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Firstsite brings major V&A exhibition to Essex

02 Sep Firstsite brings major V&A exhibition to Essex

Celebrating more than 50 years of computer-generated art, Firstsite in Colchester is bringing the V&A’s Chance & Control: Art in the Age of Computers exhibition to Essex.

Chance & Control draws on the V&A’s rich international collection of computer-generated art. The exhibition includes more than 40 works by pioneering artists of the 1960s and 70s such as Frieder Nake and Georg Nees – who produced some of the earliest computer art – through to the younger generation of artists practising today, such as Esther Rolinson, best known for her digitally programmed light installations, based on drawings exploring structure, movement and sensation, and Casey Reas, one of the founders of Processing, a computer programming language used by many digital artists.

Digital technologies have transformed our cultural experiences dramatically in the last half-century. Chance & Control offers visitors the 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. It is the latest event in Firstsite’s ‘Year of Digital’, exploring the impact of technology on society and culture through a wide range of exhibitions and projects across 12 months.

The exhibition begins with Ben Laposky’s photograph Oscillon 40 (1952). Laposky created his pioneering artworks by displaying electrical signals on an oscilloscope* screen, then photographing the results. He was able to adjust the electronic inputs to the device, creating a huge variety of similar designs. In the 1960s Desmond Paul Henry constructed drawing machines from the components of analogue bombsight computers (devices used by military aircraft to drop bombs accurately) as he was fascinated by the internal motion of the machines and adapted them to accommodate pen and paper, producing works such as Untitled (1964) – above right.

The exhibition continues with works from leading British, European, American and Japanese innovators. On display is the influential work of Vera Molnar, one of the first artists to create art with computers. In 1968, Molnar successfully persuaded the data center director at the University of Paris to grant her access to their expensive new research computer to experiment with algorithmic drawings. Molnar’s systematic approach to making art explores the relationship between order and chaos.

Chance & Control takes as its starting point a 1968 exhibition called Cybernetic Serendipity – one of the first international exhibitions devoted to the relationship between the arts and new technologies. It opened at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in 1968, then toured to other venues. Artists, mathematicians, engineers, composers and poets all presented their work in the exhibition. The curator, Jasia Reichardt, wrote that “people who would never have put pencil to paper, or brush to canvas, have started making images… which approximate and often look identical to what we call art and put in public galleries.”