Carolyn L. Kane: Lillian Schwartz, Experimental Color, and Digital Art at Bell Laboratories, 1965–1984

Thursday, January 15th 2014  |  5 PM  |  Screening Room 201, Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E 60th St


That digital computing was used to produce luminous colors in something called “computer art,” was never foreseen in the blueprints of the number-crunching machines and former weapons of massive destructive capacity leftover from the Second World War. And yet, due to unexpected collaborations between artists, programmers, and computer scientists, places like AT&T’s Bell Laboratories produced a prolific number of innovative digital art and experimental color systems between 1965 and 1984. However, due to government regulation, at Bell Labs this work was often hidden from public view and at times, denied altogether. Paradoxically, in 1984, when AT&T lifted its restrictions on creative work not related to telephone technologies, the atmosphere had changed so dramatically that despite the relaxed regulation, cutting-edge projects had already been abandoned. This talk focuses on the digital art and experimental color systems made at Bell Labs between 1965 and 1984, including the struggles encountered in interdisciplinary collaborations—between visionary artists like Lillian Schwartz and computer scientists like Ken Knowlton and A. Michael Noll—and the challenge to use new computing technology to make experimental art during this unique time period, only now being restored to the history of new media art.

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Carolyn L. Kane is the author of Chromatic Algorithms: Synthetic Color, Computer  Art, and Aesthetics after Code (University of Chicago Press, 2014). Currently a postdoctoral fellow at Brown University (2014–2015), she is also an Assistant Professor at Ryerson University in Toronto. Dr. Kane received her Ph.D. from New York University in 2011 and specializes in the history and philosophy of new media, electronic color, and digital aesthetics.

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