[spectre] Special Offer: Art by Machine by Jack Tait

Paul Brown paul at paul-brown.com
Tue Jul 28 16:50:38 CEST 2015

UK machine drawing pioneer Jack Tait is offering his book Art by Machine: Taitographs to CAS members at the reduced rate of £10 plus P&P (the normal retail price is £20 + P&P).   

It's an abridged version Jack's Ph.D thesis Programmable Analogue Drawing Machines and can be orderd via machinedraw at btconnect.com and payment can be made by PayPal or cheque.  More information may be found on Jack's extensive website http://www.Taitographs.co.uk

A review by CAS Chair Nick Lambert follows and further information about the books is at the end of this post.

Review by Nick Lambert of Art by Machine by Jack Tait

Since the 1950s, Jack Tait has worked as a photographer, designer and educator, with a considerable output of work in each of these fields. Having established the photographic schools at Derby and Manchester Colleges of Art, he was also head of department at Newport College of Art, where he pioneered the use of computers in graphics education during the mid-1980s. 

Whilst pursuing his other interests, Tait has maintained a consistent commitment to the development of a mechanical approach to producing and understanding aspects of art, leading to the work for which he was awarded a PhD by Manchester MMU in 2011. Tait has now compiled his extensive art experiments into a single text, Art by Machine, that details his approach, results and theories on the nature of machine-produced art; and the forms he calls “Taitographs” that emerge from his mechanical devices.

Before proceeding, it should be mentioned that the book is highly illustrated with vibrant colour photographs of the artworks and also the machines themselves. This in itself forms a valuable record of Tait’s work, not least in terms of the intricate construction of the Linkograms and their successors, but also in the variety of images they produce. Tait is aware that many of his predecessors in the area of analogue drawing machines tended to hew closely to one type of output; but it is a testament to his knowledge and ingenuity, and his appreciation of linear form, that he aims to expand the range of possibilities inherent in the analogue approach to mechanical drawing techniques.

With a background strongly informed by Systems Art and process drawing – Kenneth Martin’s work on chance and order is referenced – Tait is particularly concerned with the way in which chance and order can create aesthetically pleasing drawings. There is some discussion of the way in which aesthetic choices in terms of the construction and setup of the linkages and switches in the Taitograph machines affects the outcomes; and it is clear that Tait’s intimate knowledge of his systems enables him to suggest the general outcomes, but not the specific results, of each system. This is not to say that he determines the output as such, but rather sets up the conditions by which a particular outcome is made more likely. Obviously certain Taitographs will only produce results within a particular range of outcomes, but Tait insists that his machines transcend the use of “tools” in art, because they are not merely extensions of the artist’s hand and eye; instead, some decision making and therefore control are delegated to them. [p26]

For this reason, Tait’s work goes some way beyond the Lissajous-type figures that are found in earlier drawing machine work (they were essentially his starting point in the 1950s) and moves towards timing mechanisms and ways of stopping and reversing the direction of the pen; and later mechanisms for varying the amplitude and lifting the pen as well. His NSEW machines, which even include rotating pen selectors holding different line weights and colours, produce more “gesture-like” drawings (in Tait’s terminology, pp71-2) that have a calligraphic freedom compared to the tight curves of his earlier systems. This reflects Tait’s insistence that the wider range of variables at work in the NSEW systems, some of which are quite subtle, show how pseudo-randomness can be deployed in making artwork: “The design process relies on the relationship of pseudo-randomness to determinism. [Its] importance has emerged as one of the most significant aspects of my work.” [p27] 

Perhaps the best expression of the incorporation of both deterministic and randomised elements is found in the images produced using a light pen. By substituting this for a physical pen, and using a DSLR camera and photographic enlarger to capture the images (a cunning fusion of old and new photographic technologies), Tait produces what I think are his most compelling images. One can see a suggestion of the Constructivist origins of his thinking on process in art: the light drawings seem to pick up where Moholy-Nagy and Man Ray left off with their “photograms”. Tait has arrived at this form from a very different direction to these pioneers, but the idea of a non-objective photograph produced using purely mechanical means has a very interesting heritage of which he is fully aware.

Tait wants his book to serve as the starting point for other artists, designers and engineers to make their own image machines and produce works that take these concepts further. He aspires to change the public view of generative art and I think his carefully-explained approach could achieve that goal. Whilst in some respects he explores similar territory to the Algorists, such as Jean-Pierre Hebert and Roman Verostko with their computer-controlled plotters, Tait’s machines partake of a different kind of physicality that embodies the decision-making aspects in their very construction. With the increase in interest amongst various digital artists in making physical things, it is likely that he will strike a chord amongst makers who want to bring digital elements into mechanical devices. 

In summary, Art by Machine lucidly explains each avenue that Tait has explored during his lifelong journey into mechanical art-making, reviewing the means and the results, and suggesting areas for further exploration. I look forward to new developments both from him and others who may follow the same path.

Further information about the book:

The book is an A4 perfect bound paperback 140 pages with 197 illustrations printed on high quality paper. It contains reflections on art process, many photographs of the machines, a comprehensive range of drawings both graphic and light and a full bibliography and glossary of terms. The book gathers the results of over 50 years research into this topic. It provides not only an ouline of the images and the machines making them, but explores the rationale as well as describing in detail how each machine works. With this and the bibliography it provides scope for the reader to either engage in building his or her own machines or pursue further study. 

Tait continues to build drawing machines, foremost amongst these is a reverse engineered machine to recreate images similar to those of Paul Desmond O'Henry who made drawings  in the '70s with a WW2 bombsight computer. The project was done with the support of O’Henry's daughter Elaine O'Hanrahan. It is called a 'Hommage to Henry Machine - HHM.

Paul Brown
http://www.paul-brown.com == http://www.brown-and-son.com
UK Mobile +44 (0)794 104 8228
Skype paul-g-brown
Honorary Visiting Professor - Sussex University

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