White Heat Cold Logic: British Computer Art 1960-1980

The period from 1960 to 1980 was underlain by Harold Wilson’s Utopian vision of a Britain “forged from the white heat of technology”. In an era before computers became just another domestic appliance and IT staff were banished to the basements of large companies, computing was seen as a glamour industry with a key role to play in the contemporary arts.

White Heat Cold Logic is aimed at recounting the history of digital and computer-based arts in the United Kingdom from their origins in the 1960s up to the advent of personal computing and graphical user interfaces around 1980.

The editors of this much-needed book argue forcefully against the woeful neglect by contemporary art galleries of British computer art from this heroic period, when artists needed to build their own machines, collaborate with computer scientists and learn complex computer languages rather than simply boot up their Mac or PC. Aside from their relevance to the then-contemporary art scene, the academic papers that make up this attractive illustrated volume will appeal to anybody with an interest in the social and political history of that time.

(A shorter version of this book review appeared in Art World Magazine www.artworldmagazine.com Issue 11 June/July 2009.)

© Christopher Seddon 2009

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Aboriginal Australian Art on Coins

Modern humans are believed to have reached Australia from 40,000 to 50,000 years ago (e.g. Scarre, 2005; Wade, 2007) and possibly even earlier (e.g. Wells, 2002; Oppenheimer, 2003). There is little doubt that these first Australians possessed the capacity for art and were in all probability producing artwork at the same time as their European counterparts were adorning the Chauvet Cave in France, but the earliest known Aboriginal Australian rock art dates from 20,000-30,000 years ago (Scarre, 2005). It is possible that works predating these were located in coastal regions that were inundated when sea-levels rose at the end of the last Ice Age, as indeed happened in Europe where some cave art, such as that at Cosquer Cave near Marseille, can now only be accessed by scuba divers.

Today, Aboriginal Australian art is widely admired and, inevitably, it has featured periodically on Australian coinage. The Royal Australian Mint in Canberra is one of two mints operating in Australia and some of its numismatic offerings are produced in direct competition to those from its older counterpart, the Perth Mint. One of the most appealing coins it has produced is the Kangaroo, a one ounce silver bullion coin with a face value of Aus $1, featuring a changing design based on the marsupial mammal that has become virtually synonymous with Australia. Different artists are featured each year, but the most vibrant designs so far seen were those of the mini-series by Aboriginal Australian artists that ran between 2001 and 2003.

The 2001 design was by Jeanette Timberly, of the Bidjigal Tribe. She was born in La Perouse, NSW.

The 2002 design was by Mark Nodea of the Gija Tribe in Eastern Kimberley, WA. He was born in Derby, WA in 1968. He currently resides in Kununurra and is former Chairperson of the Warmun Art Centre. Mark is a Traditional ochre artist but he works in other media and is also noted for his charcoal sketches and figurative acrylic works.

The 2003 design was by Ray Thomas of the Gunnai people of Victoria. He was born in Melbourne in 1960. See his personal website.

© Christopher Seddon 2008

Intervention/Decoration Art Exhibition, Frome

Foreground is a contemporary arts group based in Frome, Somerset who have recently commissioned works by seven noted and emerging artists for Intervention/Decoration, an exhibition held in this attractive former weaving town.

A newly-renovated weaving shed is the setting for this fabric by Berlin-based artist Eva Berendes, whose first solo UK exhibition took place last autumn at the Ancient & Modern art gallery in London.

The work exploits the shed’s space, beams and skylights to provide a viewing experience that constantly varies and can never exactly repeat, as it interacts with the light and shadows from above, in turn casting its own shadows onto the floor below.

The division of the viewing space into two symbolises the gulf between the lives of wealthy textile merchants and the ordinary people upon whose labours they depended.

© Christopher Seddon 2008