Dialogues: Curated by Jan Krugier

The second condition of art as emergent not only rescues the artist from solipsism, butmakes the artist, in the sense that subjectivity is defined by the limited ways one reacts with one’s surroundings. One has to embrace a discourse if one wishes to communicate with others and create something new; one can neither avoid, nor should one wish to avoid being captivated by one’s own assumptions. As the complexity sciences have shown, constraints are the very engines of creativity. Because existing as part of a system makes one different to others outside of that system, there is possibility for change and growth through the “error” of finding accidental relations.

The third condition concerns the role of poetry in affecting this change, and although it is couched in scientific-theoretic terms here, it should be otherwise familiar. Interpretation of art involves an understanding of the novel associations it makes. But while patterns may be easily recognized, sensed or felt, what they may represent is less easily interpreted. Interpretation is an organic process not a machinic one.  Algorithms “if x then y”, for example, are not suitable metaphors for the patterns artists employ. For artists, x and a y do not depend upon identity relation. Any kind of vague likeness of x to something or chance proximity of y to something will do to evolve a connection. These kinds of associations, though they teeter on the brink of insanity and obscurity, sometimes reveal true affinities that no one would have been able to conceive with previously existing semiotic systems. This is how we learn new things and how language grows.

Symbolic language originates in processes that link constituents, based on coincidental likenesses and chance proximities, to form a dynamically stable whole. Our brains apparently work like artists too, even when or especially when most logical.  We may have believed that reason is linear and prescribed, but actually, at the most basic level of neuronal processes, such poetic associations as described here generate, through a permissive selection process coupled with innumerable iterations, the law-like sense we call coherent thoughts, styles and languages. We may say that iterations so numerous are corrective, that is, tending toward truth (Short 2007), but the product nevertheless remains unpredictable due the poetic flexibility of the formal selection process.

Since its inception, Dactyl has looked for and nourished artistic language in contemporary art. By integrating Krugier’s exceptional collection with research in the sciences and in philosophy, we hope to convey a better understanding of language and discourse, not as a totalizing system adverse to creativity, but as the ground for further exploration and experiment. Looking back now, we see postmodernism as equivalent to a period in evolutionary history in which organisms are under stress and subsequent disintegration.  In such times, systems (species, languages, organisms) once stabilized by natural selection (traditions) loosen. It is now the moment in which a new reintegration with greater adaptability may occur. We only have to take the time now to reacquaint ourselves with our past, understand our traditions, and make a new sense of the aesthetics we’ve inherited.

Victoria N. Alexander, Ph.D., & Neil Grayson

Dactyl Foundation

New York, NY


Alexander, Victoria N. “The Poetics of Semiotics of Purpose, Biosemiotics. Forthcoming April 2009.

Fletcher, Angus. New Theory for American Poetry:Democracy, the Environment, and the Future of Imagination. Harvard UP: Cambridge, 2004.

Laughlin, Robert. A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down. Basic Books: New York, 2005.

Reid, Robert G. Biological Emergences: Evolution by Natural Experiment. MIT: Cambridge, 2007.

Short, Thomas L. Peirce’s Theory of Signs. Cambridge UP: Cambridge, 2007.

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