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Neocybernetic Art

This paper looks at the practices of artists, who, in different ways, explore the workings of emergent circular causalities in the animal and the machine.

Published onNov 08, 2017
Neocybernetic Art

Neocybernetic Art: Affect and Conversation in the Animal and the Machine

Guilherme Kujawski
Senior Content Producer (Research, Curating & Writing)
Email: [email protected]
Reference this essay: Kujawski, Guilherme. “Neocybernetic Art: Affect and Conversation in the Animal and the Machine.” In Leonardo Electronic Almanac 22, no. 2, edited by Senior Editor Lanfranco Aceti, and Editors Candice Bancheri, Ashley Daugherty, and Michael Spicher. Cambridge, MA: LEA / MIT Press, 2017.
Published Online: January 15, 2018
Published in Print: To Be Announced
ISSN: 1071-4391
ISBN: Forthcoming


The investigations into art based on second-order cybernetics are not explicitly directed toward systems art or toward cybernetic art proper, including artistic expressions since the sixties that are likely associated with kinetic objects, video feedback sculptures, and more recently, any form of installation-based art generically designated as ‘interactive.’ The bottom line is that art objects belonging to this speculative genre, tentatively named neocybernetic art, are brain-like artifacts which attain a new order of functioning after recurrent feedback between disparate internal components (or disparate external elements) cross a certain threshold. This paper looks at the practices of artists, who, in different ways, explore the workings of emergent circular causalities in the animal and the machine. Holding a non-mechanist standpoint, it slightly draws—for the sake of introduction and inspiration—on philosophy of technology, radical constructivism, animal studies, and cognitive aesthetics. Be it a piece built with robotic soft-material or a biotechnological system constructed as a means of facilitating the interaction of humans and animals, when a specific circular causality emerges from a current functioning, something new leaps into existence, as if the artwork was possessed by what Jane Bennett calls the “vibrant materiality.” [1]


Second-order cybernetics, conversation theory, individuation, affectivity, animal studies, cognitive aesthetics


Genesis and Individuation

Gilbert Simondon’s proposition of affectivity implies, inter alia, an original interpretation of three notions. First, there are individuals, or beings on a continuous process of ontogenesis (the sequence of events involved in the evolution of metastable systems—also known as pre-individuals). Second, transduction is a mechanism generally associated with cell signaling, but reinterpreted by Simondon as the operation of information transferring between stable and metastable states and between individual systems and their contingent environment. Lastly, information which in this context refers to a process of external and internal communication, or better, resonance which is “the most primitive mode of communication between realities of different orders.” [2] It could also be described as a direct complement of transduction and a constitutive phenomena that come into being when multiple metastable systems are “snap-fit” and begin to resonate together resolving a psychic problematic or, in the case of machines, producing a new mode of functioning and resultant functionalities. It is important to notice that, from the viewpoint of Simondon, information is devoid of any linguistic meaning, and the process of individuation is marked by an essential incompleteness where the individual strives for the continuation of its becoming; paradoxically, a pre-individual system also craves for the unity and completion of its identity, a longing only appeased when it becomes a provisional individualized being.

Moreover, Simondon teaches us that another important aspect of the metastable preindividual “out of phase” is that, even if it eventually ingresses into a stable state—or rather a phase state—it necessarily keeps most of its preexisting traits, because “metastability is the phenomena associated with the persistence of the given phase well below the stability domain, bordered by the first-order transition.” [3] Preindividuals are, in a narrow sense, virtual systems of diverse magnitudes that can actualize themselves into individuals, without losing or superseding their preindividual condition, which lacks identity and unity. Put another way, preindividual entities have the primal yearning to turn into integral individuals, while individuals supposedly “formatted” or “actualized” have the primal yearning to make contact with their preindividual past.

