March 30, 2008
The art of Gordon Pask

The Colloquy of Mobiles

It’s difficult to separate Pask’s theories and art however thats what I’m going to do across this and the next post.

The Colloquy of Mobiles (image above, diagram below and two videos here and here) created by Pask for the 1968 exhibition Cybernetic Serendipity held at the ICA in London is to date one of the earliest interactive / networked art works, along with Heart Beats Dust by Jean Dupuy, that I have managed to find. According to the cross print / web publication Media Art Net The Colloquy of Mobiles:

was a reactive, educable, computer-based system composed of five mobiles. By way of light and sound, the rotating elements suspended from the ceiling communicated with each other, independent of external influences. Using flashlights and mirrors, the people at the exhibition could nevertheless take part in the conversation between the machines. With this installation, Pask brought to a conclusion his idea for an “aesthetic potential environment”. To give significance to the communication between the machines, Park designed the “Colloquy of Mobiles” as a social system.

The Colloquy of Mobiles diagram

The work alludes to a small ecosystem of creatures, male and female, within their environment. These creatures interact with each other both directly and through their environment yet can also be acted on from outside their environment by us, the user. This type of idea, an interactive and networked programmed ecosystem, would later become very popular with new media artists in the 80′s and 90′s such as Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau, Ken Rinaldo and even very recently Scenocosme.

The Universal Constructor

The Universal Constructor (image above of an early version) consisted of ‘intelligent’ cubes which could learn about their position in relation to other cubes, their overall configuration:

Each cube in turn examines each of its faces, and if another cube is found a message is sent back and control is transferred from cube to adjacent cube until an exhaustive search is completed…This meant that it was possible to build an architectural model with toy bricks and to interrogate it by means of a controlling processor: the result was a virtual model from which complete drawings, perspectives and calculations could be produced.

Pask stated that here he was:

not interested in the argument about whether computers are actually intelligent, alive or conscious, but as a mental exercise it it interesting to consider a building to be conscious at least in the sense of being able to anticipate the implications of its actions, as any good environmental control system should be able to do.

It seems appropriate to be revisiting Pask’s work for numerous reasons:

  • The series of exhibitions over the last year on Pask.
  • The excitement during the 60′s around exhibitions and events such as the Cybernetic Serendipity exhibition, the numerous Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) events which formally started two years previous to this in 1966 and the Software exhibition at the Jewish Museum in 1970
  • The re-emerging interest in these initial endeavours recently added to by the announcement on numerous weblogs and mailing lists about the Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T) Revisited exhibition, panel, performances and screenings.

More information about The Colloquy of Mobiles here, on the Cybernetic Serendipity exhibition here, information on the documentation produced by the Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T) here and on the Software exhibition here.

Posted by: Garrett @ 1:18 am
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March 29, 2008
Gordon Pask

Gordon Pask

An announcement came through Rhizome news yesterday about an exhibition entitled Pask Present in Vienna until 04/04/08 at the Atelier Färbergasse. Apart from never having heard of Gordon Pask (images above), a huge oversight on my part, the exhibition seems to be one of several exhibitions, including Maverick Machines (video below) in 2007, which have looked at the effect / impact Pask has had on new media arts and reflects the research of a considerable number of artists. There will be more to follow here on different works and theories by Pask.

Posted by: Garrett @ 6:26 pm
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March 26, 2008
The networked art of Mary Flanagan


Two networked art works by Mary Flanagan. Ineffable (image above, video below) is a software work which reads emails between two correspondents and maps the use of language to explore the questions:

How are different kinds of language, and thus sounds, used in correspondences with different people? How do we “sound” to those reading our emails, and how does the email of others sound to us?

The mappings of the emails structure, phoneme’s syllables etc. are displayed as visuals and sound. To do this:

[ineffable] collects chronological information, time between emails, length of correspondence, and most importantly, the kinds of phonetic sounds used by a correspondent in his or her writing and generates a sonification and visualization of this content. Written in Java, [ineffable] analyzes a user’s emails to or from a particular person and maps the language used by examining the phonemic makeup of the words utilized in the correspondence. The work “reads” a pair of user’s email archives and, side by side, analyzes the words therein, grouping them based on the recipient, date, time elapse between correspondences, overall amount of correspondence. Most importantly, we have the program find a “sound signature” to the words used in words, paragraphs, sentences and finally, the overall email set.

