JUNE 11 14 2009

Courtesy of the Hotel Ceteris Paribus collection, 3084 presents a short-term, open storage event and rare glimpse at works by sculptor, Howard No (1955–2006). Commissioned by the Vancouver-based network of private, luxury hotel-spaces in 1989, No’s Fuck Computational Theory of Mind! series is precluded from public exhibition in formal arts contexts, reflecting the artist’s oblique institutional politics. Presented in storage in advance of its charitable donation to the city’s 2009/2010 discursive tourist-vessel project, Le Bateau L’Avenir (dedicated to refugee issues), this collection of four sculptures provides a valuable insight into the conceptually dense practice of one of the world’s most enigmatic ‘outsider’ artists.

Sculpture proposal (collage, 1988); courtesy HCP collection

Fuck Computational Theory Of Mind! was inspired by ‘the frame problem’ established in Artificial Intelligence research in the late 1960s, which required a simplification of proposition logic to ‘frame’ simple event-based statements without qualifying the numerous contextual factors that could be assumed to remain the same under the common sense law of inertia – the assumption that by default, most components in any given situation don’t change as the result of an action. While computer science found a practical solution to the problem over the following decade, massively condensing the amount of code required to frame event-data in artificial intelligence systems and thus giving them a kind of common sense, the concept unintentionally reanimated modernity’s epistemological chimera, infinite regress, among selected analytic philosophers of the time (Dennet 1978; Fodor 1983; McDermott 1987).

The metaphysical conundrum for these thinkers was closely tied to their association with computational theory of mind (CTM) – the concept that all ‘mental states comprise sets of propositional attitudes and mental processes are forms of inference over the propositions in question’ (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2004). As an attempt to demystify ‘mind’ by reducing it to a field of computational outcomes determined by the brain, as one might consider information on a computer screen, CTM echoed the intellectual model of knowledge historically underpinning the field of epistemology, denying subjectivity the complex entanglements in the world enunciated in philosophy’s phenomenological, linguistic, technological and spatial turns since the end of the 19th century and suggesting a duality of mind/body in the primacy it accorded knowledge over being. Against the backdrop of this model, Daniel Dennet (1978, p.125) was the first philosopher to extrapolate from the Frame Problem within AI research the conundrum of fundamental impossibility in the common-sense law of inertia. Rooted in the observation that no action can ever be framed with complete stability – that we can never be aware of the complete consequences of events to the extent that a total picture of their non-effects can inform our understanding – the Frame Problem rendered correct human knowledge of a changing world impossible. Rather than exploring the implications of provisionality in this regard and its post-humanist reverberations, the conundrum became grounds for an attempt to further entrench philosophy of mind in a purely rational-scientific account of the world.

Grounded by a stated interest in semiotics, Howard No sought to short-circuit the unnecessary invocation of dualism and the absurd consequences of philosophy’s propensity for what Wittgestein rendered as essentially ‘problems of language’, with a method and materiality of sculptural assemblage suggesting the inter-subjectivity of signification and the social-practical-linguistic resolution of objects – semiotic triangulations refuting mind-dependence/independence as mutually exclusive qualities of matter.

At the heart of his approach were the ‘contravariant and transordinate’ approaches to the notion of the frame, articulated sculpturally in the disturbance of conventional relationships between the structural materials of painting and framing. For Howard No, the common sense law of inertia highlighted a fundamental aspect of sign-use in animal life – coping – a practical but illusory stabilisation through which a material world characterised by flux is constantly subject to filtration, circumscribing conscious being within a small horizon of dynamic attentiveness, outside of which things are assumed, albeit temporarily, to remain equal. Echoing the Latin meaning of the Hotel Ceteris Paribus name (all other things being equal), this concept formed the basis of No’s commission, inspiring the conceptually charged work at the centre of this rare opportunity.




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