week 3: production concept

Partially inspired by the robotic “flocking” installation pieces by Ken Rinaldo, my first primary concept was to make a cybernetic installation that creates a feedback loop between the piece itself and the viewers, which means, as the piece responds to the viewer/environment’s input, the viewer/environment is also changing in respond to the shifting of the piece. Therefore, this idea set the base for my subsequent, more specific concept developments.

Since I am a visual artist, I’m also interested in the concept of a drawing machine. What’s intriguing about the concept of the drawing machine for me is that it doesn’t have total control over its output; for example, in talking about his robotic drawing machine, Harvey Moon says that “[p]art of that process is how, often, a machine can fail at what it was told to do. ‘That loss of communication and that failure for a machine to communicate properly is what I find exciting and the randomness in which it produces these results.'” (Holmes n.p.)

(Moon and his drawing machine. Source: The Creators Project – VICE)

Inspired by this idea, I wanted to create a drawing machine who “works together” with its viewers; both sides of the creators constantly interact with the piece in progress, leading to somewhat random unexpected visual outputs, and neither side has complete control over the final drawing produced. The machine would receive initial input from the viewers, and run its own program to modify that input according to certain set rules; for instance, if the viewer draws a line, the system would extend that line according to the original angle it is drawn in, bounce the line against the boundaries of the screen, and then continue drawing it. There would also be rules that keep the screen/canvas from being static, such as that if the canvas is about to be completely filled, drawings in certain colors would be erased or the eraser would move across the canvas in certain patterns. In the meantime, the viewer can always keep adding or erasing elements onto/from the screen/canvas, thus creating an ongoing interaction among the system, the drawing and the environment/viewer, complicating the system as well as the drawing. Sometimes the viewer would have in mind a certain kind of image they want to create, and the “struggle” against and interaction with the system become more interesting in this case.

Ideally, in the installation space, the piece would be projected onto a large screen or a wall so that the viewers can get a sense of the piece being actually organic and emergent, that the elements in the drawing are constantly moving and changing. Many robotic artworks, such as the ones that involve cybernetic systems, create a sense of “life” through the organic behaviors of the systems, and I want to encapsulate the idea of an organic cybernetic system by enabling the viewers to “co-create” drawings with the system.

Works Cited:

Holmes, Kevin. “Robots That Create Art: Harvey Moon’s Drawing Machines.” The Creators Project, Vice Media Inc. 24 June 2013. Web. 20 April 2016.


week 2 – cybernetic artwork




The piece of cybernetic art I found interesting is Ken Rinaldo’s The Flock (1993) especially since it is related to our topic last week about computer simulation of biological flocking behaviors. The piece is “a group of musical interactive sound sculptures […] which exhibited behaviors analogous to the flocking found in natural groups”(Rinaldo, n.p). The sculptures themselves are three large robotic arms hanging from the celling of the exhibition space, and they identify and interact with the viewers as well as each other through sound- and movement-sensors and emitters. The system of the piece follows a chaotic model of cybernetics. The robotic arms in the piece, like many other Artificial Life systems or mechanisms, have a feedback loop; it follows certain rules created by the artists so that the system always has temporal goals, and it is constantly running on these rules as they detect movements and sounds in their surroundings, including the ones made by each other. When the viewers walk into the exhibition space and around the arms, their infrared and sound sensors would detect the viewers’ positions and subsequently conduct certain behaviors.

The system has a few basic rules – the arms would avoid the viewers in the exhibition space (using their infrared sensors), move towards them when they detect a certain level of sounds made by the viewers, and respond to signal communication (through musical /telephone notes) from each other by either moving towards or avoid the communicated location. These stand-alone rules, when put together, sometimes contradict each other, and thus create “dynamic state of attraction and repulsion for each sculpture” and consequentially emergent behaviors (Rinaldo, n.p).

The artist describes his main intention in creating this piece as to construct and capture emergent behaviors on the global level of the group based on local interactions on an individual level (Wilson 342). On the programming level, this is a rather typical system of boids that recreates emergent behaviors found in natural environment such as flocking by setting a cybernetic system and allowing the boids to interact with each other and the environment they are in. What’s different about this piece in comparison to other artworks that explore the topics of emergent system, boids and simulation of natural phenomenon is that it has a three-dimensional, physical presence, putting it on the intersection between robotic art, A-Life art and cybernetic art. It also makes use of sound, which makes its behaviors more similar to actual animal flocking. Moreover, according to Rinaldo, the set of rules for the system is to simulate the way lives in nature interact with each other and the environment. “Here the participants and other sculptures, as environment, affect the form and the form modifies the environment, which then affects the form again, ad infinitum.” (Rinaldo, n.p.) In this piece, the viewers, as part of the environment, is also constantly moving in response to the behaviors of the arms, which has usually been found in computer simulations of flocking at the time when this piece was made. In a way, the artists did not try to completely simulate a kind of flocking behavior of species that are already found in nature (such as the flocking of birds which many computer simulation programs produce) but a new kind of “life” that interact with its fellow creatures through the flocking model. On the other hand, because of physical and technical limitations, the flocking group has only three individuals, which possibly restricts the development of emergent behaviors in the system.

