Nature: Art & Consciousness in the
by Roy Ascott,
Intellect Books, Bristol, UK, 2005
333 pp., illus. Paper, $39.95
Reviewed by Rob Harle (Australia)
Engineering Nature is a collection
of papers that were presented at various
annual "Consciousness Reframed"
conferences, particularly the 2003 conference
that took place at the University of Wales,
Newport. It also includes selected papers
from the Technoetic Arts Journal.
There are over 48 essays by almost as
many contributors. These entries are presented
in six sections as follows: 1The
Mind. 2The Body.
3The Place. 4The
Text. 5The Art.
6The Future. The only
entry in the Future chapter; The
Nanomeme Syndrome: Blurring of Fact and
Fiction in the Construction of a New Science
is a very balanced discussion concerning
nanotechnology and how much of the current
media hype regarding this fledgling science
is actually fact or fiction.
The essays, as the subtitle indicates,
are somewhat eclectic within the very
general area of Art and Consciousness
in the Post-Biological Era. The book
is edited by Roy Ascott who is founder
and also editor of the Technoetic Arts
Journal and is Director of the Planetary
Collegium, University of Plymouth, UK.
In Ascotts own words, "This book
embodies the writings of artists and scholars
from twelve countries in four continents,
and so may be considered as a valuable
reflection of international thought, practice
and meditation on the place of technology
and consciousness research in the current
There is quite literally a smorgasbord
of concepts and explorations presented
with an emphasis or bias towards an alternative
understanding of consciousness. That is,
what sort of attributes and embodiment
constitute post-biological consciousness.
Consequently, many of the papers investigate
interactive technologies, immersive virtual
environments, and experimental art works
that push the boundaries of our conscious
involvement or presence in both the comprehensible
world of gross physical matter and the
perhaps, incomprehensible universe of
quantum probability and non-causal synchronicity.
There is a dearth of papers dealing with
the neurophysiological aspects of consciousness
and one or two which discuss future modes
of consciousness in terms of ancient spiritual
modes as in Cinematic Soteriology:
Darshanic Effects in the Tamil Bakthi
Films (p. 253).
I found some of the essays quite inspiring,
providing ideas for future research, and
others provocative enough to initiate
serious thought and analysis. A few I
found deadly boring and still stuck in
the postmodern biological era. Yes, its
time to move on ladies and gentlemen,
were on the brink of the most momentous,
exhilarating future imaginable, and some
are still quoting Barthes and Derrida
as though they are demi-gods who have
bestowed us with the answers to everything.
Engineering Nature would have benefited
from some decent proof reading as there
are too many minor typographical and punctuation
errors. A second, though more serious
criticism, is that many of the papers
are too brief; this is perhaps due to
the fact that the papers were conference
presentations. I think the book would
have been helped immensely if a few of
the repetitive papers were omitted and
the authors of the remaining papers asked
to expand and fully develop their ideas.
I was getting into the brilliance of some
of the papers when they suddenly finished.
This is not only a criticism of this book
but of much futuristic and speculative
research writing generally. That is, a
scholarly full development and discussion
of the subject is often lacking. Some
authors are so keen to embrace the future,
with its embedded technology, that they
become blind to a balanced approach and
rigorous critical investigation of the
issues involved. A small number of the
papers in this volume fall into this category.
This books forte, as is to be expected
with "speculative" research publications
generally, is to challenge our conventional
ideas, provide inspiration for scholars
to examine previously unimagined areas
of research, and to act as a kind of guide
to cutting-edge developments in current
art and technology practice and investigation.
Engineering Nature: Art & Consciousness
In The Post-Biological Era fulfils
these criteria very well.