The artwork as an ecological object

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Contemporary art is not a simple system based on the creation and dissemination of aesthetic and conceptual objects, but a complex set of institutional and social processes with different motivations, audiences and environments. Likewise, the contemporary artwork cannot be represented as a singular object, but a complex set of material, technological, social and psychic relations. This complexity can be traced to the 1960s when three cultural developments: the expansion of the artwork, the increase in ecological awareness and the proliferation of systems thinking, and systems technology converged, shifting our focus from the material world to the underlying processes, relationships and data. This understanding leads to a focused description of the complex artwork Spiral Jetty by Robert Smithson and how this work can be understood in systems, specifically ecological-systems terms. Such complex work extends beyond the confinement of the original material object to include a vast network of physical and social relations, and this expanded work is more accurately described as simultaneously system and object, or ecological object.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-17
Number of pages15
JournalTechnoetic Arts: a journal of speculative research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Spiral Jetty
  • Autopoiesis
  • Complexity
  • Contemporary art
  • Ecological object
  • Ecosystems
  • Systems art


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