What was old is new again

A meeting of art and scholarship, November 21 to 23, 2008 | ZKM Karlsruhe, Germany

Abstracts & Papers

Every religion, political ideology, philosophy, and scientific theory embodies a set of structured beliefs. These belief systems maintain a symbiotic liaison with the arts. Throughout history, communal beliefs have relied on music, theater, painting, and dance in order to propagate accepted doctrines, and the arts in turn have shaped the articles of faith.

Wayne Horowitz
Astronomical Creation Myths and the Mathematical Universe
Video of presentation
Sumerian and Akkadian accounts of the creation of the universe (Heaven and Earth) customarily deal with the organization of the skies. In the most famous of these accounts, the Babylonian national epic Enuma Elish, the god Marduk arranges the stars in the image of ‘The Astrolabes,’ a group of cuneiform astronomical texts. Numerous other such records have survived spanning a period of over 2000 years, from the Early Dynastic Period in Sumer down into the Hellenistic Period. Certain elements of the story have not varied, though new features appeared in later periods as scientific knowledge of the sky improved. This paper examines these heavenly creation accounts and, as their understanding of astronomy advanced, the attempts of Mesopotamian scholars to provide new images of the creation of the sky.

Theo J.H. Krispijn
Sumerian Cultic Songs and Music
Video of presentation
Many Sumerian texts written in cuneiform script from Mesopotamia belong to the genre of cultic songs. The oldest examples are from ± 2500 B.C. These texts often refer to singing, musical practice and musical instruments.
In my paper I shall give a survey of different sorts of cultic songs and their spread over the different periods of Sumerian literature. I shall pay special attention to the musicians, musical instruments, and musical terminology mentioned in these texts. As an illustration of musical practice, I will show pictures of the excavated instruments used in the cult, along with examples of Mesopotamian art that feature instrumentalists and singers.
At the end of my paper I shall perform the only complete piece of early music that survived the ages, the prayer of an infertile woman from the city of Ugarit (± 1150 B.C.). I shall sing the prayer, accompanying myself on a replica lyre.
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Bazon Brock Avantgarde is nur das
Video of presentation

Yiyi Chen
Contemporary Christian Arts in China
Video of presentation
Modern day Chinese, believers or not, derive their "picture" of Christianity from copies of Medieval and Renaissance ecclesiastical paintings inserted in books on the Bible as illustrations. These artworks constitute a vital medium for introducing Christianity to China.
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Dmitry Gutov
K. Marx and the Destiny of Classical Art
Video of presentation
Contemporary art starts where the image ends.  Painting and sculpture used to be called the fine or figurative arts, because they represented something.  At the beginning of the twentieth century, the art mainstream took the radical decision to regard a work of art as an entity that refers to nothing but itself.  Malevich's Black Square (1915) is a black square painting, and Duchamp's Fountain (1917) is an actual urinal.
The social basis for the revolution in the nature of art can be found in the writings of Karl Marx.  In Estranged Labour, Marx shows the objectification of labour leads to alienation and a loss of reality for the worker. Предмет, созданный человеком противостоит ему как враждебная сила. Через 70 лет после «Рукописей 1844 года» это негативное отношение человека к предметному миру найдет себе эстетическое воплощение в концепции беспредметного искусства и в readymade. В идее Маркса о том, что современный мир, находится в «абсолютном движении становления» и не может найти себе эквивалента ни в чем, что имеет «законченный образ и форму», уже заложено понимание судьбы классического искусства, которое есть законченный образ и форма по определению. 

