Bill Viola, Christian Nold, Yves Netzhammer
Teresa Margolles, Valerio Magrelli, William Kentridge
Katharina Grosse, Andrea Ferrara, Elisa Biagini
Maurice Benayoun, Antonella Anedda
 
   
  Publication
Forword by James M. Bradburne
Emotional Systems by Franziska Nori
   
 

"What feelings are" Antonio Damasio
"Emotion, Rationality and Art" Ronald de Sousa
"Empathy, Movement and Emotion" David Freedberg
"The Emotions"
Peter Goldie
"The Emotional Brain" Joseph LeDoux
"Things Such as Might Happen" Martha Nussbaum
"The Theory of Emotives: A Synopsis" William M. Reddy

   
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  Emotional Systems
Franziska Nori
   
 

Contemporary artists have constantly broadened their cultural activities over the last few decades and extended them to all the social spheres. The classical idea of the institution as a privileged framework for art has been called into question, deconstructed, challenged and sometimes denied. Artists today work with a greater openness to the artistic role as customarily conceived. They move freely over a whole range of roles including artist, curator, magazine publisher, designer, architect, entrepreneur, documentary maker, programmer, administrator of Internet communications platforms and even political activist. They create their own local networks and move at the same time within the structures of a globalised world, generating both critical contexts with respect to the art system and autonomous spaces of participation and communication. The means of production are no longer restricted to drawing, painting, sculpture, photography and video; the field of artistic experimentation has expanded to encompass all the elements that form part of everyday life, including the Internet, software, video games and cellular telephones.
The basic approach of the Centro di Cultura Contemporanea Strozzina (hereafter CCCS) is to develop a multiyear programme which harnesses both local and international networks. This means not only developing thematic exhibitions to be held during the year but also inviting independent curators and institutions to propose exhibitions, series of videos and films, workshops, performances and lectures to be hosted at the centre on a regular basis. The programme will enable visitors to experience and examine both the heterogeneity of contemporary art and a wide range of different curatorial and interpretative standpoints.
Art today reacts in accordance with the principles of the society generating it. It is developed as a constant verification of everyday life and reality, which now appears to be far more obviously complex and fragmented than ever in the past. The arts have thus come to act increasingly in a context where reality and make-believe overlap and, as a result, the reading of contemporary art appears less immediate. Above all, it is no longer based on codes and values comprehensible to the community as a whole, as was the case with the art of pre-modern societies, and hence no longer lends itself to univocal interpretation.
Artists now appear to focus on invading everyday life, challenging the elements that make up its social fabric, and probing the different realities in an effort to bring about a change in parameters and in habits. ‘Beauty’ (as a category) no longer aspires to be a purely aesthetic phenomenon but extends to the dimension of lived experience, in which a central role is sought by conscious action, an action that finds its source in critical sensitivity with respect to the surrounding world and is hence transformed into an ethical stance and a new political awareness.
This paradigm shift is reflected not only in the themes addressed by contemporary artists but also in their formal and aesthetic choices, which take new directions and open up new fields of experimentation, freeing them both from the disciplinary constraints laid down by tradition and from the idea of the work as a finished product.
Lars Blunck speaks in Between Object and Event about the harnessing of empirical potential, thereby seeking to define a form of artistic production that becomes performance (in the theatrical sense of the term) and is generated in the very moment of action. Including installations, events, psychophysical provocation and the socio-political construction of situations in this context, it challenges the classical idea of the work of art along with the assumptions of the contemporary world.
This does not mean, however, that we can no longer speak about the ‘work of art’ (in the sense of something finished that performs its function in being contemplated) in the sphere of contemporary art. It refers instead to the fact that it is difficult to find clear-cut typological definitions for contemporary art that are compatible with the traditional classification of artworks by genre.
The art produced today refuses to act within a set framework and seeks constant renewal through new trends and developments.
In transforming and differentiating what proves to be known and familiar, contemporary art goes back to its roots in the avant-garde movements of the early decades of the twentieth century, which brought artistic praxis into everyday life and thus opened up the path leading to the present day.



