A cybernetic Ecology (2016) was an Arts Council England supported exhibition that saw the different ideas in ColourNet (2012) and Transformations (2013) brought together in a clear and coherent way. The title of the exhibition comes from a poem by Richard Brautigan entitled "All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace" (1967) in which the poet imagines a world when animals and machines coexist harmoniously.
The exhibition represented my final transition from video-based artworks to a more minimal style. The main artwork (collaborative pieces with Ernest Edmonds, Esther Rolinson and Genetic Moo and prints were also included) consisted of 625 unique colours that were passed between 25 colour-sorting systems via the internet. Artworks in the exhibition were located at the LCB Depot in Leicester, the Phoenix Art Centre in Leicester and in my studio.
The screen-based pieces in the exhibition were powered by small computers and were accompanied by static representations of the systems to form triptychs. Each screen contained a rule that placed any incoming colour into the correct position using a sorting process. Once fully sorted, the artwork would swap one of its colours with another artwork and begin sorting itself again.
Seen as individual artworks, each computer-controlled screen in A Cybernetic Ecology (2016) is an open system, with inputs and outputs, a pattern defined by a sorting rule and a sorting process. Seen as a single artwork (across multiple locations), the collection of screens form a closed system, with a fixed pool of 625 colours passing between them. See the About page on this website for an explanation of the terminology I use.
In the build-up to A Cybernetic Ecology (2016), there were a number of showings of work that would inform the final exhibition. In 2014 I was asked by Ernest Edmonds to show a Transformations piece in the Automatic Art exhibition at the GV Art Gallery in London. This exhibition saw me exhibiting alongside many of my influencers, including Stephen Scrivener, Paul Brown, Harold Cohen and Ernest Edmonds himself.
The GV Art exhibition also encouraged me to focus on the visual aspects of my work. The resulting piece, System One (2014), was the first Transformations artwork where I felt that the systemic nature of the artwork was matched with its visual aesthetic. In the piece, which ran on a large computer screen, the left-hand image is arranged by lightness and the right is arranged by hue. I used a sorting rule to order the colours, which were initially selected from a rule-based constrained palette.
With the static image for the Automatic Art exhibition catalogue, I happened to capture System One (2014) at a point when the left-hand image was mostly reds and greens and the right-hand image contained most of the blues. This was unintended, but it does add an interesting asymmetry to the image.
I showed prototypes of artworks that would form A Cybernetic Ecology (2016) simultaneously in July at the BCS HCI'16 conference in Bournemouth and the EVA'16 conference in London. Together with the pieces in my studio in Leicester, this network of artworks demonstrated that my connecting infrastructure was reliable. Artworks in all three locations swapped colours and sensors were used so that user interactions in one location would trigger changes to the screens in another. This technology would go on to become artThings.
The original System One (2014) image (as included in the Automatic Art exhibition catalogue) is available as an A4 (210mm x 297mm, 8 1/4in x 11 3/4in) signed archival print for £30/€35/$40 each. You can place an order on the Sales page. Larger sizes and custom generated versions are available on request.