About Frieder Nake

Frieder Nake is one of the three pioneering artists who showed their work in the first exhibitions of computer art in 1965. He is widely considered as a figure of reference in computer-generated art.

Frieder Nake on the beginnings of digital art

In an exclusive interview at the artist’s home, Wolf Lieser asks Nake to recall his first experiments with algorithmic drawing.

 

Wolf Lieser visited pioneering artist Frieder Nake at his home and asked him to elaborate on the beginnings of his work as a “computer artist,” a term he actually did not like at the time, as he expressed it in the famously provocative article “There Should be no Computer Art” in 1971. Nake reminisces on his time as a student of Mathematics at the Technical University of Stuttgart, and how when the university bought a computer, he was trusted the task of writing a program to create drawings with it:

“Basically, the software I was now supposed to develop was of a kind that I had no idea of. I got myself into an unknown situation in which I had to develop something that certainly 50 kilometers, maybe 500 kilometres around, nobody has ever thought of. It must have been sometime in the course of 1963.

Then, when I believe I’m finished with developing the software which runs on the computer, and produces a punch paper tape, this tape should now go into the drawing machine. But we do not have the drawing machine yet. It is in the company, in their factory. So I had to travel there and try it out. The Zuse company was then still independent, not swallowed by Siemens yet. In the morning, I arrived there and asked the engineers to check out my punch tapes on their machine. So they put the punch tape into the reader and press the start button. And the machine starts to try a little stroke. But it ends with a really short stroke and one bent. And then it stops.

What I had prepared, of course, was an entire drawing. And this is a shock for me, because I was convinced that if I had programmed this thing, it should work. So what I learned here is: you can never write a program without an error. I was able, fortunately, to correct it now as I was there, even though I did not have the computer available. But I knew the code for the drawing machine so well that I could just change the paper tape as if I were the computer myself. And then it worked.”

In the second part of the interview (video below), Nake addresses the process of creation of his first drawings, and how he introduced randomness, in order to allow for an aesthetic to develop, but did not leave the program to behave chaotically. Rather, he used random number generators in a way in which he could control the process:

“I decided I would do everything randomly, and not consciously check for correctness. So this is a moment of art where I leave open the mathematical question, is it or is it not correct? I trust if I do it long enough, then it will be correct. So I gave up a bit of my ethos from mathematics in favor of, let me say, aesthetics, to happen in the hope that this will be close enough for the strict mathematical question of correct or not correct. I soon then gave up doing everything randomly in the sense of what we think as chaotic. I used random number generators for much more directed, should I say hoping that even though it would be a random walk through the image, it will be interesting, if I control the randomness, to some extent. That’s the moment and it must be in early 1964.”

Finally, Nake recalls the first Computer Art exhibition by Georg Nees in 1965 and his own first exhibition, alongside Nees, at the Wendelin Niedlich Galerie in Stuttgart that same year.


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