This piece was made in 1993, just a few years after the emergence of computer programs of boids/flocking simulation. It explores the possibility of realizing/simulating complex flocking behaviors and using such simulation to create Artificial Life, which is a good example of how cybernetic system is employed in contemporary art and scientific work.

Works Cited:
Rinaldo, Ken. “The Flock.” Ken Rinaldo. 2015. Web. 13 Apr. 2016.
Wilson, Stephen. Information Arts: Intersections of Art, Science, and Technology. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2002. Print.

week 1 blog – cybernetics

  1. define cybernetics
  2. how has cybernetics changed since the 1960s?
  3. define the 4 most important attributes of a cybernetic system

What is cybernetics? In the contemporary rhetoric, it is commonly considered to refer to some kind of mechanism involving electronics and/or robotics; in fact, however, the central definition of cybernetics is not necessarily associated with such connotations at all. Cybernetics refers to a kind of system that has a set goal and is in essence one or many processes that attempt to reach the goal, being self-adjusting based on feedbacks it gets from the repeated running (loop) of such processes so that it is constantly moving closer toward the completion of the goal.

During the 1950s and ’60s, when the term “cybernetics” was just entering people’s view, it stemmed out of scientific researches in comparing the functioning mechanism of animals (living objects) and machines (non-living objects). After it became a generally recognized category of system, the theory was mostly employed in rather narrow research fields such as robotics and Artificial Intelligence development. As time past by, “[m]any of the core ideas of cybernetics have been assimilated by other disciplines” after the ’60s (Heylighen & Joslyn 5). New areas of study such as interaction design are heavily based on cybernetic theories and principles; the object-oriented system logic ubiquitous in computer science, designing and many other fields nowadays is also a principle that’s central to cybernetics: “Objects work toward internal stability while interacting with larger systems” (Wade n.p).

Cybernetic systems can be further divided into different categories depending on their use of either positive or negative feedbacks. A positive feedback model means the cybernetic system has a set goal and, in its interaction with the outside environment, the behavior of the system is constantly reinforced, as in a virtuous circle; a negative feedback model means the system has a set goal and is forever adjusting itself in order to achieve the goal, and the negative feedback is the feedback it receives that informs it its deviation from the goal so that the deviation can be corrected by the system. In Roy Ascott’s essay on cybernetic art, he explains how the direction where modern and contemporary art was heading towards is inseparable from the cybernetic logic and system, since art started to become a subjective, instead of objective, look on the world, and the input and interaction with the artwork from the audience started to be greatly valued. In this case, modern art is mostly employing the positive feedback system, since it values the interaction process based on audience feedbacks more than the result of the interaction or artistic gesture.

The four most important attributes of a cybernetic system, in my understanding, is feedback, loop, change and goal. It is crucial to a self-adjusting system to have a goal and a means to receive feedback so that it would make according adjustments, which would create change in the system – not that the system itself and its logic would necessarily change, but elements in it, so that it could possibly achieve an equilibrium. The notion of looping – that the system needs to be run over and over again – is also significant to the functionality of a cybernetic system since it serves as the basis for constant feedback; otherwise, the system would be static.

Works Cited:

Ascott, Roy. “Behaviourist Art and the Cybernetic Vision.” Multimedia. From Wagner to Virtual Reality. Ed. Randall Packer and Ken Jordan. New York, London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2002. n.d. Web. 10 Feb 2016.

Francis Heylighen & Cliff Joslyn (2001). “Cybernetics and Second-Order Cybernetics”. Encyclopedia of Physical Science & Technology, 3rd ed. R. A. Meyers. New York: Academic Press. pp. 5.

Pangaro, Paul. “Cybernetics – A Definition.” Paul Pangaro PhD. 2013. Web. 7 Apr. 2016.

Wade, Nathan. “Systems Theory and Cybernetics.” University of California, San Diego. Center Hall, UCSD, La Jolla, CA. 2 Nov. 2015. Powerpoint Presentation.