Chance & Control: Art in the Age of Computers – Created by the V&A – touring the nation.

This intriguing show is on at Firstsite Colchester until 26 Jan 2020.

Since the 1960s, artists and programmers have used computers to create prints, drawings, paintings, photographs and digital artworks.

‘Chance and Control’ draws on the V&A’s rich international collection of computer-generated art and includes work by pioneering digital artists such as Frieder Nake and Georg Nees – who produced some of the earliest computer art – through to the younger generation of artists practicing today.

It offers viewers the rare opportunity to trace the chronological development of digital art, exploring how aspects of chance and control shaped the creative process and produced vivid and original artworks.

Frieder Nake – Homage to Paul Klee, 1965

This screen print from a plotter drawing was inspired by Klee’s Highroads and Byroads, 1929. Nake produced an algorithm to make a computer-generated version by deliberatley writing random variables into the program to allow the computer certain choices within limited options.

Nake wanted to analyse how effective images could be successfully produced in this way – this of course depended on him making aesthetic judgements about what is an effective image. Clearly he had a deep personal awareness of Paul Klee’s sense of physical abstraction.

Gravel (Schotter) – Goerg Nees, 1968-70

Nees was fascinated by the relationship between order and disorder in picture composition. For this work he introduced random variables into the computer program, causing oderly squares to descend into organised chaos.

Roman Verostko – Struggle Series, Strug14, 1995

Verostko developed his own software to control a pen plotter before adapting the machine to hold a Chinese calligraphy inkbrush. The single black brushmark looks spontaneous but is actually plotter driven – it also uses the same gesture mark as all the smaller pen and ink lines. An algorithm dictates the shape, distribution and colour choice of each line.

The trick of the eye here is when we read a human random gesture into a complex set of marks made by a computer alogorithm. But presumably there was human input into the decision for the original gestural mark?

Paul Brown – Untitled, made 1975, printed 2019

The linear forms in Brown’s computer generated drawings are made up of tiles or units which have been selected and rotated at random instead of being arranged in a repeating pattern. This adds a visual urgency to the overall work. Brown pioneered compter-based artwork at the Slade School of Fine Art in the 1970s.

Miguel Angel Vidal – Generative Structure (Estructura Generativa), 1969

Angel Vidal co-founded the Generative Art Group in Buenos Aires in 1959. One of the first artists to produce compter-generated artworks in Argentina, this screen print after a plotter drawing uses an autonomous system (non-human) to independently determine elements of the artwork that would usually require artist decisions.

What struck me in all the different works on display was the human sense of proportion and harmony seeping into all the supposedly mechanically produced outcomes. There seemed to be a genuine symbiosis of aesthetic production created throughout the different media and a real sense of purposeful abstraction of the visual world. A purpose not always present in so-called abstract art which relies too heavily on self-expression.

This is an elegant and entertaining show which gives hope to the idea of a peaceful and productive co-existence between man and machine. Go and see for yourself until 26 January.

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