Book Review: Chromatic Algorithms


    Although it may be easy to ignore now as we stare into our cold, flat, backlit LCD displays, the history of visual display technology is shot through with wild mysticism, experiments, philosophical disagreements, and some truly inspired innovations. Carolyn Kane’s Chromatic Algorithms takes this history head-on in a fascinating and beautifully illustrated look at the last hundred or so years of video and computer generated art. As an artist working with video and graphics for years, it’s a great pleasure to connect with this wacky and oddly familiar history.
    Kane takes color representation, creation, and display technology as her primary focus here, making the case that this technological history both informs and is informed by contemporary artists working in media. This journey takes us from Day-Glo inks and psychedelia, through early experiments with direct video synthesis, all the way to the present computer-driven age of ‘millions of colors’. As Kane points out, each new advance and system for creating and displaying colors creates its own set of assumptions, limitations, and possibilities.
    Far from being a dry survey of technological advances, Chromatic Algorithms exposes the humans involved each step of the way, veering into the mystical philosophies and experiments of early video artists and the competing systems of color that eventually became today’s standards, or were left by the wayside. Sprinkled throughout are some of the most beautiful full-color reproductions of video art I have seen in a book like this, making this a book you’ll likely flip through long after you’ve finished reading.
    Chromatic Algorithms has earned a place on my bookshelf next to my beaten up and dog-eared copy of Gene Youngblood’s Expanded Cinema as an essential text that I’ll be referring back to for years to come.