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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» | ©
The installation covered a surface of 5 x 4 meters and consisted of five mobiles, each suspended at a height of 3,75 meters from the floor. This allowed the visitors to move between the hanging mobiles. The installation was conceived for dark lighting conditions. The mobiles rotated on their own axis. In addition, the males were attached to the end of a rotating rod—forcing them to coordinate their behavior. The females, encased in a three-part, shell-like fiberglass covering, were able to make 180-degree swinging motions, either up or down. The males consisted of an aluminum cube outfitted with a car’s headlight on a dimmer. The small, free-hanging plates with light sensors hung above and below the cube. Both the female and male mobiles were equipped with a loudspeaker and microphone for making and registering «hooting»noises. The mobiles contained no controlling devices. Cables inserted in the ceiling led to the control unit of a special purpose computer. The program’s hardware, implemented with electromagnetic relays, combined analog and digital computer technologies.

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