Jher’s Paper Proposal

Cybernetics and Art: Communication Ecologies and Aesthetics

This presentation explores the landscape of cybernetics and its history through the lenses of art and design of systems and exhibitions inspired by relationships among the natural, social, semantic, and algorithmic. I honor the pioneering work of Norbert Wiener, who stated in 1948, “Of all… anti-homeostatic factors in society, the control of the means of communication is the most effective and the most important. One of the lessons… is that any organism is held together in this action by the possession of means for the acquisition, use, retention, and transmission of information.” Subsequently, the extrapolation of an ecological approach to dynamic information includes embodied/embedded organisms in ongoing interaction with environments as conversations––communication as experiential art-science; whereby information becomes a transformative medium in embodied, virtual, and hybrid environments.

I begin by surveying the conceptual frameworks of artist Marcel Duchamp and philosopher Henri Bergson, along with artworks by Roy Ascott, including his essay “Behaviourist Art and the Cybernetic Vision” (Cybernetica,1966–67). Then, moving from these initial seeds to computer projects in music, dance, poetry, painting, film, architecture and graphics, I extend curator Jasia Reichardt’s pioneering exhibition and book, Cybernetic Serendipity (held at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London in 1968) to contemporary practices. Specifically, the previous cybernetic artistic models, processes, and installations to be highlighted include:
• Conceptual, Participatory, and Intermedia Arts
• Computer/Software, Generative, and New Media Arts
• Environmental and Site-specific Arts

Evolving from these examples, this presentation engages Maturana and Varela’s notions of autopoiesis and enactivism. In this way, philosopher of information Luciano Floridi’s conceptualization of an infosphere (1999; 2010) situates these “circularly conjoined” theory-practices. Floridi articulates information: as material; for concepts; and about hybrid realities and environments––both virtually embodied and embodied virtually––extending cybernetics across the boundaries of art, science, society, and inquiry in imaginative ways. Applied contemporary cybernetics-inspired exhibitions for review include: MIT List Visual Arts Center’s Sensorium: Embodied Experience, Technology, and Contemporary Art (2006), MoMA’s Design and The Elastic Mind (2008); and noteworthy works from Bio Art and the Vitality of Media (2010) and Bio Design: Nature, Science, Creativity (2012).

Acknowledging a continuum of analogue and digital interactions, this presentation illustrates how qualities of duration, movement, process, and extensions of spatial and temporal dimensions are situated in both art-culture and socio-technical domains. Furthermore, I postulate cybernetic art continues bridge building between historicity (e.g. The Democratic Surround, 2013), the living present (e.g. The Infinity Engine, 2014-), and emerging transdisciplinary project-based inquiries in the Digital Humanities (e.g. Digital Anthropology, Media Archaeology and Ecologies) and Communication Aesthetics.

Cybernetic traditions:

  • 7) Art; design; music; literature
  • 3) Experimental epistemology; constructivism; philosophy of science

1 thought on “Jher’s Paper Proposal

  1. Ranulph Glanville

    I am unlucky enough to be so old that I saw the Cybernetic Serendipity Exhibition, and thus lucky enough to have seen it and much work since. I like your characterisation and I love your Wiener quote (for which thanks—you might want to talk to Tom Fischer about his work on Wiener and invention/design). Thank you.

    However, I think you miss what is for me the most important and least mastered of all the insights cybernetics and art can develop together, perhaps because it is, in many ways, the least technological. I consider cybernetics (specially second order cybernetics) as being integrally tied up with interaction, of which conversation is perhaps the archetypical cybernetic model/example. By interaction I mean not fast reaction, but the sort of engagement where an interacting partner surprises us because it does not see the world as we do. This is what Gordon Pask brought to both cybernetics and art. Many since have tried to follow this path but have often got sidetracked into a particular technology (e.g. genetic algorithms) which has distracted them. So I’d like to ask that you consider adding interaction as a, perhaps the central theme.

    It might interest you that the ICA in London is revisiting Cybernetic Seredipity this autumn. The opening is 14 October. See here: https://www.ica.org.uk/whats-on/cybernetic-serendipity

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