Foundations, theoretical text, 2019.
I see the project Foundations as a study into the aesthetics of social complexity. In framing this study, I looked at both the historical and aesthetic foundations of art that considered how information and communication systems had begun to transform the world as we know it. Beginning in the early sixties, the advancement of mass media and the first computational machines began to reorganize society. As a result, the structures of economy, politics, and culture began to increase in complexity and interdependency, forming interrelated networks of social processes and systems.

Fifty years ago saw the introduction of the first electronic money transfers, world trade agreements, real time news networks, clustering of databases, and the end of the gold standard. Around the same time, the rising of the counterculture, civil and labour rights movements were amplified by new accessible media for the distribution of information and related critical semiotic theories. Artists began to respond by questioning the shaping and configuration of systems forming social complexity, through a variety of fields and interests, such as working with linguistic, financial, and cultural systems, ultimately expanding the conventions of modern art.

Centered around the defining of “Systems Aesthetics” in 1968, and the following exhibitions Information at MoMA and Software at the Jewish Museum in 1970 in New York, many connected art moments can be viewed as symptomatic  of the emergence of new paradigms of social complexity. As such, the timeline published here is the result of my research into this history, and it should be read like a curated exhibition and aesthetics theory that take the form of a publication and an artwork.

During my research, I wanted to move away from the general and vague notion of conceptual art, as well as art and technology, instead looking only at art that reflected on the social implications of information systems. Thus, I excluded minimal art, and much of the conceptual art most often associated with artists such as Sol LeWitt, whose work is focused more on the making of visual forms with information. I have also excluded computer art, kinetic art, and work merely concerned with science and technology as material or for the making of graphic or sound forms. This research specifically looks at the aesthetics that expanded the concerns and materials of art into the social processes forming society. The full timeline in this publication however is extended to include pivotal art moments that introduced mediums and areas of interest.

My methodology for this research consisted of looking for any component in artworks or artists’ practice, exhibitions, and publications that refer to any social field or process affected by information systems, including economy, law, sociology, art, and media. This is how I then refined the final charts with a selection of key moments from fifty years ago. This chart is my curatorial and research mental process, a network of art references that are interconnected by fields, aesthetic qualities, and similar characters. These are for me the foundations of art that define an aesthetics of social complexity and related artist practices for the last fifty years.

Considered in retrospect, that moment of art history has a significance that goes beyond systems, technology, or dematerialization, showing us the beginning of a new phase of modernism, and yet this history is still being shaped. Inevitably, this timeline is incomplete and this project is only an initial study to delineate an aesthetics theory and history that would need more research and articulation. Meanwhile, the idea is now available to anyone, with these timelines and reflections, other forms of interpretations can further this research and theory.

The artwork Foundations consists of a series of sixteen prints, creating a network of associations with paired words to delineate the aesthetic theorized by Cirio. The prints of abstract flowcharts with terms and geometrical shapes illustrate relations, taxonomies, and archetypes of aesthetic qualities, materials, and functions. One additional print charts a timeline of seminal conceptual art history, situating Cirio’s research in a curated selection of historical artworks, publications, and exhibitions to complement his aesthetic theory.

Text and artwork by Paolo Cirio.

- Publication Foundations in PDF, print on demand, or browsable online.

- Read the text by Lauren van Haaften-Schick commissioned for the publication:
Expanding Systems: Art, Information, and Social Systems in the 1960s-70s.

Chart of the Selected Timeline of the artwork Foundations
Paolo Cirio identifies the apex of a distinctive form of conceptual art between 1968 and 1970 in relation to the intersections among social systems, technology, art, and communication theories affecting the artistic conceptions and practices.

[Click to enlarge the image]

Full Timeline from the research for the artwork Foundations


1962, Arte Programmata.
Exhibition curated by Bruno Munari and Giorgio Soavi
at Olivetti Showroom, Milan.

