27 February 2013

The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age

"A wonderful and important book."
Dr. Ron Burnett, President, Emily Carr University of Art and Design, Vancouver

"Addresses the rarely asked question: How does the 'media magic' communicate content?"
Professor Otto Piene, Director Emeritus, MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies, Cambridge


In The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age, artist and educator Mel Alexenberg offers a vision of a postdigital future that reveals a paradigm shift from the Hellenistic to the Hebraic roots of western culture.  The author surveys new art forms emerging fro a postdigital age that addresses the humanization of digital technologies.  He ventures beyond the digital to explore postdigital perspectives rising from creative encounters among art, science, technology, and human consciousness.  The interrelationships between these perspectives demonstrate the confluence between postdigital art and the dynamic, open-ended Jewish structure of consciousness.  Alexenberg's pioneering artwork -- a fusion of spiritual  and technological realms -- exemplifies the theoretical thesis of this investigation into interactive and collaborative forms that imaginatively envisage the vast potential of art in a post digital future.
Publisher's text from the book's back cover (Intellect Books/University of Chicago Press)

27 September 2012

Postdigital

Postdigital Aura
I had first sensed a postdigital aura nearly a half-century ago when I programmed mammoth computers to make pictures that called out for the warm human touch of colorful pigments in molten beeswax sensuously flowing over a plotter’s hard-edged digital drawings. This aura continued as I initiated interactive dialogues between human sensibilities and new technologies in the LightsOROT: Spiritual Dimensions of the Electronic Age exhibition that I created more than two decades ago in collaboration with Otto Piene at MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies for Yeshiva University Museum. As art editor of The Visual Computer: International Journal of Computer Graphics, I titled my 1988 digital art issue editorial “Art with Computers: The Human Spirit and the Electronic Revolution,” an apt title today for a chapter in a book on postdigital art. My current works of participatory blogart and wikiart that mirror the living Talmud, the oldest on-going wikicreation that spans centuries and continents, continue my explorations of the human dimensions of new media.
Wikitionary
When I checked Wiktionary, the wiki-based open content dictionary, for a definition of “postdigital,” I found none. So I created one based upon my research for writing my book The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age (Intellect Books/University of Chicago Press). I posted it on Wiktionary and added it to Wikipedia’s entry for “Postdigital.” My act of collaborating in the creation of the world’s most actively used dictionary and encyclopedia beautifully exemplifies the postdigital age. Now if you look for the Wiktionary definition, you will find mine.

Postdigtial (adjective). Of or pertaining to art forms that address the humanization of digital technologies through interplay between digital, biological, cultural, and spiritual systems, between cyberspace and real space, between embodied media and mixed reality in social and physical communication, between high tech and high touch experiences, between visual, haptic, auditory, and kinesthetic media experiences, between virtual and augmented reality, between roots and globalization, between autoethnography and community narrative, and between web-enabled peer-produced wikiart and artworks created with alternative media through participation, interaction, and collaboration in which the role of the artist is redefined.

Rediscoving Ten Fingers
Two new chapters in the new edition of my book are: “Postdigital Perspectives: Rediscovering Ten Fingers” and “Wiki Perspectives: Multiform Unity and Global Tribes.” They both elaborate on my Wiktionary definition through theoretical discussions and descriptions of exemplary artworks

22 December 2011

Aesthetics Overrides Logic on Hanukah

Yahel Alexenberg, Mel's grandson, lighting olive-oil Hanukah lamps

It is a mitzvah to light candles on the eight-day holiday of Hanukah, the Festival of Lights. The blessing over the candles recited each night, “l’hadlik ner shel Hanukah,” is on kindling the Hanukah candle, in singular. If one does not possess enough candles, lighting one candle can fulfill the mitzvah. The Talmud records a difference of opinion between Hillel and Shamai. Shamai proposes lighting all eight candles on the first night removing one each night until only one remains on the last night. His argument is conceptually valid since the lighting of the candles commemorates the cruse of olive oil found to light the menorah in the Temple rededication after the Hellenistic defilers were driven out of Jerusalem. Although there seemed to be only enough oil in it for one day, it miraculously lasted for eight days. Since all the oil was in the cruse on the first day and it was used up each subsequent day until none was left after eight days, it would seem logical to follow Shamai’s way. Hillel, on the other hand, proposes an opposite procedure. He proposes that we light one candle on the first night and add an additional candle each night until we light eight candles on the last night of Hanukah. Jewish tradition follows the way of Hillel where aesthetics overrides logic. It is more beautiful to add light to the world each day than remove it. Until this day, Jews have beautified the mitzvah of lighting the Hanukah menorah by adding more light each night.

From The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness, p.221.

13 November 2011

The End of Art


We are experiencing “The End of Art” as the visual perception of surface gives way to the conceptual grasp of inner significance. In Beyond the Brillo Box: The Visual Arts in Post-Historical Perspective, Columbia University philosophy professor Arthur Danto discusses how Andy Warhol’s 1964 exhibition at the Stable Gallery in New York marks the end of art. In the art gallery, Warhol stacked boxes on which he had screen-printed the Brillo logo. They looked identical to the cartons of Brillo soap pads that we see in supermarket aisles. We could no longer see the difference between Brillo Boxes (the work of art) and Brillo boxes (the mere real things). What Warhol taught was that there is no way of telling the difference by merely looking. The history of Western art as a progressive historical narrative of one art style superseding a previous style came to an end.

I believe that what we are witnessing is not the end of art, but the end of art derived from a Hellenistic structure of consciousness. The contemporary redefinition of art is emerging from a Hebraic biblical consciousness as expressed through the oral Torah. Danto’s radical new proposal that concept and context rather than visual appearance gives meaning to images and objects was seriously discussed centuries ago by rabbis dealing with idolatry and Greek aesthetics. In the Talmudic tractate Avodah Zarah (Strange Worship), rabbis discuss whether found fragments of an image such as the hand or foot of a statue that was worshipped are prohibited or permitted. If the idol fell down and broke, Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish reasoned, then the hand or foot are permitted because the owner of the idol annuls it by saying, “If it could not save itself, so how could it save me?” Samuel explained that if they were mounted on a pedestal they were still valued as idols. Therefore, the exact same hand or foot would be prohibited.

The Greek Proclos, son of a philosopher, put a question to Rabbi Gamliel who was bathing in a pool in front a large statute of Aphrodite. “If your Torah forbids idolatry, why are you bathing in the Bath of Aphrodite?” The rabbi answered, “I did not come into her domain, she came into mine.” If the statue of Aphrodite was erected and then a pool was made to honor her, it would be forbidden for a Jew to bathe there. However, if the pool was made first and the statue was placed there as an adornment, then it is permitted. Concept and context determine meaning in the case of the idol fragments and the statute of Aphrodite, like Brillo boxes in an art gallery rather than in a supermarket and a panel of plywood hanging in a museum rather than stacked in a lumberyard. The visual sense alone cannot discern between art and non-art today or between idol and mere decoration yesterday.

Excerpt from the chapter "Semiotic Perspectives: Redefining Art in a Postdigital Age" in The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness.

09 November 2011

Abraham's Choice: Paradise or Barbeque


I was seated at a large oak table in the printroom of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In a quiet ritual, one Rembrandt at a time was placed on a delicate easel in front of me as the tissue paper protecting the picture was slowly removed. As his etching Abraham Entertaining the Angels was uncovered, I saw that only two of the angels had wings. The figure facing Abraham had no wings. Perhaps Rembrandt wanted to show that although they looked like men to Abraham, they were really angels in disguise.

The Torah (Genesis 18:1-7) relates how three angels disguised as men appeared to Abraham while he was sitting at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. When he looked up and saw three people a short distance from him, he ran to greet them and invited them to eat with him. He rushed to his wife, Sarah, and asked her to bake cakes for their guests.  Then Abraham ran to the cattle to choose a tender, choice calf. The midrash questions why Abraham ran after the calf.  The calf ran away from him into a cave. When inside, he discovered that he had entered the burial place of Adam and Eve. He saw intense light emanating from an opening at the end of the cave. He was drawn to the light. As he approached, he saw the Garden of Eden through the opening. This deeply spiritual person, the partiarch Abraham, found himself standing at the entrance to Paradise. About to cross ove the threshold into the pristine garden, he remembered that his wife and three guests were waiting for lunch back at the tent. What should he do?  Should he trade Paradise for a barbeque?  The Torah tells us that he chose to return to the tent and join his wife in making lunch for the three stangers.  They sat together in the shade of a tree and enjoyed the barbeque.  We learn from this legend that we ourselves create heaven or hell in our relationships with our spouses, children, friends, neighbors and strangers. Visions of Paradise far off at the end of a cave or in some heavily realm above are mere mirages or fraudulent lies. Abraham knew that he and Sarah had the power to create heaven together in their tent.

