Tsaibernetics: transgenerational cybernetic art

Łaźnia Centre for Contemporary Art

Gdańsk, Poland

July 21 - December 3, 2023

Curator: Ryszard W. Kluszczyński

"The fate of a civilization is first of all determined by its regulatory influences on its feedback with Nature." --Stanislaw Lem, Summa Technologiae, University of Minnesota Press, 2013, p. 87

"Tsaibernetics" reveals how cybernetics continues to play an important role in the transgenerational practice of the Tsai family. Wen-Ying Tsai was a pioneer sculptor who began making cybernetic artworks in New York in the 1960s; his twin sons London Tsai and Ming Tsai continue this tradition in their work. Once a promising scientific and social movement, cybernetics was over time eclipsed by information theory and artificial intelligence. For the Tsais, the fundamental cybernetic concepts of feedback and homeostasis remain guiding principles; their de-emphasis in our digital information age has had immense repercussions for humanity. Ironically, cybernetics represents the road not taken.

Wen-Ying Tsai decided to call his art practice Tsaibernetics to underscore the important role of cybernetics in his interactive kinetic sculptures. The latter term was coined by Norbert Wiener in the late 1940s and for a couple decades it was an important scientific discipline that also captured the imagination of non-scientists, artists, musicians, and freethinkers.

Wen-Ying's sculptures are cybernetic systems wherein the viewer represents the disruptor: their clapping, singing, or yelling perturb the system into a chaotic excited state, but in their silent absence the feedback system returns to its calm undulating homeostatic state. This reveals the artist's confidence that systems will automatically return to a balanced state if only participants would cease interfering.

For London Tsai and his generation, the promise of homeostasis has remained unfulfilled, instead the world continues to spin out of control. This has led him to create a series of Rotary works whose feedback systems are inverted: the viewer encounters a mysterious spinning object; their intervention reveals the underlying structure, but only for a brief moment before the structure once again spins wildly away. The sentiment is that homeostasis is elusive and requires continued energetic and active participation to achieve. Curiously, this is analogous to creative insight as continued mental effort affords us brief glimpses into its hidden substructure.

Ming Tsai’s research and development of air pollution sensing and control systems has–to his surprise–turned out to have decidedly cybernetic features. Shifting from academia to found his start-up Atlas Sensing Labs, Ming is appreciating the accelerated rate of feedback to his work. In his words:

Cybernetics appears in my air quality systems. These sense complex indoor air environments to reveal the invisible, and dynamically control devices to bring about healthy living spaces.