A Life as an Open Landscape. Systems of Codetermination in Three Robotic Shows

Combining A. Naess’s vision of “ecospheric belonging” and Guattari’s concept of an “ecosophy” as a science set “to create new systems of valorisaion, a new taste for life . . . ,” this paper looks at a string of robotic shows by SRL from the late 1970s. These shows uniformly address the possibility of relating to an environment and the question of artefactual autonomy but at the same time critique these very same notions. Whereas they spell out the very problem of being “alive” and constituting an “organism,” they also attest to a certain level of participation that reveals a radical exposure to a world’s ontological vulnerability. The robotic performances remain indifferent to any rhetoric that engages in the imposition of levels of being. We have not so much alliances of beings different “in nature” but an incessant exercise in co-determinative practices. The robotic shows put on display infra-subjective ways of co-alignment between heterogeneous systems in inviting us to think of the possibility of an eco-philosophical body across the continuum of what is nominally known as the “living” and the “non-living.” Within this scenario, it is no longer the organism that determines the formation of a biome but the responsive potential of a given entity (or non-entity).

The conceptual core of this argument encompasses (1) a shift from ontological scenarios that favour actuality to ones favouring ontologies of the virtual, and (2) a shift from forms of artistic production designated as “artwork” toward forms that are “onto-ecological”— that is, amalgams of philosophical, political, and ontological features that carry within themselves an ethics of sustainability. The “ecology of the virtual” speaks to an infra-bodily and infra-human level of analysis that operates across individuals nominally present as “human” and “artefactual.” In being so, it accounts for pre-personal ways of partaking in  a world. Here Guattari puts forward an ontological proposition to bring forth reformed notions of ethics, aesthetics, and politics that ultimately fuse into a concept of an artwork as an ecological space of radical exposure. Robotic performance puts on display exactly one such space that allows us to begin refiguring the concept of “artefact” positively and inclusively. Here an “ecology of the virtual” works as a responsive system that reverses the distinctions (in degrees of being) made within an already constituted world and prompts us to think “between natures.” The concept allows us to reach toward an ontological region that can be perceived as matter-forming, allowing for a co-habitation of nominally incongruent worlds.

Within this shift, what we habitually call “an artefact” and “a human” undergoes dispersal. Hereby the possibility of positing an entity or a non-entity is thought in terms of a radical attunement. Bodies are conceptualised in terms of their capacities to generate co- determinative responsive systems that do not seek to bypass their constitutive ecological vulnerability. The ecology and aesthetics of the virtual similarly speak to a level of analysis that operates across beings to evoke infra-individual ways. Here Guattari’s ecosophy prompts us to turn to the generative force of the arts to envision modes of being and non- being maximally open toward the virtual as a region of ongoing ontological constitution.