Media Histories: Europe

Computer Art vs. Computer Music. Different approaches to art & technology at the 1970 Venice Biennale by Francesca Franco/ Art and code: The aesthetic legacy of Aldo Giorgini by Esteban Garcia and David Whittinghill/ Oral history practices and undiscovered history of Polish computer art of the 1970's and 1980's by Joanna Walewska/ Imagining the Social Change: the Czech Discourse about Contemporary Art After 1989 by Jindra Veselska
Friday, 16 September, 2011 - 17:00 - 18:20
Chair Person: 
Burak Arıkan
Francesca Franco
Esteban Garcia
David Whittinghill
Joanna Walewska
Jindra Veselska

Computer Art vs. Computer Music. Different approaches to art & technology at the 1970 Venice Biennale

by Francesca Franco

1970 was a crucial year for the development and acceptance of computer art at the Venice Biennale. Between May and October 1970 the Venice Biennale organised two parallel events. One was the International Art Exhibition, held at the Giardini, which included the first computer art show at the Biennale; the other was the International Music Festival, held at the Fenice Theatre, which included the First Symposium of Avant-Garde and Computer Music.

Despite the presence of a number of international computer art pioneers such as Herbert Franke, Georg Nees, Frieder Nake, Auro Lecci, and the Computer Technique Group, the experimental art show at the Giardini was disappointing for several reasons (limited selection of computer artworks and lack of communication between the curators and a number of participating artists, to name a few).  On the contrary, as I would like to argue, the Music Festival offered artists more opportunities to communicate and disseminate their work. A series of debates, laboratories and round-tables created a prolific interdisciplinary environment where composers and theoreticians in the field of computer art and music could meet. Participants to the Symposium of Avant-Garde and Computer Music included, among others, John Cage, Earl Brown, Pietro Grossi, Morton Feldman, and Alan Sutcliffe (Computer Art Society, London). 

My paper will consider the two experimental Biennale’s events to discuss to what extent the institution reflected different approaches to computer art and music in the early 1970s. What consequences did these events bring about to the Biennale?

Art and code: The aesthetic legacy of Aldo Giorgini

by Esteban Garcia and David Whittinghill

In 1975 Aldo Giorgini developed a software program in FORTRAN called FIELDS that was a numerical visual laboratory devoted entirely to art production. Working extensively as both artist and scientist, Giorgini was one of the first computer artists that combined software writing with early printing technologies, leaving an aesthetic legacy in the field of the digital arts. His individual process was innovative in that it consisted of producing pen plotted drawings that were embellished by the artist’s hand with painting, drawing and screen-printing.

This paper is the product of a multi-year study of Giorgini’s primary source materials that were provided by his estate. We examine the methods used by Giorgini during the 1970s that allowed him to create computer aided art. We publish this work to ensure that future generations of digital artists, technologists and scientists can be educated and inspired by Giorgini’s contribution to the field of computer graphics.


Oral history practices and undiscovered history of Polish computer art of the 1970's and 1980's

by Joanna Walewska

This paper aims at being a contribution to current debates on writing history of media artand is based on a case study of the history of computer art in Poland in 1970's and 1980's. Thepoint of view of relationship between art and technology in Polish art practices is hardly takeninto consideration by contemporary art historians, who usually omit this current treating it asirrelevant to the mainstream narrative.

Currently, in Western Europe as well as in the United States, there is a number ofprojects which are aimed at reconstruction and documentation of computer art history. EasternEuropean computer art however seems to be still a kind of terra incognita. Such status quo isobviously a result of long-lasting geopolitical and intellectual division of Europe.

In this paper I would like to introduce my research project devoted to the Polishcomputer art history. I intend to reconstruct the history of this current (its assumptions, goals,artistic strategies, ideological involvement, etc.) by collecting snatches scattered throughoutPolish gallery archives. The project’s essential sources, however, are the interviews withartists who are still alive and willing to share with information which have never beenpublished, i.e. with technological details and information regarding the local context.

As an example, I would like to present works of three Polish artists, i.e. WincentyDunikowski-Duniko, Stanisław Dróżdż and Jan Pamuła. Their cases are interesting due to thefact that even though they were well-acquainted with the development of computer art inWestern Europe and the United States, they did not treat the computer as a medium. Theinterviews with Dunikowski, Pamuła, and Michał Bieganowski, Dróżdż’s close collaboratorprove that that they treated computer as a sort of sign of time, a romantic metaphor ofmodernity, or, in the best-case scenario, as a tool and point of reference for their works.

Therefore, by means of collecting the interviews, the history of art in the Soviet bloc canbe rewritten from a completely new standpoint.

Imagining the Social Change: the Czech Discourse about Ccontemporary Art After 1989

by Jindra Veselska

This paper is a sociological study of the process of mediatization of the cultural field of contemporary art. Its aim is to challenge the assumptions which saturated specialized discourses in 1990s in the context of media change. We can identify in then literature similar ways of expressing the claim that the Internet (and new technologies in general) will enable a radical social change [Holmes 2005].

In this paper I will focus on the emergence of the concept of new media in Czech discourse about contemporary art in 1990s. This period of Czech history was characterized by social and political transformation from communist to democratic regime after the revolutionary year 1989. In this historical situation the dominant narrative of information revolution [Winston 1998] was met with enthusiastic atmosphere of frequently discussed transformation. New media were considered as one of the tools that would help not only with constituting the new democratic social system, but also with democratization of contemporary art. With the emphasis on its interactive potencial, new media art was supposed to assist in „building a bridge between the contemporary art and the public“ [Hlavacek 1997]. 

The paper stems from sociology of technology and discourse studies. It is based on the assumption of social constructivist approach that technological change is driven by social processes rather than technological logic [Wajcman & MacKenzie 1999]. I will reflect the situation of media change as a social process, which has been already investigated in connection with electricity [Marvin 1988; Bazerman 1999],  wireless [Douglas 1987] or even aviation [Corn 1983]. I will analyse the Czech discourse about new media in specialized art journals from 1990 to 1999, focusing on narrative about information revolution in the context of social and political transformation. As I will argue, because of the assimilation of the concept of new media to the existing traditional discursive practices of contemporary art, the possibility of intended social change was in fact undermined.