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Gordon Pask «The Colloquy of Mobiles» | Installation view, ICA London 1968, «Cybernetic Serendipity»
Gordon Pask, «The Colloquy of Mobiles», 1968
Installation view, ICA London 1968, «Cybernetic Serendipity» | ©
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With this idea for an «aesthetic potential environment,» Pask developed a cybernetic model for the relationship between viewer and artwork, as well as a unique case for showing the relationship between man and his environment. Pask tells us that human beings investigate their environment for new situations, which they then learn to understand and control. This investigating of the environment, instances of abstraction, and assimilating knowledge qualify as «enjoyable forms of activity». Moreover, an «aesthetic potential environment» should have the following qualities: it should offer a sense of variety able to convey newness, but nevertheless remain intelligible; it should contain forms whose interpretation can be understood by the viewer, and instructions for allowing the learning process to transpire at all. «It may, in addition,» says Pask, «respond to a man, engage him in conversation, and adapt its characteristics to the prevailing mode of discourse.» Making a reference to Abraham A. Moles, Pask emphasizes that, on principle, all good artworks fulfill these demands, and that they even «integrate» the viewer in paintings. «Our internal representation of an image, our active perception, answers and begins an internal dialogue with that part of our psyche responsible for producing our immediate attention.» And an «adaptive or reactive environment allows us to externalize this discourse». In this way, the «conversation» between the viewer and the work becomes observable. Of course, while interacting with the environment, the viewer can also assume the role of the artist. «Whether there is any virtue in this,» says Pask, «I do not know. But there might be.»

Gordon Pask «The Colloquy of Mobiles» | Installation view, ICA London 1968, «Cybernetic Serendipity»Gordon Pask «The Colloquy of Mobiles» | Installation view, ICA London 1968, «Cybernetic Serendipity»Gordon Pask «The Colloquy of Mobiles» | ICA London 1968, «Cybernetic Serendipity»Gordon Pask «The Colloquy of Mobiles» | DiagramGordon Pask «The Colloquy of Mobiles» | FlowchartGordon Pask «The Colloquy of Mobiles» | Gordon Pask PortraitGordon Pask «The Colloquy of Mobiles» | Exhibition viewGordon Pask «The Colloquy of Mobiles» | Exhibition view

Keywords: Dialogue | Interaction | Light

Source text:

Rosen, Margit «Pask Bibliography»

Relevant passages:

icon: authorRudolf Frieling icon: authorDieter Daniels «Milestones of Media-Art»

London | Great Britain | reactive computer installation

 Gordon Pask
«The Colloquy of Mobiles»

The English cyberneticist Gordon Pask conceived the «Colloquy of Mobiles» for the 1968 exhibition «Cybernetic Serendipity» held at the ICA in London. It was a reactive, educable, computer-based system composed of five mobiles. By way of light and sound, the rotating elements suspended from the ceiling communicated with each other, independent of external influences. Using flashlights and mirrors, the people at the exhibition could nevertheless take part in the conversation between the machines. With this installation, Pask brought to a conclusion his idea for an «aesthetic potential environment».
To give significance to the communication between the machines, Park designed the «Colloquy of Mobiles» as a social system. At the same time, the form of communication that he conceived referred unmistakably to a sexual analogy: hung from the ceiling were two «males» and three «females». After a phase of inactivity, the females (made of fiberglass) began to glow more intensely and the three males emitted a ray of light. When the ray of light struck the mirror inside the female mobile’s structure, by way of rotating the mirror, she tried deflecting the ray back at the free-hanging light sensors above and below the male’s aluminum body. The goal of communicating was to achieve this moment of satisfaction, and the mobiles learned to optimize their behavior to the point where this state could be reached with the least possible use of energy. With the help of flashlights and mirrors, the exhibition visitors could assume the roles of the mobiles and influence the learning process.


Margit Rosen