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Arteônica: Electronic Art

Waldemar Cordeiro


Contact: Analivia Cordeiro, Rua das Granjas,
506 Granja Viana, Cotia, São Paulo 06700-000,


Reprinted here is Brazilian electronic art pioneer Waldemar Cordeiro's treatise on arteônica, electronic art. Writing in 1971, the artist foresaw the unavoidable obsolescence of traditional art with its limited system of communication and access. The author, one of South America's first computer artists, writes of the impending planetary culture and sees the computer as an instrument for positive societal change: electronic art can contribute to greater environmental balance and can democratize the dissemination and reception of art itself. _________________________________________________

The crisis of contemporary art is a consequence of two variables: the inadequacy of traditional art media to transmit information, and the inefficiency of the information they carry in regards to language, thought and action.

I understand by "communication" the transmission and processing of information, as well as the technical mechanisms employed in transmitting and storing information. Thus, communication systems comprise both the craft of painting and the machine that reproduces or complements functions of the nervous system, the brain or human behavior in the creation of artworks, reproducing them through an artificial organ.

The obsolescence of the traditional communication system of art resides in the limited consumption implicit in the very nature of the transmission medium. Due to the limited number of possible viewers, the high costs, the geographic limitations and the technical difficulties, the traditional communication system of art fails to live up to the qualitative and quantitative cultural demands of modern society.

Traditional artworks are physical objects to be displayed in physically determined places, and they assume the physical displacement of the viewers. In a city such as São Paulo, which has eight million inhabitants, and whose projected population for 1990 foresees more than eighteen million inhabitants, these communications media are not viable. They will be even less viable for an international culture, which is essential for the harmonic development of humankind. These simple evidences do not seem to have been sufficiently understood. Artists of traditional training try to address the communications crisis by leaving the gallery space and working in the urban micro-landscape or the regional macro-landscape---wrapping mountains, for example. These artists have not realized that what is obsolete is not the scale, but the nature of the thing.

Traditional art is known more through mechanical and electronic reproduction than through direct observation. This communicative translation (or commutation) implies, however, loss of information from the point of view of the message intended at the origin. The reverse is also true: the translation to the canvas of messages from mass media (pop) does not escape from the same degradation of information. The digital conversion of the analog image via screen or CRT can substantially alter the gestaltic structure of the message.

The artwork, which implicitly defines the physical space in which it is consumed, separates itself from the social environment. It requires a specific zone for its artistic fruition.

The informational crisis of contemporary art results from the continuation of tradition, which perpetuates the alienation that results from the linear development of the artistic process. This is also a form of isolation, not a physical but a semantic one, inasmuch as the consumption of the artwork requires previous knowledge of exclusive repertoires. The communicative/informational isolation conflicts with the open and interdisciplinary character of a planetary culture.

The use of electronic media may lead to a solution to the communicational problems of art, since telecommunications and other electronic resources require, for their informational optimization, certain forms of image processing. In the case of electronic art (arteônica), the transmission of information does not provoke a transformation. The use of new communications media would mean very little, however, if we do not take into account the most complex cultural variables. When the number of viewers increases, the cultural situation becomes more diversified and the feedback becomes more complex. As the understanding of general conditions grounds all creative effort, the creative act requires more complex methods and more efficient media. It is in this direction that art will find again the conditions to realize its historical role.

It is clear that the mere employment of the computer will not signify the solution for all problems. We can see today a tendency towards a technical virtuosity, which demonstrates a sophisticated hedonism. This tendency, despite not formulating new artistic problems, has the important merit of demystifying traditional art and contributing to an analysis of mental processes in artistic activity, due to the automated method employed. Should we handle artistic issues either with machines or with teams in which the computer is a partner, we will learn more about how individuals handle artistic issues. Simulation efficiently and promptly duplicates traditional art production, which it drains and exhausts, thus issuing a death certificate to misoneism. This tendency, as much as it employs countless resources, is still limited to the isolation I pointed out above regarding the diagnosis of the communicative possibilities of traditional art, even though in this sectorial condition it promotes an iconoclastic operation that is very hygienic. The most urgent problem is not a rivalry with traditional art, because such a rivalry would mean accepting a field of action that is definitely condemned to obsolescence.

Another tendency in electronic art aims at creating interdisciplinary works, taking advantage of scientific research and discoveries. These works borrow from neurology and Gestalt psychology, processing images with the aid of a computer. This tendency inscribes itself in the wake of Concrete art, which was developed in the historical context of the first industrial revolution (Suprematism, Neoplasticism, Constructivism, etc.). These movements helped create a "machine language" appropriate to the communications systems of the urban and industrial society. In this sense we can highlight the evident similarities between Concrete art and Computer art. The tendencies in art which favored a syntax of forms suffered a profound crisis in the 1960s due, chiefly, to the appearance of a new popular mass culture, made possible by electronic communications media. This phenomenon affected in different ways the field of art, particularly through conservative agendas such as Pop Art, New Realism and New Figuration. The new popular culture became responsible for introducing in art new variables that transcend styles based on a syntax of forms. We must emphasize, however, the importance of the development of syntactic research---from mechanical media to electronic media---for the cognizance of human activities. The computer is acquiring a prominent role in culture, as scientific and technical methods change the status of the image. Today we see applications in the areas of automatic pattern recognition, creative programming, and programming of critical studies of artistic messages.

In Brazil, computer art started out in 1968. It has methodological antecedents in Concrete art, which appeared in the late 1940s and which peaked in the 1950s and 1960s. Concrete art was the only art form in Brazil to utilize digital creative methods. Coinciding with the highest period of industrialization in the country, Concrete art offered algorithms largely employed in communications via industrial production means. Visual Concrete art had a major influence over the Brazilian avant-garde in the fields of poetry, music and graphic design.

When foreseeing the future importance of electronic media for Brazilian culture, we must consider the variable of territorial extension. The ever-expanding telecommunications system constitutes---concerning socio-economical activities---a factor of relationship, approximation and integration. The same communicative macro-infrastructure could offer the means for the development of an artistic culture that has national and international reach. In the past, culture faced physical limits resulting from the settlement of national territory by different-sized communities located thousands of kilometers apart. Some of these areas of extremely low population density were virtually uninhabited and lacking modern conveniences. On the other hand, in other communities, the population's coexistence in excessively close proximity ended up downgrading living conditions and jeopardizing potential communications. Electronic media could correct these two anomalies and promote a greater environmental balance between physical factors and communication itself.

---Waldemar Cordeiro, 1971

Translated by Eduardo Kac.

Originally published in Waldemar Cordeiro, ed., Arteônica (São Paulo: Editora das Americas, 1972) pp. 3--4. This book was the catalog of an international exhibition of computer art organized by Cordeiro and shown at the Fundação Armando Alvares Penteado, São Paulo, 1971.

For the print version of this article, see Leonardo Volume 30, No. 1 (February 1997), available from the MIT Press.


copyright 1997 ISAST

created 7 March 1997

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