Thesis Info

Thesis Title
Between Technophilia, Cold War and Rationality: A Social and Cultural History of Digital Art
German Alfonso Nunez
2nd Author
3rd Author
Number of Pages
University of the Arts London
Thesis Supervisor
Michael Asbury
Supervisor e-mail
m.asbury AT
Other Supervisor(s)
Language(s) of Thesis
Department / Discipline
Transnational Art, Identity and Nation Research Center / Art History and Theory
Languages Familiar to Author
Portugues, Spanish
URL where full thesis can be found
digital art, art history, social history, cultural history, postwar art, contemporary art, art theory, social history of art
Abstract: 200-500 words
Evoking his early personal experiences, computer art pioneer Paul Brown wrote in the mid-1990s that to work with computers was akin to a ‘kiss of death’. According to him, as a result of sheer prejudice, the majority of people in the art world did not acknowledge such artworks as interesting, valid or important. Although recurrent in the literature concerned with such art, Brown’s claims must be confronted with the relative success of artistic practices interchangeably labelled as computer, new media, cybernetic, electronic or simply digital art. However, as attested by this proliferation of labels as well as by the development of numerous dedicated awards, degrees, galleries, museums, awards and publications, the success of such practices cannot be explained by artistic merit alone. Since many in the art world do not accept these artworks, as Brown and others suggest, how can we explain the works’ success in securing and developing their own space over the course of fifty years? This thesis investigates the emergence, development and institutionalisation of the field termed here as ‘art, science and technology’ (AST) between 1965 and the mid-1970s in Europe and North America. Also recognised by the aforementioned labels (among others), AST is an umbrella term that arguably designates the artistic practices interested in the adoption, theorisation and dissemination of post-war technologies and, particularly, information technology. Yet, despite this shared interest, here I argue that it is the particular institutional arrangement of AST that best distinguishes it from other artistic practices. A direct consequence of its rejection, AST’s emergence as a separate field is here explained via a revision of its initial social and cultural contexts. Arising from the technophile cultural climate of the long 1950s, and alongside the massive investments in technology made by Western governments in the same period, early AST developed not within traditional artistic spaces but within industries and universities. In the late 1960s, however, with the rise of economic, political and social uncertainties alongside escalating international conflicts, it became increasingly difficult to justify an art produced with the tools and support of the military– industrial complex. If on the one hand artists such as Brown understood these new artworks as central to art and its history, a normative development of a new technological era, on the other hand opponents located at the centre of contemporary art lambasted these new artworks for their supposedly scientific, commercial and aesthetic pretensions. Differently from previous attempts aimed at justifying the artistic worthiness of art produced with post-war technology, this thesis presents the history of such practices from the point of view of its own struggle – that is, its fight for survival. Ultimately, here I explain and describe how AST became detached from art while claiming its status. This is an effort not interested in the merits of these practices per se but, instead, concerned with AST’s development as an autonomous and prosperous field.