White Heat Cold Logic
British Computer Art 1960–1980
464 pp., 7 x 9 in, 63 b&w illus.
- Published: January 16, 2009
The history of a pioneering era in computer-based art too often neglected by postwar art histories and institutions.
Technological optimism, even utopianism, was widespread at midcentury; in Britain, Harold Wilson in 1963 promised a new nation “forged from the white heat of the technological revolution.” In this heady atmosphere, pioneering artists transformed the cold logic of computing into a new medium for their art, and played a central role in connecting technology and culture. White Heat Cold Logic tells the story of these early British digital and computer artists—and fills in a missing chapter in contemporary art history.
In this heroic period of computer art, artists were required to build their own machines, collaborate closely with computer scientists, and learn difficult computer languages. White Heat Cold Logic's chapters, many written by computer art pioneers themselves, describe the influence of cybernetics, with its emphasis on process and interactivity; the connections to the constructivist movement; and the importance of work done in such different venues as commercial animation, fine art schools, and polytechnics.
The advent of personal computing and graphical user interfaces in 1980 signaled the end of an era, and today we do not have so many dreams of technological utopia. And yet our highly technologized and mediated world owes much to these early practitioners, especially for expanding our sense of what we can do with new technologies.
Roy Ascott, Stephen Bell, Paul Brown, Stephen Bury, Harold Cohen, Ernest Edmonds, María Fernández, Simon Ford, John Hamilton Frazer, Jeremy Gardiner, Charlie Gere, Adrian Glew, Beryl Graham, Stan Hayward, Grisham Howard, Richard Ihnatowicz, Nicholas Lambert, Malcolm Le Grice, Tony Longson, Brent MacGregor, George Mallen, Catherine Mason, Jasia Reichardt, Stephen A. R. Scrivener, Brian Reffin Smith, Alan Sutcliffe, Doron D. Swade, John Vince, Richard Wright, Aleksandar Zivanovic
A crucial moment: White Heat Cold Logic saves the memory of the 'heroic age' of early computer-based art in Britain at a time when its documentation is at risk of being dispersed. The result is an invaluable archive with personal and contextual stories, precise diagrams, and actual code lines of the technologies involved. Far from being nostalgic, this book is a resonant reminder that the basis for artistic media competence is inevitably founded on the creative mastering of techno-mathematical mechanisms. This book pushes the limits of our understanding of both 'art' and 'technology.'
Wolfgang Ernst, Humboldt University, Berlin
Here is a fascinating crash course in the early history of computer art seen through the eyes of its pioneers and heirs. This is a living saga of digital innovation pushing against the limits of new technologies and cultural norms. The focus on Britain provides a vital corrective to those who think it all begins in Silicon Valley and MIT.
Richard Coyne, Professor and Chair of Architectural Computing, University of Edinburgh, and author of Cornucopia Limited
White Heat Cold Logic gives brilliant and deep insights into the partly unknown British Computer Art within the international avant garde. In an unprecedented way contributions of pioneers like Roy Ascott, Jasia Reichardt, and Paul Brown are mixed with the rigorous research of a new generation of leading scholars in the field. CACHe filled a gap and makes the book a must read to anyone interested in art of the 20th century.
Oliver Grau, Chair, Department for Image Science, Danube University