What would be the mechanism for the information exchange between two or more metastable systems, or even between the stable and metastable states of the same system? How are the “channels of communication” deployed or how do they become operational in this double relationality (individual-milieu and individual-preindividual)? [4]  In short, what is the nature of transitions between metastable states or regions? Simondon’s concept of transduction may be of assistance. [5] “Ultimately, transduction is any transfer of information through a material medium. It applies to processes of differentiation and crystallization of all sorts; from the growth of an embryo, to the learning of a concept, to the spread of what today are called ‘memes’ through a society.” [6] In the living, transduction converts noisy perceptions of the “outside” (second-order cyberneticists call this a “perturbation”) into meaningful information, and in the non-living it is responsible for the balance between integration and differentiation of states. Take the famous and influential formulation from Simondon:

By transduction we mean an operation—physical, biological, mental, social—by which an activity propagates itself from one element to the next, within a given domain, and founds this propagation on a structuring of the domain that is realized from place to place: each area of the constituted structure serves as the principle and the model for the next area, as a primer for its constitution, to the extent that the modification expands progressively at the same time as the structuring operation. [7]

In this way, one can discern in this passage the transduction operation taking effect through four regimes of individuation. Under the aegis of our aesthetic proposal, and according to Simondon, we take the three most important regimes—physical (or material), vital (or biological), and psychical (or mental)—and append a new one, the technical (or better mechanical) individuation. Transduction is to be applied for constructing and defining the constrictions of a neocybernetic artwork, a system that has to be understood as a “transducer” of internal processes of resolution of differential relations, conflicting structures, and ambivalent functioning in the same way as a human brain. For example, metastable concepts executed by a metastable brain, purposefully in search of a stable self-identity or novel relationships between concepts, are an important characteristic of transduction. In other words, transduction is a process that “arises from the non-simultaneity or metastability of a domain, that is, in the fact that it is not fully simultaneous or coincident with itself. Boundaries, singularities, and differences underlie transductions.” [8] Although there are other outcomes involved, cognition of boundaries by an observer is a necessary byproduct of psychic transduction.


Conversation and Cognition

Gordon Pask’s proposition of conversation also implies, essentially, an original interpretation of three notions. First, individuals are generally living observers that are psychological individuals (organizationally closed systems of concepts, “stable processes,” [9] mental processes, etc.) and mechanical individuals (different flavors of media as machines, brains, etc.). Respectively, these are referred to as P-individuals and M-individuals. Second, a proto-language is capable not only of mediating internal conversations, but also of maintaining a collection of concept formation processes. Lastly, concept here refers to a cognitive process that maintains itself through “agreements” between pure ideations without privileging linguistic significations and semantic contents. This form of understanding, which has something to do with Simondon’s internal resonance occurring within technical objects, is only possible when sheer communication becomes a conversation between mutual interacting P-individuals. It is worth noting here that the word “psychological” embedded in the hyphenated noun is not to be necessarily related to a cheap psychologism. That is to say, it can eventually hold “nonpsychological” stances, i.e., mechanical dynamic processes of mentation, "imageless thoughts" (Würzburg School, Amazonian Shamanism), or other forms of unobservable concepts and memories. The originality of Pask’s model comes from the fact that two individuals are not necessarily in one-to-one correspondence: “One M-individual may embody several P-individuals, as in ‘internal conversation;’ one P-Individual may be embodied in several M-individuals, as in ‘external conversation.’” [10]

Pask also provides an important definition for the polysemous word “concept,” associating it to a thought process that, after being started and executed by a special media, produces (or reproduces) a metastable relation of topics. The process, when ensued by a human brain, is therefore analogous to a program that, when written in a computer language, has the goal of modeling a procedural task. An effectual concept is capable, by such definition, to engage in “conversations” with other concepts, taking into account that “in fact, more fundamentally, a conversation is a larger closure of participants.” [11] The elements responsible for the conceptualization processes form a community whose members, called “participants,” live in similar conditions to technical object elements because “the true analog relationship is between human mental functioning and the physical functioning of the machine.” [12] For that reason, a psychological participant lacking unity and linked to a preindividual reality could be interpreted as a metastable entity, a “becoming-concept.” It is also the result of a transduction process, because “transduction […] also occurs in and as thought. Thinking can be understood as an individuation of a thinking subject, not just something that someone who thinks does.” [13]

We should notice in passing how the notion of concept we are dealing with is distant from the philosophical common sense (e.g., Hegel’s Begriff). What our approach calls into question is the pure phenomenological interpretation of the notion, generally corresponding to an idea (the final product of a thought process) or other forms of creativity produced (and reproduced) by the brain. The brain-like artifacts described in the following sections are not merely mechanical or computational imitations of the human brain, being only homomorphic with certain processes, but such processes cannot be committed to a strict histological and psychological interpretation. There certainly are psychological considerations when the metastable media in question is a human brain, a biotic ensemble capable of producing schema and ideations by means of electrical activity. However, this account includes a form of concept geared toward the solution of a provisional problematic between elements of an ensemble, neither logically nor by using some form of intelligence, but through a process of relationality, of distinction making, of “taking-form” (as a matter of fact, in Latin the word informatio means “concept” or “idea”). For the sake of our aesthetic account, it is set forth that the concept is a stable dynamic process of cognition that hides a metastable nature, described as a subtle individuation parallel to that of a correlative material individuation.


