Thoughts & Insights
Greetings from a Pioneer: OUBEYs Early Computer Art
Even today I can still well remember the excitement and enthusiasm with which OUBEY, back in the summer of 1985, talked about the presentation of a revolutionary new computer with – for that time - unheard of multimedia capability in the ritzy setting of New York’s Lincoln Center. The computer was the Commodore Amiga 1000, and it was presented by no other than Andy Warhol together with Blondie lead singer Debbie Harry. How dearly OUBEY would have loved to own his own Amiga back then.
Yet it was only when an improved and much cheaper model of the Amiga 500 first appeared on the German market in 1987 that he could fulfill his wish.
Actually the Amiga 500 had been unveiled to an astonished public a year earlier in 1986 at the Alte Oper in Frankfurt before a celebrity audience of the good and great in an event moderated by the famous TV presenter Frank Elstner. Take a look at the video of this event that came online only a few years ago. Even if you don’t speak German, you can still get a good impression of the archaic state of technology at that time and a taste of how life was in the 80s.
And in its own way this video also shows how far OUBEY was in advance of his time since while others just stood gazing in awe at the new technology or simply used it for playing games, OUBEY harnessed its powers for himself as a new channel for his creative output.
Naturally OUBEY too spent countless hours playing around with the Amiga. Yet from the very start his playfulness was a way of probing and testing. He tested the graphic and all the other technical functions of the computer, pushing them to their extreme limits in service of his art. Playfully experimenting and improvising whichever way the spirit moved him was very much to OUBEYs heart. And so from 1987 to 1988 the first early pictures of the OUBEY COMPUTER ART (OCA) series were produced –the “Earlybirds. A selection of fifteen pictures from this series premiers online today to mark the 10th Anniversary of the MINDKISS Project.
OUBEY was a true pioneer in the use of the Amiga 500 to create art. At first the monitor was like a sheet of paper or canvas to him, and the mouse like a pencil or paintbrush. But with his technical know-how and talent for improvisation he gradually turned the Amiga into his own high-tech artist’s studio. And from 1989 onwards he increasingly used the computer as a membrane through which he could merge a vast range of different fabrics, materials, colours and structures into highly individual pictures which he called PhotonPaintings. It was with these paintings and under the pseudonym Wendelin Koehler that he staged his first, only, and very successful exhibition in 1992.
In working with the Amiga OUBEY would never allow himself to be controlled or limited by the technical possibilities the computer offered; what he wanted to do was “to use them like a pencil” as he himself once said in a conversation in 1992. Click here to find his full statement.
By 1993 this approach had been exhausted, especially since material reproduction of the virtual images had reached its limits. Laser projections or high-quality prints on large-scale plotters would have been interesting but were beyond his financial means.
One of the greatest technical challenges in the early phase of the MINDKISS Project was how to open hundreds of floppy discs and transfer the Amiga pictures stored on them to the personal computer so that they could be viewed and archived. After many weeks of work, the moment when we finally succeeded in bringing the stored pictures to the light of day was a moment of special joy. Not only because we had now revealed yet another part of the hidden treasures OUBEY left behind him, but because we could now present a selection of PhotonPaintings on the internet to mark the launch of the MINDKISS Project in 2010 and publish them for the first time in one of the five volumes of the award-winning MINDKISS Book (https://www.mindkiss.com/de/project/oubey-mindkiss-book/ ).
In 2017, twentyfive years after OUBEYs first and only exhibition, further pictures were published: all twenty PhotonPaintings from the 1992 catalogue of the MINDKISS exhibition.
And now they’re joined by fifteen other pictures – OUBEYs very first works with the Amiga 500. It’s a perfect match to the theme of the 10th Anniversary Happening which is “OUBEYs Art in a Digital Resonance Space” and that will take place in autumn of this year at the ZKM Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe. It means that we won’t just be presenting selected analogue works in the context of state-of-the-art digital technologies like virtual reality and artificial intelligence, but are even now spanning a digital arch that goes back to the beginnings of OUBEYs computer art in the 80s of the last century.
Over 1000 further works from the still undiscovered treasures of OUBEYs art are patiently looking forward to the next opportunity to enter the public resonance space in the course of the coming years and decades.