Review of Catherine Mason’s ‘Computer in the Art Room: The Origins of British Computer Arts 1950-1980’ by Rob Myers

A Computer in the Art Room: The Origins of British Computer Arts 1950-1980. By Catherine Mason.

Review by Rob Myers.

From the 1950s to the 1980s teachers and students at British educational institutions begged or borrowed access to computing machinery and used it to make art. Catherine Mason traces this history, sets it in a broader cultural context, and makes the case for its re-evaluation.

Art Computing in the UK is no less interesting than Art Computing anywhere else but its history often seems like a carefully guarded secret. This has been alleviated by activity around the resurrected Computer Arts Society in the 2000s, notably the acquisition of CAS’s archives by the V&A and the CaCHE project at Birbeck College which ran from 2002-2005. CaCHE, run by Paul Brown, Charlie Gere, Nick Lambert and Catherine Mason, produced conferences, exhibitions, and publications including the book “A Computer In the Art Room”, by Mason.

In 2002 Catherine began researching the history of British computer arts at Birkbeck, University of London with the CACHe Project (Computer Arts, Contexts, Histories, etc.), funded by the UK’s Arts & Humanities Research Council. In 2006 she produced Bits in Motion, a screening of early British computer animation, at London’s National Film Theatre. She has contributed to Futures Past: Twenty Years of Arts Computing published by Intellect, 2007 and White Heat, Cold Logic: British Computer Art 1960-1980, forthcoming MIT Press, and her latest book A Computer in the Art Room: the origins of British computer arts 1950-80 published 2008.