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Computational Arts in Canada 1967-1974
November 5 – December 12, 2020
Curated by Adam Lauder and Mark Hayward
Suzanne Duquet, PARR IX, 1976, oil and coloured pencil on paper. Collection d’oeuvres d’art l’UQAM, Montreal, Quebec. Image courtesy of the lender.
The first historical survey of Canada’s rich contributions to first-generation computer art, Computational Arts in Canada 1967-1974 assembles an impressive array of animated films, videos, plotter drawings, digital paintings, computer-generated silk-screen prints, and interactive teletype printouts capturing the remarkable diversity of activity during this period of creative ferment and technical innovation. The exhibition shines a light on groundbreaking computer visualizations as well as language-based experiments by Greg Curnoe and the Vancouver-based conceptual enterprise N.E. Thing Co. Ltd. (a.k.a. NETCO). Curnoe’s Computer Journals and the work of experimental filmmaker (and Western University emeritus professor) Alexander Keewatin (“Kee”) Dewdney firmly anchor broader histories in a London, Ontario context by highlighting the interdisciplinary collaborations between artists and researchers facilitated by Western’s Department of Computer Science under the visionary leadership of former chair John Hart. Computational Arts in Canada also illuminates the achievements of women artists in this historically male-dominated field, including Suzanne Duquet—a long-time UQÀM professor of painting who made repeated visits to Western as an artist-in-residence—and the multidisciplinary Web art innovator Vera Frenkel.
Rarely exhibited, foundational computer drawings by former University of Toronto computer science professor Leslie Mezei and French artist Roger Vilder (active in Montréal during the 1960s and 1970s) showcase the formal dazzle, occasional humour and even eroticism that resulted from artists’ earliest experiments in computer graphics. Their work also draws attention to artists’ embeddedness within global networks of research and creative collaboration. This opening onto the world is brought into arresting visibility by Art Ex Machina, a suite of computer-generated silk-screen prints by an international roster of artists, including Frieder Nake and Hiroshi Kawano, published by Montréal artist and gallerist Gilles Gheerbrant in 1972. Based on animations that she programmed during extended summertime stints with Western’s Department of Computer Science in the early 1970s, Duquet’s computer paintings translate machine logics into a highly personal vision. Documents drawn from Duquet’s archive record every step in her creative process—from program to painting—offering rare insights into the materiality of early digital art.
Not limited to works generated by computer, Computational Arts in Canada features artists who engaged with computation in an expanded sense. Although predating his tenure with Western’s Department of Computer Science, Dewdney’s The Maltese Cross Movement (1967) narrates the technics of machine visualization. Frenkel’s pioneering series of teleconferencing performances, String Games: Improvisations for Inter-City Video (1974), straddles materiality and metaphor in enacting a computational frame, one that clears a path for our contemporary world of social media and planetary connectivity.
The exhibition is accompanied by a visually stunning catalogue that includes original scholarly essays by the guest curators—based, in part, on materials held by Western’s archives and collections—as well as a new text by ACAD professor Ashley Scarlett.
November 12, 2020, 7:00 pm EST
Featuring Adam Lauder and Mark Hayward
Join us for a lecture hosted on Zoom in partnership with the Western University Department of Visual Arts’ Art Now! Speakers Series on Thursday, November 12 at 7:00 pm EST as exhibition curators Adam Lauder and Mark Hayward will discuss their collaborative project Computational Arts in Canada 1967-1974.
Watch Zoom Webinar recording here.