Harold Cohen, too early!

Harold Cohen

Our next exhibition is dedicated to Harold Cohen (May 1st, 1928 – April 27th, 2016). Before Cohen got involved with computers and their possibilities, he had already accomplished evrything a painter in England could wish for. He took part in the biennales in Paris and Tokyo, was invited for documenta 3 and 6, represented the UK as one of 5 artists at the 33rd biennale in Venice, beside many international gallery shows. But a teaching position at the UC San Diego should put everything in a new perspective. He started to learnt how to program and soon developed the idea to create an expert system, that could “independently” create art on a continous basis. In 1968 this was a difficult task. On the contrary to other artists at the time like Frieder Nake, Manfred Mohr or Vera Molnar, he was not intrigued by the idea of working on an abstract concept, which is then varied by an algorithm. Cohen was interested to identify how you draw and capture that in a program. And he aimed to reflect on reality. A direction that hardly any other artist of this genre was moving towards to. Already in the early 1970s he became interested in artificial intelligence. This was the beginning of Aaron, how he named the “artist program”. Aaron was supposed to produce art, even when Cohen had already passed away, that’s what he explained to me.

When I visited him in 2003 in San Diego, he hadn’t returned to the UK and married as well in California, he showed me his studio. It consisted mainly of an up-to-date computer and top-level printer. The pictures Aaron produced showed abstracted human figures in front of a colorful vegetation  with trees, plants and flowers. I just had moved to Berlin to concentrate in the future on Digital Art. I was not convinced from what I saw, accordingly I didn’t represent him. But I had no idea what a strenuous road he had taken and what Cohen had accomplished to create this artificial intelligence, that produced these artworks.

The second encounter was in preparation of the exhibition “Frieder Nake und Friends”, 2013, to which I  received two abstract black and white prints from him.I was surprised. And then I discovered through the exhibition “The Policeman’s Beard is Half Constructed” a phase of work that consisted of early plotter drawings of the 1980s which got me excited. These artworks, that were shown in variations at the Tate in London and the San Francisco MoMA were created before he entered the figurative phase after 1985. The exhibition at DAM shows this series of plotter drawings from 1983. For more information see the book “Aaron’s Code” by Pamela McCorduck from 1991.