The Australian National University (ANU) has opened an exhibition that features over 100 early and contemporary works from the 1960s to 2022. Some were loaned from US museums, and some created by Australian artists who won the Emmy Award and currently featured in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) in New York.
The exhibition Australian Cybernetic: a point through time features significant works from two pivotal exhibitions Cybernetic Serendipity held in London in 1968 and Australia ‘75 festival celebrated in 1975 in Canberra.
Some works from the 1960s were loaned from the Computer History Museum and the Exploratorium in the US.
People. Places. Play. Possibilities. Watch the highlights of the first-week run of the #AustralianCybernetic exhibition. In each work, technology and creativity collide to create glimpses of the future.
Contemporary works by Australian artists were also showcased, including the installation Anatomy of an AI System also currently displayed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and an Emmy award-winning virtual-reality film on an Indigenous elder who witnessed nuclear bomb testing at Maralinga in the remote West Australian desert.
The new exhibition explores how technology and creativity collide to create glimpses of the future. It is a highlight of the launch of the ANU School of Cybernetics that aims to re/fit cybernetics in 21st century and establish it as an important tool for navigating major societal transformations.
“For the first time, historic, contemporary, and conceptual cybernetic works are being brought together in a unique exhibition,” Associate Professor Andrew Meares, the exhbition curator, said. “We’re inviting people to take a tour through time and learn about the history of technology and art and how this contributed to cybernetics and the multimedia, tech and music we enjoy today.”
About Cybernetic Serendipity 1968 and Australia ‘75#
This exhibition, like Cybernetic Serendipity and Australia ‘75 which inspired it, aims to create space to imagine and enable new futures for complex systems comprising people, technology and the environment.
Cybernetic Serendipity 1968#
Between August and October 1968, a ground-breaking exhibition at the London Institute of Contemporary Arts entitled Cybernetic Serendipity helped acquaint a new generation with the ideas of cybernetics. Cybernetic Serendipity used art and design through and with emerging technologies to create room for new conversations about the role of computing technologies in the 20th century, and to imagine and enable new possible futures. It opened just a few months after the film 2001: A Space Odyssey introduced a striking vision for the future of artificial intelligence to the public.
Cybernetic Serendipity presented the work of over 130 contributors – 43 were composers, artists and poets, and 87 were engineers, doctors, computer scientists and philosophers – and attracted over 60,000 visitors. It was curated by Jasia Reichardt, who convinced high levels of government, like the US Department of State, and leading technology companies at the time (e.g. IBM, Boeing, General Motors, Bell Telephone Laboratories) to help fund it. They did. It was a fundamental turning point in the development of modern technology and the creative industries.
In March 1975, Canberra came alive with the Australia 75 Festival of Creative Arts and Sciences, a ten-day event described by Artistic Director Stefan Haag as a celebration of the achievements of Australia’s scientists and artists, and their contributions to shaping Australia’s national identity. The festival included contributions from theoretical and applied sciences, crafts, visual arts, performing arts, music, sculpture, Indigenous art, films, and a children’s program. It was opened by Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in the ballroom of the Lakeside International Hotel (now the QT Hotel), which was also the venue for one of the festival’s many exhibitions, Computers and Electronics in the Arts. This was a time of optimism in Australia, with the Vietnam War ending and the arrival of the colour television.
By Joseph Stanisaus (Stan) Ostoja-Kotkowski
The theremin, patented by inventor Leon Theremin in 1928, is an electronic musical instrument controlled without physical contact with the performer. It was developed through Soviet government-sponsored research into proximity sensors.
Four of Stanislaus Ostoja-Kotkowski’s theremins performed at Theremin ’75 - a concert part of the Australia ’75 festival. The theremins featured large stainless steel ‘interactive paintings’ as aerials, and performed a work commissioned from composer Professor Larry Sitsky of the ANU School of Music. After the concert, Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, who had attended, purchased one of the instruments.
By John Billingsley
Albert has been delighting audiences for 54 years. At the time of Cybernetic Serendipity, he was a cutting-edge example of responsive technology – light sensors and a motor meant Albert’s gaze followed visitors at the exhibition – originally created as a student joking about his teacher.
Today, as the artist highlights, “a modern version could be much more sophisticated… with a laptop, camera, face recognition or Arduino, it could put Albert in the shade!” Many elements of these technologies build on the achievements of Billingsley and colleagues who went on to shape control systems. And in another 54 years again, it will also feel old but leave traces in the future.
Albert was exhibited in Cybernetic Serendipity 1968. He is on loan from The Exploratorium (a museum of science, technology, and arts in San Francisco, California), and to them we are grateful. Professor John Billingsley, who now lives and works in Australia, has coded a digital interactive version of Albert that will be revealed for Australian Cybernetic.
