19th International Congress of Aesthetics, Cracow 2013

Krzysztof Mazur

Adaptive Aesthetics

      The world of a modern man is a world filled with lots of high-tech items of everyday use. Our attitude towards them usually is restricted to looking through the user manual and their practical usage. Understanding manuals and usage of such items on a daily basis, does not mean that they are mentally accepted, that we feel well among them, that we understand how they work as well as the possibilities and consequences of their usage. They are not objects of our thoughts or of seeking a deeper meaning in their existence in our daily lives. Their usage only in a practical way, with no understanding of their basis of work and with no acceptance of their role in everyday life, often leads to feelings of alienation, hostility and ugliness of our surroundings. In these modern utilitarian objects we lack the human touch or touch of the artist. It is not enough, however, to dress them in designer robes because under them we will not see the essence of their existence: it is rather so that each of us must, for example of the artist, feel himself for a moment as an artist, in a phenomenological act co-creates a piece of art, beyond the utilitarian function and beyond their technical understanding. In this way, our artistic recognition of their existence becomes creditable for us, and although it is false and simplistic in the objective, scientific sense, it becomes human, acceptable for us - common users - dimension. Interactive contact with such a creation of high technology for everyday use, apart from its practical application, can somehow identify, discover it as a piece of art almost from scratch. Although it has been used for years in everyday life, our sudden perception and understanding of it effects our joy and lets us have a fuller, in more general context, acceptance to the products of science. The validity of such approach towards his work by the artist includes the aesthetic value of the adaptation.
      The technology development in past ages was much slower and newly invented items occurred in our environment quite rarely. Therefore the adaptation process was slow and almost imperceptible. In art, the adaptive value did not play a major role. Nowadays, the rapid development of science and technology, and, as a result, faster emergence of newer and newer utilitarian objects and methods of communication, makes different functions of art than in past epochs more important. I think, it can be concluded that today the adaptive aesthetic value in a piece of art begins to play a prominent role.
      The function of art, understood as an adaptive factor in society, can be describe referring to the description of internalisation and adaptation phenomena. Here, the artist bears the main burden of adaptation of new elements of reality. Those who have contact with the art, treat art as a kind of model worthy of emulation.
      In a sense, this function can be explained on the basis of art through the concept of catharsis, as process of purification, understanding and acceptance, by merging into a single probably universal approach to the piece of art, many of our often harsh, conflicting and stressful experience. A more convincing description of the phenomenon of adaptation, well matched to the area of art, can be found in the work of J. Piaget. In his conception of social adaptation, the essence of adaptation is cooperation of processes of assimilation and accommodation. The process of assimilation is the absorption of new information about the outside world and turning them into patterns already acquired by the individual. If the process of assimilation will be disturbed or becomes impossible to carry out, the mind uses accommodation process and matches held patterns to the external situation. The aim of the adaptation process is homeostasis, that is: obtaining an appropriate balance between the processes of assimilation and accommodation.
      In addition, in the field of art, a good way to increase the effectiveness of adaptation is internalization, and artists, who have a particular status, in public opinion can afford quite significantly deviate behaviour from the standards which are in force in the community. New elements of the reality, although widely used in everyday life, are treated as foreign and not fully accepted. Through the social status of art and artists’ attitude and values in their works, these elements are adapted and added to the set of elements of the world that we have already considered, so that they will be accepted. You could say that the artist as first adapting to environmental change moves the realm of matter in the realm of culture and through his externalization forms works which are models for others through a process of the internalization. His adaptive effort and, often, his extreme experience covered in the form of art allows communities with much less effort and without exposure to extremes of experience to effectively adapt to changes in the environment.
