-empyre- Process as Paradigm

Susanne Jaschko and Lucas Evers wrote: Process as Paradigm: Concept and Context

On April 23rd at Laboral Centro de Arte y Creacion Industrial in Gijon, Spain the exhibition Process as Paradigm – art in development, flux and change opened, curated by Susanne Jaschko and Lucas Evers. With this empyre discussion, the we as curators wish to deepen the critical discourse on the concept of Processual Art as formulated with the show. The full catalogue of the exhibition can be found here.

From the curators’ notes in the catalogue: With this exhibition and accompanying programme we curators formulate a bold thesis. We claim that process – and here we mean non-linear and non-deterministic process – has become one of the major paradigms in contemporary art and culture.

More than this, we see a strong connection of this cultural development to the current situation of the globalised world which is shaken by on-going military and religious conflicts, the sudden meltdown of world economy and the threat of climate change, only to name the big headlines. In the light of the current and reoccurring crises it has become obvious that these processes of greater scale and impact are not necessarily following simple rules of predictability or linearity. What might have been a wrong construct in general and the consequence of a deceptive linear narrative of history – a world which is at least partially manageable by us humans – has turned into a scattered, “atemporal” picture.

Susanne Jaschko: Processual Art + real life = ?

I am particularly interested in Processual Art’s potential to mirror, respond to, or comment on the changing, processual nature of life on a long-term basis. I hope that in this discussion we can find some results to the equation “Processual Art + real life = ?” and that we also critically discuss process as a paradigm bridging various practices and genres in contemporary art and culture. Parallel to this empyre debate I am teaching on the subject at Bauhaus University in Weimar in May and hope that the seminar will deliver also interesting perspectives and results, which I can share with the list.

The contemporary perception of us humans as particles of larger networks and systems – an effect of real-time connectedness – is one of the major conditions for the prevalence of the present and of process as a concept in culture and in the arts.

We are involved in new and different typologies of scattered communities, groups, manifold production networks and communication grids, and act within them with different intensities, but with an awareness of our own dispersed presence in all these systems.

No doubt, the degree of performance and presence that is demanded in all these systems is tremendously challenging. We live in a culture of the present in which the ‘here’ and the ‘now’ – in its new interpretation – has become a universal condition. In this celebration of presence and the present lies one of the major factors for the turn in the arts (but also in other related fields like design and architecture) to processuality and performativity, a shift that is gaining momentum.

In 1967, Roy Ascott wrote: “When art is a form of behaviour, software predominates over hardware in the creative sphere. Process replaces product in importance, just as system supersedes structure”. Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht turned against the exclusive construction of meaning in the humanities, and against their limited focus on signs and meaning structures. He argued that there is another valid access to the world beyond representation – the aesthetic experience of presence.

The flow and continuous changes, the agency of the artist and the public, being characteristic of works of processual art have a strong impact on the specific, subjective perception and understanding of presence. While today we increasingly experience this “tyranny of the here and now,” with its unrelenting demand for our attention, the delicate and ambient nature of processual art allows for shared attention, the choice between active and passive agency on the part of the recipient, and a multiplicity of access points. In this regard, processual art opposes the oppressive canon of the spectacle and instead introduces the idea of art that merges with life – or at least the idea of art that accompanies life.

Lucas Evers: Is Art the way to deal with serious shit?

A remark related to Gumbrecht’s aesthetic experience of presence above was also made in the still ongoing debate on tactical media on empyre. Christopher Sullivan, in his post of April 29, reflecting on the limits of current conventions in art education, notes “that though we come from different places, we should all have read the same materials, and agree on all major topics, primary to this, is the notion that everything is about representation, and everything is an illusion created by prejudices, the government, the media… Ignoring the more interesting conversation that some serious shit is actually happening. I.E. people sneaking across any border in droves, is a problem.”

