Pre-history of Computer Art

Article (1996) on the history of computer art in Eastern Europe by Martin Sperka.

Humans always used the HiTech of their era as tool and media in art. The mammoth-ivory Venus from Moravany, West Slovakia, more than 20 000 years old, was curved with the same instruments that were used in fighting for survival. Some concepts, exploited in computer art, are known since centuries. The superposition of rotational movement in creating patterns on pottery is an analogy to the computer drum plotter. We can find many analogical methods in artistic works and all modern media.

Maybe the most famous person, who lived in Bratislava and whose work can be considered as prehistorical in this context is Johann Wolfgang Kempelen, who experimented with mechanical sound synthesis in the eighteenth century. His chess playing automaton (a man hidden in a box moved chess figures with the help of teleoperator links) could be considered as the predecessor of telepresence.

Many Slovaks or other nationalities (Germans and Hungarians) born on the territory of today's Slovakia (until 1918 part of Austro - Hungary) contributed to the technological progress in the field which is part of new media (in art). We can mention Jozef Petzval who calculated and constructed the first photo camera lens, Antonin Jedlik and Gejza Bolemann who created Lissajouse patterns (super-position of harmonic functions) with the mechanical "predecessor" of the computer plotter, long before Ben Laponsky did his first oscilons with an electronic computer.

These people worked in Budapest, Vienna, and German cities or moved to the USA, because they could not find fruitful support at home. The son of Slovak emigrants to the USA, Andy Warhol, used an Amiga 1000 for image processing (1986) and designed an antropomorphic robot (constructed by Walt Disney animator Alvaro Villa). In the town of Medzilaborce (East Slovakia), from which Warhol's parents came, the Andy Warhol Museum was established recently. His brother visited the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava several times, where he discussed the possibility of producing a video disc about Andy Warhol's works. The proposed author was Andrej Hatala, who comes from Bratislava and is living in Paris since 1968. He is the author of several famous multimedia video discs and CD ROMs about art - Louvre, Musee de Orsay, Musee de l'Homme, Picasso, Vermeer van Delft and his time, Rembrandt and his era.


The history of computer art is connected with the developments in former Czecho-slovakia. The first artist in this country, who used the computer was Zdenek Sykora, whose works were a logical continuation of his classic works. Miroslav Klivar, born in Slovakia and living in Prague wrote the first article about using computers in art in 1962. Jiri Valoch organized the first computer graphic art exhibition in 1968 in Brno. Then, followed exhibitions in Prague and other cities. Among the first who exhibited in that time were Frieder Nake, Charles Csuri, Vera Molnar, and some Czechoslovak artists - Lubomirt Sochor, who used an analog computer in the early sixties, Zdenek Sykora, Miroslav Klivar, Zdenka Cechova, Jan Moucka, Zdenek Frybl. The situation in Slovakia was approximately the same, with the difference that the first "computer artist" Jozef Jankovic became an "unwanted" sculptor in the early seventies. Some of his sculptures were removed from public places. As he had no more possibilities to work in this medium, he decided to cooperate with computer scientist Imro Bertok, and did lithographies and serigraphies, based on computer drawings. His name became a synonym for computers in art. Still, the official art representatives did not recognize this tool. Another sculptor and conceptual artist - Juraj Bartuzs - started using computers in the same year as Jozef Jankovic (1972). He used computer drawings as a template for manufacturing rotational, metal sculptures. The initial drawings were chosen from random series created by a computer. The painter Daniel Fischer started using computers later. Most of his works are line drawings, morphing one image into another. He used these drawings also for book illustrations and at the end of the seventies made the first computer animation in Slovakia (Altamira cave bull morphing into sign of infinity. Single frames plotted by Calcom plotter were photographed step by step by an animation camera). Later, Peter Slavkovsky, Peter Briatka, and Martin Sperka created animated logos or animated illustrations for scientific programs and Slovak Television programs. In those times it was very difficult to get access to computers, not only for artists but also for scientists. Later, with the introduction of the first home computers, more artists used them. We can mention the painter and print artist Agnesa Sigetova. She used her Atari also for animation. Animation film artist Ondrej Slivka created a seven minute long cartoon in 1986 with some sections animated by a computer program of Martin Sepp and Martin Sperka. The film received awards at several international animation festivals abroad. Most of the computer graphics artworks were exhibited in the frame of scientific events (conferences) or at factory galleries (better to say cultural centers).

After 1989, computers penetrated the artists' studios and schools of art. In 1991 computer courses were initiated at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava. Starting in 1993, courses of Computer Animation were taught at the Department of Animation, at the Faculty of Film and Television. Several international workshops on new media (Multimedia 1992, Laser Art 1993, Video Art 1994, Multimedia CD ROM 1996) were organized or co-organized by the Kultur Axe - the Austrian-Slovak art agency and the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in the framework of summer schools of painting and new media at the castles of Mojmirovce and Topolcianky in Western Slovakia. This year the second festival BEECAMP96 (Bratislava European Electronic Computer and Multimedia Project) will take place. This festival is not exclusivly "electronical and computer," but is more open. The coordinator of this event is the Centre of Electroacoustic and Computer Music (CECM), Bratislava.


