Art & Technology

In 1967 Leon Harmon and Ken Knowlton created the first Computer Nude. The two worked as engineers at Bell Laboratories, the American research and scientific firm responsible for developing a wide range of revolutionary technologies including the laser. To create the computer generated work of art, Harmon and Knowlton made a transparency of a photograph of choreographer Deborah Hay and scanned it storing the information as a series of pulses with the brightness level represented by numbers. The computer processed the numbers and printed out a drawing, known as Computer Nude (Studies in Perception I) comprised of symbols common in electronic design.

If you don't accept technology you better go to another place. – Robert Rauschenberg

A 12 foot version of the work hung in a colleague’s office at Bell Labs as a prank, but the image gained fame after its inclusion in an event hosted by Robert Rauschenberg in an effort to merge art and technology. This image by Harmon and Knowlton was among a selection of work on view during a press conference intended “to bring modern technological tools to the artist for creating new art forms and fresh insights and viewpoints to the engineer for creating a ‘people-oriented’ technology”. The “happening” was covered in The New York Times on October 11th, 1967 and Computer Nude (Studies in Perception I) was reproduced in the story.

Variations of Computer Nude (Studies in Perception I) can be found in notable collections such as the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The present example was gifted by Leon Harmon to a co-worker at Bell Laboratories in the late 1960s.