Chance and Control: Art in the Age of Computers

7 June - 8 September 2019The Old Library, Northgate Street, Chester

Chester Visual Arts (CVA) brought the major V&A exhibition Chance and Control: Art in the Age of Computers to Chester in 2019.

With the support of primary exhibition funder, The Tyrer Charitable Trust, the exhibition featured key artworks from the pioneers of digital art over the last 50 years. Chance and Control was another significant milestone towards the organisation’s objective to establish a permanent contemporary art gallery in Chester.

Since the 1960s, artists and programmers have used computers to create prints, drawings, paintings, photographs and digital artworks. Chance and Control drew on the V&A’s rich international collection of computer-generated art and includes work by pioneering digital artists such as Frieder Nake and Georg Nees – who produced some of the earliest computer art – through to the younger generation of artists practicing today.

It offered viewers the rare opportunity to trace the chronological development of digital art, exploring how aspects of chance and control shaped the creative process and produced vivid and original artworks.

Created by the V&A – touring the nation.

Primary exhibition funder The Tyrer Charitable Trust.

Supported by The Westminster Foundation and Arts Council England.

Artists featured:

Damien Borowik, Paul Brown, Herbert Brün, Harold Cohen, Analivia Cordeiro, Waldemar Cordeiro, Charles Csuri, Charles and Ray Eames, William Fetter, Frederick Hammersley, Frieder Nake, Desmond Paul Henry, Hiroshi Kawano, Masao Kohmura, William Latham, Ben Laposky, Andy Lomas, Aaron Marcus, Manfred Mohr, Vera Molnar, Georg Nees, Michael Noll, Fabrizio Augusto Poltronieri, Donald K. Robbins, Esther Rolinson, Roman Verostko, Miguel Angel Vidal, Darrell Viner, Mark Wils.

Exhibition images:

Video courtesy of Veracity Digital. 

“We’re delighted to strengthen our relationship with the V&A by bringing this groundbreaking exhibition to Chester. Our lives are increasingly defined by our relationship with digital technologies; Chance and Control traces how artists were – and continue to be – at the vanguard of new possibilities. It is a very timely exhibition. The excellent visitor response to the Woman’s Hour Craft Prize demonstrates the continuing appetite for high-quality visual art in the city and the desire for a permanent gallery. Alongside this, we are pleased to continue our educational offer for schools and young people in the region.”

– Ian Short, Chair of Chester Visual Arts

“Chance and Control explores the impact of the computer on the relationship between art and technology, within an important tradition at the V&A of collecting digital design. We are delighted to be collaborating with Chester Visual Arts for the third time in 2 years, so that this fascinating and timely display can be enjoyed by an even wider audience this summer.”

– Dr Helen Charman, Director of Learning and National Programmes at the V&A.

“We’re thrilled to be playing a key role in bringing this exhibition to Chester. It promises to be a unique experience and will attract a wide range of interest from city visitors, with a huge range of artwork that really showcases the development of digital art over the past 50 years.”

“It’s also fantastic to see an empty building in the former city centre library transformed into an art gallery in this way. On behalf of the Trust, we’re delighted to be continuing our work bringing important works of art to the Cheshire region for people to see and enjoy.”

– Clive Pointon, Chairman of the Trust and head of the acclaimed Wills, Trusts and Tax team at Chester-based law firm Aaron & Partners

“We’re delighted that the Chance and Control exhibition’s UK tour is starting in Chester. The show also includes early work by Paul Brown, who attended art college in Liverpool, and Desmond Paul Henry, who lived and worked in Manchester.”

– Douglas Dodds, Head of Digital collections and services at the V&A

Events programme:

21 August 2019Chance and Control: Douglas Dodds lecture

For more than fifty years, artists, scientists and programmers have used computer software to create innovative artworks that explore aspects of chance and control. In this lecture Douglas Dodds provided a fascinating overview of the history of digital art and design, highlighting artworks in the Chance and Control exhibition and the Victoria and Albert Museum’s collection.

