Rhea Myers

The Cybernetic Artworld


In 1952, a century after Ada Lovelace suggested that computing machinery might be used to write musical scores, the first text generation program was written at the University Of Manchester. It was a love letter generator. Which I was completely unaware of in 2003 when I wrote “The Cybernetic Artwork Nobody Wrote”.

“Cybernetic…” was a Flash program that generated textual descriptions of simple abstract figure/ground visual compositions. The title came from an ironic 1970s code art piece I’d seen in an Art & Language catalogue, and the idea came from the random poetry generators I’d seen in an Usborne children’s book about programming in the early 1980s. It’s a computer art historical intervention, an artwork that as far as I know nobody created but that someone really should have.

I wrote a Common Lisp version a couple of years later but it was still intended as an art historical project. There was a comment in a review of a computer art history book I read a while ago that talked about artists working after their (techno-)historical moment, and in the era of collective intelligence, statistical methods, data visualisation and big data, text generators are passe. But then so was woodcut in the era of cubism, and that difference was used constructively by the expressionists.

What suddenly made a possible virtue of Cybernetic’s simplicity and brevity was the emergence of microblogging services such as Twitter, which reduced the affective and semantic bandwidth available to would-be Turing Testers to 140 characters. Cybernetic could take part in the ambient chatter of the Twitosphere. Or the Dentosphere - I used the Free identi.ca (now Status Net) replacement for the proprietary Twitter service.

Earlier in 2009 I’d abandoned a couple of projects to simulate a parodic toy artworld visually or textually, but the simplicity, programmability, and social context of microblogging services allowed me to plan out what looked like an achievable version. An artist bot would microblog descriptions of possible artworks, a curator would blog references to those that made it into a show, a critic would blog evaluations of those works, and a collector bot would buy any that the critic identified as masterpieces. This would provide the artist with feedback to modify its aesthetic.

The curator and the feedback loop haven’t been implemented (yet), but the artist/critic/collector social network are a perfect toy embodiment of precisely how the artworld doesn’t work. They all run on the same server but the critic and the collector really do parse the output that they seem to. And they are running constantly, although I have to restart them when they crash or the server is restarted without my knowledge.

The Cybernetic Artworld is satire, both of art criticism and academia that takes the artworld’s self-image seriously and of the still current idea of relational art. It’s socialised aesthetic form, aestheticised social form. It’s a bit of fun. But it works, it’s aesthetically and conceptually rewarding, and it has critical content.