Panel: Arabesque, Mandala, Algorithm: A Long History of Generative Art
John Whitney and James Whitney began with random dots. Computer processing repeated, rearranged, and recombined these dots into figures, generating precise, strobing patterns, which they presented as films, with titles like Lapis and Permutations. These films, from the 1960s and 70s, pointed toward a future for “machine-realized art” that sidestepped traditional concepts and habits of representation. Indeed, according to the Whitneys, their early films sought to destroy “the particular of representation” through a concept of serial permutation by which a form could be “juxtaposed dynamically against itself through retrogression, inversion, and mirroring.” This paper will examine the work of the Whitneys’, across several generations of computers, as articulating a critique of hegemonic representation. This critique is founded in a practice of repetition and difference that steps outside the hierarchies of representation. The repeating forms created by the strobing dots subvert representational self-presence as they generate an expansive, proliferating difference, to be experienced rather than accounted for—a difference which offers an alternative way of seeing with the computer.
- Zabet Patterson specializes in the history and theory of digital media with a particular emphasis on the intersection of computational media and art in the postwar period. Her publications include ‘Consuming Fantasy in the Digital Era’, in Pornography On/Scene, a collection edited by Linda Williams, as well as forthcoming articles on Jim Campbell and John and James Whitney. She is presently Assistant Professor in Art at Stony Brook University, and a member of the Consortium for Digital Arts, Culture, and Technology (cDACT).