Computer Art 1972: »MBB Computer Graphics«
This virtual exhibition »Computer Art 1972« presents a series of computer graphics from the early days
of computer art.
These graphics were generated 1971/72 by different software-artists who took part in an art project initiated
and sponsored by the aircraft company Messerschmitt-Boelkow-Blohm (MBB). The group was named »MBB Computer Graphics«.
Dr. Winfried Fischer, head of MBBīs cultural department, formed a project group involving an artist and four computer graphic specialists.
The project groupīs computer-generated works were intended to be a contribution to the cultural program of the 1972 Olympics in Munich.
These computer graphics are works of so called algorithmic art, which means the works are based on programmed algorithms: a machine-readable set of instructions. After being processed by a mainframe computer the graphics were drawn automatically by a pen plotter.
The plotter drawings then were reproduced in various printing techniques and print runs for exhibitions and the book »Computer Graphics« edited by Johann Willsberger in 1972.
Today, only a small number of these authentic prints are still available.
People – Artists, Software-Authors, Computer Graphic Specialists
The involved artists, software-authors, computer graphic specialists were:
Frank Boettger Sylvia Roubaud Aron Warszawski Gerold Weiss Rolf Woelk
Sylvia Roubaud was the only trained artist in the project group. Although it had been planned to have more artists involved, some artists rejected to take part – most had reservations regarding the idea of creating art with computer technology.
You can find more information about the persons involved on the exhibition pages.
Technology – Software
The key element of this computer-generated graphics are algorithms – mathematical formulated instructions – which describe graphics or sequences of graphics as a process. (Read »Algorithm« on Wikipedia).
With the help of algorithms the art project group basically researched two fields: the geometrical graphic – shifting of coordinates, rotation and distortion – and graphics generated by using random generators, mainly to generate stochastic conditions of elements and progressions evolved by random numbers.
The algorithms were programmed in FORTRAN IV to be machine-readable. That program was transferred to punch cards and then to magnetic tapes. In order to produce a series of different graphics generated by one algorithmic structure, the program had to be rewritten with a modified set of parameters.
Johann Willsberger describes the computer graphics as »graphic manifestations of mathematical formulae«. In his book »Computer Graphics« he writes: »All computer graphics could in principle be drawn by hand – even those where random values play a part. True, it would take a lot longer: but given the knowledge of interpolation procedures, say, or of the algorithms needed to calculate the (pseudo-)random values, the information is there. The structures can be worked out without the computer and drawn – with perhaps a little less precision – by hand.«
Technology – Hardware
The technical equipment MBB provided was basically a mainframe computer, an IBM 360 Model 50 which calculated and generated the graphics, and a Kongsberg Kingmatic drawing machine.
The Kingmatic, a 2 x 6 meter flatbed plotter, was the largest computerized drawing machine of its time in Europe. It was able to produce high-precision pen plots and scored foil. Only a few of these plotters had been built for construction departments of industrial companies like the airplane manufacturer MBB.
When the graphics were plotted, no computer monitor was used for preview, the whole process was experimental. The mainframe directly sent the data to the plotter and the visual result of a graphics program came as a bit of a surprise.
To create the graphics according to the design intention of the software-artists the algorithm had to be widely preconceived. If the visual result was not satisfying, the program was rewritten with different parameters.
Technology – Printing
The Kongsberg Kingmatic plotter drawings were performed on transparent paper. These transparents were the masters for graphic prints and had to be reproduced photographically before being printed in different techniques.
That is why the graphics generated by the software-artist of this art project can be found in various printing techniques.
The different editions of graphic prints – the book, the silk screen editions and the selection for the exhibitions for the cultural program of the Munich Olympics – were compiled by Dr. Winfried Fischer and Johann Willsberger.
This online exhibition presents some of these graphic prints produced after the plotter drawings. There are color silk screen prints on colored paper and solid black offset prints* on white paper, all printed in 1972. Like photographic prints they could be labeled as so called
»vintage prints« – authentic, because produced within a short period of time after the digital original and the master (the plot) were generated.
* Solid color means the print does not have the regular dot screen.
The graphics were printed by »Druck- und Verlagshaus Styria«, Graz, Austria - a company specialized on fine art prints.
After showing the »Computer Graphics« in house MBB, the graphics were presented in two exhibitions as part of the cultural program of the Olympics 1972 in Munich, Germany.
In 1973 the »MBB Computer Graphics« took part in the exhibition »tendencije 5 / tendencies 5« at MSU, Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb, Croatia (formerly Yugoslavia). The section »computer visual research« displayed many of the computer graphics as offset prints and some as screen prints.
The computer graphics usually were presented unsigned.
In the last years some of the »Computer Graphics« were displayed in large computer art exhibitions in Germany:
The exhibition »Ex Machina« of the Kunsthalle Bremen, 2007, which mostly presented works from the Franke collection - and in the »bit international« at ZKM in Karlsruhe, 2008/09.
For the works of Sylvia Roubaud: © VG Bild-Kunst for Sylvia Roubaud