<< preface

this blog is nina wenhart's collection of resources on the various histories of new media art. it consists mainly of non or very little edited material i found flaneuring on the net, sometimes with my own annotations and comments, sometimes it's also textparts i retyped from books that are out of print.

it is also meant to be an additional resource of information and recommended reading for my students of the prehystories of new media class that i teach at the school of the art institute of chicago in fall 2008.

the focus is on the time period from the beginning of the 20th century up to today.

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>> Leon D. Harmon, Kenneth Knowlton, "Nude", 1966

Jasia Reichardt in "The Computer in Art":
"If one were to look for any one centre which has produced more, and a greater variety of computer-generate images than any other, one would probably have to turn one's steps to New Jersey and the Bell Telephone Laboratories. It is there that a number of individuals working in different departments, have contributed original systems and ideas in the field of computer graphics and computer animation. Leon D. Harmon and Kenneth C. Knowlton produced their first computer graphics at Bell Labs in 1967, after Harmon was asked to make a 'modern art' mural to decorate an office. The complete idea, according to Harmon, emerged within minutes, and two months later the office was emlazoned with a 12-foot long, and by now famous, nude made of alphanumeric characters and produce with the aid of a computer. The nude and various other images generated in the same way, Knowlton and Harmon referred to as 'computer processed creatures'. The described their method as follows:

'A 35mm transparency is made from a photo of some real-world object and is scanned by a machine similar to a television camera. The resultant electrical signals are converted into numerical representations of magnetic tape. This provides a digitized verion of the pictures for computer processing. The first step taken by the computer is to fragment the picture into 88 rows of 132 fragments per row. The average brightness level of each fragment is computed; Thus 11.616 (88 x x132) numbers are generated. That is for gull, gargoyle and telephone pictures. The nude has only 50 rows with 100 fragments per row; thus only 5.000 numbers were generated for that picture.
The brightness levels are encoded into numbers 0 through 15 which stand for white, black, and 14 intermediate shades of grey.The original picture is now represented by 11.616 numbers each one of which represents a small area having one of 16 possible density (brightness) values. The nude is represented by only 8 brightness levels. In the processed picture a given density is reproduced by the number of black dots occupying an 11 x 11 square (the nude is simple with 10 x 10 dots for each micropattern, and the telephone more complex with 15 x 15). This dotarray is produced on microfilm by a microfilm printer. Instead of randomly sprinkling black dots over the 11 x 11 square in the rpoduction called for by any given brightness level, the dots are organized into micropatterns which can be seen at close range. [...] There are a total of 141 patterns. Again, the nude is simpler, having only 16 possible patterns (2 at each level), and the telephone has a greater variety (196 different micropatterns). [...]
When a particular brightness level is called for, the computer makes a random choice among the set which fits that level; different probabilities may be assigned to different patterns within a given level.
The overall picture is actually produced on 6 frames of microfilm (12 for the more detailed telephone picture) because the resolution of the microfilm printer is only 500 seperable dots horizontally, whereas we need 132 x 11 = 1452 dots along that dimension. The 6 microfilm frames are than enlarged photographically, pasted together, and rephotographed to produce the final high-contrast 8 x 10 negative. This negative is then used to produce large prints. At close viewing distances the many tiny patterns are clearly visible, but unless you know exactly what to look for, the large picture (the overall Gestalt) cannot be perceived. With increasingly great viewing distances the small patterns disappear, and the overall picture emerges.'

Harmon and Knowlton give the following reasons for experimenting with these pictures:

' To develop new computer languages which can easily and quickly manipulate graphical data;
To explore new forms of computer-produced art;
To examine some aspects of human pattern perception.'

What is interesting here is that neither Knowlton nor Harmon sought an image that would be eitehr abstract or synthetic, or indeed invented or in any way transformed. Quite rightly they considered that a common recognizable image would be the best vehicle to demonstarte the technique they had invented. On the other hand, their aim was also to produce something in the idiom of 'modern art'. Had they been inventing this before the advent of Pop Art perhaps the imagery would have been drawn from the vocabulary of abstract impressionism."

--> Pop Art, Computer Graphics, 'modern art':
----> process vs result
--> develop, explore, examine
--> Bell Labs

additional information about "Nude" on mediaartnet:
"Deborah Hay in the nude was photographed by Max Mathews. The original computer output was a photograph and was given to E.E. David, who, when he became President Nixon's science adviser, gave it to the Philadelphia Museum of Art."

note that if you compare the artists' original description of the process and the medienkunstnetz text, you will find some inaccurancies and incorrectness in the latter.

--> experiment in pattern recognition (using patterns of dots, symbols, rpinter characters)
--> exhibited at The Machine as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age, curated by K.G. Pontus Hulten, at the Museum of Modern Art in 1968

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... is a Media Art historian and independent researcher. She is currently writing on "speculative archiving && experimental preservation of Media Art" and graduated from Prof. Oliver Grau's Media Art Histories program at the Danube University in Krems, Austria with a Master Thesis on Descriptive Metadata for Media Arts. For many years, she has been working in the field of archiving/documenting Media Art, recently at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Media.Art.Research and before as the head of the Ars Electronica Futurelab's videostudio, where she created their archives and primarily worked with the archival material. She was teaching the Prehystories of New Media Class at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and in the Media Art Histories program at the Danube University Krems.