[-empyre-] the paradox between control and losing control - isaac mao

Melinda Rackham melinda at subtle.net
Sun Nov 21 16:12:59 EST 2010

hi -empyre-

my apologies for my low level of participation over the month as some  
unexpected commitments arose.  I've been going through our earlier  
discussions throughly and seeing how threads have emerged and bounced  
around and retired - media arts definition and development; cultural  
specificity v's western perspectives; localization v's international  
genre development; commercialization and the market; censorship and  
control; and briefly touching on aspects of politics and labour  
relations. I was hoping this month to neatly summarize these  
environmental aspects and get to talking about specific internodal  
activities between cities in China, between diasporas, the co-location  
of major figures in media arts  in China and North america or Europe,  
of western critics and collectors being drawn into China by the  
energetics of potential. As Kim Machan commented "it could only happen  
in China"

As I've been trawling through the archival information flagged by  
Robin Reckham and Li Zhenhua and Tim Murray I realize how little I  
know of the vast amount of emerging and experimental and cross  
discilpinay that have  been produced in all parts of China over the  
past 30 years - whether you label it new media or not. It was an  
impossible and misjudged task  to try and discuss such broad subject  
matter in such a short time when most of our non Mandarin speaking  
community don't have prior knowledge of, or access to this material.

Below I've reproduced one essay from our guest aaajiao's recent  
"Cybernetics" exhibition catalogue  by Isaac Mao. Mao with David  
Sasaki curated the Cloud Intelligence Symposium at Ars Electronica  
last year. Their sessions on cloud computing and cloud activism were  
*tweeted as "one of the hottest sessions of the week".  Curiously  
their curatorial statement ended with the words "Welcome to the new  
social ecology. Welcome to our shared intelligence, networked anxiety,  
and collective future. Welcome to the cloud."

This seems to me very much in the vein of Californian Ideology. Robin  
proposed the first wave of networked hype was not historically a part  
of media arts development in China.  Edward outlined how media arts  
development has been on fast forward since linkages began into 20th/ 
21st century international media art activities. The expectations of  
media artists  of global positioning certainly are very different in  
2010 than in 1995 when Feng Mengbo was fusing Chinese history and  
video culture in large paintings.

Although artist aaajiao hasn't posted we can feel his presence in the  
discussion, and his Cybernetics exhibition is a good example of the  
discourses being explored currently in theory and practice. Mao speaks  
about computing/cybernetics being about adaption rather than control-  
about systems theory and connected intelligence. Is media art part of  
of a greater whole which responds to feedback by small adjustments to  
increase or decrease flows towards sustainable goals. Are mobility of  
creative practitioners, cultural exchange and a collective future  
evolving into what will be know as Chinese Ideology?

the full Cybernetics .pdf catalogue is available at:




the paradox between control and losing control


by isaac mao

aaajiao is a neuron, same to everyone of us, but his function is unique.

he surprised me when he mentioned to me about his new curation named“  

which i suppose not many people understand that. many artists in  
china, as well the

whole world, know more about control whether from family, social or  
politics. it's quite normal

because it's not same training to them. i felt pressure as a trained  
engineer. not all the people i

know can link science, art and religion. mash them up? i think only  
aaajiao can handle.

when i was young reading the theory of weiner in chinese, i believed  
think the name of “control”

is disaster to the real meaning of cybernetics. it misled everyone  
that ‘cybernetics' is about

‘controlling', you know what's that mean in a communism country.  
amazingly, aaajiao use it now

as a metaphore to indicate our ‘harmonious' society, which is now  
losing control. the real spririt

of ‘cybernetics' is actually not controlling, but adapting.

early cybernetics is really about controlling. the most famous example  
of and navigating rockets.

we know the goal to launch a rocket, so we need a system to ensure it  
can reach the goal with

considering all kinds of possible influential factors. the goal is  
very clear, we can use positive

feedback and negative feedback to adjust. however, the doom of a  
rocket is to destroy itself. so

the perfect controlling of a rocket is to destroy it accurately. in  
the human being track, we had

many many big debate over the function of the “goal”. those many  
perfect ‘social dreams',

either communism or socialism, were designed as simple rocket, it's  
alwasy impossible to roll


let's associate the doom with chinese history which includes many  
failures, till today. there comes

a half-paradox, why a system with many dreams of accurate control  
ended up with always losing


controlling will end up with self-destroying. but cybernetics not.  
it's more than controlling, but

sustainable goals. in the extended researches along cybernetics, i  
love the model called viable

system model which developed by stafford beers in 1970s. in the vsm,  
the 5 sub-systems

show us the viability of a wholistic system, which then formed the  
core theories of managment

cybernetics guiding our social system. the basic principle of vsm is  
about variety and diversity.

the organizations with enough variety can survive itself. otherwise,  
it will destroy itself and all

components within it.o the next half-paradox is about how to keep  
individual units in a system in a status of free

will. the more diversified, the more order emerged in higher level.  
the whole system will be more

secure and sustainable. it's a safe control without control. it's a  
political wisdom every sparked

in chinese classic philosophies, however, it never been really adopted  
by rulers in history. arts can

change it in their works imaginatively.

the higher level of orders will be not definable by any single unit in  
a system, instead, it emerges

from evolution. the post-modern scientist, stuart koffman, cleary give  
us an image about

evolutionary god. in his book "reinventing the sacred", he argued that  
the ‘god' which supposed

to create everything is actually a evolutionary power. it takes  
effects on everything we have today,

from single cell to complicated society. the rules run in different  
layers all come from evolution and

pre-adoption. it quite match my theory on sharism.

sharism define every human as a social neuron, the more we connect to  
each, the more we see a

higher level of intelligence. someday we can see the effect of "social  
god", which is super powerful

beyond today's democracy, much more intelligent than totalitarian  
system. any single individual

can't understand the whole, however, they can feel the scared of the  
powerful intelligence.

i was curating ars electronica 2009 symposium with david sasaki. we  
defined "cloud intelligence"

as the them of the conference. those artists and scients gathered and  
exited about that because

it's just like artist like cloud the shape and scientists like the  
forming. it's very successful. one of

the speaker in the symposium is a pedagogist from canana whose name is  
stephen downes. you

can find his blogging histroy back to 10 years ago. he told me that  
religion is just like the mirror

of our future. in religion, the god created. in the future, we got  
another god from ourselves. so we

have a infant god now, which we will grow with him. we can feel the  
power of ourselves because

we are part of the god. the new god won't control us, it's just  

aaajiao is such a social neuron in the social god brain. he doesn't  
like to control, but caring more

about the meeting point in the peak of art and science. they share  
same peak, luckily.

(revised by li zhenhua)


isaac mao is a venture capitalist, software architect, and researcher  
from the people's

republic of china, known for co-founding ofcnblog.org and for his  
research in social learning.

he is the director of the social brain foundation and a vice president  
of the united capital

investment group.






地从科学哲学家 stuart koffman 的进化上帝学说得到阐 
述。在"reinventing the sacred" 中论及上






我在2009 策划奥地利电子艺术节研讨会时提出"云智慧 
"(cloud intelligence)作为主题,让科


研讨会异常成功,其中来自加拿大的教育学家 stephen  
downes 也是主讲者之一,和我谈到宗教




aaajiao 就是这样一个社会神经元,社会性上帝大脑的一 

何在山顶会合。 ( 校对:李振华 )

best wishes


Melinda Rackham
melinda at subtle.net

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