Review by Ranulph Glanville
A Cybernetic Serendipity
I first came across that delicious word, serendipity, at the Cybernetic Serendipity Exhibition curated by Jascia Reichardt at the ICA in 1968. This exhibition is the stuff of legends: art and cybernetics, artists and cyberneticians, meeting together in a symbiotic feast. It marked both the high point and the beginning of the rapid descent of cybernetics in the arts, for almost from that date cybernetics began to be an almost unusable term, much of its thinking being appropriated by other subjects that had more attraction though, I could argue, less coherence and less honour. That particularly specific and limited cybernetic machine, the computer and its theoretical adjuncts artificial intelligence, cognitive science and artificial life, took over and the generous generality of cybernetics vanished from view. It was far from dead (as some claimed), but it went through an internal revolution and has still not managed to return itself to even a bit part on stage!
Roll on nearly 40 years and something strange is happening: Leviathan, it seems, is emerging from the deep. Over the past couple of years there has been a resurgence in interest in cybernetics by artists. Not, it must be admitted, cybernetics in its current state, but right back, where Cybernetic Serendipity marked its progress as that progress turned into almost freefall.
So how appropriate, how warming and how timely it is to see the exhibition Maverick Machines, on show in the Matthew Gallery in the Architecture School of Edinburgh University. This exhibition has been grown (sometimes literally) out of one of the seminal figures of cybernetics, Gordon Pask. Pask was an extraordinary and exceptional man who, although he liked to call himself a cybernetician, was active in many fields including drawing, writing lyrics, and the construction of performative art machines, many of which were so radically advanced that it is perhaps not surprising that his work is becoming current so long after he did it.