Watch 30 Films from the 1970s by Computer Animation Pioneer Lillian F. Schwartz

In the 1970s and 80s, a cer­tain vivid, com­plex, and slight­ly fright­en­ing com­put­er-graph­ics aes­thet­ic rose in the zeit­geist. Though it has long passed into the realm of the retro, it remains imprint­ed on our minds, and we owe much of its look and feel to an artist named Lil­lian F. Schwartz. Trained in the art of Japan­ese cal­lig­ra­phy as a way of recov­er­ing from polio and lat­er brought into the high tech­no­log­i­cal fer­ment of late-1960s Bell Labs, Schwartz found her­self well-placed to define what human­i­ty would think of when they thought of the imagery gen­er­at­ed by these promis­ing new machines called com­put­ers.

Schwartz start­ed cre­at­ing a series of abstract films in the ear­ly 1970s, using not just com­put­ers but com­put­ers in com­bi­na­tion with lasers, pho­tographs, oil paints, and the full range of tra­di­tion­al film pho­tog­ra­phy and edit­ing gear.

You can watch 30 of her films on her web site, and at the top of this post you’ll find 1972’s Muta­tions. Schwartz’s site quotes the New York Times’ A.H. Weil­er as describ­ing its “chang­ing dots, ecto­plas­mic shapes and elec­tron­ic music” as “an eye-catch­ing view of the poten­tials of the new tech­niques.”

Video-art fans will know the Paik video-syn­the­siz­er, or at least they’ll know Paik: Nam June Paik, that is, the Kore­an video artist who did plen­ty of artis­tic-tech­no­log­i­cal pio­neer­ing of his own. Both he and Schwartz gave a great deal of thought to — and put a great deal of prac­tice into — push­ing the bound­aries of tech­nolo­gies whose con­ven­tion­al uses the rest of us had­n’t quite learned yet. You can see Schwartz doing exact­ly that in The Artist and the Com­put­er, the 1976 short doc­u­men­tary on her work, orig­i­nal­ly pro­duced for AT&T, just above.

You can read more about Schwartz, back at Bell Labs and today, in the arti­cle “Art at the Edge of Tomor­row” by Jer Thorp. “I find it’s still an awe­some expe­ri­ence to use a machine that — one can’t even fath­om the speed,” she says in The Artist and the Com­put­er as we watch her pass­ing rows and rows of hulk­ing main­frames with their racks of obscure periph­er­als and spin­ning reels of tape. “When you speak of nanosec­onds, you can’t even grasp how fast these machines can work.” They work much faster now, of course, and we’ve grown used to it, even jad­ed about it — but Schwartz’s films cap­ture our imag­i­na­tions, in their inven­tive and eerie way, more than ever.

You can watch 30 of Schwartz’s pio­neer­ing films here.

via Mono­skop

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Debussy’s Clair de lune: The Clas­si­cal Music Visu­al­iza­tion with 21 Mil­lion Views

The Ground­break­ing Sil­hou­ette Ani­ma­tions of Lotte Reiniger: Cin­derel­la, Hansel and Gre­tel, and More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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