Digital Revolution: the book of the exhibition

I read the forward and five essays from the book[1] that accompanied the exhibition. Here are my notes and thoughts.

The scope of the exhibition is broad – media arts, cinema, design, games, video – this hints at the journey taken and future possibilities

Jim Boulton: From Love Letters to Angry Birds, the emotional journey of computer creativity [on digital archaeology]

  • 1952 love letters written by a computer programme at Manchester University
  • 1962 Spacewar! – first videogame
  • 1971 – first programmable chip
  • 1972 – Odyssey first home videogame console
  • So digital tech was always as much about entertainment as efficiency
  • 1973 – Westworld reflected this
  • 1975 Altair 8800 – first home assembly kit for a computer programmed by Paul Allen and Bill Gates
  • 1977 Apple II, Commodore Pet and Tandy TRS-80
  • 1977 – Star Wars and first extended use of CGI
  • 1979 – first programmable synth that could store digital files
  • 2007 – next seismic shift – Iphone embeds digital seamlessly into our lives

David Surman: Play, craft and the contemporary world of digital culture

  • Game creation – based on tasks and mutability
  • Game marketing – based on social media updates of pre production
  • Games sales – moved from boxes in shops to downloads
  • Game playing – moved from individual to social
  • Broken Age (page 40) game moved things along again with crowd funding and customising development
  • Youtube – new stars, new programmers
  • Rasberry Pi and 3d printing – new ways to create – a move away from mass produced products to pre defined standards to mutable, customisable niche products

Julia Kaganskiy: A new unity: celebrating the potential of artist-led innovation

  • “Art and technology – a new unity” Bauhaus
  • CP Snow condemned the polarisation of the two cultures as a detriment to advancement
  • Digital tech – has not just made us more efficient – its created new possibilities and allowed us to realise ever greater ambitions in terms of expression
  • Collaboration breeds innovation – new networks make great things
  • Artist led innovation – creativity and imagination – leading the way in production
  • But some of the best, most innovative work is when the artists look under the hood of the tech engine

Iain Simons: We saw farther

  • When Computer games were born they borrowed much of the marketing and artistic approach from rock industry – eg developers were the authors
  • Authors “canons” p66 so even the commentator’s borrow artistic language
  • By scalability and risk meant produces reduced the emphasis on single authors
  • By then broadband opened up the market again with the decline of traditional publishing model

Marie O’Mahoney: Our Digital Future

  • Once safe what then? – looking for heightened experiences in lives (eg Maslow’s hierarchy of needs)
  • Early 1990s CAD can to design industry including fashion – new possibilities and realities in design and (now with 3d printing) manufacture (eg new materials with light and small built in, short runs, bespoke)

The series of essays was a great way to cover some of the major historical points in the history of digital media up until now and to see how it borrowed and adapted from existing media that preceded it. There is a lot of commonality with that aspect of its history and analogue photography. For example, Pictoralism borrowed heavily from painting in its earliest years; was put to multiple uses (documentary, artistic, political), just as digital media covers a very wide field. Yet if I was to pick out a key difference between the digital art shown in the exhibition and photography it would be that of immersion/performance verses reflection/stillness. The still image arrests both the moment and the viewer in that moment, the moving does not.

What was interesting is that my thoughts about the exhibition reminding me of steam fairs (link here) was echoed by others. For example (here) Alastair Sooke compares the light shows to fairground mirrors. Moreover Sooke makes a good case that the exhibition is less revolution and more evolution by placing it in a different context to the authors of the book. There also appears to be quite a bit of controversy about the shows sponsorship, backers and its purpose. For example, Hack the Art World objects to Google’s DevArt (link). But for me issues of patronage, control and the arts are as old as time and the attack seems to follow a tradition of art movements attacking each other.


[1] N. McConnon , C. Bodman and D. Admiss, (Eds), Digital Revolution, Published by Barbican Art Gallery, 2014


About Pete

South Londoner struggling with life, art and photography.
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