Cybernetic Serendipity

Ars Electronica will be 26 years old this Summer. And while i see that more and more (too many?) festivals and events about new media/electronic/digital art are created all over Europe, i’ve sometimes wondered what was being done before ars electronica to introduce the public to the dialogue between art and electronics.

This morning i stumbled upon a mention of a show organised in 1968 at the Institute of Contemporary Art on London by Jasia Reichardt. Cybernetic Serendipity was one of the first exhibitions of computer art and digital installations.

2cyverf.jpg0sam.jpgPoster of the show and Sound Activated Mobile

The show was divided into three major sections:

– 1. computer generated graphics, computer animated films, computer composed and played music, and computer verse and texts. With works like Sine-curve man by Charles Csuri and James Schaffer or early movies by John Withney.

0dessin.jpgJean Tinguely’s Metamatic

– 2. machines such as a Jean Tinguely’s Metamatic that produced a picture every hour or so. There was also Nam-June Paik’s Robot-456, the first non-human action artist, it walked around the exhibition and occasionally peed. Bruce Lacey (you might remember his Womaniser) was showing Rosa Bosom and her mate (Mate). Rosa had a large pair of lips that she thrust at unsuspecting visitors. SAM, Sound Activated Mobile, by Edward Ihnatowicz, responded to quiet sounds. If you whispered, the flower-shape ear would turn towards you and bend as if to listen.

0mnm.jpg9sallll.jpgRobot-456 and view of the exhibition space

– 3. machines demonstrating the uses of computers, such as IBM computers used for making airline bookings!

Jasia Reichardt later said that “People were looking at images like those of the engineer, William Fetter of the Boeing Corporation in the same way that they looked at images in an art exhibition.”

I don’t know what i’d pay to be able to step in the time machine and visit the exhibition. Computer/electronic/new media art is still in its infancy and something tells me that not that much has changed since 1968.

Via Autonomous Mutations. More information about the show in Mediakunstnetz, Mind the gap, Stuttgart 1960, Parliaments of Art, PDF.