Richard Hamilton: 1922-2011

I was saddened to hear of the death of Richard Hamilton a couple of days ago. Although I never managed to meet him, his ideas were an important part of my research into the origins of computer arts & ideas in Britain. He is remembered as the father of Pop Art, but less often discussed are his early activites which had an important bearing on the development of digital art in Britain. He had a broad vision of the artist unconfined to one discipline who could think across outmoded divisions in the arts. He ran a groundbreaking course in Basic Design with Victor Pasmore within the fine art department of King’s College, University of Durham at Newcastle-upon-Tyne (early 1950s). This was the most radical and progressive art education available in Britain at the time and was of central importance in creating a context for later developments in computer arts in this Country.

This is Tomorrow catalogue for an exhibition of the same name at the Whitechapel, 1956
This is Tomorrow catalogue for an exhibition of the same name at the Whitechapel, 1956

Hamilton was also involved with the avant-garde exhibition This is Tomorrow at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1956. The catalogue of this show contains what I believe is the first published allusion to the computer in relation to artistic practice in Britain.

Hear a good obit on BBC Radio 4, including an interview with Michael Craig Martin who says Richard was fascinated with everything to do with modern technology.

David Hockney: I’m very busy painting England

It was good to hear David Hockney speak of his love of nature when interviewed forBBC’s Front Row tonight. He said that England was a beautiful country and we should all get out more and see it. He also called for a return to studying the discipline of drawing in art schools, as it teaches artists how to look. A show of his landscape painting, mostly of Yorkshire, will be at the Royal Academy next year. Also on view will be drawings from his iPad series and I hope to be able to feature one of these in my column Computer Art Image of the Month next year.

A Sense of Place

Un_Space Mountain, digitally manipulated image by Orly Aviv, 2011
Un_Space Mountain, digitally manipulated image by Orly Aviv, 2011

A ghostly, lone figure appears out of the mist as if something half-remembered from a dream in September’s artwork by Orly Aviv. It’s an image with strong representational, even narrative elements; although the typography of the original location is subsumed the work manages to create a real sense of place. It is a reinterpretation of the Sublime facilitated by the artist’s use of digital technologies. Read the full text here: http://www.bcs.org/content/conWebDoc/41489

A Magical Forest That Reacts To Your Presence

Alsos* (installation view) by Scenocosme, 2011. Copyright the artists, reproduced with permission.
Alsos* (installation view) by Scenocosme, 2011. Copyright the artists, reproduced with permission.

Currently on view at Waterman’s in London is this recreation of an imaginary forest by French art duo Scenocosme (Grégory Lasserre & Anaïs met den Ancxt) which aims to turn spectators into apprentice musicians. Read the full article here: http://www.bcs.org/content/conWebDoc/41054

Light Constructed by Numbers

This month’s image is a selection of stills from an interactive digital artwork by French artist Anne-Sarah Le Meur, who is interested in questions such as: How does light behave in a virtual space, constructed only by numbers? How do these numbers allow one to play, to disturb, to possibly twist physical laws of light, when one is not looking to simulate realistic phenomena? Read the full text here: http://www.bcs.org/content/conWebDoc/40701

Still images of Red to Come, performance (30 minutes), computer rendered, by Anne-Sarah Le Meur, 2011
Still images of Red to Come, performance (30 minutes), computer rendered, by Anne-Sarah Le Meur, 2011

Report from the Venice Biennale

The 54th Venice Biennale (titled ILLUMInations  get it?!) is, as to be expected vast but manages to be largely underwhelming, full as it is of found objects, re-positioned, a la Duchamp. However there are some gems to be uncovered spread around the city, if your feet can take the seemingly unending strain.

The prize for Best Artist, rightly in my opinion, went to Christian Marclay for The Clock, 2010 (previously shown in London). The artist has made a composite of film clips that show clocks and watches; he runs these in real time  so if it’s 3.30 pm we might see a clip starring, let’s say, Tom Hanks’ acting in a film in which the fictional time is 3.30; a minute later we might see Nicholas Cage (from a different film) looking at his watch and it’s 3.31. The artist must have used literally thousands of clips from old, middling and current movies; some last a few seconds, others maybe a minute. As an artwork it works on several different levels: It is incredibly seductive to watch. And fun to try and spot the films from which his clips are taken. Marclay also manages to run a loose narrative  people from several different films clips run up stairs, for example, or it rains for several minutes  in a couple different clips. Even people who don’t like art seem to love it. The time involved to produce this, not to mention the skill, is seriously impressive. Can we please have a DVD, so we can watch the entire 24 hours at home?

Here are some more of my highlights:

The Japanese pavilion displays animation by Tabaimo (Ayako Tabata) a young artist inspired by traditional floating world woodblock illustration and contemporary manga imagery. The result is an imaginary city invaded by a creeping sense of unease; at one point a hair-like mass takes over the city a subversion of her inspirations, but a work that still manages a pleasing aesthetic.

Tabaimo, “teleco-soup” still image, 2011 video installation
Tabaimo, teleco-soup still image, 2011 video installation

At the Guggenheim Collection (the former home of American art dealer-patron Peggy Guggenheim), is a show of New York dealer/curator Ileana Sonnabend. A delicate Sol LeWitt wall drawing joins a host of other exquisite things collected by Sonnabend during the 60s and 70s, all of which have a connection with Venice (where she too had a home). Wonderful to see this historic stuff exhibited in the same city as the cutting-edge Biennale art, but makes me wonder if we’ll pay to see the work of today displayed in 40 years time.

