The Summer 1968 in London and Zagreb: Starting or End Point for Computer Art?”

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The Summer 1968 in London and Zagreb: Starting or End Point for Computer Art?”

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  The Summer 1968 in London and Zagreb:Starting or End Point for Computer art? Christoph Klütsch International University Bremen (IUB)Campus Ring 1D-28759 BremenGermanyinfo@computerkunst.org   Abstract The Exhibition Cybernetic Serendipity (London 1968) isoften considered to be the first major exhibition of com- puter art. Nearly forgotten, is an exhibition in Zagreb thatalso took place in August 1968 connected to an interna-tional Colloquy “Computers and Visual Research. ZagrebAugust 3 - 4, 1968”. Both dealt in a systematically differentway with the possibilities of computer art. While the showin London tried to give a wide range of possibilities, the‘visual researchers’ in Zagreb bridged computer art withsocial and political implications, as well as with new phi-losophical and aesthetical theories on Information aesthet-ics. For a further scientific analysis of the first phase of graphical computer art, a deeper look into the events inZagreb will be indispensable. Keywords Cybernetic Serendipity, New Tendencies, early beginningsof computer art, Zagreb, London, visual research ACM Classification Keywords J.5 ARTS AND HUMANITIES, fine arts Introduction Only one day after the opening of the exhibition “Cyber-netic Serendipity”[1] on August 2 through October 20,1968 at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in Lon-don, the international colloquy “Computers and VisualResearch”[2] took place in Zagreb on August 3 - 4, 1968.This colloquy was part of the New Tendencies Movement,and lead to an exhibition known as “Tendencies 4”[3]which ran from May 5 through August 30, 1969 in Zagreb.While Cybernetic Serendipity has garnered much acclaim,the colloquy together with an international exhibition aboutgraphical computer art is nearly forgotten. A closer look atthe events in Zagreb might lead to a new evaluation of theexhibition in London. Specifically, two aspects of Cyber-netic Serendipity will need to be reconsidered:Rainer Usselmann[4] recently argued that the comparativelyapolitical circumstances in England in 1968 were a possibleexplanation for the public success of Cybernetic Serendip-ity. Usselmann observes that there was little reflection onthe implications regarding the use of computers in the arts,and society in the contemporary English press in 1968.“The same venture”, Usselmann quotes Jasia Reichardt, “inParis would have needed police protection”. With the exhi- bition “tendencije 4” in Zagreb this thesis has to be recon-sidered. In Zagreb the political and social implications wereaddressed extensively. Secondly, while Cybernetic Seren-dipity is considered to be a starting point, in contrast theinternational colloquy “Computers and Visual Research” inZagreb, and the resulting exhibition “tendencije 4”, tried toconnect computer art with the New Tendencies Movement,and could be seen as the end of the first phase of computer art. Cybernetic Serendipity: An uncritical exhibition inan apolitical situation? Cybernetic Serendipity, curated by Jasia Reichardt, has been described in many different ways. Mihai Nadin[5] sawthe show as being “exotic and stimulating”. For Edward A.Shanken[6] Cybernetic Serendipity “popularized the idea of  joining cybernetics with art”. Herbert W. Franke[7] certi-fied Cybernetic Serendipity “a world wide echo, thatopened the doors of museums to computer art.” BrentMacGregor[8] has called it a “legend” and “landmark”.Douglas Davis was more cautious and saw in CyberneticSerendipity “an early international survey of computer-inspired art”[9]. Cynthia Goodmann contrasts CyberneticSerendipity with Pontus Hulténs exhibition “The Ma-chine”[10], and diagnoses that Jasia Reichardt “successfullyconfronted the art community with the radical implicationsevolving specifically from the computer field.”[11] Jack Burnham, curator of the exhibition 'Software' in New York 1970, referred to Cybernetic Serendipity as “A touchstonewhich we all shared in those first months”[12].Jasia Reichardt had this to say in her introduction to Cyber-netic Serendipity: Permission to make digital or hard copies of all or part of this work for  personal or classroom use is granted without fee provided that copies arenot made or distributed for profit or commercial advantage and thatcopies bear this notice and the full citation on the first page. To copyotherwise, or republish, to post on servers or to redistribute to lists, re-quires prior specific permission and/or a fee. C&C’05 , April 12-15, 2005, London, United Kingdom.Copyright 2005 ACM 1-59593-025-6/05/0004…$5.00.  “The idea behind this venture, for which I am grateful toProfessor Max Bense of Stuttgart, is to show some of the creative forms engendered by technology. The aimis to present an area of activity which manifests artists'involvement with science, and the scientists' involve-ment with the arts; also, to show the links between therandom systems employed by artists, composers and po-ets, and those involved with the making and the use of cybernetic devices.”[13]In 1965 Jasia Reichardt, was inspired by the German phi-losopher Max Bense, to begin working on the exhibition.Bense, founder of the 'Information Aesthetics', would later open the exhibition in August 1968. The result, after 3years preparation was an exhibition which involved 325 participants. 60,000 people visited the show at the ICA,which ran 600 square meters [14]. View into the exhibition Cybernetic Serendipity(in: Reichardt: Cybernetics, Art and Ideas) But there have been critical voices as well. The Germanartist Gustav Metzger working in London, published 1969in the same journal which published the catalog “CyberneticSerendipity” a critical article about automata in history andcame to this scathing conclusion:“At a time when there is a widespread concern aboutcomputers, the advertising and presentation of theI.C.A.'s 'Cybernetic Serendipity' exhibition as a 'techno-logical fun-fair' is a perfectly adequate demonstration of the reactionary potential of art and technology. No endof information on computers composing haiku - no hintthat computers dominate modern war; that they are be-coming the most totalitarian tools ever used on society.We are facing by this prospect-whilst more and morescientists are investigating the threats that science andtechnology pose for society, artists are being led into atechnological kindergarten, the idea being that the artist canamuse himself and some other populace with the gadgetryof modem life.”[15]Two years later Jasia Reichardt replied:“Cybernetic Serendipity was not an art exhibition assuch, nor a technological fun fair, nor a programmaticmanifesto- it was primarily a demonstration of contem- porary ideas, acts and objects, linking cybernetics andthe creative process.” [16]But perhaps one of the most profound reviews of Cyber-netic Serendipity was given by Radoslav Putar in 1968.Significantly it was published in the Zagreb journal 'bitinternational 1':“Even an indication of the potential consequences,modes of exploration and application of most of the ex-amples presented and the new technological possibilitieswere not clearly shown in the exhibition as a whole. Theaverage visitor could do no more than suspect the enor-mous possibilities of methods of computer projectingfor the needs of design in industry. All the same the ini-tiative of the Institute of Contemporary Arts in the exhi- bition of cybernetic serendipity is valuable. The veryfact of a more intimate contact with examples of the useof new techniques is likely to have started off, eventhrough the quite general message of the composition of the exhibition, a chain reaction of new ideas and initia-tive for the creation of fresh elements in, and relationstowards visual communication.”[17]Intentionally, the visitor was put in a situation where hecould not distinguish between what was made by an artist,and what by an engineer. This was truly a new concept. Somuch so that Usselmann wonders:“Overall, the praise for Reichardt's undertaking seemsalmost unanimous and the near absence of critical de- bate equally striking. Could it be that the ICA's “happyaccidents” flourished so well because they were stagedin an atmosphere of breathtaking naïveté? Only a fewlone voices seem to acknowledge the more serious andinevitably unhappy accidents that liter the history of cy- bernetics.”[18]Usselmann argues that the political situation in Great Brit-ain in the late 60s was relatively calm, as opposed to:Czechoslovakia, France, Germany or the USA, for instance.In Great Britain “the subversive momentum of 1968 never unfurled in the same way, with the same force, as it did incontinental Europe or the United States”[19]. Above all, itwas this comparatively calm situation in England that madeCybernetic Serendipity possible.“Against this backdrop, Cybernetic Serendipity […] of-fered a light-hearted view of the modern world withoutraising too many (if any) objections or stirringfears.”[20]  Earlier exhibitions and conferences in Germany,USA and Czechoslovakia The world's first computer art exhibition took place onFebruary 5 – 19, 1965 at the 'Studiengalerie der Tech-nischen Hochschule Stuttgart' [21] (Germany), where MaxBense had invited Georg Nees to show his works. Encour-aged by this exhibition Frieder Nake would show his workslater that year along with Georg Nees at the Galerie Nied-lich in Stuttgart, from the November 5 - 26, 1965. An exhi- bition also took place in the Rechenzentrum Darmstadt [22]which ran from January 15 through February 15, 1966.Meanwhile, and totally independent of the shows in Ger-many, works by A. Michael Noll and Bela Julesz had beenshown in New York at the Howard Wise Gallery from theApril 6 – 24, 1965.In the