The Cy­ber­netic Cin­ema of the Whit­neys


Session Title:

  • Arabesque, Mandala, Algorithm: A Long History of Generative Art

Presentation Title:

  • The Cy­ber­netic Cin­ema of the Whit­neys




  • Panel: Arabesque, Mandala, Algorithm: A Long History of Generative Art

    John Whit­ney and James Whit­ney began with ran­dom dots. Com­puter pro­cess­ing re­peated, re­arranged, and re­com­bined these dots into fig­ures, gen­er­at­ing pre­cise, strob­ing pat­terns, which they pre­sented as films, with ti­tles like Lapis and Per­mu­ta­tions. These films, from the 1960s and 70s, pointed to­ward a fu­ture for “ma­chine-re­al­ized art” that side­stepped tra­di­tional con­cepts and habits of rep­re­sen­ta­tion. In­deed, ac­cord­ing to the Whit­neys, their early films sought to de­stroy “the par­tic­u­lar of rep­re­sen­ta­tion” through a con­cept of se­r­ial per­mu­ta­tion by which a form could be “jux­ta­posed dy­nam­i­cally against it­self through ret­ro­gres­sion, in­ver­sion, and mir­ror­ing.” This paper will ex­am­ine the work of the Whit­neys’, across sev­eral gen­er­a­tions of com­put­ers, as ar­tic­u­lat­ing a cri­tique of hege­monic rep­re­sen­ta­tion.  This cri­tique is founded in a prac­tice of rep­e­ti­tion and dif­fer­ence that steps out­side the hi­er­ar­chies of rep­re­sen­ta­tion. The re­peat­ing forms cre­ated by the strob­ing dots sub­vert rep­re­sen­ta­tional self-pres­ence as they gen­er­ate an ex­pan­sive, pro­lif­er­at­ing dif­fer­ence, to be ex­pe­ri­enced rather than ac­counted for—a dif­fer­ence which of­fers an al­ter­na­tive way of see­ing with the com­puter.