The V&A museum in London is running the excellent Decode exhibition but tucked away from the crowds is the rather lovely Digital Pioneers exhibition. As you can imagine, it starts to outline how computer art has progressed – from it’s inception to the mid 80’s.
The background to the exhibition is that the V&A acquired two very large collections of computer art (one from Patric Prince) as they are the only museum building an archive of work. This is a startling admission and great work to the V&A for recognising that computers can make art not just be used to make art.
The collection from Patric Prince has a brilliant backstory. Patric was the husband of Robert Holzman who worked at the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab in the 70’s. You wouldn’t associate NASA and computer art, but back in the 60’s and 70’s computers were enormous number crunching machines housed mainly in Universities and specialised businesses. The story goes that at the NASA jet propulsion lab, some of the research involved pioneering computer graphics and this grew into the lab having a dedicated computer artist (David Em). Many artists would use the machines to generate their art and there were times where Patric was picking up discarded pieces of work from the floor to file and keep.
People might regard many of the works as primitive in execution, but many of the artworks were created through incredibly crude, laborious and almost ‘blind’ processes. Other artists modified equipment for their own needs and Desmond Paul Henry actually used old WWII mechanical bombsight computers to create his works.
Here are some highlights.
Charles Csuri – ‘Random War’ – 1967
Paul Brown – ‘A-B Modulars’ – 1977
Leon Harmon and Ken Knowlton – ‘Studies in Perception’ – 1997
The digital pioneers exhibition runs till April 25th at the V&A London.