Recently EYE was part of a quite exciting project involving the re-enactment of the software code filmmaker and computer artist Bart Vegter used to create his computer abstract animation film ‘De Tijd’ in 2008.
In 2011 after the filmmaker passed away, his complete archive was donated to EYE. We had already previously worked on the restoration of his films, but this was the first time we received a filmmaker’s archive made up of a diverse range of media testifying to the different image-making techniques he used during his lifetime; together with previously unreleased 16mm or 8mm early films, the boxes also included old hard-drives and floppy disks containing the software code he wrote to make his computer films.
As the expertise of our film curators and restorers lies primarily in the preservation of analogue and digital film rather than computer art the computer-based artefacts in Vegter’s archive presented us with a number of challenges. In order to bring us closer to understanding and appreciating the working method of Bart Vegter, and his use of the computer as a creative medium, EYE commissioned Bram Bogaerts and Jesper Vos to respond to this archive. We asked the designers to focus specifically on the preservation and access of the self-written software code. The result is ‘Machine Room’; a large-scale spatial installation which is a real-time visualization of the computer code Vegter used to make his 2008 film ‘De Tijd’ and at the same time a study of the life-span of software codes.
Who was Bart Vegter and why is he important to us?
Bart Vegter (1940-2011) was an experimental filmmaker who lived and worked in Rotterdam. He is often considered one of the pioneers of abstract animation in The Netherlands.Initially Vegter did not train as a filmmaker. In his twenties he studied Electronic Engineering at Eindhoven University and, following this, went on to work as an engineer for a number of large corporations. After working in this field for almost two decades Vegter decided he wanted a career change. In 1976 he began to channel his energy into experimental cinema. He started attending Frans Zwartjes’ Cine Workshop at the Psychopolis Free Academy of Art in the Hague (Vrije Akademie). During his time here he was introduced to the work of a number of prominent Dutch experimental filmmakers and animators. Jacques Verbeek, Paul de Mol and Karin Wiertz, as well as the artists associated with 1960s and 1970s American experimental cinema, influenced Vegter’s early film work.
During his first years as a film-maker, he worked mainly with traditional animation techniques. In 1981 he made his first experimental film, Horizontalen. This film, along with In Need of Space (1983), De Hemel is Vierkant (1985), and Four Moves (1987), was filmed on 16mm and made by using traditional methods like cuts-outs, cell overlays and other printing techniques. From the 1990's Vegter started to use computer generated images in his films, the first one of this kind was Nacht-Licht (1993). The films that followed, Space-Modulation (1994), Forest-Views (1999), Zwerk (2004), and De Tijd (2008) all were made using his self-written computer software code. These computer-made films were transferred back to film for projection copies on 16mm and 35mm. Vegter continued to make films using this technique up until his death in 2011.
Still from De hemel is vierkantStill from Horizontalen Vegter’s switch to computers was based upon his desire to combine his technical background with his creative interests and to be able to explore a new medium. Though Vegter’s use of computers changed the aesthetics of his films, his overall approach to filmmaking remained the same throughout his life. He was interested in exploring the inherent qualities/rules of processes present in physical realities or perceptual experiences. As Joost Rekveld writes on Vegter: “He had an eye for intriguing visual phenomena…He took many pictures of sand patterns in the dunes, enjoyed the rhythmic circular waves in a puddle when it was raining, admired the light projections on his wall caused by the sun’s rays reflected off windows and through trees, and wondered why he could only see the reflection of his cactus in the window when he was moving it…In a way, besides their beauty and originality, perhaps the strongest statement the films of Bart Vegter make is that they share his admiration, curiosity and above all his pure attention for the visual world.” The computer-made films of Bart Vegter are the end result of a long process which starts with a self-written software code that either creates or manipulates an image. These codes could be considered the DNA of the film but contrary to film, they cannot be read or easily accessed by third parties. Researching the Bart Vegter software code for the project ‘Machine Room’ is a first step into understanding how he worked with the computer and could hopefully provide interesting insights into computer art in general and its preservation, an area of interest not yet widely spread among film archives but in need of attention due to the speedy technical obsolescence of equipment and softwares. In the future we hope to develop and expand upon this area of research. For more information on this project you can watch the short documentary we produced for Art-Tube with interviews of Bogaerts and Vos, Martijn van Boven and Simona Monizza.
On Tuesday 15th March 2016, in collaboration with ArtEZ, EYE will present ‘Machine Room’, the EYE-commissioned installation by interaction designers Bram Bogaerts and Jesper Vos.
To know more about the project Machine Room you can watch this short video reportage by Bram Bogaerts and Jesper Vos.
Simona Monizza, Curator Experimental Film & Ruth Sweeney, internTag:experimental film, computer, digital, technology, interactive, interaction, archive