„What we know as computer art began on a December morning in 1968 when Lillian Schwartz grasped a light pen and began to draw.“ (Arno Penzias, Head of Bell Laboratories New Jersey)

Installation view
Courtesy by Lillian Schwartz; CAPRI; Photo by Achim Kukulies

Lillian Schwartz (born 1927 in Cincinnati, U.S.A., lives in New York City) is a central pioneer of computer-based art. From 1968 to 2001, she worked as the only woman and artist between computer scientists, chemists and physicists at Bell Laboratories, the research center of AT&T in New Jersey, developing films that have been paving the way for the aesthetics and use of computer graphics, video and 3D Animation. She not only expanded the possibilities of art, but also influenced the fields of video games, special effects and virtual reality. The invitation to Bell Lab took place in 1968 following her in the exhibition "The Machine as Seen at the End of Mechanical Age" curated by Pontus Hultén at MoMA, New York. Here, Schwartz showed an interactive light sculpture featuring a glass dome with rhythmically pulsating and changing colours. Schwartz further developed this idea at the Bell Lab. In her workplace between monitors, cables and flashing lights, she experimented with the light pen and discovered "technological pointillism". She collaborated with perception experts, physicists and chemists, whose garbage cans, full of nuclear drawings and material samples, she regularly scanned for image ideas. Schwartz worked in a time when artists were primarily concerned with concepts and their own bodies - new technologies were considered taboo for many; they were seen as symbols of capitalism, primarily serving commercial purposes. But for Schwartz the computer has always been an instrument for linking artistic visions with scientific precision. She recognized its ability to anticipate our thoughts, at the same time knowing that it has no creativity of its own. Schwartz's work is neither formalistic nor conceptually motivated. It is based on the spirit of research and on her intuitive surrender to the interaction of colors and forms, which, combined with synthetic soundtracks, she transforms into hypnotic spectacles.

Installation view
Courtesy by Lillian Schwartz; CAPRI; Photo by Achim Kukulies
Installation view
Courtesy by Lillian Schwartz; CAPRI

For Pixillation (1970), for example, she poured pigments onto glass plates illuminated from underneath, which she then filmed from above: graphic and amorphous shapes, sometimes reminiscent of lava lamps or color field painting, then of computer graphics that are out of control. For Mutations (1972) she generated film images from laser beams - they recall deep-sea photography, ectoplasm, or early video games like Pac-Man. For Galaxies (1974), she transformed satellite recordings into a mixture of LSD-Trip and 2001 Space Odyssey. Schwartz's work is strongly influenced by her own biography. Because of an eye disease that prevents her from fully perceiving color and depth, she developed techniques that push the limits of color saturation: many of her early films of the 70s can be seen in 2D and 3D without the pixels shifting - a technology that was officially only invented 20 years later. In 1949, Schwartz moved to Japan, where her husband was stationed as a doctor. There she fell ill with polio - a Zen teacher taught her calligraphy, through which she overcame the paralysis. But at first, she was only able to motionlessly look at the assorted brushes. "I learned to paint in my head before I even put a line on the paper," she said. It is the origin of her work as a filmmaker at the Bell Lab. Lillian Schwartz has exhibited internationally in numerous institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art and Whitney Museum, New York, the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam and the Centre Pompidou, Paris. Most recently, her works were shown in the exhibitions "Digital Revolution" at Barbican Centre, London and "Ghosts in the Machine" at New Museum, New York, as well as in a solo exhibition at Magenta Plains Gallery, New York.

Film still  from Lillian Schwartz, APOTHEOSIS, 1972

Lillian Schwartz, APOTHEOSIS, 1972
Film

Courtesy by Lillian Schwartz; CAPRI
Film still from Lillian Schwartz, MUTATIONS, 1972

Lillian Schwartz, MUTATIONS, 1972
Film

Courtesy by Lillian Schwartz; CAPRI
Film still from Lillian Schwartz, OLYMPIAD, 1971

Lillian Schwartz, OLYMPIAD, 1971
Film

Courtesy by Lillian Schwartz; CAPRI
Film still from Lillian Schwartz, PIXILLATION, 1970

Lillian Schwartz, PIXILLATION, 1970
Film

Courtesy by Lillian Schwartz; CAPRI

Details and Credits

For further information please contact Julia Köhler or Tine Lurati.

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