Excerpt on the Vayera Torah portion from The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness, pages 159-160.

See Miram working together with Mel in their kitchen to create Eden preparing their Shabbat meal for their children, grandchildren, and great-grandson.  Link to the Torah Tweets blogart project at  http://torahtweets.blogspot.com/2010/10/vayera.html

31 October 2011

Idol Smashing Idols. Art Debunking Art.

 

In its third chapter, the Bible shifts its focus from all of humanity to the life of Abraham and the story of the Children of Israel. It begins with the divine command to leave one’s familiar past in order to envision a new future. Abraham is told: “Walk yourself (lekh lekhah) away from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1). A word lekhah “yourself” added to lekh “walk away” teaches that one can only come to see the new land by moving psychologically as well as physically away from an obsolete past. Abraham is identified as a Hebrew, literally “a boundary crosser.” The personal power of Abraham to leave an obsolete past behind and to cross conceptual boundaries in creating a new worldview is a meaningful message for our age of globalization. He deserted the local gods of his father in which divine messages were perceived as flowing through the narrow channel of an idol’s mouth. Instead, he gained the insight of the existence of an all-encompassing spiritual force that integrates the entire universe and all humanity in one universal ecosystem.

Subverting idolatry with a twist of irony has been the mission of the Jews from their very beginning. As a prelude to the biblical story of Abraham beginning his journey away from his birthplace and his father’s world of idolatry, the Midrash tells that Abraham was minding his father’s idol shop when he took a stick and smashed the merchandise to bits. He left only the largest idol untouched placing the stick in its hand. When his father returned, his shock at seeing the scene of devastation grew into fury as he demanded an explanation from his son. Abraham explained how the largest idol had broken all the other idols. He could have smashed all the idols without saving one on which to place the blame. An idol smashing idols gives us clues for creating art to debunk Art.

In Idolizing Pictures: Idolatry, Iconoclasm and Jewish Art, Anthony Julius proposes that the primary role of the Jewish artist is to subvert idolization of totalitarian leaders and political systems as well as art itself. Jewish art aims to undermine undue reverence for art. The most common form of modern idolatry is when the work of art or the State become idols, alienated from their makers and given a false sovereignty. In its postmodern form, Jewish artists attempt to use art to knock art off its pedestal by displaying a creative skepticism not just towards art’s subjects but also towards its purposes. “By creative skepticism I mean something like an art-making iconoclasm, that is, an art which turns against Art.”

Excerpts on the Lekh Lekhah Torah portion from
The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness, pages 41, 68.

See an alternative view at the Torah Tweets blogart project at  http://torahtweets.blogspot.com/2010/10/lekh-lekha.html

27 October 2011

Tower of Babel: Disastrous Creativity


We will post on this Future-of-Art blog during the Hebrew year 5772, excepts from Mel Alexenberg's book The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness corresponding to the weekly Torah reading.  "Tower of Babel: Disasterous Creativity" is from this week's reading - Noah, the second chapter of the biblical book Genesis.  

According to the Bible, the first creative architectural collaboration of humanity was disastrous. “Come, let us build a city and a tower with its top in the heavens and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed across the whole earth.” (Genesis 12:4)  The builders of the Tower of Babel mistakenly thought they could work together to find God by ascending to meet Him in heaven. The next sentence in the Bible begins, “God descended to look at the city and tower which the sons of man built” (Genesis 12:5).  Rabbi Kook points out that we need to open our eyes to see divinity descending into our immediate surroundings rather than to search for God in some far off heavenly realms.  Holiness and sanctity exists here in the physical world. The narrative of the Tower of Babel is immediately followed by the story of Abraham who was the first to mend the rift between heaven and earth by showing his generation ways to fuse the physical and the spiritual here in this world.

In an arrogant expression of power over nature, the builders made bricks of clay and fired them to make them hard as rock. They used these man-made bricks rather than stone, the common building material of the times supplied by nature. They valued the prized production of their hands above all else. The midrash presents a narrative to explain the basis of divine displeasure at the moral decay that results from fervently focusing on the material world divorced from its spiritual elements and from exclusively focusing on the means at the expense of the end.

"Many years were spent building the Tower. It reached so great a height that it took a year to mount to the top. A brick was, therefore, more precious in the sight of the builders than a human being. If a man fell and died they paid no attention to him; but if a brick fell down they wept because it would take a year to replace it." (Perke de Rabbi Eliezer)

The offense of “let us make a name for ourselves” is added to the offenses of attempting to find the spiritual in heaven rather than here on earth and of valuing the work of human hands above human life. If all humanity that survived the Flood acted together in the Towerbuilding project for the purpose of self-aggrandizement, to whom is “let us make a name for ourselves” addressed? It could not be directed to some other group of people, another community or nation, since none existed at that time. It is directed to the individual and to God. It diminishes the individual by elevating the collective above him. “Us” and “ourselves” refers to the community of builders who see the might of the collective against the individual who is subordinate to the group or against God who hides high above threatening a new Flood. The builders were apathetic when one of them fell to his death. They shot arrows from the top of the Tower straight up into the sky hoping to find God’s blood on their arrows as they fell back to earth. The individual was but a dispensable cog on the Towerbuilding machine. God was a threat that they aimed at bringing down to earth dead so they would reign in heaven from the top of their Tower. The Tower of Babel story aims at developing biblical consciousness that values community when its purpose is not selfaggrandizement, but aggrandizement of God and of each individual created in the Divine image. A community’s worth is determined by how successful it is in honoring and serving the individual and how successful it is in bringing God down to earth alive.

The greatest transgression of the Tower builders, however, was their defying the Divine will that expects humanity to revere and applaud differences between peoples. In postmodern terms, they failed to realize and honor the values of polyculturalism. It is most significant that the Bible, which does not waste words, repeats the same message three times, each time in relation to one of the descendants of Noah’s three sons. After naming the 14 nations emerging from Japheth, we read: “From these the islands of the nations were separated in their lands – each according to its language, by their families, in their nations" (Genesis 10:5). After naming the 30 nations from Ham, “These are the descendants of Ham by their families, by their languages, in their lands, in their nations” (Genesis 10:20). And after naming the 26 nations from Shem, “These are the descendents of Shem according to their families, by their languages, in their lands, by their nations. These are the families of Noah’s descendants, according to their generations, by their nations; and these nations were separated and spread across the earth after the Flood” (Genesis 10:31–32). Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch comments that it is not without good reason that God makes people so different from one another. Individuals are intended to compliment one another. Just as God did not create a single mold in which to cast identical clones, so each of the biblical seventy nations of the world was not meant to come together to speak one language, to share a common set of cultural values, and to engage in a singular mission of self-aggrandizement. God descended to see the city and the tower that the son of man had built… From that place, God scattered them all over the face of the earth, and they stopped building the city"  (Genesis 11:5, 8). Each nation has its unique and distinct voice to contribute to the grand planetary choir singing God’s praises.

Dialogic art of reconstructive postmodernism honors collaboration and collective creativity, but not of the Tower-builders kind. It facilitates expressions of diversity within participatory group processes. As in the collective creativity workshops run by Lawrence Halprin, they allow group differences to emerge, not submerge. Although it is a global enterprise, the postdigital wikiworld of collaboration avoids the disastrous collective creativity of Babel by welcoming the originality and initiative of the participants. The thousands of volunteers who have been creating Wikipedia, for example, have not created a single-language authoritative version, but are creating an open-source growing organism in more than 240 different languages.

Also see "Tree of Renewed Life," Noah posting at Torah Tweets blogart project http://torahtweets.blogspot.com/2010/10/noah.html

01 March 2011

The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness


It's out!!
Today, I received the book in the mail for the publisher (Intellect Books/University of Chicago Press). Below is the back cover text:

In The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age artist and educator Mel Alexenberg offers a vision of a postdigital future that reveals a paradigm shift from the Hellenistic to the Hebraic roots of western culture. The author surveys new art forms emerging from a postdigital age that address the humanization of digital technologies. He ventures beyond the digital to explore postdigital perspectives rising from creative encounters among art, science, technology, and human consciousness. The interrelationships between these perspectives demonstrate the confluence between postdigital art and the dynamic, open-ended Jewish structure of consciousness. Alexenberg’s pioneering artwork – a fusion of spiritual and technological realms – exemplifies the theoretical thesis of this investigation into interactive and collaborative forms that imaginatively envisage the vast potential of art in a postdigital future.

