BIROn - Birkbeck Institutional Research Online

    Art and cybernetics: a new ontology for art

    Polgovsky Ezcurra, Mara (2023) Art and cybernetics: a new ontology for art. In: Fox, J. and Simoniti, V. (eds.) Art and Knowledge after 1900. Interactions between Modern Art and Thought. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, pp. 154-177. ISBN 9781526164261.

    [img] Text
    AK chapter 7_MP.pdf - Published Version of Record
    Restricted to Repository staff only

    Download (397kB)


    Despite the disappearance of cybernetics from today’s disciplinary maps, its importance in shaping the course of postwar science cannot be underestimated. Historian Thomas Rid defines cybernetics as a ‘general theory of machines’, arguing that this new discipline emerging in the 1940s ‘transformed what computers stood for over the next half century — from machines of assured destruction to machines of living grace’. Contrary to a commonly held misconception, the influence of cybernetics on art, and of art on cybernetics, outweighs the spheres of digital and computer art. The history of cybernetics and art involves dancing sculptures and biomimetic bodies, plants entering the white-cube gallery space as agents, and electronic music being generated in the dialogue between humans, electricity, and objects. In this chapter I will discuss a definitive moment in this history: the exhibition ‘Cybernetic Serendipity’, organised by Jasia Reichardt at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London in 1968. I contend that the ascent of cybernetics in art of the 1960s repositioned the machine as central to the making of art, and laid the ground for both embodied and disembodied understandings of interactivity, thereby reconceptualising the artwork as a life-like communicative system. Cybernetic art is a far cry from the semiotics-driven understanding of information in Conceptual art, which also came into prominence in the late 1960s. By contrast, cybernetic art consisted of neither representational nor conceptual artworks, but what we might call ontological objects: objects which, at the moment of their coming-to-life, stage open-ended performative encounters between themselves and multiple participants.


    Item Type: Book Section
    Keyword(s) / Subject(s): Cybernetics, technology, ontology, Jasia Reichardt, postwar art, interactivity, performativity, liveness, computers, chance
    School: Birkbeck Faculties and Schools > Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Historical Studies
    Depositing User: Dr Mara Polgovsky Ezcurra
    Date Deposited: 28 Feb 2024 14:38
    Last Modified: 28 Feb 2024 15:31


    Activity Overview
    6 month trend
    6 month trend

    Additional statistics are available via IRStats2.

    Archive Staff Only (login required)

    Edit/View Item Edit/View Item