by Joseph Nechvatal

To quote Deleuze: "The subconscious is a factory, a machine for production."
In 1912 Marcel Duchamp along with Appollinaire and Picabia attended a performance of "Impressions of Africa", a
play by an obscure author named Raymond Roussel. Roussel greatly admired the works of the author Jules Verne which he read over and over again, fascinated with their extraodinary voyages and machines, with bachelor scientists completely absorbed in positivist exploratory dreams taken
to delirious extremes. Duchamp later credited Roussel with the inspiration for his Large Glass, "The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even". In 1912 Duchamp started producing paintings
and drawings depicting mechanized sex acts such as "Mechanics of Modesty" and "The Passage from the Virgin to the Bride". At the same point in time Freud was explaining in his lectures that
complex machines in dreams always signify the genital organs. Roussel invented language machines which produced texts through the use of repetitions and combination permutations. This
machine like logic provided his art with a seemingly pure spectacle of endless variety of textual games and combinations flowing in circular form. Within this writing process he described a number of fantastic machines, including a painting machine in his novel "Impressions of Africa". This painting machine wonderfully describes and foresees the arrival of computer-robotic
technology and it's application to visual art which we have available to us today, nearly a century after he envisioned it. It is through Roussel where we might start to map a certain lineage in the avant-garde through out our century; passing through Duchamp, the Futurists and Productivits, through Jackson Pollock, Tony Smith, Ad Reinhardt, Andy Warhol, Donald Judd, Sol Le Witt, Yve Tanguey and Joseph Kosuth. Roussel's themes and procedures involved imprisonment and liberation, exoticism, cryptograms and torture by language - all formally reflected in his working technique with their inextricable play of double images, repetitions, and impediments; all giving the
impression of the pen running on by itself through the dreamy usage and baroque play of mirrored form. Roussel's technique and the process he developed lends itself well to the creation of unforseen, automatic and spontaneously inventive movements which gives the reader the feeling of
prolonging action into eternity through the ceaseless, fantastic constructions of the work itself, transmitting an altered, exalted and orgasmic state of mind which after the initial dazzling creates one predominant overall effect; that of creating doubt through mechanical discourse. The image of enclosure is
common with Roussel where a secret to a secret is held back, systematically imposing a formless anxiety in the reader through the labryrinthian extensions and doublings, disguises and duplications of his texts, which make all speech and vision undergo a moment of annihilation. Roussel presents
to us the model of silent perfection of the eternally repetitive mechanical machine which functions independently of time and space; pulling the artist into a logic of the infinite. "The process evolved
and I was led to take any sentence." Roussel's last book, "How I Wrote Certain of My Books" is the last of his conceptual machines; the machine which contains and repeats within its mechanism all those mental machines he had formerly described and put into motion, making evident the machine which produced all of his machines - the mastermachine. All of these machines map out a space which is circular in nature and thus an abstract attempt at eliminating time. They reproduce
the old myths of departure, of loss and of return. They construct a crisscrossed mechanical map of the two great mythic spaces so often explored by Western imagination: space that is rigid and
forbidden, containing the quest, the return and the treasure (for example the geography of the Argonauts and the labyrinth) - and the other space of polymorphosis, the visible transformation of instantly crossed frontiers and borders, of strange affiliations, of spells and of
symbolic replacements (the space of the Minotaur). Mechanical imagination opens up a universe without perspective. It combines a vertical point of view which allows everything to be embraced as if within a circle with a horizontal point of view which places the eye at ground level where it can see what is in the immediate foreground. Once inside this nonspatial place, this fictional world
analogous to reproduction itself, a plethora of possibilities imposes itself like a dark machine creating pure repetitions hollowing out the void with accumulated movements without stop. The bachelor machine of Duchamp continues Roussel's mechanical line of thought along with Franz
Kafka's mechanism for torture through tatooing in the "Penal Colony". Roussel's mental machines for textual production caught the imagination of our century. In 1972 the bachelor machine was already there, waiting for Deleuze and Guattori to hook it up to the body without organs, to plug it into the logic of the desiring machine to achieve the total interconnectivity of the infoworld through schizo-capitalism. The French Decadent School which took shape after 1880 preaching the abolition of social structures spawned psychoanalysis and avant-garde art. Duchamp is linked to the decadent French symbolism through Roussel and his eccentric, baroque and exuberant text machines. Breton was the first to point out the bond linking the preoccupations of Duchamp, Jarry,
