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In the late 1950s, experiments such as the cybernetic sculptures of Nicolas Schöffer or the programmatic music compositions of John Cage and Iannis Xenakis transposed systems theory from the sciences to the arts. By the 1960s, artists as diverse as Roy Ascott, Hans Haacke, Robert Morris, Sonia Sheridan, and Stephen Willats were breaking with accepted aesthetics to embrace open systems that emphasized organism over mechanism, dynamic processes of interaction among elements, and the observer’s role as an inextricable part of the system. Jack Burnham’s 1968 Artforum essay “Systems Aesthetics” and his 1970 “Software” exhibition marked the high point of systems-based art until its resurgence in the changed conditions of the twenty-first century.

Systems traces this radical shift in aesthetics from its roots in mid twentieth-century general systems theory, cybernetics, and artificial intelligence to the cutting-edge science of the present. The collected texts examine the connections between advanced technological systems, our bodies and minds; the relation of musical to spatial and architectural structures; and the ways in which systems-based art projects can create self-generating entities and networks, alter our experience of time, change the configurations of social relations, cross cultural borders, and interact with threatened ecosystems.

Artists surveyed include
Roy Ascott, Driessens and Verstappen, David Dunn, Brian Eno, Frank Gillette,Michael Joaquin Grey, Hans Haacke, Helen Mayer Harrison, Newton Harrison, Joan Littlewood, Richard Paul Lohse, Laurent Mignonneau, Manfred Mohr, Nam June Paik, Cedric Price, Casey Reas, Ken Rinaldo, Tomás Saraceno, Sonia Sheridan, Christa Sommerer, Ubermorgen, Woody and Steina Vasulka, Peter Weibel, Mitchell Whitelaw, John Whitney, James Whitney, Stephen Willats, Iannis Xenakis

Writers include
Gregory Bateson, Mary Catherine Bateson, Pierre Bourdieu, R. Buckminster Fuller, Jack Burnham, Fritjof Capra, Geoff Cox, James P. Crutchfield, Boris Groys, Francis Halsall, Usman Haque, N. Katherine Hayles, Caroline Jones, Stephen Jones, Christian Katti, Bruno Latour, Mary Louise Lobsinger, James Lovelock, Niklas Luhmann, Humberto Maturana, Donella H. Meadows, William J. Mitchell, Gordon Pask, Nick Prior, Francisco Varela, Heinz von Foerster, Michael Weinstock, Norbert Wiener

Edited by Walead Beshty

The boundary of a contemporary art object or project is no longer something that exists only in physical space; it also exists in social, political, and ethical space. Art has opened up to transnational networks of producers and audiences, migrating into the sphere of social and distributive systems, whether in the form of “relational aesthetics” or other critical reinventions of practice. Art has thus become increasingly implicated in questions of ethics.

In this volume, artist and writer Walead Beshty evaluates the relation of ethics to aesthetics, and demonstrates how this encounter has become central to the contested space of much recent art. He brings together theoretical foundations for an ethics of aesthetics; appraisals of art that engages with ethical issues; statements and examples of methodologies adopted by a diverse range of artists; and examinations of artworks that question the ethical conditions in which contemporary art is produced and experienced.

Artists surveyed include
Tania Bruguera, Christoph Büchel, Paul Chan, Lygia Clark, Danh Vo, Dexter Sinister, Andrea Fraser, Liam Gillick, David Hammons, Thomas Hirschhorn, Khaled Hourani, Sharon Lockhart, Kerry James Marshall, Renzo Martens, Boris Mikhailov, Hélio Oiticica, Seth Price, Walid Raad, Martha Rosler, Tino Sehgal, Allan Sekula, Santiago Sierra, Rirkrit Tiravanija

Writers include
Giorgio Agamben, Ariella Azoulay, Alain Badiou, Roland Barthes, David Beech, Claire Bishop, Nicolas Bourriaud, Simon Critchley, T.J. Demos, Maurizio Lazzarato, Jean-François Lyotard, Jacques Rancière, Jan Verwoert

Environmental Social Criticism and the Resonance Dilemma

Far-reaching efforts to address environmental issues rarely seem to resonate with citizens of the United States or other wealthy postindustrial societies. In Engaging the Everyday, John Meyer considers this impediment to action on environmental problems—which he terms “the resonance dilemma”—and argues that an environmental agenda that emerges from everyday concerns would resonate more deeply with ordinary citizens. Meyer explores the contours of this alternative, theorizing both obstacles and opportunities and then considering it in terms of three everyday areas of material practice: land use, transportation by automobile, and home dwelling.

Adopting the stance of an “inside critic” (neither detached theorist nor narrow policy advocate), and taking an approach that he calls “contested materiality,” Meyer draws on a variety of theoretical perspectives to construct a framework for understanding material practices. He reimagines each of the three material practices in terms of a political idea: for land, property; for automobiles, freedom; and for homes, citizenship. His innovative analysis offers a grounded basis for reshaping our talk about political concepts and values.

