The RESISTORS and the Software Show at the Jewish Museum

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Around 1970, Ted Nelson appeared and got a number of RESISTORS involved in preparing for a very forward-thinking show at the Jewish Museum in New York City called "Software," and subtitled "Information Technology: Its New Meaning for Art," which examined at the artistic possibilities related to information technology. The show was was controversial, and after it closed, the museum board reportedly voted that future exhibits have some direct relationship to Judaism.

Ted had arranged for Information Displays Inc. of Mount Kisco NY to lend one of their IDIIOM systems for the show. It consisted of a Varian 620/I minicomputer and IDI's line-drawing CRT-based display; this was at a time when graphic displays were rare and costly. We developed the software to implement a piece by conceptual artist Carl Fernbach-Flarsheim's called "The Conceptual Typewriter." John Levine, Peter Eichenberger, and Nat Kuhn did the programming, and Margy Levine and Lauren Sarno rendered the graphics for animations. The commuted up to Mt Kisco (about two hours on public transit) with our boxes of punch cards to get it running.


Nat Kuhn recalls: In addition to the piece by Carl Fernbach-Flarsheim, an artist named Agnes Denes had designed a piece to show conceptual relationships by stacking tetrahedra into a crystalline structure. What she didn't realize is that tetrahedra don't stack into a regular array. I remember a group of folks, including John and Margy's mother Ginny, puzzling this out in the Levines' kitchen one day. I felt very left out because, as a 7th grader, I hadn't had geometry yet and I couldn't understand what they were talking about.

The exhibit took place during the summer and the space was not adequately air conditioned. The Varian wouldn't work, until someone (Skip King?) went out and got a block of dry ice which we put under the Varian CPU... and the show went on!

One highlight was Nicholas Negroponte's Architecture Machine Group from MIT (this was before the founding of the Media Lab), brought a large plexiglass enclosure and a mechanical arm that would stack blocks, while gerbils running around in the enclosure would knock them over.