Evolving “Soft Robotics”

Combining experimental architecture and responsive sculpting, Hylozoic Ground (2010) by Philip Beesley (working in collaboration with Rob Gorbet and Rachel Armstrong) is a one of a kind neocybernetic artwork traversing the boundaries of both domains. It is at first sight a biometric interactive environment, a multi-layer botanic canopy made of “soft robotics” foliage. [14] But upon closer inspection, one can see a series of lightweight column skeletons populated by “breathing pores,” [15] a structure layer consisting of laser cut acrylic laminae and “feathers” that respond to human gestures, and the leaves of Mimosa pudica, the tropical plant that folds inward when touched. Technically, the “reflex” reaction is the result of the integration of distributed micro-controllers, space sensors, and shape-memory actuators (mechanisms made of Nitinol alloy that contracts when heated). The global behavior of these quasi-plants is organized in a way that combines peristaltic waves of breathing motion triggered by human presence and background waves that run autonomously at certain intervals. The dynamic feedback proportioned by such an environment is so convincing that a participant observer perceives the machine ensemble as something seeking human presence as food, thereby unleashing an atmosphere of "emotional tectonics" [16] among participant observers.

Generally, the elaborated machine ensemble of Hylozoic Ground alludes to an artificial Boschian garden where animal, geological, and vegetable kingdoms intertwine; or it is akin to an alien spacecraft biosphere emanating a genuine sense of "otherness". Nonetheless, all these descriptions do not live up to the animistic qualities of the artwork, as its proclivity to develop like a real living body. Actually, it is an organism, a very primitive organism, yet capable of embodying organic regions such as membranes, skeletons, muscles, and even a brain, the latter an intelligent network formed by arrays of interlinked Arduino microprocessors spread throughout the 170 square meter structure (Arduino are open-source single-boards). The actuated mechanisms properly adjusted inside the column skeletons are pulled by “muscle wires,” which in fact are hamstrings made of Nitinol alloy. The novelty presented by the most recent generation of the artwork, which was shown in 2010 during the 12th International Architecture Exhibition in Venice, is what the designers call “bladders,” a collection of glass-work responsible for the “metabolic” and biochemical processes of the piece.

It is accurate to say that we are confronting a work in progress, but it does not do justice to the extreme complexity of the evolutionary process of the Hylozoic series. Since Hylozoic Soil (2007), the sculpture has been developed progressively as a whole, a process in which the designers were forced to resolve incompatibilities, modify the internal disposition of functions, and anticipate stresses on specific components. The piece was reduced to an almost bodily existence, because “as with biological evolution, general families of parts evolve in parallel, and are differentiated by incremental changes in geometry, connection, and utility.” [17] The topology and geometry of the meshwork have been undergoing an evolutionary process as well, attesting a process of concretization of the so-called “membranes.” The system of tessellations underlining the meshwork of Hylozoic Ground can eventually take on the shape of a hyperbolic structure, suggesting a coupling of cathedral architecture and computer-aided tissue repair, besides referring indirectly to another important second-order cybernetics building block: tessellations as composition of cognitive machines. [18]

The geodesic organization of the vaults holding the column skeletons is arranged in tightly imbricated tiling built with V-shaped tiny objects called “chevrons,” similar to construction toys parts that can be notched together without fasteners, thus permitting the modeling of several configurations. Beesley emphatically describes these grid topologies as a “resilient, self-bracing diagonally organized space-truss.” [19] Hence, the complex meshwork of chevrons amounts to more than just being a structure with interconnected snap-fit units, and it could be metaphorically illustrated as a poroelastic continuum. The column skeletons (see Fig. 1) protruding from these acrylic polymer membranes—also built with chevrons fitted together as curved rings—are embedded by mechanical actuators that contract and expand, increasing the degree of the column shape-shifting, as if the whole scaffold were “breathing” in an organic way. [20] The meshwork topology of a version presented in 2010 at the Venice Architecture Biennale supported an upper layer, called the filter layer (or “soil matrix”), populated by well crafted flasks containing “protocells” capable of intervening in the dynamic feedback interactions with participant observers and other parts of the ensemble.

