<< preface

this blog is nina wenhart's collection of resources on the various histories of new media art. it consists mainly of non or very little edited material i found flaneuring on the net, sometimes with my own annotations and comments, sometimes it's also textparts i retyped from books that are out of print.

it is also meant to be an additional resource of information and recommended reading for my students of the prehystories of new media class that i teach at the school of the art institute of chicago in fall 2008.

the focus is on the time period from the beginning of the 20th century up to today.

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>> Gordon Pask

"The Colloquy of Mobiles" was exhibited at the Cybernetic Serendipity exhibition in 1968. It consisted of five mobile, three female and two male, that were hanging from the ceiling and trying to mate with each other by reacting to stimuli of light and sound. The audience could interfere in that process by using flashlights and mirrors. "The Colloquy of Mobiles" can therefor be considered a technical as well as a social system.

"With this installation, Pask brought to a conclusion his idea for an «aesthetic potential environment»", Margit Rosen writes on mediaartnet. "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."

The technical description, also from mediaartnet:
"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."

In "A comment on the cybernetic psychology of pleasure" Pask describes the the motivation of the system to interact:
With all this in view, it is worth considering the properties of aesthetically potent environments, that is, of environments designed to encourage or foster the type of interaction which is (by hypothesis) pleasurable. It is clear that an aesthetically potent environment should have the following attributes:
  1. It must have sufficient variety to provide the potentially controllable novelty required by a man (however, it not swamp him with variety - if it did, the environment would merely be unintelligible).
  2. It must contain forms that a man can interpret or learn to interpret at various levels of abstraction.
  3. It must provide cues or tacitly stated instructions to guide the learning and abstractive process.
  4. It may, in addition, respond to a man, engage him in conversation and adapt its characteristics to the prevailing mode of discourse."

This is the mastershot of the installation. More can be seen in the close-up version.

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... is a Media Art historian and independent researcher. She is currently writing on "speculative archiving && experimental preservation of Media Art" and graduated from Prof. Oliver Grau's Media Art Histories program at the Danube University in Krems, Austria with a Master Thesis on Descriptive Metadata for Media Arts. For many years, she has been working in the field of archiving/documenting Media Art, recently at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Media.Art.Research and before as the head of the Ars Electronica Futurelab's videostudio, where she created their archives and primarily worked with the archival material. She was teaching the Prehystories of New Media Class at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and in the Media Art Histories program at the Danube University Krems.