White Heat Cold Logic: British Computer Art 1960-1980

Edited by Paul Brown, Charlie Gere, Nicholas Lamberts and Catherine Mason

Published by

The MIT Press
ISBN

978-0-262-02653-6

RRP

£33.95

Reviewed by

Jonathon P. Bowen, FBCS

Score

9 out of 10

White Heat Cold LogicThis volume presents an eclectic collection of chapters both by pioneers of early British computer art and by authors who have studied the area.

The material by the original participants in the field is most revealing and often their paths cross from different perspectives in several chapters, adding to the value of the book as a whole.

There are 29 chapters in total, so it is impossible to provide any sort of complete coverage here, but some of the highlights revolve around the activities of the Computer Arts Society (now a BCS Specialist Group).

The book includes chapters by George Mallen and Alan Sutcliffe, who founded the group in 1968 together with John Lansdown. A notable project was the production of computer simulation sequences for the 1979 film Alien, undertaken by System Simulation Ltd.

By its nature, British computer art in the 1960s and 1970s was relatively technology-based. To be effective, significant knowledge of the programming aspects was needed. For example, John Vince (a chapter author) produced the PICASO computer graphics library at Middlesex Polytechnic.

The connection between art and science is evident throughout much of the book. Doron Swade, an ex-curator at the Science Museum, writes with firsthand knowledge on the Computing Then & Now gallery at the museum, which included a computer art booth produced with the help of the Computer Arts Society.

Each of the chapters can be read independently, but as the reader takes in more and more of them, a picture of computer art at this time is accumulated. It is a fascinating book in which to become immersed for those interested in the early interplay of art and computing in Britain.

I am very glad to have the book on my shelf and plan to continue dipping into it in coming years. It certainly fills a gap in recording the early history of digital arts in the United Kingdom. The editors are to be congratulated on collecting to together so many personal and other authoritative accounts, at a very reasonable price for a hardback book.

Further Information: The MIT Press

February 2010