Harold Cohen: The AARON Retrospective
Preview Date: 13 October, 6—8 PM (BST)
Exhibition: 14 October — 19 November 2022
“Many of the things we see computer programs doing today would have been regarded as impossible a couple of decades ago; AARON is surely one of them.” — Harold Cohen, 1999
Gazelli Art House marks their worldwide representation of the Harold Cohen Estate by announcing the UK’s first AARON-focused solo exhibition, spanning four decades of Cohen’s influential machine work. Moving through the 1970s until the artist’s passing in 2016, displayed works will elucidate the ways in which Cohen both noticed and navigated evolving spaces of artistic possibility through the world’s first example of Meta-Art. The retrospective celebrates Cohen’s appreciation of abstract sensibility, mathematical discipline, and creativity as arising once “the individual starts to question the unquestioned assumptions of his field.”
Now, AI technology is almost inseparable from our everyday lives, subconsciously driving many of our actions with once unthinkable sophistication. AI’s understanding of human complexity has been a vast project, with the early work of Cohen and his peers playing a crucial role in its evolution. Thus, The AARON Retrospective serves as a lens through which to recognise how artists of Cohen’s era laid the necessary foundations for our contemporary AI landscape.
In 1968, Cohen relocated to the U.S. as a visiting lecturer at the University of California, San Diego. On this transition, Pamela McCorduck — author of ‘AARON’s Code’ — claims Cohen entered a “spiritual and geographical wilderness” that radically shifted his practice. Here he marked his entry into the world of computer-generated art with the code-controlled Turtle drawing machines. The output, alongside a prototype, will be displayed this autumn.
From what eponymously became his ‘Turtle Era’, Cohen delved into a life-defining exploration and dialogue with AI technology. Reflecting upon his shift, he explained: “it is characteristic of our culture both that we search out things to satisfy current needs, and also that we restate our needs in terms of the new things we have found.”
Most notably, Cohen proceeded to create AARON as “the first profound connection between art and computer technology.” With a career evolving during a pivotal development period, the artist refined his practice at the intersection of artificial intelligence and abstraction. Crucially, in exhibiting pieces from such a broad timeline, works such as Untitled Amsterdam Suite 11 (1977), People in Jungle with Rocky Blue (1989), Clarissa (1992), and First Sighting (2012) have been carefully curated to depict each decade’s level of machine learning. In chronologically locating Cohen’s work, the exhibition becomes a window into the current technological popular cultural focus on AI.
Into the early 2000s, digital increasingly assumed a role within the global art landscape; Cohen redirected his focus again. This time taking a more analogue path in designing new painting brushes and pens, shifting autonomy away from the computer in the later years of his life.
The AARON Retrospective at Gazelli Art House salutes the colour and movement that characterised both Cohen’s life and artistic career in myriad ways, namely through AARON. Although quietly, computer development disruptively “brought with it a cultural revolution of massive proportions.” Carrying experimental colour work inspired by abstract expressionism across the Atlantic, through his transition from painting to programming along the global tide of technological change, Cohen’s subversive work charts a unique period of artistic development alongside rapid digitisation.
“By bringing this important selection of AARON work to the UK, we are excited to see the reinstatement of Cohen’s position as the forefather of computer art. Our relationship to the estate reinforces the gallery’s commitment towards revisiting historical movements and towards digital art, and we are thrilled to be able to merge the two in this fascinating reveal of Cohen’s lifelong research.” — Mila Askarova, CEO & Founder of Gazelli Art House
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