PANIC: Playground Ai Network for Interactive Creativity#
By ANU School of Cybernetics
In PANIC, visitors interact with feedback loops of Creative AI models hooked end-to-end. As well as generating intriguing text and images, this work explores how different ways of connecting these models up can give rise to different outputs, emergent behaviours, recurring patterns and degenerate or cases.
ANATOMY OF AN AI SYSTEM: The Amazon Echo As An Anatomical Map of Human Labor, Data and Planetary Resources (2018)#
By Kate Crawford and Vladan Joler
Anatomy of an AI System is a large-scale map and long-form essay investigating the human labor, data, and planetary resources required to build and operate an Amazon Echo. The exploded view diagram combines and visualizes three central, extractive processes that are required to run a large-scale artificial intelligence system: material resources, human labor, and data. The map and essay consider these three elements across time—represented as a visual description of the birth, life, and death of a single Amazon Echo unit.The true costs of these systems—social, environmental, economic, and political—remain hidden and may stay that way for some time. We offer up this map and essay as a way to begin seeing across a wider range of system extractions.
This work was acquired by the V&A London, and is currently on display at the Museum of Modern Art, NYC. We are grateful to Vladan Joler and Kate Crawford for their permission to exhibit this work for the first time in Australia. Crawford is currently an Cybernetic Imaginations Resident with the ANU School of Cybernetics.
Hydraloops: Experiments in Ethico-Aesthetics#
By ANU School of Art and Design Researchers
Researchers used paper waste to grow a native plant dance platform to allow viewers of the work to navigate their research into waterways in the Murray Darling Basin by treading on the grass.
Hydraloops is a collaborative material investigation into the basin’s interconnecting systems, featuring the artists’ hometowns which are located within the basin—Canberra, Gilgandra, and Kandos –and requires users to think about the impacts of their use. The work explores relationships between the organic and digital, human and non-human, water and land, viewer and landscape, and positive and negative futures.
System of a Sound (2022)#
By ANU School of Cybernetics, UNSW, Uncanny Valley Music & Technology
A sound recording of an experience inside the ‘System of a Sound’ dome on the 3rd Level of the ANU Birch Building!
System of a Sound frames the ANU Birch Building as a system where humans, environment and technology meet. In it, AI translates realtime data inputs into language, represented on screen as lyrics, poems and haikus; this language is matched to a database of human-tagged music samples (including samples of music by William Barton, Peter Peter Zinovieff and others from the Cybernetic Serendipity Music album), and algorithms then create the music stream.
By Lynette Wallworth
In this Emmy award-winning work, acclaimed filmmaker and artist Lynette Wallworth invites audiences on a journey to the land of indigenous elder, Nyarri Nyarri Morgan and the Martu tribe in the remote Western Australian desert. When Nyarri Nyarri Morgan witnessed nuclear bomb testing in the Maralinga, he came into contact with western culture for the first time. It was a complete collision between technology and one of the oldest cultures in the world. The possibilities of virtual reality inspired artist Lynette Wallworth so much that, upon meeting Nyarri, she knew that it would be the perfect kind of immersive technology to share his story.
This work was originally commissioned to premiere at the World Economic Forum, Davos, and also premiered at the Sundance Festival in 2016. We are grateful to Lynette Wallworth for her permission to exhibit this work. Wallworth is currently a Cybernetic Imaginations Resident with the School of Cybernetics.
By Ellen Trevorrow, Jelina Haines, Bruce Trevorrow, Ngarrindjeri family who collected the rushes
This magnificent weaving artwork of a Murray cod or ‘Pondi’ by Ngarrindjeri Elder and Cultural Weaver Aunty Ellen Trevorrow is prominently displayed in the third-level foyer of the ANU Birch Building.
“Nga:tji is our totem, a very important part of our life. It’s identifying the group you’re with. Mine is Pondi, the Murray Cod. I’m from where the Murray River and Lake Alexandrina meet. You look at the River; Pondi don’t swim straight, do they? They come down like the River. I believe the Ngarrindjeri creation story about Ngurunderi. He chased Pondi down the River. Pondi’s crashing widened it all and came right through. Most importantly with our Nga:tji, you’ve got to look after them, and that’s caring for our ruwi, our country, for everything. If we don’t look after our waterways, what’s going to happen? Think of what’s happened to our Pondi,”, Aunty Ellen said.
This work has been commissioned by the School of Cybernetics; Aunty Ellen has been running weaving workshops in the School of Cybernetics Masters program since it began at the 3A Institute.
22 Nov—7 December (EXTENDED)
Click here to register for guided tours and events. Open to the public.