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Digital Technology Meets Graphic Arts in Block Exhibition

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December 6, 2007 | by Judy Moore

EVANSTON, Ill. --- A groundbreaking new exhibition at Northwestern University's Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art examines the intersection of digital technology and the graphic arts.

The winter 2008 exhibition "Imaging by Numbers: A Historical View of the Computer Print," in the Block Museum's Main Gallery Jan. 18 through April 6, surveys the use of computers in printmaking and drawing through approximately 60 works created by nearly 40 North American and European artists from the 1950s to the present.

The Block Museum is located at 40 Arts Circle Drive, on the University's Evanston campus. Admission to the exhibitions and related symposium, programs and weekend tours is free, unless noted, and open to the public.

"Imaging by Numbers" begins with pioneering electronic artist Ben Laposky, who in 1952 photographed images generated by electronic waveforms on oscilloscope display screens. Work like Laposky's, followed in the early 1960s by photographs of analog computer-generated graphics by Herbert Franke, laid the groundwork for the digitally-created graphic art on display in the exhibition. The introduction in the late 1950s and early 1960s of computer plotter printers capable of making line drawings with ink pens ushered in distinctive work by artists such as Manfred Mohr, Frieder Nake and Charles Csuri, who mostly wrote their own computer code or wrote code in collaboration with computer engineers.

The next generation of computer art became more complex with rapid technological developments. Improved graphics displays, color dot matrix, inkjet and laser printers, and commercial software programs opened up new avenues for representation, afforded artists a greater degree of color choices and tonalities, and enabled a much more direct approach to image creation.

While an artist in residence at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory during the late 1970s and 1980s, David Em, for example, used 3-D imaging programs to compose explorations of virtual worlds. Roman Verostko attached paint brushes to plotters while Jean-Pierre Hébert created plotter prints drawn with graphite pencils. Lane Hall and Lisa Moline have combined letterpress, woodcut and lithography with their computer prints, while other artists have transferred their computer-printed images into screen prints, lithographs and etchings to preserve their work in more established media.

A number of contemporary artists still writing their own software or modifying existing programs to create computer prints are represented in the exhibition. Artists such as Joshua Davis, Pascal Dombis and C.E.B. Reas continue to explore the potential of the computer to generate works of art on paper. Examples of work in the exhibition can be viewed online at http://www.blockmuseum.northwestern.edu/exhibitions/current/imaging.html

To complement the Main Gallery exhibition, the Block Museum is organizing "Space, Color, and Motion" in the Alsdorf Gallery from Jan. 18 to April 6. This exhibition presents time-based works by four artists exhibited in "Imaging by Numbers." Included are C.E.B. Reas' "TI," which features animated biological forms projected onto disks hovering above the floor, and an installation by Jean-Pierre Hébert in which a computer-driven metal ball traces intricate designs in sand.

To further explore the territories mapped out by these two exhibitions, the Block is hosting the daylong symposium "Patterns, Pixels, and Process: Discussing the History of the Computer Print" from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16. Edward Shanken, senior researcher, Art and Science Center, University of California, Los Angeles, and scholar and artist Frieder Nake, professor of computer science, University of Bremen, Germany, will join artists Charles Jeffries Bangert and Collette Stuebe Bangert, David Em, Roman Verostko, Sonya Rapoport and C.E.B. Reas to relate the works presented in the Block's winter 2008 exhibitions to more traditional art forms and to provide a history of the computer print, from its pioneering stages to its diverse contemporary environment. The symposium is free and open to the public.

Other public programs this winter include the Adult Studio Workshop "Pixel Art" from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, March 15, in which participants will learn drawing techniques reflecting the process and form of computer-generated art. The cost is $15 for Block Museum members; $20 for nonmembers.

During the Family Program "Patterns and Pieces" from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday, March 23, children aged 7 to 14 and their parents, grandparents or guardians will create their own art patterns. This program is free for Block members; $5 per family for nonmembers. Reservations are required for both programs. Call (847) 491-4852 or e-mail <block-musuem@northwestern.edu>.

The Block Museum also will offer free, guided tours of its winter exhibitions at 2 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday from Jan. 19 through April 6.

"Imaging by Numbers" is curated by Block Museum senior curator Debora Wood and artist Paul Hertz. Support for the Block's winter exhibitions and related programming is provided by C. Richard Kramlich; Flashpoint, the Academy of Media Arts and Sciences; American Airlines; the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency; and the Myers Foundations.

For more information, visit <http://www.blockmuseum.northwestern.edu> or call the Block Museum at (847) 491-4000.