This paper proposes that today’s computational and generative arts are the legitimate inheritors of the 20th century traditions of constructivism, systems, conceptual and process art. Often formed from close collaborations between art, science and technology this field of work also exhibits important aspects of contemporary culture and thought, including emergence, non-linearity, hypermediation, interaction, networking, self-similarity, self regulation and so on. They are also one historical root of the contemporary science of artificial life.
The Golden Age
Artists and other creatives began to use some of the earliest computer systems. In 1951 Geoff Hill wrote a simple music generator to run on CSIRAC — Australia’s first computer. A year later Christopher Strachey wrote Loveletters, a generative text work which ran on the Ferranti Mark 1, the UK’s first commercially produced computer system, at Manchester University.
By the early 1960’s visual artists including Michael Noll, Bill Fetter, Freider Nake and Chuck Csuri had begun to employ digital computers and pen plotters to make their work. In 1965 Max Bense curated the first exhibition of computer art featuring the work of Georg Nees at the Studiengalerie der Techischen Hochschule in Stuttgart. A few months later Nees and Nake showed their work at Stuttgart’s Galerie Wendelin Niedlich. By 1968 Jasia Reichardt could curate Cybernetic Serendipity at London’s then-new ICA Gallery as the first historical survey of the field. The same year Jack Burnham wrote Beyond Modern Sculpture where he suggested that the future of the discipline was autonomous, reactive and interactive “life-simulation systems”.
Burnham’s own show Software — Information Technology: Its New Meaning for Art was held at The Jewish Museum in New York in 1970. It was intended to draw parallels between conceptual art and theories of information such as cybernetics, systems theory and formal languages. Across town at the MoMA Kynaston McShine’s Information show was an eclectic and idiosyncratic mix of conceptual formalism, linguistic and information theories and socio-political activism. Although some artists participated in both shows their ethos was distinctly different. Burnham proposed a revolutionary new direction for art along with the adoption of methodologies that would have closely aligned it with science and technology. McShine adopted a more traditionalist concept of the arts and Information included aspects of science and technology within an appropriative framework that proposed a different revolution and arguable one that was more acceptable for the conservative artworld.
Paul Brown (UK/Australia) Biography
Visiting Professor, University of Sussex, UK
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