When the independent curator, publisher, writer and art dealer Willoughby Sharp died this past December at the age of 72, the art world lost an iconic figure. Active internationally in the art world since the early 60s, Sharp's name is most often associated with his role as the publisher and co-founder (with Liza Bear) of Avalanche magazine (1970-1976) and for his curation of the seminal art exhibition Earth Art (1969). Avalanche has become something of a cult classic in the art world. Consisting mostly of idiosyncratic editorials by Sharp and Bear and interviews with figures such as Joseph Beuys, Yvonne Rainer, Bruce Nauman, Lawrence Weiner and Vito Acconci, Avalanche helped define the art of an era while also redefining the role of the art magazine. The editors viewed Avalanche as an open space for artists and art, and this vision dictated the overall direction of the magazine. Sharp's seminal Earth Art, held at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York in 1969, was the first major exhibition of land-based sculptural work, and it included artists such as Walter de Maria, Robert Smithson, Hans Haacke, Robert Morris, Richard Long and Dennis Oppenheim (among others). It has also become somewhat mythologized as the exhibition where the young Gordon Matta-Clark, who lived in Ithaca, was hired by Sharp as an assistant and, thus, met the vanguard of the international art scene for the first time.
However, it should be noted that Sharp, himself, was also a performance artist, video artist, satellite artist and computer artist. In fact, his work at the nexus of art and technology is one of the most passionate chapters in his career, but has largely gone unnoticed. The art historian Frank Popper (who met and befriended Sharp in 1968) has offered one of the few accounts of this work in his book From Technological to Virtual Art. According to Popper, the introduction of television to American culture in the late 1940's had a tremendous effect on Sharp. "Almost instantly after DuMont television sets began to dominate living rooms and lives in 1948, television took control of Sharp, and he was transformed from just watching "Uncle Miltie" to being him," writes Popper.
A short 1981 news clip from San Francisco's television station KRON covering the "Electronic Examiner," an electronic version of the print San Francisco Examiner, which was distributed on a basic computer network.
Video: Woody Vasulka, Vocabulary, 1973
Video: Steina Vasulka, Warp, 2000
VASULKA.ORG is a tremendous resource for anyone interested in exploring the work of pioneering video and computer artists Steina and Woody Vasulka. The site not only contains an incredible selection of video clips and other documentation of the Vasulka's art work, but it is also host to the Vasulka Archive. Assembled from the personal collection of the Vasulkas and that of Peter Crown, David Dunn, Ralph Hocking, Sherry Miller, Phil Morton, Lynda Rodolitz, Jud Yalkut, and Gene Youngblood, this collection consists of over 27,000 pages of documents relevant to the history of video and electronic art.
First Screening: Computer Poems by bpNichol (2007) - Jim Andrews, Geof Huth, Lionel Kearns, Marko Niemi, Dan Waber.
In 1983 and 1984, bpNichol used an Apple IIe computer and the Apple BASIC programming language to create First Screening, a suite of a dozen programmed, kinetic poems. He distributed First Screening through Underwhich, an imprint he started in 1979 with a small group of poets. The Underwhich edition of First Screening consisted of 100 numbered and signed copies distributed on 5.25" floppies along with printed matter.
However, the Apple IIe soon became obsolete and the poems became essentially inaccessible. But in 1992, four years after the death of bpNichol, J. B. Hohm, a student at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, began creating a HyperCard version of First Screening with the approval of Ellie Nichol, bp’s widow, and with assistance from Dennis Johnson and Fred Wah. In 1993, Red Deer College Press published it on a 3.5″ floppy disk for the Macintosh computer.
The HyperCard version of First Screening was a careful re-creation and recoding of the original, and it extended the life of First Screening a few more years. Still, HyperCard eventually died, leaving the poems unavailable to all but the few who owned a functioning old Mac or an even older Apple IIe and a readable diskette (unlikely, since the usual lifetime of a diskette is approximately five years). In 2004, Apple stopped selling HyperCard, and OSX’s Classic mode was the last Mac operating system on which it was possible to view HyperCard works.
So we are very happy to present to you four different versions of First Screening.
1. The original DSK file of the Underwhich edition with a freely downloadable Apple IIe emulator (available for PCs and (maybe) Macs), along with scanned images of the printed matter distributed with the Underwhich edition. This version is closest to the original.
"Shifting Polarities: Exemplary Works of Canadian Electronic Media Art Produced Between 1970 and 1991" by Caroline Langill
In this research project funded by Montreal's Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science, and Technology, artist, researcher and academic Caroline Langill selected pioneering examples of electronic and new media art produced by Canadian artists from 1970 to 1991. The introductory statement expresses a need to write this report in order to construct an understanding of the greater trajectory of Canadian new media art, whose history has remained under-documented. Langill chose artworks according to their exhibition history, larger recognition in terms of precedence for later artworks and innovation in audience interaction, and their technological contribution. I know little about this subject myself, and I found Langill's series of artist interviews, accompanying essay, and image library quite instructive. I was also impressed by the fact that at least half of the artists discussed here are women, which arguably was not the case in other contexts. See below for a few works from the project, click the link to access Shifting Polarities.
Herbert Franke (1927, de): Lichtformen, 1953-55
In this 1987 text, originally published in Leonardo, scientist and artist Herbert Franke optimistically envisions the potential significance of computer art on perspective and interdisciplinary practice.
Digital Arts and New Media (DANM) Technical Coordinator