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The DART Board: 08.12.2020

By Peggy Roalf   Wednesday August 12, 2020

Everyone found it completely pointless, grotesque—practically immoral—to try coupling a cold, inhuman machine with something so profoundly human, which we call ‘art.—Vera Molnar

Born in Hungary in 1924, Vera Molnar is one of the first artists to use computers in her practice. Classically trained, she studied art history and aesthetics at the Budapest College of Fine Arts and moved to Paris in 1947, where she still lives. She co-founded several pioneering artist research groups such as G.R.A.V. (Groupe de Recherche d'Art Visuel), which investigate collaborative approaches to mechanical and kinetic art, and the research group for art and computer science at the Institute of Art and Science in Paris. 

During the 1960s she developed an Iterative, sequential approach to art making, in works on paper. Pre-dating the computer, she invented algorithms or “machine imaginaire” that allowed the creation of image series following a set of pre-ordained compositional rules. But she soon recognized that a real computer would better suit her purposes. Right, Interruptions, 1968

“The computer helps to create inconceivable images,” she wrote. “Thanks to its many possibilities of combinations, the computer helps to systematically research the visual realm, helps the artist from free himself from cultural readymades, and to find combinations and forms never seen before, either in nature or in a museum.” 

In 1968 Molnar gained access to an IBM 2250 mainframe computer at the University of Paris, Sorbonne. It became available to her during the events of May 1968, when the university was shut down due to the student revolt. Costing around $325,000 and $500 per minute of output, the first computer to incorporate a viewing monitor was the Stromberg Carlson 4020, released commercially in 1959. It was uncommon for artists to get access to the new technology, but was famously used by artists at Bell Labs in New Jersey, which launched the Experiments in Art and Technology [E.A.T.] program in 1967.

Molnar created her early computer drawings blind, as she did not have a monitor on which to visualize her results. She wrote her own program in the Fortran language, and punched it into a series of cars fed into the machine. She printed on a Benson plotter, whose jittery lines give the mistaken impression that they were created by hand.

She created just one of each composition, so they are more like drawings than an edition of prints. There are about 30 unique iterations, in which randomness was a key feature.  She built this quality into her program, because she found it to be less limiting than an overall composition would be. The voids interrupt what would have been an overall composition, resulting in a disturbed equilibrium. Working in series, each work prompted her to alter the program for the next, and so she she called this the Conversational Method of art making. 

Her computer drawings challenged the traditional concept of drawing as an intimate record of an artist’s thoughts and an index of their singular hand. This incited not only skepticism but anger, as critics, fearing the corruption of human creativity, objected to it not only on aesthetic but ethical grounds.

Vera Molnar’s work is on view in Drawing in the Computer at The Morgan Library & Museum, now online. It is also included in the 2017 show, Thinking Machines: Art and Design in the Computer Age, 1959-1989, at MoMA. Still active today at the age of 95, Molnar is the recipient of the first D.velop Digital Art Award (2005), was appointed Chevalier of Arts and Letters (2007), and won the outstanding merit award AWARE in 2018. The text above is transcribed from the archive video of the exhibition at The Morgan by Rachel Federman, Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Drawings. Above: Interruptions à recouvrements (Disturbances through overlappings). 1969

The Bronx Documentary Center announced today that it will reopen its state-of-the-art Labs on Monday, August 17th by appointment, and under strict protocols. This includes the scanning area, digital print area, processing area, and darkroom printing. Please be advised, BDCLabs are operating at a reduced capacity in order to adhere to state and local safety guidelines. Email lab@bronxdoc.org to reserve a date and time block; reservations will be on a first-come, first-served basis. Masks are required at all times and will be provided to you if you do not have one. BDC Labs is located at the BDC Annex, 364 E. 151st Street, Bronx, NY, 10455.

BDCLabs also offers custom printing services. The BDC has years of experience producing exhibitions with Eugene Richards, Gary Knight, Magnum Photos, Zun Lee, the Tim Hetherington Foundation, and Stephanie Sinclair. Here are some exciting job highlights that we've produced at the BDC: Todd Heisler, In Pictures: Migrant Families Reunited After Long Separations at the Border
Victor J. Blue, Cities in Dust (photos from Syria and Iraq after the war against ISIS). Info

Additionally, The BDC's Tim Hetherington Photobook Library is reopening by appointment only, Mondays through Fridays. Email jon@bronxdoc.org to reserve a date and time block. The Library is one of New York City’s only libraries dedicated to photography.  Search the library's online catalogue

This just in from subscriber Fred Charles, the architectural photographer and face behind the FCharles mark: Rethinking workspace. The future of where we work is upon us, and some are thinking BIG. Big open spaces adapt to new distance, density and ventilation standards. Early twentieth-century light industrial buildings with high ceilings and operable windows fit the bill. Thanks to GMDC, the non-profit NYC industrial developer, these bygone structures are not forgotten. Their latest in Ozone Park Queens (above), newly restored and preserved by Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners, provides workspace for small manufacturing enterprises, artisans and artists; bringing jobs to the neighborhood. Oh, if you're wondering, it's a former water tower turned cell tower.

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