“This Hebraic-postmodern quest is for a dialogue midway on Jacob’s ladder where man and God, artist and society, and artwork and viewer/participant engage in ongoing commentary.”
– Prof. Randall Rhodes, Chairman, Department of Visual Art, Frostburg State University, Maryland, USA

“Mel Alexenberg, a very sophisticated artist and scholar of much experience in the complex playing field of art-science-technology, addresses the rarely asked question: How does the ‘media magic’ communicate content?”
– Prof. Otto Piene, Director Emeritus, Center for Advanced Visual Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, USA

“This is a wonderful and important book.”
– Dr. Ron Burnett, President, Emily Carr University of Art and Design, Vancouver, Canada

“The author succeeds in opening a unique channel to the universe of present and future art in a highly original and inspiring way.”
– Prof. Michael Bielicky, Director, Institute for Postdigital Narratives, University of Art and Design / ZKM Center of Art and Media, Karlsruhe, Germany

“This book is simply a must read analysis for anyone interested in where we and the visual arts are going in our future.”
– Dr. Moshe Dror, President, World Network of Religious Futurists, and Israel Coordinator, World Future Society

05 August 2010

Educating Artists for the Future: Learning at the Intersections of Art, Science, Technology and Culture

Published by Intellect Books/University of Chicago Press
From review by Julia Gaimster
International Journal of Education through Art
vol. 5, no. 1, 2009, pp. 95-96.

This is a timely book that sets out to explore alternative ways of educating artists in an interdisciplinary, networked, global future. The book is organized into sections around the themes ‘Beyond the Digital’, ‘Networked Times’, ‘Polycultural Perspectives’, ‘Reflective Inquiry’, and ‘Emergent Praxis’.

The central thesis of the book is that, in an increasingly networked world and global society, we face new challenges in how we educate artists and this often leads us into new disciplines and ways of understanding. It also argues that the convergence of disparate fields and concepts can lead to enhanced creativity and innovations.

In ‘Beyond the Digital’ the authors suggest that we have gone beyond the purely technical and are moving into an area where digital technology and biology are starting to create new dynamics and possibilities that have the power to transform our world.

‘Networked Times’ explores the relationships between physical and virtual spaces; it examines the notion of complexity and the culture of digital networking and the impact this may have on the way we deliver curriculum.

For me perhaps the most intriguing section of the book was ‘Polycultural Perspectives’. Here the authors draw upon their own cultural backgrounds from countries such as India, china and Turkey. We are asked to look at artistic practice through a series of different cultural filters including Taoism and Buddhism.

In ‘Reflective Inquiry’ writers who describe their biographical journeys highlight how they came by liuck, design or coincidence to be engaged in their current practice. They come from remarkably diverse backgrounds and cultures, adding a richness of perspective to the book that will appeal to a broad global audience.

The final section ‘Emergent Praxis’ describes approaches to teaching that embody the interdisciplinary approach promoted by the book. The central message of this section is that students need to be exposed to a wide range of disciplines and concepts in order to fully engage with contemporary art practice.

The book contains a good balance between theory and practice, and describes approaches and projects undertaken in a range of contexts from the classroom to the laboratory and onto the street. It is well written.

It inspires us to further our understanding of what it is to be an artist in a future where the boundaries between the technological, the biological, the cultural and spiritual are increasingly fluid.

From review by Olivia Sagan, ESCalate

Once more, intense questions and complex reasoning, which . . . begin to feel mind-broadening and powerful. . . . This is a creative book for creative thinkers--particularly those with a passion for technological advances. . . .This book embodies a perhaps very human urge to learn across disciplines, and explore the border conflicts of their interface.

06 March 2010

University of Chicago Press


My book The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness being published by Intellect Books/University of Chicago Press will be out in Fall 2010.

From the University of Chicago Press catalog:
In The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age, artist and educator Mel Alexenberg offers a prophetic vision of a postdigital future that reveals a paradigm shift from the Hellenistic to the Hebraic roots of Western culture. The author surveys new art forms emerging from a postdigitial age that address the humanization of digital technologies. He ventures beyond the digital to explore postdigital perspectives rising from creative encounters between art, science, technology, and human consciousness. New chapters “Postdigital Perspectives: Rediscovering Ten Fingers” and “Wiki Perspectives: Multiform Unity and Global Tribes” have been added to chapters on semiotic, morphological, kabbalistic, and halakhic perspectives. The interrelationships between these alternative perspectives demonstrate the confluence between postdigital art and the dynamic, creative, open-ended Jewish structure of consciousness. Alexenberg’s pioneering artwork – a vibrant fusion of spiritual and technological realms – exemplifies and complements the theoretical thesis of his book. A revolutionary investigation into interactive and collaborative forms that imaginatively envisages the vast potential of art in a postdigital future.

Mel Alexenberg is head of the School of the Arts at Emuna College in Jerusalem and former professor of art and education at Columbia University and Bar Ilan University, head of the art department at Pratt Institute, and research fellow at MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies. His artworks are in the collections of more than forty museums worldwide including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Jewish Museum of Prague, and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. He is editor of Educating Artists for the Future: Learning at the Intersections of Art, Science, Technology, and Culture.

16 February 2010

Defining Postdigital

In updating and enlarging The Future of Art in a Digital Age to The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age, I checked Wiktionary, the wiki-based open content dictionary, for a definition of ‘postdigital,’ I found none. So I created one based upon my research for writing this Postdigital Edition of my book. I posted it on Wiktionary and added it to Wikipedia’s entry for ‘postdigital.’ My act of collaborating in the creation of the world’s most actively used dictionary and encyclopedia beautifully exemplifies the postdigital age. Now, if you look for the Wiktionary definition of ‘postdigital’ you will find mine.

“Postdigital art addresses the humanization of digital technologies through interplay between digital, biological, cultural, and spiritual systems, between cyberspace and real space, between embodied media and mixed reality in social and physical communication, between high tech and high touch experiences, between visual, haptic, auditory, and kinesthetic media experiences, between virtual and augmented reality, between roots and globalization, between autoethnography and community narrative, and between web-enabled peer-produced wikiart and artworks created with alternative media through participation, interaction, and collaboration in which the role of the artist is redefined.

24 December 2009

Call for artwork that is POSTDIGITAL

Call for artists who consider their artwork to be POSTDIGITAL.

Please send me (melalexenberg@yahoo.com) info about your work for possible including in my book ‘THE FUTURE OF ART IN A POSTDIGITAL AGE: FROM HELLENISTIC TO HEBRAIC CONSCIOUSNESS’ (Intellect Books/University of Chicago Press), a new updated and expanded edition of my 2006 book ‘The Future of Art in a Digital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness.’

I’d also like to receive artists' views on what constitutes postdigital perspectives. Below are some ideas on art beyond the digital in my 2008 book 'Educating Artists for the Future: Learning at the Intersections of Art, Science, Technology, and Culture' (Intellect Books/University of Chicago Press).

In his chapter “Beyond the Digital: Preparing Artists to Work at the Frontiers of Technoculture,” Stephen Wilson proposes that although the impact of digital technology is significant, it forms part of something much more momentous that is intertwined with the aesthetic, ethical, cultural, and social-economic. Scientific research and technological development are radically transforming basic philosophical ideas about the nature of the physical world, time and space, the nature of life and intelligence, and the limits in our abilities to transform the world and humanity. Art redefined by a digital revolution linked to revolutions brewing in the realms of biology, neurophysiology, materials science, and cosmology require new methods for educating artists at the intersections of art, science, technology, and culture.