      The artist is, in a sense, a geneticist, intuitively or consciously takes quite naturally memes as the products of our culture, science, knowledge and carries out manipulation, trying to get memes more fertile, supporting culturally, more familiarized and adapted to our minds.
      The artist has a particular sensitivity to changes, to the emergence of new creations in the area of human experience. These novelties disturb the existing order and the artist, as the first, attempts to modify and to repair these disorders. The artist is a culture sniper. Works, as a consequence of his own experience, particularly resonate with our experience, provide psychological adaptation to new creations and acceptance of the changes in the aesthetic order of our worlds.
      This task is taken from the depths of artistic psyche, from the internal need and aesthetic sense, with no infirmity in the creation of the industry and advertising purposes.
      The artist initially is fascinated with the new technology, its extraordinary features. It can be said, that the very presentation of these opportunities, in the context of art, creates the work. In the initial stage, the artist tries to match this new technology to existing, known to him means of expression, and often the new technology is considered by the artist as an extension of the possibilities of the older technology. But due to artistic experiments, new specific ways of the artistic expression are isolated. However, before this separation, the natural artist’s instinct tries to accommodate, to find forms related to the new experience, to the assimilation into the existing order in his work. The experience of such works composes again our existing experience in a more simple and persuasive order.
      Sometimes it happens that adapted in this way new technology, reveals the next stage of its own means of artistic expression and develops them so interesting and suggestive, that they become a new convention, or even a new type of art. You can recall the fair term of the cinema at the beginning of the last century, as well as the birth of art of computer games at the end of the same century.
      After the initial phase of fascination with new technology by artists, critical artistic attitude expressing lack of acceptance, strangeness, affectation of new technology in the early works, come to the fore. They express a feeling of fear to entering of such works in the area of art and even highlight the poor quality of the first works of art.
      This conflict between affirmation and art criticism gradually accommodates new technology extinguishing tension through assimilation of other works of artists into more mature work. In the case of adaptation homeostasis, it could be likely to emergence of a masterpiece.
      The ubiquity of new electronic technology is so intrusive that it disappears from the field of conscious vision, but at the same time it is a subconscious problem of adaptation to the human psyche. The art is trying to cope with this problem in increasingly mature works.
      Here it is worth quoting the words of Jack W. Burnham1: “As a rule, new and exotic technology has not led to the production of great or even good art. Somehow the aesthetic implications of a technology become manifest only when it becomes pervasively, if not subconsciously, present in the life-style of a culture.”
      Contemporary times offer a growing technological variety, and hence the traditional divisions of art related to the technology of painting or sculpture are exceeded; new languages of expression peculiar to a variety of modern technologies are created. There is a problem of including activities and works made by using one of the modern technologies in the sphere of institutional art. The same problem arises with the acknowledgement of an author creating in such new technologies as an artist; “It seems reasonable to predict that artists may function in a wide range of occupations, no longer identified with a few medieval crafts, and will be recognized as people who, within the limits of their fields, solve problems in unique and particularly elegant ways.”1
      I would like to add that, especially the implementation of the task of adapting these technologies changes the traditional image of the artist, connecting him with the image of a scientist, and partially - of a therapist, or a guide - the spiritual guru of modern technology. Maybe the term “master high-tech man” would be more appropriate?
      These are just my suggestions relating to attempts to describe the phenomenon of adaptation in aesthetics. Description of this issue requires a lot of work. This article aims to draw attention to, in my opinion, an important area of today aesthetic research. Maybe there will be people interested in the area of art that try to study it and seek appropriate way to describe the phenomenon of adaptation through art.

