Sunday, May 10, 2009

Semiautonomous Puppet Architectonics: Second order cybernetics and MosMax Hax

Posted by Alpha Auer

Cybernetics is the interdisciplinary study of regulatory systems, closely related to control theory and systems theory. Both in its origins and in its evolution in the second-half of the 20th century, cybernetics has been pronounced to be equally applicable to physical and social systems; preeminent whenever the system under scrutiny is involved in a closed signal loop: An action by the system in an environment causes some change to that environment and in it's turn that change is manifest to the system via information / feedback that causes the system to adapt to the new environmental conditions. Ergo, the system changes its behavior.

Cybernetic theory uses high level concepts such as order, organization, complexity, hierarchy, structure, information and control, investigating how these are manifested in systems of different types; allowing us to ask questions such as whether complexity tends to increase with time? How do the components differ from or connect to each other? How does the one transform into the other?

According to Cybernetic law, systems rely on feedback loops whereby outputs are fed back into the system as inputs, increasing or decreasing effects. While input can be defined as the result of the environment's influence on the system, output is constituted by the influence of the system on the environment. In every feedback loop information about the result of a transformation or an action is sent back to the system in the form of input data. If these new data facilitate and accelerate the transformation in the same direction as the preceding results, they are positive feedback - their effects are cumulative. If the new data produce a result in the opposite direction to previous results, they are negative feedback - their effects stabilize the system. In the first case there is exponential growth or decline; in the second there is maintenance of the equilibrium.

Yet another key concept in cybernetics revolves around control, which includes two subsystems: "the controller", and "the controlled", in perpetual interaction with one another. The controller may change the state of the controlled system in any way, including the destruction of it. A whole new twist is brought into the mix however, as soon as the word "observer" is substituted for the word "controller": In quantum mechanics the observer and the observed cannot be separated, and the result of observations will depend on their interaction. Thus the observer too is a cybernetic system, trying to construct a model of another cybernetic system. To understand this process, we need a "cybernetics of cybernetics", i.e. a "meta" or "second-order" cybernetics. Thus, second order cybernetics emphasizes autonomy, self-organization, cognition, and the role of the observer/controller in modeling a system, recognizing the observed system as an agent in its own right, interacting with another agent, i.e. the observer. This creates a closed system wherein the effect of the environment is minimized and the feedback loop takes input and output from within the system itself. Thus, self-organization is a process of evolution where the development of new, complex structures takes place primarily in and through the system itself, leading us to autopoiesis (self-production), the process by which a system recursively produces its own network of physical components, thus continuously regenerating its essential organization in the face of wear and tear.

MosMax Hax, "the system"
I have to say that I am approaching all of this with the utmost of care: These are heady, sexy concepts and terms which I have seen tossed around, alas all too often and often all too carelessly, during many an art paper/presentation that I have sat through wondering how they could possibly be related to what was under discussion on the table. Well yes, of course... Anything and everything under the sun does after all operate under cybernetic laws. We are all systems, relating to other systems and our environments, operating under the ceaseless give and take of feedback loops. So yes! Everything can indeed be related to cybernetics. However, shouldn't there be something peculiarly, if not downright dramatically pertinent to the matter at hand before the names of the likes of Pask, Varela and Maturana can even be evoked?

It seems to me that the artist Max Moswitzer/MosMax Hax justifies the analogy. And on two levels at that: Cybernetics as well as second order cybernetics.

Semiautonomous Puppet Architectonics, at Odyssey. Photograph courtesy of MosMax Hax

The precursors of the oeuvre of Whitenoise are already present in the very early video output of Moswitzer, who says that "of course in those days I was not so concerned about concepts". I would disagree on that: Yes, of course, nowhere near the level of sophistication in terms of the visual language of today. Nowhere near as coherent. Nonetheless, in the videos "Transformator"(1991) and "Die Ästhetik der Dekonstruktion" (1989) the seed of what is articulated today is already present. This is the cybernetic system of Max Moswitzer, a system influenced by a feedback loop between itself and it's environment. This system makes it's progression over the next two decades, picking up momentum on it's way, resulting in ever more startling manifestations such as the extraordinary collaborative project Nybble Engine of 2003 until it finds it's way into Second Life® in 2007. And it is here, in Second Life, that it undergoes the extraordinary transformation of folding into itself, merging with the law of second order cybernetics: A system in which the artist becomes the output, the observer, the observed, the controller and the controlled. The system that is MosMax Hax.