Immigration and the American Backlash

Illegal immigration continues to roil American politics. The right-wing media stir up panic over “anchor babies,” job stealing, welfare dependence, bilingualism, al-Qaeda terrorists disguised as Latinos, even a conspiracy by Latinos to “retake” the Southwest. State and local governments have passed more than 300 laws that attempt to restrict undocumented immigrants’ access to hospitals, schools, food stamps, and driver’s licenses. Federal immigration authorities stage factory raids that result in arrests, deportations, and broken families—and leave owners scrambling to fill suddenly open jobs. The DREAM Act, which would grant permanent residency to high school graduates brought here as minors, is described as “amnesty.” And yet polls show that a majority of Americans support some kind of path to citizenship for those here illegally. What is going on? In this book, John Tirman shows how the resistance to immigration in America is more cultural than political. Although cloaked in language about jobs and secure borders, the cultural resistance to immigration expresses a fear that immigrants are changing the dominant white, Protestant, “real American” culture.

Tirman describes the “raid mentality” of our response to immigration, which seeks violent solutions for a social phenomenon. He considers the culture clash over Chicano ethnic studies in Tucson, examines the consequences of an immigration raid in New Bedford, and explores the civil rights activism of young “Dreamers.” The current “round them up, deport them, militarize the border” approach, Tirman shows, solves nothing.

The Story of India's IT Revolution

The rise of the Indian information technology industry is a remarkable economic success story. Software and services exports from India amounted to less than $100 million in 1990, and today come close to $100 billion. But, as Dinesh Sharma explains in The Outsourcer, Indian IT’s success has a long prehistory; it did not begin with software support, or with American firms’ eager recruitment of cheap and plentiful programming labor, or with India’s economic liberalization of the 1990s. The foundations of India’s IT revolution were laid long ago, even before the country’s independence from British rule in 1947, as leading Indian scientists established research institutes that became centers for the development of computer science and technology. The “miracle” of Indian IT is actually a story about the long work of converting skills and knowledge into capital and wealth. With The Outsourcer, Sharma offers the first comprehensive history of the forces that drove India’s IT success.

Sharma describes India’s early development of computer technology, part of the country’s efforts to achieve national self-sufficiency, and shows that excessive state control stifled IT industry growth before economic policy changed in 1991. He traces the rise and fall (and return) of IBM in India and the emergence of pioneering indigenous hardware and software firms. He describes the satellite communication links and state-sponsored, tax-free technology parks that made software-related outsourcing by foreign firms viable, and the tsunami of outsourcing operations at the beginning of the new millennium. It is the convergence of many factors, from the tradition of technical education to the rise of entrepreneurship to advances in communication technology, that have made the spectacular growth of India’s IT industry possible.

Stanford and the Computer Music Revolution

In the 1960s, a team of Stanford musicians, engineers, computer scientists, and psychologists used computing in an entirely novel way: to produce and manipulate sound and create the sonic basis of new musical compositions. This group of interdisciplinary researchers at the nascent Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA, pronounced “karma”) helped to develop computer music as an academic field, invent the technologies that underlie it, and usher in the age of digital music. In The Sound of Innovation, Andrew Nelson chronicles the history of CCRMA, tracing its origins in Stanford’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory through its present-day influence on Silicon Valley and digital music groups worldwide.

Nelson emphasizes CCRMA’s interdisciplinarity, which stimulates creativity at the intersections of fields; its commitment to open sharing and users; and its pioneering commercial engagement. He shows that Stanford’s outsized influence on the emergence of digital music came from the intertwining of these three modes, which brought together diverse supporters with different aims around a field of shared interest. Nelson thus challenges long-standing assumptions about the divisions between art and science, between the humanities and technology, and between academic research and commercial applications, showing how the story of a small group of musicians reveals substantial insights about innovation.

Nelson draws on extensive archival research and dozens of interviews with digital music pioneers; the book’s website provides access to original historic documents and other material.

The impulse toward play is very ancient, not only pre-cultural but pre-human; zoologists have identified play behaviors in turtles and in chimpanzees. Games have existed since antiquity; 5,000-year-old board games have been recovered from Egyptian tombs. And yet we still lack a critical language for thinking about play. Game designers are better at answering small questions (“Why is this battle boring?”) than big ones (“What does this game mean?”). In this book, the game designer Brian Upton analyzes the experience of play—how playful activities unfold from moment to moment and how the rules we adopt constrain that unfolding. Drawing on games that range from Monopoly to Dungeons & Dragons to Guitar Hero, Upton develops a framework for understanding play, introducing a set of critical tools that can help us analyze games and game designs and identify ways in which they succeed or fail.