January 1966 issue of 'Computers and Automation'[23], Leslie Mezei at the University of Toronto suggested building a network for sharing information about eventsconnected with computer art. Shortly afterwards, he pub-lished a bibliography [24] on computer art. In June of 1966,the conference “Design and Computer”[25] was held at theUniversity of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. The conferencewas organized by Martin Krampen, who at that time workedat the Institute of Design at the University of Waterloo andat the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm, Germany. The participants were: Allen Bernholtz, Edward Bierstone,Steven A. Coons, William A. Fetter, Edwin L. Jacks, Ken-neth C. Knowlton, Marvin L. Manheim, A. Michael Noll,Kenneth G. Scheid, Arthur E. Neuman. The fact that A.Michael Noll, who participated at the conference, was later shown in the exhibitions organized by Martin Krampen inStuttgart and Ulm, illustrates the importance of this newnetwork.On November 12, 1966 a conference organized by the“Galerie d” in Frankurt a.M. accompanied the opening of the exhibition “Programmierung in bildender Kunst undIndustrial Design” (Programming in Fine Arts and Indus-trial Design). William E. Simmat dedicated volume 5 of “Exakte Ästhetik”[26] to the conference. Shown wereworks by: Kurd Alsleben, Frieder Nake, Georg Nees, R.Hartwig and his associates. Presentations on computer artwere given by: Max Bense, Hubert Kupper, Heinz Görges,Abraham A. Moles and Frieder Nake. The conference wassponsored by IBM Germany and Remington RandUNIVAC.From November 3 through December 15, 1967 the exhibi-tion “Konstruktive Tendenzen aus der Tschechoslowakei”(Constructive Tendencies from Czechoslovakia) at the'Sudiogalerie der Johann Wolfgang Goethe UniversitätFrankfurt' [27] showed six Czech artists. The show includedthe first Computer graphics by Czech Zden ĕ k S ỳ kora. In thesame year, there were two exhibitions called “Computer-grafik”, both organized by M. Krampen, that showed theworks of: Nake, Noll and Krampen. The exhibitions took  place at the Behr house in Stuttgart, and the Studio f inUlm.In Feb. 1968 an international computer graphic travelingexhibition “Computerart” was organized by Ji ř  í Valoch.The show was brought to the House of Art in Brno, a Gal-lery in Jihlava and a Gallery in Cottwaldov (all in Czecho-slovakia) and contained works by: Charles Csuri, LeslieMezei, Frieder Nake, Georg Nees, A. Michael Noll, andLubomir Sochor. Also, just ,one month after the opening of Cybernetic Serendipity the CTG (Computer TechniqueGroup) held an exhibition in Tokyo at the Tokyo Galleryfrom September 5 – 21, 1968. New Tendencies The first New Tendency exhibition in 1961 was curated byMatko Meštrovi ć and referred to the 1960 manifest fromthe French “Groupe de Recherche d'Art visuel” includingworks by the 'Gruppo N' of Padua and the 'Gruppo T'.When in 1968 the Galerije Grada in Zagreb organized theinternational colloquy “Computers and Visual Research”,this colloquy was a preparation for the fourth biannual NewTendencies exhibition in 1969.This European movement, Tendencies, beginning in Za-greb, was characterized by Aldo Pellegrini as:“a new group of artist who were working along the lineof pure visuality, all of them with an experimental bent.It is the experimental character and the lack of construc-tive or compositive intentions that sets them apart, inspite of their having the same principles of clarity andrationality, from the concrete artists and the neoconcre-tists.”[28].These elements of concrete art go even further back to thefounding of the group “Exat '51” which was active in for-mer Yugoslavia from 1951-56, recalling and holding up theBauhaus tradition against social realism. One of the foun-ders of Exat '51 was Vjenceslav Richter, member of theexecute committee of tendencije 4 in 1969. The organizersof the colloquy in Zagreb, tried to present computer art inthe framework of one of the dominating art movements inEurope. Toward the end of the Tendency movement with itsroot in Constructivism Zagreb offered a meeting place for computer graphics and Cybernetics.In 1968 the Galerije Grada in Zagreb founded the journal'bit international' (Vol. 1-9; 1968-1972). In the preface theeditors explain “why bit appears”:“This is the reason why the editors of b i t have startedthis magazine to present the theory of information, exactaesthetics, design, communication mass media, visualand related subjects; and to be an instrument of interna-tional cooperation in a field that is becoming daily lessdivisible into strict compartments.”