Category: HISTORY


You hear about it time and time again, about art taking place in the margins. And sometimes it can take years – sometimes decades – for an artist to receive the public recognition they so rightfully deserve. If anyone fits that category, it’s Lillian Schwartz. She is what you could call a self-taught artist par excellence: a woman who didn’t quite fit the norms of Western postwar society. Schwartz’s multifaceted vita alone is full of twists and surprises, yet it was her cutting-edge work that lead her to become one of the key pioneers in computer-generated art and art analysis.

Born in 1927, she already showed artistic interest as a child and enjoyed experimenting with mud, chalk, and wooden sticks as tools for art. Years later, at the age of 22, she moved with her husband to occupied Japan, where she fell ill with polio – and ultimately cured her paralysis by taking up calligraphy. A recovery through art, so to say.

After returning to the US, she began her studies in Fine Art at St. Louis University, where she specialized in free-hand drawing. However, it wasn’t until 1968 that she had her first big breakthrough: Schwartz participated in her first major exhibition after submitting her work Proxima Centauri to the now legendary MoMA exhibition The Machine as Seen at the End of Mechanical Age.

It was here that she met Leon Harmon; an encounter that marked a turning point in her practice. Harmon invited her to the renowned AT&T Bell Laboratories, a science and research center located in Murray Hill, New Jersey. Acting as their artist in residence as well as a consultant, Schwartz continued to hone her craft working among a male-dominated group of physicists and chemists – a position she would hold for more than thirty years to come. It was there she first experimented with coded icons and still graphics via trial and error. And it was by coding relentlessly, alternating zeros and ones, that she fell in love with computers. Her first art film Papillon, a work made of contour plots whose shape reminded Schwartz of fluttering butterflies, came about in this process of iteration.

By 1972, her craft had matured into an actual applied science. With the help of a colleague, she began experimenting with laser projections, turning the colorful light beams into film footage. The result, entitled Mutations, would turn out to be her most prominent work. Oftentimes these clips were musically supported by contemporary composers, thus her work developed a real synaesthetic quality: sculptural figures, in radiant colors, dancing through a pitch-dark void to the sound of abstract music.

Schwartz continued working at the verge of art and science over the coming decades, holding exhibitions and performances and lecturing worldwide. Her work was way ahead of its time, perhaps marking the beginning of animated film as we know it. Lillian Schwartz is now in her late eighties and continues to inspire all those who dare to swim against the stream.

This article first appeared on in February 2017 under the title “Past Perfect: Lillian Schwartz”.


georgia o’keefe


 Aimufua is a Nigerian last name. In fact, it’s my Nigerian last name: seven letters and four syllables, likely to trigger a wave of curious remarks and inquiries. To me, it is not merely an identifier, but a token. Like a social fingerprint, it indicates me as the other. With a foreign name, a different skin color, or another ‘unusual’ feature whatsoever, time and again, introducing yourself, may turn into explaining yourself. Growing up, in little boroughs of reunified Germany, amid Muellers and Schmidts, I had a of explaining to do.

Constantly coping with other people’s preconceived narratives, can easily compromise one’s sense of selfhood. As women in general and particularly as women of color, we tend to assimilate and ultimately, sell ourselves short. Given centuries of social and economical marginalization, this should come as no surprise. Female discourse was all too often deemed shallow and chatty (needless to say that gossip itself its very own form of cultural analysis and criticism), while mens’ interests represented the status quo and dominated the public sphere. Under such conditions, women’s opinionated  voices  hardly  even stood a chance to be heard.

These days, the power structure has shifted a good deal, and social media makes it easier than ever to engage in public dialog. Still, sharing our thoughts online remains a delicate matter. My girlfriends and I will discuss books and movies and works of art, at any time, but most commonly we’ll do that amongst each other. Is it because we don’t feel like blathering and boasting about these type of things? Or could it be the fear of failure, that deeply rooted self-doubt, hindering so many of us from speaking our mind? There is something profoundly vulnerable to writing, as an act of opening up your deepest self to the public eye. But if it resonates, writing is akin to a sharp knife. Down to the present day, the potential of female ideas has been utterly underestimated.
So starting now, I plan on sharing what I think of by making it a public thing. It is all about starting a conversation..