Roy Ascott in his chapter “Pixels and Particles: The Path to Syncretism” also proposes that the digital moment has passed in the sense that interfaces are migrating from a cabled, box-bound environment to wireless multi-sensory, multi-modal, mobile, wearable forms, and eventually with biochips implanted in our bodies. He coins the word “moistmedia” as the symbiosis between dry pixels and wet biomolecules. Our artistic inquiry and design skills will be devoted to creating moistmedia artworks from which new metaphors, new language, and new methodologies will arise. The dynamic interplay between digital, biological, and cultural systems calls for a syncretic approach to arts education realized through connectivity, immersion, interaction, transformation, and emergence. Ascott explains that young artists face the challenge of creating a syncretic art that explores telematics (planetary connectivity), nanotechnology (bottom up construction), quantum computing (augmented cyberception), cognitive science and pharmacology (field consciousness), and esoterica (psychic instrumentality).

15 December 2009

How to Photograph God: Kabbalah through a Creative Lens and Man Plans, God Laughs

The 16 June 2006 and 13 June 2006 posts have been updated.
The 16 June post gives a preview of the book that I am currently writing: How to Photograph God: Kabbalah through a Creative Lens. More can be seen at my blog: http://photographgod.blogspot.com/.
The 13 June post retitled Man Plans, God Laughs (a Yiddish proverb) is a proposal for the creation of a new School of Art and Multimedia in Israel that was rejected and a letter to editor of The Jerusalem Post.

The Future of Art in a POSTDIGITAL Age

I am working on an updated and expanded hard cover version of my book The Future of Art in a Digital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness (hard cover 2006; paperback 2008) that will be in the Fall 2010 catalog of Intellect Books/University of Chicago Press.

It is being renamed
The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness.
There will be two new chapters in the book:
"Postdigital Perspectives: Rediscovering Ten Fingers" and
"Wikiperspectives: Multiform Unity and Global Tribes."

A Rare Find / Deeply Enlightening

Book review in
Studies in Art Education, July 2009

Educating Artists for the Future: Learning at the Intersections of Art, Science, Technology and Culture
Bristol, UK: Intellect Books / Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 344 pages. ISBN 978-1-84150-191-8 (hard cover).
Reviewed by Dr. Rita L. Irwin, Professor of Art Education and Curriculum Studies and Associate Dean of Teacher Education, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada.
Educating Artists for the Future: Learning at the Intersections of Art, Science, Technology and Culture is a rare find. Editor Mel Alexenberg has done a remarkable job of bringing together outstanding artist/educators who are grappling with issues related to technology, ecology, creativity, agency, identity and community. Each individual author provides rich written descriptions of projects they have undertaken, the conceptual underpinnings that frame their work, and the implications of their practices for art education in informal and formal learning contexts. I am certain that readers reviewing this book will feel a profound sense of collectivity knowing we are at the edge of transforming the world in which we live.
The volume is divided into the following five sections book-ended with an introduction and epilogue by the editor: Beyond the Digital, Networked Times, Polycultural Perspectives, Reflective Inquiry, and Emergent Praxis. Each section has four chapters making this 22 chapter book an extensive array of ideas from authors representing Brazil, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, India, Israel, South Korea, Switzerland, Turkey, UK and USA. Its international character alone makes this book a must read for educators wanting to understand the arts and education at a global level.
Readers wishing to be inspired will be able to take away clear understandings of how education is shifting from an information-age to a conceptual age, how creativity (as we have known it) is shifting from a focus on the individual to a focus on networks, and how intersections between and among art, science, technology and culture are richly laden with social, biological, spiritual, political, and aesthetic aspects that portray the in-between generative spaces for enhanced possibilities.
Although Alexenberg describes his own journey in learning according to several themes, his ability to integrate high-concept (creating art that recognizes opportunities, narratives, and unrelated ideas into an original design) and high-touch abilities (using one’s abilities to understand the human condition while stretching one’s ability in the pursuit of meaning) in his own work, and throughout the entire book, brings his themes to the forefront. For instance, learning through awesome immersion, learning through interdisciplinary imagination, learning through cybersomatic interactivity, learning through polycultural collaboration, learning through ecological perspectives, learning through responsive compassion, and learning through holistic integration, to name a few, draw out his ability to inspire excitement for embracing our changing worlds. These themes are not limited to his experiences. Instead, they reflect the range of learning experiences portrayed by all of the authors.
There is something deeply enlightening about reading new books in our field that illustrate truly international responses to changes in contemporary art, educational practices, and indeed, research across the arts and education.
I highly recommend it for teacher education and fine arts education classes in higher education.

19 May 2009

Sky Art: From Munich to the Tzin Wilderness

From my book:
The Future of Art in a Digital Age:
From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness

A Sukkah at the BMW Museum
My students at the college I headed in the Negev desert helped me tie four mega-tzitzit from ship rope and paint one strand skywater blue. We stuffed these 30-foot long tzitzit in four specially made canvas bags to be flown to Germany by Lufthansa. They would hang from the corners of a giant habitable talit [prayer shawl] on the street in front of the BMW Museum in Munich. It would be my art installation for the third international “Sky Art Exhibition.”

Since my wife’s entire extended family from Holland were murdered by the Germans, I was reluctant to accept an invitation to participate in an exhibition in the city in which Hitler got his start and at a museum across the road from the Olympic Village where 11 Israeli athletes were murdered by Arab terrorists nearly 30 years before 9/11. However, reading the article on Munich in Encyclopedia Judaica changed my mind. The enthusiastic support of Munich’s citizens for Hilter was no new phenomenon.

"In the second half of the 13th century Munich appears to have had a sizable Jewish community; the Jews lived in their own quarter and possessed a synagogue, ritual bath, and a hospital. On October 12, 1285, in the wake of a blood libel, 180 Jews who had sought refuge in the synagogue were burnt to death.”

The anti-Semitic nightmare continued. Munich’s Jews were murdered as scapegoats for plague in 1348, and all the Jews were expelled from Bavaria for the next three centuries in 1442. To harass the Jews during the 18th century, the Munich authorities made it illegal to build a sukkah, the traditional hut built for one week each year as a reminder of the Israelites’ desert dwellings during their exodus from Egypt.

When I looked in my calendar and saw that the opening of “Sky Art 83” fell during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, when each family builds a sukkah to celebrate this joyous holiday, I agreed to participate if the City of Munich would support my building a sukkah at the entrance to the museum. A sukkah is sky art; Jewish tradition requires that stars in the night sky be visible through gaps in its roof. I would design a fringed hut, a giant talit sporting four mega-tzitzit with blue strands linking sky to sea.
The holiday of Sukkot is the culmination of the three biblical pilgrimage festivals in the biblical narrative. Pesach (Passover) celebrates the exodus from Egypt, Shavuot celebrates receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai, and Sukkot celebrates reaching the Promised Land. Pesach and Sukkot exhibit powerful elements of visual culture that are lacking in Shavuot which commemorates the Israelites encounter with the invisible/infinite/eternal author of the Torah. Pesach is celebrated by eating matzah and participating in an intergenerational performance art event called a seder. Sukkot is celebrated by holding four species of plants together to symbolize honoring the different personality types that together make up the Jewish people. We also move out of our comfortable houses for one week into fragile huts opened to sky and to our neighbors where we eat and sometimes sleep according to the biblical prescription in Leviticus 23:39-43:
"On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you harvest the land’s grain, you shall celebrate a festival to God for seven days. You shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of a citron tree, the frond of a date palm, twigs of myrtle, and brook willows; and you shall rejoice before God for seven days…. During these seven days you shall live in huts (sukkot). Every citizen of Israel shall dwell in huts so that future generations will know that I had the Israelites live in huts when I brought them out of Egypt."
Days before the holiday of sukkot, I arrived at Munich airport. I presented the uniformed German agent with the menorah on my Israeli passport and was offered free tourist maps of Munich in a dozen different languages. I chose the Hebrew map. The City of Munich annihilated its Jewish population and then published a map in Hebrew. I never saw Hebrew maps of New York, Los Angeles, or Miami where hundreds of thousands of Jews live today. This Kafkaesque encounter at the Munich airport continued when I was introduced to the city’s charming Director of Culture who greeted me in Hebrew. She had learned to speak Hebrew as a volunteer at a kibbutz in Israel where she lived and worked to repent for the sins of her grandfathers.

