Mar 31, 2010

John Whitney

Whitney's interest in spirituality through meditation and music is clear in his 1975 vibrant and hypnotizing animation, "Arabesque". His use of iconography, colors, music, rhythm and repetition work together to create a powerful and experimental animation piece.
I was fascinated by the complexity of the computer graphics that Whitney was experimenting with. They were considered to be on the cutting edge at the time the animation was produced and Whitney is often referred to as the "father of computer graphics". In "Arabesque", Whitney used digital processes as opposed to his previous work created by an analogue computer that he himself developed. (The analogue computer process sounds incredible! He combined machinery that originally used to be an antiaircraft gun director into a 12 foot, brilliant monstrosity.) He created "Arabesque" with financial support from the NEA and also with full endorsement of the computer giant, IBM.
I was also struck by the iconography he uses to create a mandala-like visual experience. As the title suggests, he uses repetitive geometrical elements that form fanciful yet relatively simple patterns. Arabesques are an frequently used motifs in Islamic art and convey spirituality. The whole can be broken down into smaller geometric forms, such as squares and circles or plant forms that are all deeply entrenched in symbolism: unity, equality, nature, etc.
Not only was Whitney pushing the limits in terms of the visual language that he used, but maybe more importantly, he legitimized the computer as a medium for art. Besides using computer graphics, Whitney also weaved the enthralling music composed by the Iranian-American Santur master and composer, Manoochehr Sadeghi together with the visuals, creating a mesmerizing and powerful whole.
John Whitney was a pioneering experimental animator, who really helped to establish computer graphics as a legitimate art form and who successfully combined cutting edge technology, science, music and spirituality in his work.

Posted by Eszter

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