Ranulph Glanville at the Computer Arts Society, London – 2 December 2008

Ranulph Glanville

No Longer a Shrinking Violet?

2 December 2008 – 6:30 for 7:00
Institute of Archeology – Room 410
University College London, 31-34 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PY
Nearest tubes: Euston Square, Warren Street & Russell Square
Map: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/archaeology/intro/UCLmap.htm

The significance of cybernetics in the development of computer arts is apparent in the title of Jasia Reichart’s Cybernetic Serendipity Exhibition, now celebrating its 40th anniversary (which is also the 50th of the Philips Pavilion and the 60th of Wiener’s eponymous book). It featured, prominently, the work of several cyberneticians whose art is currently being very positively re-evaluated (see for instance www.paskpresent.com, and exhibition of work coming out of Gordon Pask’s work and ideas).

Yet 1968 is also often seen as the beginning of the very rapid decline of cybernetics to the point that, by the early 1970s, some were referring to it as dead.

However, 1968 also sees the beginning of a transformation of cybernetics that occurred through the application of cybernetic understandings to the field itself. For convenience, we can take this as initiated by Margaret Mead’s paper “Cybernetics of Cybernetics”. For some reason, this transformation has not received the recognition of the earlier version of cybernetics, or of other, contemporaneous developments. But it is alive, and well, if something of a shrinking violet!

In this talk, I will discuss the development of this so called second order cybernetics, and will present some of the central understandings and concepts. Many of them seem to me to be much more sympathetic to artists and the arts than those of 1968, and to bring an all together much more sophisticated world view, one that is much less mechanistic than the original.

Ranulph Glanville studied architecture at the AA (where he was mainly interested in electronic performance music), followed by cybernetics (his 1975 PhD was examined by Heinz von Foerster, his supervisor was Gordon Pask) and then human learning (1987 PhD examined by Gerard de Zeeuw, supervisor Laurie Thomas). In 2006 he was awarded a DSc in Cybernetics and Design. He has published extensively in cybernetics, design and learning, as well as maintaining a modest art practice. He has taught in Universities around the world. He is a professor of architecture and cybernetics in the Bartlett at UCL; of research in Innovation Design Engineering at the RCA; of Research Design at St Lucas, Brussels and Ghent; and of Design and Research at RMIT, Melbourne. He is also a regular visitor at a number of other universities. He is on the editorial board of several journals and the committee of several conferences. He has published more than 300 papers. He researches the fundamental position of cybernetics and the implications of this, relating this to the activity of design and how we might do research within design. His hobby is whichever of his interests he is not currently actually doing.

CAS 40 – 40 years supporting the computer arts