From this perspective that some serious shit is actually happening, I am are also interested to discuss processual forms of art that blend into other domains of life. Art-Science, not in the sense of art reflecting on science, but maybe art and science as merging creativity with knowledge finding. Reflections of that sort can be made about art and economy and what this means for art as a distinct practice.


Susanne Jaschko is curator of contemporary art and based in Berlin, Germany. Her curatorial practice focuses on experimental art which goes beyond art as commodity and renews the concept of art and its social and cultural functions. She was Head of Presentation and of the artist-in-residence program at the Netherlands Media Art Institute in Amsterdam from 2008/09. From 1997 to 2004 she was curator and later deputy director of transmediale. She holds a doctorate degree in Art History/Philosophy.

Among the exhibition projects she curated independently are Process as Paradigm, Laboral, Gijón, 2010; Visual Voltage Amplified , Felleshus, Berlin, 2010; Travelling Without Moving, Oboro, Montréal; urban interface berlin/oslo, 2007; Urban Screens Manchester 07; Open House, Vitra Design Museum/Art Center Pasadena a.o. 2006 – 2008; SCAPE – Biennial of Art in Public Space, Christchurch, New Zealand, 2006. Next to her curatorial work she has taught at institutions in Germany and abroad. She regularly lectures and writes about contemporary art that relates to her curatorial practice.

Lucas Evers is head of the e-Culture programme of Waag Society in Amsterdam, a position from which he is interested and involved in projects where art, science, design and the societal meet, extending the e of e-Culture to a wider range of technology informed arts and their representations of, meaning for and effects on society. His work includes curating, but also organising encounters between those who give meaning to and create our society, organising critical debate, teaching, designing, in order to find and form thoughts, structures and other parameters that shape our everyday/technological life, without necessary always being utilitarian.

Having worked from 1998 until 2003 at De Balie, center for culture and politics on the editorial team for new media, politics and cinema, and parallel from 2001 until 2007 at Melkweg and curator new media he was involved in a large number of international projects that took place in Amsterdam amongst which Re:Mark:Marker – retrospective of the works of Chris Marker (1999); net.congestion – International Festival of Streaming Media (2000); Next Five Minutes; An Archaeology of Imaginary Media (2003); The Upgrade Amsterdam (2004 – 2005); Creative Commons Netherlands (2006 ongoing); Utopian Practices (2008 – ongoing – collaboration with The Arts & Genomics Centre, The Virtual Knowledge Studio). He teaches at Dasarts – master for advanced studies in performing arts.

susanne jaschko:


apologies for not appearing earlier on the list. The first two days of the seminar in Weimar at Bauhaus University showed that it is probably necessary to define more precisely which kind of processes we were interested in when curating Process as Paradigm and how the kind of ‘Processual Art’ that we introduce with the show differs from Process Art.

Process Art that emerged in the mid 60ies as ‘an artistic movement as well as a creative sentiment and world view where the end product of art and craft, the objet d’art, is not the principal focus. The ‘process’ in process art refers to the process of the formation of art: the gathering, sorting, collating, associating, and patterning. Process art is concerned with the actual doing; art as a rite, ritual, and performance. Process art often entails an inherent motivation, rationale, and intentionality. Therefore, art is viewed as a creative journey or process, rather than as a deliverable or end product.’ (Wikipedia)

So what are the similarities and where are the differences? What Process Art shares with Processual Art is the focus on the action, the activity and the performance — and less on the final object — although this is debatable, since the form and aesthetics of the object is not neglected.

But in contrast to Process Art it is not the performative gesture and the action of the artist which is key to the artwork, but the action is transfered to a system that performs with a great deal of autonomy. Once released into the world, the system works untouched by the artist and in a more or less unpredictable way. (In the show, Isabelle Jenniches’ works don’t follow that canon – because she remains a major element of the process – however one may argue that the freedom of her activity is relatively limited by the rules she predefined.) Jenniches’ spontaneity and improvisation stays on a low level – in contrast to being relevant factors of Process Art.