Protocells are materials that possess some but not all of the properties of living systems, and that are capable of staging complex behavior such as growth, locomotion, repair, and even reproduction. Given that they are based on the chemistry of oils and water, they can be programmable, as much as the so called chells—“chemical cells that are artificially created in laboratory […] [and that] are not fully alive but exhibit some of the properties normally attributed to living systems.” [21] All these elements are part of the artwork soil matrix, a collection of glassware instruments that, together, simulate the properties of real organic soil. The “incubators, for instance, are powerhouses of “protocell worms” and line the upper meshwork surface. Inside the golden flasks unfolds chemical phenomena similar to Liesegang rings, a concentric precipitation caused by a gelatin-like substance impregnated with potassium chromate. Together, such process results in a “synthetic succession” occurring by means of a progressive iteration between distinct elements, just like a real process of mineral transduction. Yet another special element of the soil matrix, the “protopearl” flask, derives its nutrients from Venice water canals and from the carbon released by participant observers’ respiration, thus fostering the ensemble self-organization process and, consequently, an atypical mode of interaction.

The soil matrix was designed especially for the Venice installation by Rachel Armstrong, a British researcher specializing in architectural design and synthetic biology. One year after the biennial, she developed a scaled up version of the system for “synth-ethic,” an art exhibition that took place at the Museum of Natural History in Vienna, Austria. The installation, titled Living Chemistry (2010), was basically a container to build artificial cells by mixing molecules existing at the interface between oil, salt, and water. The "machinic animism" aspect of protocells is clearly evident in their life-like properties, and it might be useful to think of the container in Vienna as the habitat of bubbles that, despite their lifeless haecceities, show behaviors such as "attraction, metabolism, communication and even death.” [22] On the subject of protocell communication, we should not forget how Simondon stressed the importance of shifting the balance of information in the direction of intensity, reducing quantity measurement and good form requirements (protocells “perceive” other protocells and their milieu by means of saturation and concentrations effects).


Fish Media

Underlining biotechnological artworks are metastable media and projects involving living animals (not their representations as computational entities) that cannot be ruled out as authentic neocybernetic art expression. ENKI Project, developed by the British artist Antony Hall, has been continually evolving and has as guideline a series of experiments in bio-interfacing humans and certain types of weak electric fish, basically from Mormyriform and Gymnotiform families. One of its goals is the improvement of the inter-species conversation. This would involve synchronizing human brainwaves and the electric fish EODs (electrical organ discharges), accounting that the distortions in the electrical field create an “electrical image” of objects that can tell the animal a great deal about its surrounding environs. In this project, Hall has designed a very striking model of a technological totality, a “technical ensemble” (in accordance with Simondon), a vast assemblage consisting of soundproof chambers, psycho-acoustic audio devices, and a complex system of bio-interfacing, a set which is rather reminiscent of the laboratory of audiology described by Simondon in Du Mode d’existence des Objets Techniques.

To get a more appropriate idea of Hall’s biotech ensemble, it is worth describing in some detail the bio-interface design. Firstly, it is important to clarify that fish electrogenesis is a phenomena generated at the level of millivolts, taking the form of pulses and waves. [23] It means that if different weakly electric species coexist in an area, each fish can shift its discharge frequency to avoid the jamming of electrical signals, reducing noise (metastable information) almost in the same way that a cognitive radio selects available channels opportunistically. An analog-to-digital converter transduces fish’s electrical discharges into light pulses and stereo audio, two classical methods of enclosing participant observers in a type of sensory deprivation space built for aesthetic purposes. All metastable information coming from the aquarium (see Fig. 2) is amplified and transduced back and forth by means of AC/DC converters, including participant observers neuromagnetic pulse signals, measured in detail with an Interactive Brainwave Visual Analyser (IBVA), a device which records and analyzes brainwaves (EEG) translated into 3D coordinates. [24] A program written in Max/MSP mediates all these fluxes and functions as the basis of a proto-language not anthropologically defined.

