Norman White. Image: wikimedia.org
“I have little interest in artistic creation which expresses things about me or the world that I had previously known. I have turned to computers for this work because they give me ample possibility for eluding my own contrivance.” – Norman White
Born in Texas and raised in Boston, Norman White has been based in Toronto since 1967. He taught himself electronics in the late 1960s and has since been recognized for his pioneering work in kinetic electronics.
His first major electronic work, First Tighten Up on the Drums (1969), generated shimmering light patterns through the unpredictable interaction of many interconnected circuits computing simple logical questions independently.
Norman White, Menage, 1974. Image: normill.ca
Menage (1974) was White’s first robotic work. Four robots were programmed to react to one another through lights mounted on each robot. The machines competed for one another’s attention as they moved along a track installed on the ceiling.
“For me, Art comes alive only when it provides a framework for asking questions.” – Norman White
Norman White, Four-Letter Word Generator, 1974. Image: normill.ca
David Rokeby, The Giver of Names, 1991. Image: telegraph.co.uk
One can certainly see White’s influence in the work of artists including Canadians David Rokeby and Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. Robotics is also something being actively explored by many (Canadian) recent graduates.
White has posted some of his “central art-beliefs” on his website:
1. Art should concern itself as much with behavior as it does with appearance.
2. Some of the best art happens when behavior and appearance are completely at odds with each other.
3. Economy of means is a critical part of aesthetics.
4. Art functions best, and is most needed, outside the context of galleries and museums.
“I remember, in my student days, discovering the notebook drawings — studies of clouds and faces — by Leonardo DaVinci . Though powerful as visual compositions, these obviously had for Leonardo a more central purpose. They were really inquiries into invisible shaping forces. Here truly was art-as-question, rooted in human ignorance, yet struggling magnificently toward understanding fundamental principles of existence.” – Norman White
Leonardo da Vinci, Anatomical Studies, 1500-07. Image: bbc.co.uk
The Helpless Robot (1987 – 96) is a “passive” robot (it has no motors) that rotates on a large Lazy Susan. Through its repetoire of 256 phrases, which it selects depending on its presents and past level of stimulation, it attempts to assess and predict human behaviour. It also speaks Spanish and French.
Click HERE for Norman White’s website.