Digital code and scripting are found everywhere today; the historical sources at the origins of counting and calculation, which formed the basis for the widespread use of algorithms that came with the advent of the computer, offer a foundation for a definition of the computational as it came to prevail in the 1960s. Looking back over less than half a century of history, Coder le monde traces the links between the arts, highlighting the commonalities associated with the development of digital technologies, the elaboration of programming languages and the expansion of networks. The exhibition reveals a shared aesthetic and critical universe concerned to interrogate an everyday life thoroughly pervaded by digital logics.
“Coder le monde”
June 15 – August 27, 2018
Place Georges-Pompidou, 75004 Paris,
In the course of these detailed chronologies, there emerge many correspondences between the creative logics in various fields, offering an overall view of what amounts to a digital culture, essential to an understanding of a contemporary world in which artists and designers are recovering their place as inventors and influencers in the face of the abstraction of a technological universe.
The first timeline thus retraces the history of calculation, logic and algorithmics, with philosophers such as Pascal and Leibniz inventing the first calculating machines. Code was first tied to a machine, the analytical engine (1834) conceived by Charles Babbage even before Ada Lovelace developed the first programme. It then becomes autonomous in the form of the programming languages which from the 1960s on are taken up as fields of creativity and experiment.
So it was that the Algorists, an international movement of visual artists (1960–80), inaugurated a form of artistic experiment based on the formalisations made available by digital code. Foreshadowed by the kinetic art of the Arte Programmata exhibition organised in 1962 by Bruno Munari (who had Umberto Eco to write the preface to the catalogue), this would see formal creativity find expression through programming language. Curated by Jasia Reichardt, the seminal exhibition Cybernetic Serendipity of 1968 showcased a whole new generation of artists from all over the world, engaged in the first experiments in computer art: the Americans Michael Noll and Kenneth Knowlton, Frieder Nake from Germany, Gottfried Honegger from Switzerland, the Nove Tendencje movement (Vjenceslav Richter, Vladimir Bonacic…) and the Groupe Art et Informatique de Vincennes (Jean-Claude Marquette…).
Magazines like Bit, Computer Graphics World and Radical Software reported on this efflorescence of digital art. From the 1950s on, contemporary music – engaged since the days of the historic avant-gardes in a quest for the formalisation of notation – discovered in the digital a fruitful field of research, in the work of such as Iannis Xenakis, Pierre Barbaud, Milton Babbitt and John Chowning. Similarly, contemporary dance, for which notation had become a key problematic with Rudolf von Laban, found in the digital the potential for new languages linking bodily expression to the spatial normalisation of code. Choreographers like Merce Cunningham, William Forsythe and Alwin Nikolais stand out like landmarks in this history of the body and code. Following in the footsteps of the historic avant-gardes, which problematized the notion of the written in relation to vocal expression (Marinetti, Schwitters), the Fluxus movement found in the computer a means to a formalisation that would free up the relationship between sign and meaning (Brion Gysin and Alison Knowles would pave the way for writers like Nanni Balestrini, Theo Lutz or Emmett Williams).
Computational tools also impacted every discipline dealing with space and form, and engineers such as Pierre Bézier and William Fetter pioneered a new approach to engineering and industrial production. With the 1980s, new programmes like Form Z and Catia afford a key to the digital forms developed by architects like Cedric Price, John Frazer, Peter Eisenman, Christian Kérez, Frank Gehry and Greg Lynn.
Coder le monde puts the spotlight on designers working in all these fields. In an immersive space with its multiplicity of screens, the digital world is reflected in the creations of Driessens & Verstappen, Peter Campus, Casey Reas (inventor of the Processing programming language) and Charles Sandison. New digital design processes have emerged, such as Andrew Witt and Tobias Nolte’s Mine the Scrap and Roland Snooks’s Nine Elms Bridge, in which “multi-agent” or “agent body” algorithms encode geometries and topologies through complex functions and variables to create new kinds of structures, or again, Nicolas Maigret and Maria Roszkowska’s Predictive Art Bot.
The exhibition also documents another visual universe linked to digital formalisation, the world constituted of pixels and also of (three-dimensional) voxels that one finds both in such anticipatory endeavours as François Morellet’s Random Distribution of 40,000 Squares Using the Odd and Even Numbers of a Telephone Directory and in the recent works of Farah Atassi, Mishka Henner and Philippe Schaerer. These pixels and voxels are also the source of critical reflection in the radical modernism that nourishes the work of MVRDV, Troika, Olga Kisselev and others. It thus offers an immersion in this physical domain of pixels, voxels and maxels that scrambles every sense of planar or volumetric scale in its reorganisation of forms, from the infinitely small to the infinitely great. The formalisation represented by the digital grids and the pixellisation that we all know present themselves as a vast field of research and visual expression.