The first project presented in the spaces of CCCS is Emotional Systems- contemporary art between emotion and reason.
Emotional Systems is developed within an interdisciplinary relational sphere peculiar to and typical of the contemporary world. The project addresses the theme of the emotions, which offers both immediate appeal for a public accustomed to thinking of art as sensorially enticing and involving aesthetic experience, and an opportunity to demonstrate the integration of contemporary theories developed in the humanistic area as well as the scientific.
Unlike the historicised theories and practices of art, that have already been given a very exact location in the cultural context, contemporaneity draws sustenance from heterogeneous stimuli that generate multiple forms of creative production and make interpretation both complex and particularly vital.
Throughout western history, philosophers and scientists have constantly developed new theories regarding the definition of rational thought and emotion in human beings. The ancient Greeks saw reason and the emotions as locked in an eternal struggle for supremacy over the human psyche. Scientists focused increasingly on rationality and cognition during the early years of the twentieth century, paying practically no attention to the influence of the Emotional Systems sphere. Examples include the behaviourists, whose work was concerned exclusively with externally visible and measurable attitudes. The later widespread practice of likening the brain to a computer then led to the theoretical concept of functionalism.
Over the last few years, however, there has been a growing tendency in many scientific disciplines to see the emotions as a key factor for rational action in both human and animal behaviour. Various definitions and models regarding the emotions are currently under discussion in the scientific literature, albeit with the use of terminology that is not always uniform and sometimes gives rise to the need for basic clarification. There is as yet no general agreement about how the primary mechanisms triggering the various emotions can be influenced, how they are to be classified and whether categorical descriptions can be applied.
New scientific discoveries have, however, always worked in the evolution of western culture to produce a paradigm shift for society as a whole by broadening and challenging the worldview of an entire age. Discoveries such as the theory of relativity had direct effects on philosophical and artistic thinking as well as indirect consequences on the lifestyle and morality of twentieth-century society. At the same time, the constant development of research methods and new technologies has played a crucial role in the attainment of new knowledge. For example, scientists are now able to observe cerebral activity in living subjects, something that was impossible a few years ago. Image-based diagnostic systems such as computer-aided tomography and magnetic resonance have finally enabled neuroscientists and neuro-physiologists to study mental and neuronal functions in concomitance with psychical activities. These technologies have provided visual results that broaden the horizons of knowledge and open up a series of new questions that are now the subject of intense debate in the various disciplines. The recent discovery of the close correlation between chemical processes taking place in the brain and repercussions on the actions of the individual concerned, for example, have given rise to discussion about the possible relativity of the concepts of morality and creativity. The idea of individual self-determination has been shaken at the root, thus triggering new interpretations also in the sphere of civil and penal law. The concept of creativity linked to the individual genius is called into question by new discoveries indicating a close connection between exceptional abilities and the production of dopamine in the brain.
In the light of the above, the challenge is to channel the knowledge and the concepts discussed in the different scientific disciplines into a discourse of broader cultural relevance and, in a certain sense, a humanistic-Renaissance tradition that has been abandoned in favour of sharp division into specialised disciplines since the eighteenth century.
The new digital technologies have long since been included among the tools of creative expression and cognitive analysis adopted by artists for non-scientific purposes in pursuit of philosophical, aesthetic and more strictly visual aims. The reflections developed in the world of art can, however, lead at times to a rethinking of science or deeper consideration of the use of a series of tools. Dialogue is thus already underway between art and science just as it is between methods and means or the scientific approach and historical or social analysis linked to the human sciences.
The neuroscientific debate developed on the relationship between the appearance of images and the types of reaction they trigger is currently arousing ever-greater interest in the humanistic field.
‘The emotions were excluded from the history and the philosophy of art for most of the twentieth century …. The three tendencies that dominated the history of twentieth-century art ended up being formalism, connoisseurship and studies of the different kinds of context in which the work was produced. They all exclude the emotions. … It was not until the work of neuroscientists like Giacomo Rizzolatti and his group in Parma, Joseph LeDoux and Antonio Damasio that some confirmation was obtained that we are on the right track. … It appears more legitimate today than ever before to investigate the relations between the formal aspects of an image and the Emotional Systems responses.’ (David Freedberg in Immagini della Mente. Neuroscienze, arte, filosofia, Raffaello Cortina Editore)
The challenge addressed by the Emotional Systems project is to attempt a critical rereading of the correlation between artist, artwork and viewer in the light of the most recent discoveries about the human brain and the emotions. The selection of authors featured in the catalogue and the theses they put forward is intended to prompt a different or perhaps new way of looking at what it is that generates experience and the quality of that experience in the encounter between viewer and work of art.
While we can only perceive the things represented by art as an experience at one remove, empathy enables us to establish a relationship with them that can also cause us to contemplate our own existence and thus become, in a certain sense, the object of our observation.
At the same time, however, the viewer must be willing to perform a cognitive act of intellectual work if he or she really wants to understand the intention of the work arising from the subjective perspective of its author. This too is a fundamental experience that can lead an individual to open up with respect to things that are unknown or in any case far removed from his or her customary sphere. And this opening up can take place through both emotional participation and cognitive apprehension linked to knowledge. In any case, they are both actions that require active involvement on the part of the viewer, which in turn becomes experience and an integral part of the individual’s biography and identity.
Emotional Systems is divided into three parts: an exhibition, a publication and a programme of lectures and performances. Each of these is endowed with specific communicative capacity encompassing various levels of participation. The first is developed at the immediate level connected with visual and sensory experience. The second finds its essential rationale at the cognitive level in the textual and theoretical comparison of different scientific and intellectual positions. Evocatively associated with words and sounds, the third will be able to trigger a desire for deeper investigation in direct dialogue with scholars and experts in various disciplinary spheres, including scientists and philosophers, but also poets and musicians.
The route leading through the various rooms of the Strozzina will introduce visitors to the contemporary artists involved, consciously or otherwise, with the bodily and sensory but also rational and cognitive praxis entailed in the experiencing of emotion from the viewpoint both of the creator and of the viewer. The aim of the exhibition is to offer an overview that lays no claim to being fully comprehensive and exhaustive. The installations presented act on different principles, the goal being a cognitive understanding developed through the meaning of the emotional experience.

   
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