Muzaffer Özgüles
Sinan’s Sculptural Architecture in Istanbul
Video of presentation
Although Islam has prohibited sculpturing, the grand master of all Ottoman architects, namely Sinan, was able to surmount this ban skillfully. He regarded the limitations as a challenge for his creativeness. During his half a century long career as the chief architect of Ottoman Empire, he transformed bridges, aqueducts, small buildings, and grandiose complexes into enduring monuments. The aesthetics of these works went far beyond his contemporaries and his predecessors. Architecture was the language he used to express, not only the religious believes, but also his artistic creativity. By the end of the 16th century, Istanbul, where he gave most of his works, became “Sinan’s Istanbul”. This paper aims to reveal the art and science that is the essence of his achievement.
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Mel Alexenberg
Talmud Design and the Internet
Video of presentation
The multi-linear design of the 5,894 pages of the Talmud was first set for printing in 16th century Venice. A typical page has a central patch of Hebrew text followed by a text in Aramaic developing the topic. Surrounding these two texts are commentaries and commentaries on the commentaries augmented by diagrams and references. The design of the Talmud has much in common with the Internet. They are both media of community-created knowledge that foster interactive, associative, multidirectional thinking. The Talmud took shape through the on-going global dialogue of hundreds of commentators spanning centuries. In a sense, the ancient Hebraic form of discourse that resulted in the Talmud has been taken up by the Internet.
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Misha Bielicky
The future will never be what it used to be
Video of presentation
The exponential growth of IT (Info Technology) in the context of social development makes for unpredictable consequences.

Naomi May
Adoration of the King’s Image
Video of presentation
A king of flesh and blood was deified in ancient times during certain periods. In Neo-Assyrian times, veneration of the king acquired a specific form. Textual evidence and visual sources testify to the adoration of a divinized royal image as the very symbol of kingship itself. The royal effigy was part of the official Assyrian cult imposed by the Empire on its vassals.
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Olia Lialina & Dragan Espenschied
Do you believe in the user?
Video of presentation
Since the first wave of mass-adoption of the World Wide Web in the 1990s, it was understood by its users as a space for self-expression and endless expansion. The pioneer-amateurs were full of passion for this new medium: idolizing it and being disgusted by it, sincerely discussing technical details and new rules of behavior. Almost as a by-product, a wealth of visual languages and habits emerged; we call it Digital Folklore.
As of now, the New Medium has turned into a Mass Medium. Infinity was apparently conquered, all communication is formalized, websites are designed by professionals. However, Digital Folklore carried on by web users continues to shape the web's everyday life.
Artists and designers used to look down on the modular clutter of Digital Folklore as primitive and vulgar. But the need for authentic forms of expression in digital media forced them to look into the vernacular history. Some of these elements, just ten years old, are now regarded as classic, timeless artifacts.

Netanel Anor
Race, Language, and Culture in Nineteenth Century Science
Video of presentation
A Jewish scholar of the late nineteenth century, Joseph Halevy, denied the existence of the Sumerian language. He argued against the commonly held view that speakers of a non-Semitic language had developed the first writing. Halevy credited the invention of writing to the Semitic race, a thesis that owed a lot to his Jewish pride. Apparently Halevy’s position and those of his opponents (some harboring anti-Semitic sentiments) were motivated by academic beliefs widespread at the time, which saw an inherent relation between language, religion, culture, and blood, all subsumed in the term "race".
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Marcin Ramocki
A Culture of Technological Obsolescence
Video of presentation
Computer technology, along with the first generation of people who grew up with megahertz and kilobytes, has arrived at the proverbial mid-life crisis. What we used to call "new media" is no longer new. Tons of obsolete CPUs, peripherals, and software fill basements, academic storage units, and dumps. Now the Internet is the first frame of reference.
This sea change has impelled the generation of artists whose toys were Commodores, Ataris, and Nintendos to go back and reflect upon their past. They take apart computers and video games, make 8 bit music, hack obsolete gear, and learn the clandestine machine codes of the 80’s. This technological do it yourself [DIY] is both nostalgic and rebellious. It seeks to understand what constitutes the common digital heritage of “generation X”. DIY is also a potent weapon in overcoming our addiction to consumer playthings and mitigating the alienation endemic to contemporary society.

Irene Sibbing
Illness: where religion and science meet
Video of presentation
Among Mesopotamians, disease did not have a rational cause and one did not become ill by accident. The gods caused illness, brought down upon the patient by personal actions, through neglect of the gods, committing a sin, or other wayward behavior. Treatment of the patient involved religion as well as science. This paper will present what the Mesopotamian view of illness and healing tells us about their society and world view.

