The Non-Aligned Movement and the Birth of Computer Art

On 1 September 1961, the presidents of Egypt, Ghana, India, Indonesia and Yugoslavia gathered in the latter’s capital of Belgrade to form the Non-Aligned Movement. The group shared a commitment to remaining neutral in the Cold War, and this informal alliance offered a way to protect their developing countries from being absorbed into either of the rival blocs of nations, led by the United States and the Soviet Union. Today, the Non-Aligned Movement has outlasted the Cold War, and continues to provide its 120 member states with an opportunity to promote the interests of the world’s poorer nations.

Just as the Non-Aligned Movement was getting underway in Belgrade, elsewhere in Yugoslavia a non-aligned art movement was being announced. The exhibition New Tendencies ran from 3 August to 14 September 1961 at the Gallery of Contemporary Art in Zagreb, and included work by artists from Austria, France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland alongside Yugoslavian artists including Ivan Picelj and Julije Knifer. The artists rejected both the “official” American and Soviet art styles of Abstract Expressionism and Socialist Realism, and New Tendencies represented an attempt to forge a new form of art that embraced modern technology.

piceljIn total, five New Tendencies exhibitions took place in Zagreb between 1961 and 1973. The participating artists shared an interest in constructivism, optical and kinetic art, and the exhibitions and supporting symposia attracted the involvement of scientists, engineers and theorists. Towards the end of the 1960s, the exhibitions heralded the start of the digital art movement that would take hold during the 1970s. New Tendencies 4, which opened in 1968, was dedicated to exploring the role of the computer as an artistic tool, and featured computer-generated images and kinetic installations. The same year, the launch of the group’s multilingual magazine bit international, which lasted for nine issues, confirmed Zagreb as the unlikely centre for the intersection of art and computer technology.

Two books recently published by MIT Press have helped to raise awareness of New Tendencies and together they tell the fascinating story of how the Non-Aligned Movement inspired the creation of computer art: A Little-Known Story about a Movement, a Magazine, and the Computer’s Arrival in Art: New Tendencies and Bit International, 1961–1973, edited by Margit Rosen (2011); and New Tendencies: Art at the Threshold of the Information Revolution (1961–1978) by Armin Medosch (2016).

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Images: Ivan Picelj, CM-3-II, 1964-66. Acrylic print on chipboard, 102.5 x 102.6 x 1.8cm. Photo: Damir Fabijanić, Courtesy Museum of Contemporary Art-Zagreb & Anja Picelj-Kosak; Jean-Claude Halgand and GAIV (Groupe Art et Informatique de Vincennes), Surf III, 1972. Computer-generated and hand-colored print, 40 x 50 cm. Shown in New Tendencies 5, 1973.

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