Norman White, Preisträger 2008

"… the one aspect my pieces have in common is that they all pose questions rather than simply making statements. Each requires interactions by the viewer, the environment or each other (in the case of multiples) to complete the work. I deliberately contrive that process to be beyond my control, a kind of pseudo-scientific experiment. … I believe one of the artist’s greatest challenges is to reach people who never go to art galleries or museums, and to work in non-structured spaces where unexpected encounters with art (often unlabelled as art) are more likely to surprise." Norman White, 2009 (in an interview with W. Lieser)

The Jury's Statement

The Jury's Statement on the 2008 Laureate

Norman T. White is the 2008 laureate of the third d.velop digital art award. The jury is delighted to award this year's prize to one of the most influential pioneers of digital art. For decades his machine and robot creations have enriched the discourses on art and science of the "new media". Not least through his enthusiasm for experimentation Norman T. White over the past decades has been able to shape, together with others, contemporary art and to develop trend-setting works in different areas of digital art. For the questioning and experimenting individual only the artistic view opens up the manifold and trans-disciplinary spaces that allow for the development of generalist answers: "Art comes alive only when it provides a framework for asking questions … I would rather ask questions that simultaneously address a multitude of worlds ... from living organisms to culture to confusion and rust. Only art can give me that generality."

Towards the end of the 1960s, before the computer era, Norman T. White was experimenting with kinetic electronics. Cybernetics and non-linear systems of research on chaos were influencing the scientific discourses. He creates the first cellular automata ("First Tighten Up on the Drums", 1969 or "Four-Letter Word Generator", 1974), which generate complex patterns with the help of interacting electronic circuits. Along the way, he invents the electronic display panel ("Splish Splash", 1975), which is employed profitably in the applications of "Digital Signage", and demonstrates what forms of complex behaviour art and science can create from "simple principles".

For Norman T. White computers do not merely constitute tools that are constantly becoming more powerful. Unlike many others from the avant-garde of media art, he did not use his first computer only as a generator of images. He conceives of computers as interfaces, which can be programmed at the user’s discretion, between the human being and the machine, and also as universal brains for robots. For him computers are no compliant tools that limit creativity but rather "fun-house mirrors". They allow him to combine his passion for machines with his desire to comprehend human perceptions. Norman T. White can rightly be viewed as one of the early network artists. The telecommunications event "Hearsay" (1985) just as the collaborative telecommunications project "Telephonic Arm Wrestling" (1986) were cyberspace experiments that investigated the tele-presence of interacting networked individuals during the early days of kinetic-aesthetic art.

Norman T. White has produced many works of robot art, which as a general rule constitute an ongoing process of creation with an open ending. Starting with "Facing Out Laying Low" (1977) and all the way to "The Helpless Robot" (1987-96), interactive robot installations have been coming into existence. These installations query in a congenial manner current subjects, such as the interaction between human being and machine, human perception and research into artificial intelligence, and encourage the visitor to engage playfully with these issues. In keeping with the ambivalent nature of White's works of robot art, the viewer and interacting human subject through the robots faces his own partly acquired, partly archaic patterns of behaviour.

In order to escape the mechanisms of the art business, Norman T. White mainly presents his works in social spaces where they confront an unprepared public anonymously, so to speak. This goes together with his untiring commitment to "Rawbotics" and to the "Sumo Robot Challenges" (Ontario College of Art & Design OCAD), which he co-founded. He describes the joy he derives from these ventures in a short and concise manner: "One of the ways in which my friends, my students, and I mix computer software, electronics, and mechanics – and have fun doing it – is building machines which bash, taunt, and insult each other."

Apart from his seminal works of art, there are few things that can better document Norman T. White's role as one of the most influential godfathers of genre-transcending electronic art than the large number of his pupils. His ideas have influenced many living artists, such as Lois Andison, Doug Back, Peter Fleming, Simone Jones & Lance Winn, Jeff Mann and David Rokeby. All of these artists  participated in his retrospective "Norm's Robots and Machine Life" in 2004 at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre in Kingston Ontario, and they are only a small sample of current artists that have been influenced by the enormous appeal of his works. His annual party in Normhill close to Toronto is a legendary meeting spot for an international art scene in which Norman T. White's ideas are kept young, in this year of his seventieth birthday more than ever.

For the jury, Dr. Michael Klein, Frankfurt am Main, May 18, 2008