Behaviourables and futuribles are words which have no solid definition, for starters. One can only assume their meaning from the words with which they are constructed. A behaviourable, then, must be an object (or art piece) which involves or emphasises the behaviour of the observer to enhance the meaning or interaction of the object. Futurible, meanwhile, does have a definition in Spanish as something which will happen if the correct conditions are met. Therefore, in the realm of art, perhaps a futurible is defined as an object that only becomes art under the correct circumstances? Art that only becomes art through pre-determined interactions.
This is what I believe these words to mean.
Ascott speaks about our newfound understanding of behaviourism in art.
Now that we see that the world is all process, constant change, we are less surprised to discover that our art is all about process too. We recognise process at the human level as behaviour, and we are beginning to understand art now as being essentially behaviourist.
I would argue this view is dismissive of what art has meant to people for centuries, and is insulting of artists from times past. To me, Ascott is suggesting the idea that only now is the interaction we have with an object or art piece a contributing factor to its artfulness. That art now is more about the interaction between the observer and the object than just about the appeal of the object itself. This position disregards the fact that even classical and renaissance art was just as much about the observer as the object. Portraits, for example, have many layers to their purpose. Religious iconography invites the observer to impart their own knowledge, understanding, and emotions into the painting. The direction of the subject’s gaze sparks discussions about what message the artist wished to convey – regardless of the artist’s initial intent.
The most famous portrait of them all, the Mona Lisa, is perhaps only as famous and renowned as it is because of the discussion it has sparked for decades – at least since, and because it was stolen – about who the woman in the painting is. What her expression – particularly her smile – means. And the regard at which its creator is held. It was an English writer and critic, Walter Pater, who in the 19th century exaggerated Mona Lisa’s behaviourism to what one might recognise today through an incredibly popular pice of writing;
She is older than the rocks among which she sits like the vampire, she has been dead many times, and learned the secrets of the grave; and has been a diver in deep seas, and keeps their fallen day about her; and trafficked for strange webs with Eastern merchants: and, as Leda, was the mother of Helen of Troy, and, as Saint Anne, the mother of Mary; and all this has been to her but as the sound of lyres and flutes, and lives only in the delicacy with which it has moulded the changing lineaments, and tinged the eyelids and the hands. The fancy of a perpetual life, sweeping together ten thousand experiences, is an old one; and modern thought has conceived the idea of humanity as wrought upon by, and summing up in itself, all modes of thought and life.
None of these projected attributions affect the quality of the painting, or the value of the materials. These timeless interactions and discussions about Mona Lisa’s meaning, emotion, purpose, combine to create her behaviourability. Meanwhile, the story of Mona Lisa’s theft and eventual return contribute to her becoming a futurible – without this story would she be as highly regarded?
Yet combined these timeless interactions and discussions – the Mona Lisa’s behaviourability – with the story of Mona Lisa’s theft and eventual return simply reinforcing her place as a futurible.
Technology, then, is not setting the way for art to become something new, as Ascott seems to suggest in this piece. These are not a new phenomena in art. Behaviourism and futurism have always been constructs of art.
Social inquisitiveness is a factor we would like to reinforce.
All in all, we are still bound up with the search for myths. But the context will be biological and behavioural—zooming through the micro/macro levels. Get ready for the great biomyths, visceral legends.
Social inquisitiveness is a factor that artists have been attempting to enforce and include into their work for centuries – if not longer. The context for popular and effective art has always been behavioural. Why else would traditional artists have included recognisable symbology from religion or culture or body language in their works if not to provoke the observer to interact psychologically with the object?
Instead, technology is simply changing the way in which we interact with art. It is allowing us to create art pieces, objects, with which interaction is physical as well as psychological. Where certain aspects of an object’s perceived value, such as its history or audience perception, had previously been the domain of academics and scholars, now technology brings these attributes to the forefront of the objects existence, into the realm of the tangible, as well as better understanding of these attributes themselves due to better understanding of psychology.
Behaviourables and Futuribles have always been. Technology and modern practice are simply exaggerating these components of art pieces.
But perhaps such an exaggeration of behaviour is what sets the new art of behaviourables and futuribles apart from the art which came before it? Behaviourables and futuribles in Ascott’s image seem to be created in such a way that the behaviour of the object supersedes the object itself. Without behaviour, these objects perhaps become uninteresting and meaningless, while more traditional art remains impressive to the observer. After all, this is what Ascott opens the paper by saying
When art is a form of behaviour, software predominates over hardware in the creative sphere. Process replaces product in importance, just as system supersedes structure.
It could therefore be theorised that it is the behaviour itself which makes the object; the object becomes about its own behaviour. And in gaining value from its behaviour, the object becomes more important and interesting to the observer, who then impart more layers of behaviour. Thus a loop is created where, by action of the object having meaning imparted upon it by an observer, the object becomes more “observable”, more “cool” in Ascott’s words, with more behaviour associated with the object.
Call it cool when the information bits are loosely stacked, of uncertain order, not clearly connected, ambiguous, entropic. Then the system allows the observer to participate, projecting his own sense of order or significance into the work, or setting up resonances by quite unpredicted interaction with it.
In the end, this piece seems to be suggesting a world of ubiquitous computing whereby it is not just the practicality of such machines in everyday objects that is inviting, but perhaps that the artistic meaning of objects that technology allows is much more important. That we will gain new experiences from objects thanks to the impartation of behaviour and future that technology provides. Art has always had behaviour, future, as part of what makes it artful. But now, I think, Ascott is suggesting that everything, regular every day objects, may now become artful thanks to the potential for an observer to impart behaviour onto it, and to imagine new futures for it.
Ascott, R. (1967) “Behaviourables and Futuribles”.
Pater, W. (1873) The Renaissance: Studies in Art and History.
Sassoon, D. (2001). “Mona Lisa: the Best-Known Girl in the Whole Wide World”. History Workshop Journal (vol 2001 ed.). Oxford University Press.