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Plotter used for demonstration by Manfred Mohr, from the Ex Chamber website.

The 1960's : from Modernism to Post-Modernism

The digital context. Index of artists having begun to produce digital works in the 1960 's.

For the plastic arts in this period , a major reference here is Nick Lambert PhD thesis (on line).

It's at the same time:
- the triumph of modernism: modern mathematics, wider distribution of computer (in large firms)
- the shift to post-modernism ("the sixties")

New ideas will feed a new age of ideas and of art as well. Let's not here discuss the new forms of philosophy, religion or politics. On the other hand, science brings interesting new affordances : supple materials, biological and neurological models to imitate, and even new mathematics, like the fractals by Mandelbrot or the catastrophes by René Thom.

The most striking fact is the multiplication of computer arts events, press and public support. And the leading role of Europe (not so much of France, where the take-off will come in the next decade). Completely forgotten today (2013), an important surge happens in Yugoslavia, as told in La notion de "programme" dans l'art des années 1960 - art concret, art par ordinateur et art conceptuel. 14 pages signed by Darko Fritz in [Lartigaud]. This book contains several references to artists rather unknown on their time and forgotten in the 21th century (such as Milojevic or Bonacic, for example) and also some links on websites dealing with this period.

1961. A centralized network is implemented in Zagreb (Croatia) "in order to present the plurality of the artistic stage on this domain. (see Darko Fritz)
1962. The first computer art competition is sponsored by Computers and Animation. Herbert Franke does "Electronic grahics" .
1962. Nasa Art Program is established. Artists, including Norman Rockwell and Robert Rauschenberg are enlisted to present the hisory of space exploration from their perspective. (Indicated by [Debatty])
1965. The first computer art exhibition takes place at Technnische Hochschule in Stugggart (Indicated by [Debatty]).
1965. The first US computer art exhibition takes place at Howard Wise Gallery in New York City.
1966. Kenneth Knowlton and Leon Harmon, working at Bell Labs, produce one of the first ASCII art works "Studies in perception".
1966. Nine evenings, Bill Klüver and the Bell Labs, in New-York. Impressive in spite a very disappointing show due to technology shortcomings.
1967. EAT, see Nick Lambert.
1967. The Art and Technology program at Lacma is founded, pairing contemporary artists with high-tech corporations (Indicated by [Debatty])
1968. Leonardo Journal is launched.
1968. The Computer Arts Society is formed as branch of the British Computer Society by John Lansdown and Alan Sutcliffe
1968. Ant Farm, by Chip Lord and Doug Michels (Indicated by [Debatty])
1969. The first doctoral dissertation on computer art is submitted at the University of Stuttgart.

Some artists (in France: Xenakis, Barbaud, Vasarely) manage to get some access to them, since the computer manufacturers see there a form of public relations, specially important since public opinion has mixed feelings (they have read Orwell's Nineteen eighty-four !).

Writing, Literature, Text

Literature and any kind of writing art arerapidly fond of text processing. First because of the original typing, considerably more comfortable and efficient that the typewriter. Then along the whole length of the graphic chain, up to the printing presses themselves. e

That reduces the costs and increases quality. It is difficult in the 21st century to remember how poor press and publishing in genral were limited int heir presentations: few fonts, time consuming page setting, cost of corrections.

If for instance you open an issue of L'illustration, which was the luxury press all from 1880 (circa) to the 2d world war, the poverty is evident by comparison with even the cheapest of magazines, of which the number and circulation has strongly grown (and will perhaps vanish due to Internet, but they are still alive en 2019).

A question remains unsolved: how far did these tools impact on the style of writers ? One thing is sure : they did not bring new literary genres. Even if the hypertext, then the mails, then the SMS, twitters... extended the toolbox. As a journalist, I appreciated the strong advantages of the computer over the typewriter. But I did'nt notice a change in my style.

Some poets explore these new ways: We can quote the combinatory poems of Nanni Balestrini , the free verse of Jean Baudot or the digital poetry of Vlademir Dias-Pino .


We can, for short, distinguish two kinds of digital (or electronic at least) musicians in this period: researchers (focusing on technology and experimentation) and composers (using new technologies to find new publics).

Among the experimenters, John Cage dominates the scene, with a lot of different propositions and a large public.

Important research, notably acoustic, is made in the Nord-West-Deusche-Rund-Funk (Köln) by Werner Meyer-Eppler, Herbert Eimer, Fritz Enkel and also y Robert Beyer.
Concrete music is developed by Pierre Henry, working with Pierre Schaeffer.
Algorithmic music (combined wih synthesis tools) are the work of Iannis Xenakis and Pierre Barbaud.

- E. Leipp in his book . Acoustique et musique. (Masson 1971) draws a review of the technologies of this time, mainly those of the instruments. He dedicates 16 pages to the "experimental musics". His lines bear irony about new mechanical instruments ("Periodically, someone rediscovers the Franklin's 'harmonica or the glass bars organ of Chladini" (which dates more than a century back)). He is skeptical also about electronic instruments (like will be Xenakis himself, ten years later. He is alone (as far as we know) to quote the Trautonium of Dr Trautwein (1929).
Leipp talks also about computer music, but concludes "The task of the computer musician appears long and difficult". He adds "A class of experimental music, where the music student would not be taught a specific doctrine, but informed about all what is being done, especially in the digital domain, seems us an absolute necessity in the main music schools".

As for the composers and performers, let's quote The-Beatles , Ligeti Gyorgy and Riley Tony
- Terry Noel in 1965 and Francis Grasso, in 1969, are the first DJs who use a mixing desk tocreate a new form a music style. [Leloup, 2013], p. 38.

