Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Georg Nees

George Nees, a pioneering artist in the world of digital art, began interacting with computers in 1959 at the age of 33.  At the time he was a software engineer and industrial mechanic at Siemens AG in Erlangen, Germany.  In 1964 Nees began to experiment with the artistic application of programming to graphics, sculptures and films.  The same year Nees began working towards a degree in philosophy at the Universities of Erlangen-N├╝rnberg and Stuttgart.  Since then Nees has been producing computer art and theorizing about it using his background in philosophy.

Nees is likely the first digital artist to present drawings "algorithmically generated by a digital computer under program control."  These drawings were originally shown at the University of Stuttgart from February 4th to February 19th, 1965.  I find it slightly ironic that this artist post is due on February 19th.  Nees, along with two digital artists, Noll and Nake, are included in what is called the "three big N's" of computer art.  All three had digital art shows in the year 1965 and heavily influenced following computer artists.  The program Nees initially wrote in is called ALGOL; it uses random number generators to pull numbers which then send signals to a Graphomat Z64, a flat-bed pen plotter.  In order to actually produce the art that he intended to produce Nees wrote multiple programs which extended the controls of the ALGOL programming language, including G1, G2, and G3.  Because of his highly accomplished past in computer programming, Nees was awarded the title of honorary professor at the University of Erlangen.

I read into much of Georg Nees' work as the visualization of the relationship between chaos and order.  The use of computer programs and algorithms are seemingly orderly ideas to me.  They are very straight forward and leave little room for flexibility.  However, the products of these programs and algorithms are very chaotic.  Only the codes know where the next lines will be placed.  I may not be entirely correct in saying this, seeing as I am not all that familiar with programming, but that is how I interpret Nees' art practices.  The straight lines and consistent shading found in Nees' work are crisp; his work is clean.  The overlapping of numerous lines and sporadic placement of shapes contrasts this orderliness greatly and provides and interesting mix.  I think the overall effect created is very balanced;  the world needs both order and chaos.

For example, the first work featuring squares involves a gradual change from parallel boxes to off-kilter scattered boxes.  While this change begins subtly, the chaos builds until a pattern in the blocks is no longer recognizable.  Even then, the chaos of the changing blocks is contained to one area, helping to organize it.  This could be representative of a greater force behind the workings of the world.

I personally really enjoy and respect this form of art.  I don't entirely understand the process of making it, but I feel that that definitely adds to the mystique.  I do think that there is a stopping point for this kind of art, and Nees seems to have found relatively good places to halt the programs.  Then again, he may have let them run in full, I just don't know.  If he did interfere and stop mid-program processing, I think it was a good decision.  If any more was included in all three of these pieces they would feel busy and overwhelming.  They still are busy, just not too busy.

I discovered Georg Nees' work through the article posted on blackboard by Paul Hertz, Art, Code and the Engine of Change.  Overall I was impressed with the ways in which people manipulate computers in order to produce pieces of art.


  1. Have you ever seen a source that sells prints of the works of early computer art pioneers such as Nees, Nake, Mohr, etc.?