Art as a Distributed Ecosystem: mapping the limits of systems-based art

Paul Goodfellow

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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My practice-based fine art research is shaped and informed by my transdisciplinary background and specifically my experience of ecology, geography and data visualisation. As a result I draw on the concepts of the 'ecosystem' and the 'information system' to consider how an artwork can be understood in ecological and informational terms, especially in relation to my own engagement with 'Systems Art', a mode of practice which shares a systems thinking foundation with these concepts.

This research identifies three periods of systems thinking influencing culture, and this understanding has helped structure the thesis. Firstly, the holistic ecology movements of the mid-1960s which generated expanded expectations of the term ‘system’, secondly, the shift towards the ‘informational’ inherent in the critiques of linguistic and institutional systems of the 1980s, finally, our current ‘post-systems’ condition in which the pervading and infinitely complex nature of socio-environmental systems and their simulation is acknowledged.

This three-fold journey is marked by incremental modifications to the definition of a system as the idea takes on greater extension through Latour's Actor-Network Theory and Deleuze and Guattari's Assemblage Theory. Later, the incomprehensibility of complex systems is conjured through references to Timothy Morton's concept of the Hyperobject and Object-Oriented Ontology's notion of ‘withdrawal'.

The practical component of my research is a body of artwork, which is a product of my engagement with systems thinking, the natural environment, complex information, image processing and painting. Within the material production of two and three-dimensional artworks, the perspective I have gained is that of a researcher exploring the analogical potential of an extensively ‘distributed ecosystem'. If this perspective is persuasive, then artists interested in systems should be encouraged to not only map more expansive and complex boundaries for their work, but also articulate the unknowability of these complex systems as a knowable dimension of the distributed meaning of ‘Systems Art’.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Northumbria University
  • Dorsett, Chris, Supervisor
Award date28 Feb 2018
Publication statusSubmitted - Feb 2018


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