energy Resources for the Future of Humanity.” Pp. 3-19 in Teilhard and the Future of Humanity, edited by Thierry Meynard. New York: Fordham University Press.
Lambert,Nick. 2017. “The Cybernetic Moment: Roy Ascott and the British Cybernetic Pioneers, 1955–1965.” Interdisciplinary Science Reviews. 42.42-53.
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Nechvatal, Joseph. 2018. “Ecstatic Ascott.” Cybernetics and Human Knowing. 25:31-42.
Moore,Lila. 2018. “The Shaman of Cybernetic Futures: Art, Ritual and Transcendence in Fields of the Networked Mind.” Cybernetics and Human Knowing. 25:119-41.
Planetary Collegium. n.d. Accessed from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planetary_Collegium on 29 July 2020.
Rockefeller., C. Steven. 2006. “Teilhard’s Vision and the Earth Charter.” Pp.56-68 in Teilhard and the Future of Humanity, edited by Thierry Meynard. New York: Fordham University Press.
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Shanken, A. Edward. n.d. “Telematic Embrace: A Love Story?
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Trickett, Terry. 2019. “A Cybernetic Clarion Call to the Arts’ Community,” Pp.368-75 in Proceedings of EVA London 2019 Electronic Visualisation and the Arts, edited by Jonathan P. Weinel, Jonathan Bowen, Graham Diprose and Nick Lambert. London, UK, July 8-11, 2019. Accessed from: https://www.scienceopen.com/document?vid=e3b6c7a7-190d-46e8-84b3-fd4674badc7a on 29 July 2020.
Wiener, Nobert. 1948. Cybernetics or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine. New York, Paris: John Wiley & Sons, Hermann et CIE.
The full lists of Ascott’s exhibitions, publications and professional appointments are available in Cybernetics & Human Knowing, Vol 25, No. 2-3, 2018.
Appendix 3: Ascott’s Art. Accessed from http://chkjournal.com/sites/default/files/_13_ap11_149-163.pdf On 29 July 2020
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