COLLOQUY OF MOBILES 1968 (www.medienkunstnetz.de)
Imagine walking into a gallery and seeing these larger-than-life mobiles hanging from the ceiling — they rotate, blink, squawk, and sometimes synchronize with each other, completely without human intervention. You walk among them, blocking their interactions, using a flashlight to attract their attention, wanting to get in on their conversation.
This was Gordon Pask’s COLLOQUY OF MOBILES at the Institute for Contemporary Art in London, part of an exhibition called Cybernetic Serendipity in 1968. Yes, 50 years ago in 1968 — an exploration of machine-to-machine and person-to-machine conversations in an interactive, immersive environment, perhaps the first of its kind. Frequently praised for its originality and influence, Pask’s COLLOQUY is a precursor to practices of contemporary art and design, as well as a prescient vision of our future with machines that may choose to act on their own.
The Cybernetics Conference, held in New York City on November 18, 2017, was an extraordinary gathering of passionate individuals interested in design, media studies, art, and the future of society.
At the conference opening, Michael Yap and I held a keynote conversation titled “Now What: Cybernetics, Design, and Society.” The livestream of this keynote is available, as well as a PDF of the slides (thanks to Michael and Pooja Upadhyay).
The entire conference livestream is available here.
We want to acknowledge the fabulous arrangements from all of the organizers, especially Sam Hart, Melanie Hoff (who also did program and website design), and Francis Tseng. Special thanks to Joly McFie who ran the webcast and was the only person at the conference who was present at Cybernetic Serendipity in 1968 in London, mentioned during our talk.
I personally hope The Cybernetics Conference, New York City, becomes a yearly event, perhaps a resurgence of the Macy Meetings, that were the foundation of the breadth and depth of cybernetics, held in the 1940s and 1950s. It is time.
To “design our world” has been the goal of every human generation. Every day we wake up to an invitation to become whom we wish to become. I believe the role of design is to help all of us to achieve that goal for ourselves — that is, to be designers of our own world.
Ambitious, I realize. As is trying to tame wicked problems through design.
But what is “design” anyway? Why isn’t “design thinking” enough? And what’s this got to do with cybernetics, anyway? I offer viewpoints in my Heinz von Foerster ’17 Lecture, entitled Designing Our World: Cybernetics as Conversations for Action. See the abstract, video, and supporting materials here.
Gordon Pask at his desk in the late 1980s. Photograph (c) Paul Pangaro.
I was invited to give a presentation about Gordon Pask and his Conversation Theory at the annual conference of the American Society for Cybernetics in June 2016. My great friend and colleague, Jude Lombardi, has kindly produced and edited a video of my hour talk, which begins with an introduction to Pask as an experimentalist and “maker”. From this foundation Pask built a scientific theory of how conversation works, including a detailed formal “calculus of cognition.” He also offers the principle that consciousness is conserved in the same sense that physics says that matter and energy are conserved. Read more…
To understand conversation is to understand how we learn about the world and how we communicate and collaborate with others. Products and services can benefit from a better understanding of conversation. Designers benefit from understanding conversation better, because they can design for better conversations.
Conversation Model by Minsun Mini Kim, SVA IxD MFA Grad. Click for full view.
After its opening run at Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, “Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia” has moved to its second location, Cranbrook Art Museum. Curated by Andrew Blauvelt, this installation has focus and intensity.