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The Autonomous Eye: Cybernetics, Perception, and Bio-politics

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Abstract:

In 1959, in the midst of the Cold War, the preeminent designers Charles and Ray Eames produced an installation for the United States Information Agency of novel scope and aesthetics. A massive seven screen installation within a vast cavern built by the famous American architect and cybernetician, Buckminster Fuller, the piece was to be part of the first “cultural exchange” between the United States and the USSR.
Here, at this site, many new forms of presentation were paraded. As audiences were shown a novel form of multi-screen presentation, Nikita Khrushev and Richard Nixon debated the variable merits of American and Soviet kitchen design and technology in front of the new television cameras. Beneath the multimedia spectacle was displayed Edward Steichen’s “the Family of Man”, a photographic essay demonstrating human biological diversity and equivalence through tropes of heterosexual reproduction and nuclear family.
A “totally new type of presentation”, in the words of Charles and Ray, the installation was envisioned as a “letter” between two cities in a world where writing would no longer suffice. In the face of this imagined textual collapse, the designers believed visual images might serve as a new mode of human interaction. 2200 images were shown on seven screens for 13 minutes. The piece was edited by a pioneer in digital cinema heavily influenced by cybernetics—John Whitney—and the theory behind its construction was based on communication theory and the feedback theories of psychiatrist Kenneth Craik. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people saw it. Rumor has it that even Khrushev upon seeing the movie may have wept. Everyone, according Fuller, “had tears in their eyes as they came out” of the opening show. Ray Eames called it an “affective” experience.
This scene introduces three linked concepts as related to governmentality—new media formations, novel ideas about cognition, vision, and perception, and communications theories and cybernetics. But the scene also reveals older histories of nation and population upon which this architecture of affect and attention is layered. These information displays cannibalize an archive of older normative tropes of biology, sexuality, race, and gender while producing entirely new modes of attention.
It is my intention to interrogate this historical relationship between communication science, neuroscience, and design to produce an account of transformations in techniques of governmentality. Starting with this scene in 1959, and linking these designers to cybernetically influenced researchers in neuroscience, cognitive science, and the social sciences, I develop an account of how racial, gendered, and national difference were reconfigured at this moment of history through new strategies of information design and multimedia spectacle; a politics of attention enacted through an emergent discourse of information and encoded into new architectures of both knowledge and media.
By examining attitudes to the mind, machine, government, and eye together, I trace how perception and power were logistically reconfigured in communication science with broad implications for how we will think about the political and the aesthetic in relationship to digital media and technology.
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Name: American Studies Association Annual Meeting
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http://www.theasa.net


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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p509190_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Halpern, Orit. "The Autonomous Eye: Cybernetics, Perception, and Bio-politics" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hilton Baltimore, Baltimore, MD, <Not Available>. 2014-11-25 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p509190_index.html>

APA Citation:

Halpern, O. "The Autonomous Eye: Cybernetics, Perception, and Bio-politics" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hilton Baltimore, Baltimore, MD <Not Available>. 2014-11-25 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p509190_index.html

Publication Type: Internal Paper
Abstract: In 1959, in the midst of the Cold War, the preeminent designers Charles and Ray Eames produced an installation for the United States Information Agency of novel scope and aesthetics. A massive seven screen installation within a vast cavern built by the famous American architect and cybernetician, Buckminster Fuller, the piece was to be part of the first “cultural exchange” between the United States and the USSR.
Here, at this site, many new forms of presentation were paraded. As audiences were shown a novel form of multi-screen presentation, Nikita Khrushev and Richard Nixon debated the variable merits of American and Soviet kitchen design and technology in front of the new television cameras. Beneath the multimedia spectacle was displayed Edward Steichen’s “the Family of Man”, a photographic essay demonstrating human biological diversity and equivalence through tropes of heterosexual reproduction and nuclear family.
A “totally new type of presentation”, in the words of Charles and Ray, the installation was envisioned as a “letter” between two cities in a world where writing would no longer suffice. In the face of this imagined textual collapse, the designers believed visual images might serve as a new mode of human interaction. 2200 images were shown on seven screens for 13 minutes. The piece was edited by a pioneer in digital cinema heavily influenced by cybernetics—John Whitney—and the theory behind its construction was based on communication theory and the feedback theories of psychiatrist Kenneth Craik. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people saw it. Rumor has it that even Khrushev upon seeing the movie may have wept. Everyone, according Fuller, “had tears in their eyes as they came out” of the opening show. Ray Eames called it an “affective” experience.
This scene introduces three linked concepts as related to governmentality—new media formations, novel ideas about cognition, vision, and perception, and communications theories and cybernetics. But the scene also reveals older histories of nation and population upon which this architecture of affect and attention is layered. These information displays cannibalize an archive of older normative tropes of biology, sexuality, race, and gender while producing entirely new modes of attention.
It is my intention to interrogate this historical relationship between communication science, neuroscience, and design to produce an account of transformations in techniques of governmentality. Starting with this scene in 1959, and linking these designers to cybernetically influenced researchers in neuroscience, cognitive science, and the social sciences, I develop an account of how racial, gendered, and national difference were reconfigured at this moment of history through new strategies of information design and multimedia spectacle; a politics of attention enacted through an emergent discourse of information and encoded into new architectures of both knowledge and media.
By examining attitudes to the mind, machine, government, and eye together, I trace how perception and power were logistically reconfigured in communication science with broad implications for how we will think about the political and the aesthetic in relationship to digital media and technology.


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