About CAS

The Computer Arts Society

The Computer Arts Society (CAS) was founded in 1968 to promote an understanding of the role of digital and electronic media in the arts. As it has developed over time, a key aim has become to ensure that the long history of the computer arts is recognised by contemporary artists, technologists, audiences and collectors. The society currently organises talks, events, exhibitions and performances, and uses social media to highlight the ways that digital and electronic technologies can be of value to the creative sector. After celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2018, CAS renewed its commitment to promoting the use of digital media in contemporary practice and to providing a forum for diverse audiences of all ages and backgrounds to meet and exchange ideas. The Computer Arts Society is a specialist group of the BCS Chartered Institute for IT and works closely with The Computer Arts Archive Community Interest Company.

The Original CAS

The three founder members of the Society – Alan Sutcliffe, George Mallen and John Lansdown – had been involved with computing and its related concepts for some time. They knew Jasia Reichardt, the curator of Cybernetic Serendipity (1968) and had participated, in or advised, on aspects of the exhibition. Sutcliffe was involved with the Cybernetic Serendipity through his collaboration with composer Peter Zinovieff and Electronic Music Studios (EMS). Mallen was working with the English cybernetician Gordon Pask at Systems Research and assisted on the production of the interactive robotic work Colloquy of Mobiles shown at the exhibition. Although not mentioned in the catalogue credits, Reichardt knew and respected Lansdown, who from 1963, had used computing techniques in architectural design and planning.

The original idea for a society dedicated to the computer arts (which was to become the Computer Arts Society) was instigated by Sutcliffe at the IFIP (International Federation for Information Processing) Congress in August 1968 in Edinburgh. Sutcliffe and Zinovieff had won second prize with ZASP, their piece of computer-composed music. Members of the Congress suggested to Sutcliffe that he might like to convene a meeting of people working in a similar field whilst they were all together at the Congress, as most had not had a chance to meet like-minded persons outside their own team before. Sutcliffe collated the names of interested individuals and the group formed out of this, with the first meetings in London held in a room belonging to University College London, in or near Gower Street in September 1968. Subsequent meetings were often held at the offices of Lansdown's architectural practice (he became the Secretary with Sutcliffe the Chairman and Mallen, Treasurer).

The Computer Arts Society was founded to encourage the creative use of computers and to allow the exchange of information in this area. It was recognised that this was an area where there had been increasing activity, but with little formal publication of methods and results and little communication between artists in different fields (music, visual, performing arts, and so on).

CAS Reformed

The Computer Arts Society originally ran from 1968 until 1985. In 2002 the CACHe Project at the Vasari Lab in the School of History of Art and Visual Media, Birkbeck, University of London began to digitise and catalogue the image holdings of the Society and related archives. This resulted in a re-establishment of the Computer Arts Society in 2004. The core archive was then acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum and now forms part of their Computer Art Collections.

Two books, A Computer in the Art Room: The Origins of British Computer Arts 1950-1980 (2008) by Catherine Mason and White Heat Cold Logic: British Computer Art 1960-1980 (2009) by Paul Brown, Catherine Mason, Charlie Gere and Nicholas Lambert, have been published that detail the early history of computer art, including the early CAS period.

A follow-up project entitled Computer Art and Technocultures, based jointly at Birkbeck and the Victoria and Albert Museum ran from December 2009 until April 2010. This project ran a symposium, Ideas Before Their Time, at the British Computer Society, and a two-day conference, Decoding the Digital, at the V&A on 4th-5th February 2010.

Since re-forming in 2004, the Computer Arts Society has run an extensive speaker programme from its base at the British Computer Society in London, as well as from other London venues, and more recently in Leicester.

The Society also runs the annual Electronic Visualisation & the Arts (EVA) conference in London. Through its status as a Specialist Group of the ">BCS Chartered Institute for IT it is regularly able to support exhibitions and other computer art activities throughout the year.

The Computer Arts Society is currently creating an Online Archive of its activities over the fist 50 years.