Nam June Paik, Mirage Stage, 1986, three-channel video (Betacam SP and DVD; colour, silent, continuous projection) shown on 33 TV monitors and 40 wooden TV carcasses

Cybernetics and Art

Instructor: Lindsay Caplan
Chinatown Soup
16 Orchard St
New York, NY 10002

In 1948, Norbert Wiener defined cybernetics as “the scientific study of control and communication in the animal and the machine”—a deceptively simple summary of a radical change in worldview. Cybernetics understands all activity (biological, mechanical, psychological, social) in terms of the circulation of information and signals. No one type of entity is considered more sentient than another; no single node more in control. As cybernetics took hold, it inspired artists to make programmed objects, interactive environments, and self-organizing installations; prompted intellectuals to rethink aesthetic experience and judgment; and galvanized cultural figures in all arenas to reimagine the politics of art in cybernetic terms.

In this course, we will examine the multiple, often contradictory, ways that artists and intellectuals have drawn on cybernetics. Looking closely at primary texts, artworks, and exhibitions, we will analyze the ways in which cybernetics transformed ideas about creativity, audience participation, and the political capacity of art. We will grapple with cybernetics’ convincing analogy between people and machines and interrogate how and why this analogy became so appealing to artists. Finally, we will confront the conflicting effects of cybernetics on the cultural imagination, as it inspires both utopian fantasies of a harmonious society founded upon seamless communication and apocalyptic visions of machinic domination and control.

Authors and artists considered during this course will include, among others, Norbert Wiener, Umberto Eco, Gregory Bateson, Nam June Paik, Allan Kaprow, Nicolas Schöffer, and Hans Haacke.

Course Schedule

Wednesday, 6:30-9:30pm
February 01 — March 01, 2017
4 session over 5 weeks
Class will not meet on February 15th.


Registration Closed

Please email us to be placed on the waiting list.

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