Sol LeWitt, Arcs From Four Corners, 1971
Sol LeWitt, Arcs From Four Corners, 1971

Apart from the official exhibitions, many other Venice museums and institutions mount shows during the months of the Biennale. To my mind one of the most rewarding of these for the art lover is at the Palazzo Fortuny (entitled TRA. Edge of Becoming). Here on view is a wonderful kinetic art work by Davide Boriani (b. 1936) from the early 60s  Superficie magnetica. It consist of tiny metal filaments encased in a clear disc, a hidden magnet rotates behind that moves the grey filaments around creating intriguing patterns. This is just the sort of thing, with its connotations of entropy, that pioneering cybernetic artists would have found fascinating.

Superficie magnetica by Davide Boriani
Superficie magnetica by Davide Boriani

Here are rooms full of a wide variety of art and objects from a range of periods and locations collected by the Fortuny family over many years which presumably they lived with and loved, displayed to great effect in a palace which is currently under restoration. What makes this such a marvellous place to visit is not only the opportunity to glimpse a collector’s mindset  they were clearly attracted to the weird, the surreal, light and optical illusions (including a James Turrell light installation), but also the manner in which diverse objects are put together with much thought and care as to placement and ideas (a whole floor is devoted to the concept of doorways). An interesting comparison can be made with the Francois Pinault collection on view at Ponta Della Dogana at the end of the Grand Canal. Here we have a fabulously wealthy collector who appears to have bought, almost as if from a catalogue, one of each of the most famous and bankable contemporary post-pop artists (Hirst, Charles Ray, Jeff Koons, etc). This is not to do down these artists particularly, nor indeed the beautiful restoration of the former Venice customs house that houses it all, but the collection clearly lacks that idiosyncratic, personal touch of artwork acquired over a lifetime, that tells us of the collector and makes a collection like the Fortuny so memorable.

But the best thing so seen so far at this year’s Biennale is an exhibition entitled Penelope’s Labour: Weaving Words and Images at the Giorgio Cini Foundation on San Giorgio Maggiore (the same island that hosted last Biennale’s wonderful Peter Greenaway digital installation). This thoughtful and beautifully-curated show explains the importance of the Jacquard Loom, especially in relation to contemporary tapestry art. I particularly like the apt quote from Ada Lovelace to Charles Babbage (from 1843), printed up on one wall which arguably marks the beginning of the digital age.

Ada Lovelace quote
Ada Lovelace quote

Alongside antique tapestries are displayed works by British artists Marc Quinn and Grayson Perry, whose Walthamstow Tapestry, (following the example of the Bayeux piece) tells an ironic story of 21st Century consumerist life in Britain and is a magnificently witty contribution to contemporary art that deserves to be put on display somewhere permanently. (I hear some of his work is heading for display at the British Museum later this year, maybe this work will make it?) Perry is a consummate draughtsman and this fine work does justice to a skill sadly too often overlooked in avant-garde contemporary art. Here is a blind Guggenheim being led by a guide dog – Sotheby’s:

Detail of Walthamstow Tapestry by Grayson Perry
Detail of Walthamstow Tapestry by Grayson Perry
Marc Quinn quote
Marc Quinn quote

Autonomous Art Making Machine

Following his recent show in Cork Street, this month’s image is by that great pioneer Harold Cohen, the only artist I know who is tackling the problem of building a program that actually makes art, rather than modelling human art-making.  Summer Equinox (below) is representative of the latest development of AARON his art making computer program, and uses paint applied by Harold by hand over underpainting produced by the program.  Read the full article here :http://www.bcs.org/content/conWebDoc/40294

Summer Equinox by Harold Cohen, 2010. oil over pigment ink on canvas, 121.9x192.7 cms. copyright the artist, reproduced with permission
Summer Equinox by Harold Cohen, 2010. oil over pigment ink on canvas, 121.9×192.7 cms. copyright the artist, reproduced with permission

Fascinating new book published on an aspect of Computer Art’s history

A Little-Known Story About a Movement, a Magazine, and the Computer’s Arrival in Art: New Tendencies and Bit International, 1961-1973, edited by Margit Rosen has recently been published by MIT Press. I’ve long admired Margit’s work at Germany’s ZKM and this book, clearly the result of years of hard work, brings together Margit’s significant research and curatorial skills. It is a great, weighty tome that delivers a big bang for your buck, illuminating an exhibition movement that took place predominately in Europe – although its reach extended to Britiain and elsewhere (particularily seen in the work of Gustav Metzger, Alan Sutcliffe and others discussed within). Highlights include a clear and useful introductory essay by Margit, re-printed original texts by Metzger, Herbert W Franke, Joanthan Benthall to name just three and numerous photographs and illustrations. The whole publication is wonderfully clear and beautifully laid-out as you might expect from a top-class museum like the ZKM. Well worth a read if you’re interested in questions of why we are where we are today.

Space Synapse

A talk by artist, designer and entrepreneur Anna Hill, founder of Space Synapse Systems, is scheduled for Thursday 19th May at 6.30pm at Birkbeck, Gordon Square. Space Synapse aims to bring the experiences of Space to the Internet through gaming, virtual edutainment and environmental engineering.

All are welcome at what promises to be a fascinating presentation by this artist who has worked with NASA.

For address and map see: http://www.computer-arts-society.org/

Anna Hill Space Synapse Systems
Anna Hill Space Synapse Systems

Combating static art

4^24 Kinetic Painting by Paul Brown, 2008
4^24 Kinetic Painting by Paul Brown, 2008

Combating Static Art is this month’s topic for Image of the Month and the chosen artist is Paul Brown with his kinetic painting 4^24.

See it here: http://www.bcs.org/content/conWebDoc/39080

I am always on the lookout for striking new digital and technologically-mediated images, so please send me your latest works, artists’ statements, events, etc. for consideration.