When I arrived at the BMW Museum I found Bavarian pine planks, the same planks used to build the barracks at Dachau death camp, piled on the sidewalk in front of the museum waiting for me to build the sukkah. BMW had contributed the wood and sent its carpenters to help me erect the hut. Unfortunately, they refused do anything when they learned that I had no blueprints. It made no difference that I had an accurate drawing of my fringed sukkah that I had made for the exhibition catalog. It didn’t help when I explained that as the designer, I could stand there and direct the construction. “No blueprints! No building!” was their response.
Building the Sukkah
Two other artists overheard my hour-long discussion with the German carpenters and offered to help me build the sukkah. Uri Levy, a systems artist from MIT, and Doron Gazit, an Israeli balloon artist, helped me. As we started to build the sukkah, a Japanese artist passed by and offered to help. Tsutomo Hiroi, Japan’s greatest kitemaker who would fly his giant dragons in the Bavarian sky, was the most skilled carpenter of the four of us. He helped us build an elegant and strong structure. As we worked, Hiroi stood inside the sukkah, looked around at it, and chanted, “Ohhh, beautiful Japanese building. Ohhh, beautiful Japanese building.” He saw its resemblance to the delicate geometries of rice-paper covered wooden frameworks found in traditional Japanese dwellings. I unsuccessfully tried to convince him that we were building a Jewish building to look like a giant striped prayer shawl. When the sukkah was completed and we hung the mega-tzitzit from the four corners of the structure, he was willing to accept that we had built an Asian building. Israel is on the west coast of Asia while Japan is on its east coast.
The next year, I marked the parentheses of Asia by exchanging sand from the beach in Tel Aviv with sand from the beach at the fishing village of Chikura that I visited with Hiroi. I photographed a parenthesis mark that I etched in the damp beach sand with a stick near the surf line at the Pacific Ocean. I filled the etched arc with yellow Tel Aviv sand. I flew back to Tel Aviv to etch a matching parenthesis mark in the sand at the Mediterranean shore that I filled with black volcanic sand that I had brought to Israel from Chikura. I made a serigraph from the photographs showing the set of two parentheses on stripes of Israel’s sky, surf, and sand facing stripes of Japan’s sky, surf, and sand. The Parentheses of Asia serigraph is in the collections of the Emperor of Japan, an oceanographer, and the President of Israel.
When we sat in the sukkah, we saw sky between the wooden roof slats that cast shadow stripes on the floor. Jewish tradition requires that the sukkah roof, although open to the sky, give more shade than sunlight. The Hebrew word for “shade” tzel is related to the word for “salvation” and “rescue” hatzalah. The protective shade in the desert provided by the sukkah gave the Israelites life-granting refuge from the relentless sun while fleeing from Egyptian bondage. Just as the sukkah saved us with its shade, so when we don a talit pulling it over our heads, we compare it to divine wings casting a protective shadow on us like the wings of an eagle covering eaglets. Sukkah and talit are conceptually linked.
We sat and ate in the sukkah around a table that I constructed from a clear plastic cylinder holding two discs, one as the tabletop and the second floating midway between the top and the ground. On this second disc, I spread earth flown from Israel to hover over the ground casting an ellipsoid shadow on the sukkah floor. My idea for creating a shadow-making table came from my realization that the final two Hebrew letters of eretz yisrael, the Land of Israel, spell the word for “shadow” tzeL. Resting in the center of the of disc of earth from the Holy Land was an etrog, the beautiful fruit of the citron tree, one of the four species set by the Bible for celebrating Sukkot, the holiday called the “Season of Our Rejoicing” in the liturgy.
Octoberfest
After the sukkah was standing, tzitzit attached, and the cylindrical table ready for guests, I rode the tram back to my hotel with several other artists participating in “Sky Art 83.” As the tram passed fair grounds with rows of barn-like beerhalls (each sponsored by a different beer company), the other artists persuaded me to join them in leaving the tram to experience Munich’s Octoberfest. We entered the nearest beerhall. A powerful sudsy aroma hovered over long tables surrounded by blowsy folk in woodsy Bavarian costumes toting enormous steins of beer singing in tune to the um-pa-pa rhythms of a five-piece polka band. As we found seats and were served the sponsor’s beer, a new tune began and the entire crowd began to sing out loudly in cadenced unison simultaneously raising their beer steins up high. It looked like a movie set for a period film. The period image that came to mind in horror was my childhood memory of newsreel films of vast crowds raising their arms high together shouting out as one, “Heil Hitler!” I could see Munich’s citizens cheering Hitler as he proclaimed the Nazi revolution during his “Beer Hall Putsch.” This merging of individuals into an overwhelming oneness that submerges individuality was an altogether different togetherness than I had just experienced building the sukkah with Hiroi, Uri, and Doron.
I closed my eyes and saw the plaza before the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Hundreds of people are praying there at all times of the day. They do not converge at any point to chant their prayers together, as an army of worshipers might do. There are no fixed times for services where everyone could join together in one large assembly. Instead, Jews form ad hoc minyanim (prayer quorums). As soon as ten men find themselves together, they begin the prayer service as a few others join them. Dozens of services, each beginning spontaneously can be seen simultaneously. People float in and out of the scene coming together in small groups of strangers who are suddenly spiritually linked for half an hour or so. They never find themselves submerged in an overwhelming oneness that diminishes individual expression.
Higher than Sky
Marking the opening of the “Sky Art 83” exhibition, an international sky art conference was held at which I was invited to deliver the keynote address. My talk, “Higher than Sky,” revolved around a Hassidic tale in which Hassidim tell about their great rebbe who ascends to heaven during the ten days between the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. A skeptic comes to their town and hears them lovingly tell about how their rebbe ascends to heaven in order to plead for the forgiveness for all humanity’s transgressions in a face-to-face encounter with God. The skeptic confronted a group of the Hassidim: “How can you think such ridiculous nonsense? According to tradition, even Moses fell sort of such a face-to-face encounter.” They responded, “If you knew our rebbe, you too would recognize his greatness.” One morning in synagogue, the skeptic sees the rebbe who was seated in the front next to the ark suddenly disappear. He ran out of the synagogue and spied the rebbe walking rapidly walking down the street. The skeptic discretely trailed the rebbe and saw him enter his home to emerge a short time later dressed in workman’s clothes with an ax in his belt and a rope draped over his shoulder. The rebbe walked to the edge of his village where the forest began, chopped down a small tree, cut off its branches, tied all the wood together with his rope, and entered a shack with the bundle of wood on his back. Peering through a window, the skeptic saw a frail old woman in bed and the rebbe putting the wood in her stove, peeling potatoes and putting up a stew to cook, changing her bedding, and getting down on his knees to scrub the floor. He then spied the rebbe walking back home, replacing his work clothes with an elegant black brocade robe and a white woolen talit, and returning to the synagogue through a back door. The skeptic quietly slipped into the synagogue to find the Hasidim talking ecstatically about their rebbe’s return from his ascent to heaven. The skeptic added, “If not higher than that!”
The skywater blue strand of the tzitzit flowing from the corners of a talit symbolizes sky flowing down to earth as a reminder that acts of kindness are the highest expression of human values. Being down on one’s knees scrubbing the floor for an old invalid woman is the way to reach higher than sky. Moreover, the sukkah symbolizes all human beings living in peace with each other while celebrating the holiday of Sukkot, the “Season of Our Rejoicing.” All people were invited into our Munich sukkah to share our joy. This invitation follows from the biblical invitation to all nations of the world from Zecharia 14:16-19, which is read in synagogues on Sukkot. The prophet Zecharia teaches that if all the people of the world would live for just one week in fragile huts open to their neighbors and to the sky, then peace with each other and nature would follow, thereby ushering in the Messianic Age.
Neo-Nazi Motorcycle Gang
The weeklong holiday of sukkot ended with a star-filled Bavarian sky. As my sky art event, I had planned to release 5-foot high Styrofoam Hebrew letters into the sky lifted by helium-filled weather balloons. Searchlights would illuminate them as they ascended over Munich. This visual midrash [interpretation] is based upon a midrash that relates to the seven Hebrew letters in the Torah scroll that are written by the scribe with little three-pronged crowns on them called tagin. They are letters in heavy words like sinah “hate” that are too heavy to ascend to heaven when the Torah text is chanted. The tagin provide extra lift heavenward to letters weighed down by their connection to conflict. I painted each letter one of the seven colors of the rainbow and attached three balloons to each one as giant tagin. I consulted with the Bavarian meteorological services to determine the size of weather balloons that would lift the letters into the jet stream so that they would fly eastward into the Soviet Union where the Iron Curtain was slammed shut on Jews who wished to escape from anti-Semitic harassment. I enthusiastically envisioned MIG’s scrambling to intercept Hebrew letters invading Soviet airspace.
However, it didn’t happen. As I was leaving the hotel that night, American artist Lowry Burgess, creator of the first art satellite placed in orbit by NASA, intercepted me looking distraught. He was holding a steel-gray plastic bag in one hand and a smashed etrog cradled in his other hand. In a distressed voice, he told me how a neo-Nazi motorcycle gang had attacked my sukkah. They tried to destroy the sukkah with crowbars and steel chains. Thanks to Hiroi’s help, the sukkah was strong enough to survive their blows. However, they succeed in destroying the table, smashing the etrog and scattering the earth over the ground. They tied hangmen’s nooses in the rope of the tzitzit. Lowry said, “I didn’t think that you would want to have holy land thrown out in the garbage in Germany. So, I swept it up for you and put it in this plastic bag.” Realizing that Hebrew letters could not fly free in Germany, I cancelled the event. Instead, I descended into the depths of the earth with the letters. The seven Hebrew letters rode the escalators between rush-hour commuters at the subway stop shared by the BMW museum and the Olympic Village where Arab terrorists murdered eleven Israeli athletes in cold blood.
Aesthetic Flu
The next morning, Uri Levi and I took the commuter train from Munich to the suburbs. I carried the bag of earth. We exited the train under the large sign: DACHAU. It was an ominous experience for two Jews. Walking down from the raised station into the center of a shockingly beautiful town gave Uri and me a bout of aesthetic flu. In the mist of this floral suburb with every blade of grass and tree trimmed, every pastry displayed in exquisite taste in the shop window, every house freshly clean white, Hitler built his first death camp. Middle-class Germans lived a middle-class life in their garden paradise while the cries of thousands of Jews being tortured and brutally murdered in their midst went unheard. I had erroneously thought that there was some connection between aesthetic and moral development of human beings.
We walked from the Dachau train station to the rebuilt death camp taking turns carrying the bag of earth from the Land of Israel. Allied bombers had destroyed the original. A true to scale, neat, trim reproduction of the former death camp was rebuilt out of the same lovely Bavarian pine planks that BMW supplied for my sukkah. At the foot of a concrete pillar supporting the barbed-wire fence surrounding the camp, I spread the swept remains of the scattered earth from the Holy Land. The earth rested on freshly mowed grass that covered up bloodied ground. I was following an ancient Jewish tradition of placing earth from the Land of Israel in the graves of our dead in the lands of our exile. On a square of earth from my sky art sukkah spread out on the grass, I set steel rebar rods that I had found discarded at a construction site on my walk from the Dachau town center. With the rods, I wrote out the word sukkah in three square Hebrew letters, the first letter is totally closed, the second is open on one side, and the third is open in two places. The form of the letters in the word sukkah can be metaphorically read as “towards freedom.” Above and below the Hebrew word sukkah, I wrote the word sukkah in rebar rods two more times upside-down and backwards. The German iron cross and swastika were trapped between the nine letters.
Uri dropped to the ground and wept. I paced furiously to express my anger.
It was intolerable for me to look at the photographs that I took of my earth art memorial on the verdant grass of Dachau with lovely bushes growing up against a bright blue sky. They failed to give any indication of the horror of the place. After years of not showing these photographs, I realized that I could transform a sunny day into a dark day in hell by removing my slide from its frame and printing it as if it were a negative. Printing the positive slide resulted in a negative image in which bushes become rising flames and sky and grass different shades of deadly brown.
Flying Free in the Tzin Wilderness
After the Sky Art show opened, Lowry Burgess returned to Israel with me. He had collected water from the major rivers of the world, the Nile, the Amazon, the Mississippi, the Yangtze, etc. We went from my home in Yeroham in the Negev Desert mountains to Beersheva where we bought chemical glassware to build a distillation apparatus. We then drove down to the Dead Sea where we assembled the distillation apparatus on a salt encrusted rock in the Sea. Lowry mixed the river waters together and we distilled the mixture. It was as if the waters of all the major rivers of the world flowed down to the lowest spot on planet Earth. Lowry set this distillate in the core of the satellite that NASA placed in orbit as part of his Quiet Axis a narrative artwork that was decades in the making. Quiet axis reveals his ecological perspective as he links the satellite orbit with an axis that he began creating to extend from the Bamiyan desert in Afghanistan to the other side of the planet beneath the Pacific Ocean near Easter Island.
The rainbow of seven human-size Styrofoam Hebrew letters that were slated to announce themselves in the Bavarian sky and pierce the Iron Curtain could not fly free on the European continent drenched in Jewish blood. They would fly free in the Tzin Wilderness separated from the Dead Sea by the Negev desert that drops down to the lowest place on the planet through two colossal craters. This was the entry point into the Promised Land taken by the spiritual leaders of the twelve Israelite tribes to spy out the land. “The men headed north and explored the land from the Tzin Wilderness all the way to Rehov” (Numbers 13:21). At the edge of a rocky cliff overlooking the Tzin Wilderness, my art students worked with me to tie weather balloon tagin on the tops of each of the letters. The large red balloons were filled from a tank of hydrogen. Helium, only made in United States, was unavailable. We tethered the letters to rocks planned to release them simultaneously. Unexpectedly, before we were ready to release the letters, a sudden gust of wind ripped the letter zayin loose, setting it free. As it ascended over the Tzin Wilderness, an eagle spiraled around it escorting it up into a cloud.

