Frieder Nake

Frieder Nake (born December 16, 1938 in Stuttgart, Germany) is a mathematician, computer scientist, and pioneer of computer art. He is best known internationally for his contributions to the earliest manifestations of computer art, a field of computing that made its first public appearances with three small exhibitions in 1965.

Without knowing of each other, A. Michael Noll, Georg Nees, and Frieder Nake in 1963/64 had begun to write computer programs to automatically generate drawings of an aesthetic quality and without other (technical or economic) purposes. Georg Nees became the first to exhibit his works (February 5-19, 1965, in Stuttgart). A. Michael Noll followed (April 6-24, 1965 in New York, with Bela Julesz). Frieder Nake had his first exhibition at Galerie Wendelin Niedlich in Stuttgart (November 5-26, 1965, with Georg Nees).
Until 1969, Nake generated in rapid sequence a large number of works that he showed in many exhibitions during those years and later. He estimates his production at about 300 to 400 works during those years. A few were limited screenprint editions, single pieces and portfolios. The bulk were done as China ink on paper graphics, carried out by a flatbed high precision plotter (the Zuse Graphomat Z64).
Nake participated in the important group shows of the 1960s as, most prominently, Cybernetic Serendipity (London, UK, 1968), Tendencies 4: Computers and Visual Research (Zagreb, Yugoslavia, 1968), Ricerca e Progettazione. Proposte per una esposizione sperimentale (35th Venice Biennale, Italy, 1970), Arteonica (São Paulo, Brazil, 1971).

In 1971, he wrote a short and provocative note for Page, the Bulletin of the Computer Arts Society (whose member he was and still is), under the title „There Should Be No Computer-Art“ (Page No. 18, Oct. 1971, p. 1-2. Reprinted in Arie Altena, Lucas van der Velden (eds.): The anthology of computer art. Amsterdam: Sonic Acts 2006, p. 59-60). The note sparked a lively controversial debate among those who had meanwhile started to build an active community of artists, writers, musicians, and designers in the digital domain. His statement was rooted in a moral position. The involvement of computer technology in the Vietnam War and in massive attempts by capital to automate productive processes and, thereby, generate unemployment, should not allow artists to close their eyes and become silent servants of the ruling classes by reconciling high technology with the masses of the poor and suppressed.
Frieder Nake has been a professor of interactive computer graphics at the Department of Computer Science, Germany, since 1972. Since 2005, he has also been teaching digital media design at Bremen. After studying mathematics at the University of Stuttgart, where he earned his Diplom and doctoral degrees (in probability theory), he has taught in Stuttgart, Toronto and Vancouver, before coming to Bremen. His courses and seminars, besides computer graphics, interactivity, and digital media, are in the areas of computer art, aesthetics, semiotics, computers and society, and theory of computing. He has been a visiting professor to Universitetet Oslo, Aarhus Universitet, Universität Wien, Danube University Krems, University of Colorado, University of Lübeck, University of Basel, University of Costa Rica, Xi’an University of Science and Technology and Tongji University.
He won the First Prize of the Computer Art Contest of Computers & Automation in 1966. In 1997, his teaching work was honored by the Berninghausen Award for Excellence and Innovation in Teaching (University of Bremen).
His book Ästhetik als Informationsverarbeitung (1974) is one of the first to study connections between aesthetics, computing, and information theory, which has become important to the transdisciplinary area of digital media. This book and many of his ca. 300 publications (2012) evince his intellectual position between science and the humanities – a position that has always made him critical about the marvels and wonders of information technology.
In his publications, seminars, and lectures, he has developed the following fundamental concepts of a (cultural) theory of computing:

  • the machinization of mental labor;
  • the duplication of computer things;
  • the instrumental medium (with Heidi Schelhowe);
  • the algorithmic sign.