By Samantha Vo
The digital revolution during the 1970’s provided a platform for the new artist. Practicing non traditional mediums, digitally versed artists gave new meaning to the computer and its advances in culture. Joan Truckenbrod was amongst these pioneers and has been highly influential in the development of not only the digital artist, but the inclusion of women in technology. In a time where the potential of the computer was envisioned to be more transformative than ever imagined, Ruth Leavitt proposed the following from her influential book Artist and Computer (1976): “Computer art challenges our traditional beliefs about art: how art is made, who makes it, and what is the role of the artist in society. The uninitiated artists asks: What can this machine do for me? Really, the question should be: What can I do with this machine? The artist has only to choose what role he/she wishes the computers to play. The computer helps the artist to perceive in a new way. Its features blend with those of its user to form a new type of art” (leavitt 1976, vii).
Joan Truckenbrod is an international exhibited artist based in Chicago, Illinois. Intrigued by the physical sensations of transparent yet palpable phenomena, Truckenbrod translates mathematical formulas from physics into code to create artwork that can materialize this data. Such phenomena includes but is not limited to, light wave reflections off of chaotic surfaces, wind patterns that reshape materials in their pathway or magnetic fields with undulating boundaries. Computer imaging was a vehicle to unify the synthesis of the analytical and physical perception of these experiences. Her work is influential largely because it did not remain in a digital form but often transformed into physical works such as drawings and textiles. Aside from coding, Truckenbrod experimented with unconventional printing methods to translate her code onto paper and other materials.
In 1975 Joan Truckenbrod created her series of line drawings using code she developed in FORTRAN, a computer programming language. The process she described, was long and unpredictable as much of the equipment was not available in the art department leaving her to depend on faculty in the science and geography labs to process her material. Her code was developed from mathematical equations that describe the phenomena of wind and light patterns. Line by line, she translated the formulas onto key punch cards for the computer to read and produce code. Using a pen plotter in the geography department, she was able to feed her code into the machine to draw the embedded coordinates.
Truckenbrod’s line drawings was an introduction of how she could utilize the computer in her art. However she was unsatisfied with the disconnection between such phenomena and the drawings and desired to create a more symbolic union with the natural world. She received a grant from Apple computers in 1978 to pursue her exploration in textiles. Using an apple IIe, Joan created a series of patterns representing the invisible phenomena in motion. She placed the monitor upside down on a 3M color-in-color copier to create individual pattern frames. Truckenbrod hand ironed the patterns frame by frame using heat transfer xerography onto fabric. By using textiles, Joan felt that it would connect with the natural world by responding radically to light patterns and wind currents in its environment. These electronic patchwork textiles were then exhibited in the IBM Gallery in New York City.
After receiving her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1979, Joan Truckenbrod became the first chair of its newly created art and technology program, a former nondigital school. She is responsible for developing one of the first courses in computer graphics called “creative computer imaging” and helped establish an international reputation for Chicago’s art community. She was a pioneer for women in the digital arts in a time where technology held little to no room for female artists. Joan Truckenbrod reinvented the possibilities of technology within the arts and paved the way for multi-faceted artists. She is a prime example of the way women bring a diverse perception into any field. As described by Dr. Lina Wainwright “Technology is a valuable handmaiden in the advances of culture but only when wielded with a spirit of empathy, collaboration, and care, skills in which women, in my opinion, excel.”
“An Awesome Page.” , Artist - Video Sculpture Artwork and Exhibit - Nanoscapes, joantruckenbrod.com/joan-truckenbrod.html.
Cox, Donna, et al. New Media Futures The Rise of Women in the Digital Arts. University of Illinois Press, 2018.
Truckenbrod, Joan. “Biography.” Teaching Texture Mapping Visually - Page 9, 2000, www.siggraph.org/artdesign/profile/Truckenbrod/biography.html.
Truckenbrod, Joan, director. Joan Truckenbrod. Vimeo, 13 Nov. 2018, vimeo.com/286992423.
Wenhart, Nina. “Prehysteries of New Media.” 06/25/08, 2008, prehysteries.blogspot.com/2008/07/ruth-leavitt-artist-and-computer-1976.html.