13 December 2008

A Creative Book for Creative Thinkers


ESCalate
Education Subject Center
Advanced Learning and Teaching in Educati
on
The Higher Education Academy

From book review posted at http://escalate.ac.uk/4791
12 December 2008

by Olivia Sagan
University of the Arts, London

Educating Artists for the Future: Learning at the Indisciplinary Intersections of Art, Science, Technology, and Culture (Intellect Books/University of Chicago Press)

Mel Alexenberg, Editor

A resounding theme is that interdisciplinarity is a hallmark of our networked, cyber times, with information, knowledge and practice leaking sometimes uncontrollably across boundaries, sometimes wonderfully and creatively: ‘It is apparent that new ways for educating artists for the future will be found in a global fabric woven with colourful threads from all fields of human endeavour’ (p. 12). Important words for those concerned that our Higher Arts Education institutions may sometimes reflect preciousness about disciplines and their boundaries, not to mention an ethnocentricity regarding creative endeavour.

A further, urgent viewpoint expressed by Giglotti, and one which can too easily be overlooked and marginalised, is that of sustaining a social and environmental conscience in our creative work, and the sheer shock of learning about global impacts of our use and abuse of resources. Giglotti cautions us on ‘the suppression and destruction of non-human creativity – organic, ecological and biological – and the corrosive effects of that destruction on sustained human activity.’ (p. 63). Once more, intense questions and complex reasoning, which, once the reader is into the sometimes less than smooth flow of the book, begin to feel mind-broadening and powerful.

This is a creative book for creative thinkers – particularly those with a passion for technological advances: ‘What should education in a networked age look like?’ (p. 95) – including their use, non-use or abuse in the field of creative arts. But it is also a book which rather elegantly, at times, attempts to show how creative endeavour can, could, and should, wise up to the beauty, creativity and shared impulses of, for example, maths and physics. As Sonvilla-Weiss asks: Can both art and science learn from each other, and, if so, at what and for what?’ (p. 104).

This book embodies a perhaps very human urge to learn across disciplines, and explore the border conflicts of their interface. Inevitably, this is difficult. Inevitably, the language reflects this. But persevere, because like all learning of value, it’s worth the occasional or even regular discomfort… in the end.

01 October 2008

Inspiration by the Bucket-load

Enlightening Times
August 2008

Book Review
Educating Artists for the Future, edited by Mel Alexenberg

by Jade Ashcroft

This is the first book, to my knowledge, which considers the future of our Arts and Media Culture in the wake of the explosion of digital and technological Arts with such depth and rich diversity of content.From the point of view of an Esoteric Artist out in the field, the different subjects discussed herein have given me considerable food for thought, as well as insight and knowledge into disciplines that I had not previously encountered.

The reoccurring theme of Scientific research based Art and Technology is examined in great detail and with energetic enthusiasm, neatly interspersed with personal experiences from each author, dissecting and describing activities and projects in their chosen field.Subjects such as “Syncretism”, “Afferent and Efferent Education” and “Transgenic Art” are terms with which I was unfamiliar, but were explained by each Author with eloquence and coherence. I particularly enjoyed the chapter “New Media Art as an embodiment of the Tao”, “Multi-cellular creatures with sensors, joints and a neural network, living in a simulated environment”, would have been categorized as Science in my understanding, and therefore separate from Art and Artists, prior to reading this fascinating book.

