<< 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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2008-06-26

>> Vera Molnar


She is considered to be one of the pioneers of Digital Art: in 1968, Vera Molnar, living in Paris, was among the first persons using the computer as a meditum ofr creating art. Already in 1959, the first digitally produced pictures hat not yet existed, she developed her machine imaginaire and with this machine, she created pictrues by means of selfinvented algorithmus: "I imagined I had a computer. I created a programm and then, step by step, realized simple, limited series, which, though, were self-contained, thus not skipping any shape combination."

With this concept of the machine imaginaire, Vera Molnar quite early set a corner-stone for a decided artistic use of the computer. Since 1968, the computer is a central device of her artistic work. In this continuity that lasts even until today, the work of Vera Molnar constitutes a peak level of Digital Art....
(from: http://www.galerie-la-ligne.ch/50898296b410e9101/50898296b4116d914/50898298601299b1e.html)

"The image obtained by a painter using a computer stops being an accumulation of unknown badly defined forms and colours. It becomes instead a pattern of thousands of distinct, intermittent, and quantified points. The position in space, the colourimetric values of these thousands of points, are perfectly defined and numerically accountable. In this way, the painter controls each one of these points. At any moment, the artist is able to modify the value of one or several points, or even the total number of them. As a result, innumerable successive approaches (many sketches, to use the accepted history-of-art term) can be shown on the screen. Proceeding by small steps, the painter is in a position to delicately pinpoint the image of dreams. Without the aid of a computer, it would not possible to materialize quite so faithfully an image that previously existed only in the artist's mind. This may sound paradoxical, but the machine, which is thought to be cold and inhuman, can help to realize what is most subjective, unattainable, and profound in a human being." (http://www.siggraph.org/artdesign/gallery/S98/pione/pione3/molnar.html)

(from: http://dam-berlin.de/index.php?newlang=english)

“Everything concrete though, is only itself”
Max Bense, 1965

[DAM]Berlin shows early plottersketches in colour or black & white of the Grande Dame of Digital Art, a selection which was exhibited at the museum show: “monotonie, symétrie, surprise” at the Kunsthalle Bremen in 2006. In addition to the art works we present 2 rare short-films: one in which the artist demonstrates her working procedures on the beach and another which was shown on metropolis (Arte).

Vera Molnar is considered a progressive thinker and pioneer in the field of Digital Art. In 1959 she created the „Machine imaginaire“ to carry out algorithmic calculations at a time when computers did not even exist and concentrated early on the aesthetic possibilities of Digital Art. She mixed her constructivist approach with intentional interferences in the mathematic system and experimented on a often humorous way with the occurring irregularities („1% disorder“ she called one of her essays). Her admiration for Paul Klee is present in her artworks as well as in her essays concerning art. In 2005 Vera Molnar was awarded the first d.velop digital art award [ddaa] for her life's work and importance for Digital Art. The [ddaa] is presented by the Digital Art Museum[DAM] in Berlin.

„Vera Molnar was born in Budapest in 1924 and there, she grew up as the only child of her parents in sheltered and intellectual, middle-class circumstances. Quite early, she was infected by the “virus of visual experimentation”. The artist remembers that, at the age of about ten, she drew the view from her parental home across the Lake Balaton to the opposing waterside every night for some time. Every time, she used the same five colors: Green for the meadow leading to the water, blue for the lake, brown for the mountain range at the opposing waterside, blue for the sky and orange for the sun-set. After a certain time, the approximately same picture did not satisfy Vera Molnar any more and she decided to use the respectively adjacent color in the paint box for every image area. Already at this early point in time, the first systematic investigation was conducted which was guided by principles that still impact the work of the artist: The analysis is followed by the systematic image-artistic experiment which generates image series and thus, variations.“

Excerpt from the essay by Barbara Nierhoff „Vera Molnar and the Computer“, Catalogue Vera Molnar, „monotonie, symétrie, surprise“, Kunsthalle Bremen, 2006"


Vera Molnar was born in 1924 in Budapest, Hungary. After studying at the Budapest Academy, she received her diploma in 1947 in Art History and Aesthetics. Her artwork was around abstract and geometrical paintings. That same year, she received the Rome Scholarship and moved to Paris.

In 1960, Molnar co-founded the “Groupe de recherche d’art visuel” (GRAV), which was a proponent of stripping the content away from the visual image in their medium in order to focus on seeing and perceiving. They were instrumental in the Op-art and Kinetic Art movements of that decade. Molnar was also co-founder of the group “Art et Informatique” at the “Institut d’Esthetique et des Sciences de l’Art” in Paris in 1967.

According to Molnar, in her eyes her work has a hypothetical character. In order to systematically process her research series, she invented a "technology", which she calleded "Machine Imaginaire". She sketched a program, and then, step by step, realized asimple, limited series, which was self-contained.

In 1968 she discovered the power of the computer to allow an artist to step away from "the social thing" in order to get at the real creative vision. She replaced the illusory computer, the invented machine, by a genuine computer. Her initial work involved transformations of geometric objects, such as a square, by rotating, deforming, erasing all or parts of them, or replacing portions with basic elements of other geometric shapes. She would often repeat the geometric primitives while fracturing or breaking them as she transformed them, ultimately outputting them to a plotter.

