the 'vivifying current of science':

Avant-Garde Arts in the techno-scientific age

  Image from "A Clockwork Orange" (1971) directed by Stanley Kubrick, based on the 1962 novel by Anthony Burgess.

Image from "A Clockwork Orange" (1971) directed by Stanley Kubrick, based on the 1962 novel by Anthony Burgess.

The Philadelphia Avant-Garde Studies Consortium (PASC) presented its 2018 Symposium, an electrifying program of performances, academic papers, poetry, exhibitions and music, “The ‘Vivifying Current of Science’: Avant-Garde Arts in the Techno-Scientific Age,” on Friday, Dec. 7, 2018, from 1 to 6 pm, in the Class of 1978 Orrery Pavilion of the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, 6th floor, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center, University of Pennsylvania. PASC symposiums are free, and all are welcome to attend.

PASC warmly thanks the presenters and participants in our 4th annual symposium. We’ll be posting more photos and video clips from the day’s festivities soon.

In his “Futurist Painting: Technical Manifesto” of 1910, Umberto Boccioni proclaimed that “the vivifying current of science” would “soon deliver painting from academicism” and posited that science was the ideal model for the arts: “Victorious science has nowadays disowned its past in order the better to serve the material needs of our time; we would that art, disowning its past, were able to serve at last the intellectual needs which are within us.” In stark contrast, Hans Arp saw the techno-philia of Futurists and modern society in general as true madness: “The Renaissance taught men the haughty exaltation of their reason. Modern times, with their science and technology, dedicated them to megalomania. The confusion of our epoch is the result of this overestimation of reason.”

It is no accident that the emergence of many avant gardes coincided with the surge of techno-scientific advances from the late 19th century to the present. Science has often functioned as “the shock of the new” that sparked innovation in the arts. From quantum physics and Pavlovian psychology to LSD and nuclear weapons, from space travel and genetic engineering to global climate change and cyberwarfare, from frontal lobotomies and Prozac to gender reassignment surgery and artificial intelligence, science and technology have transformed and continue to transform the world, radically reshaping our external and internal lives and our concept of the human. Such profound, pervasive change has elicited powerful artistic responses.

Artists such as Alfred Jarry, Marcel Duchamp, Djuna Barnes, Thomas Pynchon, Stanley Kubrick, Laurie Anderson, Bruce Nauman and Zadie Smith (to name just a few), have been obsessed with the techno-scientific world while simultaneously mocking it, conveying the amazement inspired by scientific discoveries and technological developments yet also comically undermining unquestioned belief in “victorious science.” In a more political vein, Allen Ginsberg in “Plutonian Ode” and “Howl” and Norman Mailer in The Armies of the Night, sought to inspire revolt against the hegemony of techno-science, urging readers to see themselves as “crusaders” ready to “attack the hard core of technology land … some sexo-technological variety of neo-fascism” (Mailer). Today, artists such as Natelie Jeremenjenko, with her Bureau of Inverse Technology and artworks that entail the design and execution of scientific experiments; and Trevor Paglen, with his use of everything from Fukushima radioactive waste to satellite surveillance technologies, have attempted to open up the Latourian black box of techno-science, revealing the social, cultural, political, and economic forces inside.

4th Annual Symposium Program of Events

Friday, December 7, 2018

1 to 6 pm

1:00    John Heon, PhD, PASC Co-Director: Opening remarks 

1:30    Craig Dworkin, PhD, University of Utah: “The Pataphysics of Facts/The Fact of Pataphysics”             (lecture/performance) 

1:50    John Heon: “The Bawdy Body Going to Bits: Rabelais, Modernism, and the Medical Humanities” (lecture) 

2:10    Cheryl Harper, MA, MFA, Artist, Independent Curator: “Spiritualism in Contemporary Art: Hilma af Klint and Other Influences on the Work of Angela Ellsworth” (lecture) 

2:30    Emily Brewton Schilling, James Brewton Foundation: “Exhaust Steam” (lightning presentation/exhibition) 

2:45    Thomas Patteson, Professor of Music History, Curtis Institute of Music: “Abstract Machines in         Experimental Music” (lecture) 

3:15    Coffee 

3:45    Loraine Wible, Artist, and Chris Reeves, PhD candidate, University of Illinois-Chicago: “Infinity, Internet, and the Sublime” (live online performance)

4:10  Eric Schmaltz, PhD, Poet and SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Pennsylvania: “Assembled Lines” and poetry collection: Surfaces” (lecture/exhibition)

4:30    Sid Sachs, Director of Exhibitions, University of the Arts: “Technology and Art at the Tyler School of Art in the 1960s” (lightning presentation)

4:45    Daniella Vinitski Mooney, PhD: “Carnivals and Snowstorms” (lecture)

5:10    Katie Hubbell: “Dreamsicle, Dreamcycle” (performance)

5:25    John Heon: Closing remarks 

5:30    Coffee and discussion, with modular synthesizer performance by Thomas Patteson

The Philadelphia Avant-Garde Studies Consortium would like to thank the following for their generous support, financial and in kind: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts; William G. Noel, Director of the Kislak Center; Elizabeth Bates, Special Project Manager, Kislak Center; Aleta Arthurs, Events Coordinator; Gina DeCagna, and Matt Madden. Special thanks to David McKnight, PASC Co-Director and Director, Rare Book & Manuscript Library.