Early Electronic Art:

For many people in the visual arts -the computer represents the lastest development in an image making history that progresses through photography, film, video and ends with the computer. This time-line seems to underly most of both the practical pedagogy and the theoretical conceptual background which determines current cultural and economic theories and policies.

However, I have long argued against this belief -because in my experience the Computer Art Time-line pre-dates the  Video Art Time-line. So I decided  to try and check this via the Internet (see the links for the result).

To my surprise -Video Art history does seem to go back to (at least) the 1960's -although this does depend to a certain extent on one's definition. Nam june Paik was experimenting with the technology of the live (unrecorded) Video process -by using electromagnets to distort the TV signal as early as 1963. It seems that video (recording) tape technology became publically available when the "portapak" was introduced in New York in 1965 -although it took a few more years for this technology to reach Europe.

The early history of  Computer Art is equally plagued by problems of  definitions and available technology (raising the question of available to whom?) -but is generally (and perhaps arbitrally) placed in the 1950's.

My own involvement started around 1967 when a friendly mathematician (who's name I have shamefully forgotten) programmed a "Random Walk on 25 point Grid" for me in algol.  This work was part of my final exhibiton for my diploma in Sculpture and Printmaking from the Exeter College of Art.

As an early pioneer, I cannot help the feeling that more has been lost over the years than has been gained. So can the damage be repaired? Or was it just a "growing up" phase?

The early phase involved:

-The experimental nature of the work and the difficulties of gaining access to few computers available forced the artist/programmer into being aware of the technical processes involved, and the development of a theortetical framework which justifed the use of expensive and therefore scarse equipment.

-A convergence around the "syntactic"
-an interest in how things work
-as opposed to a focus on the "semantic" (how good, how clever, how expensive)....

-Unresolved arguments about the the value of computational Models in developing creative Cognitive systems.....

Some old Themes:

-AI and Conciousness
-Subjective and Objective (Pragmatism and Idealism)
-Linier and non-Linier Systems

    -Western Social Schitzophrenaa:
         -Art and Science
               -programmers and users
               -conceptualism: reflecting the mind/body split
               -representation or abstraction
               -content and form

Computational Theory:

Basically, "programming" involves implmenenting  the Turing Machine (which is the  basic conceptual model invented by Allen Turing and featured in the British aatempts to decode German messages in WWII). Turing's theoretical model can (in theory) simulate any process, provided that it can be described..... This puts the emphasis on clearly on "description"  -the analysis and  understanding required to decribe the (real or imaginary processes which are to be simulated. In my view, programming is not primarily a sport for "techies" -it is a form of (practical) philosophical investigation which explores basic questions of how we percieve and understand the world.  The popular view that the computer involved "dematerialisation" is completely misleading and is the result of the fact that most users seem to have no real experience of computer programming. In fact, because programming involves the manipulation of physical processes which are manifestations of the programmer's  intentions -one could say that programming involves the materialisation  of human thought (as indeed do most forms of art).

Trevor Batten
<trevor at tebatt.net>
May/June/September 2006