Upton also examines the broader epistemological implications of such a framework, exploring the role of play in the construction of meaning and what the existence of play says about the relationship between our thoughts and external reality. He considers the making of meaning in play and in every aspect of human culture, and he draws on findings in pragmatic epistemology, neuroscience, and semiotics to describe how meaning emerges from playful engagement. Upton argues that play can also explain particular aspects of narrative; a play-based interpretive stance, he proposes, can help us understand the structure of books, of music, of theater, of art, and even of the process of critical engagement itself.

By the time Umberto Eco published his best-selling novel The Name of the Rose, he was one of Italy’s most celebrated intellectuals, a distinguished academic and the author of influential works on semiotics. Some years before that, in 1977, Eco published a little book for his students, How to Write a Thesis, in which he offered useful advice on all the steps involved in researching and writing a thesis—from choosing a topic to organizing a work schedule to writing the final draft. Now in its twenty-third edition in Italy and translated into seventeen languages, How to Write a Thesis has become a classic. Remarkably, this is its first, long overdue publication in English.

Eco’s approach is anything but dry and academic. He not only offers practical advice but also considers larger questions about the value of the thesis-writing exercise. How to Write a Thesis is unlike any other writing manual. It reads like a novel. It is opinionated. It is frequently irreverent, sometimes polemical, and often hilarious. Eco advises students how to avoid “thesis neurosis” and he answers the important question “Must You Read Books?” He reminds students “You are not Proust” and “Write everything that comes into your head, but only in the first draft.” Of course, there was no Internet in 1977, but Eco’s index card research system offers important lessons about critical thinking and information curating for students of today who may be burdened by Big Data.

How to Write a Thesis belongs on the bookshelves of students, teachers, writers, and Eco fans everywhere. Already a classic, it would fit nicely between two other classics: Strunk and White and The Name of the Rose.

This MIT Press edition will be available in three different cover colors.

Contents
The Definition and Purpose of a Thesis
Choosing the Topic
Conducting Research
The Work Plan and the Index Cards
Writing the Thesis
The Final Draft

Today educational activities take place not only in school but also in after-school programs, community centers, museums, and online communities and forums. The success and expansion of these out-of-school initiatives depends on our ability to document and assess what works and what doesn’t in informal learning, but learning outcomes in these settings are often unpredictable. Goals are open-ended; participation is voluntary; and relationships, means, and ends are complex. This report charts the state of the art for learning assessment in informal settings, offering an extensive review of the literature, expert discussion on key topics, a suggested model for comprehensive assessment, and recommendations for good assessment practices.

Drawing on analysis of the literature and expert opinion, the proposed model, the Outcomes-by-Levels Model for Documentation and Assessment, identifies at least ten types of valued outcomes, to be assessed in terms of learning at the project, group, and individual levels. The cases described in the literature under review, which range from promoting girls’ identification with STEM practices to providing online resources for learning programming and networking, illustrate the usefulness of the assessment model.

Science Fiction, Space Travel, and Postwar Art of the Americas

From the 1940s to the 1970s, visionary artists from across the Americas reimagined themes from science fiction and space travel. They mapped extraterrestrial terrain, created dystopian scenarios amid fears of nuclear annihilation, and ingeniously deployed scientific and technological subjects and motifs. This book offers a sumptuously illustrated exploration of how artists from the United States and Latin America visualized the future. Inspired variously by the “golden age” of science fiction, the Cold War, the space race, and the counterculture, these artists expressed both optimism and pessimism about humanity’s prospects.

Past Futures showcases work by more than a dozen artists, including the biomorphic cosmic spaces and hybrid alien-totemic figures painted by the Chilean artist Roberto Matta (1911–2002); the utopian Hydrospatial City envisioned by Argentine Gyula Kosice (1924–); and Incidents of Mirror-Travel in the Yucatan, in which Robert Smithson (1938–1973) layered tropes of time travel atop Mayan ruins. The artists respond to science fiction in film and literature and the media coverage of the space race; link myths of Europeans’ first encounters with the New World to contemporary space exploration; and project futures both idealized and dystopian.

The book, which accompanies an exhibition at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, also includes an essay by the editor and curator mapping central themes; an exploration of how Latin American artists have depicted astronomic phenomena, utopian projects, and the modern machine; an essay on space-age art in Argentina during the 1960s; and a study of Smithson and science fiction.

Essays
Sarah Montross, Rodrigo Alonso, Rory O’Dea, Miguel Ángel Fernández Delgado

Artists include
Rudy Ayoroa, Luis Benedit, Marcelo Bonevardi, Enrique Careaga, Enrique Castro-Cid, Vija Celmins, Carlos Colombino, Juan Downey, Fred Eversley, Mario Gallardo, Dan Graham, Nancy Graves, Raquel Forner, Peter Hutchinson, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Gyula Kosice, Roberto Matta, Emilio Renart, Robert Smithson, Michelle Stuart, Rufino Tamayo, Horacio Zabala

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