Vilém Flusser and René Berger: Cybernetics and Video Art in the 1970s

Vilém Flusser met René Berger in the early 1970s when Berger was the President of the International Association of Art Critics (AICA) and Flusser was serving on the advisory board of the São Paulo Biennial. Flusser, who was known in Brazil for his writings on language philosophy, art, and communications, was interested in reorganizing the 12th São Paulo Biennial (1973), treating it as a laboratory for communication between art and its publics. Berger connected Flusser with artists interested in using video to create cybernetic feedback between senders and receivers. These included Berger’s former students Jean Otth and Gerald Minkoff, as well as the French-Algerian video interventionist Fred Forest, with whom Flusser would collaborate on multiple projects, and who put Flusser in contact with Derrick de Kerckhove, a protégé of Marshall McLuhan. Flusser’s curatorial involvement with the São Paulo Biennial coincided, however, with an international boycott of the exhibition, protesting the military dictatorship in Brazil, championed by prominent artists and critics like Hans Haacke, Gordon Matta-Clark, and Pierre Restany. An incendiary debate at the AICA general assembly in Paris in September 1972 was covered by the French newspaper Le Figaro, which reported on Flusser’s “revolutionary” ideas for the São Paulo Biennial. In 1974, Berger and Flusser both participated in “Open Circuits: The Future of Television” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and their ongoing communication continued to shape and inform Flusser’s media philosophy.