color Beyond Kandinsky: On the phantasmal character of electronic proliferation (and speed) as a form of an objective spiritual.

The year 2011 marks the centennial of the publication of Wassily Kandinsky's classic text, On the Spiritual in Art. Inspired by this anniversary, this project set out to explore the place of the spiritual in contemporary art and to propose a challenge to the current devaluation of the inner life that prevails within the art world in our market-driven era.

Beginning on Wednesday, March 30th, 2011, a ten-day virtual symposium moderated by Taney Roniger and Eric Zechman was held in this forum. The symposium closed on the evening of Friday, April 8th. Below is the full record of the proceedings.

Panelists invited to participate were: Suzanne Anker, Laura Battle, Connie Beckley, Anney Bonney, Deirdre Boyle, Nathaniel Dorsky, Jeff Edwards, James Elkins, Max Gimblett, Tom Huhn, Atta Kim, Roger Lipsey, Enrique Martinez Celaya, Joseph Nechvatal, Daniel Siedell, Charlene Spretnak, David Levi Strauss, Alan Wanzenberg, and Pawel Wojtasik. For participant biographies and other project details, please visit our site:


March 30th–April 1st: Session I: The Spiritual Then and Now

April 2nd–April 3rd: Session II: The Changing Shape of Art

April 4th-5th: Session III: Art and Its Audience

April 6th–April 7th: Session IV: The Artist in Society

April 8th: Conclusions


Thursday, March 31, 2011

On the phantasmal character of electronic proliferation (and speed) as a form of an objective spiritual.

My understanding of reality is that we live today immersed in a swirling (essentially phantasmagorical) electronic-based society that is rhizomatic (a rhizome is continually dynamic and is ceaselessly actualized by the arousal its dynamism produces and thus it is never in accord with some pre-established strategy or imposed configuration). Needless to say, electronic signals and codes are positively phantasmagorical. Thus, electronics refocuses our attention on the phantasmagorical. Here vibratory energy is made manifest and so may offer us the opportunity for the creation of relevant, social, phantasmagorical signs (semi-abstract, ecstatic, anti-signs) which may continue to mentally move and multiply. So unlike Kandinsky's analog approach to art (one that has become an institutional and conventional approach) digital electronics opens art up to new spaces of malleable and combinatory creation with perpetual multiplications of significance and noisy inference that may decode and deterritorialize meaning. Meaning in art and in life then advances by seeing more clearly into its own underlying phantasmagorical assumptions of excess, by facing up to the radical implications of those assumptions, and by purging itself from conventional ways of thinking.

Virtual (or better, viractual) spiritual art may achieve an ultimate phantasmal integration by dissolving recorded information into its original vibrational/dynamic foundation. It is a form of understanding information. But one cannot declare in advance what the digital confines are or where it will or might operate - nor what may become connected and tangled up in the phantasmagorical rhizome's multiple dimensions, because the connections do not inevitably plait common types together.

Such a dynamic sense of aesthetic electronica (as contemplative vision) might suggest the potential for the spiritual in art as it subsumes our previous world of simulation/representation into a phantasmagorical nexus of over-lapping linked hybrid observations of the outer world with precise extractions of human sensibility.


  1. Ahh, your font is performing a spiritual dance. Then, the "virtual spiritual" is objective as it mirrors the " a swirling (essentially phantasmagorical) electronic-based society", right?

  2. The kind of immersive experience you describe (here and elsewhere) is tantalizing, and I see in it a number of rich possibilities for transcending the dualisms we’ve been discussing (i.e., mind/body, subject/object, self/world) that afflict aesthetic experience in particular and life experience in general. What is particularly appealing to me about it is its promise of a kind of unbounded, horizonless, totalizing experience in which the “viewer” moves beyond mere spectatorship and truly becomes a participant in the work. The word “ecstatic” seems to apply in its most literal sense: that of being (temporarily) displaced from the illusive center that we conventionally take to be ourselves (i.e., ego) and expanded outward into a living communion with all that is “other.”
    My persistent question, however, is this: You speak of this experience as being “non-alienating” – presumably in contrast to the alienating experience of most conventional (i.e., analog) art – but I wonder if there’s not an element of alienation from the body implicit in what you describe. This occurs to me primarily in view of the larger movement toward disembodiment so prominent among technologists deeply interested in virtual reality and the like (the futurist Ray Kurzweil comes to mind), whose vision seems to be one of a “post-nature” Utopia. Does the trans-humanism movement epitomized by the Extropians figure into your thinking at all, I wonder? My concern is rooted in my suspicion that the latter’s quest to transcend the body is motivated more by what it seeks to be rid of (i.e., the “messiness” of flesh and fluid and all that ties us to the earth) than what it seeks to attain. There is also, on a more modest scale, the issue of the increasing alienation from body and earth discernible among the younger generation (for example, their utter incomprehension of where food comes from).
    Finally, on a related note: I was interested to learn last year at a Kandinsky symposium at the Guggenheim that Kandinsky was notoriously repulsed by the human body. In life drawing classes, for example, he was known to complain about the “stinky, smelly models” he was forced to draw from! Alas, it seems the desire to transcend the body haunts the spiritual from many quarters.

