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<nettime> Whatever Happened to Cybernetics?
Robbin Murphy on Sun, 28 Oct 2007 18:12:50 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Whatever Happened to Cybernetics?

Brian Holmes wrote: 

>But nonetheless, from around, well, let's just say, 1978 onwards,
>the whole interdisciplinary complex of ideas that had been called
>cybernetics fell into a kind of entropic disarray, and gradually
>retreated from the world stage of ideas to the point where,
>bizarrely, strangely, inexplicably, by 1994 when the seeds that
>all those people had planted suddenly blossomed into the enormous
>fin-de-siecle phenomenon of the World Wide Web, nobody had a thing
>to say about cybernetics anymore. Net.art and net everything-else
>developed basically without that reference (although please, please
>tell me there were exceptions)

In New York in 1978, the summer after the Summer of Sam, Cybernetics
meant Punk and after that Hip Hop with a big dose of Situationism
thrown in. Yes it looked like entropy had won but there were those
"islands of decreasing entropy" around, some of them eventually turned
to the net.

As a teenager I poured through The Whole Earth Catalogs (Access to
Tools) for fun and so recognized the net as cybernetic and found other
artists who did as well. Now I realize I was set up by Stewart Brand
to see the net through the lens of California Ideology, as a vast
global consumer market, but it didn't seem that way at the time. I
saw it like the Catalog, as a place to find information, as access to
tools be they intellectual, digital, aesthetic, or whatever.

Your time frame, 1978 to 1994, fits roughly between the death of
Robert Smithson - who I would call a cybernetic artist, maybe the last
- in 1973 and the reprise of cybernetic thinking, if not the term
itself, caused by the popularity of the net after '94 and the last
gasps of Reaganomics. The art market had collapsed in the early '90s.
The culture wars had gutted NEA funding for art and art criticism. It
seemed like a case of "creative destruction" once again as in '78 but
like those bombs that only kill people the city was left intact. Some
artists moved to the net.

It's amazing now, looking back, how fast things happened and how
overpowering the California Ideology was. Within months an industry
was born and without alternative funding artists had to find a way
to work with it. Few artists, it turns out, profited much from the
setup financially or artistically. And the art world. Harrumph.
They protected their little turfs and are only now taking little
steps outside their huts for a look-see clutching their copies of
"Relational Aesthetics".

But I digress. We've been talking about this, and whatever happened
to Jack Burnham's System Esthetics, for a while and I think it's a
worthwhile subject to pursue until we get some answers that aren't
quite so evident.

Robbin Murphy

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