NO MESSAGE WHATSOEVER – Frieder Nake & Friends

by Francesca Franco

Frieder Nake at the opening, No Message Whatsoever, DAM Berlin 2013. Photo credit: Francesca Franco

Neue Jakobstraße 6, 10179 Berlin
16th November 2013 – 25th January 2014

The beauty and poetry of the algorithm in art are being explored this winter at the DAM Gallery, Berlin, in a rare exhibition of works created between 1964 and 2010 by German computer art pioneer Frieder Nake (b.1938).  

This show marks two personal anniversaries in Nake’s career and life. It has been 50 years since Nake, inspired by probability theory and Max Bense’s Information Aesthetics, created his first computer generated drawings using a Zuse Graphomat Z64 at the University of Stuttgart. It is also Nake’s 75th birthday, and for the occasion the artist has chosen DAM Gallery to exhibit a number of works from his private collection, some of which have never been displayed before. To celebrate these events curator Wolf Lieser and Nake have also invited a number of artists to exhibit who have been involved in computer art and have had a strong professional and personal link with Nake over the past 50 years. They include Paul Brown, Harold Cohen, Hans Dehlinger, Ernest Edmonds, Herbert W. Franke, Wolfgang Kiwus, Georg Nees, A. Michael Noll, Manfred Mohr, Vera Molnar, Casey Reas, Roman Verostko, and Wolfgang Zach.

No Message Whatsoever, DAM Berlin 2013. Photo credit: Francesca Franco

The title of the show comes from a quote by Hungarian-born French artist Vera Molnar. In 1999 Molnar wrote an “inventory” of short statements that describe aspects of her work.

One of them, “My work does not contain any elements of a symbolic, metaphysical or mystical kind, there is no message. Absolutely no message whatsoever,” stuck on Nake’s mind. During our interview, Nake recalls, “I liked this quote so much, so simple and yet so meaningful! When we visit a gallery we see these works hanging on a wall. What we first see is the materiality of the works, paper, ink, paint, which carry no message. It may well be that the artist wanted to tell us something, but we don’t know because what we see now is only the paper and the ink. It is the viewer that creates the message, and therefore the title of this show.” Nake’s message is therefore a hidden invitation to the visitor to interpret and give meaning to his works, without any constrictions.

No Message Whatsoever, DAM Berlin 2013. Photo credit: Francesca Franco

Entering the gallery, the immediate reaction is that of being catapulted to the early days of computer art. Here, a large number of plotter drawings created between 1964 and 1965, are placed next to Nake’s most renowned works such as Hommage à Paul Klee (1965) and Geradenscharen (1965). This body of work is concerned with the notion of dynamics, this being in the form of a dialogue between the small squared elements of a composition, or of an accidental encounter of lines that suddenly veer off the side of a paper surface; a continuous exploration of order and chaos subtly conducted by the algorithm.

In the second room, works from Nake’s Matrix Multiplication series (1967), once exhibited at the first Venice Biennale’s computer art show in 1970, are placed next to more recent developments of the same series from 2010. This selection of works creates a dynamic “conversation” that becomes even more vibrant when one turns the gaze to the opposite wall of the room. Here, a number of seminal works by international computer art pioneers are exhibited side by side. It is impressive to see how diversified their work is, from the colourful and curvilinear Cyberflowers (2002) by Roman Verostko, to the rigorous monochrome explorations by Manfred Mohr and Vera Molnar, to the bright computer graphics by Herbert W. Franke.

All works on display are paper-based with two exceptions. These are Ernest Edmonds’ engaging Shaping Form (2004), the only interactive generative artwork in the exhibition, where audience participation and real time engagement are an integral component of the work; and Casey Reas’s flowing Process (2004-2010), a generative video installation that explores the relationship between a simple element and its behaviour on a rectangular surface.

No Message Whatsoever’s most impressive accomplishment is that is establishes a dialectical relation between the varieties of results obtained by artists involved in experimenting art and technology over the past 50 years, a fundamental dynamic that conventional art galleries often fail to grasp. At the same time, the show reveals aspects of Nake’s art that is rarely seen in public displays. It is also refreshing to see how Nake’s style has developed over the years and how he constantly elaborates new exciting concepts in his art.

Computer art has experienced various fates and changes over the years. No Message Whatsoever clearly demonstrates a reawakening of an interest in this fascinating and stimulating field of contemporary art. It is a proof that algorithmic art is not dead and that computer artists do have a message for us, and it is there to be explored.


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