PERFORMANCE AS ACTION.
THE EMBODIED MIND
The book -in progress- addresses the concept of performance via a historical investigation of the dynamics observed between design and science through the lenses of cybernetic theories. It proposes a transdisciplinary and historical inquiry on the human-machine-environment recursive relationships.
The book instigates a layered approach to the theme. It includes on the one hand, essays and interviews from invited scholars and on the other hand, a series of drawings of historical cybernetic experiments.
The work maps parallel events relating design and cybernetic works and constructs a brief historical lineage of scientific approaches to design as they were manifested within design education in the US starting prior to WWII with a focus on the behavioral turn of the 1950s. The design methods movement which stemmed from the scientific and technological optimism of the postwar era looked at the design disciplines through rational scientific foundations. During the 1970s, philosophical and phenomenological critiques of these approaches would forcefully appear. The following generations of the design methods movement and the design thinking approach would “double the vector” and see science as a specific form of design inquiry; rather than apply science to design, science could be understood as a form of design activity, reversing the more usual hierarchy between the two.
From the 1940s-1960s cybernetic electromechanical “perception” devices set in demystifying the human brain to the design methods movement in architecture and its mutations, the book traces connections between traditionally disparate fields and reveals operations, tactics, and methods that situate the notions of performance and adaptation. Via unfolding the dynamics observed between scientific methods and design processes, the book reveals a continuous evolution towards softening harsh dichotomies as proclaimed in the beginnings of each of these parallel theories and practices. These dichotomies refer to early rational approaches that tried to set a base for studying complex systems -from the human body to society- via splitting the body and the mind, the biological brain and the self, and via creating harsh distinctions between reason and subjectivity, sense and sensibility, representation and action, embodied and abstracted cognition.
In the book, perception machines created by the 1st and 2nd generations of cyberneticians, such as Gray Walter, Ross Ashby, Stafford Beer and Gordon Pask amongst others, are documented and analyzed via a series of drawings capturing the ways these systems interacted with their environment. The resulting graphic documentation will serve as a comprehensive resource to support the scholarly and the design work done around these themes and will make these "proto-computational" experiments understood and accessible. The work raises awareness on the present responsive environments’ potential by looking back at the technical apparatuses that their first manifestations relied on.
The book is currently in progress. It has been awarded the Seed Grant for the 2020-2021 cycle from the office of Applied Research at Thomas Jefferson University.