Date of Degree

2-2017

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Art History

Advisor(s)

Romy Golan

Committee Members

Claire Bishop

David Joselit

Fred Turner

Subject Categories

Digital Humanities | Interactive Arts | Interdisciplinary Arts and Media | Modern Art and Architecture | Visual Studies

Keywords

computer art, programmed art, arte programmata, new media art, interactive art

Abstract

This dissertation historicizes and theorizes a group of Italian artists who were among the first to use computers and cybernetics to make artworks, developing the genre of Arte Programmata, or Programmed Art. It argues that the artists of Arte Programmata (Bruno Munari, Enzo Mari, and collectives Gruppo T and Gruppo N) turned to the generative, interactive, and probabilistic aspects of early computers not simply as new media for making art but as platforms for radically altering what it means to be a participant in an increasingly mediated and networked world. This is apparent in how each of their works deploys computers to restructure the relationship between subjects and their environment. In kinetic sculptures modeled on computer programs, the audience is invited to participate in the creation of the work; in immersive environments based on cybernetics and information theory, visitors are simultaneously activated, disoriented, and manipulated; and underlying designs for home goods is a concept of the world as an adaptable, interconnected system of subjects and space. Far from being antagonistic to liberty, Arte Programmata’s multi-faceted oeuvre demonstrates that technology supports individual’s capacity to act upon and affect their environment. Therefore I contend we should understand that programming, cybernetic systems, and even control are not categorically antithetical to individual freedom but comprise the conditions that allow for and encourage subjective agency. Bridging art history and media studies, this dissertation underscores how both art and technology are ways of visualizing and structuring social interaction, and it argues for a reassessment of the political, critical, and even visionary role of new media art like Arte Programmata.

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