Semiautonomous Puppet Architectonics, at Odyssey. Photograph courtesy of MosMax Hax

I have had the privilege of being there during the development of Whitenoise, from the initial assembly of it's architectural infra-structure, originally at Klein and then later on at the archipelago of the Synthetic University (of which my island Syncretia is a part of), to the embodiment of it's population: The many avatars, manifesting as the multiple selves and facets of one individual. Never, throughout his extraordinary journey of self-observation, of the creation of a self-organizational system fragmenting itself into ever more inter-reliant and complex parts, have I seen MosMax become heavy handed with words, definitions and explanations. Never have I heard him pontificate or get pompous: All has come about naturally, spontaneously, through "play"; through the invention of games for which more and more "selves" seemed to be needed: Some communal, in which other autonomous "humans" also participated; but more often than not (and particularly over the past year) private, personal, solitary, "autopoietic" games involving multiple manifestations of the "one" human; games of which I was nonetheless aware given that I was in geographical proximity both on the Synthetic archipelago as well as at Klein during this time.

As far as I can tell, it is this constellation of highly individuated "player" alt avatars that has led to the rezzing of the many specialized non-player/actor alt avatars (which seem to me to be quite distinct from MosMax's individuated multiple selves in their functions). And it is these non-player alt avatars that are now gathered at Odyssey as the manifestation of an emergent, self-organizational system, one of whose components is the artist MosMax Hax. A complex architecture - a machine almost. A machine of boats, trucks and teddy bears in motion. A closer look however, reveals that this machine is operated through slender avatar limbs to which the components of the system are attached. Avatars and prims become one integrated whole, a complex self-organizational closed system; quite complete as a distinct entity, separated from the audience surrounding it through the impact of sheer differentiation presented in it's visual Gestalt. And very much in the center of it all is the creator, the observer, the one who in his turn becomes observed - affecting the outcome of the journey, given that after all, "Semiautonomous Puppet Architectonics" is only one stop in the long journey of Whitenoise. A visual manifestation of second order cybernetics par excellence, I would dare to suggest...

Semiautonomous Puppet Architectonics, at Odyssey. Photographs courtesy of MosMax Hax

MosMax Hax: An intellectual, an artist whose inner ruminations find expression not in the (oftentimes) lamentable inadequacy if not indeed downright banality of the spoken word but in a coherent/individuated visual language which winds itself like a red thread across decades of output, adapting itself from medium to medium, from environment to environment. It's current residence is in the virtual world of Second Life. Will it always be here? Given that Max Moswitzer would be unable to fragment his Real Life body as the visual manifestation of his psychic assemblage, the embodiment of second order cybernetics which I have tried to describe above, relies on "the avatar" for the realization of the autopoietic structure involved. Thus the "population" of Whitenoise is indeed something utterly "not possible in Real Life" and as such would appear to be destined to stay in the virtual realm. But as far the underlying virtually "physical" architecture of Whitenoise itself, I seriously doubt that Second Life is it's final location. A long curriculum vitae of significant achievements and recognition prior to his entry into Second Life, coupled with the substance of the output presented in Second Life since 2007, suggest that Moswitzer/Hax is a formidable visual artist of his generation; one whose work is certainly not limited to Second Life alone. Thus exporting his output from one domain into another (i.e., from the "virtual" to the "physical"); endowing it with the universality which is it's due, would be very much the next step. And this is a quest which he is actively pursuing, alas, to date with far from satisfactory results.

Whitenoise exported with present-day technology shown at "GAMES Kunst und Politik der Spiele", Vienna 2008. Photograph courtesy of MosMax Hax

A competent technology which will enable exporting the architecture of Whitenoise from Second Life into other domains will surely come, although it has to be added that it does seem to be taking it's sweet time coming. Meanwhile the many many facets of MosMax, the avatar population of Whitenoise, is here with us while Hax is already embroiled in new ideas, new play, new visual manifestations.


You can teleport to the location of Semiautonomous Puppet Architectonics at Odyssey directly from here.


bRYEnd_of_the_schtick said...

(^ all right alRIGHT already!
I wish to hook up with this one.
i have old notes I'd like input on.
a grid of terms that extrapolate grouping patterns to then generate new paths.
alias list batch scripting.
harder to talk about without actual human interaction but I'd try.