I would highly recommend that anyone who intends to produce images of a symbolic nature read the chapter about “Media Literacy: Reading and Writing Images in a Digital Age”. The different levels of meaning in Art and Photography, discussed in the narrative, explores the successful production of meaningful, thought provoking and powerful imagery.

The links between Science and Art, severed so long ago, have not only reunited into a collective but are mutating into new and exciting dimensions. For Artists/Teachers/Researchers, and anyone interested in expanding their knowledge of post digital media Educating Artists for the Future: Learning at the Intersections of Art, Science, Technology and Culture is the perfect companion for navigation.

Delving into the different sections of this text reveals a wealth of information regarding proposed and already successful course structures in Art and Technology. From cross-cultural and multi disciplined perspectives, the pathway is illuminated resulting in omni-directional destinations.

You are guaranteed to find inspiration by the bucket-load whether you are an artist, designer, tutor, or student of Multimedia and the Arts.

16 September 2008

Energy Bursting Out of Every Page

From review in
Network, issue 05, 2008

by Adam Brown, Course Leader, BAs Photography and Media and Photography and Video at University College for the Creative Arts, Maidstone, UK:
Book: The Future of Art in a Digital Age:
From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness
Author: Mel Alexenberg

Alexenberg’s book attempts to open up perspectives on the understanding of contemporary digital and relational art practices based on their coherence with Jewish heritage, theology and philosophy. It both underscores the importance of the Jewish contribution to developments in contemporary artistic practice, and traces the intricacies of that relationship through a thorough and wide ranging meditation on form, religious observance, and context.

Alexenberg’s insights into this relationship draw on a wide range of scholarship and an encyclopedic knowledge of the contribution of Jewish artists and cultural producers to Western cultural development. It is necessary to explore what is specifically Jewish about the development of contemporary art, as the turmoil of the twentieth century places Jewish writers, artists and émigrés at the heart of global experience in which cultural paradigms were violently overturned. By tracing his own journeys– artistic, spiritual and pedagogic - Alexenberg explores the specific practices, texts and ideas of the Jewish faith in depth and constructs a narrative that attempts to explain how they influenced Western art production, in the context of a global audience.

Alexenberg describes the shift from a Hellenistic to a Hebraic consciousness as one which moves from fixed outcomes, passive reception, and the importance of objects, to fluidity, intertextuality and the primacy of relationships and practice over form. Broadly put, modernism was Hellenistic, postmodernism is Hebraic. To demonstrate this point, Alexenberg applies Kabbalistic textual analysis to both biblical sources and postmodern ideas. The Talmudic principle that every biblical verse has seventy readings provides a way to ground postmodern notions of multiple readings in a long standing tradition of textual practices which take no single reading of any text as definitive. This is a key idea, which Derrida also explores in his writings on Edmond Jabès, making similar claims for the importance of understanding the centrality of a diasporic, global, textually complex Jewish identity to contemporary thinking.

Drawing on a huge range of sources, from Roy Ascott to Arthur Danto, Talmudic scholars to Irit Rogoff, Alexenberg reveals himself as a voracious reader, and a prolific producer, and his energy bursts out of every page. In the early pages, he quotes Thorleif Borman’s contrast between the ‘static, peaceful and moderate’ Greek and a ‘dynamic, vigorous, passionate and action centered’ Hebraic consciousness. This book was written in the latter spirit.

31 August 2008

Dialogic Art in a Digital World


אמנות דיאלוגית בעולם דיגטלי
ארבע מסות על יהדות ואמנות בת זמננו, ירושלים: בית רובען מס
Dialogic Art in a Digital World: Four Essays on Judaism and Contemporary Art, (Jerusalem: Rubin Mass House, 2008).

A Hebrew version of my book:
The Future of Art in a Digital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness (Intellect Books/University of Chicago Press, 2006, paperback 2008).

08 June 2008

An Engaging Text


New Media & Society
2008, vol. 10, pp. 357-360.

The Future of Art in a Digital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness
(Intellect Books/University of Chicago Press, 2006,
paperback edition 2008)

From book review by Dr. Vince Dzekkan,
Monash University, Australia

Early in Mel Alexenberg’s The Future of Art in a Digital Age, the reader encounters a passage that describes the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright and Frank Gehry, reflected in their respective Guggenheim Museums, as expressions of form giving shape to content. The author goes on to describe the prevalence of the spiral form, traversing natural and symbolic readings identified with the Jewish cultural tradition (referring to biblical writings found in the Torah, Kabbalah and Sephirot). This fusion of perspectives, drawn from Hebraic cultural and religious sources is, in itself, an indication of a familiar and repeated pattern that operates throughout the remainder of this engaging text.

The book’s central theme establishes the ‘contemporary confluence of Hebraic consciousness and postmodern art in a digital age’ (p. 9).This premise builds out from Alexenberg’s perception that the transition from modernism to technologically-mediated postmodernism represents a paradigm shift which can be understood by recognizing parallels between each ‘-ism’s’ contrasting allegiance with Hellenistic versus Hebraic cultural perspectives. Alexenberg’s distinction between analogue and digital creative processes develops (spirals out) from this dichotomy. For example, postmodernism – like the Hebraic worldview – is dynamic, action-centred and based upon lived experience, whereas the values of modernism – which acts as the culmination of two centuries of western or Hellenistic influence – are primarily expressed in static, passive object form.

Alexenberg summarizes this perceived relationship, noting that ‘Hebraic consciousness shares with postmodernism a dynamic, creative, playful consciousness that promotes the interplay between multiple perspectives and alternating viewpoints from inside and outside’ (p. 13).This observation is built into the book’s structure, with chapters dedicated to ‘outside’ perspectives offered by semiotics and morphological approaches to the analysis of art forms that are complemented by ‘insider’ perspectives linked directly to the author’s Jewish heritage. These sections present ‘Kabbalistic’ and ‘Halakhic’ perspectives as background to discussion of the author/artist’s own creative investigations, which respond directly to the production of art in a digital age.

Alexenberg’s dynamic interplay of insider/outsider methodologies and exploration of the multiple relationships that exist between, art, technology, and culture today is the highlight of this text. His combination of practice-based outcomes with scholarly negotiation of the topic presents a distinctive character to this research.

23 January 2008

2 New Books for Spring 2008


Educating Artists for the Future:
Learning at the Intersections of Art, Science, Technology, and Culture

Mel Alexenberg, editor

In Educating Artists for the Future, some of the world’s most innovative thinkers about higher education in the arts offer fresh directions for educating artists and designers for a post-digital future. A group of artists, researchers, and teachers from a dozen countries here redefine art at the interdisciplinary interface where scientific inquiry and new technologies shape aesthetic values. This volume offers groundbreaking guidelines for art educators, demonstrating how the interplay between digital and cultural systems calls for alternative pedagogical strategies that encourage student-centered interactive learning.

Intellect Books/University of Chicago Press
ISBN: 978-1-84150-191-8 (ISBN-10: 1-84150-191-3)
http://www.intellectbooks.co.uk/ppbooks.php?isbn=9781841501918
http://www.press.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/hfs.cgi/00/278940.ctl

For book contents, click on Educating Artists for the Future under Previous Posts on the right column of this blog.


Dialogic Art in a Digital World:
Four Essays on Judaism and Contemporary Art
אמנות דיאלוגית בעולם דיגטלי: ארבע מסות על יהדות ואמנות בת זמננו
by M. Alexenberg מנחם אלכסנברג

A Hebrew version of The Future of Art in a Digital Age published in Jerusalem by Rubin Mass.

16 December 2007

Profound Implications for Art Education

Mel Alexenberg sending cyberangel on circumglobal flight from AT&T building in New York
Arts and Activities
December 2007

From media review by Dr. Jerome Hausman
The Future of Art in a Digital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness


This book offers an ecological perspective: “a deeper account of what art is doing, reformulating its meaning and purposes beyond the gallery system.”
It references such important artists as Allan Kaprow, Josef Albers, John Cage, Tsutomu Hiroi, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and others. What is also interesting and informative is an account of the author’s Rembrandt Memorial Fax-Art Event, a cyberangel flight from New York to Amsterdam to Jerusalem to Tokyo and back to New York.

