[ISEA2011] Panel: Zabet Pat­ter­son – The Cy­ber­netic Cin­ema of the Whit­neys

Panel Statement

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).