Art in Real Time
In his book on art in the 1960s David Mellor suggests that
[A] dream of technical control and of instant information conveyed at
unthought-of velocities haunted Sixties culture. The wired, electronic outlines
of a cybernetic society became apparent to the visual imagination. (Mellor,
This chapter looks at two exhibitions which took place at either end of this period (taking a view of the 'Sixties' as extending both before and after the actual decade of the 1960s) — This is Tomorrow at the Whitechapel Gallery in London in 1956, and Software, Information Technology, its New Meaning for Art, held at the Jewish Museum in New York in 1970 — and at the work of two individuals, John McHale and Jack Burnham, each of whom was closely connected with one of the exhibitions.
John McHale was an a member of the 'Independent Group', the loose grouping of artists, architects and theorists who represented a youthful and progressive faction at the recently founded Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London. Along with Lawrence Alloway he was responsible for introducing the Independent Group to the work of Claude Shannon and Norbert Wiener. McHale's 'Transistor' series of collages of the early 1950s were perhaps some of the very earliest artistic representations of the new electronic-media technologies then being developed. The transistor had been invented in the late 1940s and was a crucial component in the continued development and increasing miniaturization of real-time devices such as the radio and the digital computer. In these works McHale used coloured paper