"Radical Enlightenment. A symposium on cybernetics and the soul" under the exhibition of Joachim Koester

With Lars Bang Larsen, Yann Chateigné Tytelman, Vincent de Roguin, Kodwo Eshun, Alain Kaufmann, Jelena Martinovic, Francis McKee, Marco Pasi, Pascal Rousseau, Laurent Schmid, Magaly Tornay et Suzanne Treister

Western Enlightenment was truncated by capital, traditionalism and instrumental reason.

The radical Enlightenment we never got includes aesthetic and scientific experiments, counter-cultural movements, as well as entire modernities that have been disqualified as esoteric.

Historically, a radical Enlightenment placed sharper oppositions between philosophy and theology, governance and freedom. On crucial points regarding human rights, colonial issues, democracy and the role of the church, the radical tendency opposes a moderate Enlightenment. As Jonathan Israel points out, “Enlightenment ‘progress’ was thus very wide-ranging and multi-faceted.” (A Revolution of the Mind. Radical Enlightenment and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Democracy, 2010.)

In this context the post-war science of cybernetics presents a critical ambiguity. On the one hand cybernetics—the science of “communication and control in the animal and the machine” according to Norbert Wiener—set the bio-political state to work through analogies of brain and computer, cell and transistor, electric circuit and nervous system, and in this way lies at the heart of today’s scientific determinism and administrative utopias. On the other hand, the fact that cybernetics rendered the contour of human life fuzzy in relation to machines, plants and other creatures became a productive point of departure for the artistic creation of new bodies, machines, pleasures, and modes of becoming.

The symposium intends to invoke the spirit of a radical Enlightenment by gauging exchanges between art, science and counter-culture. Topics addressed in the seminar include mystical experience and medical experimentation; wayward cybernetics, military theory and network theories; electronic music, television and technologies of conditioning; robotics, trans-humanism and futurology; as well as hermetic philosophies and sorcery.

A playful event with a rhythmic structure, the symposium will test the limits of discourse in an attempt to stimulate the nervous system and produce something like an enlightened metabolism in which the soul can be reinstated as a frontier in the regime of positivist physiology.

Food and drinks will be served.

— Biographies

Aurélien Bellanger is a writer based in Paris. His first novel, La Théorie de l’information, has been published in 2012 by Gallimard Publications

D. Graham Burnett is professor of history at Princeton University and an editor at Cabinet magazine in Brooklyn

Vincent de Roguin is a composer, artist and writer based in Geneva. He currently studies at Geneva University of Art and Design, Work.Master program

Lauren Huret is an artist based in Geneva. She is the director of Superstition magazine and currently studies at Geneva University of Art and Design, Work.Master program

Alain Kaufmann is a sociologist of science and biologist, and Director of Interface Sciences-Sociétés, University of Lausanne

Jelena Martinovic is an artist based in Switzerland. She has just completed her Phd in the History of Medicine at the University of Lausanne

Francis McKee is a writer and curator working in Glasgow. Since 2006 he has been the Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow. He is a lecturer and research fellow at Glasgow School of Art

The Otolith Group is an artist collective founded by Anjalika Sagar and Kodwo Eshun in 2002

Marco Pasi is Associate Professor in the History of Hermetic philosophy and related currents at the University of Amsterdam (UvA)

Pascal Rousseau is an historian of art based in Paris. He is professor of history of art Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne University

Laurent Schmid is an artist and publisher. He lives in Bern and Geneva, where he supervises the Work. Master program at Geneva University of Art and Design

Stig Sjølund is an artist based in Stockholm

Suzanne Treister is an artist. She is again based in London having lived in Australia, New York and Berlin

Joël Vacheron is a freelance journalist and writer based in London. He is currently lecturer in Visual Communication and Researcher Ra&D at ECAL (University of Art and Design Lausanne)

— Organizers

Lars Bang Larsen is an art historian, independent curator, and writer based in Copenhagen. He teaches art theory at Geneva University of Art and Design, Work.Master program

Yann Chateigné Tytelman is an art historian, independeant curator and writer based in Geneva. Since 2009, he serves as Dean of the Visual Arts Department at Geneva University of Art and Design

The symposium is a project by Geneva University of Art and Design (Head – Genève), hosted by Palais de Tokyo, Paris. It is part of the research project Art, Science, Counter-Culture: Perspectives on a Radical Enlightenment. It takes place on the occasion of Joachim Koester’s exhibition Reptile Brain or Reptile Body, It’s Your Animal. As part of Koester’s exhibition, Lars Bang Larsen and Yann Chateigné Tytelman have curated the micro-group show Seismology, an ambivalent homage to the Stalinist behaviourist I.P. Pavlov.


Works by Søren Andreasen & Jakob Jakobsen, Ann Lislegaard, and Henrik Olesen Documents: Aleksei Gastev, Ivan Petrovic Pavlov, Vsevolod Pudovkin and Jerzy Grotowski

Soundtrack: Vincent de Roguin

Display: Xabier Salaberría

Graphic design: Shaffter Sahli

Palais de Tokyo, Paris, February 27 through May 20.