Anti-aesthetic as it may appear, Halls’s project perfectly fits one of Simondon’s greatest interests, the evolving lineage of technical objects (since 2006 the artist has been developing four different versions of the experiment, including the involvement of over 400 participant observers), and somehow revive Pask’s considerations for a kind of affective and interactive relationship in which a participant observer infers a similarity between him or her and a specific ensemble (this exchange was defined by him as an "E.Relation"). With respect to this kind of interactivity, in which a participant observer seeks a relation with a brain-like ensemble lacking a defined relevance criteria, Pask evokes the analogy between human-machine interaction and human-animal communication. At the same time, he stresses the inadequacy of another famous analogy, that of animal training, because “it would be fruitless to ask whether the trainer, by continual training, had imposed his way of thinking upon the animals decision process or whether due to continual proximity the man had horse-like or dog-like thoughts in his head.” [25] The human world, populated by electronic images, is very different from the electro-physical world of the fish, composed of pure electrical images.

What is clear is that, despite an enormous amount of paraphernalia, the biotech ensemble is very well tied down in terms of facilitating a symbiotic relationship between two living beings that haven't quite caught up with one another since the time they both had a common ancestor. Participant observers who had the chance to participate in one of the ENKI versions bared witness to the crossing, dissolving, and reorganizing of the boundaries separating humans and animals, both coexisting harmonically in an associated milieu. This quasi-shamanic experience provides humans with new physical coordinates, affective modes, and perception of surroundings, by revealing that “the magic of fish lay in the fact that they did not belong to two elements, but rested entirely in one.” [26] In the latest version, ENKI Experiment 3, commissioned by Arts Catalyst in 2009 for the exhibition “Interspecies,” participant observers wearing special goggles were exposed to controlled bursts of light, and this had the effect of altering states of consciousness, similar to the effects produced by electronic mind machines of the 70s, most notably Brion Gysin's Dreamachine. But Hall’s ensemble is not only a psychedelic device, for the biphasic EODs produced by muscle action of the electric fishes, transduced to binaural beats, can function as a “healing” machine, inducing deep states of relaxation in participant observers. It is no exaggeration to say that the aftermath of such experience is directly related to preparedness, cognition, and motivation.

There are similar artistic projects investigating low-voltage discharges generated by living electric fish; one that comes to mind is EOD02, an installation from Frederik De Wilde created in collaboration with LAb[au], a media and arts collective based in Belgium. [27] However, ENKI Project is without equal because, unlike EOD02 which focuses on new modes of communication between fish, it makes up a perfect closed loop circuit in which human and animal are coupled for synchronization of electrical waves. The addition of the living electrical fish would make this particular ensemble a powerful transducer if one takes into account the fact that "the animal is in itself a transducer when it reserves chemical energies and then actualizes them in the course of different vital operations." [28] The brainwave entrainment experienced by the participant observer, the periodic and oscillating stimulus coming from the electric discharges emitted by the fish is a case of two-way flow of information, at the aesthetic level and according to the Aristotelian biology: the notion of phantasia aisthètikè, described by Simondon as the sensory imagination, the sensitive imagination resulting from certain functional animal activities comparable to certain human activities. [29] ENKI Project, to be resurrected soon by Antony Hall, is an artistic initiative with growth potential to which animal studies and perspectival anthropology can significantly contribute.



At this point, what conclusions can we draw from these artwork descriptions and theoretical speculations? The readers may have assumed that, as far as aesthetic-technical objects are concerned, the neocybernetic art object is something other than the implied media by which it is expressed: there are many media involved. It must be clearly stated that such media are not stable or unstable media, [30] but metastable media, due not so much to its constant phase shift as to its very process of individuation, which is always a relationship between integration and differentiation, between a constantly shifting matter and transformed forms. Yet, evolving neocybernetic artworks are not artworks that simply change over time, as understood by the time-based concept embodied by so many pieces within mainstream contemporary art. The artworks described here undergo a strengthening process of concretization, an event that emerges when two parts (or elements) of the same machine "solidify" a new function, almost providing the appearance of new features and new critical phases. Overall, the term concretization, which was so valuable to Simondon, means generically concrescence, but it has a deep and peculiar significance that connotes etymological (from the French translation) accretion, or the growing together of separate parts into a single whole.

