COLOURS AND COMPUTATIONS OF IMAGE
Your first artworks are paintings and drawings; what was the main reason for you to start using film, or generally the moving image technologies?
When making relief paintings in the sixties, I ended up, in 1968, writing a computer programme to help me complete the organisation of a work. This really alerted me to the importance of procedures and processes and it was not long before I wanted to know what the implications of computation were for art. I started to explore them directly and also in terms of how I approached making drawings and paintings. I was always interested in music and film and so I started exploring time, in particular. I made a film in 1973 that was done the hard way, implementing my structures with a pair of scissors. I am not sure how good it was. In the early 1980s, when I started to work with personal computers I saw that I could build structures in time and have the computer realise them. It was like a move from making a series of pictures (which was quite common then) to making film. It was not long before I realised that I need not use the film paradigm of frames with a beginning and an end. I could make generative 'films' that went on changing forever, with no stored frames but with the images created as they were seen. My early interest in interaction soon came into play also, because interaction could change the generative rules, and so on.
In your reduction of forms, you seem to continue classic modernism. Your works are characterized by a minimalist approach which is linked to the aesthetic of geometric abstraction. Does the form of computation and its application within the systems generating the image structure represent the main principle of your works?
That is a complex question. At the heart I am concerned with colour and form, with a particular concern for those things in relation to time and interaction. Structure in one way or another, dealing with relationships in particular, seems to me to be at the centre of much art making. (Just think of music). Although I use simple mathematics, geometry and so on quite normally, the key question that I have addressed in this respect is: What are the implications of the invention of computation?
So the basic principle is computation, although that is an aspect of logic, of course. Reduction had been important to me for a while. It came from a concern to concentrate on the key elements and learn how to handle them. It was a kind of strategy for making progress, for learning. Embellishing the core never seemed to add anything and I still find that it ends up confusing the work. I guess that it is fair to say that it connects, more or less, to classical modernism. But I did it because I had to. It was not a stylistic choice. There seemed to be no other way.
Visually, your works are based on the meaning of colours, as you have already mentioned. In your first moving images, you have employed primarily black and white. What was the impulse for your transition to colour, or the extension of the colour scale in your images?
In fact, I was always driven by a concern with colour. In many ways that was exactly why my first venture into computer-generated videos only used black and white: the colour screens of the time were unreliable in terms of colour fidelity. At the time of making these pieces I started making paintings using the same forms in order to help me think about colour and once the screens improved, for example with calibration systems available, I moved over to colour with the time-based work.
Your generated images are not bound to any recording medium; in fact they are based solely on computation. I wonder whether the meaning of these generated images changes with time, for instance, whether you tend to actualize your older works by means of new technologies.
I have often addressed the same issues at different times in my development. For example, using structures that I developed for drawings in the 1970s in films of the 1980s. The possibilities change, of course, in different media. So, for example, moving from video tape delivery to showing work being generated by computer in real-time enabled me to make work that lasted forever and never repeated. These works don't use the old film paradigm that is based on the idea of a fixed number of images shown at a given rate for a specific length of time. Only one image exists at any one time – the one being shown. Actually, as you probably know, that is not quite true, because I make the computer generate 'the next image' before changing the display, for a clean cut. So really two images can exist at any one time. For a film there are thousands.
Are there any functional tools for archiving or at least preserving this kind of works?
This is a good question and quite a problem. Preserving film is difficult but obviously I have another kind of problem. I do have most of the old code that made the works. Much of it needs new interpreters to run because computers and operating systems have changed enormously over the years. It can be done, however.
Do you still have a copy of your first film? I wonder if you have ever reflected on this work from the position of an experimental filmmaker; in the tradition of structural or metric film (Paul Sharits, Peter Kubelka etc.).
Yes, I do have the film as well as the storyboard. I recently looked it out and have just made a digital version so that it is easier to look at. At that time I had a little contact with some of the London Co-Op Filmmakers, and filmmakers such as Malcom Le Grice were also involved within the Computer Arts Society that I was active in. I certainly thought about those people you mention, but also about earlier people, such as Richter. Part of my inspiration, however, came from music: serialism and contemporary work of that time, like Boulez.
Do you mention Hans Richter for his tendency to define what he calls the universal language of forms which was applied in his abstract films?
Yes. That idea was very close to my view although I had a less political take on it. You could see my work in terms of another tradition: visual research. The language of forms idea fitted closely to that and to dealing with the work in terms of matters of perception. Fairly obviously, works like Rhythmus 21 and Rhythmus 23 can be seen as early steps in the exact direction that I have followed.
What was the main reason for your collaboration with Mark Fell? Was it the study of abstraction in relation to sound?
Mark and I found that we had a similar aesthetic, you might say. I had been working for some time with other people, trying to make audiovisual works that had complete unity about them that many have talked about; at least from Wagner on. It is a difficult subject, however, and the great thing about working with Mark was that we fairly quickly found a way of doing this with the sound and image elements taking equal parts and without either driving the other. That is the kind of unity I was after.
Do you find the idea of audiovisual unity in the sense of the "Gesamtkunstwerk" still relevant? I am also asking because we have been studying the current position of audiovisual works generated or performed during a performance, calling it "live animation", in the past five years at PAF. One of my conclusions is related to this ongoing effort that leads to defining or making this kind of complete unity of an audiovisual work.
Yes. Like many others, you could put my work in the recent "Gesamtkunstwerk" tradition that uses the concept of synesthesia, loosely following Baudelaire, particularly "Correspondances" in Les Fleurs du Mal. Like much of my art, and film, I base my work on generative processes that interpret rule specifications in realising the piece. In a performance, for example, the rules can be changed in various ways as time progresses. Now, the important point about the audio/visual unity is that what we did was used such generative processes to make the evolving underlying structure (something like a musical score generated as the music is made). If you add to that the idea of mappings from that structure to physical reality suddenly it is clear. Parts of the structure can map to sound and parts to image. Sometimes they may be the same, but sometimes not. However, the whole is given its unity by the generative structure. Neither sound nor image dominates.
Ernest Edmonds interviewed by Martin Mazanec (October–November 2013)
Ernest Edmonds (*1942) graduated in Mathematics and Philosophy from the University of Leicester and as a published author he is engaged in a wide range of topics connected to research into the perception and presentation of computer-generated art. His pedagogical activities are connected to his work, which he divides between Great Britain and Australia (De Montfort University, Leicester / University of Technology, Sydney). Ernest Edmonds is the editor of the Leonardo magazine (MIT Press) and he was one of the founders of a series of ACM conferences (Creativity and Cognition Conference).