Extropic art: symbolism, interpretation & association

Sarah Marr (sarah.marr@dial.pipex.com)
Fri, 14 Mar 1997 20:58:36 +0000

The discussion of Mr Carwash's response to Natasha's "BUSINESS: Transhuman
Posters" post seem to have turned on two aspects: intially, it's rather
inept rhetorical style, and, more recently, it's scientific content. There
is, however, a third issue raised within Johnny's diatribe, which concerns
the interpretation of Natasha's proposed piece of work. And, indeed, it may
be that there is a point to be made within this context. However, to
discuss it further I want to get away from the original post (although not
entirely), and at the same time, hopefully, distance myself from the
previous debates it has generated.

So, let us suppose that a piece of art is created showing a concept which
violates a fundmental physical law. This being the case, one can consider
the bases upon which it can be criticized. The fundamental realization here
is that there is a discourse between the observer and the artwork, and that
the involvement of the observer allows for multiple interpretative
frameworks to exist of a single picture.

The portrayal of scientific impossibility is not, of itself, inherently
critizable. As an analogy: the works of Escher aren't seen to undermine
mathematics simply because they use optically deceptive techniques to
portray three-dimensionally impossible topologies. Similarly, religious
iconography escapes criticism from some (though probably no-one on this
list) despite containing images which are considered pure fantasy when
post-Enlightment rationality is brought to bear to the exclusion of other
considerations. Criticism is dependent on the read meaning of the piece
(which is not necessarily the intended meaning), and that meaning is
constructed by the observer on the basis of pre-existing cultural
information: 'A guy on two bits of wood' becomes 'Jesus' to the vast
majority of people brought up within Western society.

And yet, of course, scientific anomaly in art may be critized for itself,
if the observer interprets the piece as intending to present a scientific
prediction or analysis. Such an interpretation may arise through a reading
of the piece itself, or through the application of external knowledge to
inform the reading of the piece. Johnny's interpretation of Natasha's
proposed work is as a representation of predicted science, and that
interpretation arises, perfectly reasonably, both through discussion of the
piece on this list, and the naming of the piece by Natasha as a 'Transhuman

The wider issue is that Extropic Art, labelled as such, and/or disseminated
by artists associated with Extropianism carries a message beyond its
self-contained information. Interpretation of this artwork will either be
informed by knowledge of Extropianism, or will take on a function of
conveying Extropian concepts, or, most likely, both.

Extropianism is not a purely scientific endeavour, and, as far as I know,
has never been 'marketed' as such. And yet, even in its more political and
'self-empowering' aspects it calls upon a Western rationalism which finds
its basis in the scientific endeavour. It would be facile to suggest that
Extropic Art intrinsically undermines that scientific endeavour, or
dissociates that endeavour from Extropianism. But, the producers of any
artwork explicitly associated with Extropianism, or even any artists who
are recognized as Extropian, whether or not they consider their art
Extropian, should be aware that they will be perceived as conveying an
Extropian message. The effect of that message is observer-dependent.
'Incorrect' science may be perceived as artistic licence; it may reflect
purely on the artist, if the observer is 'au fait' with the existing schema
of Extropianism; or it may serve to undermine the Extropian message. This
is, of course, true of not just the scientific discourse produced by
Extropian Art, but equally any political, moral, etc. content.

Art is a discourse, and the creators of Extropic Art act as a voice for
Extropianism; indeed, they may define Extropianism. Without a central
authority, either person or text, to ratify such definition, there is a
real risk of representation which does not reflect the views of the
majority, but does reflect upon them.


Sarah Kathryn Marr
sarah.marr@dial.pipex.com http://dialspace.dial.pipex.com/sarah.marr/