On the part of the beholder, the important point is that Pask was interested in the formalization of the functions of logos, regardless of content, but locally dependent on a metastable media (a preeminent language processor: the brain), and it had come to the point that one of his main stipulations was that "the idea of a purely disembodied mind is almost as absurd as that of a disenminded body," [31] in the same way that, against the odds of a possible hylomorphist temptation, there is no such thing as a formless matter, for it is always formable. Moreover, one of the great achievements of the second-order cybernetics was the shift in the observer perspective, from the external observer (I observe) to the participant observer (observe I), a movement that empowered subjects to distinguish ongoing processes from individuating processors for epistemological and aesthetic purposes. We posit that the cognition of a participant observer is a kind of inference that has no invariant boundaries to distinguish it from the environment (or from the neocybernetic art piece). This means that cognition could be described as a process of inference assumed by a participant observer, a process that deals with bleeding borders between he or she and an aesthetic-technical object bearing brain-like qualities.

In principle the participant observer cognition of a relation between system and milieu (defined as R) needs to be explained through proto-language interactions of two or more internal-personal perspectives, usually delineated by a Paskian paradigm stated as follows: "A is conscious with B of R" where the "entities A and B are parts of a mind, executed in a common brain, that have different modes of representation for the same relation (visual and verbal, for instance).” [32] To escape from a solipsistic account of such a self-reflexive paradigm, the participant observer system should be called an input-output system into relation with another input-output system—the aesthetic-technical object—both enveloped in a shared associated milieu, as if they were within an adiabatic boundary, a term originated from thermodynamics and that connotes a border that is impermeable to heat transfer. This bracketing, in the case at hand, is certainly not the adiabatic shell of thermodynamics; it concerns the event in its eventness. It is the selective inference of a boundary enveloping the field where an aesthetic event takes place. Therefore, the model of the relationship between a participant observer and the aesthetic-technical object, both immersed in their associated milieu and separated from a more complex environment by an almost invisible boundary, is reproduced in the mind of the former by the “milieu-specific” work (a possible example of some yet unknown sub-category of site-specific art object?).

The problem is not so much the process of how this human relationship with a neocybernetic artwork has developed through the course of an aesthetic event, but what is inherent in the relation mechanism. If first order thermodynamics’ second law does not apply to such aesthetic interaction, then a more general mathematical definition of the concept of feedback systems might indeed prove to be valuable (see Fig. 3). Let S1 be the participant observer, S2 the aesthetic-technical object, and S3 the “adiabatic” shell, an associate milieu which separates S1 and S2 from an immensely more complex environment. The asterisk nestled in Y1 output and X2 input is a system connecting operator, termed the cascade operation, [33] which suggests that the linear spaces crossing over the domain of the two input-output systems and the adiabatic field in the form of arrows are, rather, to be discerned as circular spaces. The feedback circuitry composed of three systems—with the product of participant observer and aesthetic-technical object being the associated milieu—is then ready to process feedback transformations or, to put it in Simondonian lexicography, transduce metastable concepts into stable concepts, resulting in new inferences from participant observers; and metastable information into stable information, resulting in aesthetic-technical object new modes of functioning.

Meanwhile, in order to understand the overall structure in all its complexity, one has to read the aesthetic-technical object as a feedback component of the participant observer, but not reduced to a simple “prosthetic limb.” In such a general feedback structure, described mathematically as F(S,Sf), we first cascade the two terms and then input one of the two outputs of the global system (see Fig. 4). The first inescapable conclusion of applying set theory to demonstrate the encounter of a beholder with a neocybernetic work is that, at a philosophical level, there is no aesthetic experience without a participant observer, even if one of the most prestigious representatives of object-oriented philosophy ensures categorically that "experience doesn't have to be conscious." [34] The aesthetic phenomenon is the potential difference between two points, between human breathing and a protocell flask, between a brain wave vibration and an electrical charge carried out by an aquatic animal, between two counterpoint transductions (physical and psychical), and so forth. The second inescapable conclusion is the necessary acknowledgement that stability is a particular case of metastability, a fact not explicitly assumed by Pask and Simondon. Ultimately, machine invention and human innovation end up being, in this way, tightly interlocked in the production of a singular aesthetics, inscribed in the realm of a speculative neocybernetic art.