Brisset and Roussel creating a new intellectual tradition made from the experiments of the Symbolists. This intellectual tradition makes up for me one of the most significant avant- gardes for
art in the 20th century. From Roussel Duchamp learned inflexible symbolic reasoning founded onthe obstinate exploitation of various systematic patterns which in the end opens form up onto vast
and strange domains where concepts can freely play. When Duchamp, Picabia and Apollinaire attended the theatrical presentation of "Impressions of Africa" at the Theater Antoine in Paris they found they enjoyed the play enormously with its mad carnival of frenzied action and deliriouslanguage with all of its word games and mathematical subversive structures. This interweaving
structure of systematized obstinacy forms the generator which drives the artwork to an aesthetichigh. Consciousness then intervenes and further embellishes the experience. "A poem is a machine made out of words." William Carlos Williams The mechanomorphic impulse of Duchamp's works from 1911 - 1912 and the machine works that follow after position Roussel as an inescapable point
of reference for the avantgarde of our century. The machine in our century through these artists becomes the symbol of total bliss through pure mentality and auto-sexual autonomy in contradiction to the horror which mechanized war has brought to the century. By hypnotizing our attention the machine frees us from troubling obsessions and personal hang ups through the alternative model of android life; intimating both our rush of desperation and our ecstatic release,
refracted through a web of glazed impersonality. If the machine as a representative of order was a fascination Duchamp utilized to balance out the ages ineptness, whether of the mind or the flesh, his mechanamorphic production and machine forms refigure the human body into an almost mechanized substance. In "The Bride Stripped Bare by the Bachelors, Even", which positions a
central bride machine between 2 bachelor apparatus, Duchamp with the strictness of machinery,applies fantasy to seduction and masturbation. We as viewers can use his art as a vehicle for self-transcendence into a kind of dream work, a kind of nonsense sex. By mechanizing sex and dreams this nonsense of the sex machine converts sexual energy into artistic energy. As Joseph Kosuth has noted, "All art after Duchamp is conceptual in nature because art only exists conceptually." Pierre Jaquet-Droz created the first robotic mechanical figure in 1774 called the automatic scribe. Through the technology developed for the creation of mechanical time pieces,Jacquet-Droz created our first robotic image. It still can be seen at the Musee d'Art et Histoire in Neuchatel, Switzerland. The robot-boy dips his pen into ink and pens a short love letter. In 1745 the first automatic weaving loom was invented. The loom control system was the forerunner of the
early computers with punch cards. It is computerization which turns an ordinary machine into a robot. With the invention of the weaving loom we have the first example of how a conceptual system can be imposed onto a machine. The first digital calculating machine was designed in 1823
by Charles Babbage for the British Post Office. A more advanced application of punch card digital technology was developed by Herman Hollerith for the U. S. Census Bureau. It was this sort of pressure of having to handle increasing quantities of information that drove society towards the
invention of successively more rapid and subtle computing devices throughout the 20th century.Electromechanical calculating machines became faster and faster during World War II, but their speed and reliability were limited as long as they depended on moving parts like switch delays and electromagnets. It was only with the advent of transistors in 1948 and the microchips which followed which enabled the creation of the computer controlled robots we have today. In 1930 at
M.I.T. the first analog computer was made. Punch cards were still used, but so were electrical switches, thus the Mark I was still electromechanical and not electronic. The first electronic computer was ENIAC, a digital device that came into use in 1946 out of the University of Pennsylvania. It made use of vacuum tubes and was the size of an entire room. With the development of electronic miniaturization we arrive at the era of personal computing and the
industrial robot. Computerization increases our ability to transmit and handle information. Robots are computerized machines which mimic the action we associate with human beings. In their repetition of mechanical activities it is easy to imagine they mimic the physical movement involved in sexual acts and also in the ecstatic repetitive chants of tribal transcendence. What computerized
robots do is to essentially break down any movement into simple arithmetic, Through these mathematical operations we can program a computer driven robot to preform perfectly in our fantasy of the infinite. Thus the attraction of the idea of sex performed through mechanical aids.
