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DRPS : Course Catalogue : Edinburgh College of Art : History of Art

Undergraduate Course: Science Fictions: Cybernetics, Selfhood and Communication in Post-War Art (HIAR10146)

Course Outline
SchoolEdinburgh College of Art CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 4 Undergraduate) AvailabilityNot available to visiting students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course examines the place of cybernetics in the visual arts of the UK and America in the post-war period of 1945-70. It evaluates the role of cybernetics in the development of conceptual art, offering a chance to debate what Jack Burnham described as a swing from 'an object-oriented to a systems-oriented culture'.
Course description The course examines the ways in which cybernetics influenced the visual arts after World War II. It explores the evolution of a new, technological age of communication and how this converged with the development of conceptual art practices. We will explore the collision of science, technology and culture in the immediate post-war years, building a picture of the complex interactions of biology, communication and technology that characterised cybernetics and how this anticipated the networked age to come. We will look at artists, exhibitions, art school teaching and art school rock. This will include the Independent Group exhibitions Man, Machine and Motion and Cybernetic Serendipity at the ICA, Richard Hamilton and British Pop Art, Roy Ascott, Nicolas Schöffer and the Software exhibition at the Jewish Museum, New York. The course will create parallels between technological and cultural development from the 1940s to the 1970s, offering new interpretations of the crisis of objecthood that took place in the visual arts in the latter part of the twentieth century. It will encourage students consider the levels, both philosophical and material, in which technologies shape cultural practices.

Week 1: The Festival of Britain 1951: science, fear and cultural trauma
Week 2: The Independent Group: Exhibitions for a new machine age
Week 3: Richard Hamilton's teaching: Biology and the Machine
Week 4: British Sculpture and the Cyborg
Week 5: Roy Ascott's Groundcourse
WEEK 7: Minimalism: the problem of Objecthood and Networked Communication
Week 8: György Kepes at M.I.T. Center for Advanced Visual Studies
Week 9: From Kinetic to Cybernetic: Gordon Pask and Nicolas Schöffer
Week 10: Cybernetic Serendipity AND Software at the Jewish Museum
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Students MUST have passed: History of Art 2 (HIAR08012) OR Architectural History 2a: Order & the City (ARHI08006) AND Architectural History 2b: Culture & the City (ARHI08007)
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Discuss post-war British art in the context of World War II
  2. Explain what cybernetics is and how it has evolved since its earliest phase.
  3. Synthesise developments in art and technology and analyse the relationship between the two.
  4. Employ strong visual analysis skills, particularly in dealing with conceptual art.
  5. Undertake independent research and to present this research formally to others.
Reading List
Ascott, R. (2003) Telematic Embrace: Visionary Theories of Art Technology and Consciousness. Edited with an Essay by Edward A. Shanken, E. Berkeley: University of California Press.

W. Ross Ashby. (1960) Design for a Brain.

Jack Burnham (1968) 'Systems Esthetics'. Artforum. September, 1968.

María Fernández. 'Gordon Pask: Cybernetic Polymath' Leonardo,Vol. 41, No. 2 (2008), pp. 162-168

N. Katherine Hayles. 'Boundary Disputes: Homeostasis, Reflexivity, and the Foundations of Cybernetics'. Configurations 2.3 (1994) pp. 441-467

Heidegger, M. (1964) "The Question Concerning Technology", from Martin Heidegger: Basic Writings from "Being and Time" (1927) to "The Task of Thinking" (1964), rev. ed., edited by David Farrell Krell. Harper: San Francisco.
Hess, T. (1970) "Gerbils ex Machina". Art News. (December, 1970) p. 23.

Moffat, I. (2000) "A Horror of Abstract Thought': Postwar Britain and Hamilton's 1951 'Growth and Form' Exhibition'. In: October Vol. 94, The Independent Group, (Autumn, 2000), pp. 89-112

Reichardt, J. (1968) 'Cybernetic Serendipity: The Computer and the Arts'. Studio International (special issue) July, 1968. Studio International. London.

Edward A. Shanken (ed). (2015) Systems. Whitechapel/MIT Press
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills - Visual and critical analysis
- Independent research skills
- Presentation and communication skills
- Organisation and planning
Keywordscybernetics,art,technology,conceptual art,science,World War II
Course organiserMiss Catherine Sloan
Tel: (0131 6)51 5449
Course secretaryMrs Sue Cavanagh
Tel: (0131 6)51 1460
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