Luke Murphy
The New Raw Unconscious
Video of presentation
While many artists have employed aleatory elements in their work including ceramic effects, Chinese ink blot drawing and Cozens' blot technique, it has been in the 20th century that chance has become an overt aesthetic or anti-aesthetic strategy. At first with Duchamp, dada and Surrealism's psychic automatism and later with John Cage, chance and randomness have become part of the standard new tool box. But it is the use of random number generation that marks the dividing line between traditional art and digital work. Generative programs, sims, data visualization and other mimetic digital work represent the fountain head of the artist encountering the ability to simulate nature through computer generated random numbers. But to move further we need to examine what is the difference between computer generated random numbers, which are themselves a simulation and what it is to tap into the ultimate source of randomness. Concentrating on the clicks from a Geiger counter brings us into direct communion with the fabric of time and space. It is the sound of the raw material unconscious.
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Joey Skaggs
Pataphysics: The Science of Imaginary Solutions
Video of presentation
What lies beyond metaphysics? A great deal for Alfred Jarry (1873-1909), a playwright and culture jammer who coined the term Pataphysics. It is a philosophy that takes in everything written and everything sung and everything done, and like metaphysics has the virtue of meaning whatever you want it to mean.
Pataphysics offers a voyage of discovery and adventure into realms where philosophers seldom venture, including art, activism, and onto the street. Dada, Futurism, Surrealism acknowledged the influence of Pataphysics, and nowadays the tradition is carried on by US-based ensembles Act-up/New York, Billboard Liberation Front, Yes Men, Cacophony Society, Negativeland, Improv Everywhere, Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping. The biting satire of their parodies and absurd theater make effective social commentary.

Barbara London
From (music) Minimalism to (media) Maximalism
Video of presentation
Young visual artists in the early 1960s developed art practices relevant to their generation. They explored interdisciplinary experiments based on emerging new technologies. Cross-fertilization became the font and driving force of new ideas.
The Korean born artist Nam June Paik is a notable example. His early works drew upon his musical training and Buddhist upbringing, which valued simplicity. A typical Paik performance would consist of a lengthy preparation leading up to a single note played on a piano. A series of media works adapted the Buddhist notion of chance and John Cage’s work with random events to television technology. Paik tinkered with the innards of TV sets to generate simple abstractions that in effect mocked showy broadcast fare.
Upon coming to New York in 1963, Paik’s minimalism gave way to maximalism. His signature video style became a rapid-fire/kamikaze onslaught that made commercial television appear staid by comparison. However, the current tsunami of garish TV advertising, frenetic multi-tasking, and YouTube mania indicate Paik was just a bit ahead of time.

Bo Lawergren
Animals Making Music
Video of presentation
Sumerian lyres are known both as extant instruments and as pictures. Their sound boxes resemble bovine bodies, and they have bovine heads that further enhance the resemblance. Zoroastrian scriptures relate that earliest man, Yima, received a golden trumpet from the God Ahura Mazda who urged Yima to call animals. In ancient Egypt, a satirical cartoon features erotic scenes and an extraordinary animal orchestra. Two donkeys, a crocodile, and a lion stand on hind legs and play lute, lyre, harp, and double-pipes.
In all cases, except in Paleolithic caves, the protagonists are modeled as genuine animals, not disguised humans. Did the ancients believe that animals could play and enjoy music? Or did they view the animals as deities with animal faces?
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If the proceedings drag on aimlessly or the dialogue becomes overly animiated and argumentative, then an unscheduled intrusion will provide a welcome change of pace.

Henry Zemel: a musical interlude draws together Galileo's inclined plane experiment, his father's musical composition, and the origin of opera

Peter Weibel: an intervention

Morty Schiff: a brief diversion about infinitudes

Jocelyn Wolff: FNAC, FRAC, FRAM, FMAC, CNAP, Cultures France