Manfred Mohr

New York, New York, USA

Inspired by the rational “Information Aesthetics” of Professor Max Bense in the early 1960s, my artistic understanding shifted into new meaning. My longstanding interest in electronics (building radios and amplifiers since childhood), active involvement in jazz music as a tenor saxophonist and interest in abstract art turned in a new direction. My art slowly transformed from expressionism to computer-generated algorithmic geometry. Learning a programming language came naturally to me, and with the encouragement of my friend Pierre Barbaud, a French computer music composer, I was ready by the late 1960s to work exclusively with a computer—and therefore with the logic of a programming language—to create art. Through this radical approach to creating art, which I consider an important part of my contribution to a systematic art, I learned an astonishing new way of thinking about my work. In fact the computer became a physical and intellectual extension in the process of creating my art.

The basis of my research is the invention and systematic development of two-dimensional signs which I call “êtres-graphiques.” These signs refer only to themselves, and their content is the history of their creation. The nature of programming leads to a more global and yet detailed view of one’s idea. My research centers on the logical content of an idea and the search for general rules which describe that idea. I write procedures which generate results that are the logical consequences of these complex and multilayered rules. These results are rich with visual surprises beyond anyone’s imagination and preferences.

As an appropriate and logical extension of my work, I started to use the computer together with a mechanical drawing device—the plotter—in 1969. Subsequently I called my art “generative work” because the signs were created by the rational structure of programming algorithms established in advance by myself. My work is therefore an algorithmic art which conceptually exists (as a program) before it is actually realized.

By 1973 all my algorithms (rules) were based on the fixed and logical structure of cubes (lines, planes and their relationships, etc.) and since 1978 on n-dimensional hypercubes. The structure of the cube became the basic alphabet of my work, an “instrument” similar to a musical instrument on which I could play and improvise. I use a variety of logical methods to generate subsets of these structures. Breaking the symmetry of the cube and creating visual ambiguity are essential elements in my work. Unable to detect the complete system, the viewer nevertheless notices a strong visual force holding everything together. This force is created by the logic of the inherent relationships in the underlying structure.

The dialog with the computer became an integral part of my work and at the same time, a fascinating stimulation of my imagination, a process which I then called “high speed visual thinking.” The paradox of my generative work is that these visually minimal signs are in reality referring to a complex maximal content. In the late 1990s this paradox compelled me to introduce color into my artwork after having used black and white for more than 35 years. The colors are not based on any color theory, but rather chosen at random and are solely used as differentiation which clearly hints at the underlying complexity.

It is, however, not the system or logic I want to present in my work, but the visual invention which results from it. My artistic goal is reached when a finished work can visually dissociate itself from its logical content and convincingly stand as an independent abstract entity.

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