Exhibitions of computer art were part of scientific conferences like SOFSEM or Computer Graphics (in Slovakia and in the Czech Republic). Slovak computer artists exhibited at exhibitions (exclusively computer art) in the Czech part of Czechoslovakia. When in 1991, a big retrospective exhibition of Jozef Jankovic took place, computer graphics were part of the whole collection.

A retrospective and international exhibition of Computer Graphics in Fine Arts was organized in Banska Bystrica (1992), Bratislava, Trnava, Benesov (Czech Republic), curated by Zuzana Bartkova and Martin Sperka. Among others also the Hungarian artist Vera Molnar participated - one of the pioneers of computer art - now living in France. Electronic Mail Art 1, 2, 3 (1994, 1995, 1996) took place in Bratislava, Banska Bystrica and Wroclaw (Poland), curated by Martin Sperka. At the last one, Charles Csuri participated (his ancestors come from Györ, Hungary), one of the few artists who has been using computers from the sixties until now.


Music and sound: Slovak Radio Corporation and CECM (Centre of Electroacoustic and Computer Music, Bratislava, which is part of the Slovak Radio Corporation), Mytna ulica. Contact person: Juraj Duris, president of CECM. This institution is very active and one of the best-equipped in Central Europe. For example, they organized John Cage's visit to Bratislava. Video and TV: Slovak Television, Bratislava, Stare grunty. Some experimental videos are stored at private archives of artists and private studios.

Film: Slovak Film Institute - National Cinematographic Centre (SFU - NKC), Bratislava, Grosllingova ulica 32. The basic fund consists of 333 feature films, 3128 short films, 275 unique historical pieces shot since 1895, and of an extensive collection of various cinema news reels. This basic fund is supplemented with a collection of 3295 Czech and foreign films. The Collection of the film archive is open for study, research and information purposes, as well as to the public within the framework of Filmoteka cinema. Contact person: Peter Dubecky, phone: +42 - 7 - 5361524

Photography: There exists a collection of photography at the Slovak National Gallery in Bratislava. Contact person: Aurel Hrabusicky. The Foundation FOTOFO organizes the annual Month of Photography in Slovakia (November 1991, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6), with a focus on contemporary photography in Eastern Europe. There are always several exhibitions devoted to the history of Slovak photography. Contact person: Judita Csaderova, president.
Tel / Fax +42 - 7 - 5314231

Computer (fine) art: No archive until now. There are plans to establish a Museum of Computers in Bratislava as part of the Slovak National Museum in Bratislava and a Museum of Technology in Kosice (which has a department of media and computers). Contact person: Martin Sperka.


Bertok, I., Jankovic, J.: A Collaborative Investigation of the Line: Interactive Computer- Aided Drawings, Leonardo,19, No.1, 1986, pp. 27-30

Bertok, I., Janousek, I.: Computers and Art (in Slovak). Slovensk pedagogick nakladatelstvo, Bratislava, 1988).

Review in English was published in Languages of Design, 1,1993, No.3, p. 285.

Duris, J.: Slovak electroacoustic Music History, CECM - Centre of Electroacoustic and Computer Music, Bratislava. URL:(http://www. savba.logos.sk/logos/mca/cecm.html)

Cechova, Z.: Application of Computer Graphics in Fine Arts. In: Pocitacova grafika, Proceedings of conference, Smolenice, 1986, pp. 15 - 20

Kaduch, M.: Czech and Slovak Electroacoustic Music 1964 - 1994: Composers, Programers, Technicians, Musicologists, Music Critics, Publicists (In Czech). Osobni slovnik, Ostrava 1996.

Sykora, Z., Blazek, J.: Computer- Aided Multi Element Geometrical Abstract Paintings. Leonardo, 3, No. 4, p. 409

Sperka, M.: Milestones of Computer Graphics in Slovakia, Profil sucasneho vytvarneho umenia, 3, No.1, 1993, 10 - 11.

Sperka, M.: The Origins of Computer Graphics in Czech and Slovak Republics. Leonardo, 27, No.1, 1994, pp.45 - 50.

Sperka, M.: Email Art 2,3. URL: (http://www.cvt.stuba.sk/art/new.html)

Strauss, T.: Slovak Variation of Modernism, Samizdat, 1978 - 79, Pallas, 1992, Bratislava.

Zajicek, L.: The History of Electroacoustic Music in Czech and Slovak Republics. Leonerdo Music Journal, 5, 1995, pp. 39 - 48.f

150 Years from Invention of Photography. Photography and Audio Visual Works. The Main Contribution of Czechoslovakia to the Development of Contemporary Photography in Work of Jozef Svoboda. Article about coauthor of Polyecran (Mosaic Projection) and Polyvision at the Expo 58, Brussels and Expo 67 Montreal.

The Czech Electronic Picture - Inner Sources. Catalogue of the Czech (and Slovak living in Prague) creators of video and intermedia art. Gallery Manes, Prague 1994

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