Phage & Collection

Phage (image above left) and Collection (image above right) bear strong resemblances to each other and seem like a reworking of what is essentially the same software. Phage creates sculptural spaces from the content of your hard drive. It is:

is a computer application which is viral– an artificial life form. [phage] filters through all available material on a specified workstation and places it in an alternate context-a visible and audible moving 3D spatialized world. I encourage this virus lifeform to spread via email (but only by the consent of the host)…By mapping a user’s unique experiences– through images, downloads, web sites visited, emails–the computer program creates spatial memory maps that not only reflect the computer and technoculture in content, but the user’s artifacts from his or her interactions. In this way, the [phage] program reflects each user as an individual. The work, in fact, becomes about the user’s experience with the particular computer.

Collection creates similar sculptural spaces but by a different means, it:

gathers up found material from various users’ hard drives and collects them on a centralized server. Going from computer to computer, [collection] scours drives and collects bits and pieces of user’s data – sentences from emails, graphics, web browser cached images, business letters, sound files-and creates a mobile mix of user experiences, operating system files, and normally hidden materials… [collection] is significant because it calls into question the nature of memory as a network through its allegorical use of the internet as a collective memory space. By mapping a user’s, or group of users’, unique experiences-through images, downloads, web sites visited, emails-it creates spatial memory maps that not only reflect the computer and technoculture in content, but the user’s artifacts from his or her interactions.

Posted by: Garrett @ 8:17 pm
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March 24, 2008


Datapainting is a website with a series of generative works by Yann Le Guennec which use data in their creation and explore some of the image generating possibilities of php, something rarely used (or at least highlighted) to artistic ends.

Each picture is a dynamic composition which results from a program. In programs, some parameters vary randomly or according to data suitable for the moment and the technical context in which the picture generation takes place. Each picture is thus a representation in the field of possibles ones created by the code. Each image is then an element of an infinite and disordered series.

Here is a short selection of some of the more interesting works. Flickr Mixr (image above) creates pictures live from Flickr feeds.


Statvis (image above), similar in principle to the rhizome logo (an art work in itself) is:

a set of artistic visualizations that are based on the IP numbers of online visitors. the main principle is that the numerical values of the IP address is mapped onto the values of red, green, or blue in the RGB space, & onto the spatial positions of the visual elements. the number of times the same IP connects provides additional cues such as circle size, line width & so on.

In IPlog:

IP addresses are extracted from access_log files and transformed into superposed polygons.

Datascapes Generator

Datascapes Generator (image above) is a mixture of the generative scripts employed in other works on the site:

synthesized in a single online interface. Input-gallery contains photos from installations, output-gallery contains datascapes generated by users from input-gallery and a set of filters, using for example Apache log files or texts from mails currently circulating on the network.

Posted by: Garrett @ 12:44 pm
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March 22, 2008
Alison Mealey’s mappings / remappings

Some more on mapping, this time two related works by Alison Mealey.

Unreal art

Unreal Art (images above) are a series of drawings (predominantly portraits) made with Processing based on Unreal Tournament bots movement through a level design and created by the artist.

All artworks have been created using data from the game “Unreal Tournament”. Each image represents about 30 mins of gameplay in which the computers AI plays against itself. There are 20-25 bots playing each game and they play custom maps which I create. Each map has been specially designed so that the AI bots have a rough idea of where to go in order to create the image I want. I log the position (X,Y,Z) of each bot, every second using a modification for the game, I also log the position of a death. I then run my own program written in Processing to create printable postscript files of that match.


Marked (images above) or Marked for Destruction uses movement and position in Unreal Tournament to affect ‘real’ world space, essentially mapping / connecting ‘virtual’ and ‘real’ spaces.

This project came about after much investigation into locative media and GPS related artworks.

While the game Unreal Tournament (2004) was being played I was collecting the positions of every player. I wanted to re-create the level using only areas that had been walked upon… disgarding [sic] areas which were not utilised.

In essence I was taking what could be considered as GPS data and using it to effect the environment it was taken from…The next stage of the project was to make these virtual waypoints effect our own environment. I wanted to physically map the games environment onto our own, while attempting to keep some of the games characteristics…Something that monumentally effects our environment in the way that in Unreal the position points effectively destroyed most of the level.

I ultimately settled for tethered helium balloons to demonstrate how our environment can be effected by positional data. The balloons re-produced the sense of gameplay and retained a feeling of movement and action due peoples interactions with them. The balloons were positioned outside in a residential area.

Posted by: Garrett @ 10:50 pm
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