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Art and the realisation of living: the cognitive reuse of neural networks

Version 2 2024-06-18, 05:27
Version 1 2017-12-04, 12:49
conference contribution
posted on 2024-06-18, 05:27 authored by J Keane
Descriptions of life in the sciences, through experimentation and observation may provide an accurate snapshot of ‘what a body is’. For artists, this snapshot is seductive challenge to experiment with what a ‘body can be’. In this paper I will address the ways in which artwork and art processes perform and contribute to the understanding of the enactive approach to cognition. Darwin ‘s (1859) pre-adaption, reframed by Gould and Vrba (1982) as expaption and Kauffman’s (2000) autocatalysis and adjacent possible will be used to discuss experimentation in Art that deploy James’s radical empiricism (experiences are themselves experiencable) and affordances that can themselves become affordances (Post–Gibson). Examples drawn from the sciences (Gallese, 2011, cognitive reuse; Bach-y-Rita, 1972, sensory substitution; the case of de-afferent Ian Waterman) will be discussed alongside selected artworks that explore this exaptive potential. In particular, the works of Arakawa and Gins (2002) and their procedural offer insights into using the built-environment as research devices for asking questions in a 360degree body-wide fashion. Art can be positioned as a space for 1:1 scale experimentations on life, offering opportunities to build the conditions that challenge automatic perceptual and conceptual processing. The experiential prompts of Art enable the distinctions between organism-person-environment to be reconfigured, inviting daily research and collective devising. The key proposition for this paper is: Art prompts and primes the reconfiguration of boundary identities across organism-person-environment to bring the higher levels of expanded and social cognition to bear upon processes of selection and self-organization. These re-orientations of thought, feeling and making, expand the concerns of art to address the collective capacity and interaction of processes required for “the realization of living” (Maturana and Varela 1980).



University of California Irvine, Calif

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Publication classification

E1 Full written paper - refereed

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2017, Regents of the University of California


Penny S

Title of proceedings

Proceedings of A Body of Knowledge- Embodied Cognition and the Arts Conference CTSA UCI,


Body of Knowledge - Embodied Cognition and the Arts. Conference (2016 :


UC Open Access Publications

Place of publication

Irvine, Calif.

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