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History of the CACHe Project

The Computer Arts, Contexts, Histories etc (CACHe) project was initiated in early 2000 following the death of John Lansdown.

It was felt that once the first generation of computer arts pioneers passed away, there might be no central respository of their works nor a record of their exstensive activities in the 1960s and 70s.

With the rapid growth of the computer graphics industry, it is very important to understand its origins, antecedents and the concepts that informed the first practitioners of computer-based art. Without them, the sweeping changes brought about by digital imagery might have occurred much more slowly, if at all. It was also important to stress the artistic interests and background from which the first computer-based art emerged.

CACHe’s area of study initially centred on the legacy of John Lansdown as computer arts pioneer and educator; this was the starting point for Paul Brown’s outline of the project in 2001.

By the time of the application to AHRB, CACHe’s interest had widened to include the computer artworks held by the CAS at System Simulation and the Society’s documentary archives.

Later, the project encompassed the artists from the Slade School who had worked on the departmental computer in the mid-1970s, plus Edward Ihnatowicz and a host of other figures who had been closely or tangentially associated with CAS during the formative years of British computer art.

Towards the project’s end, the project latterly touched on the more distant connections uncovered by further research on the foreign contributors to CAS. Material from all these contributors was stored at our office in the Vasari Multimedia Lab at Birkbeck, whilst we considered how best to approach its digitisation and preservation.

There has been much discussion about Digital Longevity in the past decade, as it has become clear that the rapid obsolescence of earlier digital formats has rendered much pre-1990 data unreadable. This can be due to incompatible physical media, such as non-standard floppy and optical disks; or because the computers that compiled this data are now redundant and unavailable.

CACHe had first-hand experience of this when we found early computer
artwork stored in the form of 1960s punch-cards and 1970s and 80s
magnetic tapes and disks. Had we not possessed the prints and (in some cases) films of the works themselves, it would have been difficult to reconstruct the graphic images from the data stored on these disks.

Partly for this reason, and partly due to available technology, it was decided to capture the CAS archive of large-format artwork with a traditional slide camera and then digitise the images from film. This means we now have a near-complete set of the CAS images on glass slides and a matching set of high-resolution TIFFs which were scanned directly from slides. Smaller pieces of art and photographs were scanned at resolutions between 300dpi and 400dpi, depending on the quality of the original. For instance, matte photo prints were scanned at 400dpi and newspaper clippings at 300dpi because higher scanning resolutions would not have improved the image.

To fully realise the potential of the CAS archive and our other collections, we collated them into a database which allowed the images and associated information to be served on the Internet. This fulfilled our raison d’etre to make the material accessible to the non- specialist public whilst allowing To fully realise the potential of the CAS archive and our other collections, we collated them into a database which allowed the images and associated information to be served on the Internet. This fulfilled our raison d’etre to make the material accessible to the non-specialist public whilst allowing researchers to search the archives in some detail.

Although the close of the CACHe Project has brought this study to an end, it is in a sense only the data-gathering phase that has finished. The interpretation and consolidation of the images and documents we uncovered will take much longer and involve an increasingly larger group of people as researchers discover the origins of computer-mediated art. CACHe has not only secured an important and neglected segment of the UK’s art history; it has also given rise to numerous sub-projects and brought together a range of practitioners and theorists.

I fully intend to see these outcomes develop into new projects that will cement these achievements and put in place a structure for the study of the computer-based arts.

Nick Lambert

(Adapted from PAGE Issue 62, Autumn 2005: "The Cache Project as seen by its Research Fellow")