1966, Primary Structures.
Exhibition curated by Kynaston McShine
at the Jewish Museum, New York.

1966, 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering.
First performance by Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T)
at the 69th Regiment Armory, New York.

1967, Arte Povera/Im Spazio.
Exhibition curated by Germano Celant
at the La Bertesca Gallery, Genoa.

1968, Cybernetic Serendipity.
Exhibition by Jasia Reichardt
at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London.

1968, Visual Automatics & Visual Transmitters.
Solo exhibition by Stephen Willats
at Oxford Museum of Modern Art, UK.

1969, Number 7, Benefit for Art Workers Coalition (A.W.C.).
Exhibition by Lucy R. Lippard
at Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.

1969, When Attitudes Become Form.
Exhibition curated by Harald Szeemann
at Kunsthalle Bern, Krefeld and ICA London.

1969, Art by Telephone.
Exhibition curated by David H. Katzive
at Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.

1969, Konzeption/Conception.
Exhibition curated by Konrad Fischer and Rolf Wedewer
at Städische Museum, Leverkusen.

1969, Hans Haacke.
Exhibition of ‘systems’ works
at Howard Wise Gallery, New York.

1970, Information.
Exhibition curated by Kynaston McShine
at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

1970, Software.
Exhibition curated by Jack Burnham
at the Jewish Museum, New York.

1970, Conceptual Art, Arte Povera, Land Art.
Exhibition curated by Germano Celant
at the GAM Museum, Turin.

1971, Art & Economics.
Exhibition curated by Artist Placement Group
at the Hayward Gallery, London.


1914, The Network of Stoppages.
Artwork by Marcel Duchamp.

1924, Monte Carlo Bond.
Artwork by Marcel Duchamp.

1956, Cybernetic Sculptures.
Artwork by Nicolas Schöffer.

1959, Art Society Feedback.
Artwork By Willats Stephen.

1964, Invitation to Moi aussi, je me suis demandé si je ne pouvais pas vendre quelque chose et réussir dans la vie..., Galerie Saint Laurent.
Artwork by Marcel Broodthaers.

1965, Auto-Destructive Momentum.
Artwork by Gustav Metzger.

1966, The First Work of Media Art.
Artwork by Group of Mass Media Art.

1966, March 31, 1966.
Artwork by Dan Graham.

1966, Date Paintings.
Artworks by On Kawara.

1966, Artist Placement Group (A.P.G.).
Formed in London by Barbara Steveni and John Latham.

1968, Creative Collaboration.
Work by Michelangelo Pistoletto at the Venice Biennale.

1968, Department of Eagles.
Work by Marcel Broodthaers.

1968, The Hypothesis Series.
Artwork by Adrian Piper.

1968, Ciclo de Arte Experimental.
The Rosario Group, Argentina.

1969, Profit Systems One.
Artwork by Les Levine.

1969, Following Piece.
Artwork by Vito Acconci.

1969, Transference: Roget's Thesaurus.
Publication by Vito Acconci.

1969, News.
Artwork by Hans Haacke.

1969, Money.
Artwork by Hans Haacke.

1969, Art Workers Coalition (A.W.C.).
Organization formation.

1969, Che Fare?
Artwork by Mario Merz.

1969, Total Positivity.
Artwork by Bernar Venet.

1970, Context.
Series of artworks by Adrian Piper.

1970, The Seventh Investigation, Preposition one.
Artwork by Joseph Kosuth.

1970, Dialectic Triangulation.
Artwork by Agnes Denes.

1970, Information, No Theory.
Artwork by Christine Kozlov.

1970, Insertions into Ideological Circuits.
Artwork by Cildo Meireles.

1970, Das Kapital Raum.
Artwork by Joseph Beuys.

1970-77, Variable Piece No. 70.
Douglas Huebler

1970, Peripatetic Artists Guild (P.A.G.).
Project by Robert Morris.

1970, Information Action.
Artwork by Joseph Beuys.