Under the pressures of the computer-robotic technological revolution we as artists are compelled to review our conceptual structures and desires and their corresponding dimensions in the imaginary,
the symbolic, the virtual, and the real. Particularly, the transformation of the image of the body's sexual expression and its externalization into technological media, with the transformation of sexual
energy into waves of electronic energy and immaterial signals can one find a predominant transformative drive behind the avant-garde of our era. We can see this in a very clear way with the
spread of the new technology through out our current culture. For example, just as pornography fueled the desire and eventual need for video rental stores world wide; on line compuserve sex lines drive the development of interactive computer networks today. Computer sex talk makes up the largest portion of the computer network business. People enjoy the detached anonymous sexual interaction on line which allows them complete freedom of fantasy and expression within the safety
of auto-sexual physical gratification. The exchange of X-rated pictures via computer networks makes up the majority of visual imagry exchanged on compuserve.Cybersex and virtual masturbation bring the detached machine sex of Duchamp right into the heart of our society today
and into the forseeable future as well. Theater and painting, followed by photography and the cinema, have all called on the body's tremendous qualities to which no description, neither that of
the lover or the doctor or the police can do proper justice. Cybernetics and computerized imaging have come to depict the human animal as a machine again, renewing the tradition of the 18th
century clock makers and their beautiful android automatons. Cyberspace, this territory which stretches out from hypertext to the world wide computer network, from virtual reality simulation to
video games, is the domain of the digital bride, engaged in a sexual activity without place, reduplicating without duplication, reiterating without repeating. As with the conceptual machine work of Roussel, cybersex is a coldly concerted and particularly dizzying activity. It is a sexual activity lost in an infinite navigation from one sort of encounter to another in which the affirmation
of the other keeps appearing and disappearing in the play of mechanical maneuvers or mechanisms
destined to avert gratification. This is where the bachelor apparatus in repeating itself ad infinitum with its descriptions, explanations, talks and commentaries all fail to function in transmitting the
power of the machine to function as an alter-ego. Certainly it is true that there is hidden in the computer something so strong, so ominous, and so pregnant with the darkness of infinite space
that it excites and frightens us. That is why the innumerable ramifications of mechanical desire helps us to utilize our unconscious mind. And that is the real answer to why computers are interesting in art. We admire their inhuman beauty. They return us to the experimental and to a state of sexual desire and restlessness. The neural processes they mimic are our own deepest desires and meticulous obsessions. The repetition of machines is the repetition of our sexual acts with their duplication of eggs, sperm and blood. Roussel told Pierre Janet, the famous Parisian psychiatrist who systematized dynamic psychiatry at the turn of the century providing the basis of Freud's
advances in the discovery of the unconscious that he, "Bled over every phrase." Roussel's repetitions, for example in his descriptions of eggs on plates and the multiple allusions to the odor
of urine after the eating of asparagus is typical of this poetic-mechanical apparatus helping take us further into the area of the unconscious and the sexual. This intellectual history which maps out arts
role in creating social allegory, along with the mechanized mass killing of World War I and II, the holocaust, Hiroshima; and the discovery of psychoanalysis which is rooted in sexual symbolism offers us an interesting context in which to view the possible role of the computer and robotics and art.
Sex-magic, technology, or both?

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