(This article was first published in Studio International, Vol 176, No 904, October 1968, page 127.)
Michael Blee's assessment of the ICA 'Cybernetic Serendipity' exhibition (September issue) seems to me well-reasoned, but there are some points which should be taken up.
1. He complains that the term 'cybernetics' is used by the ICA too loosely. I suggest that his own definition of the word is a narrow one, for which there are serviceable substitutes ('control system', 'homoeo-stasis', etc.). The scope of cybernetics includes all observable systems—whether biological, electronic, industrial, economic or anything else. Further, W. Ross Ashby writes in An Introduction to Cybernetics that it
'takes as its subject-matter the domain of "all possible machines", and is only secondarily interested if informed that some of them have not yet been made, either by Man or by Nature'.
Cybernetics, for Ashby, is comparable to modern geometry, which can 'treat accurately and coherently a range of forms and spaces that far exceeds anything that terrestrial space can provide'.
It should not be necessary to press the relevance of these concepts to 'abstract' or 'non-figurative' art (which would get us into very deep water) for us to see the cybernetic approach as a matter of the widest cultural significance. This was certainly the teaching of Norbert Wiener.
Of course, some of the ICA exhibition was pretty trivial, and Mr Blee is right to say so. We should certainly raise our voices against any tendency for the idea of cybernetics in art to become a mere fad of the sixties.
2. Mr Blee's statement that the computer features 'only as a tool never as a creative personality in its own right' raises some interesting semantic questions. Clearly the computer is not a personality, but that is too self-evident to bear much meaning. What is a tool? Many a creative personality may be treated as a tool by the corporation he works for. How can we define creativity except as something which mere tools are incapable of? The distinction between instrumentality and creativity seems to depend on the intention or judgment of the observer. Thus a scientific programmer treats the computer as a specialized extension of human capabilities of the same order as a telephone. But many of us are interested in those cases where the computer comes up with some response which the programmer had not predicted. The concept of the computer as an inert tool, contrasted against human creativity, seems to me pre-cybernetic and not very helpful. After all, the idea of artificial intelligence is now fairly reputable academically.
3. Mr Blee mentions the possibility of a computer being 'supplied with parameters by which to judge the "aesthetic" quality of results'. This as far as I know has not yet been attempted; to make such an attempt with the computer technology of today would be premature. It is another matter, however, to try and establish aesthetic criteria which, as well as being artistically valid, would be intelligible to a hypothetical computer—in preparation for a day when computers are vastly more powerful, cheaper and more accessible.
Libeskind impacting Denver
Flying into Denver airport, the Rockies rise high in the distance, a constant reminder of the frontier context here, even today. Likewise, the apparently palisade-topped outline of Gio Ponti's 1972 Denver Art Museum (which contains an evocative Native American collection, appropriately) provides a reminder of, even in those far off times, an architect's urge to supply a signature building.
The Architecture of the Last Empire
The past decade has seen a growing interest in the British Indian Empire and its inner social and economic mysteries. But the physical legacy, in architectural terms, still awaits re-assessment. Indeed, while many of the buildings which remain are carefully inhabited and preserved for the most part, others, less domestic in their role, and redolent of imperial power, remain at risk, open to the vagaries and whims of 21st century political and nationalist sentiment.
Steven Holl: America's Best Architect
The USA has lately found and recognised the real successor to Frank Gehry in a new generation. This is New York-based artist Steven Holl. It has been some while in coming, but with the opening in June 2007 of the Bloch Building, adjunct to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri, Holl can be lionised as a result of this inescapably iconic piece of architecture that stands at the highest international level of acclaim.
Mediators and Messengers: Contemporary Art in the Landscape
The entire agenda for painting about landscape has shifted in the 21st century. Concepts and readings of the land have a weighty and protracted precedence but in the 1970s, far-reaching revisions were explored by artists. These have generated a powerful volume of new work by painters, and installation and land artists.
Americans in Paris, 1860-1900
Paris, at the end of the 19th century, encompassed European tradition and the avant-garde. Having superseded Rome and London as the art capital of the world, it drew artists from all over Europe and beyond.