1971, Shapolsky et al. Manhattan Real Estate Holdings, a Real-Time Social System, as of May 1, 1971.
Artwork by Hans Haacke.

1971, Arte <-> Vida.
Artwork by Muntadas.

1971, An Incomplete Examination of the Highway Network/User/Perceiver Systems.
Artwork and essay by Alice Aycock.

1971, The Artist’s Reserved Rights Transfer and Sale Agreement.
Project by Robert Projansky and Seth Siegelaub.

1972, Preliminary Statement.
Text by Don Celendar for his “movements” series.

1972, John Weber Gallery Visitors’ Profile 1 and 2.
Artwork by Hans Haacke.


1950, The Human Use of Human Beings.
Book by Norbert Wiener.

1960, Exploration in Communication.
Book by Marshall McLuhan and Edmund Carpenter.

1961, Computers and Common Sense.
Book by Taube Mortimer.

1962, Gutenberg Galaxy.
Book by Marshall McLuhan.

1964, The Technological Society.
Book by Ellun Jacques.

1964, Information Theory.
Book by Gordon Raisbeck.

1964, The Artworld.
Essay by Arthur Danto.

1965, Control Magazine.
First issue by Stephen Willats.

1967, Society of the Spectacle.
Publication by Guy Debord.

1967, The New Industrial State.
Book by J. K. Galbraith.

1967, Behaviorist Art and the Cybernetic Vision.
Essay by Roy Ascott.

1967, Notice.
Text by Stephen Willats.

1967, E.A.T. Newsletter.
First issue of the publication in New York.

1967, The Value of Didactic Art.
Essay by Barbara Rose for ArtForum.

1968, The Dematerialization of Art.
Essay by Lucy R. Lippard and John Chandler for Art International.

1968, Che Fare/Bollettino di Critica e Azione d’Avanguardia.
First issue of the journal in Italy.

1968, Systems Esthetics.
Essay by Jack Burnham for ArtForum.

1968, The Whole Earth Catalogue.
First issue of the magazine in the United States.

1968, Art-Society System.
Essay by Victor Burgin in Control magazine, no. 4.

1968, The Xerox Book.
Publication by Seth Siegelaub and Jack Wendler.

1968, Statements.
Book by Lawrence Weiner.

1968, The McLuhan DEW-Line.
Series of publication by Marshall McLuhan.

1968, Information Theory and Esthetic Perception.
Book by Moles Abraham.

1968, Trust and Power.
Book by Niklas Luhmann.

1969, Arte Povera.
Publication by Germano Celant.

1969, Reflection on the Technocratic Society and its youthful opposition.
Book by Roszak Theodore.

1969, Utopia or Oblivion: the Prospect for Humanity.
Book by Buckminster Fuller.

1969, March 1969 [One Month].
Catalogue exhibition by Seth Siegelaub.

1969, Real Time Systems.
Essay by Jack Burnham for ArtForum.

1969, Declaration of Intent.
Text by Lawrence Weiner.

1969, Art After Philosophy.
Essay by Joseph Kosuth.

1969, Art-Language: The Journal of Conceptual Art.
First issue of the magazine in the UK.

1970, Money for Money’s Sake.
Essay by Jean Lipman for Art in America.

1970, Function.
Series of books by Joseph Kosuth, Turin.

1970, Radical Software.
First issue of the magazine in the United States.

1971, The Structure of Art.
Book by Jack Burnham.

1971, Changing: Essays in Art Criticism.
Book by Lucy R. Lippard.

1973, Six Years.
Book by Lucy R. Lippard.

Each of the historic art moment selected has elements that can be associated to specific works of Paolo Cirio. Distribution of information affecting social systems, social utopias, political systems analysis, financial instruments as material, the diagram as art form, the use of equations, data, and technology in art, participatory and emancipatory artworks, semiotic analysis of information, institutional critique, etc.

Terms in the flowcharts of the artwork Foundations





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