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Innovative Computer Art

By David C. Brock | August 23, 2022

An Evening of the Old, and of the New

From the earliest days of electronic computers, people have used them to create art: from drawings to poems, from screenplays to paintings, and from music to films. Today, the computer has become an indispensable tool, and quite often a medium of its own, for many diverse artists.

On the evening of July 22, 2022, CHM offered an opportunity to experience some of the earliest experimental films by artists who were incorporating the emerging technology of computer animation between 1967 and 1970, and to juxtapose these works to those of Camille Utterback, a digital artist who adopted new computer technologies for interactivity in her award-winning installations beginning in the late 1990s. Utterback—a winner of a MacArthur Foundation “genius” fellowship and a professor of art at Stanford University—was joined on CHM’s stage by David C. Brock, who curated the Museum’s recent exhibition, Early Computer Films, 1963-1972.

Yesterday's Technology

The evening began with a brief introduction to these early computer films by artists, and the technology of the late 1960s by which the computer animations that they used were made:

The first of the early computer films to be screened was Stan VanDerBeek’s Poemfield No. 7 (1967-8):

Next up was John Whitney, Sr.’s Permutations (1968):

The screening of early computer films concluded with Lillian Schwartz’s Pixillation (1970):

Today's Computer Art

Camille Utterback began her introduction to her installation work from the late 1990s to the present, by pointing out a central difference from these early computer films: technological changes that afford real-time interaction.

Utterback’s installation Text Rain (1999) was the beginning of her exploration of the possibilities of computer-mediated interactions between artworks and their viewers:

She traced the evolution of how interaction could be used in these installation environments in her piece Untitled 5 (2004):

Utterback’s recent work, Precarious (2018), is a remarkable extension of her use of both live interaction and of memory, and the layering of the two. An overview of Precarious can be found on Utterback’s website.

A wonderful evening of art and insights was capped by Utterback’s answer to CHM’s One Word question, where we ask the thinkers and makers that we highlight what their one word of advice would be to a young person beginning their lives and careers. Utterback’s answer, “Community,” is as timely as it is thoughtful.

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Innovative Computer Art | CHM Live, July 22, 2022

Don’t miss Early Computer Films, 1963-1972, on view at CHM until September 1st, 2022. Learn more.

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About The Author

David C. Brock is an historian of technology, CHM's Director of Curatorial Affairs, and director of its Software History Center. He focuses on histories of computing and semiconductors as well as on oral history. He is the co-author of Moore’s Law: The Life of Gordon Moore, Silicon Valley’s Quiet Revolutionary and is on Twitter @dcbrock.

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