From Whitechapel: Documents of Contemporary Art


Edited by Edward A. Shanken

With Ian Farr

Writings survey system-based art, from its origins in works from the 1950s to the 1970s to its twenty-first century resurgence in works that draw on cutting-edge science.





Writings survey system-based art, from its origins in works from the 1950s to the 1970s to its twenty-first century resurgence in works that draw on cutting-edge science.

In the late 1950s, experiments such as the cybernetic sculptures of Nicolas Schöffer or the programmatic music compositions of John Cage and Iannis Xenakis transposed systems theory from the sciences to the arts. By the 1960s, artists as diverse as Roy Ascott, Hans Haacke, Robert Morris, Sonia Sheridan, and Stephen Willats were breaking with accepted aesthetics to embrace open systems that emphasized organism over mechanism, dynamic processes of interaction among elements, and the observer's role as an inextricable part of the system. Jack Burnham's 1968 Artforum essay “Systems Aesthetics” and his 1970 “Software” exhibition marked the high point of systems-based art until its resurgence in the changed conditions of the twenty-first century.

Systems traces this radical shift in aesthetics from its roots in mid twentieth-century general systems theory, cybernetics, and artificial intelligence to the cutting-edge science of the present. The collected texts examine the connections between advanced technological systems, our bodies and minds; the relation of musical to spatial and architectural structures; and the ways in which systems-based art projects can create self-generating entities and networks, alter our experience of time, change the configurations of social relations, cross cultural borders, and interact with threatened ecosystems.

Artists surveyed include Roy Ascott, Driessens and Verstappen, David Dunn, Brian Eno, Frank Gillette, Michael Joaquin Grey, Hans Haacke, Helen Mayer Harrison, Newton Harrison, Joan Littlewood, Richard Paul Lohse, Laurent Mignonneau, Manfred Mohr, Nam June Paik, Cedric Price, Casey Reas, Ken Rinaldo, Tomás Saraceno, Sonia Sheridan, Christa Sommerer, Ubermorgen, Woody and Steina Vasulka, Peter Weibel, Mitchell Whitelaw, John Whitney, James Whitney, Stephen Willats, Iannis Xenakis

Writers include Gregory Bateson, Mary Catherine Bateson, Pierre Bourdieu, R. Buckminster Fuller, Jack Burnham, Fritjof Capra, Geoff Cox, James P. Crutchfield, Boris Groys, Francis Halsall, Usman Haque, N. Katherine Hayles, Caroline Jones, Stephen Jones, Christian Katti, Bruno Latour, Mary Louise Lobsinger, James Lovelock, Niklas Luhmann, Humberto Maturana, Donella H. Meadows, William J. Mitchell, Gordon Pask, Nick Prior, Francisco Varela, Heinz von Foerster, Michael Weinstock, Norbert Wiener


$24.95 T ISBN: 9780262527194 240 pp. | 5.75 in x 8.25 in

Not for sale in Europe or the UK.


Edward A. Shanken

Edward A. Shanken is Visiting Associate Professor, DXARTS, University of Washington. He is the editor of Roy Ascott's collected writings, Telematic Embrace: Visionary Theories of Art, Technology and Consciousness and the author of Art and Electronic Media.


Ian Farr.


  • The intensities of globalization demand a heightened sense of the interconnectedness of technologies and bodies, nations and economies, as well as the aesthetic productions that labour on the field of public life. Edward Shanken gives us an important document for aiding such contemporary labours. From art to architecture, computing to identity politics, cybernetics to network culture, Systems is a timely anthology, showing us the deep constructs of global intelligence.

    Brandon LaBelle

    author of Background Noise: Perspectives on Sound Art and Acoustic Territories: Sound Culture and Everyday Life

  • Systems theory formed the DNA of much of experimental and technology-oriented art for the last fifty years. This magnificent collection brings together for the first time all essential readings by scientists, artists, art critics and social scientists—from Iannis Xenakis and Nam June Paik to Niklas Luhmann and Bruno Latour. If you want to understand where today's culture came from, you must read this.

    Lev Manovich

    Professor in Computer Science, City University of New York Graduate Center, and author of The Language of New Media

  • Many have argued that what an artwork does—or how it behaves within or even as generator of a system—is more significant than what it is. This anthology reinforces this idea, demonstrating 'systems thinking' across diverse practices and lively forms of art that have, since the 1960s, challenged the existing art-world system. To better understand the possible futures of art, you need to know the stuff in this book.

    Sarah Cook

    New media art historian, curator, and co-author of Rethinking Curating: Art after New Media