CACHE Computer Art Context History Etc

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From 2002 to 2005
Vasari Multimedia Lab, Dept. of HAFVM,
University of London

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New online: archived copies of PAGE magazine

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Historical Background

From the mid-1960s there was a strong current of Art and Technology in the UK, which was supported by developments elsewhere such as the American group Experiments in Art and Technology (EAT). In this phase, Computer Art was but one aspect of this more general artistic interest in the potentials for technology. However, partly as a result of the highly successful show Cybernetic Serendipity at the ICA in 1968, computer-based art began to follow new directions suggested by its computational origins.

The major feature of computer art was that it involved artists working with engineers (or learning to comprehend the computer) at a time when computer graphics was itself at a formative stage. Moreover, the complexity and rarity of computers at that time meant that any artform based around them was bound to be a specialised branch of art; yet one with very open-ended possibilities.

Much of this work did not take place in traditional art spaces; indeed, these artists tended to be associated with new groups such as the Slade School's Department of Experimental and Electronic Art. Others moved forward on their own; in the face of much official disinterest, these artists tried to develop a computer-specific aesthetic.

The Computer Arts Society was one of the most influential British computer art groups. It was founded in 1968, followed by an inaugural exhibition, Event One, in March 1969 at the RCA. George Mallen, Alan Sutcliffe and Lansdown set up CAS as an offshoot of the British Computer Society, to further the use of computers by artists. CAS flourished through the 1970s and early 80s. Its magazine PAGE featured major British and international computer artists, and hosted some fundamental discussions as to the aims and nature of Computer Art.

CAS encouraged artists to see the computer as a format for experimentation. Rather than simply reproducing other styles of art, wholly new artforms could be created. A wide range of images and approaches is evident in the CAS archive, which preserves many original pieces of computer art.

Other avenues were explored by Edward Ihnatowicz, a pioneer of computer- operated sculpture who not only exhibited at Cybernetic Serendipity, but developed the Senster, a much larger piece, for Philips' ongoing exhibition Evoluon in 1971. Ihnatowicz demonstrated that 'computer art' need not be limited to productions on paper or animations: he animated materials through computer control, producing very striking results.

The surviving artwork from this time falls into three main categories: works on paper; film and photographic records of demonstrations; and surviving code which, as the 'material' component of the artwork should be regarded as a record in its own right. Additionally there are a few surviving sculptures (the giant Senster, alas, is rusting quietly in a Dutch field) and paintings. There are also archives of many contemporary publications, much ephemera including letters; and of course much surviving artwork.

Other organisations and individual artists were working with computers at this time, and we hope to draw on the wealth of personal and often unrecorded knowledge that these sources can contribute. We are very fortunate in having access to all these resources.

CACHe's work includes tracing and contacting the pioneers from this time, or their families. In all cases, we are trying to build up a comprehensive picture of 1960s and 1970s computer art in the UK. One of our main aims is to show how closely Computer Art was connected to the major cultural and artistic currents of its time. Our principal goal is to recover these interesting artforms and demonstrate their historical and aesthetic value.