[29]They saw in the realm of communication great differencesand gaps between the scientific and the artistic, the possi- bilities of modern technology and their application, betweenlonely pioneers and the aspirations of large communities,  and between developed and underdeveloped cultural envi-ronments, to name a few. Information   aesthetics   Max Bense and Abraham Moles filled most of the first 130 pages containing “bit international 1” presenting their work on the “information aesthetics”. Bense and Moles tried indifferent ways to offer a method to determine the value of art on mathematical, scientific, and empirical basis. Refer-ring to the theories of David Birkhoff[30] about mathemati-cal aesthetics, and Claude Shannon’s Information the-ory[31], art was considered to get it’s purely aestheticalvalue from the relation between order and complexity re-spectively information and redundancy on macro- and mi-croaesthetical levels. Combined with Norbert Wieners Cy- bernetic Theory, the process of art criticism should notfurther rely on subjective opinions, but follow rational sci-entific criteria. What was thought to be a sharp weaponagainst art historian chatter, was soon picked up by Bense’sscholars and mathematicians George Nees and Frieder  Nake as a tool to program a computer so that it could pro-duce aesthetic objects with a significant aesthetic value byitself. The International Colloquy Computers and VisualResearch on August 3 –4, 1968 in Zagreb   Boris Kelemen, who brought the notion of “visual research”into the title of the conference, was one of the organizersfor the international colloquy “Computers and Visual Re-search” held in 1968 and the exhibition “tendencije 4” in1969. Other members on the organization committee for theexhibition were: Frieder Nake in Germany, Leslie Mezei inCanada, and Abraham A. Moles in France.On the August 3 – 4, 1968 texts by: Marc Adrian, KurdAlsleben, Alberto Biasi, Vladimir Bona č i ć , Herbert W.Franke, Branimir Makanec, Matko Meštrovi ć , LeslieMezei, Abraham A. Moles, Vladimir Muljevi ć , Frieder  Nake, Vjenceslav Richter, Zdenko Š ternberg, Božo Težak and Ji ř  í Valoch were presented.   In his introduction to thecolloquy Abraham A. Moles drew attention to the scientificconcept of experiment, which has been picked up by mod-ern art.“Experimentation is a systematisation and explorationin the field of possibilities, it differs primarily from try-ing. In multiple tries which we have assisted for twentyyears in modern art, no serious analysis was made. [...]Experimentation is exercise, exercise in the field of pos-sibilities, defined by laws of constraint or an algorithm,this means by a succession of steps of thought in order to finish a definite goal.”[32] (authors translation)Moles realizes the closeness of scientific and artistic proc-esses through the concept of experiment. He sees the tradi-tional art mainly following the concept of “trial and error”,in contrast the concept of experiment is scientifically de-fined. Experiments are characterized through a methodo-logical planned construction of circumstances, which thenare subject to scientific observation. From this point it fol-lows that they must be able to be repeated. This conceptclearly opposes the classical view of an artist as a spontane-ous genius who is expressing something through art.But Moles also realized the impact computers would haveon our society. Because computers are information process-ing machines, at the core of computers are algorithms. Thecomputer artist thus, at this time was either a programmer or collaborating with a programmer, has the role of a re-searcher in the field of possible applications of computers. International Colloquy “Computers and Visual Research”Zagreb August 3 – 4, 1968. Valoch, Picelj, Alsleben, Franke,Nake, Kelemen, Richter (in: bit 3)   The artist becomes involved in defining which kinds of newobjects will be created for a global society:“An artist does not any more touch and handle directlythe colour, the matter, objects, s/he handles algorithms,more or less abstract, it must be necessarily formed atthis level of abstraction. [... ] The role of the artist at thistime appears to be to build algorithms or programs for systematic exploration in a field of possibilities, defined by a certain number of constraints which constitute adefinition of functionality, and a definition of the fun-damental doctrines of object creation for the global so-ciety.”[33] (authors translation)Moles introduction was followed by some “notes” from thewriter Marc Adrian, who asks in “notizen zu t-4” (notes ont-4) if the New Tendencies after 6 years could be consid-ered to be dead. As an answer to that question he sees the New Tendencies as a part of a spiritual movement, which isworking on a reconstruction and secularization of the hu-manistic world-view:“what entered general consciousness from 1960 till pre-sent as NT was part of a larger intellectual movementand is connected with the general renewal of the human-istic world view and the final secularization.”