On Writing About Lillian Schwartz

To celebrate and commemorate the first gallery show of 89-year-old computer graphics pioneer Lillian Schwartz, I wrote about her start with Bell Labs in 1968, and the inventive artistry of her time collaborating with engineers and scientists for the sake of answering their own curiosities about the futures of technology and creativity.

From the piece, published today by Topical Cream:

In our rapidly growing networks of social media, a dark suspicion underscores our digital footprints: Is that really the status you’re feeling right now? Is that really where you are? Is there really no filter on this photo? Validity on social media has more to do with an acquired approval via followers and likes than the accuracy of whether a post is “in real time” or a “latergram” or simply constructed for wit, laughs, or controversy.

The idea that our online selves are carefully-curated avatars of who we want others to think we are in the flesh, has progressed over the past twenty years of Internet services providing peer-to-peer profiles, chatrooms, and sharing capabilities. “FOMO” (Fear of Missing Out) has entered our lexicon as a shorthand diagnosis for how important it is to not only generate content of ourselves for media, but to generate the kind of self-portrayal that would induce an anxiety of envy in others.

Magenta Plains has been exhibiting artists with large-scale, eye-catching allure since opening less than a year ago on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The anxiety embedded in their recent show, Lillian Schwartz: Pioneer of Computer Art, arises not only from the desire to see the 12 catalogue pieces and 18 moving image works in person, but also as an anxiety of the actual fears of art missing out on art: this is Schwartz’s first gallery show, and at 89 years old, her work is finally receiving dedicated attention as art done by her, whether as part of a collaboration or under a corporation’s copyright.

As a member of the collective Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.), begun by engineers Billy Klüver and Fred Waldhauer, with artists Robert Rauschenberg and Robert Whitman, Schwartz collaborated on art projects in the 1960s until attracting the attention of Leon Harmon with her Proxima Centauri (1968), a kinetic sculpture chosen as one of nine E.A.T. pieces for MoMA’s “The Machine as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age.” Harmon, a visual perception expert at the renowned AT&T Bell Labs (“a breeding ground for Nobelists”), invited Schwartz to their New Jersey campus where she stayed from 1968 until 2002, an artist collaborating with engineers on developing tools, technologies, and possibilities for the future of computing capabilities.

Continue reading "A Glitch in the System: Lillian Schwartz" here.