Alexenberg offers special insights into the post-modern nature of the Talmud’s biblical consciousness as an open-ended living system. His argument is that the new paradigm of art must be of a structural and dynamic nature. Here, he quotes Allan Kaprow in urging a more “lifelike art.” This has profound implications for art education.

25 February 2007

IsraelSeen.com Interview

Tzitzit flowing from the corners of a sukkah built by Alexenberg for Sky Art exhibition at BMW Museum, Munich

Chadesh Yameinu Kadama / Jewish Ideas Series from IsraelSeen.com, in cooperation with AHAVI the Association for Jewish Renewal in Israel, announces an interview with Prof. Menahem Alexenberg, one of the most prolific, profound, and deeply knowledgeable Jewish artists/thinkers/teachers of or our time.
Prof. Alexenberg’s teachings are of particular of interest to artists of all kinds, as well as people interested in creativity, Judaism, philosophy, and biology, in any possible combination. He begins our conversation with on the subject of tzitzit, ritual fringes that symbolize open ended systems. We also discuss his latest book, The Future of Art in the Digital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness, which leads to a conversation about the difference between the Hellenistic (Greek) concept of art and the Hebrew/Jewish concept, and what the words themselves teach us: omanut in Hebrew and art in its various permutations in European languages. He shares his conversations with the Lubavitcher Rebbe in relation to ideas on creativity of his philosophical counterpoint, the mitnaged Rav Soloveitchik.
This is a real treat. For me [Yoram Getzler] it confirmed the possibility of conversation as sensuous experience.
This interview can be found, heard and/or downloaded into your computer or iPod at http://www.israelseen.com/

20 February 2007

Lecture at ZKM

ZKM //// Zentrum fur Kunst und Medientechnologie Karlsruhe
Programm 02 /2007 / Mel Alexenberg
Mi, 07.02.07_Vortrag im ZKM_Vortragssaal19 Uhr, Eintritt frei
The Future of Art in a Digital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness
Mel Alexenberg wird in einem Vortrag und einer Buchpräsentation seine These zur Überleitung vom hellenistischen zum hebräischen Bewusstsein erläutern. In seinem Buch entwickelt er die Theorie, dass der Übergang von der Prae- zur Postmoderne im digitalen Zeitalter eine Art Paradigmenwechsel von den hellenistischen zu den hebräischen Wurzeln unserer westlichen Kultur darstellt. Indem er sowohl analytische als auch alternative jüdische Ansätze benutzt, bietet der Autor eine große Bandbreite an unterschiedlichen und interessanten Thesen bezüglich der Ausdehnung und Neudefinition digitaler Kunst.
Der Künstler Mel Alexenberg arbeitet an der Schnittstelle zwischen Wissenschaft, Technologie, Kunst und Kultur. Seine Werke untersuchen Wechselbeziehungen und Verbindungen zwischen dem digitalen Zeitalter, jüdischem Bewusstsein, Raum-Zeit-Technologien sowie interaktiver Kunst. Alexenbergs Arbeiten sind in mehr als vierzig Museen weltweit zu sehen.
Above is the announcement on ZKM's website (http://on1.zkm.de) of my lecture at the ZKM Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe, Germany, Europe's leading center for new media arts.

New and Noteworthy

Mel Alexenberg and Ken Treister, Torah Spectrogram Hupa, Miami

Emunah Magazine
Winter 2007/5767

The Future of Art in a Digital Age:
From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consiousness

By Mel Alexenberg, Intellect Books, UK, 2006

Mel Alexenberg is Professor of Art and Jewish Thought and Head of the Creative Arts Program at Emunah College in Jersalem. He has written an extraordinary book which offers a prophetic vision of art in a digital future. Expanding upon the emerging artistic prospects made possible by technology, it explores new directions in art that have arisen between the planes of science, technological development, and cultural expression.

Focusing upon the epochal shift from pre- to post-modernism, the author examines the interrelations between digital age art and Jewish consciousness. The contours of art in a postmodern era shape the framework of this book. Using both analytic and alternative Jewish methodologies, the author offers a diverse and exciting range of theories regarding the expansion and redefinition of art in a digital dimension. The author’s personal artwork – a vibrant fusion of the mystical and technological – is included in the book to exemplify and complement the theoretical basis of the study. His is a revolutionary investigation into the aesthetic form that imaginatively envisages the vast potential of art in a cyber future.

Excerpt from The Future of Art in a Digital Age
The ingathering of the Jewish people into their ancestral homeland of Israel at the time that many other peoples are being dispersed into new host countries would seem to be a countertrend to the powerful forces of globalization. However, the rebirth of the Jewish State and the ingathering of the exiles plant roots that provide the sure footing required to play the fast-moving globalization game. A half-century after its rebirth, Israel has become as a major player in the global world of hi tech. Jewish history is the prototype for the creative tension and energetic interplay between subjugation and freedom, between local action and global consciousness, between narrow unidirectional thought and open-ended systems thought, and between being rooted in one’s own culture and exploring others. This tension and interplay can become the stimulus and raw material for forging new directions for art in our era of globalization.

The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age:
From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness
By Mel Alexenberg
Bristol, UK: Intellect Books.
in USA: University of Chicago Press


In his book, Mel Alexenberg navigates his artistic insight amid the labyrinthian complexities, explosions, and revolutions of the past forty years of art, tracing his way amid questions of science and religion, technology and environment, education, culture, and cosmos. Everyone will find his book full of new vantage points and vistas, fresh insights that give a uniquely personal history of artistic time that indeed points to new and open futures.
- Lowry Burgess, Dean, Professor of Art, Distinguished Fellow of the Studio for Creative Inquiry, Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.


This is a wonderful and important book. The author links the history of art to the important role played by various forms of thinking in the Jewish tradition and connects that to the emerging culture of digital expression. Brilliant insights and new ways of seeing make this a must-read for anyone interested in the intellectual history of images in the 21st Century.
- Ron Burnett, author of How Images Think (MIT Press), President of Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver, Canada.


Mel Alexenberg, a very sophisticated artist and scholar of much experience in the complex playing field of art-science-technology, addresses the rarely asked question: How does the "media magic" communicate content?
- Otto Piene, Professor Emeritus and Director, MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


The author succeeds in opening a unique channel to the universe of present and future art in a highly original and inspiring way. His connection between ancient concepts (Judaism) and the present digital age will force us to thoroughly rethink our ideas about art, society and technology.
- Michael Bielicky, Professor and Head of the Department of InfoArt/Digital Media at Hochschule fur Gestaltung, ZKM Center for Art and Media, in Karlsruhe, Germany.


This book is simply a must read analysis for anyone interested in where we and the visual arts are going in our future. Alexenberg has provided us with powerful new lenses to allow us to "see" how postmodern art movements and classical Judaic traditions compliment and fructify one another as the visual arts are now enlarging and adding a spiritual dimension to our lives in the digital era.
- Moshe Dror, President of World Network of Religious Futurists, and Israel Coordinator of World Future Society.


Like the Torah itself that Alexenberg refers to regularly, the book is complex. He writes in a lively, engaging style.... I found it informative, optimistic, and spiritually refreshing.
- Rob Harle, Leonardo: Journal of the International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology


If Jacques Derrida had not preceded him, Alexenberg would be the Jewish Marshall Mcluhan…. Alexenberg’s art and scholarship represents some of the most innovative work being made in both the Jewish and non-Jewish art worlds.
- Menachem Wecker, Forward


This book is amazing, so deep and insightful and full of sweet revelations at each turn of the page! It rocks the world and brings some desperately needed light.
- David Lazerson, author of Skullcaps ‘N Switchblades. Performing artist and education professor.


This Hebraic-postmodern quest is for a dialogue midway on Jacob's ladder where man and God, artist and society, and artwork and viewer/participant engage in ongoing commentary.
- Randall Rhodes, Professor and Chairman, Department of Visual Art, Frostburg State University, Maryland.


The Future of Art in a Digital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness opens new vistas in the attempts to reconcile the newest developments in digital art and postmodern critical perspectives with the ancient concerns of the arts with the spiritual. It offers fresh perspectives in how we can learn from Greek and Jewish thought to understand the present era.
- Stephen Wilson, author of Information Arts: Intersections of Art, Science, and Technology (MIT Press) and Professor of Conceptual and Information Arts at San Francisco State University.