(authorstranslation) [34]  The architect and artist Vjenceslav Richter, addressed thequestion of whether there is a “dilemma” in working with acomputer. He sees in the psychological interpretation of anauthor's mind a misinterpretation, and suggested instead tosee the artist mediate with his work through a dialog of sorts. That the dialog is now “passing through the filter of acomputer offers a wide scope of possibilities and of ex-treme difficulties.” [35]After this “dilemma” the earlier quoted political commentsconcerning the 'situation in 1967' by Alberto Biasi[36], amember of the Italian 'Groupo N' from Padua, talked aboutthe political situation in Europe instead of talking aboutcomputer art, it was a foreshadowing of the events of. Au-gust 20 – 21, 1968, when what is now called the PragueSpring was ended by Soviet troops.Frieder Nake[37], a mathematician from the Rechenzen-trum Stuttgart at that time, was baffled by Biasis’ commentsand changed spontaneously to the problem of how com- puter art and politics can be combined. He warned that theleft should not make the mistakes of the right, that com- puters should not be demonized, and that it was importantto stay with the concept of rationality serving human be-ings. He went on to say that computer art in the 60's did nothave to be, and was not apolitical at all. He closed hisspeech with the remark that Cybernetic Serendipity hadmainly addressed the playful instinct, and the upcomingexhibition “tendencije 4” might address the social con-sciousness. Figure 1 Conference Zagreb 3. and 4. August 1968 first row:Nake, Franke, Alsleben (in: bit 3) Matko Meštrovi ć , curator of the biannual New Tendenciesexhibitions starting in 1961, commented on “the situation of nt”. After listening to the contribution made by: Moles,Adrian, Richter, Biasi and Nake he tries to summarize the New Tendencies movement and specifically refers to the political circumstances.“It is a fact that […] almost a decade ago, there emergeda genuinely young generation with a vision of a newworld reckoning more with the future than with the past.[…] As the years passed by, after the first, second, andthird Tendencies in Zagreb, it has become increasinglyclear that the consistency of the movement would not besustained but, however, it has not been clear at all whatwere the real reasons of the impossibility of its consis-tency. These reasons may be found in social resistancesand theoretical radicalization; as for the science, beingitself alienated and manipulated, no real relation has been set up with it. Also, it has not been clear enoughthat a theoretical alignment should be also a politicalalignment.”[38] Next the engineer Vladimir Bona č i ć [39] from the Ru đ er Boškovi ć institute in Zagreb gave a rather broad overviewon the potential use of computers in different fields. Vladi-mir Muljevi ć from the Electro technical faculty in Zagrebasked: “What are the points of contact between computer and artist?”[40] Muljevi ć gives three possible answers:First, he made a parallel between scientists and computer artists in the way that they have the experiment in common,rather than artistic “attempts”. Second, he saw the connec-tion between “stylistic programming” and variations. Andfinally, he talked about the notion of chance, which - sur- prisingly - “should not be allowed to play the essential rolein computer application in artistic research”, becausechance is not a phenomenon genuine to computer applica-tions. The day ended with technical papers by Bo ž o Te ž ak about ‘physoico-chemical systems’. He commented on therole of ‘interaction in artistic expression by means of com- puter’, focusing on time-sharing as a new way of computer utilization.The second day was opened by Zdenko Š ternberg from theRu đ er Boškovi ć institute in Zagreb. He directed attention tothe relation between information theory, computer andartistic creation, and wondered if a computer could make aselection between artistic works based on information the-ory. Abraham Moles then emphasized his agreement with Š ternberg’s comments by recognizing the unity between artand science in the creative procedures in statu nascendi.Lastly, he warned about the difficulty in finding the appro- priate fields in which information theory could be used.Ji ř  í Valoch[41], compared three very different approachesto computer art: Charles Csuri, who worked in a team witha programmer and a computer, where as Lubomir Sochor,an engineer was knows for working with an analog com- puter. Finally, Zden ĕ k S ỳ kora, was mentioned whose artis-tic development led to the necessity of using a computer.Kurd Alsleben addressed the dimension of semiotics andgave an analysis of perception of signs in the tradition of Pierce, and give a scratch of the possible adoption of signtheory to computer controlled processes.Herbert W. Franke[42] opened the accompanying exhibi-tion at the colloquy. He points out that the computer iscapable of three kinds of information processing: creationof order, transformation of order and destruction of order.Because it might be hard to evaluate computer art, he sug-gested a cybernetic art theory, which would be based on ascientific theory of perception.
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