Two other characteristics of Processual Art should be mentioned: the aspect of time/duration and the notion of life that Processual Art inheres. While Process Art celebrates the moment and gesture of performance, the event, sometimes the spectacle, Processual Art involves slow and persistent emergence in real-time. It is linked related to ideas of natural cycles like growth and decay or the infinite.

Eventually these qualities – together with the relative autonomy and predictability of the systems’ behaviour, the systems of Processual Art evoke the impression of systems that are ‘alive’. See e.g. Antoinne Schmitt’s ‘Still living’.

This description is certainly neither complete nor too precise, but maybe helps to understand the specific perspective that we have on process in contemporary art. Processual Art is certainly touching upon concepts of generativity, artifical life, software art – but it does not stay on this technological level, but also includes the creation of larger human systems/processes.

It is not our interest to coin ‘Processual Art’ as a new term really, we are more interested to see if this contemporary concept of process and its relation to life/emergence can be found in various artistic practice, can unite those and which potential this type of art has to not only convince on an aesthetic level, but also can have a social/cultural impact.

susanne jaschko

Yann Le Guennec wrote:


I’m very interested in your definition of ‘generative image’. catalogue (p55)

The text describes well what i call ‘variable pictures’ (eg, a networked still picture, always changing, and removing its precedent state, according to some online activities) or ‘evolving pictures’ (eg a networked still picture transforming itself, according to some online data accumulation processes).

I think that the term ‘generative’ is now closely linked to what is called ‘generative art’, dealing with algorithms and systems, looking for some kinds of emergence. That’s ok, but a ‘generative artwork’ is
also often defined by its autonomy and self-containment. Is this approach compatible with the picture as a result of a process where the involved system is wide and open, closely linked to other systems (the internet + its users , for example)?

Furthermore, with the expression ‘generative image’, one can think that the image generates something, not that the image is generated by a system or process ?


Yann Le Guennec

Simon Biggs wrote:

This question opens a very interesting can of worms regarding what valid agents can compose a system of a particular kind. Conventionally, generative art has been seen to involve artificial agents, such as software routines and hardware processes. However, why we should limit the character of the agents involved. Why not allow all sorts of agents in such systems ­biological, social and ecological systems are just a small number of the potential examples.

The first generation of generative artists emerged at the same time as process became an abiding concern in other areas of creative arts practice. Smithson¹s eco-systems, Campus¹s video systems, Trisha Brown¹s movement systems or Le Witt¹s formal structural systems all share this fascination with constraint, process and emergence. The thinking of people like Jack Burnham, Richard Gregory, Gordon Pask and John Conway were in the mix, blurring differences between aspects of creative practice, engineering and early informatics. The commonality of approach was a structuralist understanding of things, whether formal or more informal.

To take all that in a relaxed manner, where we do not require narrow definitions of what constitutes correct practice, and to situate it in a contemporary post-structuralist context that is very much concerned with notions of expanded agency, complexity and emergent phenomena across all sorts of living and non-living systems might be the more productive route to developing other ways of understanding and imagining the world.



Johannes Birringer wrote:

hello all.

i enjoyed reading Susanne Jaschko’s comments on “processual art” , and the way she ended her comments:

>>life/emergence can be found in various artistic practice, can unite those and which potential this type of art has to not only convince on an aesthetic level, but also can have a social/cultural impact.>>

what is generated in processual art?

for whom? and who uses or partakes in generative creativeness in a semi or total autonomous system?

what life? whose life?

where is the space/time for social choreographies, (to what end?) and if emphasis is placed on non-outcomes, what does this mean for aesthetic/conceptual perceptions of art or art reception or games or game receptions or AI systems and AI-systems-receptions. what are the different cultural receptions (if these would be amongst behaviors emerging) that you have noted? do curatorial practices (or pedagogics) evaluate how behaviors of interaction or reception of the processual affect exhibitions and performances?

Johannes Birringer

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May 11, 17:40
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