About music during 20th century, and particularly this period.
- [Ross], mainly for savant music during the whole century,
- [Moorefield]. for popular music, mostly on the second part or the century
- [Leloup] for popular music and the new media at the end of the century.
- Acoustique et musique. by E. Leipp's (Masson, 1970), lists many publications by the GAM.
- About the transition from the 50's to the 60's, see [Spector] and, more generally, [Moorefield].

Photography and painting

Technically, computer "painting" in his period can use two kinds of devices :
- the computer printer, son of the tabulator; it prints only alphanumeric symbols in black andwhite (it would be more honest to say : gray and white), but the differences of density beween a W and a simple point can suffice, at some distance, to get graphic effects;
- the plotter, a this time a pen guided on a plane surface.
(Note that, at the moment, screens are rare, expensive and poorly giftec for art. Photograpy is still out of the computer range).

Then artists (or computer professionals) use the new computer printers to make drawings : Manuel Barbadilo, Otto B eckman, Roger Coqart, Analivia Cordeiro, Waldemar Cordeiro, Jaume Estapa, Jean-Claude Marquette, Petar Milojevic, Frieder Nake, Georg Nees, Francisco Sobrino, Kerry Strand, Zdenec Sykora, Paul Talman Paul.

Some of them will keep working very long, sometimes even in 2018). For instance Manfred Mohr (inspired by Bense aesthetics) or Vera Molnar Vera. Auguste Herbin develops a p lastic alphabet, by combination of geometrical forms. Thomas Bayrle : "Originally relying on simple pictograms for his compositions, in the 1960's he began to condense together the prefabricated parts that construct what can be called superimages". [Popper 2] (p. 101). John Whitney is mainly known as a film maker

Zuse : Graphomat (1960')

But painting is also influenced by the post-modern ideas of the sixties. They are core to the artists who cooperate, from 1960 to 1968, in the GRAV (Groupe de recherche d'art visuel): François Morellet (lights), Horacio-Garcia Rossi (research on color and light), Julio Le Parc (kinetic art), Francisco Sobrino, Joël Stein, Jean-Pierre Yraval. In 1969. Popper and Jean Laude found the Arts plastiques department at University of Vincennes. Ambient notes in [Popper 1] p.32-33.

In this line, Edmond Couchot and Marie-Hélène Tramus begin to work, combining painting and kinetic. They will use video, computing and interaction when it will become available. This movement is still active (2018) in the various art depatments of University Paris 8, in Saint-Denis, where Vincennes university was transferred.

Less properly digital, but inspired by the computer or the pragmatic mood:
- Mel Bochnert experiments mainly from photographs but using different kinds of montages, Leon Harmon's sophisticated mountings with Ken Kwnolton.
- Jeremy Gardinet uses the computer as preparation, then finishes in acrylics.
- Roman Opalka practices an extreme and minimalist form of algorithm: each and every day, he writes his name on a new canvas.


The world's first computer generated film is made in 1963 by Edward E. Zajac of Bell Laboratory.
Then we have works by Chris Marker and Stan Vanderbeek.

Catalog (1961) by John Whitney is "one of the first films to use computer transformations (created on military analogue computer equipment) says [Dixon 2007].

The digital take-off inspire, in 1968, the film 2001: A space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick.

Sculpture and objects

Yaacov Agam is famed for his fountains, driven by electronic systems, but probably not digital.
On the limits of our domaine, the BMPT group (Buren, Mosset, Parmentier) may be considered digital by their systematic repetition of patterns.
Sol Lewitt's sculptures are digital in their concept, but classical in their realization.
Robert Smithson does quite formal constructs. Not properly digital.


The writer Frank Popper meets "youg artists ... Malina, Schöffer and Agam, who were working with movement and light". In 1966 Eindhoven (Nethelands) host the Kunst Licht Kunst show with Malina, Schöffer, Agam and the Grav [Popper 1]. In 1967, creation of the CAVS in MIT. Most of this work cannot be said digital, but prepares the future.

François Morellet
Vladimir Bonacic, also interactive objects
Davide Boriani with movement movement, Gruppo T
Gianni Colombo with interaction
Myron Krueger, Margot Lovejoy.

Kinetic art

On this point, this decade, it is mainly a continuation of the precedent one.
In 1967, Popper prublishes Naissance de l'art cinétique and organizes Lumière et mouvement, a show at Musée d'art moderne de la Ville de Paris [Popper 1] p. 20-22.
In 1968, he curates Cinétisme, spectacle, environnement at Grenoble's Maison de la culture.

Note the works by Grazia Varisco and Gabriele Vecchi.


We have only start points, with Coop_Himmelb(lau) (They will be more digital afterwards) and Arata Isozaki.

Theater and interaction

Some attemps at interaction in theater are due to Guy Kayat (Oedipe roi, 1969), and Georges Perec (L'augmentation, 1970). But it is too early. Technology is poor (punched cards and a slow terminal for Perec), and the public not really interested.

Not properly artistic, but a landmark in artificial intelligence, Eliza (1960's) by Joseph Weisenbaum is the first attempt of digital dialogue with text generation using a computer. See substantial presentation in [Wardrip-Fruin, 2009].





Paris ACM Siggraph, the French chapter of ACM Siggraph, worldwide non-profit organization of computer graphics.




Les Algoristes, an association of artists using their own algorithms in their work.



Galerie Charlot An important supporter of digital art.