Carolyn L. KaneChromatic Algorithms: Synthetic Color, Computer Art, and Aesthetics after Code

University of Chicago Press, 2014

by Carla Nappi on December 3, 2014

Carolyn L. Kane

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[Cross-posted from New Books in Science, Technology, and Society] Carolyn L. Kane’s new book traces the modern history of digital color, focusing on the role of electronic color in computer art and media aesthetics since 1960. Chromatic Algorithms: Synthetic Color, Computer Art, and Aesthetics after Code (University of Chicago Press, 2014) places color at the center of media studies, exploring some amazing works of art and technology to understand the changing history of the relationship between color as embodied in machine code and screen interface. Using a methodology called “media archaeology” that is informed by the work of Foucault, Nietzsche, Kittler, Heidegger, Stiegler, and others, Chromatic Algorithms traces a transformation of color from optics to algorithms.  The chapters trace a history of synthetic color in Western aesthetics and philosophy, the rise of Day-Glo, the aesthetics of color in video art from the 1960s and 1970s, the technology of color TVs, the connection between color and notions of transcendence and utopia, “democratic color” and Salvador Dalí’s urinated-upon pen, the early history of art/engineering at Bell Labs, the technology of digital infrared visualization, the aesthetics of “Photoshop cinema,” bioart and its glow-in-the-dark bunnies, and the work of some amazing artists including Lillian Schwartz, Jeremy Blake, and many many others. It is a gorgeous and fascinating study of color, technology, visualization, the digital, and beyond.

As you work through the book, I highly recommend searching the Web for some of the amazing work described in its chapters. I’m based in Canada and so some of the following links may not work for you: in that case, just try searching on your own for the title:

The rock opera Battle for Milkquarious! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_zDMhwq3pcA

Jeremy Blake, Winchester Redux http://vimeo.com/16485005

Zbigniew Rybczyński, Tango http://vimeo.com/9033947

Paper Rad: http://www.paperrad.org/

This site has some clips from Lillian Schwartz’z Proxima Centaurihttp://lillian.com/kinetic/

You can browse video clips from WGBH’s New Television Workshop here: http://main.wgbh.org/wgbh/NTW/

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