References and Notes

[1] Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010), viii.

[2] Gilbert Simondon, “The Position of the Problem of Ontogenesis,” trans. Gregory Flanders, Parrhesia, no. 7 (2009): 16.

[3] Sylwester Rzoska, Aleksandra Drozd-Rzoska, and Victor Mazur, eds., Metastable Systems under Pressure (Dordrecht: Springer, 2008), 15.

[4] We adopted the French word "milieu" which is regularly translated as "environment", a term that might infer unexpected connotations. Milieu, in our understanding, have a similar quality or character of an ambient system, or an all-inclusive system that associates and lets itself be associated by other systems. For a more detailed and interesting analysis of the notion of the word “milieu," see "The Living Being and Its Environment (Milieu)," by Georges Canguilhem, trans. Graham Burchell from “Le vivant et son milieu” in La connaissance de la vie (1952; repr., Paris: J. Vrin, 1980) 129-154.

[5] During his lecture at the symposia "Informação, tecnicidade, individuação: a urgência do pensamento de Gilbert Simondon" (Information, technicity, individuation: the urgency of Gilbert Simondon thought), fostered by the Institute of Philosophy and Humanities at the State University of Campinas from April 2nd to 4th 2012, Pablo Esteban Rodríguez, translator of Simondon’s works in Argentina, remembered how the French philosopher bequeathed powerful analogies to his ideas, such as the ones which illustrate the three processes of amplification: the wildfire (transduction), the relay race (modulation) and the binocular perception (organization). Perhaps the most illustrative analogy of transduction, in our opinion, would be a train laying its own tracks, as in the cartoon footage clip which can be seen on the website of Shutterstock, "Cartoon of Train Laying Its Own Tracks," stock video, 0:05, © Everett Collection, (accessed August 06, 2012).

[6] Steven Shaviro, “Simondon on Individuation,” The Pinocchio Theory (blog), January 16, 2006, (accessed June 7, 2011).

[7] Gilbert Simondon, “The Position of the Problem of Ontogenesis,” 4–16.

[8] Adrian Mackenzie, Transductions: Bodies and Machines at Speed (London and New York: Continuum, 2002), 17.

[9] Gordon Pask, “An Essay on the Kinetics of Language, Behaviour and Thought,” in Proceedings, Silver Anniversary International Meeting of Society for General Systems Research, London,  (August 1979), 2.

[10] Bernard Scott, e-mail message to the Cybernetics Discussion Group, October 26, 2011.

[11] See Gordon Pask and Gerard de Zeeuw, Interactions of Actors, Theory and Some Applications, vol 1: Outline and Overview (Amsterdam: Universiteit Amsterdam, 1992), 24, emphasis added.

[12] Gilbert Simondon, El modo de existencia de los objetos técnicos (Buenos Aires: Prometeo Libros, 2007), 155.

[13] Adrian Mackenzie, Transductions: Bodies and Machines at Speed (London and New York: Continuum, 2002), 18.

[14] See a point of view shot of Hylozoic Ground “proscenium,” ehich can be downloaded at the website of Philip Beesley Architect Inc., (accessed August 6, 2012). The term "soft robotics" appears between quotes, because it refers specifically to a research of controlling soft materials developed at Tufts University. For a more detailed information, see the website of Soft Rob?tics Research Group, (accessed August 06, 2012).

[15] See the didactic video "Breathing Pores," which can be downloaded at the website of Philip Beesley Architect Inc., (accessed August 6, 2012).

[16] Expression "tweeted" by Sarah Cook during Philip Beesley description of his work at DEAF2012, (accessed May 21, 2012).

[17] William Elsworthy, “Component Design and Actuated Devices: An Evolutionary Process,” in Hylozoic Ground: Liminal Responsive Architecture, ed. Phillip Beesley (Toronto: Riverside Architectural Press, 2010), 96-99.

[18] For a closer analysis regarding tessellations and other second-order cybernetic building blocks, see Karl H. Müller, “The BCL – an Unfinished Revolution of an Unfinished Revolution,” in An Unfinished Revolution? Heinz von Foerster and the Biological Computer Laboratory 1958-1976, ed. Albert Müller and Karl H. Müller (Wien: Edition Echoraum, 2007), 407-509.

[19] Philip Beesley, Kinetic Architectures and Geotextile Installations (Toronto: Riverside Architectural Press, 2010), 157.

