Date: Mon, 22 Dec 1997 17:15:28 GMT
To: Peter Weibel 
From: Peter Weibel 
Subject: Homework As Hierarchy

Homework As Hierarchy: Towards The Demise Of Institutional
Constraints And Circuitry

Ever since Turing in 1937 raised the question of what is
intelligence, the production of knowledge as a mechanistic
trope against a crumbling facade of institutional hierarchy
crumbles to the ground and we are left in a situation in
which a top down programmatic notation needs to be radically
called into question. The transformation of art and the
refiguring of determination in a postmodern society are
similar in scope and appearance to the ruins left behind in
the aftermath of the devastation of the Second World War.
Intelligence and the work assigned to configure such an
exclusionary discourse begins in the great and formalized
institutions of higher education born in the sixteenth
century with the clash between monarchies and peasants and
develops from the great European universities to the
Classical art academies as they flourished in Paris in the
19th century and subsequently in Germany where they were
reconfigured into a fundamentally new language,
revolutionizing interactions and ancient hierarchies between
students and teachers, masters and slaves, and women and
animals.

This is not dissimilar to Turing's first proposal in the
1930s or even Charles Babbage and his Difference Machine a
hundred years earlier in the same country as well as the
symbiotic expansion of his underdeveloped ideas by his good
friend and promoter the great mathematician Lady Ada. Alexei
Shulgin in November of this year proposed a call to artists
on the Internet to participate in a homework assignment
following a long trail of Modernist interventions in the
Twentieth Century into the Academy from the Futurists, the
Dadaists, the Surrealists, Fluxus and the Situationists etc.
in breaking down the binaries of academy and museum, art and
non-art, the code and the codified, zeros and ones and men
and barbarians and revealing one more time that there is no
autonomous circuitry, no untouched ground and like the grand
tzars in prerevolutionary Russia, numerous followers
responded and join him in the quest.

In his telepresent call across countries, borders,
continents, oceans, computers, and institutions, an act that
single-handedly nullified the telephone, the telefax, cable
television, the horse and carriage, the modem and digital
networks, etc., Shuglin's symbolic signs traveled through
space and time and net artists from numerous geographical
positionalities: Slovenia, Britain the United States,
Canada, Brazil, France, Russia and Germany, hastened to
follow Shulgin down the predetermined path in rewriting the
requirements both of the academy and art, as well as the
university course in San Diego, California, and audience,
curator, producer, professor and code.

The question that asks us to rewrite our belief systems,
redefining the fundamental meanings that late in the
twentieth Century on the eve of the millennium we find
ourselves faced with, is explosive and too often banished to
the pages of the text book, inevitably resurfacing again and
again: the question being what is art and what is homework?
We can locate a young professor at the University of
California in San Diego where Harold Cohen (1962) once asked
along with Turing, what does it mean for a painting to be
artificially generated, for creativity to be codified, for
natural life to be scientifically predetermined and
configured onto a canvas with oil paints, to create a
synthesis between a Modernist belief in the generation of
original forms and a Boolean logic of a regeneration of
digits into forms with the addition of Shannon's theories of
noise and signal. Natalie Bookchin, the young professor,
asked such a question to her students whereby in one
assignment she institutionalized cutting edge theories
inadvertently formalized on the eve of the new century. It
was a question that Joseph Beuys had not been ready to
articulate after flying planes in World War Two and
addressing the healing process of a country that badly
needed to redefine its metaphysical identity and subjective
relationship to bourgeois individualism as well as the
extermination unheard of before the great disasters
following the invention of the Magic lantern and Marey's
photographic gun. With the Bookchin Homework project
(Shulgin 1997) emerges amidst the ruins of the 20th Century
utopian beliefs an ever present distopian project formulated
in what S. Freud might have referred to as the return of the
repressed, the repressed being the falsely comforting model
of isolated symbolic practices within the white cube of the
grand museums and great universities of our times.

The question of homework is asked with a direct and
spontaneous call, where observer becomes a part of the
system of observed, avoiding abstract phallic self assertion
or even "self" assertion. So we enter a new phase of
history. How could Shulgin, Cosic, Bunting or even Rachel
Baker and Keiko Suziki ignore such a strong motion by
Bookchin to institutionalize and formalize their strategies.
They could not, and in 1997 in November a potentially
explosive examination of the multitude of human (male and
female) interventions into institutional life emerged
recalling the old revolutionary dreams of collapsing the
museums (the Situationists) and life (the Paris Commune) and
even Manet with his revolutionizing of three dimensional
space into a mere surface display like the computer monitor
today.

When such a brilliant strategic move fails it shatters
systems of restraint and developments solidly articulated in
the 1960s (John Cage) and its ineptitude bares a striking
resemblance to the syllabus on which the task was based. The
project, the homework assignment, is an acute example of a
failure in the tradition of great failures of Modernism from
Abstract Expressionism as camouflage for Cold War secrets to
Nam June Paik's call to reinscribe the television set (1960)
to the emergence of large scale American paintings
reflecting a dark and post cinematic postmodern ambivalence.
This notion underwrites such classic Modernist movements
such as Supremeticism, Constructivism and De Stijl etc. From
Picasso to Braque to Shuglin to Cosic to Jodi to Bunting we
find works which attempt to stare ardently at an ever
protruding and increasingly expansive, in the tradition of
the hot air balloon, belly, or to position the discourse
within the American vernacular, to a contemplation of the
navel. The only project in the 20 odd assignments that
avoids such nullifying contemplation is the work of
Brazilian artist and poet Jočo da Silva. Not surprisingly
his writing from a third world subjectivity transcends the
most trite and banal of the rest of the projects which refer
back to themselves with such force and determination that
they recall the work of abstract "paintings" from the 1950s
when visual culture (sights, images, messages) was of
paramilitary importance to the development of
psycho-physiological research. The laws of a metaphysics of
sexuality and confrontation are rewritten by Jočo da Silva's
homework assignment, and on the basis of this project alone,
I would direct my readers to the project located at:

http://www.easylife.org/homework/

Peter Weibel