Despite her status as an unpaid “resident visitor” for most of her nearly two-decade tenure there, Lillian Schwartz created some of the most important works of early computer art at Bell Labs. This essay unravels the conceptual frameworks of “vision” as they manifest in Schwartz’s early computer films made between 1970 and 1972, with a specific emphasis on vision as “information” and “data.” It argues that these specific films in Schwartz’s oeuvre explored a newly emerging model of vision based on the rendering practices of computers and scientific instruments, while navigating the fraught question of the role of the embodied viewer. Resisting this rationalized order of vision, which would ultimately result in the emergence of information as both a commodity and an asset class, Schwartz’s films instead explore the contingencies of rendering information with the newly developing medium of the computer.
Encoded Perception: Remapping Vision in Lillian Schwartz’s Computer Art
Helena Shaskevich is a PhD candidate in art history at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. Her research focuses on modern and contemporary art with a specific interest in feminism and new media. She is currently writing her dissertation on biopolitics in feminist video art during the 1970s and is building a digital archive of the 1970s Women’s Video Festivals in New York.
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Helena Shaskevich; Encoded Perception: Remapping Vision in Lillian Schwartz’s Computer Art. Feminist Media Histories 1 January 2021; 7 (1): 172–196. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/fmh.2021.7.1.172
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