[20] See the didactic video "Topologies," which can be downloaded at  at the website of Philip Beesley Architect Inc., (accessed August 6, 2012).

[21] Rachel Armstrong, “The Origins of Life” in Hylozoic Ground: Liminal Responsive Architecture, ed. Phillip Beesley (Toronto: Riverside Architectural Press, 2010), 129.

[22] Footage taken from laboratory experiments that show a range of protocell behaviour can be seen in “Protocell Circus,” produced by Rachel Armstrong and Michael Simon Toon. Pay particular attention to the subtitles, which suggest an almost “human” dialogue between those beings. The film is available online at the website of Protocell Circus, (accessed February 22, 2012).

[23] “EODs may be delivered either as individual pulses with significant intervals between EODs, or one directly after another with small intervals. Fish with these two temporal patterns are called pulse fish and wave fish respectively. Power spectra of pulse EODs are broad, regardless of discharge rate, whereas those of wave fish are narrow, with discharge rate setting the fundamental frequency. For comparison, white noise would generate a power spectrum with equal energy at all frequencies, and a pure tone would generate a power spectrum with energy at a single frequency.” Philip K. Stoddard, "Electric Signals & Electric Fish," the website of Department of Biological Sciences Florida International University Miami, Florida, USA,, emphasis added.

[24] More details about this device are available online at the website of IBVA Brain Machine, (accessed May 18, 2012).

[25] Gordon Pask, "Physical Analogues to the Growth of a Concept," in Mechanization of Thought Processes, Vol II (1959): 765-794.

[26] Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities, vol. 2 (1930 - 1942), trans. Eithene Wilkins and Ernst Kaiser (London: Minerva Press, 1995), 386.

[27] See a description of this project at (accessed March 30, 2012).

[28] Gilbert Simondon, El modo de existencia de los objetos técnicos, 160.

[29] Gilbert Simondon, Two Lessons on Animal and Man (Minneapolis: Univocal, 2011), 45.

[30] The expression "unstable media" first appeared in the “Manifesto for the Unstable Media,” in 1987, published by V2_, Institute for the Unstable Media, or simply V2_, an interdisciplinary center for art and media technology located in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. One can read in the text that "art which applies electronic media—especially digital or unstable media—reflects upon and takes into account the meaning, idiosyncrasies, and boundaries of such media." Neocybernetic artworks goes beyond "electronic" and "digital” media, but may possibly include them nevertheless. When we claim that a media is metastable, this formulation implies that there is a singular relationship between a machine (e.g. an aesthetic-technical object) and its milieu, and that singularity is replicated in the relationship between internal elements belonging to the same machine. The V2_ manifest is available online in the form of mission at its official website, (accessed August 6, 2012).

[31] See Gordon Pask and Gerard de Zeeuw, Interactions of Actors, Theory and Some Applications, vol 1: Outline and Overview, 21.

[32] Gordon Pask, Conversation, Cognition and Learning: a Cybernetic Theory and Methodology (Amsterdam: Elsevier), 6.

[33] In more mathematical terms, the set theorem is defined as follows: if S1 ? X1 x (Y*1 x Z), S2 ? (X*2 x Z) x Y2 and S3 ? (X1 x X*2) x (Y*1 x Y2) then S1 * S2 = S3 if and only if ((x1,x2),(y1,y2)) ? S3 ? ?z ((x1,y1,z)) ? S1 and (((x2,z),y2) ? S2). See Yi Lin, General Systems Theory: A Mathematical Approach (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2002), 270.

[34] The quote, attributed to Paul Shaviro, was tweeted by Tim Morton during “The Nonhuman Turn,” a conference held in the Center for 21st Century Studies, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, in May 2012.



MediaArtHistories program at Donau-Universität Krems, Austria.


Author Biography

Guilherme Kujawski is a technology journalist and cultural producer. Since 1993, he has been collaborating for several newspapers and magazines with articles about technology and new media art. He was content editor of CIBERCULTURA, an art and science online magazine sponsored by Itau Cultural Institute, where he also designed and organized events in the field of media art. He has put out some books, like Piritas Siderais (Outer Space Pyrites), a baroque sci-fi novel published in 1994. He has an MA in MediaArtHistories at Donau-Universität Krems, Austria.

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