  3. You will have to remind me where I used the phrase “non-alienating” Tanay. I usually include a sense of critical distance when I discuss immersion. (See my text: Immersive Ideals / Critical Distances).
    On the question of de-materialization: Of course it will never fully happen, so we can put away the Matrix fantasies of Ray Kurzweil, but yes information technology will become increasingly ubiquitous and knitted into the material world. But we will never dematerialize our body, the body will be joined into the information web in a viractual manner. If you think about it, our flesh is already viractual, dancing on a clock.
    I did not know that Kandinsky was notoriously repulsed by the body, but I do know that Kandinsky's interest in de-materialization began in 1895 with his love for Manet's Haystack series. And that he went on to postulate that the state of painting should approach that of music, the most de-materialized of the arts, even while encouraging art to approach gesamtkunstwerk unity.
    The issue you raise of spiritual transcending of the body is exactly why I insist on forgetting about the transcendental in connection with the spiritual and rather insist on spiritual immanence.

  4. so, the mystical experience is very much transcendental( here I'm thinking the Catholic legends that are hard to swallow); and the spiritual immanence, by a new paradigm rethinking, is in favor of material or neutral monism?
    (I'm thinking of your first post:
    " I think of the “spiritual” - a realization (proven by science) that humans are deeply tied up within the powers of nature. This is a realization of immanence, of course: we are entangled and immersed within the energetic, ephemeral and phantasmagorical." )

    "transcendence" and "immanence" are difficult for me to grasp, I haven't quite figured them out since the first day. but today is already the last day discussing those concepts...

  5. I'm glad you've clarified your position on de-materialization, Joseph. I agree that Kurzweil's vision is a pipe dream -- and not a very appealing one at that. It seems crucial here to make the distinction between the move toward de-materialization, which you and others are proposing, and the position of anti-materialism, which has been such a strong current underlying many of the last century's spiritual movements. I have always rather associated Kandinsky's enterprise with the latter, but maybe I'm wrong to do so. In any case, it's now clear to me that what you're working toward is a kind of "hyper-corporeality" (I think that's the word you use in your book, Towards an Immersive Intelligence, no?) that is not about moving "beyond" the body but rather about expanding our sense of self to encompass body + world, or to reveal the fundamental interconnectedness of the two. And yes, immanence should replace transcendence in our thinking about the spiritual. (Or, better yet, is there a third term that might imply the two poles in unison?) Now I'm on board!
    Another issue that interests me about your enterprise is the challenge it presents to the general suspicion of totalities that pervades contemporary intellectual culture. The anti-metaphysical strain of deconstructive postmodernism is something with which I've long had a problem. While I'm sympathetic to the move away from God and teleology, I stop short of rejecting wholes altogether. I embrace any position that poses a challenge to this anti-metaphysical movement, which is what draws me so strongly to systems theory/cybernetics. The absolute rejection of absolutes is as absolutist as the positions deconstruction has sought to dismantle. I say it's time to move beyond deconstruction.

  6. My apologies, Joseph, for attributing the term "non-alienating" to you. I had it in my notes, but I cannot for the life of me find it in any of your texts. Mea culpa!

  7. No problem. Yes I see us (and art) moving towards a state of hyper-corporeality. The strategy of hyper-anything includes principles of networked connections and electronic links which give multiple choices of passages to follow and continually new branching possibilities.
    My hyper-corporeal approach to noology places emphasis on self-re-programmable internal functions that explicitly offers a furtherance in envisioning internal, anti-hierarchical patterns of thought.