      I work as an artist, animator and at the same time as a philosopher I am a researcher of creation and development of works based on one of the commonly available electronic technology – GPS. I do this especially for observations connected to the phenomenon of adaptation through art.
      GPS (Global Positioning System) – satellite navigation system, originally developed for military use, is a technology that until recently was known only from spy movies; it suited also well to totalitarian vision of the control over a man, to determine the whereabouts of any person. Today it became the technology of everyday use. It is used in many devices that have appeared in our closest surroundings, so that we use it more and more often, not always with the consciousness. GPS technology is used widely for car and marine navigation systems, outdoor sports, it can be easily applied to the location of our own current position of the intentional and planned artistic movement. As a consequence, it may provide a spatial record of artistic creation in the form of drawings and sculptures, animations and games. In its original form, this recording consists of lists of specific geographical position recorded with 1 second interval, but in the virtual world of the computer it turns into the lines of any thickness and colour; set of these lines forms a plane, and if the lines are drawn in space – a block.
      Such a virtual record of our earth reality has its own character and particularity of expression, a range of opportunities and constraints and thus the so-called art workshop is created, like in any other technology, whether of stone or bronze, or techniques of oil or video recording.
      In GPS-art creating, what is material is in fact our movement, but the work itself is revealed only in the virtual reflection, in the trace of this materiality. The question of what constitutes a matter of GPS works is quite problematic. We can say that the product of the creative process is directly related to its documentation, which is a virtual record of the author’s movement trace. GPS-art is the creation, in which the documentation is a proper matter of the work and the work form is the art taking place on the border between real and virtual worlds. The creative process is subject to real constraints of gravity and inertia, interference of radio waves, the influence of wind, water currents, physical barriers etc.; at the same time this document, as a result of the impact of these limitations, is created in the virtual world however, where these restrictions do not apply. GPS-art work is thus created in the physical limitations of the real world, but directly in the material virtual matter.
      The first attempt in creating GPS-art I made using the Garmin GPS-12 device, but at that time the device inaccuracy and deliberately introduced interferences into the GPS military system did not allow for making drawings of visually satisfactory precision. At the beginning, contact with the GPS was just fun, technology novelty item, entering the market and any awkward drawing of a line as a result of the outdoor kilometres long movement was fascinating. Only mass appearance of modern and cheaper receivers, much demilitarization of GPS technology and the implementation of the atmospheric disturbance correction allowed to obtain adequate precision and speed of the receiver position. At the same time, advanced programs to handle and visualize GPS traces stored in the GPS receivers were created.
From the chaotic strokes more and more accurate shapes began to emerge. Initially, there were attempts to draw in a representational way, from points and lines to create paintings – sculptures, animation - the application of the GPS technology in conjunction with the traditional form of art. There appeared pieces of work documenting the daily activities in the open air, daily mobile activities, meetings with people, events, tours, etc. It turned out that the GPSart is also an interesting way to stress socially important initiatives in order to present problems confronting people in public space. I would like to mention the public presentation of walking paths in an overgrown private land “Park Duchackiego” made by using GPS tracks. Residents of the park neighbourhood wanted to raise this area as a public park and persuade the city authorities to its purchase. Eventually, the authorities bought the area and now they are working on creating a city park. Another example of using GPS-art in public space is creating a drawing of a gas mask that was used during public campaign against smog over the Kraków town; the drawing was presented before the vote on the prohibition of the use of solid fuels in Kraków.
      The GPS-art works created by myself and others during my project www. gpsart.eu evolved in three categories:
      – images made on the 2D plane while hiking, swimming, driving, etc.,
      – spatial forms 3D made while plane flying, paragliding and mountain climbing,
    – application of 2D in such a way that after the implementation of virtual modifications in the altitude of a GPS tracks solid sculptures in 3D format were created. For this category, a program was created that allows easy multi-step adjustment of any point of the track, as well as change in the colour and line thickness.
      Very interesting are experiences with people not connected with the institutional art, who after completing the workshops start their own projects GPS-art. People intuitively seek out a particular technology for the means of expression. Often, in addition to representational works, only through specific selection of the site, at the same time they indicate a particular social problem, to which GPS technology is well suited. I observed even a change in attitudes towards technology of elderly people in a situation when the application of the device is for other purpose than predicted by the manufacturer. Exactly in the use of artistic expression. This is the way of individual understanding of the technology and reflection on the technology’s objects existence in our environment. Thus, these objects become human and adjust to the individuality, which is inside each of us.

1. Jack Burnham, The Aesthetics of Intelligent Systems in On the Future of Art, New York: Viking Press, 1970, pp. 95–122.