Douglas Dodds is a Senior Curator in the V&A’s Word and Image Department, which holds the Museum’s collections of prints, drawings, paintings, photographs and digital artworks. Douglas is the lead curator for Chance and Control, and he is also responsible for the V&A’s internationally important digital art collection. Previous exhibitions include Digital Pioneers (2009-10) and Barbara Nessim: An Artful Life (2013).

31 August 2019Owl Project: Light-seeking stickbots 

Owl Project’s Simon Blackmore led an afternoon of making analog crawling robots that respond to light. Inspired by William Grey Walter’s Mechanical Tortoises and Valentino Braitenberg’s Vehicles, workshop attendees of all ages rolled up their sleeves to make simple moving bots that roamed the gallery floor. Participants were able to use a plotter to make and take home their own drawings.

Owl Project is an art collective formed by Simon Blackmore, Antony Hall and Steve Symons. They work with wood and electronics to create music-making machines that fuse sound art with sculpture. Notable works include 2012 Cultural Olympiad commission ~Flow, a large-scale floating installation which sonified the flow and salinity of the River Tyne using a range of hand-crafted machines, and the iLog, commissioned by Crafts Council UK. They are based in Rogue studios, Manchester UK.

6 September 2019 Emily Tilzey: Making a Dimension Digital Image-Making Workshop

Emily Tilzey led a workshop on digital image-making techniques, asking participants to create their own drawing, photograph and text-based compositions.

Half of the world’s population are active web users, which makes it one of the most accessible visual tools available. Recognising phones, tablets and computers as valid spaces to create art, this workshop encouraged participants to explore new ways of image-making through technology and their imagination, inspired by the exhibition Chance and Control: Art in the Age of Computers.

Tilzey also taught digital drawing and painting techniques, including exploring abstraction, for those who wanted to learn about digital art.

Emily Tilzey is a contemporary artist living and working in Manchester. Tilzey’s practice is influenced by the human condition, exploring and contemplating the delicacy of our existence. Predominantly working with drawing, painting, sculpture and digital processes, her work visualises the reflective dimension that exists between our everyday action and experience and our somatic being.

7 September 2019Sam Meech: Strange Loops

Artist Sam Meech set up studio for the afternoon within Chance and Control: Art in the Age of Computers, setting up feedback systems in video art. Using a variety of video cameras, monitors, projections, analogue mixers and digital video software, audiences had great fun exploring the wonderful world of strange loops.

Video feedback systems enable complex forms and organic patterns to be generated through simple rules and arrangements of equipment. These emergent patterns and fractals are unpredictable, self sustaining and utterly mesmerising.

Feedback forms have fascinated artists (Paik, Vasulkas, Doser) and scientists (Crutchfield, Hofstadter) alike since the early 60s, as a way of thinking about everything from chaos theory and pattern formation, to biological growth, cellular automata and even consciousness itself!

Sam Meech is an artist who enjoys combining old school analogue processes with digital tools to create interactive art and moving image works. His latest project, PORTALS uses feedback systems and projection mapping to create an interactive sci-fi experience. PORTALS has been touring libraries in the North West thanks to the Arts Council England, and has been long listed for the Lumen Arts Prize.

The Nexus collective

Chester-based the Nexus collective played two live sets during Chance and Control: Art in the Age of Computers. Playing downtempo, tonal and glitchy records within the gallery, they provided a perfect audio response. Nexus also closed the final day of the exhibition.

Audiences experienced off-kilter beats, deep drone, computer-generated samples, skewed percussion and mechanistic sounds in response to Analívia Cordeiro’s seminal video work ‘M3x3’, which featured in the exhibition.

The Nexus collective have been supplying Chester with the highest quality techno for over two years now, developing from a nomadic ad-hoc party to a regular event welcoming the finest guests from across the UK, Europe and further afield to an inclusive, friendly, intimate, no phones allowed on the dancefloor.

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