When visionary engineer J.C.R Licklider published Man-Computer Symbiosis in 1960 — a paper outlining how man’s intellectual productivity can, and should be significantly increased when partnered with a computer — the creative problems of contemporary artists were perhaps furthest from his mind. But during the 1960s, a digital fever struck the art world. Large numbers of enthused European and North American artists, curators, and theorists focussed their attention on the creative potential of computing. Software, systems, and concepts were tried and tested, and a decade’s worth of activity culminated in two landmark exhibitions: Jasia Reichardt’s Cybernetic Serendipity at London’s ICA and Jack Burnham's Software: Information Technology at New York’s Jewish Museum.
Two artists with retrospectives currently showing in the UK caught that initial wave of innovation: German born and New York-based Manfred Mohr, and British born, and still UK-based Ernest Edmonds.
Originally a painter with Constructivist sympathies, Edmonds turned to computer-aided algorithmic painting in 1968. Light Logic, his career-long retrospective at Site Gallery Sheffield, UK, combined early ‘70s works and original punch cards with a new motion sensitive installation and later video pieces. Edmonds’ essential project is an investigation into the variant formal possibilities of a two-dimensional square. In each work the internal bounds of that shape are divided into sectors made visible by the distribution of colour, or the placement of a line. This is a process facilitated by programs designed to filter through combinatorial permutations, defined by Edmonds, until a suitable variation is found and then rendered by hand. A collection of numbered ink drawings from 1974 and 1975 capture the result of this procedure in the exhibition’s only monochrome (black and white) works.
Shaping Forms, Ernest Edmonds, 2007
The late ‘80s saw Edmonds move from canvas and paper to video ...