computer graphics and multimedia

   Although artist-run organizations like London Video Access (now London Electronic Arts) had installed expensive paint systems by the mid-1980s, the advent of the Apple Macintosh was the key to the development of an artists’ scene for multimedia in the UK. The DIY aesthetic of punk design, and the typographic revolt associated with Neville Brody, could both now be simulated on relatively cheap software packages, and the impact can be seen in the growth both of desktop published fanzines and the increasingly sophisticated use of photographic retouching programmes. Even the high-end video systems of the 1980s, like Harry and Paintbox, could now be reproduced on accessible machines.
   The first artists to take advantage of this came out of the video art scene, notably artists with associations to the art schools of Sheffield and Dundee like Judith Goddard and Clive Gillman. Composited animations and finely honed moving graphics became a hallmark of a period of British electronic arts around 1990, when seminal works like Goddard’s Luminous Portrait, Gillman’s NLV6 (Sublime), Keith Piper’s The Nation’s Finest and Steve Hawley’s Trout Descending a Staircase began to circulate. However, video art faced a desperate struggle both with an entrenched conservatism in the gallery world and an almost closed distribution system in cinemas. The Liverpool-based Video Positive festival and the Arts Council-funded Film and Video Umbrella began to promote such work, and associated interactive installations by artists like Goddard, Piper and Simon Robertshaw, to a slowly widening public of afficionados and interested and active computer buffs.
   William Latham’s tenure of an IBM Fellowship between 1988 and 1993 introduced genetic algorithm or artificial life programming to the UK scene, and although critics like Cate Elwes deplored a certain ‘toys for the boys’ tendency, increasingly women artists, including Elwes, have been making exemplary and subtle use of the available technologies. New digital media have brought important works into publication: Gillman, Simon Biggs, Graham Harwood and Audio-ROM have made important CD-ROMs. Internet art is now widely discussed: two exemplary works are Jane Prophet’s Technosphere and Heath Bunting’s irrational.org. Major design practices like Amaze and Obsolete have grown swiftly in this climate, and an increasing number of art schools offer specialist degrees. An important new development is heralded by the work of Dispersed Data, a loose affiliation of black British multimedia artists and curators.
   Further reading
    Watt, A. (1993) 3D Computer Graphics, 2nd edn, Wokingham: Addison-Wesley.
   SEAN CUBITT

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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