Molnar did work at the Centre Pompidou, ARTA (Atelier du Recherche des Techniques Avancees) and was a member of the CREIAV (Centre de Recherche Experimentale et Informatique des Arts Visuels). In 1985 she became a Professor at the Universtiy of Paris, Sorbonne.

"Proceeding by small steps, the painter is in a position to delicately pinpoint the image of dreams. Without the aid of a computer, it would not possible to materialize quite so faithfully an image that previously existed only in the artist's mind. This may sound paradoxical, but the machine, which is thought to be cold and inhuman, can help to realize what is most subjective, unattainable, and profound in a human being."

(From Frank Popper's Visualization, Cultural Mediation and Dual Creativity in Leonardo; http://design.osu.edu/carlson/history/lesson9.html)


Vera Molnar:
"The image obtained by a painter using a computer stops being an accumulation of unknown badly defined forms and colours. It becomes instead a pattern of thousands of distinct, intermittent, and quantified points. The position in space, the colourimetric values of these thousands of points, are perfectly defined and numerically accountable. In this way, the painter controls each one of these points. At any moment, the artist is able to modify the value of one or several points, or even the total number of them. As a result, innumerable successive approaches (many sketches, to use the accepted history-of-art term) can be shown on the screen. Proceeding by small steps, the painter is in a position to delicately pinpoint the image of dreams. Without the aid of a computer, it would not possible to materialize quite so faithfully an image that previously existed only in the artist's mind. This may sound paradoxical, but the machine, which is thought to be cold and inhuman, can help to realize what is most subjective, unattainable, and profound in a human being. "
(http://www.siggraph.org/artdesign/gallery/S98/pione/pione3/molnar.html)



from: http://www.atariarchives.org/artist/sec11.php

"After an academic art school training (Beaux Arts) I began to make non-figurative images. The images I 'create' consist of a combination of simple geometric elements. I develop a picture by means of a series of small probing steps, altering the dimensions, the proportions and number of elements, their density and their form, one by one in a systematic way in order to guess what kind of formal modification challenges the change in the perception of my picture: perception being the basis of aesthetic reaction. My final aim, in common with so many painters of history, is to be able to create valuable works of art in a conscious way. Conscious way does not mean in my opinion the suppression of intuition, but its reinforcement by a cognitive process; it does not mean that painting becomes a matter of logic. Art at its inception is essentially intuitive, it is in its elaboration that intuition needs control and aid by cognition.

Since simple geometrical shapes are used, stepwise modifications are relatively easy to make. By comparing the successive pictures resulting from a series of modifications, I try to decide whether the trend is toward the result that I desire. What is so thrilling to experience is the transformation of an indifferent version into one that I find aesthetically appealing.

This stepwise procedure has however two important disadvantages if carried out by hand. Above all it is tedious and slow. In order to make the necessary comparisons in developing series of pictures, I must make many similar ones of the same size and with the same technique and precision. Another disadvantage is that I can make only an arbitrary choice of the modifications inside a picture that I wish to make. Since time is limited, I can consider only a few of many possible modifications. Furthermore, these choices are influenced by disparate factors such as personal whim, cultural and educational background, as well as ease of execution.

All these considerations are to explain why the use of the computer is imperative for my purpose. Using a computer with terminals like a plotter or/and a CRT screen, I have been able to minimize the effort required for this stepwise method of generating pictures. The samples of my work I give here in illustration were made interactively on a CRT screen with a program I call RESEAUTO. This program permits the production of drawings starting from an initial square array of like sets of concentric squares. The available variables are: the number of sets, the number of concentric squares within a set, the displacement of individual squares, the deformation of squares by changing angles and length of sides, the elimination of lines or entire figures, and the replacement of straight lines by segments of circles, parabolas, hyperbolas and sine curves. Thus, from the initial grid an enormous variety of different images can be obtained.

I am working just now on a program whose aim is to explore systematically the possibilities of the program RESEAU-TO and to visualize in a exhaustive way all the types of images I can obtain. After my first approximate calculations I had 27,600 types of pictures. This number corresponds only to the types of pictures: inside of each of those types an infinite number of different images can be generated by changing the values of parameters one by one, several of them, or all at the same time.

It is obvious that this kind of work can not be done without the aid of a computer, and it is obvious also—as far as I am concerned—that my computer aided work is closely related to my former work carried out without the assistance of a computer.

This approach to the generating of pictures is not new; it had been applied long before computers were constructed. Making a series of pictures that were alike except for the variation of one parameter is not uncommon in the history of art (Haystacks and the Rouen Cathedral by Monet, for example). Just as erasing, scraping, retouching, covering parts of a picture or coming back to a preceding version were always familiar techniques used by painters. My computer-aided procedure is only a systematization of the traditional-classic approach. I believe that the use of the computer in art is an important tool for the working out of a 'science of painting,' more generally spoken of a 'science of art.' With regard to the impact the computer can have, I am in favor of the introduction of computer science in the Art School curriculum.

Tihany, France
August 1975"

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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.