I’ve been reading a collection of essays edited by Michael Schwab called Experimental Systems: Future Knowledge in Artistic Research1. The essays respond to science historian Hans-Jörg Rheinberger’s writing on experimental systems2 from the perspective of practice-research. There are a number of fantastic ideas in the book and so over the coming weeks I’m going to post small excerpts or quotes.

Here’s one about iterative processes and recognising difference:

It is all about the epistemic effects of these acts and activities. They don’t just occur out of the blue. Just to give an example: I have the impression that an artist like Cezanne, who painted hundreds of apples in his countless later still lifes, must have been caught in a kind of experimental system. It was all about tiny changes and iterations—doing it again and again and always with a small differential gesture. I am interested in the creation of differences through such processes of iteration, be it in the sciences or in the arts. Holding these small differences against each other produces knowledge effects. The very process of iteration brings these slightly different variants of an experimental process into contact with each other. It is not the relation between a thinking mind and object on the table in front of it, the classical relation between a knowing subject and an object posed before it; the basic idea is to introduce multiplicity at the object-level itself and thus to get rid of the classical dualistic structure of epistemology. Musical variations are a wonderful example of processes of iteration. In this sense, I think, scientific and artistic activities share something in common, although their respective knowledge effects may be of a different order or a different kind. Certainly the product is of a different kind.

– Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, in conversation with Michael Schwab. 2013. ‘Forming and Being Informed’. In Experimental Systems: Future Knowledge in Artistic Research, 198–219. Leuven: Leuven University Press. p.215

  1. Schwab, Michael, ed. 2013. Experimental Systems: Future Knowledge in Artistic Research. Leuven: Leuven University Press.

  2. His writing is mostly in German but here’s an example in English: Rheinberger, Hans-Jörg. 2012. ‘Experimental Systems: Difference, Graphematicity, Conjecture’. In Intellectual Birdhouse: Artistic Practice as Research, 89–99. London: Koenig Books.

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